Food & Drink Review: London England

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One of the best parts of travel is trying new food. I had some preconceived notions about what to expect when it came to British food. I think we all do.

In some ways I was pleasantly surprised and others a bit disappointed but, hey, I can say I've now tried this or that. However, I will say London offers some amazing baked goods and divine afternoon tea with sandwiches and sweet treats.  Sadly, we did miss out on the famous Indian Cuisine that many suggested to us. That's probably my one food regret.  We will definitely put it on the top of our list for next time. I heard great things about Dishoom.

I will list where we did eat and what we thought of it. I've also included the neighborhood of London each eatery is located in. I would love to hear from you if you enjoyed something delicious in London that maybe we missed or that we should try next time. 


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BOROUGH MARKET

SOUTHWARK

One of the largest and oldest food markets in London

TRAVEL TIP: Retail market operates on Wednesdays & Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wholesale market operates on all weekday mornings from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m.

We crossed over the Thames via the Tower Bridge after spending the morning sightseeing at the Tower of London. We had worked up an appetite! I had researched the logistics of the area and knew Borough Market was in walking distance. 

I also knew that 3 weeks earlier there had been a terrible attack and the terrorist took this same route as us. They even fled passed Borough Market causing mayhem violence along the way. But as the Londoners often do  . . . they carry on. Life appeared to be back to normal. I did see a bit more police presence but citizens were set up in the borough selling their goods and wares much like centuries of Londoners before them (Borough Market historians claim it existed since 1014 ). So we joined in throngs of people and I must say this was one of my favorite parts of the city. I could feel the days of old all around and my senses were overloaded with smells, sounds, and sights. We tried so many things and I suggest you do the same. Put together a picnic or eat standing. Many vendors are happy to give out samples as well!  

Meat pies, fish n chips, pastries, churros, paella, wine by the glass, and the list goes on and on.

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We took some for later while other delicacies we gobbled up right then and there. I am still dreaming about an Indian style meat pie that I had. The fish n chip shop, fish!, came recommended and the chips were delish but mostly all the fish we had in the UK needed a lot of salt and vinegar for our American tastebuds standards.

We followed the sound of music and noticed a live band in the streets. It was a happy place and more than just food. There was many of art and crafts vendors. I bought several watercolor prints depicting the market and even some hand painted dishes from local artisans. I'm quite certain we only saw about half of the market and would most definitely go back on our next trip.

TRAVEL TIP: I would suggest allowing for around 2 hours or longer if you want to stay and listen to live music. There is just too much to see so don't try to rush through. Plan for lots of strolling and no place to sit. Also, check the hours of operation. Lastly, COME HUNGRY!

Don't be shy with the vendors! Everyone was so friendly and willing to tell us about their food or crafts. It was refreshing to see the strong spirit of the locals taking pride in their work and telling the world to Carry On!

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference.” - Winston Churchill

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THE WOLSELEY on Piccadilly

ST. JAMES

The Wolseley is a café-restaurant on London’s famous Piccadilly in the St Jame's neighborhood -- an area which is reported to be the highest commercial rents in the city. Known for Royal, Galleries, Buckingham Palace, Green Park, Expensive High Tea, Exclusive Shops, and Antique Markets.

I heard about The Wolseley on a Rick Steve's podcast and decided it would be our first fancy Afternoon Tea in London. I made reservations online which highly recommended.  Just walking into The Wolseley felt fancy. Maybe it was the neighboring Ritz Carlton or the smartly dressed doorman seeing us in.

 

 

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea is a light meal typically eaten between 3.30 pm and 5 pm. Observance of the custom originated amongst the wealthy social classes in England in the 1840s.[3] Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, is widely credited as transforming afternoon tea in England into a late-afternoon meal whilst visiting Belvoir Castle. By the end of the nineteenth century, afternoon tea developed to its current form and was observed by both the upper and middle classes. 
For the more privileged, afternoon tea was accompanied by delicate savouries (customarily cucumber sandwiches or egg and cress sandwiches), bread and butter, possibly scones (with clotted cream and jam, as for cream tea), and usually cakes and pastries (such as Battenberg cake or Victoria sponge). The sandwiches usually have the crusts removed, and are cut into small segments, either as triangles or fingers (also known as tea sandwiches). Biscuits are not usually served.
Nowadays, a formal afternoon tea is more of a special occasion, taken as a treat in a hotel.[5] The food is often served on a tiered stand; there may be no sandwiches, but bread or scones with butter or margarine and optional jam or other spread, or toast, muffins or crumpets.[6][7][8] Afternoon tea as a treat may be supplemented with a glass of Champagne or a similar alcoholic drink. (Wikipedia)

