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Would like some London advice

Will be heading to London for about 8 days or so during the next couple months and would like some current guidance regarding restaurants there. Have done some homework on this board and also checked out some guidebooks. Will be staying in the Earl's Court area (will be limited to something readily accessible via tube or bus), will be hitting the major tourist sights and areas (the major museums and some of the smaller ones, Whitehall, The City, etc.), and will likely be eating later in the evening after evening museum closings (ca. 8-9-10 PM). While I can't afford to eat out every meal, I'd especially like to consider a few things you can't get in Boston (with some possibilities listed):

1. a fish and chips place (North Sea? Livebait?). Apparently pubs are not the way to go.
2. a pub for traditional British pub grub (Cheshire Cheese?), no gastropubs.
3. a good Indian place or two (Veeraswamy? Zaika? Mela? Randa? Cafe Spice Namaste? Bombay Brasserie? Gaylord's? Moti Mahal?)
4. a place to get traditional British food like spotted dick, treacle pudding, traditional main course pies, mushy peas, roasts, and the like (Porter's? Rules? Ivy? Simpsons in the Strand? St. John?)
5. will be having continental breakfasts where I'm staying but would like to have one traditional heavy duty English breakfast, preferably at a spot that opens early, say 7 AM or so (Cock Tavern? Fox and Anchor--has this place closed? Simpsons in the Strand?)

Also, are the Gay Hussar (Hungarian) and Jenny Lo's (inexpensive Chinese) worth considering? Are there any don't-miss Chinatown places?

I'll also of necessity be traveling extremely light -- will be dressed in nice jeans, a dark t-shirt covered with a sweater, and dark leather shoes, no sport coat. How formal are London restaurants? In Boston, you can eat almost anywhere dressed at this level of informality. Also, how necessary are reservations past 9 PM or thereabouts?

Many thanks!

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  1. 1. Pubs are DEFINITELY NOT that way to go. Go to the Golden Hind. It's on Marylebone Lane which is very close to you. Quick bus ride around Hyde Park.
    2. Not my area.
    3. If you don't want to travel then wait for some other reccs. If doing the veg thali, then go to Quilon. Tayyabs is always an option, though farther. Actual authentic Bengali food can be had if you go yet farther east.
    4. ...Isn't that sort of like 2?
    5. Again, not my area.

    The scene in Chinatown and for Chinese in general is pretty depressing, but this is coming from someone who is on a very tight budget and was used to life changing Chinese meals for 6 dollars. Just my 2 pence. Many will disagree with me on that, but I haven't seen anything to the contrary that I can't consider to be outrageously horribly ridiculously -insert adjective here- expensive.

    Reservations are pretty important in London, more so than I've ever seen before.

    1. Moti Mahal, Quilon, Bombay Brasserie (weekend lunch buffet), and Tayyab's (for kebabs) have been praised on these boards. I have tried all of these except BB, and found them rewarding. No experience of Cafe Spice. Some of the other fancy places (Zaika, Benares, Tamarind) no doubt have their virtues, but many people (including me) find them overpriced or pretentious for what you are actually getting. But on the other hand all of these are better than anything in Boston.

      Something you don't mention, but that I was put onto thanks to others on this board, is Middle Eastern food. Of course you get your hummus and the like everywhere these days, but have you ever tasted a truly sublime hummus? Howler put me onto Beiteddine and Ishbilia (both close to each other off Knightsbridge), and they have redefined my sense of what is available in this cuisine and how good it can be, made simply and beautifully. Might also mention these places are good value by London standards.



      P.S. Just took a quick loook at the Cafe Spice web site. Looks interesting. It is worth noting that they are Parsis, descenents of a small group of Zoroastrians who immigrated to India about 1000 years ago. Being India, they have retained a distinct identify after all these years. They have a few their own classic dishes which you'll find on the menu. Though I've never tried it, it's pretty clear that this is stuff you won't get in Boston.

      1. I too would recommend Cafe Spice Namaste. The restuarant looks great, and the food is good. Being Parsees they do a genuine Dhansak curry (not the much abused version in BritIndian places). Also what they claim to be a genuine Vindaloo. The menu isn't what you'd see in most Indian restaurants in Britain. Use the Time Out guide or their website for recommendations on everything.

