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Aug 30, 2009 09:02 AM

Name one food item not to be missed in London!

Husband and I are visiting London for the first time in two weeks. We only have three days to experience as much as possible in your city. We've planned one special meal for our anniversary dinner, but are very open for the rest of our time there.

So my question is this: what is the one food item/meal that you consider not to be missed while in London? Maybe it's something that you can only get in London, or something that is really best in London, or just something that you feel is truly exceptional.

All price ranges (from cheap takeout stalls to high-end dining) and all cuisines are welcomed. We eat just about anything.

We're staying in Marylebone, but can travel anywhere accessible by tube or taxi.

Please help make our trip truly memorable! Thanks, London 'hounds!

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  1. I think that has to be jellied eels, then. A London delicacy and unavailable elsewhere in the country (quite rightly, IMO).

    1 Reply
    1. re: Harters

      Ouch - I'm adventurous but that sounds a little rough. The only eel I've had has been unagi. Something about the word jellied.....hmmmm....something to consider.

    2. Some things that I consider truly exceptional:

      Shanghai-style shumai (not to be confused with the Cantonese rendition) at Min Jiang; the xiao long bao are also excellent and certainly at least a notch up from the Boston renditions (Kensington)

      Appam (a "flatbread" made with rice flour) at Quilon (Westminster)

      Afternoon Tea at the St Jame's Hotel & Club (St Jame's)

      Shisomaki (grilled pork bely with shiso) at Tosa (Hammersmith)

      Nyona kueh (a range of cakes) at Sedap, also the Curry Tumis fish (Old Street/City)

      Isaan dishes (e.g. som tom/green papaya salad, sausages) at 101 Thai (Hammersmith)

      Lebanese mezze at Ishbilla, grilled baby chicken at Alwaha (Westbourne Grove)

      Ice Cream at L'Artisan du chocolat (Westbourne Grove)

      Sausage roll at the Ginger Pig (either Marylebone or Borough Market)

      Smoked eel, roast pork belly at Hereford Road (Westbourne Grove/Notting hill)

      14 Replies
      1. re: limster

        i was gonna say the ginger pig sausage roll as well - double rec for you!

        1. re: abby d

          BTW, I've always gotten mine at Borough Market, any difference in quality between the 2 locations?

        2. re: limster

          Thanks for the great list, limster! The Appam at Quilon is definitely on my list, and since we'll be staying in Marylebone chances are good that we'll pop by the Ginger Pig. Sausage rolls sound wonderful. If it's possible to gain 15 lbs in 3 days I think I'll manage it.

          1. re: Eatin in Woostah

            You'll get the appam as part of lunch thali at Quilon. Don't if you have to order it separately for a la carte but worth checking.

          2. re: limster

            Yes, very helpful list, limster. Thank you! I'm shipping out to London next week for a short while and plan to use this as a condensed dining guide to the city.

            I'll also do a search of this board, of course, but if you can think of any particularly good places in the Kensington / W. Kensington area off the top of your head, I'd love to hear about 'em.

            1. re: cimui

              Min Jiang is in the Kensington area and it's currently my favourite place for dim sum.

              Among the tapas places I've been to, my favourite is probably El Piratas de Tapas, also Notting Hill/Westbourne Grove for very well calibrated and precise cooking.

              Around Kensington, I'd also consider getting the laksa at Bugis Street at the Millinium Hotel on Gloucester road. Not the richest or most intense stuff, but the balance of flavours in the stock is surprisingly good, and for that reason, is probably more successful than the other versions I've had in London. (You'll also notice that their thick rice noodles are borken into short lengths, similar to the Katong style ones in Singapore.)

              I would also go for a pie at Lidgates in Holland Park.

              Incidentally, if wine is on your agenda and you want to save a couple of hundred dollars, I noticed that the wine list at La Trompette in Chiwick has very low markups for some of the high end stuff; e.g. their '95 Salon (ok I know it's not a '96 or a '90, but still) seems very close to retail prices. Haven't eaten there, but their food seems to be highly recommended here and elsewhere. I don't think Chez Bruce (their bigger sister restaurant) is a similar bargain wine wise, but haven't looked at their list for a while.

