[London] Trip Report (Tayyab, Alounak, St. John, L'Autre Pied, Hereford Road, La Petite Maison, and more)
I arrived in London on Sunday morning, and went to stay with my friend (who I will call P., to avoid writing “my friend” over and over again).
Canteen: After my morning nap, P., knowing of my interest in English cookery, suggested that we try Canteen, which is around the corner from her on Baker Street. I started with the potted duck, with piccalilli and grilled bread. I loved the piccalilli, which I’d never had before, and felt as if the duck was particularly greasy and a bit under salted. The bread was quite good. Because they were out of steak and kidney pie, I then had fish and chips (haddock) – the portion was huge, far too much to eat, and again, I thought the fish was undersalted. The batter was nice and crisp, the fish slightly dry, but the chips were quite good. I made the mistake of wanting catsup on my chips instead of vinegar, and when I opened the catsup bottle, catsup literally exploded out of the bottle and all over me! While the staff were a little on the slow side in helping with the clean up, and didn’t actually wipe up the mess on the table, they did apologize profusely, and would not allow us to pay for our meal. P. had a mushrooms, barley and chard stew– again, a huge portion, slightly undersalted, but decent. I had a rather expensive glass of Pinot Noir, and the check was about £50.
We then strolled along Marylebone High Street.
Divertimenti: What a lovely shop. I saw a lot of things that I liked, but only purchased a set of olive wood salad servers (about £8).
Daunt Books for Travellers: This bookstore had an excellent selection of cookery books, but I decided to wait to buy any until I’d first explored the used bookstores on Charing Cross Road, and Books for Cooks.
Paul: We stopped in for tea at this small chain. The pastries looked just lovely, as did the savory items we saw being served. We each had a pot of tea (tea bags) and I had the tarte aux fraises, while P. had the tarte aux framboises. They were about £3 each, and had a nice balance of sweet fruit, flakey crust, and a light pastry cream.
We made our way for lunch to the Whitechapel Road area, then meandered our way over to Brick Lane, which we walked up while admiring the many South Asian sweet shops, on our way to Brushfield Street, where our destination was A. Gold.
Tayyab: A London ‘hound had recommended this Punjabi place on Fieldgate Street to us. It was quite busy at lunch time, with a very diverse clientele, but we were seated quickly, and a small plate of salad was placed on the table. We decided to go vegetarian for lunch (P. is vegetarian), and were over all very pleased with our lunch. We started with one meat and one vegetarian samosa and, while the filling tasted good, we both thought that they’d been sitting around for a while, as the dough was on the limper side. Things quickly improved though. We had Chana – a chickpea dish with fried onions, Dhal Baingun (sp?) – eggplant/aubergine with lentils, Paneer Tikka, which P. particularly liked, Pilau, and Tandoori Pratha. P. also had a salted Lassi, but said it wasn’t particularly salty. Everything was just delicious, and we had to restrain ourselves slightly as we knew that we were going out for Persian food for dinner. The bill was about £20 before tip.
“Fair Trade Coffee”: After lunch, we made our way back to Whitechapel road, and stopped for P.’s mandatory post lunch coffee. I noted that the place was called “Fair Trade Coffee” – but, in retrospect, I think I may have gotten it wrong, since it is “Fair Trade” week in London. It was on the north side of the road, east of the Starbucks, somewhere between Vallance St. and Osborne Road. Anyway, we each had a macchiato, and, while the clerk at first didn’t know what that was even though it was on the list of coffees, he made two quite nice ones and I enjoyed the rich coffee and abundant crema.
Montezuma Chocolates: We were lured in by some grapefruit flavored chocolates, but it turned out that they were milk chocolate, while both P. and I prefer dark. The shop had a large selection of chocolate “by origin”, and a fun selection of amusingly named truffles, chocolate, etc. I bought what they call “Dainty Dollops”, which are flavoured thin chocolate disks. I got the mandarin, which was not too sweet, with a strong orange flavour, and a box of the peppermint for P., which I did not try. The boxes were a little under £6 each.
