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First Week in London - Notes and Ramblings

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I've just transferred from NY and wanted to share some of my experiences so far. These are in no particular order.

Fentiman's Lemonade is so unbelievable good, I wouldn't do it justice here. I love the mix of sour lemons, aromatics, and slight funk. It is utterly perfect as a beverage. My only gripe is it is so difficult to find.

I lunched over on Edgware road at Ranoush Juice on a rec from a co-worker. Damn, what an unbelievable lamb doner. The meat was succulent, lamb-y and tender. It had hints of spicing which NY Middle Eastern joints don't use. Cinnamon? Cardamom? I could tell, but it worked really well. The doner was well sauced with just enpugh heat from the hot sauce. It was so good, I wondered if I had merely been hungry and that had clouded my judgment. I walked up Edgware northbound and stopped into a place half a block from Ranoush on the spur of the moment. I had another doner there. Not really as flavorful meat, and lack luster in presentation. This perversely heartened me, as I realized my taste buds where spot on in their feeling at Ranoush.

Friends took me out to Patara in Soho. Didn't really try much, but the lamb shank in red curry was wonderful. The curry came quite spicy as requested and was rich and flavorful. The lamb was appropriately fork tender and again had excellent flavor. Nice presentation too. I had to admit, I was pretty impressed.

Here's my Seinfeld moment. What's the deal with pre-packaged sandwiches here? Why are they so pervasive? Perhaps coming for a arguably one of the premier sandwich cultures in NY, perhaps my expectations are too high. Even so, generally these pre-packed sandwiches are abominations.

Had dim sum at New World. I wasn't very impressed. Shu mai skins were too thick and gummy. The sticky rice was one-dimensional and lacked required elements like scallions. Couldn't eat much as I was alone, but won't be back.

Also shopped at a random Hanging Meat joint on the north side of Gerrard (sorry, can't remember the name. They did have a sign out front proclaiming the hiring of an noted chef for hanging meat). Got roast pork and cuttlefish. Cuttlefish was quite good, but the roast pork was disappointing. It was a bit dry, and just not that flavorful.

Just got back from a visit to Borough market. Holy cow, is this a food Mecca or what? I loved every moment of it. It was so spectacular from the outset that I questioned my decision to live in north London. I totally dug the atmosphere, the vibe, and the grub! Here's a shortlist of what I grabbed:
- Various artisan cheeses. I has really impressed with the variety of UK origin cheese. Great flavors and textures. I couldn't tell you which ones I got where though.
- Pie's from English King's. Haven’t tried these yet, but got a game and pork to try. They look great.
- A piece of wild board sausage from Sardinia. Tender, fatty sausage that looked great and tasted better.
- Salted fresh butter
- German snack sausages and liverwurst. I haven't tried these yet.
- Gigantes and harissa olives from Borough Olive. Both taste very good but frankly, I was shocked at the price tag of 9 quick for two small tubs..
- Fresh English granny smith apples. Great.
- Baguette from degustibus. Smelled excellent.

I also ate:
- A burger from Northfields (on a rec from the board). Frankly, I was unimpressed. Dry meat, not much flavor. Nice thick pieces of good cheddar on top though.
- Sausage sandwich from Roast to go. Excellent flavored sausage, balanced hints of fennel and parsley.
- Pint of medium hard cider. Wasn't a fan of this, but I think that was more about me than the cider. It had a scent which was unpleasant to me.

The worst part about the trip is that I'm still in corporate housing with no real cooking utensils. I had to pass lots of fresh veggies, fish (which looked awesome) and meats. I can't wait to explore the market more.

NY'ers are proud. It takes a lot to say this, but we have no farmers market which rivals the variety, size, atmosphere and quality of Borough. What a place!

That's all for now. Thanks for reading the ramble. Looking forward to exploring more!

S

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  1. Welcome to London! Another good market to try is Broadway Market in Hackney on Saturdays from 9 to 5. A little less hectic than Borough and good people-watching. You can walk back along the canal which is really nice on a good day.

    You are right about the sandwiches...and wait til you get familiar with all the toppings...mini-shrimp, egg salad, avocado, and rocket (arugula). Man, do they love their rocket here. Sometimes I'd do anything for a turkey sandwich. (They are not impossible to find. They're just not everywhere.)

    1. Thanks for the tip on the Broadway market, I'll check it out.

      1. Next time you're at Borough Market, make sure you try Bourne's Cheshire cheese. It's made on the farm about 30 miles from where I live. The Bournes make the 400 mile round trip each week to sell at Borough. They usually offer three - "mature", organic and blue. All are good.....mature is wonderful.

