Girl Eats London

Earlier this year, we had a long weekend in that there London, to celebrate our second wedding anniversary, catch up with friends and just eat, drink and be generally merry. It was the sort of weekend where you forget that the rest of your life even exists and are just totally immersed in every moment. It was perfect.

I wanted to share a few snippets from the trip here. We ate and drank so many awesome things that I came back to Sheffield feeling a stone heavier and several hundred pounds lighter- but it was fabulous and well worth the cost, both financial and calorific.

On the Friday night, we had a late dinner at Ottolenghi on Upper Street. Late restaurant reservations are something that London does so well; our table was booked for 10pm, which was perfectly timed for a bite after our journey down from Sheffield. Our table was to the rear of the dimly-lit, atmospheric restaurant. We had a table to ourselves, but the big shared table in the middle looked like good fun. Our friendly waiter explained that the menu was made up of small plates, and recommended we order at least 5-6 to make a meal for two.

Our choices included the most incredible seared yellowfin tuna with mixed sesame seeds, and some delicious broccolini, courgette, pistachio, truffle oil and parmesan:

Amazing seared tuna and tasty crunchy broccolini at Ottolenghi, Islington
Amazing seared tuna and tasty crunchy broccolini at Ottolenghi, Islington

The broccolini was a wise move ahead of a weekend which was definitely not as veg-heavy as we have at home. Other tasty dishes we had here included seared scallops with oxtail wontons; venison kofta with green tahini; and seared lamb cannon with caper berries and piquillo pepper. Once we’d crammed in a slice of cake each for dessert, we were definite Ottolenghi converts. We left £80 lighter, with bellies full enough to sleep soundly, ready for a busy day on Saturday.

The next day, we didn’t have breakfast, as we were a) still full from our Ottolenghi feast and b) saving ourselves for a slap-up lunch at Claridge’s. I’d been keen to try Fera restaurant at Claridge’s ever since I heard Simon Rogan was taking on the location vacated by Gordon Ramsay. I’d had a few great meals previously when it was Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s and have wanted to try l’Enclume, Simon Rogan’s flagship restaurant in the Lake District, for some time. We owed some London-based friends a decent meal to say thank you for something, so we booked Fera.

Firstly, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, not only does Fera offer a three-course set lunch menu for £35 (Gordon Ramsay offered a similarly good-value set lunch when he ran this space), but it is possible to book this for a Saturday; meaning an affordable, Michelin-starred lunch is within reach for weekend breakers like us.

Upon arrival, we were shown to our table in the dining room which feels large and airy, having been reconfigured somewhat from last time I’d been to the previous restaurant here. Simon Rogan and his team have managed to marry their “powerful connection to nature” with the hotel’s Art Deco style in a way that really works and can’t help but wow:

The dining room at fera, Claridge's
The dining room at Fera, Claridge’s

Fera is the Latin word for wild, and this is reflected in the decor and on the plate. Our amuse bouche, involving a melt-in-the-mouth cracker, whipped blue cheese and edible flowers, served atop a big slab of tree bark, did a good job of setting out fera’s stall; it gave us an idea of the style and aesthetic of food Rogan is going for here, while also making us excited for the meal itself:

Amuse bouche at fera.
Amuse bouche at Fera.

Many of the ingredients for Fera come direct from Simon Rogan’s organic farm in the Cartmel Valley and the menu changes according to what’s in season; Rogan is also into foraging, so the menu really does take on the best of wild British ingredients.

 The set menu offered a choice of two starters, three mains and two desserts. I plumped for, in order, the Loch Duart salmon with pickled celeriac, watercress and horseradish crème fraîche; Lake District pork belly and jowl, parsnips, roast cauliflower puree, buckwheat and juniper; and the smoked chocolate cream with peanut ice cream and verjus caramel. Here they all are:
My three courses at fera, from the top: Duart salmon, Lake District pork belly and jowl, and smoked chocolate cream.
My three courses at Fera, from the top: Duart salmon, Lake District pork belly and jowl, and smoked chocolate cream.

Apart from telling you that each course was simply divine, I was particularly impressed that Fera managed to get me to actually eat and enjoy a parnsip- I’m not normally a big fan- and that the smoked chocolate cream did what it said on the tin. I’ve had too many “smoked” elements in dishes not live up to their name, but this was gorgeously rich and robust.

