Long London and Cardiff report
Nice time for my 9th visit to London but too much to do and too little time. Staved off jet lag by immediately walking to Portobello Rd from my friend's place in Hammersmith with a stop at one of the fabulous bakeries/patisseries along the way on Holland Park Ave. Great ham and cheese stick thing to tide me over til we came to Hummingbird Bakery where we both got very nice red velvet cupcakes. I had seen pie on their web site but none in the store. Later was a very gingery cookie from a Ben's cookies on Carnaby St. then after a short nap, we headed out for real food. Started with a drink at Eclipse on Old Brompton Rd. where they had quite a choice of fancy cocktails but the herb/Hendricks gin drink wasn't the best ever. We had an 8PM res at Bumpkin down the street (another location in Nottng Hill; http://www.bumpkinuk.com/great-countr...) and really enjoyed the atmosphere there. Main dining room and lots of tables in the bar area, nice server, lively place, good choices and most everything in the £10-15 range. My pork belly was pretty good but D's sautéed plaice was excellent, enjoyed the side of what I think we call broccoli rabe but was purple something on the menus in London. Ended with a very good sticky toffee pudding and cranberry crème brulee and called it a nite. We both enjoyed the vibe of this place a lot.
Sun. started at Petticoat Lane then wandered thru all the markets where I got an okay chicken tikka sandwich from a stand at Spitalfield then a choc chip shortbread from one of the bakeries. Then couldn't resist a caramel whoopee pie from Kookybakes.com in the Up Market across the way, done by a former Georgia person (gave the rest to a friend for his bus ride back to Leicester). Many flavors of whoopee pies and cupcakes at his stand. Real dinner that nite was at Patio on Goldhawk Rd. for a hearty Polish meal. Started with good bread and that pork fat spread. My app was blini w/ salmon but it was an odd version that came like a fried puff rather than crepe like. Friends enjoyed their mushroom soup and herring. Beef stroganoff w/ dumplings was fine if not quite hot enough, good veggies (esp. the peas, not mushy) served with it. One friend had pierogies and a ton of them came, she unfortunately forgot to ask for a doggie bag. Other person had the pork schnitzel which was very good. He got a great pancake for dessert while she had cheesecake which was a slightly odd Polish version but fine. Two courses for about £12, very cozy atmosphere.
Mon. we went to Cardiff for a few days. Dropped off our bags at the conveniently located Park Inn and walked down to the cute waterfront to head to Harry Ramsden's for fish n chips (pic below). I had seen it recommended but didn't know it was a pretty big chain. We sat down to a very odd and harried waiter (it wasn't all that busy) in a very hot restaurant. But the large fish n chips was a good size for both of us (about £11), nicely fried, good tartar sauce, good chips, eh peas (not mushy). The most surprising thing may have been the side salad which was very fresh with surprisingly good tomatoes. Dinner that nite was back to the waterfront for Bayside Brasserie which was excellent. I assumed they'd have a bar (bars with seats are hard to find in the UK) cuz we were just going to split some apps but they were happy to seat us by the window with a view (such as it was at nite). Excellent food, a goat cheese and leek tart plus a fish cake with greens were both very good. Nice glass of white wine, excellent service. We then wandered over to Mimosa Bar & Kitchen which advertises itself as having Welsh food. The menu didn't seem that different and we just split a risotto w/ wilted spinach, mushrooms w/ good truffle flavor, but it was too gummy and we filled up before we could have the bread pudding. It's a loungey place but they didn't really seem to have the ingredients/skills to make any cocktails not on their list. Very nice server. It was pouring so we grabbed a cab back to our area and stopped at Bar Gwdihw which was dead (as expected on a rainy Mon. nite) but cool little spot and good latte.
After some museums, we went back to the waterfront for lunch at Woods. We both had the daily special of gray mullet and started with broccoli soup. Huge bowl of soup, very good on a windy day. Two courses was £10 which was enough for me, friend got the 3 course deal and had panna cotta for dessert, it was fine but I'm not a big PC fan. Bread was extra but it was good, served with both butter and oil/balsamic. Around the corner we stopped at Fabulous Welsh Cakes where I got a fresh one for dessert and a bag to take home. Very nice, like a very creamy scone. Also the café a few doors down was cute and had a good oat bar w/ caramel frosting. That nite I tried for another cocktail at the Duke of Wellington pub which didn't happen happen but nice guys and the beer was cold. We had planned on eating at Jamie's Italian restaurant but it got too crowded so we went down the street to Carluccio's (another place I didn't know was a small chain). We had a fun server, okay mozzarella and tomatoes, venison tortellini was decent but no sauce of any kind which was odd. Ordered a side of foccacia which was some of the worst bread I've ever had, all puffy and tasteless. Friend's spinach/ricotta ravioli were good. We stopped at big O'Neill's not realizing the music was all cover songs.