A. Gold: I had read about this store, featuring British foods, in several books, and so wanted to visit. It’s quite a small shop, but jampacked with treats. In addition many jarred/tinned items, there was a nice array of traditional English baked goods both sweet (Eccles cakes, a walnut cake, and a spicy ginger cake that we had a sample of), and savoury (meat pies, sausage rolls). I purchased a large jar of preserved ginger, Taylor’s English mustard, a mint sauce, and some tinned pilchards (had never heard of them!). I gather that they also sell sloe gin there. P. was thrilled to see sherbet dib-dabs there, and there were a lot of jars of penney candy as well.
Verdi & Co.: This Italian market is right next door to A. Gold, and even smaller. The fruit and vegetables outside were most appealing, including blood oranges from Sardinia. It was a bit of squeeze inside, with more clerks than customers. We admired the goods on the shelves, which included a number of high end Italian brands that I see at Di Palo’s in Manhattan. They also carry Pierre Marcolini chocolates. I gather that the prices are stratospheric, but we didn’t check them.
More to come .....
Day 2, continued.
Waitrose: We stopped in to Waitrose so that I could do my customary “explore a local grocery store” and pick up some wine to bring to the restaurant for dinner. I understand that this is a rather high end market, but very much enjoyed perusing. The Waitrose private label items looked so appealing. I picked up some Heinz salad cream, as well as self rising flour, though I didn’t see any self rising cake flour. I bought some wine as well, and noted that some French wines that I buy in the U.S. were about the same price in pounds as the dollar prices are here.
Alounak: We then headed out to the Shepherd’s Bush area to meet up with greedygirl and another ‘hound for dinner. P. had been a bit reticent about Persian food as vegetarian friendly, but there were lots of options. We started with a mixed appetizer platter, which had “Mirza Ghassemi, char grilled aubergine, fried onion, garlic and tomato, Homos (yet another spelling of hummus!), Salad Olivieh, diced chicken breast, potatoes, boiled egg, pickled cucumber, garden peas, mayonnaise and olive oil, and lastly Halim Bademjan, mashed char grilled aubergine, fried onions, herbs, garlic, butter beans and walnuts and kashk.” (From their website.) All dishes save for the chicken one were vegetarian, and I particularly enjoyed the mirza ghassemi. We also ordered bread, but I don’t know the name of it, and then a kebab platter for two, which was more than enough for three. It came with ground lamb kebabs, cubed lamb kebabs, chicken with saffron (maybe marinated in yogurt?) kebabs, and what looked to me to be skirt steak. P. ordered a feta dish with lots of fresh herbs, including mint, and a yogurt dish similar to raita, which we all shared as well. I hoped to have some rice with tah dig, even though it wasn’t on the menu, and they kindly brought us out a hefty portion of it, with just very nice and crispy tah dig – we actually, sadly, left some of it. P. had a yogurt drink, and the check before tip for the four of us was about £62.
Totally Swedish: I’ve been to this Swedish food market in Crawford Street before, as I lived in Sweden as a child and always enjoy browsing there. A warm “hey hey” welcomed me, and I picked up some ground cardamom for P. They have a good selection of Swedish cheese, by the way, as well as Swedish candies in jars – and a nice assortment of licorice.
Greenfield’s: Stopped into this Middle Eastern market in Crawford Street as well, and noted for P. that they carry small long Asian eggplant.
