Category: Food

Southern Food, British Style

“We all like chicken.”
― Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Sometimes you just get a craving in your bones…for finger-lickin’, deep fried, calorie dense, proper American Southern food.

Then reality asserts itself rudely and you recall that you live in Britain, which is not wholly conducive to the getting of said food. This may or may not trigger a quick series of emotions (irritation, maudlin despair, angsty regret for what you have lost, etc. etc.) culminating in a tiny moment when you consider if the food grass is greener on the other side–of the Atlantic.

Then you remember that The Lockhart exists and calm down because everything is fine again; plus your existential alarm over food was a little unnerving, no?

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It’s tucked away on a little side street, disconcertingly near Selfridges. The upstairs is almost Spartan with a hipster-appropriate exposed brick wall and genuine antiques, but downstairs is a slightly edgier (while still incredibly homey) space for larger parties and entertaining. As a rolicking party of two, we have always been seated up top, which bothers us not a bit. There are fresh flowers, mismatched furniture, constant refills…all the things that I like. Also, while always peopled, it is never crowded and we have never once had an issue getting, or wait for a table.

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Full disclosure, we have only ever been to brunch here, but has been enough to earn our ringing endorsement. We do intend to try their other meals at some point, but in the meantime, they hold one fundamental reason for our Most Important Meal of the Day devotion:

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Chicken and Waffles.

Although the cornbread cooked on order, served piping hot with bubbling butter, smothered and covered biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, pork belly and hash, and more are all worthy of honorable mention. If you happen to be in Marylebone and craving something deep fried, stroll over to Seymour Place and indulge. It’s what gyms are for.

A Ramen Break

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”
― Orson Welles

I am not a huge ramen fan…unless it is made by Bone Daddies. The same group behind one of my favourite fun food joints, Flesh and Buns, Bone Daddies recently set up what appears to be a semi-permanent pop up in arches along Old Jamaica Road. Which happens, handily, to be within easy walking distance of us.

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Various sections of train arches throughout London are undergoing some development these days. They’ve always been used as shopfronts of various types, but lately they are serving as venues for markets, restaurants, bars, and concept shops of a slightly more eclectic and upscale style. And not in a snobby way in the slightest. The results have been a lot of dis- or underused areas turning into genuine foodie or lifestyle hubs. We seek them out shamelessly.

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Bonus husband objectification, but the real prize…

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…is the food. As usual.

If you’re south of the river, it’s definitely worth a look in!

The Church of Brunch

“Bloodies are the centerpiece of the Sunday Brunch–they are also, perhaps, the #1 Prep mixed drink…..
1. Place ice cubes in a large glass
2. Pour in two fingers of vodka
3. Fill glass almost to top with V-8
4. Season with: 2 drops Tabasco, 4 drops Worcestershire, 1/2 tsp. horseradish, 1 tsp. lime juice
5. Add wedge of lime, stir and drink
6. Repeat as needed”
― Lisa Birnbach, The Official Preppy Handbook

Starting from when I went to university and getting increasingly worse as time went on, Church attendance had pained me for years. There was a particularly memorable length of time where I came home from every single service either in tears or enraged by something that had been said over the pulpit, taught by a teacher or leader, or even just discussed in the classes that follow the main communion service in Mormonism which is the central part of Sunday worship. I started taking breaks from attendance when we still lived in the States, a week here or even a month there, believing that if I gave it some time and space, the next time I went to services would be better. Almost inevitably it was not and often it was worse. A sermon would be preached proclaiming things to be true that I believed deeply to be false. A teacher would cite centuries of Church leadership stating a position I thought fundamentally wrong. Stances I held because I felt them to be right and good were decried as dangerous or even evil. Meanwhile, my own research into history was complicating the many, more simple stories I had been taught about my faith all my life.

This wasn’t a one-time thing, it had lasted the better part of a decade. It was spiritually and emotionally draining, and the cognitive dissonance was strongest on the weekends. I came to dread the Sundays when we did attend services as the results were usually bad, and Sundays when we didn’t I spent at home whipping myself into a mass of Puritan-descended guilt. I felt for years that something was wrong with me for thinking and feeling the way I did and having the questions I had. I felt ashamed that I had not been able to find the same answers within the faith that almost everyone important in my life had, and embarrassed to be struggling with a problem that, as far as anyone else could tell (whichever side of faith divide you fall on) was entirely in my own head. To a lot of outside observers who shared their thoughts on the matter with me, it should have been easy to decide either to stay or to go. It wasn’t.

