Eating My Way Around London

November 11, 2011
My dad says to travel is to learn.
I say to travel is to eat.

It’s true. No matter where I visit, I am never completely satisfied unless I have eaten delicious food.

For Christmas a few years ago, my family and I vacationed in London. My dad, being our gung-ho tour guide, was eager to explore all of the popular landmarks and ancient buildings. Don’t get me wrong–I was excited about that, too. However, I was equally stoked to eat some yummy grub.

Fish and chips quickly became a favorite of mine. This quintessential English dish consisted of battered and deep-fried fish with deep-fried chips–what we call fries. The fish was almost always fried to golden-brown excellence, and the chips tasted significantly better than your average McDonald’s fries. The aroma of fried fish and potatoes pleasantly clogged my senses as soon as I received my meal. A fish and chips shop stood on practically every street corner, enticing me to come inside and engulf myself in the delicious cuisine.

Most of the time, I succumbed to its appeal.

Of course, we couldn’t stay in London without going to a pub. At least, that was my dad’s opinion. And after our first pub meal, I heartily agreed with him.

The George, where we ate lunch one day, was actually a former coaching inn and a favorite among William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. We had to hunt for this place because it was nestled behind a building and tucked in an alleyway in Southwark, London. I remember ordering fish and chips–big surprise there–, but there were many other classic pub grub options to choose from: steak and kidney pie and steak and ale pie, for a couple of examples. The overall ambience was cozy, bustling and lively. The dining area was filled with the sounds of clinking glass and hearty laughter, as well as the smells of savory food. I quite enjoyed this pub!

Another place we dined at didn’t necessarily seem like it would provide outstanding entrees, but the café in the crypt at St. Martin-in-the-Fields exceeded my expectations considerably. We visited this church, which lies in iconic Trafalgar Square, to do some brass rubbing in the crypt. When we finished, we popped over to the café for dinner. Being inside an 18th century crypt, the café was situated around thick stone columns. During the day, it was lit up brightly. At dinnertime, however, it darkened to candlelight, thereby creating a quaint, historic feel. The cuisine was classically English, with bread and butter pudding, custard, and fish and chips. I ordered a warm soup–it was wintertime, after all. Overall, the café managed to pull off a cozy, modern feel even though it resided in an ancient crypt.

One afternoon, my family and I ventured down to Hampstead Village, a suburb of London. Looking for a place to eat lunch, we stumbled upon a plain-looking crepe stand on the corner of a street. But what La Creperie de Hamstead lacked in looks it made up for in food. We had the incredible opportunity to watch the chef flip, stuff and fold the crepes expertly before handing them to us to enjoy. There were choices of entree and dessert crepes; I picked one of each! The savory entree crepe, stuffed with vegetables–or meat–and cheese, literally melted in my mouth. When eating the dessert crepe, I got a taste of powdered sugar and warm, cooked fruit. The downside to this venue was that there was no place to sit, but I settled myself on a park bench because those crepes were worth it!

On several occasions, we encountered a chain called West Cornwall Pasty Co. Not to be confused with pastries, pasties consist of a vegetable or meat filling wrapped in freshly baked dough. The West Cornwall pasty shop popped up all over the place. My family and I ate at venues in Covent Garden–where we sipped steaming mugs of mulled wine along with our pasties–and Canterbury, to name a couple. The shop provided a great selection of vegetarian and meat pasties. Upon entrance, I immediately got a whiff of the pleasant aroma of the pasties. It was a great place to pick up some savory food on-the-go. Because the ready-made pasties were served quickly, the atmosphere of the shop was hustle and bustle. The pasties themselves were divine, with warm dough stuffed full of cheesy goodness.

On especially cold afternoons and evenings, my family and I would stop in a Costa Coffee shop. These coffee shops also appeared all around London. They were the perfect place to relax after a taxing day and enjoy a soothing mug of hot cocoa or coffee. Small snacks and pastries were also provided, but my favorite was their huge mug of steaming hot cocoa, complete with whipped cream and cinnamon. Just one sip flooded my entire insides with warmth and delicious taste. With pleasant lighting and plentiful tables, the atmosphere was modern and communal.

While in London, my family and I stayed in a rented flat–British for apartment. The building stood in a London neighborhood, not smack in the middle of the tourist district, so we got a feel of real city life. Just a block down from our flat was Yildiz Bakery Patisserie. We visited this pastry shop multiple times, mainly because of its convenient location. The Eastern European owners let us sample some of their native desserts, which were both interesting and yummy! However, most of the selection was of English sweet pastries. We could pick and choose from a variety; some were stuffed with fruity-flavored gel, others coated in a sticky layer of melted sugar, and still more were miniature dessert pies. It was a popular place, though the shop itself was small and slightly crowded. We ate pastries from this shop for breakfast on our last morning in London.

During our stay, my family and I took a day trip to the small village of Windsor to take a tour of the grand Windsor Castle. For lunch, we stopped in a little tea house called The Crooked House. As its name implies, the building itself was actually slightly crooked, which made for a quirky and cute venue. The interior was very quaint, with petite tea tables and hand-written specials menus. We ate upstairs, in a small, quiet room with charming accents, a cheerful interior color, and a great view of the bustling street below. I ordered shepherd’s pie, an English classic, and of course we all gulped down a pot of hot tea! The food tasted great and the atmosphere was pleasant and inviting. This was a quintessential English tea house, and it did not fail to please.

Now, I have saved the best venue for last: Wagamama. We first ate at this Japanese cuisine restaurant in Wimbledon, when we were touring the Wimbledon tennis center. It was actually an afterthought, since we couldn’t find any other place to eat. From our first bites, however, we were hooked; it was the best Asian food I had ever tasted! The rice was seasoned to perfection, the noodles expertly stir-fried, and the meat cooked so that it melted in my mouth. As diners, we had a choice of noodle, rice, seafood, poultry, or other dishes. The serving sizes were fairly large, but I polished off my dish without a problem because it was so delicious! The restaurant itself had a refreshingly modern feel. The atmosphere was communal, due to the long, polished wooden tables set up so that strangers ate side by side. The service consisted mainly of young, friendly people who worked and ran the orders efficiently. After Wimbledon, my family and I ate at a Wagamama in St. Alban’s, another village just outside of London.

For me, to eat is to remember. I harbor a special memory for each of these eateries in London. When I look back on my trip years from now, I know that I will still be able to taste those warm, scrumptious crepes.

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