              1. re: limster

                Thank you, limster! Wine is always on my agenda, though I don't tend to buy high end stuff very often. Also would never trust myself to get it home unscathed and I've been told I shouldn't drink alone. :)

                I've enjoyed meals at Notting Hill in the past; very much look forward to revisiting that and trying the others.

            2. re: limster

              "Truly exceptional" sets a high bar but here are some dishes that I would place in that category from the last few months of eating in London:

              * Mussels rasam @ Indian Zing
              * Scallop sushi/sashimi @ Tomoe (or else maybe @ Sushi of Shiori)
              * Venison sausage roll and game tea @ Harwood Arms
              * Chorizo in Moscatel vinegar @ Salt Yard
              * Shanxi noodles with minced pork and beancurd in fragrant chilli oil @ Ba Shan
              * Som tam with everything (off the Thai language specials blackboard) @ 101 Thai
              * Peking ravioli with chilli sauce @ Princess Garden of Mayfair

              For the totality of what's on offer, I would also classify as very good Fernandez & Wells [Lexington Street] (pulpo, morcilla, pata negra jamon, manchego), El Faro (various tapas, croquetas de cabrales comes to mind and the steaks using Galician or Basque beef), Thattukada (fish curry, the kingfish cooked whole in spicy gravy looks outstanding), Kikuchi (tsukune, snow crab tempura, sushi rolls, sake selection), Sedap (roti prata w/ chicken curry, kerabu salad, curry tumis fish, char kway teow, nyona kueh), probably a few other memorable places and dishes I'm forgetting about.

              A couple of general thoughts. Harwood Arms is one of a new generation of gastropubs that has resurrected my interest in the genre. Bull & Last/Prince of Wales (sisters) are 2 others. Duke of Wellington/Brown Dog, I need to get to. If the OP wants to sample grouse/game, Harwood Arms will be offering various dishes and menus throughout September.

              Also I'm enjoying the new brigade of coffee specialists in London, most recently I have enjoyed a wonderful flat white at The Espresso Room on Great Ormond Street and top quality macchiato at La Piccola Dely in Maida Vale.

              1. re: oonth

                so you made it out to la piccola deli! tried the burrata yet?

                1. re: howler

                  Yep, meant to update on the other thread and say thanks for the tip. The Maida Vale shop is a stone's throw from where I play tennis twice a week so very handy indeed. So far I've just had a light lunch (piadina, frittata) which was not bad and the coffee which was superlative (on another recent thread someone was writing the obituary for Italian coffee operations in London, premature if this place is indicative of new generation Italian operations) and a snip @ £1.20. Other positives - a lovely terrace on a quiet residential street and excellent service from young, enthusiastic, cheeky-chappy Italian staff members.

                  I will be grocery shopping there in due course, had a quick look at the deli counter (wild boar mortadella and salami caught my eye as did the burrata and smoked caciocavallo) and the shelves, it all looks good. Would be interesting to know where in Italy the owners come from although these days clearly the better shops are sourcing from all over the country and quality items from southern Italy in particular seem much more available than before.

                2. re: oonth

                  I went to Indian Zing a few weeks ago. Liked but didn't love. Am very hard to please these days though. I thought my chicken malabar was bland by Indian standards, despite having two chilli signs on the menu. Mr GG's biryani looked great though. We'll probably go back at some point to try some other things, although it's a long way from home for us (but quite near work).

                  1. re: greedygirl

                    Sorry to hear about the mixed experience at Indian Zing. Can't comment on the dishes you mention as I haven't tried either. My favourites thus far have been mussels rasam, scallop lonche, vegetable bhanavia, baingan/makai bharta, pork cooked in vinegar (off last year's special Xmas menu). In my case once the waiter ascertained that I was of Indian origin and that my party could handle hot food, they promised to spice accordingly and we didn't have any problems on that front, the mussels rasam was particularly fiery as befits a dish from the south.

                    My advice generally when going to any Indian restaurant, and even if it's just the 2 of you, is to order a spread and make sure that there's multiple things on your plate at any one time. 2-3 starters, maybe skip so-called mains and order 2-3 side dishes (preferably veggie and definitely including one lentil/pulse/bean dish), get an assortment of breads, a rice preparation, raita/yoghurt, a salad, ask if there are any chutneys/condiments in addition to what's been put in front of you. If there are leftovers, just get them packed and enjoy them the next day, they'll be better than most lunchtime offerings in/near the workplace!!