I'm also making brunch dates with my husband a priority. For obvious reasons.

The last time I attended services was here in London.

In news which is not in the least groundbreaking, Mormonism has a major problem with racism in its history and in ways that affect it right up to the present day. Black men could not be ordained to the lay priesthood until just eight years before I was born, and both men and women of African descent were excluded from the most important parts of worship in Mormon temples–which is, by the way, fundamentally necessary in the LDS view of salvation. Meaning it was a valid theological question whether or not black people even got into heaven, and if they did, in what capacity. There are decades of recorded statements on the matter that black men and women did not qualify to enter heave except as “servants.” Cringe.

The LDS church has been attempting to formally address some of the troubled or troubling aspects of its past through a series of essays over the past few years, and I give it a lot of credit for confronting many of these issues head on using good scholarship and historical citations. It has not always done so. One of these essays concerns the history of what has been come to be called the “Priesthood Ban,” though I find this problematic since women are not ordained to the LDS priesthood at all and as mentioned women were just as excluded from what are considered saving ordinances. In some academic circles the more accurate term of “Racial Ban” has gained traction, and it’s the one I use. This essay goes on to explain that a number of folkloric justifications for the Racial Ban developed in the LDS community over the years (quite true) and that church leaders today disavowed those previous statements and reasoning (this essay was the first disavowal I have ever seen, and is fairly weak, but I’m willing to take the intention in good faith). It’s a long overdue piece of writing, and doesn’t go far enough in clearing up the decades and centuries of racially tinged folklore and official teachings of the church, in my opinion, but it’s a step forward.

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It was after this particular essay had been released that Jeff and I made the decision to give LDS services in London a real shot. We’d only attended church sporadically for the first few months of living here because I was frankly burned out from leaving services crying or ranting, and Jeff was not far behind me in exasperation, though he was much less vocal about it. Nevertheless, it was worth a shot recommitting ourselves to regular attendance, we decided, and so off we went one December Sunday with a renewed sense of dedication and a quiet uptick in hope. Perhaps all the frustrations were mostly our fault and if we shut our mouths more often and tried listening instead, we’d notice the things that bothered us less and the things that uplifted us more.

Plus, we were a bit lonely. Growing up in the military meant that the Mormon congregations we attended were a massive part of my family’s social structure. No matter what country we moved to, we were assured of finding an instant community of people ready to welcome us with open arms. As adults and expats in our own rights now, Jeff and I were missing that community, having found nothing to replace it with. The congregation we were assigned to at the time was in South London and almost entirely made up of first or second generation African or Afro-Caribbean immigrants to the UK. There seemed to be a couple of expats and a lot of people from “somewhere else” as we were so I was hopeful we’d find a group of people with similar experiences to us who would have a lot of wisdom to share.

The day in question, just before Christmas, it so happened that the Sunday school teacher was a visiting white American man who, rather than teaching the lesson topic he had been assigned, decided to expound to the congregation (of, again, almost entirely black members) his feelings about the recently released race essay. They were not entirely positive and the main gist of this speech was that he was puzzled that leaders had “disavowed” the teachings he had always “known” to be truth. I could have felt more sympathy for him if he had not gone on to lecture the members as to why “you people” were not able to be ordained to the priesthood, citing the very folkloric teachings the essay tried to distance itself from as truth, and growing more animated in the defense of those racist theories as he went on.

I sat there for as long as I could but at some point I got up, found the bishop in another part of the church, apologized profusely for what was about to happen, and burst into tears. After first assuring himself that the teacher got back on track to his appointed teaching topic, that kind bishop sat and listened to me as I sobbed for an hour about how for years, every single time I had entered a church building, I had heard a lesson like this. Racist, sexist, politically tinged in a way to make me wince, anti-LGBT in ways that violated my conscience, and so on. I was (and remain) deeply conflicted that as a white, admittedly privileged woman, I had felt offended where clearly people who had far more cause than me to be were not, but as I explained to that patient man, my reaction was not the result of that one hour, but the years proceeding it. Church did not feel safe for me, and I genuinely felt that there was no place for me in the organization I had been raised in. I fundamentally disagreed with too much of it, and as time went on the disagreements and dissent were getting bigger and bigger.

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He listened. He acknowledged the social/political/historical divides I felt (even validated a few of them as being genuinely hard to reconcile with the faith). He didn’t try to cite quotes from leaders or scripture at me as previous bishops I had spoken to on the subject had done. There was genuine love and sincere care in the way he spoke to me; it was the kindest encounter I had had with church leaders in years.

