London on a gilded shoestring – Day 3

If you’ve just joined us, I’ve been slowly documenting our time spent in London during the month of October. We were there for six days en route from Northern Ireland (on the seventh day, we rested.. on board a plane headed for Sydney) : eating, visiting friends, and eating some more. The reason for this chronicle is as a response to all the friends who have been asking us how our holiday went, and also as an opportunity for me to share the photos I took. Day 1 and Day 2 can also be read here.

On Day 3 we went to the Borough Markets with N, M and Gracie. Borough Markets has got to be the best market I’ve ever visited. OFM readers seem to agree that it’s the best market in Britain. Forgive the excessive amount of photos, but you really have to see the place, to believe it. We went on a fair-weathered Saturday afternoon. Maybe it was because the markets was celebrating 250 years or that it was also National Apple Day, but the place was packed out. Being National Apple Day, they were also handing out free plates of warm apple pie, which sparked a bit of a frenzy at the apple stall.

Not only were the markets fun and lively, but there was lots to see and do in the area too. There are bakeries such as Konditor & Cook, the well known fish! restaurant, and various pubs and cafes filled to the corners with people spilling out onto the sidewalk. A stroll away, are street performers, buskers, and skateboarders providing walk-by entertainment on the South Bank, alongside the Thames. A little further along, you will find yourself walking past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern and the London Eye.

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The running theme for our London holiday, was salted caramel. Sauces, chocolates, macaroons, ..they can’t seem to get enough of the stuff here, while I can barely find any mention of it at home. We picked up a bag of salted caramel truffles at the L’Artisan stall, and found ourselves biting into beautiful dark chocolate filled with silky soft and runny salted caramel. Delicious!

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We got a selection of oysters with a squeeze of lemon, from a stall that shucked them to order. One of the oysters was impressively hand-sized – but rather lacking in flavour.

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It’s mind boggling and mouth-watering, setting your eyes on the vast array of mushrooms on sale. Like the razor clams, I finally got to see a puffball in the flesh for the first time – or a slice of it anyway. According to Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, they “..grow wild in grassy fields and near hedgerows” and “..can be enormous in size, resembling a white football”. Ben says they aren’t very nice to eat. A bit like styrofoam, which is a shame because there’s so much potential in how these can be used. I mean, I could go for a really really large stuffed mushroom!

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Later in the day, we caught the tube to Islington to visit Paul A Young – a chocolate “boutique” featuring award winning chocolates made by chocolatier/patissier Paul Young and his team, on the premises. There we bought a selection of chocolates from the display. The stand-outs were the Mandarin chocolate bar, London Ale truffle, and smoked salt caramel truffle. The London Ale truffle, essentially a beer chocolate, was fantastic. The ganache had a yeasty aroma and the flavour of the ale matched incredibly well with the chocolate. I wish I had bought a whole box of these. It reminded me of the great James Squire ice-cream I tasted at Restaurant Balzac.

The Camden Passage area surrounding this little chocolate paradise also has some interesting antique and second-hand shops, which are worth a browse.

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After purchasing the chocolates, we popped into nearby Carluccio’s for a coffee and to taste our spoils.

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Finally, dinner at Petrus. The collection of pictures here is rather meagre compared to the efforts above. Not that I was so distracted by the food (well, maybe a little..) that I forgot to take photos, but the lack of light in the room did not really lend itself to be photographed well. The best picture was of the extra petit fours we ate the next day. They were given to us in a sleek black box marked with an ornate P in gold lettering. A nice way to remember what a great meal we had, the evening before.

What I remember of it is that after a day’s worth of walking, there’s nothing better than sinking into a well padded seat and have a glistening champagne trolley pull up in front of you. We declined, but it’s the thought that counts. Equally exciting was the cheese trolley, sturdy as a wagon and laden with all sorts of oozy gooey cheeses, and best of all, the bon bon trolley : three words I’d happily hear any day of the week. I wanted to run to it like a kid when you hear the ice-cream truck playing Greensleaves down your street.

Inside this corner of the Berkeley, was a completely different world. Dimly lit and plush carpetted, everyone seemed to speak in hushed tones. I could barely hear the waiter who explained the specials to us in whispers, but could certainly smell the whole truffle he wafted from a small copper pot when he described the white truffle risotto special. The table was pulled back for you when you got up or sat down and two waiters seemed to be dedicated to ensuring you had bread on your side plate at all times.

