[London, Central] Torontonian visiting for the first time

I’m in central London for 5 nights on a work trip. Most of my breakfasts and lunches are at the hotel, but I’m exploring the areas on foot and by tube for dinners and during my free times.

On the Thursday that I landed, it took 1h30m by Uber to get to my hotel (near Tower Bridge) from Heathrow. So much traffic.

I walked on foot to the Ottolenghi restaurant in Spitalfields at around 18:30.

I didn’t have a reservation but they did have a table for a solo diner. It’s been a long time since I’ve dined out regularly, and made the mistake of accepting some still water (£4.25), without qualifying it with “tap”.

Here’s the menu for the evening:

I think all the salads in the first section are premade at the counter, and available for takeaway.

I loved the cantaloupe and courgette one (£11.50). The fruit was ripe, and the zucchini had just enough bite. Salty pieces of cheese, combined with the crunch of pumpkin seeds made this salad a great start. I didn’t detect any lemon in the pesto.

The next section of the menu were the hot vegetable dishes. I had the taktouka (aubergine-tomato sauce), aubergine and whipped feta dish (£13.50). So delicious. I particularly loved the warm, ethereal cheese, the smokiness of the eggplant, and the zing of the pickled chilis. There were also some crunchy things scattered here and there. The ladopita (on the napkin) was alright, not very flavourful. It reminded me of the Lebanese saj in texture, a little chewy, not very substantial.

The octopus (£23) came out at the same time as the aubergine. This was less successful: I found the pieces to be a little too chewy in the centre, the char to overwhelm the licorice flavours I expected from fennel and raki.

I didn’t have any cocktails this evening, and stuck with water. Of course, I couldn’t resist dessert and ordered a fresh mint tea (£2.80) with a piece of the gooseberry cake with elderflower drizzle (£6.20). The cake was a good pound cake, with whole gooseberries embedded in the bottom. The “drizzle” turned out to be a substantial cream piped on top, maybe cream cheese.

As I was leaving, I browsed the front display of sweets and products. We’ve been cooking from Ottolenghi’s cookbooks for years, so am familiar with a lot of the ingredients he calls for. Turns out they sell them in the store, nicely wrapped up, things like dried barberries, sumac, dukkah, etc.

I couldn’t resist getting this tangerine and pistachio cake with yuzu icing (£5.30) to eat later in my hotel room. It was made with ground pistachios and probably almonds, with a generous amount of whole pistachios. The icing had a delicate citrus flavour. Wonderful!

This was my first time at an Ottolenghi location, and I wasn’t disappointed. Service was very pleasant and attentive, with only a minor hiccup when I was brought an aubergine dish I hadn’t ordered. The room was 75% full when I arrived, and was very lively. People were celebrating a birthday at one of the long communal tables, and lots of people were having post-work dinner and drinks.

11 Likes

On Friday night, after wandering the excellent National Gallery until closing, I went to the Soho location of Hoppers. This Sri Lankan restaurant was recommended to me by a friend. Even at the late (to me) hour of 21:30, the tiny restaurant was packed, including both outdoor tables. I was able to get seated at the bar and immediately ordered.

My cocktail was the Vodka & Green Papaya (£9), a mix of green papaya soda, vodka, chili, and cucumber. It was very refreshing on one of the hottest days of the year.

The tasting menu (£40) started with murukku, a crunchy snack made from rice and urad dal flour. These weren’t round or spiral-shaped, as the Internet says they often are, but straight. You can see it in a bowl at the top of this photo. I found them tasty, but quite hard to bite:

The bone marrow varuval and roti came out almost immediately. This bone was huge, and was covered in a fresh coconut curry. I scooped up all of it and slathered it on the roti.

Next was the mutton roll with Lankan ketchup. This looked like a corndog, but was a thin crispy shell around a minced meat filling. The ketchup was not sweet, and not very tomatoey.

The third appetizer was the hot butter squid. This was fantastic! Lightly battered baby squid rings, stir fried with onions in a chili sauce, garnished with scallions.