                    1. re: oonth

                      I actually had the thali, so I could try lots of different things, and because I love Indian vegetable side dishes. Mr GG is a lot less adventurous than me, so that allowed me to sample more extensively from the menu. I had the baingan bharta as a starter I think and it was pretty goood. Next time I will ask them to up the spices a bit for me - I should have pulled them up on their chicken dish really as it wasn't spicy at all. Mind you, the last time I did this in an Indian restaurant they just chucked a load of chillies in (I think) and it was inedible!

              2. On a wider suggestion, perhaps a meal of something you can't get where you are? Maybe something completely representative of traditional British cuisine? Say at Rules or Simpsons?

                Other than I've already mentioned, I can't think of another food item that particularly shouts "London". Being our largest city (as well as our capital), it draws in produce from all over the country. You're coming when the game season is really getting under way, so that might be a thought. I'll leave it to others who live in that part of the country to suggest good game places (although, personally, I wouldnt stray from Rules which is suitably "old school" toprovide an "experience" for you).

                Have a great visit - I always enjoy my trips down down south to London.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Harters

                  Harters, in all of my research this is the first I've heard of Rules or Simpsons. I'll do some research - thank you!

                  1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                    You can check this out for a recent article about Rules. (Thanks, Simon.)


                    1. re: zuriga1

                      What a fun blog! Thanks for the link. I actually think I may have heard of Rules in a round about way. I'm not sure, but it sounds like the place that Tony Bourdain railed against in his London episode of No Reservations. I may be wrong, but the description of Rules in the '90s fits it to a tee. And the Time Out article (boldly posted on Rules' website) corroborates. Though it sounds as though they're under new leadership and moving in the right direction.

                      I don't know if we'll invest a whole meal there (as we only have a few days) but the cocktail bar sounds great. I saw a Golden Negroni on the menu that's calling my name.

                    2. re: Eatin in Woostah

                      There's a great cocktail bar at Rules which is not widely known, and is wonderfully old-school (if expensive).

                  2. For a traditional Sunday lunch, try the roast pork belly at the Easton.
                    I've had it many times and the crackling has always been spot on.

                    Lamb chops & the baby pumpkin curry at Tayyabs
                    is a must.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: JohnRC

                      Not sure if this affects anyone else's plans, but Tayyabs will be closed from Aug. 22 to Sept. 22 according to their website. That pumkin curry did sound pretty great, though, John.

                        1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                          Never fear - the Needoo Grill on New Road is just round the corner from New Tayyabs and is run by its former manager - has the pumpkin curry on its menu too. Good review from dos hermanos.

                      1. re: fourunder

                        Thanks, fourunder. Yes, I'm sure we'll eat some fish and chips and mushy peas at some point. I think we'll be relatively close to the Golden Hind which I've read is good. Maybe we can get one order and split for a snack - we're from Boston where, though not the same, we can get decent seafood. I have a good friend from the UK however who laments how awful the local fish and chips are (and the dearth of mushy peas), so I do want to fit it in, if only to check it off of the tourist list.

                        1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                          Eatin in Woostah,

                          The reason why I mentioned fish and chips is I have heard it is the best in England and/or Ireland.....personally, I am always on the hunt for any good fried food. Fried seafood is something I tend to get cravings the search is always on.

                          One thing that surprised me is from what I have seen from recipes from popular places mentioned in articles in food magazines or travel the fish houses often mentioned tend to use bread crumbs or cracker meal for their fried fish and sea foods. Whenever I travel.....invariably, I always run into some Brits and Irish on holiday on my golf trips and I always ask them the burning question......batter fried or cracker meal/bread crumbs for their favorite fried fish.....their answer is always batter fried.

                          Please let me know your findings and all the best for an enjoyable trip......and for the record.....I like cracker meal for the extra crispiness and lighter tase of batter fried.

                          1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                            I finally got to the much-touted Master's Superfish near Waterloo Station. It was *very* good. I've heard their chips are better than the Golden HInd's, but I haven't compared them to know for myself. I've never tasted fish and chips like that in the States.