Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Long overdue recap of Londontown....

Hello! So I'm back from London (have been for a few weeks now, sorry!) with a recap of my trip, and of course what I ate. I apologize in advance for some of the poor photo quality. I (of course) forgot my camera charger and had to take pictures of the entire trip on my blackberry - this is partly why it took me so long to post them.

I've been to London a few times before for work, but being there for a whole month really gave me plenty of time on the weekends to get out and see quite a bit of the city and its restaurants (and bars ; ). I think its funny how much people equate England with terrible food. Yes, the traditional English fare can be quite disgusting (see "traditional English breakfast" below), however London has some of the most amazing restaurants - especially ethnic food.

The first weekend I was there, I went on a tour to see Leeds Castle & Canterbury Cathedral.

Leeds Castle

Canterbury Cathedral

Cloisters at Canterbury

I love love love medieval history and learning more about plus getting see it in person is just the coolest thing. I booked my tour through Evans Evans and would highly recommend using them. You get to see so much in a day that it would be impossible to do it on your own for the same price in a day. I ended up booking another tour through them later on that month and both tour guides were amazing.

On the tour I met a lovely couple, Barbara and Richard from New Jersey. They took me under their wing and after chatting with them all day and realizing how much we had in common, they invited me out to dinner that night with them. Since my plans consisted of the couch in my company flat, a dinner of bread, olive and wine, and whatever I could find on British television, I happily rescheduled those plans for the next night : )


They took me to Pasha, a Morroccan restaurant on Gloucester Road. Richard and Barbara had been telling me about the fig martini there all day long so I was extremely excited to try it - and let's just say it lived up to the hype. I am kicking myself for not getting a photo of it (and Google images yields nothing like what I had) - but please my take my word for it - it is AMAZING. Barbara and I managed to get the recipe from the bartender, so as I soon as I try it I will post it here.

The next weekend I did a few more touristy things around the city, including going to the Tate Modern. I can't necessarily say that I'm a huge fan of modern art, but the Tate definitely has one of the best, if not the best modern art collections in the world. It wasn't far from where I was staying and the price was right (free) so I was really glad I went. Even if you're not huge on modern art, you won't be disappointed, pretty much every piece you see is interesting and discussion worthy (if not head-scratching).

Andy Warhol room at the Tate

A Monet painting, that ironically, my sister and I had bed sheets based on this painting growing up. I sent her a pic from the museum and she recognized it right away : )

And then....finally....after 2.5 long weeks....Joe came to visit! This was by far the longest we've ever gone without seeing each other (and hopefully never will again). He was just over for a long weekend, but we had so much fun - and ate a lot. One thing that I wanted to do while he was here was take him for a "traditional English breakfast". Joe is a huge fan of breakfast, and basically judges every hotel, city, and country we visit on the quality of their breakfast.

Traditional English breakfast my friends, is...well...its disgusting. See for yourself:

In case you're wondering what the greasy brown blob in the upper right hand corner is - those are mushrooms. Underneath them are baked beans. And yes those are french fries. And ham. And sausage. And a fried tomato. Accompanying this was coffee about the consistency of tar (which I had false high hopes for since it was actually brewed and not instant like most Brits drink their coffee). After 2 weeks of cooking for myself (lots of whole grain pasta, veggies and hardly any meat) - my body pretty much went into shock after eating this meal. While I thought this would be right up Joe's ally, he wasn't overly impressed by it either. Oh well, scratch that one off the life list and move on.

We went on that day to the Tower of London, which was probably my favorite touristy thing I did while I was there. The history is just so amazing, not to mention the Crown Jewels (unfortunately they won't let you take pictures of them). The other really cool thing was an exhibit on royal armour.

Henry VIII's armour (and his horse's). Up close, you could see the initials "H" and "C" engraved along the bottom for that scoundrel and his first wife. Very very cool.

After doing a "pub lunch" that day (which I learned does not actually consist of food), I left Joe for an hour to take a shower and come back, and found he had made a best friend in the form of a very nice old man named Ross:

He has a tendency to do this type of thing wherever we go.

That night, we headed into Central London and stopped for drinks before dinner.

And an appetizer of crab risotto and salmon roe. Which I forgot to photograph until we were done eating it.

It was delicious.

We made our way to Shanghai Blue for dinner and had a blast, as well as a delicious meal. What's interesting about ethnic cuisine in London is it feels a tad more authentic than what we get in the States (even in cities like Chicago). Maybe its because London is more of a global city, but whatever it is it works.

Actually its funny that I say that about a Chinese Restaurant that has live blues music during dinner, but I mean the food is more authentic Chinese : ) The atmosphere was really cool and we enjoyed our dinner and drinks. I ordered a honeydew melon martini, which AGAIN I forgot to take a photo of! Joe ordered a Shanghai Mule, which consisted of ginger beer and sake, along with lychee. Neither of us had ever had lychee before, and Joe (very maturely) made an inappropriate comparison of it to a part of a bull's anatomy (why a bull?) before biting into it.

Joe, biting into lychee

As part of our meal, we ordered steamed salmon dumplings with gold flakes. Gold flakes are cool and all, but you can't really taste them. The dumplings were delicious though.

The next day we did another Evans Evans tour of Windsor Castle, Bath and Stonehenge.

Me in front of Windsor Castle

St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle (Henry VIII's remains are in there)

Roman Bath at Bath

Joe and I at Stonehenge

Stonehenge was probably my favorite part of that tour, it is just unreal seeing it in person. And - we're lucky because the exhibit is being closed this summer for 10 years to do repairs.

After the tour we were exhausted, and Joe had an early flight the next day. So we did what any good Americans would do. We stayed in and ordered pizza. Not just any pizza....

That's right folks, we ordered Papa Johns. In London. Joe loves Papa Johns pizza and we have no Papa Johns in Chicago (I'm well aware of the fact that we are lucky to have access to pizza in Chicago that is far superior to Papa Johns - but hey he wants what he wants). So when we walked past one I relented and we ordered it. It wasn't very good.

The last noteworthy thing I did was getting drinks with some co-workers the last night I was there. We went to a restaurant/bar, Sketch which was unbelievably cool. Words can not describe walking through this place - other than its a bit like Alice in Wonderland. It definitely has an ultra-hip, fairly pretentious vibe to it and drinks were crazy expensive (we didn't eat there). Totally worth the experience though and I definitely want to go back next time I'm in London (I'll be sure to wear a trendier outfit than I did the first time too : ).

Herb martini at sketch, made with rosemary, mint, basil and lemon vodka. Delicious.

Toilets at Sketch, shaped like eggs (the blue lights in the background were the boy's side). I'm told that when you close the door to one of the eggs on the boy's side there is an audio track of a woman laughing at you.

So all in all, I had a great time and enjoyed the food and the cocktails. In fact, I'd say this trip opened my eyes to cocktails a bit. I'm always a go-to wine drinker when I'm out at dinner and for some reason never consider cocktails. Its not like there aren't options here in Chicago so I'm excited to try more interesting combinations (and make the fig martinis at home). I actually convinced a friend of this the other night while we were at a byob sushi place and we both tried different asian-inspired martinis instead of drinking wine. While they were delicious, she subtly reminded me that a $10 martini for one person is significantly less economical than the corkage fee on a $10 bottle of wine that you can share : )


  1. Awwww brings back so many wonderful memories! I literally took the *exact* same picture of the cloisters in Canterbury AND the one at Bath! :) Such a beautiful city that is just steeped in history!

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