I also enjoyed the lamb kothu roti. My issue with kothu roti is that whenever I order it in Toronto, the portion is impossible to finish in one sitting. Here, there was just the right amount. The chunks of lamb were a little gristly, and the flavours were a bit tame, but overall was good.

There’s only two choices on the tasting menu: what starch to get (hopper, dosa, or rice), and what protein (black pork, chicken, lamb, swimmer crab (which they were out of that night) or prawn and green curry). I like lamb, so I chose that, and hoppers, which I’ve never had before.

The big bowl-shaped item is the hopper, which I thought looked and tasted like a dosa. Clockwise from right is the lamb kari, dhal kari (lentil stew), raita (yogurt), pol sambol (coconut relish), and seeni sambol (onion relish).

I asked the waitress how to eat the hopper, and she suggested I dip it into everything. The lamb curry was delicious, very flavourful gravy, and tender pieces of meat. Same with the lentils. I didn’t really like the coconut relish, it was not wet at all, and quite dry.

The seeni sambol, however, was the star of this plate. Wow, this was a revelation to me. It tasted like it was made with dates, along with the requisite caramelized onions, with an intriguing background flavour. Looking online, it might be from curry leaves, or maybe some other spice. I loved this sweet and savoury side.

At this point, I was completely stuffed. Like, uncomfortably stuffed. But as an introduction to Sri Lankan cuisine, which I’ve only had a handful of times, I thought it was pretty delicious, and pretty good value. Service was fine, but everyone, from the bartender, to the hostess, to the wait staff, all looked really exhausted from the heat.

13 Likes

Thanks for the great write up! Nice pictures and I really get the feeling I was there. Haven’t been to either yet, but there is so much to see and eat in London!

So what other restaurants did you visit? Or are you still there? If you need any tips please let us know. Whenever I’m alone in London I often go to Barrafina - it’s an actual tapas bar with bar stools. So quite easy to sit by yourself. I was there last Wednesday as well, left the group from work I was with after a show nearby in Covent Garden and enjoyed some croquetas and mussels, with beer… Heaven! :slight_smile:

5 Likes

On Saturday night, I had originally planned to try Dishoom for Indian, but reconsidered, given I had already had a meal from the Indian subcontinent the night before.

It was almost 20:45 when I headed out to a restaurant in Soho, thanks to a tip on this board from a few years back. I arrived at Sabor, and was seated at the Bar, as there was no space at the Counter (there’s also El Asador, upstairs, for wood-fired oven cooked food.)

The chalkboard specials included crispy fried artichokes (£12) and a scallop ceviche, but sadly, they were both sold out by the time I arrived. Also, the menu at the Counter is not the same as at the Bar. In fact, when I tried to order the puntillitas fritas with chickpeas from the board, I was told the Counter menu was not available to Bar patrons. (A spot at the Counter was offered to me twenty minutes into my meal, but I stayed where I was.)

I started with a glass of white wine (£8) from Solar de Randez (which their website says is made from 100% Viura grapes). A few things stood out to me on the printed parchment menu, and I assembled the following meal:

Underneath this blanket of grated hard cheese were two piquilllo croquettes (£8.5). The sweet red peppers were blended with cheese and was very nice with the salty shreds of cheese.


The next plate to arrive was the chicken oyster bocadillo (£7.5). Perhaps you are excited by the combination of fowl and mollusc, as I was, but it turns out the menu was referring to the morsel on the back of the chicken thigh. The breaded meat was really crunchy, and the sauce tangy and runny. But overall, it’s not very exciting, nor worthwhile to order, in my opinion.

I loved the tortilla we had in Barcelona several years ago, with its slightly crisp exterior, tender melting potatoes, and garlicky aioli. This one at Sabor was made with txistorra, a type of fast-cured sausage, similar to chorizo (amazing that I can just Google that in 15 seconds at the bar). Overall, it was too salty, and the interior too runny. I would have liked more garlic in the aioli too. However, I enjoyed every bite, as making tortilla takes time, and I’m glad someone else put in the effort.

