Tasty London Nights

How do you think two thirty-something year old dopes from North Carolina who normally go to bed around 9:30 thanks to their dog who is very specific about his bedtime celebrate the London nightlife? Well, if you were expecting us to try to hang with Prince Harry’s glossy posse at Bodo’s Schloss (which was on the ground floor of our hotel), then I am sorry this blog post will be quite disappointing. Neither David nor I are sufficiently aristocratic or cool enough to try to cross the velvet ropes at London’s hippest members only clubs.

The best I could do to extend our evenings slightly longer than in our normal life was to make our restaurant reservations at a slightly later hour than usual. I appreciate that London is the kind of place where people still dress up to go to dinner, because I am the kind of person who generally is overdressed for everything at home. In London, I just felt normally attired.

This isn’t to say that we were super fancy for dinner every night. The first night we were in town, we were at the Chelsea game that finished about 7:30. We walked over to Bailey’s Fish and Chips in Fulham and indulged in a delicious round of fresh cod and crispy chips…incredibly informal and incredibly delicious.

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The night we saw The Duck House, we opted for the fanciness of the Kensington High Street McDonald’s dressed in our theatre going finery. David and I aren’t really theater people (and I certainly cannot stomach most musical theater), but I enjoy a good British political farce. With the number of times I have watched and rewatched The Thick of It and In the Loop, I was eager for something else to satisfy my bizarre fascination with British politics. David and I enjoyed the play even more than we both thought we would. As a plus, the audience was pretty much entirely British, as few tourists were willing to study up on the 2009 Parliamentary Expenses Scandal the way I was willing to do so that I could get the jokes. If more theatre is like that, then sign me up! (In deciding which play to see, I was going back and forth between The Duck house and Jeeves and Wooster, because I find P.G. Wodehouse delightful; but what I really wanted to see was Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus, but it closed a month before we went to London, so our timing sucked for that. If a play isn’t some kind of farce or comedy, then it better be something by Shakespeare or an ancient Greek for me to want to see it.)

I tried to get us tickets to see Chvrches in Camden one night of our trip, but failed. So, that meant the rest of our nightlife was restricted to eating and watching delightful British television from our hotel bed. Yes, it was thrilling to watch The Only Way is Essex at the same time it was shown to British audiences, but can I just talk about how I love that Friday night primetime on BBC Two is when Gardeners’ World is shown? There is a delightful golden retriever that features prominently on the show as he follows Monty Don around the garden. I think that show bears significant responsibility for why I am so gardening motivated this spring.

So let’s talk about restaurants. I picked restaurants for different reasons, some, months before our trip. The restaurant that I was the most excited about was Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Can you see the excitement in my face as we prepared to depart the hotel for the location in the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge?

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This restaurant is the kind of stuff dreams are made of for someone like me because the menu was prepared by Heston with the assistance of FOOD HISTORIANS who spent long periods of time in the British Library and the library at Hampton Court researching historical British food. Forget Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus, we are talking people who are FOOD HISTORIANS doing research on historical food that maybe Edward IV ate and then Heston’s team serving it up (You can read an article about the historical footnoting of the menu here). It is pretty much the epicenter of things that matter to me – food, history, and good research. The menu includes the dates that the particular dish can be traced to.

I don’t like taking pictures of food in restaurants. It actually drives me crazy. However, I couldn’t resist so as to forever remember this little beauty (note: I most certainly did not use a flash, that would have been beyond rude).
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That, my friends is no mere mandarin orange and slice of toast. It is called meat fruit, and it is the best thing I have ever eaten in my life. Seriously, just thinking about it my mouth is salivating again. The menu describes it as: Mandarin, chicken liver & foie gras parfait, grilled bread (c. 1500). I cannot describe it other than to say if I ever get to eat it even one more time, I will probably die a satisfied diner.

I had the recommended pigeon for my main course, and then onto dessert. I had the tipsy cake which again looked like this:
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It was only the best dessert I think I have ever had in a restaurant. I am kicking myself now that David and I didn’t opt for the second dessert treat, the homemade ice cream that is made at your table with the help of a little liquid nitrogen. It looked completely awesome just watching the staff whip it up table-side (You can watch a video of this ice cream action here). Another time.

Downton Abbey may be past its prime as a television series, but that didn’t stop me from planning an afternoon and evening of eating, as inspired by it. On Tuesday afternoon, we headed to Tea at the Ritz. The Palm Court was lovely, and the tea and cake selection was first-rate.

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Doesn’t David look thrilled about it?

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Seriously though, I know he isn’t as excited about an afternoon tea as I am, but I appreciated his patience in indulging me in my girly afternoon (I know it isn’t fair for him, because I enjoy sports way more than he enjoys afternoon tea).

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That evening, we ate dinner in the Neo-Byzantine dining room of the Criterion. Do you recognize it from Downton Abbey as the place where Lady Edith had one of her dates with her editor boyfriend before she got knocked up?

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The “long bar” of the restaurant is quite famous for appearing in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes as a meeting place between Watson and Holmes. The room is lovely, but slightly past its prime, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The food was just okay, not great. Still it was a nice place to go and was a direct contrast to Piccadilly Square right outside it’s doors. All I could manage was this blurry photo:

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On Thursday night, we ate in one of the most beautiful settings I think I have ever eaten in when we dined in the conservatory at Clos Maggiore. Pretty, freaking romantic.

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We were pretty lucky to get a seat in the conservatory, as there are only six tables in that part of the restaurant. As we were leaving, I heard the other people checking in asking if they could sit in there, and when they were told no, they asked just to see it.

The food was delicious there too. It was more of a modern French menu.

On Friday night we ate at Kitchen W8 in Kensington. After Dinner, this was probably my favorite restaurant where we ate. The food was unbelievably delicious. David and I said at the end of our meal that if we knew it was going to be so delicious, we would have ordered the tasting menu instead (turns out that Michelin star meant something). We will have to do it another time. As good as the food was, we sat next to some of the most obnoxious people I have ever been seated near in a restaurant. They were total West London public school prats, who spend the entire evening discussing inherited wealth of themselves and their friends, marriage, divorce, mistresses (and how to preserve inherited wealth in the face of marriage, divorce, and mistresses). Sitting next to them reminded me that inherited wealth in any culture is frequently a recipe for complete asshattery or at the very least, utter cluelessness and obliviousness to the feelings and concerns of other people. So, as delicious as the tasting menu would have been, it would be better on another night when not seated next to such idiots.

While on the subject of restaurants, I should also briefly mention Little Social, where we ate lunch one day. Tucked in a small street near Regent Street, this place is part of chef Jason Atherton’s food empire on Pollen Street and it is very delicious. The burger there was much better than any British burger that I was expecting.
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So many broken etiquette rules in this post with all these food pictures! No matter how discretely, quickly, and silently I tried to take these pictures, I still feel tremendous guilt about being one of those kind of bloggers who just posted food pictures.

Yes, I may not be drinking Dom in the clubs, but I could happily spend many evenings in a heavenly food coma in London.

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