I was on my own the last day in town and finally got food at the Bwyty Hayes Island stand (which we'd passed a million times) where they roast a bunch of meats and have tons of sandwiches. Got the roast pork roll w/ stuffing and apple (below) which was huge but again, the bread was boring and I just ate the meat. Only £2.95. Nice brownie and latte at The Plan in the Royal Arcade (after shopping at the world's oldest record store, Spiller's). That nite I finally got a good cocktail at Henry's on Park Place, lychee "martini" with some champagne (lots of interesting combos) and he gave me the happy hour price which was very nice. Then ate at the bar of Laguna next to the Park Plaza and that was great (although the gal working the bar wasn't too exciting). Ordered the toast w/ wild mushrooms, spinach and poached egg. That should have been enough, two slices of toast, lots of mushrooms, excellent flavor. But I'd also ordered a small portion of the wild boar ravioli, two large ravioli w/ a good sauce. Both were only £6 and with a glass of wine, a great dinner. Grabbed a tasty bacon and cheese thing for the train ride back not far from the High Street Arcade (where there's a good vintage shop and cheap shoe store). Also enjoyed the Cardiff Market and the record store upstairs.
Back to London on Thurs. and I met a friend for dinner at St. John Bread & Wine which was fairly disappointing. I guess we should have split more small plates but we were both hungry so started with the crispy pig's head which was decent, looked like a croquette with shredded pork inside so not too scary. Their bread and butter is fine but I didn't find it as exciting as the reviews. We ordered lamb and hake mains and planned on splitting them, but I could only eat a bit of the lamb since it was VERY rare, hard to cut, not appetizing. The broccoli rabe with it was great tho. The hake was okay but also seemed undercooked. In addition, it took forever for our food to come, tables around us got their dishes before us so all in all, not great and I'm bummed that going to that dinner made me miss a book signing by Mick Rock (very cool photos on display). Ended up at the Intrepid Fox by Tottenham Ct Rd for rock and comedy.
Fri. was my first trip to Burough Mkt and after looking at all the options, I ended up with a small ostrich sausage sandwich (£3.50, below) from Baxter's that was quite decent. They also had boar, venison and steak to choose from. Had part of an almond croissant then stopped eating that when I saw banoffee pie from another stand (also below). Good stuff even tho the crust almost broke my fork, but it was very tasty. That evening was a casual dinner at Alborz on Hammersmith Rd. Persian rest which I couldn't resist cuz of the big flame in the window. Their TV was blasting some Iranian Idol type show which was annoying. I had a lamb stew dish w/ like black-eyed peas and rice. D's chicken on the bone w/ salad and rice looked good, prices about £7-12. Tea was nice. Good show at the Hope & Anchor later on.
Walked thru Covent Garden on Sat. and got a mini lamb and rosemary pie at Battersea Pie for £2.50, had read that was a good place and indeed, it was very tasty and just the right size. More wandering around and I found myself on Macclesfield St by Piccadilly and remembered that Rasa Sayang was supposed to be good for Malaysian. The reviews made it sound like it just had hanging bare light bulbs for decoration but it was a fine enough interior. I got soon kuey steamed dumplings to go cuz I thought I was getting a real lunch later. They were delicious, stuffed w/ turnip, shrimp and carrot and a good bite for £3. Lunch was canceled which was just as well since we had a 7PM reservation at Camden Bar & Kitchen which seemed like a good spot for some vegans and people who didn't have a lot of money to spend on dinner. It's a relaxed cute atmosphere (needed after the hellish rides on the Piccadilly and Northern lines and the general craziness of Camden High St.) but the service was definitely on the lackadaisical side. I had a decent fish cake with good garlic spinach, people seemed to enjoy their falafel burgers, jerk chicken, some app and beers. Excellent jukebox at the Good Mixer pub down the street.
Back to the markets on Sun. starting with one of my favorite things, a fresh out of the fryolator plain donut from one stand and a yummy hot ginger drink (mixed with some hot apple cider) at another stand at Camden Mkt. I tried to eat a lamb samosa but some guy knocked it out of my hand (with no apologies) so then I went to one of the many stands that offer a mixed plate for £4 and got a bunch of stuff from an Indian place. Back east and got a bunch of cupcakes and whoopee pies for my hosts, and a good deal from my Georgia friend at Kookybakes.com. Had to pass on the super cheap Korean fried chicken from one of the stands on Brick Lane but did eat their duck spring roll (fair) and bought some big cookies from another guy down the street for a deal. We walked down to the Black Lion by the river (http://www.theblacklion-hammersmith.c...) where we had a Sun. roast for dinner. They had large and small sizes and the small (£7.50) was plenty. Roast pork with cracklin for me, lamb for D. along with some good bread, a nice glass of prosecco and good service, served by the fireplace. They have French items on the menu plus a proper French restaurant next door and have wine nites that seem interesting. We ended with a kahlua at the Fire Station on Shepherd's Bush Rd and thus ended the London portion of my vacation.
So no major fancy meals out and not much knocked my socks off, but fairly good overall.