        Luckily, they also sell at my local monthly farmers market, 10 minutes drive away.

        John

        2 Replies
        1. re: Brit on a Trip

          Just wanted to let you Londoners know that they are trying to close down Borough Market. There is a petition that you can sign, although I don't have the link here. I was just there the past week and loved it. Try the chorizo sausage sandwich! Also, we had a good burger at Black and Blue which is near the sausage stand. The other great burger was at Eagle Cafe.

          1. re: Missmoo

            The website for the petition to save Borough Market is at:
            http://www.sabmac.co.uk/news1.htm

            There's also a history of what's going on and who is trying to shut it down. This is progress?!?! I think we should all sign!!

        2. Get yourself over to the Green Valley Middle Eastern market. All kinds of wonderful cooked items to take home, or for a picnic or quick lunch. Next to Borough Market, it was my favorite place to graze. The closest tube stop is Marble Arch.
          36 Upper Berkeley Street, London W1H 5QF
          Oh, and don't miss their ice cream! If I'm remembering correctly my favorite flavor was called, simply, Milk.

          1. I was in London (D.C. is home) for just under two months last year for work, and I still miss Borough Market! That place is tremendous. The chorizo sandwich, preserves by England Preserves and the brownies by Flour Power City were my favorites. The diver scallops were also pretty good. I, too, was in corporate housing, so was somewhat limited in terms of what I could cook. If you didn't wander over to Neal's Yard Dairy when you were there, check it out the next time. They do free tastings where you walk up to the counter and ask to taste just about anything you see. Fabulous.

            Wish I'd known about the other markets mentioned when I was there. Oh well -- it gives me a good excuse to go back!

            And I'm with you on the pre-packaged sandwiches. Awful, awful, awful.

            1. Something else to look forward to: in the summer, when it's in season, the fishmonger in Borough Market has fresh samphire, a delicious sea vegetable that I've only ever seen here in Britain. It tastes a bit like a cross between seaweed and asparagus. It's a truly local (presumably wild) delicacy. It's probably a bit early to mention it, but keep it in mind when June/July rolls around!

              3 Replies
              1. re: accecil

                Thanks for all the tips. Here's to years of exploring...

                S

                1. re: CTownFeedR

                  thx so much for your timely post. i'll be there for a week this friday. i would've blindly went right for the sandwiches if i hadn't read this - heh.

                  i'm staying at a hostel by borough, cant wait to see this market.

                  q: whats a hanging meat place? is it a butcher or is it fast foodish?

                  1. re: mrnyc

                    Man, sometimes I love this site. A dude I've posted back to in NY and now doing the same about London.

                    Hanging meat - think a cantonese noodle shop/BBQ place which has cuts of pork, pig, chicken, duck etc hanging in the front window. I guess "hanging meat" is slang me and my friends use for these joints, but no one else.

                    Here's a tip about sandwiches. If you see the term "fresh cut" on a shops signage, they will be making the sandwich from your order. These types of places are smaller, usually on a side street, not chain oriented, and can be OK.

                    Enjoy London.

                    S

              2. Thanks for posting such an appreciative and thoughtful set of observations - far too many posting from the London board seem to be from expatriates either complaining about why everything is so expensive or how they hate food in London; your post was a refreshing change.

                The question you raise about sandwiches is interesting. I do love sandwiches in the US, especially in NYC. But don't be so quick to write off all pre-made sandwiches. Sure, if they're made with cheap ingredients and are days old they'll generally be bad. But arguably a sandwich shouldn't be freshly cut - on the contrary, the flavours improve by being able to merge a bit over a couple of hours. Think of the Provencal pan bagnat - much better when pressed for a while than eaten fresh. Or banh mi. I think the same goes for a lot of Pret a Manger sandwiches - one of the things I like about the ham and greve baguette, for example, is that the flavours have blended a bit.

                This doesn't excuse the preponderance of bad sandwich shops in London (and for what it's worth, I think the average quality of the independents is if anything lower than that of the chains). But it does explain why fresh cut sandwiches aren't universally prized.

                11 Replies
                1. re: abpstigand

                  thx for the tips abpstigand. caveat emptor on the sandwiches i suppose!

                  btw pret-a-porter has come to nyc so i'm familiar with it. good enough in a pinch.

                  1. re: mrnyc

                    Pret a Manger in NYC is a very distant cousin to what you'll find in London. The sandwiches there are more targeted to an American palate (and not as interesting) as the ones over here. At least that is my humble opinion. See what's available in the UK - just for the fun of it.

