The 5 Best Bites in London
Vacation = marathon eating. Adam and I take this endeavour very seriously when we travel. One of my most popular blog posts may very well be “How to find good restaurants while travelling (without doing any research)” but I go deep into the research when I travel. Before booking flights, I’m cross-listing Michelin guides and Eater’s best restaurant list with local blogger favourites — I put my history degree to work to find the gems and I start making a list of the best London restaurants. A very long list. A list so big and delicious no human could possibly eat at them all in five days of vacation in London.
But I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to try.
Here are my favourite 5 bites at the best London restaurants
Doughnuts at Portobello Market
The late September sun was shining as we stumbled onto Portobello Road. After chucking our bags at The Laslett, our luxe-but-little Notting Hill hotel, we made a bee-line for the famous Saturday Portobello Road Market to check out the antiques and food. The crowds quickly got overwhelming and I glazed over the 19th century prints, Ottoman rugs and priceless China tea sets. I needed food, fast. Then we saw the doughnut lady. Her bright yellow tent lit up like the sun and I was Icarus plummeting headfirst into her pastry cream.
Adam got a chocolate-filled doughtnut and I chose a simple custard-filled (2 for £2.50). Not even the increasing jet-lag fog could dull the sweet creamy filling, the dusting of sugar covering my hands, face and sunglasses. The perfect first bites for our eating marathon at the best London restaurants.
Chicken Korma at Malabar
Less than two days into our eating marathon and my taste for rich food was waning. We had hit the ground running and after 36-hours of strolling, shopping and eating I had to admit to myself I needed to slow down. Begrudgingly I agreed to let Adam cancel the reservations at Kyseri. Once I got over how hurt the server sounded about our cancellation, I brought out the trusty list on my phone, organized by neighbourhood, proximity to our hotel, price and type of cuisine. I wanted something close to the hotel, casual and easy and there was Malabar.
It was on about a dozen different best lists and I expected the place to be busy, metropolitan and full of hipsters. It wasn’t. Warm colours, a varied room of chattering patrons and delicious smells greeted us at the door and I knew we had made the right choice. This Notting Hill restaurant serves some of the best Indian food I have ever tasted, including the murg korma (£11.50). Oh man the chicken with ground cashew, almonds, cream and coriander seeds was sweet and savoury, creamy and rich, died-and-gone-to-heaven good.
P.S. The paneer with garam masala was freaking great too.
Afternoon Tea Fig Tart
When the host passed our coatcheck tickets to us in a sealed envelope at The Connaught, I knew we were in for a treat. Researching afternoon teas in London is like researching the best poutine in Montreal. Everyone has their favourites — some inexpensive and simple, others lavish and ostentatious — I wanted the latter and we found it at The Connaught’s restaurants, Jean-Georges. Champagne flowed while discreet servers waited on dignitaries and people who looked like movie stars. It wasn’t hard to spot the other food pilgrims who were here for the afternoon tea (sorry guys, but take off the sneakers and polo shirts at least once during your trip), but Adam and I were dressed to impress. But it was us who ended up being freaking impressed by the desserts.
I love afternoon tea and my post about Afternoon Tea at the Shangri-La speaks about its history, but Jean-Georges is the real deal. At a typical tea the three-tiered tray has sandwiches on bottom, the middle layer contains the scones and the desserts perch on top. Not at The Connaught. All three tiers came out resplendent with every possible autumnal themed dessert you can imagine with a chocolate fondue as the cherry on the cake. The fig tart, however, was my favourite bite. The sweetness of the mousse and the tart fresh fig battled in my mouth, washing down perfectly with a crisp glass of champagne.
Ravioli di Castagne at The River Cafe
“It’s your turn to take my excited face picture,” I said to Adam as we approached The River Cafe. After a morning at the British Museum (where I took many photos of Adam’s excited face) it was my turn to fan girl out at the famous eatery. I knew The River Cafe was going to be good. After 30 years of service, many with a Michelin star attached, The River Cafe is an institution and one of the best London restaurants. It was the first place I put on my list.
What I didn’t know was how good the pasta would be. Jaw-droppingly good focaccia started us off, followed by prosciutto, fresh figs, and The River Cafe’s signature calamari with arugula and chilis. Then the pasta came. My face in the photo below says it all really, but the Ravioli di Castagne (£22) was filled with buffalo ricotta, chestnuts and nutmeg and came coddled in sage butter and parmesan. It was pretty much the perfect pasta — although Adam swears his Parpadelle with Hare was better.
Welsh Rarebit at St John
Confession time, I have never had Welsh Rarebit before and always thought it was in the realm of haggis-like food, which repulsed me. Little did I know, it’s just cheese on toast; one of my favourite things.
WHERE HAVE I BEEN?
I have, however, heard of St. John Bread and Wine (any Bourdain fan will know it well). St. John Bread and Wine is another restaurant that was at the top my list, and many others, as one of the best London restaurants. Specializing in nose to tale cooking, there are so many interesting things we ate that night, but the Welsh Rarebit (£6.50) took the (cheese)cake. Digging into it felt devilish. And sinful every bite was. Punches of Worcestershire, cayenne and mustard punctuated the dome of cheese sauce teetering over the thick slab of lightly toasted bread. Simple yet decadent, comforting yet exciting, I’ll be thinking about that Welsh Rarebit for a long time — and spending many an hour in the kitchen trying to figure out how to reproduce it.