St. John: I then made my way to the City to meet P. at St. John. Now, since she is a vegetarian, you can imagine that this place hasn’t exactly been high on her list of places to go. However, a poster mentioned that they have an excellent toasted cheese sandwich available at the bar, and I called to confirm this, so P. was game. I arrived a little early, but snagged the only table available in the bar area, and then ordered a glass of Chinon while waiting for P. To my right were two men having slices of roast beef on bread, and clearly enjoying a bottle of wine. To my left was a group of men, one of whom was having the toast cheese sandwich, which looked oddly brown on top. When P. arrived, we went to the back to look at the chalkboard menu, after realizing that the sandwich is actually Welsh Rarebit, and had Worcestershire sauce in it. However, the menu had several vegetarian options, and P. opted for lentils with goat’s curd (sort of a whipped goat cheese in this case) and a salad, while I ordered the Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad and the pig crackling salad. All our dishes came at once, which we wanted, as P. had to go back to the office, and as I started eating my bone marrow – smearing it on a bite of grilled bread and sprinkling on some sea salt, one of the men on my right interrupted us, and asked if I would mind his telling me how to eat it, as, unlike in the Dining Room, at the bar “one is left to fend for one’s self”. So, he told me, and when I started to put some parsley salad on top with a fork, he told me to use my fingers, which I did! We discovered later, from our excellent (French?) waiter, that the men to my right were Fergus Henderson and the owner, Trevor Gulliver. I wasn’t so excited by my Chinon, so I asked our waiter to choose another red for me, and I did like that Cote du Rhone much more. Back to the food – P. raved over her lentil dish, and, well, there is a reason Bourdain says that this bone marrow dish would be his last meal. Unctuous, and the richness cut just ever so slightly by the parsley salad with shallots. I ate about half of it, then moved on to the cracklings. The salad had mostly Belgian Endive (chicory), and a creamy yet very sharp mustardy salad dressing, which was also on P.’s salad. I want to see if I can find a recipe for it. The cracklings were, of course, as delicious as one expects perfectly fried pig skin to be.
For dessert, we shared a chocolate dessert with caramel ice cream and a tuile. The chocolate was so incredibly rich that I hesitate to call it a cake, and I just had a few bites, along with some of the caramel ice cream, leaving P., under protestation, to have the rest. We then both had espresso – v. well drawn – and I picked up an Eccles cake at the bakery counter, as well as a loaf of their brown sour dough bread for P. to take home. The bill before tip, not including the baked goods, was about £48.
Charing Cross Road: After we separated, I made my way to Charing Cross Road, as I wanted to explore the used bookstores for cookbooks. I didn’t have much luck generally, but did find “Recipes from Vienna”, by Charlotte Walter, at Henry Porde’s, which had a small selection. It’s part of a series published by Arco, called “Cookery Classics of the Century” – I’m really interested in locating “Indian Cookery” by E. P. Veerasawmy, as well as “The Kitchen Encyclopaedia” by Countess Morphy, who is described as “the greatest woman authority on food and cookery”. I popped into several other stores, and it did seem to me that there were a lot fewer used bookstores than there once were.
Paxton & Whitfield: I stopped in here to buy some Mimolette and Comte for P. I always enjoy coming in here, and upon tasting the Mimolette, I realized I’d forgotten how delicious it is. Also picked up some cheese straws for my mother, and cheese-themed coasters for my stepmother.
Tea: At our room in the Draycott, I had a pot of lapsang souchong, and sampled my St. John’s Eccles cake – very rich, something that I could imagine having a slice of, but I could by no means eat the whole thing. The home made shortbreads left in the room for us – chocolate and plain – were delicious.
Day 3, continued:
L’Autre Pied: P. and I had perused the menu online, and the celeriac risotto called out to both of us. I had no trouble in the morning booking a table for four at L’Autre Pied for the same day, nor with changing the time of our reservation mid-afternoon (still full from lunch). I think this meal was the highlight of our trip, with Hereford Road being a very close runner up. The menu we received, which offers a seven course tasting menu, a set prix fixe menu, as well as the a la carte menu, did not have any vegetarian options, but it turned out that they have a separate vegetarian menu.