Our afternoon tea came with a pot of house brewed tea and a varied selection of homemade cakes, scones, and pastries. After our entire trip my husband and I still claim that these mini scones were are absolute favorites. Our sweet waiter even gave us a free box to take away as well. We were delighted with our delicious options from the sweet cakes to the clotted cream and berry jam except for the salmon. Never really been a fan on any occasion.  We ate our weight in scones and were then ready to take on some high end shopping!

TRAVEL TIP: I highly recommend making time for a special afternoon tea while in London. Try to book in advance but most will take walk in during tea time if your plans change. 

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Original Founder Charles Henry Harrod. Present building was finished in 1905. Today it is owned by the Qatar.

Original Founder Charles Henry Harrod. Present building was finished in 1905. Today it is owned by the Qatar.

EATING AT HARRODS FOOD HALLS

Knightsbridge

When I think of Harrods I think of the old saying, " like a kid in a candy shop". Not only does Harrods have a candy shop but some of the finest clothing shopping in the world as well as an elaborate Food Hall containing over 20 restaurants and cafes with an assortment of  specialized food departments like patisseries and bakery.  And of course, you guessed it,  a candy shoppe!

I could go back to Harrods right now and still need about 8 hours to take it all in. But let's just highlight some of the Food Hall right now. Anything you could possibly crave - they've got it. It's basically a "take a ticket" style market where you choose from an seemingly endless circle of class cases stuffed with tasty things and a old English dressed attendant packs it for you. And if that weren't enough there are attached speciality rooms for things like tea and coffee where you can shop for gifts or souvenirs. 

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The "take a ticket" counters were a bit crowded and overwhelming so we decided to first find the first mini restaurant with two chairs available. There were over 20 restaurants within Harrods choose from -- kind of like an American food court but way fancier and top quality food. We finally found two seats open at The Rotisserie. Harrods finest quality chicken and duck from the meat counter, flame-roasted before your eyes, with a choice of delicious salads and sides. And to this day we still talk about the roasted chicken we ate but nothing topped THE MASHED POTATOES! 

TRAVEL TIP: There are really too many options to try everything in one visit. It was a very busy day so that helped with our decision process as there were hardly any seats available.  It really just depends on what you are in the mood for and what's available but good luck choosing just one. I wanted to try every restaurant! 

 Here's a list of all the Harrods' restaurants . 

After we had our fill at The Rotisserie we made our way to the tea, coffee, and pastry sections for souvenirs.  I stocked up on Early Grey, Harrods House Blend Coffee, and Macaroons!! I nibbled on Pierre Marcolini cookies for about a week; hoping to make them last as long as possible. Later, I found out that there was Ladurée which is my favorite macaroon company. Did I mention how overwhelming and disorienting this place is to a first time American? 

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We continued browsing other floors with our arms full of bags until our feet gave out. My mouth was agape as we passed by perfectly arranged shops like Dior and Louis Vuitton. Keep in mind Harrods has 8 floors so it's wise to pace yourself and maybe take a look at this map beforehand. I wish I had and then planned accordingly. Next time! 

TRAVEL TIP: Use a map  and be sure to travel floor to floor via the Egyptian staircase it's pretty opulent. 


THE CAMBRIDGE  

SOHO

We stumbled upon this authentic British Pub while in SOHO after having just found out our tickets for Harry Potter and The Cursed Child play were actually for the wrong date. So I settled into a deep red booth to drown my sorrows with meat pies, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Apparently I was in need for some comfort food and The Cambridge hit the spot! I will never forger the steam that rose from that crispy steak and ale pie crust as I cracked it open. We washed it down with a tall glass of something frothy and felt we were dining just fine in London. 