Appetisers were brandade with crispbreads, foie gras and puff pastry triangles, and a shotglass of warm potato soup with swirly olive and tomato crackers. The veal sweetbreads I had as an entree were fantastic, as was the fish with thinly sliced petals of potato and truffle, and braised artichokes.

For dessert, I had the Peanut Parfait (pictured), described as a “parfait with rice crisp crunch, Valrhona chocolate mousse” and caramelised peanuts arranged over swirls of chocolate sauce. B had the Moelleux; a warm fondant-style chocolate dessert served with salted caramel ice-cream and almond tuile. At the touch of a spoon, the moelleux breaks open, releasing the warm chocolate sauce within.

We ended up having a very nice chat with several of the waiters and later found ourselves getting a tour of the kitchen (and a glimpse of the chef’s table in action). The biggest surprise was when we rounded the corner and got to the pastry section where I discovered I knew one of the pastry chefs working there. It was a great and complete surprise to see Gabby, having not seen her for over a year and I’d also forgotten that she had moved to London.

Petrus might look like a pretty stuffy, overpriced kind of place. And it is. But the food is good and the service is incredible : far warmer and friendlier than I expected it would be. So we left with enriched livers, feeling equally enriched by this worthy dining experience.

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Borough Markets
8 Southwark Street
London SE1 1TL

Paul A Young Fine Chocolates
Paul A Young Fine Chocolates
33 Camden Passage
London N1 8EA

305-307 Upper Street
London N1 2TU

The Berkeley
Wilton Place
London SW1X 7RL

Next : Day 4 : maze, Macaron, train to Reading, night bus nightmare.



London on a gilded shoestring – Day 2 – Part 2

After our walk around Piccadilly Circus, we headed over to Parlour at Sketch for some tea and treats. Sketch is a bit of a concept destination, which some consider exciting, playful and elegant while others can’t get past the prices on the menu. Sketch is divided into several sections, including a restaurant and a brasserie/bar, and an art space. Parlour is the cafe and patisserie section. The chef patron of the establishment is Michellin-starred French chef, Pierre Gagnaire – he designed the menu, but he doesn’t actually cook there.

As we didn’t wander around, I can’t speak for the other sections (I’ve been told that even the toilets are .. interesting), but Parlour has an artsy/bohemian feel to it, with it’s elaborate chandeliers, plush armchairs and paper menus tucked between the pages of old books. Almost Melbourne-ish. There are little financiers, brownies and tea cakes you can order from the display, or you can also have something from the menu. B selects a chocolate cake elaborately tiered with matching chocolate/caramel mousses and ganaches while I opt for the violet flavoured (thankfully not violently coloured – pastel purple is OK) macaroon topped with blueberries. Both are delicious. To drink, I request a chai tea from the long list of available teas. It arrives in a flowery pot with a dainty bone china cup to pour the tea into – which really makes an occasion out of taking tea!

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As we were having dinner late, we stopped by Harrods in Knightsbridge first. Harrods is a bit of a maze inside. You could walk from one room to another, almost never encountering the same room twice. What I really wanted to see, after negotiating the perfume and cosmetic rooms, and the shoe and handbag rooms (which did stop me in my tracks for a moment or two) was the food hall. It’s like the David Jones Food Hall, but x2 in size, opulence and extravagance. And you can’t eat your purchases in there, which I think is a bit silly. All the unpasteurised cheeses in the Fromagerie made me drool. We bought a bit of Fleur du Marquis for N and M. There was also a La Maison du Chocolat counter (where we later got a florentine and a round chocolate thing that looked like a rum ball but tasted better), and a branch of Laduree. We bought a selection of macaroons at Laduree, for nostalgia value, having visited the Laduree in Paris. Fans of SATC might recall that the Parisian Laduree made a brief appearance in an episode when Carrie goes to live in Paris with the Russian. In one scene, she is in the tea room, looking glamorously lonely amongst the beautiful cakes and pastries. No photography was allowed within Laduree, and inexplicably, we didn’t end up taking any pictures of the macaroons we were too busy eating once we were out of the building. Let me just say though, that the salted caramel macaroon was the best of the Laduree macaroons that we tried that day (the other two were pistachio and red fruits).

