About a week before heading to England for the London Book Fair, I tossed out a Tweet asking for restaurant recommendations. I got exactly zero responses. I looked at the New York Times website’s London travel section, but there weren’t any recent restaurant suggestions (though it posted some while I was there). I’d just received the May edition of Food & Wine, which happened to be its annual travel issue, and there was a page on London—but most of the establishments weren’t priced within my recession-minded budget. So when I touched down at Heathrow on Saturday morning and started thinking about where I was going to eat, I realized I was going to have to wing it. But London surprised me. Over the course of six days, I ate some fantastic meals. I guess if I can get a string of sunny days in London (seriously: I did not open my umbrella once), I can eat six days’ worth of terrific meals without much guidance, too.
Naturally, the trip involved a significant amount of time spent in pubs (that is, when I wasn’t running all over Earls Court in search of news stories). The Kensington Arms was just down the street from my hotel, and I was lucky enough to eat dinner there on Sunday, which is when the pub holds its weekly Trivia Night. The food may not have been the best I ate all week, but the ambiance was authentic (so authentic, in fact, that two New Yorkers had a hard time getting the bartender’s attention to order drinks; but once we did, things were just fine). I also had drinks at The Warwick in Soho, but my favorite pub of the week was The Prince Regent, where I met an editor friend for drinks one evening. It’s in Marylebone, a great food neighborhood, and offered a wide selection of beer and wine. And the bartender was very nice.
Following my friend’s suggestion, dinner that night was at The Providores, an excellent tapas restaurant on Marylebone High Street. Chef Peter Gordon, who co-owns a vineyard in New Zealand, makes wonderful food weaving Asian spices and ingredients with traditional Spanish fare. My favorite: a Spanish tortilla with edamame, paprika-roasted sweet potatoes, caramelized onion and feta. And the restaurant sells Gordon’s books: Peter Gordon's Vegetables, Peter Gordon's Salads and Peter Gordon's A World in My Kitchen—along withMichael Cooper's Wine Atlas of New Zealand.
Canteen, across the Thames near Royal Festival Hall, doesn't exactly serve fusion food, although its menu presented two kinds of cuisine: British classics, with modern ingredients and food sourcing methods. I tried the chicken and mushroom pie, smoked haddock with spinach and “mash” (mashed potatoes), potato leek soup and “potted duck” (duck rillettes). Canteen reminded me of New York’s Cookshop, in that all the meat is free range, all the fish is local (for Canteen, that means from small day boats off the South coast of England), the restaurant is casual and open, and everything’s really tasty.
Of course, a trip to London wouldn’t be complete with some Indian food, which I ate twice last week. Malabar served an amazing tandoori mixed grill with chicken, lamb and prawns. It’s on a little street hidden behind the busy Notting Hill Gate, and the £44 dinner was a great value considering how many different dishes we tried. And while Masala Zone’s name made me wonder if we’d be dining in some sort of theme restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised with my delicious meal—and the pretty murals on the walls.
Lunch most days was scarfed down at a concession stand at Earls Court called, depressingly, Dash. But one day I managed to slip out to Wagamama, a chain of noodle shops that also makes a delicious fried squid with black and white sesame seeds. (Incidentally, Kyle Books published The WagamamaCookbook in 2007.)