                    1. re: zuriga1

                      will do -- thx!

                      got any other cheap eats tips? since i'll be by the borough market i was hoping that might be something. looks like you can only walk in off the street on fri/sat tho, i dk. fingers crossed.

                      so far as i see, ST JOHNS and CANTEEN are my only big ticket / must do restaurant splurges.

                      1. re: mrnyc

                        I'm often one of those people who just walk down the street and look at menus posted outside... I see what looks interesting. There are tons of cheaper choices in the Soho area. I've had good Japanese there with friends - just wander the streets wherever you are. I'm afraid I'm also one of those complaining Yanks who will never get used to the prices in London but life is what it is. Have a coffee and snack at the Monmouth Coffee Shop across the street (not in) the Borough Market... good coffee! The Patisserie Valerie chain isn't bad for a quick lunch or wander near Covent Garden. I haven't gotten to Canteen as yet - and remember there's always Chinatown and the museum cafes - some are quite good.

                        1. re: zuriga1

                          I just moved from N. London to Brixton, and here are some of the best cheap places I really miss up there: Bavo on Southgate Road (listed on toptable.co.uk, I loved the lemon sole and the mixed kebab platter); The Dervish in Stoke Newington for the best meze plate (lots of fresh veg-based starters that I hadn't ever seen before), Ottolenghi on Upper Street in Islington for their lunch special especially. And, maybe my favorite hidden favorite, the little patisserie on the north side of Newington Green. Great food and a lovely back garden patio.

                          If anyone has recs for replacements in the SW (around Brixton/Herne Hill/the Dulwiches), let me know!

                          1. re: Rianna

                            Somewhat off topic, but you'll do OK-ish in the badlands of Brixton... (it's SE not SW, btw - you'll get into terrible trouble for confusing the Claphams with Peckham!) In no particular order: E. Dulwich has a good bunch of eateries - on Lordship Lane there's Sea Cow, Tandoori Nights (really fresh Indian food, very good vegetarian choices), Franklins (St John style cooking), Palmerston (gastropub with pretensions), Pistachio Club (pretty good Bengali food), Green and Blue (very good wine importer with a cafe behind the shop). Thai Cafe in Northcross St is OK-ish - nothing at all special.. Nearby is the Ganapati in Holly Grove (South Indian as the name suggests).

                            Herne Hill has the blessed Olleys for v. fresh fish and chips (opp Brockwell Park), plus the Three Monkeys (mixed views on their "nouveau" Indian food). Dulwich village isn't too well off surprisingly. There's Beauberry House (not eaten there as it get really up and down reviews - but it's in a beautiful house) and a Pizza Express.

                            Sun and Doves on Coldharbour Lane has a great garden and OK food... And a Brixton tip - the pizzas at the Ritzy are really very good. Bizarre. We need a decent Viet (there's only the New Loon Kee on Camberwell New Road that I've so far discovered).

                        2. re: mrnyc

                          I would definitely go to Burrough Market on Friday. On Saturday it's so crowded as to be unbearable (and if you can get there before the lunchtime rush on Friday, all the better). Instead of looking for a restaurant around there, I'd plan to eat food from the various stalls.
                          I also wouldn't categorise Canteen as a 'splurge' - it's actually quite reasonable, at least by London standards. If you do go, you should go a bit early and stop in Taj, an amazing Bengali supermarket in Brick Lane (every kind of South Asian food/kitchen supply you could ever want), and A. Gold, a delecatessan in Brushfield Street that has lots of interesting English food.

                    2. re: abpstigand

                      You know, when I responded above about sandwiches, I considered writing a whole paragraph about the deliciousness of Pret's ham and greve baguette. But I thought I would be mocked. I've decided I don't care. That is a damn good sandwich. I have two colleagues from Chicago who come to London a few times a year and sometimes do two a day--one for breakfast and one for lunch. And damn if Pret doesn't do a good baguette! Nice and crunchy on the outside.

                      1. re: kristainlondon

                        OK OK, I'll take a hint and try this bad boy of a sandwich this week. All of you can't be wrong, can you?

                        S

                        1. re: CTownFeedR

                          it might be interesting to compare something from the "og" pret's to the ny versions of pret. i'm not adverse to them if i'm walking around starving. i'll prob try to look for the 'fresh made' locals and give them a try over pret.

                          great tips here -- thx folks -- i'll report back in a week or so.

                          1. re: mrnyc

                            I´m not sure why but my favorite is the hoisin duck wrap. M&S does a decent version, too.