To start, our table had the sweetbreads (“Caramelised Veal Sweetbreads, Glazed in Maple Syrup, Shaved Fennel, Pink Grapefruit, Fennel Froth”), the foie gras (“Pan Fried Foie Gras, Sage and Onion Lyonnaise, Pear and Star Anise Sorbet”), a vegetable salad (“Salad of Young Winter Vegetables, Pine Nut and Tarragon Dressing”) and half a portion of risotto as a starter (me). The risotto was truly memorable – “Celeriac and Herb Risotto, Caramelised Celeriac Purée, Salad of Wild Leaves”. The plate is brought to the table, and includes a ‘coin’ of roasted celeriac. The risotto is brought separately in a small terrine, and then spooned on to the plate. I think there was also a hint of truffle in the dish. There was quite a silence as we savoured our food.
We then had two main course portions of the risotto, my husband had the pork belly (which was on the daily prix fixe menu, but there was no problem having it a la carte), and I had the duck dish (“Roasted Breast of Gressingham Duck , Carrot and Orange Purée, Spiced Pomme Dauphin”). My duck was perfectly cooked, well seasoned and I enjoyed my bite of the pork belly. The portions sizes were just right – not too small and fussy, and not overwhelming. For dessert, P. had a passion fruit pannacotta and two of us had the rhubarb and pistachio crumble with rhubarb sorbet and cardamom ice cream. The cardamom ice cream was a very nice contrast to the warm crumble.
My husband ordered the Vacherin Mont d’Or. This is an entire Mont d’Or, baked. The server kept asking if that was for the whole table, and were we really also having desserts. No, and yes! There is a 25 minute wait for this, and so three of us enjoyed glasses of Sauterne in the meanwhile. That Mont d’Or was a thing of beauty. P. and I each had a bite, while my husband ate an awful lot of it, testing, apparently, the best ways to eat it (bread, crackers, how much to put on each piece – I was almost surprised that he didn’t just eat it with the spoon, but that would have been double dipping), and his colleague had quite a bit of it as well. The bill including the service charge was about £320, and included two bottles of a Lalande de Pomerol, and two bottles of still water.
Breakfast: I had coffee, grapefruit juice and croissants in our room at the Draycott. The coffee was oddly underwhelming – it wasn’t weak, but somehow lacked flavor other than bitterness. The milk brought with it was warm, which I appreciated. The croissants were very small – several bites – and not quite traditional croissants, but warm and flakey, and the homemade strawberry jam was some of the best that I’ve had in a while.
Made my way up to the Notting Hill area.
The Spice Shop: I spotted this shop across from Books for Cooks, and so popped in to look for ground fennel for P. I think they really have any spice you could need, and they dug up the ground fennel for me from the storeroom in the basement. There was a broad selection of dried chilies – guajillos and many more. They also had, I noted, soft corn tortillas (I seem to recall the U.K. poster Soop not finding them when needed).
Book for Cooks: A must stop for anyone who loves cookbooks as much as I do. As I walked in, there were wonderful aromas coming from the café in the back. I concentrated on the British books – there was such a selection, and, once again had to restrain myself. I picked up both Elizabeth David’s “Spices, Salt & Aromatics in the English Kitchen” and Nigel Slater’s “Real Fast Food”, but put the latter back after I decided to purchase the “Ottolenghi Cookbook” that lots of posters have been raving about on the Home Cooking board. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Ottolenghi to try any of their food. The store had a large selection of American cookbooks as well, though I didn’t think to check the prices. A number of books that we’ve cooked from for COTM were in the selection, and the clerk told me that Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques was very popular when it first came out, and that they tested a number of the recipes in the café with good results. By the way, this David book is available at my local cookbook store in NYC, but was much much more expensive there. I read it on the flight home and thoroughly enjoyed it, and learned a great deal. Now, of course, I have a further list of British books I want, to which she refers.
Gail’s: I stopped in at Gail’s on Portobello Road mostly to figure out how to get myself to Hereford Road, and had a single espresso. It wasn’t so good – no crema, a bit burned tasting – but when they handed it to me in a huge cup, two of the other clerks explained that the person who made it had just started (hence the huge cup!). The baked goods looked appealing, but I didn’t try any.