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After Harrods, it was off to St. John in Smithfield for dinner. St. John is famed for head chef (and co-owner) Fergus Henderson’s Nose-to-Tail approach to eating. Walk through the smoking room, the bar and bakery, and up a small set of stairs and you have reached his restaurant, which I’m told is mostly patronised by the artsy crowd. It’s a sparsely decorated room with a partially visible kitchen to the left. I like the coathanger hooks that line the walls of the room. Great for if you’re paranoid about having your coat taken away from you. The simplicity of the room carries on to the lack of pretension with which the dishes are presented. It made me feel as though the quality of the ingredients were allowed to speak for themselves. We started with a salad of skate, bread and a green sauce. For the main, B had a special of Hare with Braised Cabbage which he couldn’t stop raving about. The hare was barely cooked; just seared on the outside and was so beautifully moist and tender. As for me, I couldn’t go past the famed Roast Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad. La Sala in Sydney does a similar dish, but I’ve been told it’s not a patch on the St. John original. Four tree stumps of marrow-filled bones stand tall on the plate, which you delve into with the provided crab picker. The scrapings of marrow can then be spread onto pieces of grilled sourdough, sprinkled with grey sea salt and topped with some parsley salad to add balance to the richness of the whole dish.

For dessert, B had the Apple Sorbet with Polish Vodka and I had the Eccles cake with Lancashire Cheese. You may remember that I had a go at making Fergus Henderson’s Eccles cakes in the past. The result was pretty good, but I wondered what it was really meant to look and taste like. Well now I know. The cake is incredible with the slice of crumbly Lancashire cheese. Cutting through the pastry unleashes the sweet and spicy currants within. I was quite full at this stage, but couldn’t stop nibbling at more cheese and more of the sweet, crispy cake, until it was all gone. Later, we stumbled out, very happy and very full. Of all the places we ended up visiting during our time in London, this (and later, Le Gavroche also) was one of the restaurants we definitely wanted to return to.

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Parlour at Sketch
9 Conduit Street,
London W1S 2XG

Ladurée at Harrods
87/135 Brompton Road
London SW1X 7XL

St. John Restaurant
26 St John Street
London EC1M 4AY

Next : Day 3 : Borough Markets, South Bank, Paul A. Young, Petrus and a surprise.



London on a gilded shoestring – Day 2 – Part 1

The first thing we did on our second day in London was to have lunch with Seamus. We picked K10 because we wanted Seamus to experience the whole sushi train thing. Kaiten zushi in Japanese means rotating sushi, hence the name of the restaurant, and this one seemed to have gotten good reviews. Unfortunately, we also selected the one branch that was located in the heart of the financial district, so when we got there, the place was packed with the lunch time suit crowd. Most of the customers there that day were in groups of twos, and whenever a group of two left, they filled the space with two other people. As we were a group of three, we had to wait for almost an hour, while people behind us in the queue proceeded to get seated first because they were a group of two. To their credit, the very nice guy organising the seating did apologise and offered complimentary drinks while we waited. When it was time to pay the bill, he even took a few items off as further compensation. But the damage was done. The food was OK; nothing really special to make me want to return.

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After lunch, B and I headed off to our first sweet pitt stop. Minamoto Kitchoan is a Japanese confectionary shop specialising in wagashi – sweets usually eaten during the tea ceremony. We picked a persimmon and yuzu flavoured sweet each. Both were jelly based. The yuzu one was my favourite. Light, citrussy and not too sugary sweet.

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Then on to La Maison next door where we sampled some champagne chocolate truffles and bought a palm sized macaroon and a bag of truffles to take away. There’s an air of being all very exclusive and hush-hush in there – it felt as if I had stepped into Hermes by mistake. They declined my request to take photos of the chocolates. I took some exterior pictures of the Halloween-themed window displays instead, but can’t seem to find them on my camera anymore, and have concluded that they must employ some sort of secret camera scrambling technology to thwart Intellectual Chocolatory Theft. Woah!

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Since we were already in the Piccadilly area, we continued to walk around checking out the different shops – most notably the Apple Store on Regent Street which is meant to be the world’s largest Apple store, and Hamley’s, a toy store. Note the $8640.00 giraffe, and the Butterscotch the Pony display still makes me laugh. Realistic breathing!

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Next : Day 2 – Part 2.. – Just when you think it’s not possible to fit anymore into the day, we visit Parlour at Sketch, Laduree at Harrods and St. John.

K10 City
20 Copthall Avenue
London EC2R 7DN

Minamoto Kitchoan
44 Piccadilly
London, W1J 0DS

La Maison du Chocolat
45-46 Piccadilly
London, W1J 0DS

Godiva Chocolates
247, Regent Street
London W1B 2EW

Hamleys of London
188-196 Regent St
London W1B 5BT



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