The last dish to arrive, was almost the best of the night. This monkfish tempura (£9.8) came straight from the fryer. The batter was extremely thin and crisp, and the fish perfectly cooked. The accompanying aioli was made using a house-made chili jam, hence its sweetness. Again, I wished for more garlic in the sauce. Still, despite the generous number of fish pieces, I dipped each one in the aioli and was glad to have ended the meal on such a high note.

Service was very casual and I interacted with a half dozen staff. They all seemed quite happy, joking around with each other, pouring complimentary wine for regulars, and looking like they liked being there.

13 Likes

That was great; thank you!

1 Like

I hope I get to try some of that in September! Thanks again.

1 Like

On Sunday night, I took a bus towards Shoreditch and meandered through the street art-filled alleys to arrive at Dishoom. Unfortunately, the wait was 45 minutes even for a solo diner. I whipped out my phone, and found BRAT, a Basque restaurant close by. As I sat down at the bar, soaking in the early 90s hip hop, I realized that I had actually walked into Smoking Goat!

The menu (“Thai fusion”) looked interesting, so I went with it. I started with a cocktail (£8.5) named “Most Things Haven’t Worked Out”: a mix of coconut rum, ancho chili syrup, and lime. It tasted remarkably similar to “green curry”, except cold and clear.

From contributed images on Google Maps, the restaurant changes up their menu on a regular basis, but the bartender did tell me that several items were regulars, including the chili fish sauce wing (£3.8). I’ve eaten the Pok Pok (New York City) wings, and have made a version myself, so didn’t feel the need to order it.

Here’s what I had:

This smoked herbal sausage (£4.8) had coarse ground meat (probably pork, I didn’t ask) with lots of salty, complex flavour, and I really enjoyed the accompanying garnish, a sprig of what she told me was [hot mint](https s://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persicaria_odorata). That’s one of its many names, and it wasn’t hot nor minty; more like a really fragrant coriander.

Next, the kitchen brought out wild mushroom laab of bitter herbs and galangal (£8.8). This was a riot of flavours: big meaty mushrooms, scallions, mint, toasted rice, and a whole lot of other stuff. It came with a tiny basket of sticky rice, that was very dry despite being wrapped up.

Much better as a side, was the lardo fried rice (£6.8), a supremely tasty accompaniment. The pork fat made each fluffy grain distinct, and the soy cut through the richness.

I didn’t want any pork or beef, so I looked to the two fish mains. I went with the whole grilled megrim sole with green nahm jim (£17), as they were out of the grey mullet (at twice the cost too). This looked enormous when it was put in front of me, and it was a very good sized portion. The exterior was lightly battered and crisp, and it was easy to release the flesh from the bones. The dipping sauce didn’t taste like lime at all, more like sweet soy. But each forkful of fried rice, fish, and sauce went really well together.

The chefs at the bar were really intense, they looked like they cared about their food. I saw one person using a giant mortar and pestle, probably making a curry paste. The bar staff were super busy all night, and I had a great time. But I do have to stop ordering so much food, I’ve been rolling out of restaurants many nights in a row.

5 Likes

Now that the conference is over, I need to find some breakfasts on my own. There is a cute stretch of restaurants around the St Katharine Docks area, a very short walk from my hotel. All the outdoor seating faces the marina, so it’s a very pleasant way to have breakfast.

I stopped at White Mulberries two days in a row:

On the first day, I had an flat white (£3.7) and almond croissant (£4). Not much to say here, they were fine. The pastry had an oozy filling, whereas my preference is for a dryer one with toasted almond slices.

After that warmup, I had the vegan coconut yoghurt bowl (£8.5). This was really delicious. There was a layer of maple syrup poured over the thick, coconut yoghurt. I found it much thicker than the ones I’ve had back in Toronto, maybe it was a strained, Greek-style one? All of the berries were fresh and plump, and the berry coulis and cinnamon were nice touches too.

Today, I stopped by again:

This time, I had one of the croissants that were already prepared: the prosciutto and brie one (£6.9) which they warmed in the panini grill for me. The tomato chutney was a surprise, sweet and gently spiced. Cherry tomatoes and arugula rounded out the filling. I always find prosciutto hard to eat, as it’s hard to chew through and the fatty bits sometimes don’t yield to the bite.

