Sunday, July 29, 2012

Food in London

As of today, I'm back in London, pushing my way through the Olympic crowds to get to the British Library. British food gets a bad rap (not entirely deserved, in my opinion), but London's dining options are not restricted to British food. As a cosmopolitan, international city, there are tons of delicious options available to please a wide variety of palates.

Jeff spent a few days in London with me before he went home (and I moved on to different cities) and we had excellent luck food-wise, partly due to some key research I had done in advance of the trip, but partly from dumb luck. On Sunday, we went to a beautiful sung Latin Mass at St Etheldreda's church - formerly chapel of the thirteenth-century palace owned by the bishops of Ely - and then trekked down to the Tower of London, which Jeff had never visited. As we passed St Paul's Cathedral on the way to the Tower, we stopped for lunch at Café Rouge, a cute little French bistro (which turned out to be a chain). Chain or not, the food was delicious!

After my week of bread and pasta in Rome, I was dying for a good salad, and Café Rouge offered just that. I ordered the salade de courge rôtie - roasted butternut squash and bell peppers tossed with grilled summer squash, toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds and a light vinaigrette, served with some crispy flatbread. It was so delicious, and exactly what my vitamin-deprived body needed for a long day of walking (we nearly hit ten miles that day). I took a photo of the menu so as to remember the ingredients, because I plan on trying to recreate this at home!

While I don't regret my salad - my body needed it so badly - I did envy Jeff's meal, which he ordered after I pointed it out to him on the menu (this seems to happen a lot - I should start taking my own tips!). This is the tartine Marocaine - spicy Moroccan sausage and caramelized onions served with hummus and chicory over a grilled slice of sourdough bread. It was divine - the sausages were caramelized along with the onions. Each bite simply danced in my mouth. I may need to return some time in the next week or so and order this for myself!

After exploring the Tower and some of the Tate Modern, we passed back through the City, unsure where we were going to find dinner. The City is London's financial district, so a lot of restaurants tend to shut down on Sundays (I must stop choosing Sunday to hang out there). But we got lucky again, incidentally just next door to Café Rouge, at GBK - the Gourmet Burger Kitchen. This is a casual chain run by New Zealanders, offering delicious, inventive gourmet burgers made from great ingredients, and free peanuts while you wait (comparisons with Five Guys should end there - GBK is SO much better).

I ordered the Taxi Driver (pictured in the foreground) - a ground beef patty topped with American cheese, a crispy onion ring, cajun relish, smoked chipotle mayo and a pickle, served on a toasted brioche bun. It was absolutely delicious. So many ingredients, but they all came together beautifully in this juicy burger. My only regret was the onion ring, which sort of got lost in the mess of other things. Still, this is one I'd go for again. Jeff ordered the Frenchie - a beef patty with Gorgonzola, bacon, onion jam and relish. I was tempted to get that as well, but I wasn't sure about the cheese. As it turns out, the bites I had of Jeff's were fantastic. The side of very thin, crispy rosemary fries was a great accompaniment.

I enjoyed GBK so much that I sought out another while I was in Oxford last week. Since I was endeavoring to get back to my diet, I ordered the Falafel - handmade falafel patties served on a toasted bun with hummus, cucumber raita, and chili salsa. It was a beautiful thing. For the sake of my waistline, I'm going to endeavor to keep away from this place for the remainder of my trip. It's going to be difficult, though!

On a very rainy Monday night, we popped down to the West End for a show and sought out Food For Thought along the way. I had stumbled on this place during my rambles last year, but never ended up eating there (I was always around at the wrong time, or they were out of the dishes I wanted). Food For Thought is a tiny vegetarian cafe, serving a limited number of rotating menu items each day. It's been around since the '70s, a testament to the quality of food offered as well as the constantly updated menu options.

We both ordered the absolutely delicious vegetarian chili and shared a cheddar and chive scone on the side (sorry for the blurry picture - it's the only one I took!). The scone was flaky and nice, although I can't say the flavors really stuck out to me. But that may have been the fault of the chili, which was so packed with flavor that it dulled my poor taste buds. Toothy kidney and pinto beans, sweet bell peppers and onions in a zingy sauce. It was the perfect meal for what turned out to be a chilly, rainy London night.

Needless to say, I'm glad to be back in a city with so many amazing food options within walking distance. I plan on using my finely tuned foodie skills to sniff out more cheap, tasty options during the rest of my trip. Hopefully they won't be crowded with Olympic tourists!

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