Eating in London
Yes, we took a trip to Europe last month! Yes, we’re procrastinating when it comes to writing about it. I’m going to start today; you can needle Wesly for his contributions as appropriate.
I do love nonstop flights, especially when they’re affordable. When they get us directly from L.A. to Heathrow with a relative minimum of discomfort for
steerage coach class, all the better. Our dear friends John and Fiona Hoskins picked us up at the airport after a quick trip through immigration and Customs, and off we went to Hampton Court!
That’s Hampton Court Palace, in fact, where King Henry VIII used to live with his various wives back in the 16th Century, and where we were staying at the Georgian House, a guesthouse converted from kitchen staff housing right on the palace grounds.
That’s the private garden outside the house. Not bad.
When we arrived we were greeted by a tantalising aroma, which was Fiona’s 24-hour slow roasted pork:
… served along with cracklings (the crispy skin) and a side of pasta with tomatoes and roasted red peppers … oh my. We spent the entire first evening in London at the Georgian House, catching up with John and Fiona, drinking Plymouth gin & tonics, presenting them with bottles of Torani Amer so that they can continue to make their namesake Hoskins Cocktail at home, stuffing ourselves with pork and generally having a grand time, jet lag be damned.
The next morning we hopped onto the train to central London, and Wes will have more about the palace and the sights of our whopping one full day in London (which could easily take weeks to properly experience), but let’s get right into the food during the one day we were there. (Drinks to follow.)
For lunch we stopped at Borough Market, London’s oldest food market which has occupied its present site for 250 years. The array of food presented before us was dizzying … and this wasn’t the busy day. We were there on a Thursday, and the place really gets buzzing on Fridays and Saturdays — there are apparently three times the number of food stalls available on those days. Despite that, I think we did rather well given the smaller number of food stalls being open. We honed right in on the pork, visiting the take-away outlet of a proper restaurant on the market grounds called Roast. They array of pork they had on offer was dizzying.
The special of the day was roast pork belly with applesauce, on a long roll called a “butty” or a “bap,” both regional terms for a sandwich, although a bap seems to be a round bread roll and a butty is a longer roll sliced into two. As far as I can tell, the butty is the British equivalent of a po-boy. Close enough, anyway.
The pork belly was divine …
… and I managed a few very satisfying bites of Wes’ and John’s, but my obsession with bacon led me to having not just a traditional bacon butty, but a bacon and sausage butty:
Also divine. This was more of the smoky, streaky bacon than the traditional English back bacon, made from the pork loin. Nothing but a little “brown sauce” (good old HP) and that’s all it needed. We were all in pork heaven.
The array of fresh and prepared foods was amazing. Fruit, mushrooms, sausages, cider (we had amazing hard apple and pear, or “perry” ciders) plus fresh prepared foods from curries to roasts, and fresh game.
We also had our sneak preview of Spain:
Jamón Ibérico de pienso … the “Pata Negra” or black pigs from Spain, although this variety was raised on grain rather than grazing on acorns as the best Ibérico pigs do. That made this perhaps the third best ham on the planet rather than the best … and it was amazing. There’ll be more about his ham later on, once we get to Spain.
Next door to Roast To Go, where we got our amazing pork belly, bacon and sausage buttys, was an artisan butcher selling myriad cuts of pork, plus bacon and homemade items like black pudding. I loved this handwritten description of their bacon-making process;
Read every word of that. It’s practically a manifesto. These are people who care deeply about food, about the food they make, and about the experience you’ll have while eating it. These are our kind of people.
If I had been able to bring food back home, I probably would have spent £200 on various pork products here. Their black pudding was made in loaves, like a terrine, rather than in links like a sausage. The flavor was far more delicate than you’d expect from a blood sausage, and the seasoning with mint and allspice was delicate yet intense and completely unexpected and delightful. I felt a little guilty taking their free samples, as I probably took more than I was entitled to. What I really wanted was a kilo of the stuff, but hauling it around all day and night, then getting it back to Hampton Court at least (not to mention back to Shropshire in the rural west, where we’d be staying with John and Fiona for several more days) would have been problematic. Sigh. Again I lament the lack of cheap, reliable and safe teleportation.
I could have stayed at Borough Market for days, but finally we bade the market farewell and moved on, having many more sights to see in our whirlwind one-day tour of London. We stopped at a pub after the market to have a couple of pints of truly wonderful hand-pumped cask-conditioned ales (which was the case for every drop of beer I had while in England … absolutely superb brews) before we went on our evening’s cocktail excursions … about which we’ll talk more later.