4 Likes

Thanks to other posters, I knew about some of the older restaurants in the city (Rules and The Wolseley). On my free day in the city, I was disappointed to learn Rules was closed on Mondays, so to The Wolseley for lunch. Prior to leaving for London, I was obsessively worrying about dress codes in restaurants (as a software developer, T-shirts, shorts, and sandals were perfectly acceptable office wear in the summer). I needn’t have worried, as the restaurant’s website explicitly says they have “no dress code” and people were wearing everything from suits to camo shorts to sandals and dress shoes.

Here’s a few shots of the rooms:

There was up to a 20 minute wait when I arrived at 12:45, so I got a glass of French Viognier (£12), my favourite white, and waited at the bar. Ten minutes later, a two-top was ready in the tea salon. A waiter carried my glass on a tray and I was given the daily special menu, the café menu, the regular menu, and one other one. The large dining room had a gentle buzz but people could still have pleasant conversation in the salon.

The prix fixe (£35 for 3 courses) wasn’t interesting to me, so I assembled the following:

The appetizer from the daily special menu was this burrata with minted peas and fava beans (£14.50). The cheese was very nice, a little cold but not fridge cold, and the peas were gently seasoned. I liked the contrast in colour and texture from the sliced radishes and endive bits.

Next, I ordered mixed greens (£5.5) and the haddock goujons (£24). Turns out these were just fish fingers! Nicely crisp in its panko coating, but very one-dimensional. I could only taste salt, but I guess that’s why they included… tartar sauce! Amazing, very savoury, lots of onion and caper flavour., and hardly any pickle. Clearly made in-house. I couldn’t finish all the fish.

Even though I couldn’t finish my main, there’s always room for dessert. After a nice long pause, I ordered a cup of Afternoon Blend tea (£5.5) and the Wolseley Battenberg Cake (£5.75). There were other exciting desserts like Sachertorte and Esterházy Torte, but I’ve never had this British pudding before. The two flavours were honey and pistachio. The cakes themselves were nice, not strongly flavoured, with some nice medium shred marmalade holding them together. I was a bit stumped by why they would choose the salmon-coloured marzipan though. Something pastel would be more befitting, I think.

This was the most expensive meal I’ve had in London but I’m paying for the beautiful room and the top-notch service. The servers worked together really well, and very little escaped their attention. I appreciated the aesthetic touches that tie all the decor together, from the geometric design used on the floors and takeaway boxes, to the loopy designs used on the ceramics and printed material. The menu is vast, and I would definitely return on special occasions.

7 Likes

You certainly did some good and varied eating! Thanks for all the reports and the photos, I really enjoyed reading along. The dishes I most wanted to share were the lardo fried rice and whole megrim sole (mouth-watering!) but there was lots to savor along the way.

2 Likes

Unusual to see something like a Battenburg cake on a dessert menu. Its place would usually be as part of afternoon tea (or, at least, a slice of something to nibble on with a hot drink.

Battenburg is a classic cake dating to Victorian times. Traditionally, the squares are pink and yellow. Every supermarket sells a version including our normal supermarket which has this one. FWIW, during her college days, the future Mrs Harters worked at the local Mr Kipling factory during the holidays. And her father was secretary of the local branch of the Bakers Union

https://www.sainsburys.co.uk/gol-ui/product/all-cakes-tarts/mr-kipling-battenberg-220g

3 Likes

Good on you. Just checked Wolseley’s online menu and didn’t see the remarkable duck confit. Hope Fergus Henderson’s St. John in Spitalfield’s was among the menus suggested to you. Roasted bone marrow and a fish or mutton dish always bring a smile.

1 Like

I am very impressed by your meals and sheer enjoyment. I always think London is a great eating town but haven’t been in years. Heading there for a few days end of August to visit a friend, and will definitely take some suggestions from you; looking forward to trying Hoppers, for example, which I also have never tried! Thanks for writing up.

2 Likes
Help cover Hungry Onion's costs when you shop at Amazon!

Bessarabsky Market, Kyiv. Ukraine
Credit: Juan Antonio Segal, Flickr