So I admit it, I’m not always the best food blogger. Sometimes I forget to take photos of what I make or eat. Sometimes the photos that I do take come out crappy and are unusable. Sometimes I take good photos and then just never get around to writing about the food.
And sometimes I’m just having such a good time and enjoying being in the moment with loved ones that photos (of food at least) and blog posts are the furthest things from my mind. Instead photos of Carlo telling a funny story while pouring me yet another glass of wine, or Carlo and my brother Andrew laughing over a pint of a beer are what I want to remember and cherish instead.
So here is a list of places where I enjoyed eating on our trip to the UK and for whatever reason am not doing a full blog post about. But don’t worry, all recommendations come with two thumbs up from me if you ever find yourself over the pond.
St. John Bread and Wine
The above photo of Carlo is from a really fun and delicious night at St. John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields. One of Fergus Henderson’s restaurants, it specializes in his nose-to-tail eating philosophy, but with smaller plates that are meant to be shared. Highlights of our meal included the thickest slathering of foie gras pate on toast, a whole brown crab that I bruised my finger nail eating because I just couldn’t crack it open fast enough with the crab cracker, and grilled ox heart. Oh, and they had the most amazing mince pie for dessert that finally made Carlo a convert to this British Christmas treat!
So I’m a tad bit embarrassed that I got this food recommendation from Gwyneth Paltrow’s newsletter GOOP, but considering she had St. John Bread and Wine and Ottolenghi on her list too, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it out. Plus it was our last night in London and I was exhausted and didn’t want to travel far from our hotel. Turns out that Gwyneth (or at least someone on her editorial team) has good taste. The bar at Pizza East was the perfect place to grab a few antipasti, share a pizza, and drink a bottle of red wine. Anything with their burrata is divine!
Okay, so technically I ate at Wagamama when I was in Liverpool visiting my family and they also have one in Edinburgh too, but I’ve eaten at Wagamama so many times in London that it counts as a London entry. Yes, it is a chain, but a chain that does noodles well. You aren’t going to have an authentic Asian experience here, but you can always rely on a tasty dinner at not too exorbitant a price in London. Plus it makes the perfect refuge on a really cold and wet day, as it was when we went there in Liverpool. And yes, I totally slurped the dregs of broth out of my bowl just like the Wagamama logo photo. If you want to experience Wagamama at home, check out this recipe for Chili-Marinated Vegetable Ramen.
I’m super leery about prepackaged foods, especially prepackaged sandwiches, but for some reason I love EAT. Somehow they manage to make prepackaged sandwiches interesting, tasty, and (important for me) not soggy. There is pretty much an EAT on every corner in London. For those corners where there is no EAT, there is a Pret A Manager which is the same concept, but somehow just not as good to me (maybe it is a design thing). Or in most cases, there is a EAT right next to a Pret. If you are looking for a cheap and tasty lunch on the run, picking up a sandwich at EAT is the way to go. I love grabbing a sandwich and taking it to the park for an impromptu picnic, but perhaps my favourite time to stop by EAT is at Heathrow or Gatwick airport and pick up a sandwich or two for my flight back to Austin. I’m partial to the mature cheddar and Branston pickle baguette which I stuff full with an entire bag of salt and vinegar crisps and proceed to make a total mess of crumbs. I’m totally that person you want sitting next to you on a trans-Atlantic flight Why EAT has not conquered the USA is beyond me? Millionaire in the making if you bring that concept to America, or maybe everyone over here is scared of prepackaged sandwiches from their experiences with frightening looking gas station egg salad sandwiches?
Eat the best breakfast ever at the Hawksmoor
I totally have a mad crush on everything Ottolenghi
For serious food porn, check out the Harrods Food Hall and Borough Market
And you can’t leave London without experiencing the classic British roast dinner at Canteen
My dad took me, Carlo, Andrew, and my mum on a lunch date to Rhubarb at Prestonfield House and it was quite the treat. Him and my mum had spotted this beautiful lodge and golf course on one of their walks through Holyrood Park and decided to investigate what it was. Turns out it is the most amazing amazing Scottish country boutique hotel with beautiful decor and a really great restaurant to match. The prix fixe lunch was amazing and had the most beautiful food presentation. Plus coffee came with macaroon lollipops and the most sinful fudge. Definitely a place for a decadent lunch and perhaps some celebrity sightings. My dad swears Sean Connery is a regular, and how awesome would that be to have James Bond sitting next to you! Oh, and check out the upstairs ladies bathroom–enough pink toile to make Marie Antoinette green with envy!
On New Year’s Eve, my parents looked after my nieces and me, Carlo, Andrew, my sister Alison, and brother-in-law Craig went out on the town. We started our evening at Beirut, a Lebanese restaurant in the Old Town. Alison and Craig first met when both were living in Cyprus and I remember visiting Alison over there and discovering mezze at this Lebanese restaurant where my dad would always be really into the belly dancer. Sadly there are no good Lebanese restaurants in Austin, but Beirut filled that craving with an outstanding mezze full of all kinds of dips and kebabs. Plus you can smoke shisha outside after dinner which is one of Craig’s favourite past times and I don’t mind indulging every now and then again!
The Oxford Bar
Confession: I have read every single Rebus book published, seen Ian Rankin speak at Book People last spring, and Carlo got recommendations for good record stores to visit in Edinburgh from Rankin over Twitter (Avalanche Records and Vinyl Villains also come recommended from us). Even though I visited Edinburgh as young teenager with my family, it was through Rankin’s books that I really got to learn and explore Edinburgh, although an exploration that was distant and only through words on the page. It wasn’t until my parents moved to Edinburgh part time in September 2010 and my subsequent visits that I got to know all the places the Rankin so vividly describes in his novels. The Oxford Bar is a dive pub–very small, normally has a largely male clientele, and sells fairly crappy Scottish beers (sorry Deuchars is not my cup of tea). That said whenever I visit my parents, I always make the trip for a quick pint and try not to act like too much of a tourist or a Rebus junkie.
The Bon Vivant’s Companion
On our walk to the Oxford Bar, we happened upon the cutest street called Thistle Street in the New Town. Full of boutique shops and restaurants that I want to try on my next visit, we stopped by Bon Vivant’s Companion, a small wine and liquor shop next to its namesake bar which is renowned for its cocktails. Walking into this little shop felt a bit like walking into Cheers. Although we just stumbled across this place, we ended up talking to the people working and buying an incredible fortified Malbec and a few other bottles of wine to drink on Christmas. All the people that work here are super knowledgeable about their products and are willing to help you find the perfect bottle of wine or spirits.
At our first visit, we ended up talking about wanting to do a whisky tasting, but how we didn’t want to go to the touristy Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile. We came back a few days later for a whisky tasting, and despite freaking everyone out at the store because we called to schedule something, it ended up being an interesting experience. Not only did we learn about the different whisky producing areas in Scotland, but got to taste different samples from each area. Things that I learned: I love the taste of single malt Highland whisky and blended Lowlands whisky. And I really don’t like the peat taste of the Islay whiskys. But regardless of your poison, be sure to check out this fun shop whether it is to bring something interesting home or something to just enjoy on your travels.
For a pint in a beautiful Victorian pub, check out Cafe Royal, just don’t order the oysters).
Craving seafood? Go to The Ship on the Shore in Leith.
For the best roasted pork sandwiches EVER, go to Oink in the Grassmarket.