Deep in London's theatre district, The Cambridge is popular with audiences and actors alike. Built in 1887 on the site of The King's Arms, it is next to the Palace Theatre, formerly the Royal English Opera House. The Cambridge lies in the heart of Soho, a royal hunting ground in the days of Henry VIII. We bet you didn't know that Soho takes its name from a hunting call.
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SKETCH

MAYFAIR

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Where do I even begin with Sketch? This is one place I will never forget. I first discovered it on Instagram which worried me. Since it was sooooo gram worthy I wondered if it could live up to the hype. And I would say 98% yes (2% ding because the food looked cool but could've tasted better).

Photo courtesy of Sketch.London

Photo courtesy of Sketch.London

The vibe is basically a lively modern art gallery full of stylish people enjoying a meal or drinks. Our table wasn't quite ready so we hung out at The Glade bar while we waited. And I'm glad we did because we walked into the forgotten act of Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night Dream where all the characters hit up the bar for fancy cocktails. From the plush grass like carpet and woodland wall treatments it's like you're drinking in a hip forrest. I will warn you that it was packed at 10:30pm and fairly dark so I could not get a good photo. The bartenders were very cool and educated us on the variety of gins. Our table took about an hour or more but we were in no rush. And I must clarify that we had to reschedule our reservation due to a flight delay so the staff was doing their best to accommodate. Speaking of reservations, it's a must! I originally wanted to book afternoon tea but that was booked for weeks out. So we went with dinner in the pink Gallery. Note, there are 5 dining and bar areas you can book. 

TRAVEL TIP: Reservations are a must! Book weeks in advance if you want afternoon tea in the pink gallery. Email them if plans change because they will likely do there best to accommodate.

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We eventually got to our table in the plush "millennial pink" booth near the copper rose trimmed bar. There is so much intentional design in every nook and cranny of this place. The walls are perfectly lined with, you guessed it, sketches . .  by artist, David Shrigley. The loo has a futuristic spaceship vibe including egg shape toilet pods and colorful "stained-glass" style ceiling. The menu is made up of about 30 items and presented in a minimal pop-up book style. I opted for the spinach gnocchi which was saturated in Dr. Seuss green sauce further encouraging the notion that I was actually in a fantasy and my husband chose the Fish 'n' Chips which pulled us back to the reality that we were, in fact, still in London. 

Our favorite part of the night was meeting the couple next to us who were too close not to talk to and eventually our party of two expanded to six.We ended up sharing desserts and more drinks until about 3am. One of the desserts, the Mojito, was basically a tasty science experiment that came alive before our eyes, the other was too pretty to eat, and the third was a chocolate something that we devoured in seconds. Check out the video to see it in action.

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So yes the food, drinks, and desserts were entertaining and mostly tasty but I think the company makes any experience better. Bonding with strangers over food and deep talks about life, love, work, politics, and art until the wee hours of the morning reminds me why we travel – to meet people and experience a culture. It ended up being an unforgettable night however I did forget I hadn't slept in 72 hours but I will save that for another story. 

TRAVEL TIP: Dress to impress here. Leave the tourist clothes in the hotel room (shorts are not allowed). 


FOUNDERS ARMS  

SOUTH BANK

There are some wonderful happy accidents when traveling. And stopping in my opinion you can go wrong with stopping for a lemonade and Pimm's cup on a beautiful summer day overlooking the Thames. 

We had enjoyed a full day of sightseeing at the Tower of London, stuffed our faces at Borough Market, walked for ages absorbing the sunshine and lively vibes so it was inevitable we stop for a drink. The Founders Arms was absolutely packed with people which seemed like a good sign. Pimm's and Lemonade is a very popular summer drink in the UK sometimes topped with fruit. Very refreshing as this ended up being one of our warmest days. Did I mention we never encountered a rainy day while we were in England? 

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Closing Remarks

I think we ate pretty well for our 4 days in London but there is always room for improvement. I liked that we had a nice balance between reservations and walk in. The important thing is we tried some quintessential British foods and got away from the chain restaurants. So, where should we go next time? 

HELPFUL LINKS:

 

TRY THIS:

  • Schedule an Afternoon Tea at the Wolsley, Sketch, or Harrods

  • Visit the Food Hall in Harrods and Use the Map

  • Try Pimms and Lemonaide in the Summer

  • Dive into a Meat Pie at a British Pub or at a stand in the Borough Market

  • Eat Fish N Chips but add lemon, salt, and vinegar.

  • Make Reservations in advance for Sketch but if plans chance email them to reschedule