        Fish'n'chips - try somewhere local.

        Good pub food - it can be found. Let us know if you do find it. Unfortunately most have succumbed to precooked Cajun Chicken wings etc. Imagine!

        Traditional British food - not common. In my neck of the woods you could try Lamberts (Balham). It's Modern British - neither a nostalgia fest or so progressive it's unrecognisably British. Good roasts, etc, mains about £15.

        Full English - find a local cafe. Many neighbourhood Italian restaurants do the FEB in the morning.

        Gay Hussar - definitely. Very comfortable place, and you get a good dinner. Good value for money too, despite the fame. I always go for the stuffed cabbage.

        Dress code - don't worry. You'll be fine everywhere EXCEPT the old guard, big bucks places like Simpsons, the Savoy, etc. Jacket and tie, no jeans there.

        Boston - good. Ate at the Chart House there, once - very good dinner.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Lord Brazing

          For a FEB, Roast's Full Borough Breakfast is pretty impressive -- although I'd split it, unless you're a premier-league eater. Roast is in the Borough Market (an interesting destination in itself, if you go on a thurs/fri/sat), and you'll get a good view of the going-on while you eat.

        2. Another breakfast place is City Cafe at City Inn. It's at 30 John Islip St. I haven't been so can't vouch for the food. Breakfast is served Mon - Fri 6.30 am to 10.00 am
          Sat - Sun 7.00 am to 11.00 am. It has nice views but not the atmosphere of a simple caffe.

          1. I like the Golden Hind for fish and chips too. The owner is an incredibly nice man, which makes eating there even more enjoyable.
            You should look into Sweetings in the City for a truly unique - yet traditional - British lunch. I believe they're only open during the week and for the midday meal. Fantastic old ambiance with several bar-like counters around the main room and the servers taking orders and providing food from behind them. They are mainly, if not entirely, a fish restaurant, but there are plenty of species on offer that you don't see in Boston. And they do great old-school puddings (I much prefer the sweeter treacle to the bready spotted dick, but either way, make sure you get custard with it.)
            For a traditional English breakfast, you might consider the Fountain Restaurant at Fortnum and Mason. I don't know what time they open but it's delicious, has excellent service, and is an elegant, tranquil environment.
            London is fantastic and I'm sure you'll enjoy your visit, but I do miss Eastern Standard and Locke-Ober!

            1. greetings bachslunch. Having spent many pleasant hours of diversion in pubs on our first London visit, I've done even more research recently and can answer a couple of your questions, admittedly not based on recent personal experience. You mentioned Cock Tavern and Fox and Anchor in connection with the 'full English breakfast', so I'll assume you refer to the Smithfield market pubs which were allowed to serve early a.m. beer in days past under since-altered restrictions. They both still do the breakfast, but the F&A was bought by an international concern, spruced up a bit and made into a gastro-pub, which you've ruled out. The reviews note that its character was not obliterated, might be even more attractive to the eye, but that type of 'improvement' often shifts the type of clientele. The Cock remains much the same, pretty bare bones and no nonsense. For pubs I usually cross ref. between the websites fancyapint and beerintheevening which are encyclopaedic; timeout also has quite a few reviews.

              An eatery known for decent ingredients and a plain cooking style in the Borough Market, Roast, does a full-bore multi-meats, black pudding et cetera early breakfast, not cheap but easily as much protein and likely more savoury than a U.S. 'steak & eggs.'--check their website if interested.

              1. 1, Not Livebait. North sea is probably one of the nicer fish places to eat in -- not suffused wtih fryer vapours, etc. Fish relieably fresh, good portions, well cut. Don't like their chips.
                2. Not sure what you want in terms of trad food... hardly any non-gastro places that do food made on the premises any more, mostly all chains with mass produced frozen pies heated in the microwave. The Lamb on Lamb's Conduit St might fit the bill.
                3. I'd suggest Moti Mahal if you like the sort of food they serve. Very well done. Something more plebian but worth seeking out IMO would be Pakistani grill type places like Tayyab near Whitechapel or Raavi near Euston.
                4. I'd go to a hotel if you want upmarket trad Brit -- Wolseley, Goring, etc.
                5. As someone has said, the Smithfield places aren't special any more. Wolseley again maybe. Inn the Park does well sourced breakfast foods, but maybe both more chi chi than you were thinking. Otherwise local caffs -- hopefully someone who knows earls court might suggest something.