And as I said, it was the last time I attended services, unless staying with family or escorting visiting friends. Jeff and I decided to take another break after this particular Sunday, this one intentional and for as long as we needed; guilt was not allowed. We found other things to do on weekends: museums, walks, markets, exploring the city, and just generally being with one another. It was spiritually restful. A few months later, a spate of high-profile excommunications took place that cemented for both of us that the LDS church was not where we wanted to be nor aligned with what we support and believe. We did not believe several of the key truth claims, we could not in good conscience support the leadership on the many public stances they had taken, and neither of us were comfortable with the idea of raising a family in the structure–particularly daughters. Even to keep the peace with friends and family, there was no point in even going through the motions of attendance or participation. We were done.

These days we attend what I only semi-satirically call, The Church of Brunch. On Sunday mornings we now usually go to one of a handful of venues that do a proper Yank brunch–or occasionally get adventurous and try to find a new joint famed on blogs or social media for its protein and carb heavy concoctions. We linger over food. We debate, argue, joke, talk news, gossip about work, and plan for our future. We’ve had some of the deepest and most meaningful conversations of our marriage over pots of tea and avocado toast (sausages and waffles on his side). We often include friends, growing the new community we are trying to build for ourselves as proverbial strangers in a strange land, but more often we use it as a time to reconnect after long weeks focused on careers.

It’s not a global network or system of belief, and I suspect most people would probably laugh about it if I tried to explain it to them, but the Church of Brunch has done me and us a lot of good. It’s filled a gap and created a safe space in a time slot that was previously dreaded and painful. It’s reliable, uncomplicated, and good in the way that simple, basic things often are. We plan on including future friends, children, and even strangers (we strike up the oddest and best conversations with our co-diners). And it’s delicious. We expect to be devotees for a long time.

*all images from my Instagram

Answering the siren call of David Suchet

Oh, I love London Society! It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.
–Oscar Wilde

The conversation that led to this adventure, almost verbatim:

Me: “David Suchet is in the Importance of Being Earnest, in drag, as Lady Bracknell. I’m not so much asking for permission to buy tickets…as telling you that we’re going.”
Jeff: “Obviously.”

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Excuse the hilarious faux-fashion shot (stolen from Jeff’s Instagram) but I finally got the chance to break in my kimono evening jacket after scoring it for a bargain when good-luck-charm Caitlin was in town, and it was an event that needed to be documented.

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And if ever there was a night for pink suede stilettos, Oscare Wilde calls for it, I feel.

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Beloved in this household as the definitive Agatha Christie’s Poirot, the guy has some serious comedy chops. It’s impossible to leave an Oscar Wilde production feeling glum, but on this occasion we downright laughed ourselves silly and left in a good mood to forage up some dinner. Happily we quite literally stumbled upon Sticks’n’Sushi in Covent Garden, who proceeded to put a dent in our wallets because the food was so darn good that we couldn’t stop ordering it.

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In a final burst of hedonism, we went for their combo deserts which I cannot recommend enough. The “black” box (as opposed to the “white”) was particularly delicious, but scarfed down my bergamot creme brulee with the most enjoyment.

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Yeah to Yeah! Burger

“Yeeaaaahhh!”
– Every CSI Miami episode ever

We are always up to include a new burger in our rotation but I’ll be honest, it takes quite a lot to impress us. We know from burgers, guys.

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And so let me, with that very humble intro, make you known to Yeah! Burger. Currently serving out of two pub locations, it’s a sort of pop-up-but-not-at-all sort of joint that makes some truly gorgeous meals. We have only every made it to the Star of Kings, near Kings Cross station which is a fabulous venue in it’s own right. It’s an eclectic mix of old new, Empire, and modern Britannic goodness. Victorian taxidermy and beat up leather sofas, modern lighting in one corner, antique mirrors in the other, and the fabulous, woody smell of a really good pub throughout.

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And as for the food!

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Bonus husband objectifying. 

I have loved everything we’ve ever eaten here, each burger is a delight. Piled with toppings and sauces, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong. However I give my very enthusiastic recommendation for the hombre fries, to which Jeff adds his furious cosign, and my favorite is the O.G. because I’ve never met an avocado I didn’t like.

