Eat Up: London

10th November, 2014

My man grew up in a family of foodies, French chefs and Texas restauranteurs. He creative directs and designs restaurants for a living and cooks passionately, expertly, constantly. In our house, it’s always time to eat.

But Zach won’t waste a meal. Whereas, when I am hungry, I’m happy to pop into any old Chipotle and unceremoniously satisfy the need, he’d rather wait for three hours to find the most special spot ~ no matter how out of the way or inconvenient it may be. Anytime we travel is loosely itinerated at best; neither of us are what you’d call planners. But he had a lot of ideas about how and where we’d be eating on this trip (and we definitely returned home with ampler waistlines to show for it).

British food has a reputation for being relatively terrible ~ but when it’s good it’s fantastic. A day of London eating best begins with a full English breakfast: bacon, sausage, eggs, baked beans, black pudding (basically pork blood and oatmeal), hash browns, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, and fried toast (I assume it’s traditionally followed by cardiac arrests all around). Anyway, it’s delicious.
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ABOVE| the full English breakfast at Central & Co (a charming cafe directly across the street from Liberty!) BELOW| lunchtime at St. JOHN
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Supposing your gut is strong enough to withstand another meat-heavy meal after that breakfast, St. JOHN (above) ought to be your next destination. St. JOHN is a required stop for any carnivore pilgrimaging across Europe (we visited both their Smithfield location for lunch and their Spitalfield spot for supper). Chef Fergus Henderson is something of a diety in the food world. His innovative approach to nose-to-tail dining shook up restaurant culture 20 years ago and has shaped the way we eat ever since (if you’ve ever enjoyed a meal at Fette Sau in Williamsburg or The Spotted Pig in New York, you’ve tasted the seeds of his influence).

His is a style of cooking that uses all the edible parts of the animal (not just the prime cuts), being mindful of waste and showing respect for the food. I’m not a big meat eater and thus was hesitant in trying it ~ but this is an establishment that prides itself on coercing diners out of their comfort zones, and I left converted.
LondonEats4Closer to the way I typically like to eat is NOPI (above + below), a Soho eatery where we enjoyed one lovely, languorous lunch. Equal parts hearty and dainty, NOPI offers a Pan-Asian-Middle Eastern small plates menu that feels at once impossibly glamorous and absolutely approachable. A rainbow of colors and tastes, the vegetables are decadent, the meats succulent and the environment divine.LondonEats5ABOVE + BELOW| the luncheon spread at NOPILondonEats6BELOW| juicy scallops served with a slab of pork belly over a slather of chili jam were a highlight at NOPI, as was the twice-cooked chickenLondonEats7 LondonEats9
I’ve learned to travel with a wardrobe that’s elegant, comfortable, and extremely streamlined. The camel cashmere blazer I bought from The Row last fall (FYI, there are two just like it available online right now, HERE and HERE) has proven to be such a closet cornerstone, and would have won the title of MVP on this trip were it not for the new Michele watch I’ve recently started wearing. It was the unexpected scene stealer of all our food photos!

It’s been a while since I’ve been in the habit of wearing a watch, but I fell in love with this one on this trip. I’m crazy about its classic, flat, subtly diamond-studded round face ~ but its interchangeable band is what really made me swoon. I wear the same jewelry every night and day, wherever I am in the world, so just being able to switch the black band (above) for gold (below) as I moved from morning to evening felt like a great stylistic gift. Best of all, checking the time on my wrist meant looking at my phone a whole lot less, and I had a far happier holiday for that fact.
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Speaking of time, food and the pursuit of pleasure, did someone say happy hour?! In England they call it tea time; it stretches from 3 to 5pm and it’s by far the loveliest meal of the day. It’s a midday tradition whose only purpose is leisurely indulgence, where silver pots of tea are served alongside savory finger sandwiches, sweet little pastries and cakes, and hot scones doused with berry jam and clotted cream. If you take your teatime at Brown’s Hotel (one of the oldest in England), it also begins with a glass of champagne ~ and although that’s untraditional, I couldn’t complain.
LondonEats12ABOVE| teatime at Brown’s Hotel  BELOW| a bartop set for oyster service at J. Sheekey
LondonEats13Another ideal stop on the late afternoon champagne train is J. Sheekey, a spot described in Lena Dunham’s recent memoir, Not That Kind Of Girl, as “a fancy old fish restaurant.” Situated in the West End and designed for pre-theater dining, it’s a superbly other-era-esque oasis for oysters and bubbly (everyone’s favorite aphrodisiacs).
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One of our finest meals in London was also the most impromptu: dinner at The Red Fort. We were tired from a long day and craving something casual and easy. I just wanted to crawl into bed and order room service ~ but as I mentioned before, Zach never wastes a meal and thus wouldn’t hear of it. The Brits are known for their incredible Indian cuisine, and he was dying to try it so we compromised by picking the Indian place closest to our hotel (hospitality inspiration for Zach, a quick exit to bed for me). We asked for so little and were surprised with so much. It was the best Indian food I’ve ever had, a subtle, special, memorable explosion of refined, charcoal-grilled Tandoor dishes.
LondonEats15Did you save any room for dessert? Me neither, but let’s order it anyway.
LondonEats16Our favorite English sweets (outside of teatime, of course) were eaten alfresco at The Cafe at Bluebird: apple crumble and sticky toffee pudding ~ a classic British dessert consisting of an inordinately moist sponge cake cooked with chopped dates, hosed in hot toffee sauce and served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Heaven on a plate.
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