Duck of the Week: Leaving duck

Caswell and Phonecia, the London ducks, are flying west for the September.  As am I.

Goodbye London town!


the benefits of family visits

My parents, sister, and brother-in-law were in town recently, which meant that in addition to doing a bunch of touristy things I had not done I got to try a lot of new restaurants.  My parents don’t eat most meat except for chicken, a constraint that put some of the more classically British places off limits.  And in no sense are they foodies.  So we weren’t going to go to places like St. Johns and Viajante.

Without further ado:

1. Diwana

My dad only likes Indian food, more or less.  And even then, he usually only likes things my mom makes.  Still, his main goal while here was to go to some Indian restaurants.  Diwana serves southern Indian cusine on Drummond st. which has quite a few similar establishments.  I had been there on previous visits to London with a friend.  We had various kinds of dosas, and I had an idli as well.  The coconut chutney was excellent, as was the meal as a whole.  Obviously I really like this kind of food in the instinctual way one likes the food that they grew up with (though I’m less attached to ramen and frozen vegetables, oddly enough).  I’ve heard from my friend that they can be busy and rude, but we got a table quickly and they were really nice, even including a dessert plate with some fruit.  I think we got the Indian family special.  I neglected to take pictures.

2. Ottolenghi

Because it came so highly recommended, I decided a visit to this restaurant was necessary.   Unfortunately the Islington branch, which is the one open for dinner, is undergoing renovation now.  So we went to the Belgravia branch for Lunch. You could sort of make a mixed plate of whatever they had.  So I had the seared tuna with a seasame dipping sauce, roasted beets, squash with feta and corn, and fried potatoes with an aioli.  Everything was very fresh tasting, simple but cooked and seasoned perfectly.  The shop and the food were beautiful as well.  For dessert I got a straberries-and-vanilla-cream cupcake, which was amazing – rich, moist, with a deep vanilla flavor.  It definitely beat out anything I’ve had from the hyped up LA cupcake shops.

3. Tayyabs

This Pakistani restaurant in White Chapel came with high recommendations from a number of people and magazines, so I decided to make a “reservation” despite the fact that they are notorious for long wait times even with said reservations.  We arrived at 8:20 for an 8:30 reservation, and were finally seated closer to 9:10 or so.  The restaurant was extremely crowded, and to make matters worse if you had not made a reservation, you had to stand in line inside the restaurant itself.  So there were about 40 people standing around in an already crowded and not that huge space.  The host wandered around carrying a receipt-like piece of paper around with seemingly hundreds of names, of which we were one.  But we were eventually seated.  They had a lot of karahi dishes, mostly.  I got the king prawn one, which came in a ‘curry’ that seemed to be flavored with a fair amount of coconut, or something sweet.  We collectively decided that the food was ok, but not special and not worth the wait.

3. Mark’s Bar at Hix

I’ve been wanting to go out in Soho sometime before I left, because it seems like a thing one should do in London at some point.  But I also wanted to avoid the more trashy places one might find there.  So I did some research and came up with the bar beneath a restaurant called Hix. It was a great space, glitzy and subterranean, with a very long cocktail menu.  Many of the drinks were (loosely) inspired from British history.  I got “the avenue” described as such: “Four Roses Bourbon shaken with Somerset Cider Brandy, Passionfruit nectar, Homemade Grenadine and a dash of Orange Blossom Water.”  It tasted like passion fruit a bit too much, but was still good.

4. The Princess of Shoreditch

This meal came at the end of a day that started out at the Notting Hill Carnival, then the V&A, then a bike ride for my sister and brother-in-law, and finally a stroll around spitalfields and brick lane.  I really managed to show them a lot of the city.  Anyway, this restaurant does modernized, dressed up English and European food.  It used to be a fairly classic pub that closed a few years ago and has since reopened as a slightly more upscale establishment that uses only locally sourced, seasonal products.  The atmosphere was still really friendly and pub-y, especially our waitress, who was super nice.  The space itself was also very comfortable.  It was Sunday when we went, so they had ‘Sunday roast, an English tradition.  They had different kinds; I got a mix of the chicken, pork belly, and 28 day aged Irish sirloin, which came with vegetables and a Yorkshire pudding. which is not pudding but a doughy thing (actually it has an interesting history; see link).  In any case, it was really really good.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been having trouble understanding the purpose of meat.  I’ve had a few things that have made it more clear and this is one of them.  The sirloin was my favorite.  I really enjoyed this restaurant as a whole and would recommend it.  Good food and very nice people.