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In fact, the first time we ate there we were so impressed that we went back a scant week later and took advantage of the sunlight by eating on their patio. Summer in London is a lovely piece of work, but you have definitely got to seize the Vitamin D when you can. We want to make it back again in the near future, hopefully while we still have daylight during sensible hours, but the way the weather’s been recently, no promises. About the outdoor eating, I mean, the eating itself is definitely happening.

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MEATliquor – not MEAT-licker it turns out

“When people pile seven things onto one burger, it drives me nuts!”
– Bobby Flay

Jeff is extraordinarily good at managing our culinary escapades here in London. A fair amount of the restaurants, markets, or goodies featured here at SDS are due to his fairly consistent research into the city’s food scene. I mean, I enjoy a good nosh and do my best to stay abreast of the food news, but for him, it’s more of a calling. So when he read about MEATliquor, conveniently nestled just behind Debenham’s on Bond Street, he immediately put it at the top of our To Try list. Our quest for London’s best burgers is never ending, after all, and it would be a shameful shirking of our duty to let a place as favourably talked about as this go untried.

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True to its name, the menu is divided pretty squarely into burgers and booze. Although, having been raised teetotal, its nomenclature caused a moment of hilarity. Until we set foot in the joint, every time I heard the name, what I heard and saw in my head was “Meat-licker.” When the menu was set down in front of me I had a good laugh at myself. Naivete notwithstanding, there are plenty of nice things to drink for the virtuous and I can particularly recommend the Brown Cow, a root beer float. And let the record show that is high praise coming from me as I traditionally have not been root beer floats’ biggest fan.

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The artwork is decidedly punk and not particularly child friendly, so I’d recommend keeping this a grownups only meet up place. However I can squarely assert that the soundtrack is fantastic, rock and blues without stop. We prefer not to deal with crowds when we don’t have to so we went during the lunch hour, but apparently at dinner the line can stretch down the street. There is a sign of hilarious “waiting line rules” that I failed utterly to snap a photo of but must try to nab on a future look in.

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This was our first visit to MEATliquor but not our last because the burgers really are very nice. And for my money, this place makes the best onion rings I have had in London to date, bar none. Jeff is a fan of the chili cheese fries but always manages to eat a suspicious amount of my rings anyway, the sneak. There are no napkins, just paper towels, the only mustard is French’s, and everything is served on a single tray when it comes to the table. It’s the precisely correct amount of gritty fun you need when you’re looking for a juicy burger on a weekend ramble.

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Flesh & Buns

“What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.”
― Kobayashi Issa, Poems

Flesh & Buns, located in Covent Garden, is a restaurant based on the idea of Japanese after work socializing and partying at Izakayas. It’s a sister project to Bone Daddies, a ramen restaurant decorated with rockabilly art and old Japanese advertising artwork. Flesh & Buns takes the food to the next level by offering more complex food while rock music blasts. Sushi and AD/DC, what is not to like!

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The menu consists of mostly small plates to share (or keep for yourself, as the case may be), plus the signature “flesh and buns.” Steamed buns are constantly in production to be served along a number of kinds of meats that you can slice, dice, and shred to your heart’s content. But I get ahead of myself, because the small plates are delicious.

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We sat at the long table running down the length of the restaurant (communal dining is still all the rage), tucked in our elbows to minimize damage to our neighbors, and went to town on the goods! All the dishes are based on traditional Japanese cuisine, but with gorgeous modern and fusion twists. The grilled sweet potatoes and mixed seafood ceviche were the clear winners, as far as we’re concerned.

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The kitchen is open and just feet to my left, head chef Jo McCafferty was in command, with a pile of steaming bun baskets behind him. It’s fascinating to see a full kitchen in action, with various stations manned by specialist chefs producing the dishes and coordinating them into meals. It might be nerdy, but I like getting behind-the-scenes looks at things, and venues that open up the background to view are always fun to go to.

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Since moving to the UK, I’ve discovered a deep and abiding love for duck (which I frankly never ate much of before), so it was an easy choice to choose the duck breast for our “flesh.” The buns were brought out piping hot and Jeff did the honors of putting the bundles of flavor together.

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I know nothing about sake, but there is a lengthy selection to choose from, and for the virtuous or the disinclined toward alcohol, there are fun alternatives. And as for deserts, there are the weirdest but loveliest concoctions. I had a black sesame creme brulee, and failed utterly to take photos, while Jeff had a sundae made with tea flavored ice cream. We tend to favor solidly sweet deserts so these were a change of pace, but were unusual enough to be a lot of fun and worth a try.

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Flesh & Buns, 41 Earlham St, London WC2H 9LX