                I haven't heard anything particularly good about Gay Hussar or Jenny Lo. Chinatown doesn't have any particularly good Chinese food. Good Chinese exists elsewhere, but none superlative.

                Dress-wise, that's fine. Hardly anywhere, even fancy places, have a dress code at more than that level of formality, private members clubs aside. Reservations unlikely to be necessary at the places you're looking at. It's the more trendy restaurants that have silly lists.

                1. For a "proper" breakfast, go to a greasy spoon cafe not a restaurant.

                  This site should help http://londonreviewofbreakfasts.blogs...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Harters

                    I haven't been to the Cock Tavern for years, and I have a fairly hazy memory of it, having landed there about 5am in the morning after a big night out, but if you can go, you should. It's a bit of an institution - the only place in London (possibly the UK) where you can have a pint with your fry up in the midst of the only big wholesale market left in London. Go now before it gets too gentrified! It's got great reviews on other sites, too. Any CHounds eaten there recently? The brekkie with kidneys and the steaks sound good....http://www.chow.com/images/button-pos...

                  2. Can you define your use of gastropub vs. pub? To someone's comment below about Fox & Anchor, it's definitely undergone a rehab, but I think the menu and atmosphere is still more "pubby" than anything else. There are about five different pies on the menu. Great burgers. Not a caper or olive in sight! No quinoa. i.e., nothing super-fancy, Just good dependable pub food. I'd recommend the Fox & Anchor most highly. (And they have pretty much all the items you list on #4...)

                    Bookings--yes, definitely.

                    1. Great food, the Enterprise in Knightsbridge
                      AMAYA for Great Indian food which is grilled
                      BROMPTON QUARTER CAFE for a traditional English breakfast
                      YAUATCHA for dim sum
                      Veeraswamy also quite good, get the chicken lollipops
                      POSTCARD TEAS- tea and treats
                      You will have a great time!!

                      1. My favourite place for fish and chips (I must confess I haven't needed to go anywhere else!) is The Golden Hind on Marylebone Lane. It's been around for nearly a century and has a fascinating history. Sit upstairs for atmosphere, as downstairs is grotty. The fish arrives fresh every day, the chips are handcut and the tartare sauce home-made.

                        My favourite Chinese restaurant is Yauatcha - that's my don't miss Chinese, but it's not in Chinatown. I've written two reviews about it which you can find on my blog.

                        I think you would like The Wolseley for both the food (the apple crumble with custard is divine) and the ambience. Visitors to London seem to like it. The service is great, just ask for a quiet table.

                        Re reservations, it's essential in London for some reason. I always book weeks in advance, because I think everyone else must be. And they must be doing it for the same reason!

                        Enjoy London!

                        Helen Yuet Ling Pang

                        1. For fish and chips I can vouch for The Golden Hind. It's in Marylebone which is full of interesting little restaurants.

                          For breakfast forget anything on The Strand what you need is an authentic London cafe. For a good listing of these try: http://russelldavies.typepad.com/eggb....

                          Enjoy your trip and let us know what you discover.
                          Personally I really like The Regency Cafe near Pimlico tube.

                          1. greetings bachslunch, we just returned from a short London holiday so I should share a bit of our experience.

                            Having enjoyed thoroughly reading the majbros blogspot and Mr. Majumdar's posts here, I took his recommendation for getting fish & chips at Masters Super Fish on Waterloo Rd. not far from the train/underground station. If you are combining your outings with other spots of touristic interest as you've expressed, it's also an easy walk from the Imperial War Museum (which had a great exhib. of propaganda posters in mint cond., and a new wing, very well executed, for the Nazi-instigated Holocaust), and the Old Vic Theatre.