There were a few other nice touches: the beautiful petits fours and the anniversary note from the Fera team being just two of them:

fera collage 2

The clementine marshmallows were the most perfect little clouds, and the fudge with pine salt was delicious. I didn’t try the other sweet, as this was the vegetarian alternative to the marshmallow, but there were yummy noises all round.

After lunch, we headed to the Claridge’s bar and had a cocktail there, before moving on to somewhere slightly more affordable, but still as exciting. Our friends took us to a place in Soho called Chotto Matte, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant with bar. I’d never heard of this mixture, but research informs me that the combination of the two cuisines is known as Nikkei and is kind of a big deal. The cocktails were beautiful and it was nice to see sake and pisco be the stars of the inventive menu. There were also more pretty flowers here:

Cocktail at Chotto Matte.
Cocktail at Chotto Matte.

Some cocktails and much laughter later, we had to admit defeat and accept that the lovely day was coming to a close. We retired back to our hotel and slept soundly again.

On the Sunday, prior to heading over to the V&A Museum of Childhood for their doll’s house exhibition (which was brilliant), we met up with a dear friend I’d not seen for ages for a catch-up before her baby arrived. We headed to Kipferl in Camden Passage, Islington. The Viennese-style coffeehouse was buzzing and a quick glance at their cake cabinet explained why:

Cakes at Kipferl, Islington.
Cakes at Kipferl, Islington.

My Sachertorte was a delightful breakfast (when on holiday, cake is totally acceptable for breakfast!) and I’d definitely return, with more time, to sample some of the savoury offerings on the menu.

Later on that day, after taking in some culture and lots of walking, we found ourselves at a Lebanese/Turkish restaurant called Adiva in Spitalfields, not far from Brick Lane. We opted for the set menu at £18.99 each. This got us a huge mezze selection followed by one hot main course each:

Mezze and shish taouk at Adiva, E1.
Mezze and shish taouk at Adiva.

The cacik (yogurt dip) and the spinach and feta sambousek pastry were the highlights of the mezze for me. And I was so pleased to have shish taouk as my main; this is the main food I tend to crave, having had it weekly as a child (we shopped at a Lebanese supermarket). Adana’s take on it was perfect; my Sheffield favourite is the chicken shish at Zeugma.

The next day, we rolled ourselves down to the V&A proper to take in the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition. These were the hot tickets this year and I am so glad we nabbed some. It was a visually stunning show and was beautiful and tragic at the same time. I feel very lucky to have seen it.

Our last stop before boarding the train back to Sheffield was tea at The Ritz on Monday afternoon. Well, we were celebrating! Despite initally being opened by a Swiss hotelier in 1906 (it’s now owned by the big business Barclay brothers), there is nowhere I can think of which is more quintessentially English than The Ritz and no more British activity than taking tea. Yes, yes, I know, some of you reading this will probably be screaming at the screen that the tea at such-and-such place is far better; however, I knew enough to know that champagne tea at The Ritz would win me maximum wife points!

The Palm Court, where tea is served, is a grand room with a high ceiling and marble floors. The tables weren’t too close together and ours had a shelf under it for handbags to sit on rather than be a trip hazard for the many attentive waiters.

Ceiling at The Palm Court, The Ritz
Ceiling at The Palm Court, The Ritz

The dress code, combined with the grandeur of the space, really turns taking tea here into a proper occasion. We selected our tea from the extensive menu, gratefully received a glass of champagne each, and a cake stand packed with goodies was presented to us (scones not pictured):

Tea at the Ritz

After our sandwiches and scones were refilled, a cake trolley was wheeled over where we could select from one of two cakes by the slice. By this point, my body was begging for mercy from the calorific onslaught, but I’d paid good money for this cake, dammit, so I was going to eat it if it killed me. I’m glad I did. Plus, I figured I’d really test the capabilities of my Spanx.

The service and atmosphere alone made The Ritz experience one worth having. There was a pianist playing in the background, while waiters moved around the room in what felt like a well-choreographed waltz, serving each table with a smile and, in some cases, a great deal of patience.

A quick mooch around the shops around Regent Street and a bit of walking to burn off a bite of scone followed; then, before I knew it, I was back sitting on a train heading home to the Steel City. It was a great three days in London and it was wonderful to let myself feel truly like a tourist- having worked in London up until three-and-a-half years ago, it was previously easy to lose sight of what a magical city it is. The weekend was the perfect blend of time just the two of us, time with special friends, culture, food and wandering aimlessly through backstreets. If you’ve not been a tourist in London for a while, I recommend it!

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