Hereford Road: I took myself to lunch here with some Euros that I’d found in a drawer at home, and converted on Notting Hill Road! I had a bit of trouble finding it as Hereford Road appears in a crease in my A-Z, but with some perseverance made it there (note, I think Ossington is the street that one turns onto from Notting Hill Road, and it eventually, with some intermittent changes, becomes Hereford Road). The open kitchen is on the left as you walk in, and there is a small area with little banquettes for two opposite it, and this is where I sat. The dining room itself is then several steps down. I ordered a glass of Delamotte Rose Brut, and perused the menu. I decided to have the potted crab as a starter (I’ve made prawn paste and potted smoked salmon at home), and then the pigeon salad, and the marinated smoked haddock together as a main course of sorts. The potted crab came in a small oval terrine, with a layer of butter on top, and with grilled bread on the side. The crabmeat was sweet, delicate and plentiful and I ate all of it. I thought that it had a hint of nutmeg in it and asked my server, who then checked with the chef. Apparently the dish is not made in house, but has mace, a touch of nutmeg, and cayenne. I then looked up mace in the Elizabeth David book that I’d just bought and, indeed, she writes “How mace came to be the hundred percent traditional, invariable and indispensable spice of all English potted meats and fish compounds is not at all clear.”
I then had a glass of Valpolicella with my main courses. My server wasn’t very helpful with the wine selection (I’d not had pigeon before, and was hoping to find something that would be enjoyable with both the haddock and the pigeon), and her colleague tried to help and came up with the Valpolicella. I started with the marinated smoked haddock, which was served with some cooked squares of leek and tender potatoes. The dish combined mint and capers, and had an excellent sauce – the marinade – that was just slightly citrusy. I thoroughly enjoyed the silky smokiness of the haddock, and the other flavours on the plate. I ate about half of it, and then moved on to the pigeon, which was served with a chicory salad with pickled walnuts. The pigeon was rare and tender, slightly gamey, and, much as I like duck, I think that I prefer pigeon now.
For dessert, I ordered Rhubarb Eton Mess, after learning that it’s a combination of broken up meringue, loosely whipped cream, and cooked pieces of rhubarb. While waiting for it, I ordered another glass of champagne. I only had several bites of the dessert, but am definitely going to try to make some Eton Messes of my own at home. I ended my meal with a very good double espresso and a nice chat with the chef, Tom Pemberton, about English cooking, etc. He said that he thought that Simon Hopkinson was a genius, and we talked about the resurgence of “British” cuisine etc. While the dishes I had here were rather different from those I had at St. John, if I had to choose one of the two based on my two meals, my choice would be Hereford Road. That said, I do think that the service at St. John was quite a bit better and a bit more polished – not in a smarmy way, but in a more professional and knowledgeable way.
Harrods Food Hall: I returned to Harrods to deal with the VAT thing for a friend, and so wandered through the food halls. I really could spend hours there, but stopped only to pick up some smoked eel, as I knew it was called for in some Hopkinson recipes, and I’ve not seen it in the States. I was also looking for smoked haddock, for the same reason, but they didn’t carry it.
I'm chuffed you got the ED Spices etc book. It is one of my favourites.
We also ate at Hereford Road last June (dinner, the whole cooked crab was spectacular) and enjoyed it very much.
Another place you might want to think about for next trip is Hibiscus - I'm planning to have my next (biggish) birthday there this year after having a wonderful lunch the last time. Their website is worth a look.
Day 4, continued
La Petite Maison: This was not my suggestion or choice – but seemed a more reasonably priced restaurant than the Rib Room, which was suggested by one of our dining companions. I checked out the menu for the latter and, even with a much stronger dollar, the prices seemed beyond the pale. I’d wanted to try Launceston Place, but La Petite Maison won out. That said, the food was actually quite good. One of our dining companions had been several times before, but our waitress also explained to us that the dishes are meant to be shared, and come out to the table in the order in which they are ready. We ordered the following:
Pissaladiere – cut into five small pieces, thin crust and layer of carmelized onions, with a small piece of olive and a small piece of anchovy on top.