                            Service was prompt and friendly; all guests immediately receive a mini-app of three very fresh, head/shell-on, small boiled shrimp. We ordered a hot first course of grilled sardines, received two excellent specimens about 8 in. long, cooked whole with viscera still within. Our main was their unique(?) mustard-infused version of the fish-fry, which for us was a very lightly coated haddock fillet perfectly cooked. The chips were exemplary, consistently but not uniformly cut which I preferred 'cause they offered a little textural variation between the firmer and softer (all properly crisp) pieces. Our side order side of cole slaw appeared to have an aioli-type of dressing, on the creamy and eggy side, tasty and fresh but somewhat of an extreme of the creamy style of slaw and not to my spouse's taste.

                            The other types of fish I recall on the menu are fried whitebait as a first course, plaice (a flatfish consumed more on the eastern side of the Atlantic), and cod, and they will grill the fish instead of frying for a small extra charge. There are also a couple of non-seafood main course options. The other plates I saw with the conventional, more heavily-battered cod seemed to have slightly larger portions of fish than we had of haddock; this might have reflected ingredient cost of course, but the thicker crusts doubled the mass again, giving the plates impressive heft. We were quite happy with our lighter option, and I saw a gent who appeared to be a regular remove the coating from his cod as he ate, perhaps to control caloric intake as he ate every chip with gusto. All diners also get house-made pickles (gherkins and onions) which were crisp and leaning toward sweet/sour rather than sour/briny.

                            They are fully licensed and had a small but appropriate for the food wine list (several of the other tables chose red wines) and offered a couple of bottled beers; there is also a take-out counter right at the front entry.

                            I'm sure you'll enjoy London wherever you chose to go; I'll try to share some impressions of the food I saw in pubs as time and my limited/addled wits allow me to compose them.

                            1. 1. For fish and chips, a new eco-friendly Chelsea chippie called Tom's Place has just opened. It uses sustainable fish such as gurnard instead of cod. Probably pretentious and overpriced, definitely _not_ your traditional f'n'c but a nice idea and it's had some great reviews in the national and London press.
                              2. Dunno - not a fan of traditional British pub grub. The Perseverance on Lamb's Conduit does nice food but it probably counts as 'gastro'.
                              3. I went to Cafe Spice Namaste for a work 'do' and thought it was great. Rasa Samudra (Charlotte St?) does great veggie and seafood-heavy curries and there's a really great place near Gloucester Road tube station - sorry, have completely forgotten the name!
                              4. Great Queen Street, The Narrow, Rules for game.
                              5. Vingt-Quatre in Chelsea is open, as the name suggests, 24-7 and does decent grub (although not greasy spoon if that's what you're after). High Road Brasserie is out in Chiswick but opens at 7am and is generally a great place for breakfast/brunch/lunch/coffee with mates.
                              Gay Hussar - fun downstairs decor if you're into political sketches but food has really gone downhill and upstairs is completely devoid of atmosphere.
                              Jenny Lo's - dunno, never been.
                              Chinatown is not where I would go for good Chinese. Head to Royal China for dim sum (any branch but Baker St is a bit nicer than Queensway), Four Seasons on Queensway for other Chinese.

                              1. I must have walked past Veeraswamy a hundred times, before I decided to try it last Thursday evening. Turns out the food was very, very average. We ordered 4 types of curries: mutton, prawn, chicken & vegetarian - all 4 looked & tasted about the same. Where's the best place for Indian food in london? I've tried Bombay Brasserie before - it's better than Veeraswamy, but is horribly over-priced & still not that good.

                                1. 1. I like Masters Super Fry on waterloo road - lovely chips - home made pickles - good batter
                                  2. Not sure on this one - try neals dairy in covent garden - neals yard - for great selection of cheeses
                                  3. I love Kastoori in tooting and Shalamar on brick lane. Centrally Moti Mahal is good - use top table website for offers
                                  4. Porters is good as is the Anchor and Hope in Waterloo (gastro pub) - Cheap option is the stock pot chain which will boil your veg to death and overcook your meat - but pudding with custard is available and its cheap and you can get chips with everything
                                  5. Any greasy spoon will do this - try E Pellici in the east end - search for it - its has art deco fittings from the fifties and try the ham egg and chips - ham off the bone - yum