Thursday, 23 February 2012

London Calling


 Having just returned from a lovely weekend in London, I thought of providing you with a snippit of the gastonomique delights we sampled during our stay. We were mainly based around the Victoria area which is the most central we have stayed in London.


Being the frugal Finance graduate that he is, Mr ToothFairy had arranged a Groupon 3 course dinner at the Waldorf Hilton in the 'Homage Grand Salon'. The offer was 3 courses with champagne for 2 at £36 instead of £76. Crackin'.

The Salon is such a beautiful room, the ceilings tower over you from such great heights and the large white pillars seem to go on forever. Nevertheless, this room is more elegant and relaxing than imposing; maybe that's the delicate light from the chandeliers. The food served is classic French and English cooking, somehow perfectly befitting the surroundings.

Since we were on a Groupon the menu is, of course, somewhat restricted in offerings. There were 4 options from each starter, mains and dessert; or you could add £9.50 to your bill and get something from the grill too. Fortunately their offerings were wonderful! For starter I chose the soup of the day which was fennel, i only chose it to see how good they were to start out, it's definitely a soup that splits the good chefs from the not-quite-there-yets. The soup turned out to be delightfully delicate and was served with a sprinkling of vegetable crisps which added a beautiful texture. Mr TF had 3 small haddock fishcakes with a lovely little dressed salad, he said it was good!
For the main course I had a Coq au Vin, they used the thigh too which made it all the more tasty! The little fondant potatoes too were a dream. I can barely remember what Mr TF had as my face was stuck to the plate. I seem to recall he had pork loin with perfectly mashed potatoes and mushroom confit.
Dessert offerings were incredible, dark choc and port tarte or white chocolate cheesecake, sorbet or a selection of French and English cheeses - I chose the cheese. Retrospectively I have no idea why as I am a huge sweet tooth, it just felt right. :/

Fennel Soup with vegetable crisps and black pepper.


London is a huge multicultural city and one can rightly expect fine foods from far flung places. They also have a big China Town (not as good as Manchester, but ho hum)! Being that Mr TF is of Chinese ethnicity via Canada, we occasionally have to go for a good scoff of Asian delights. I had recently read a review about regional Chinese restaurants in London and we fancied a bit of Manchurian food.

If you're unfamiliar with the differences between the regions, Manchurian food is the really hearty stuff. It tends not to be too spicy but full of savoury goodness. Umami, if you will. If you have only really eaten Chinese takeaway food here, you have probably been eating Cantonese or Sichuan foods and probably not that authentic. I digress. The restaurant advised to us was Manchurian Legends in China Town, and a bonus was that it's pretty cheap!

I was allowed to choose the food this time and with my slowly growing knowledge of both Chinese food and Chinese language I was able to identify Beef Ho Fun from the menu. It's a bit like a Chow Mein but the noodle are large, thick and flat. Another recent revelation is green beans with minced pork and chilli. Holy Moley it's so good!
They also have the typical Asian drink of 'bubble tea', it's a cold milk based drink with balls of tapioca at the bottom. This is served with a huge bore straw and is well worth a try if you've never had one!
I can't say it's the ultimate best Chinese food I've had in London - that goes to Leong's Legend in Bayswater - but it comes a very very close second. I advise you go if you're around the area.

Beef Ho Fun, green beans with chilli and minced pork, green tea bubble tea.
We had queued for quite a while in Leicester Square after lunch to get some last minute tickets to a musical in the evening, we managed to get some of the last tickets to see The Wizard of Oz. To keep it short the show was amazing, I'm never disappointed by musicals in the West End. IT was the 4th show I've seen and they get better every time. I was shocked to find out that the girl who played Dorothy was 19 and the dog(s) playing Toto are incredibly well trained. It's amazing to see animals able to behave perfectly on stage for 2 hours.

The eternal struggle of pre-theatre eating will forever plague me, I don't know why it's something that strikes me with anxiety every time we go. Alas, we booked at a highly rated Japanese restaurant from Urbanspoon just near the London Palladium off Regent Street, we got there 10 mins early and it was closed. Not to worry, we'll read the menu outside while we wait. It didn't take long to spot that their veggie tempura was £9 and the small print said that there was a minimum spend of £20 per customer. I was outraged. We left and stumbled across a restaurant just next door to the theatre - Cape Town Fish Market. Mr TF chose the sushi. I hate it when he eats sushi, I just don't trust raw fish and never will. Especially when it comes from somewhere where when I ask for the grilled chicken to be 'extra grilled' I get a quizzical look... how hard is it to grill it a bit longer? They didn't grill it a bit longer but we were on a schedule so I wasn't going to send it back. It came with new potatoes and a pot of tomato and basil sauce and shredded cabbage with thick mayo (i assume that was an attempt at coleslaw) I got half a lemon though! They must have sensed it would need a lot of something else to make it palatable.

Mr TF said it was some of the best sushi and sashimi he has eaten in this country! Which is good to hear as he's always going on about how the sushi and sashimi is better and cheaper in Vancouver. I was told to take a picture so he could remember this moment forever... :/

Sushi platter and salmon sashimi. 

To be fair, they say they are a fish restaurant and they did the fish really well. He got a sushi platter and fishcakes for £10 when the sushi platter alone should have cost £11.50 so we weren't complaining there.


Right opposite the entrance to our hotel was what looked a bakery-cum-restaurant. It was called Le Pain Quotidien, and I was soon to find that there are a few of them around London! I really can't express how good this place is. It's not cheap but all of their food is organic and they really are wonderfully attentive. I love it. We actually went there for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday and went to buy some sourdough loaf from them to take home before leaving. Both morning I had scrambled egg with crispy prosciutto and 2 slices of their sourdough toast. Both times was delicious! Mr TF had the same but with salmon one day and a belgian waffle with fruit the second time. Ahhh I'm smiling just thinking about it again. If I lived down there it would be my regular breakfast place.

They also had what is the best mocha I've ever drunked. No bitterness from espresso but not too sweet, I certainly didn't need to add sugar - which is the norm for any mocha.

You have to go. They have nice big communal tables and pastries and they have their own jams and spreads.

Please go. Please. You will not regret it.

Best Mocha ever. with lipstick stains.

Other things:

I found a Tim Hortons in London which is actually a Canadian way of life. We have nothing like it hear. It's like a Starbucks in the way that you walk in, order and leave. And they serve coffee. But their mainstay is baked goods. And they're open all the time and have some drive-in stores too. They actually own 75% of the baked goods market in Canada, beating both McDonalds and Starbucks.
It was founded by a hockey player and Tim Hortons is now the largest corporate sponsor of youth hockey leagues throughout Canada; it makes the sport more accessible to kids and that's where we go so wrong here. I think aside from Ice Hockey it is the thing that keeps Canadians going.

Another Canadian affair we had was at The Maple Leaf pub in Covent Garden. It was pretty empty and quiet with no hockey on when we went. The menu is pretty standard with a few classic Canadian dishes. We got a plate of Poutine which is a dish famous in Quebec. Basically it's chips, grated cheese, thick gravy and black pepper. It's delicious but from this pub it was just okay. I wasn't hugely impressed.

Tim Hortons franchise in a Spar shop, I'm campaigning for them to break out over here. 

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