Celeriac Tart – I’m a huge fan of celeriac and was happy to see it on so many menus in London. That said, this was a little odd – largish slices of roasted celeriac on a pastry dough, cut into triangles of sorts.
Tuna Carpaccio – it actually was seared on the edges, rather than being a true carpaccio, which I think of as thinly sliced, and unseared. However, the tuna was beautiful, meaty and delicious.
Thinly Sliced Octopus in Lemon Oil – this was a favorite of mine and of my husband’s. It almost seemed as if four tentacles had been put together, rolled up, cooked, and then sliced very thinly.
Warm Prawns with Olive Oil – these were smallish halved prawns, maybe poached in olive oil? Tender, nice flavours, but nothing to write home about.
Grilled Ribeye Steak (entrecote) – this seemed like a smallish portion for the price (400 grams for £33.50) but it was perfectly cooked.
Rabbit Ragout – this was a pasta dish with a rabbit ragout. I’m a big fan of rabbit, as long as I don’t have to cook it myself. It was delicious – a little gamey in a good way, but quite a small portion.
Grilled Tiger Prawns – four large-ish prawns in their shells, well seasoned.
Beef Carpaccio – one companion ordered this as a main course, but I didn’t try it.
We also ordered green beans as a side dish, which we didn’t receive, and frites, which were quite good.
For dessert, we had one order of crème brulee, which I thought was huge, but with an anemic “crust” and dull crème. The flavors in the pruneaux d’Agen with ginger bread ice cream were spot on, but the dish was served in a largish shot glass with whole prunes, making it somewhat difficult to eat.
Service was quite good, and, the check, with three bottles of wine totaling £150, was £360, service included. For that price, I would return to L’Autre Pied instead. In retrospect, while the food was quite good, the portions were quite small, and I found myself hungry in the middle of the night. This place did seem to be a bit of a “see and be seen place” as well, which is, well, not my scene.
Breakfast: Another room service breakfast at the Draycott – my poached eggs were perfectly poached, and the home made orange marmalade was just wonderful – so tart. I also had a Cumberland sausage, which I’ve not had before, and really enjoyed. The coffee again was a bit lacking – not sure why I ordered it again.
Costa: To make up for the coffee at the hotel, I had a latte at Costa at Paddington Station. I thought it was well prepared and the coffee had a depth of flavour that was lacking in the Draycott’s coffee.
Heathrow: For years, my husband has raved about the tea sandwiches served at the First Class American Airlines lounge (you have to be traveling first class or be Executive Platinum to gain entry). I would imagine him at 11 am scarfing down sandwich after sandwich, with many startled onlookers. Well, now I can see why he likes them, as I did as well. My favorite was the shrimp one (the tiny shrimp – not what I understand the British call prawns – which we Americans call shrimp as well), but the smoked salmon one was excellent too. I tried the cheddar and chutney sandwich, but thought it was a bit dry. His favorite is (surprisingly) the shredded carrot one – perhaps because it is quite piquant. I liked it, but wasn’t overwhelmed. So, if you ever get to go into this lounge, to try the sandwiches, regardless of the time of day!
In case I didn't express this very clearly - I was pretty tired by the time I wrote about Petite Maison - with the exception of the creme brulee, everything that I tasted was very good, was prepared well, and was beautifully presented. I just felt that, for the price, the portions were very small, and that, given the choice, I'd rather go back to L'Autre Pied, which ended up being less expensive and, I thought, served more innovative food.
I'd think you'd have more luck finding sea urchin in an Italian restaurant. When we went to Puglia in March a couple of years ago they had just come into season and the Italians were wolfing them down by the plateful. I've never seen them in France though, although that may be because I've not been in the right place at the right time.