The evening continued in Bethnal Green

5. The Wolseley

This restaurant is in a very old building that used to be, among other things, a showroom for Wolseley cars. Now known for it’s breakfast and afternoon tea and as a place to take guests.  I had a mixed Viennoiserie basket.  Actually they usually serve a mix of mini-sized pastries, but they were out, so I got a choice of three normal pastries.  I had a croissant, a chocolate brioche, and ‘Pain Sucré au Beurre’, and they also brought and almond croissant by mistake.  My dad helped me eat all of it.  They were all really delicious, and made for a very decadent breakfast.  Breakfast being my favorite meal, I love nicely done pastries and bread.

6.  Hyderabadi Spice

Probably the best part of the trip for my parents was visiting East Ham, a neighborhood in east London that is now primarily south Indian.  I had been to this area once before myself.  It is definitely a weird and unusual experience for me to be in a neighborhood where almost everyone is ‘like me’, in a generic sense anyway.  We went with a couple second cousins of mine who now live in England but who had grown up in India.  For my parents and for them it was more the oddity of seeing things that were very familiar (types of stores, foods, etc) to them in the middle of London.  To add to it we went to a Hyderabadi restaurant (they all grew up in Hyderabad).

We got Haleem to start with, which is basically lamb, wheat and ghee cooked for hours until it becomes a paste.  This was really delicious, actually.  It had a very rich flavor from the slow cooking and from all the fat from the ghee and meat.  My cousins ate it as it came, which I take it is proper, but I liked it with some naan.  Apparently it is especially available at the end of Ramadan (Hyderabad is perhaps more mixed than other Indian cities, and there is a pretty strong Muslim presence and influence, which of course leads to various kinds of hybridity).  But mainly what we came for was the Biryani which is a dish of meat (lamb or chicken) marinated in yoghurt, and cooked with rice and a million spices on a very low heat for hours and hours.  My mom tried to explain all the different layers, but I will have to see her make it to really understand.  Again,  very tasty.  I had actually not liked Biryani growing up, so I’m glad I rediscovered it.  Being slow cooked for hours (like the haleem) gives the dish a really deep flavor from top to bottom.  Even though it’s cooked in layers, it sits in the same pot and so the flavors become really well-integrated.  Fun fact: my grandmother and my cousins’ grandmother (who were sisters) used to make fantastic meat Biryani – which they never ate because they were vegetarian.  Maybe that fact is less fun for you, oh non-related reader.  Anyway, everyone I was eating with was a Biryani connoisseur, and they all liked it a lot.  Having lost all sense of authentic cultural identity, I ordered the prawn biryani, which is apparently very newfangled and they didn’t like it.

After we went across the streets to get a few sweets and then stopped at another place to get Paan, which is an after-dinner snack that involves lots of different things rolled up in a betel leaf.  I had never had this before.  From what I gather there is a fair amount of variation about what you can actually put in the leaf.  I got the sweet paan, and I couldn’t tell you what was in it.  I didn’t like it though.  I vastly prefer just candy covered fennel seeds for a digestive.

And those are my food adventures of the week!  Here are more pictures:

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The proms

Every summer, the BBC holds a classical music festival at the Royal Albert Music Hall called The Proms (short for ‘promenade‘).  Every night for two months they have performances, by a variety of orchestras, performers, and conductors.  And everyday, you can line up outside to get £5 tickets!  You have to line up at about 6pm or 6:30 for a 7:30 performance, and you have to stand inside, but you are pretty close to the orchestra and the hall is beautiful, and it’s only £5!  I am not too well versed in classical music, but I know the basics, and plus going to concerts is a good way to learn more.  The first time I went they did pieces by Debussy, Ravel, and a piece that was, let’s say, a bit non-linear by Dutilleux which I had not heard before.  The hit of the night was Ravel’s Boléro, which was spirited and cheerful.  I then tried to ago again that same week to finally  see Gustavo Dudamel, who usually conducts about 5 min away from me at the Walt Disney hall, but by 6:00 the line was already around the corner and down the block, etc.  Finally, this past week I saw Yo Yo Ma perform (with the orchestra) a piece by Graham Fitkin, which was ok.  Then they played the entirety of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, with the chorus.  It doesn’t seem odd that you’ve never actually heard live such a famous piece of music until you are listening to it, and realize that it would be really hard for a recording to be similar to a live experience.  I have no plans to download the ringtone.


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