The Great British Partake-Off: London Edition

Cheerio, dear readers!

My bad for the very long hiatus this time.  The thing is, your Veritasty friends had been cavorting (also working full time jobs, etc. etc.) around London and other faraway locales from late September last year to right after the new year.  We're back home in New York now and swamped with work and life, but finally decided to carve out some time to share our absolutely delightful journey, both food-related and otherwise, for the last few months.  Here's our series that I'm going to call...The Great British Partake-Off!!  Part one of many...


A little backstory: Alex got an opportunity to work abroad in his company's London office, and they were going to put him in corporate housing for free.  So, Sandra decided to take full advantage of this opportunity and move there as well. Practically everyone in my family thought I was taking a sabbatical and going to London for vacation, but on the contrary I actually worked harder and longer hours there.  The great thing for me was that while Alex went to work at 9am on the weekdays, I didn't have to sign in until early afternoon (2pm GMT being 9am EST) so I could wander around the city at my leisure.  I had some good jogs in the morning, some terrible jogs as well, and great introspection time while looking at the beautiful, ever-changing, unique, and diverse city of London.  We got to explore London together on the weekends, as well as experience some wonderful day trips and weekend trips.

It's a thing...

A little more backstory: Alex and Sandra met in London in January 2010 while studying abroad!  See, London holds a very special place in our hearts for that reason.  A few weekends, we revisited our old stomping grounds around King's Cross, Bloomsbury, Angel, and Bedford Square and it meant a lot to me that we had stayed friends and developed this blog together all these years after.  (Plus we're getting married and stuff too, but just shows how important Veritasty is to us...) It was great to go back now as working adults, rather than poor students, so we could actually enjoy ourselves at shops and restaurants instead of scrimping for every pence and pound.

I was therefore able to witness London several times over the course of the last seven years and I do believe that it's improving in many aspects: cleanliness, safety, modernity, and most  A lot of people still believe that British food is unpalatable, but we heartily disagree.

Here are a few highlights of the gastronomical delights London has to offer, da real MVPs.

Most frequented foodie destination: Borough Market
Alex's corporate housing was in an incredible location.  We were right between St. Paul's Cathedral and Tower of London, just two blocks north of the Thames and two blocks south of Bank and the Royal Exchange.  There was a Sainsbury's around the corner so I could go get a pint of milk in my PJs in a pinch.  I walked to the West End nearly every day, and on the days I needed some peace and quiet, I wandered the silent canals and residential blocks in St. Katharine's Docks. One of my favorite places to visit was less than 10 minutes away across London Bridge: Borough Market.

A little unfortunately, Borough Market has become so popular that it's insanely crowded on weekends and around lunch time.  I'd always go about 10am on weekdays to grab a latte from one of the local vendors and then weave amongst the stalls of local cheeses, artisan pastries, bread baked literally across the street from the market, charcuterie, glistening cakes, stuffed-to-the-brim jelly doughnuts, sugar-coated Turkish delights, freshly baked flaky sausage rolls, quintessential English pies with various flavorful twists, vegetarian Indian street food, Egyptian street food, Jamaican street food, Thai street food, goats cheese products...and that's just the first half of the market.  On the other side, you'll find more cheese (in fact, your nose will find them before you even get there), rustic breads, truffles, olive oils, fresh seafood on ice, a food vendor cooking huge pans of paella and laksa curry from the fresh seafood from next door, farm-grown produce; the list goes on and on.  There's also highly rated fish and chips and pulled pork sandwiches and jamon and tapas on the street that cuts through the market.  Absolutely a feast for all the senses.

Brunch with a view: Duck & Waffle
When my best friend Jackie came to visit us, we headed to the very popular Duck & Waffle restaurant, located at the 40th floor of the Salesforce Building.  It was near impossible to get a reservation, but we were lucky that someone had just cancelled.  The panoramic views were a little obscured on that cloudy day, but you could nonetheless make out the striking view of the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe Street) literally right next door, and it was fun to see all of London spread out beneath us like a Lego set: Clerkenwell here, Shoreditch there.  The restaurant served all duck-related dishes; we had pigs ears (okay, not duck-related straight out the gate, but still yummy), duck congee, duck leg confit on a waffle (duck & waffle, of course), and duck egg en cocotte with truffle shavings, tons of melted cheese, and toast soldiers for dipping.  It was an expensive and highly sophisticated meal, but also had elements of play-with-your-food playfulness and was undoubtedly delicious.

Brunch with no views, just low-class and kick-ass: Full English Breakfast at Cafe Rossi in Southwark
Alex spent two weeks in London in 2013 for work, and he stayed near this greasy spoon called Cafe Rossi and had perhaps several not regrettable (in the sorry-not-sorry sense) meals here.  It seats maybe 20 people in the cramped back area, on sticky tables and sticky chairs.  There's a gyro on a spit at the window, and a glass case of fluorescent foodstuffs.  Honestly I would have passed over this place a million times and wouldn't have dared eating here until Alex recommended it.  We had one of our first full English breakfasts here and it was incredible.  Like, incredibly huge, incredibly fattening and greasy, but also incredibly delicious and hearty and satisfying.  It comes with beans, sausages, ham, mushrooms, fried eggs, chips, and buttered toast.  I probably skipped over the black pudding, but still I only ate about half.  The second time we came, I thought I was rather clever in ordering about half the items a la carte, but found myself missing that feeling of gorging one's self with something so indulgent as a full English breakfast.  I've had a few full English breakfasts here and there, and although I can't say definitively that Cafe Rossi's was my favorite, it was certainly memorable for being our local greasy spoon.

Meals worth waiting for: Dishoom
Our first full day was a Friday and I had to sign on to work at about 2pm, so we went out for a brief walk in the morning that culminated in lunch at Dishoom, an Indian restaurant that Alex had visited and enjoyed.  Dishoom was opened by Iranian folks and designed to be like a club back in the classical days of old Bombay, maybe in the 1960s or so (this isn't just my imagination: they have menus and pamphlets printed in the style of old newspapers that espouses this story). They serve mostly small plates, and of course you'll find the staples of curries and roasted meats, but in a much more refined and delicate style.  We had their famed dishes, chicken ruby and daal with naan.  The chicken ruby is a fairly sweet curry with chunks of succulent chicken.  The curry is so packed with spice, but balanced so it's not overwhelming. The daal is thick and rich.  Often when I have daal, it's a watery side dish, almost like an afterthought.  Even the chutneys are fantastic here - a few times, I'd been starving waiting for my meal, so I'd just dip my fork into the mint yogurt or the spicy orange sauce and just slowly and imperceptibly eat the sauce straight up.  Oh my ghee.  I still dream about Dishoom.  If Dishoom ever opens in New York, I'll be on that line, stat.