In early February I decided to go for a weekend to revisit London. I had visited once before in 2010 and at the time I recall I felt the stereotype that London lacks good food was true. But I noticed in the years since the London food scene seems to have changed, the city itself definitely changed in a decade. As such I ventured to London for a weekend of eating.
In my one day, I had quite a bit to eat and drink but all were great. The title of the post is simply the two main highlights from the day. The post will contain some others.
I arrived in London at around 6AM, and took the Heathrow Express into town and transferred on to the Tube to have breakfast at Regency Cafe on Regency Street in London. This historic establishment has kept the same interior since it first opened. It is full of character and soul. And the vast majority of people here on a Saturday morning were local Londoners. But in researching the best English Breakfast in London, Regency Cafe appeared on nearly all lists as a classic place. I ordered a full English with coffee and orange juice, sadly I forgot to add mushrooms and hashbrowns to my order. But the meal including the fresh orange juice was less than 10 GBP. And it did not disappoint.
For lunch I headed to the theater district to have Fish n Chips at Poppies Fish n Chips in Soho. The portion was quite large even though I ordered the small portion. The chips were not as crispy as I had hoped but the fish was wonderfully crisp while retaining its juicy tenderness inside. The mashed peas are a must order add-on side dish at this establishment.
One of the main places I wanted to visit during my first time in London since I became of legal drinking age in the U.K. was the famous and historic American Bar at the Savoy hotel. The American Bar was the birthplace of many a famous cocktails including the Hanky Panky. It has seen the careers of some great mixologists and has in recent years found itself at #1 or top 5 of the World’s 50 Best Bars. Given its address, fame and quality, the drinks come at a hefty price. The lowest priced cocktail starts at over 20GBP and goes all the way up to a whopping 5000 GBP for vintage cocktails.
It is upscale, there is not a strict dress code per se, but I would avoid flip flops and shorts. However, sneakers and t-shirts are fine from what I could tell. I would assume if you came in the evening hours that the crowd and dress probably get more upscale. The place itself is very nice. Supposedly the space is designed in the shape of a grand piano, with a grand piano in the center. What is fascinating is that the bar itself is not at the center.
If you want to come here for a drink and to experience it, I suggest mid-afternoon. I arrived in the middle of lunch time and it was packed. I did not have a reservation but being only one, they were able to seat me at an awkward high table that faces a mirror. I looked through the menu of the season, “The Songbook,” cocktails inspired by classic songs. Probably the heftiest and most ornate cocktail menu I have seen. After ordering my drink, the waiter came by with some snacks and I asked if I could move to the bar should those folks clear out. Sure enough they did, as did most of the bar and I moved on over just as my drink was being made.
First up was the non-vintage off-menu Hanky Panky cocktail, invented at this bar by mixologist Ada Coleman in 1903. This classic is always served and they happily make it if you ask. It was fantastic. Strong yet subtly sweet and smooth. A smoother less sweet version of a Old-Fashioned in my opinion.
I then went for a drink from the Songbook menu. Somewhere Sailin inspired by “Beyond the Sea”:Tanqueray no. 10 Gin, Nori, tio pepe fino sherry, melon liquor, celery bitters, citrus tonic. It was super refreshing and light, not terribly sweet but definitely a good one for those who prefer a sweeter cocktail.
The bartender was fantastic, he was friendly, engaging and happily walked you through the mixology process of each drink he made. Given that I was there and was not sure if I’d ever return necessarily, I decided to go all out and get the most expensive non-vintage cocktail on the Songbook menu, at 50GBP. The Lonely Street inspired by “Heartbreak Hotel”: Craigallachie 17 year whisky, discarded cascara vermouth, white port, baklava, mezcal, coffee oil, smoke. WOW, was it worth 50GBP? I am not sure, but it was so good. Like the smokiness, the layered flavor profiled of all the elements that went into the drink. At times bitter, at times sweet, at times citrus and strong yet at times smooth and mellow.
After enjoying 3 drinks and chatting with regulars at the bar and the bartender, it was time for me to head out.
Dinner By Heston Blumenthal
Knowing I was heading to London, I suddenly remembered that Heston Blumenthal has a restaurant in London. I placed myself on the waitlist online and as I departed the U.S. I was notified that I got off the waitlist for Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, famous for his Fat Duck restaurant in Ascot. Blumenthal is known for his extensive research and use of science with food as well as using historic recipes from real history or from his childhood memories. The restaurant is located inside the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel. It has a modern decor with hints of science, experimentation and mechanics throughout. There is once again no strict dress code, but again no shorts or flip slops for sure.
They offered an a-la-carte menu or a seasonal tasting menu. When I was there the menu was Edible History – Last Supper Pompeii – 79AD, inspired by and in collaboration with Ashmolean Museum in Oxford that had an exhibit on Pompei and its ties to high cuisine and its food culture and how for example the fresh baked bread the day of the eruption was preserved in ash. The 3 course (5 with dessert and bread) was 88GBP without beverages, no wine pairing but each dish came with a recommended pairing for a by the glass charge.
Sadly the exhibit had finished by the time I was in London otherwise it would have been great to go to Oxford first to see the exhibit then have the dinner. I of course went with the Last Supper Pompeii menu as it sounded quite unique and right in line with Blumenthal’s approach and experimentation with cooking. But I also had to order an a-la-carte of his signature dish, Meat Fruit, based on a 1500 British recipe, Mandarin jelly, chicken liver parfait and grilled bread, supposedly has a dedicated team of around 3 chefs who spend days making this dish.
The meal was so cool. As expected the dishes were all fascinating in their flavor profiles, plating, and use of ingredients and cooking techniques. Highlights were the meat fruit, Duck and Turnip (I did not know you can use turnip in so many ways and iterations in one dish, exposing all that a turnip can do for a dish!), and the Libum dessert, but the Bay of Naples butter was also delicious oceanic and salty.
I shall let the pictures do the rest of the talking with captions.
I was happy with my revisit of London’s food and beverage scene. Next time I return it shall be another round, but perhaps some pubs and inns, more local flavors or back to basics of Indian food in London, which never disappoints.