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On the Town in London, England: Good Eats Abound!


Posted by : Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite, Mon, Jul 25 2011

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London. The old lady has certainly smartened up in preparation for the upcoming Olympic Games in 2012. My last visit was four years ago and the difference between then and now is huge. London feels clean, welcoming, easy to get around, friendly. Bonus? London has a booming foodie scene. So many places to go, the choice is actually overwhelming. So, when a recent conference provided me with a few spare meal times to fill in, I did what any smart foodie would do: left myself in the hands of food-loving locals (and Google Maps!).

Vanilla Black

Vanilla Black was the choice of my Londoner friend Cathy who also happens to be a vegetarian. Reading about it, I was immediately intrigued. Originally established in York in 2004, Vanilla Black has been Michelin-recommended and moved to London in 2008. It has fast become known as offering some of the finest vegetarian food in the capital.

Opened by partners Andrew Dargue and Donna Conroy, Vanilla Black aims to "elevate meat-free cookery to a level that delights discerning palates of all tastes, whether vegetarian or committed carnivore." And I cannot fault them on that. So often, vegetarian food might leave meat-eaters wanting more, but throughout the entire meal, I did not miss meat once. I left feeling completely satisfied, my mouth rejoicing at the surprising flavour combinations and textures I had experienced. The head chef, Dargue is committed to redefining contemporary non-meat cuisine by experimenting with original flavour combinations. The resulting menu is nothing like many people's idea of what a vegetarian dish is or has to be. This is molecular gastronomy for beginners. Familiar flavours in unfamiliar textures; always a surprise.

Top row: Yukon Gold Potato Cakes and Smoked Olive Oil Mayonnaise with Capers, Melba Toast and Black Radish; English Feta, Shaved Vegetables and Salt 'n' Vinegar Gel with Sweet Lemon Oil; Brie Ice Cream and Rhubarb Chutney with Baked Gingerbread and Toasted Hazelnut

Middle Row: Fried Mushroom Mousse and Tarragon Waffles with Whipped Madeira, Fennel, Broccoli and White Grape; Goats Cheese Chantilly, Wilted Spinach and Cauliflower with Potato and Peanut Nougat, Khol Rabi and Apple Coleslaw; Warm Blue Wensleydale Panna Cotta and Charred Celery with Carrot purée, Apple Meringue and Jacket Potato

Bottom row: Valrhona Chocolate and Chestnut Brownie Terrine with Tobacco Cream and Drambuie; Poached Peach and Raspberry Vinaigrette  with Brown Butter and Vanilla Ice Cream and Peach Sherbet; Espresso Sponge and Creme Fraîche Sorbet with Toffee Onions, Coffee Curd and Vanilla Crisp

Some thoughts… This was extraordinary food. From the potato cakes that looked like scallops, to the "OMG" salt 'n' vinegar gel, and the uniqueness of the brie ice cream served with sweet biscuity crumbs and tart rhubarb, the entrées (starters) set the scene.

In the mains, the mushroom mousse was intensely meaty (ironic for a vegetarian meal!), whilst the goat's cheese Chantilly was the best sort of "cornet" you could ask for that isn't coated in chocolate! The Wensleydale panna cotta was truly a work of art-not sure why I have never thought of a savoury panna cotta before but now a cheese panna cotta is definitely on my radar and "to do" list. It just works.

The desserts were artfully and beautifully presented, the highlight for me being the toffee onions (yes, in a dessert!), proving that sometimes ordinary ingredients prepared in extraordinary ways can truly delight and astound the palate. No special equipment required.

This is definitely a splurge: my meal, with 2 glasses of bubbly, tea and tax came to £62 (approx $95 CAD). A relatively small price to pay in London for such an experience-the food, the ambiance, all close to perfect!

In a teeny laneway (Took's Court), just north of the Strand, Vanilla Black does not look like much from the outside. It's subtle. Inside, the restaurant is art-deco stylish and again, subtle. It feels like you are eating in a friend's dining room. The service has a lot to do with this-so relaxed and happy to answer questions about the menu (of which we had many). Attentive, but not in-your-face. Professional, but friendly and welcoming. I have to say, this was a pleasant surprise at this price point (two courses £24.50; three courses £32.50). Diners with food allergies or intolerances are also well catered to, with vegan, wheat-free or nut allergy-friendly menus available on request at the time of booking).

Vanilla Black
17 - 18 Tooks Court
London, England
020 7242 2622

Tapas Brindisa - Soho

Tapas Brindisa Soho

Local London food bloggers Jackie, Sarah and Helen suggested we meet for a bite to eat at Brindisa, a tapas restaurant with various branches around London. We chose the branch in Soho. They do not take reservations but since we were there at 7:30 on a Monday evening in July, it was not a problem to score a table with a bird's-eye view of the open kitchen at the back of the narrow space. For a Monday night, it was buzzing, but not overly crowded.

Vanilla Black

Tapas Brindisa London - working our way through the menu!

A mix of locals and (given the location) tourists, it's perfect for a drink and a snack at the bar or a sit-down meal. With three of us and fairly small plate servings, we managed to try a fair bit of the menu! There are some classics: Ibérico de Bellota ham (£22 for a platter to share); Papas brava (fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce for £4); tortilla (potato and onion omelette for £4.50); boquerones nardin (marinated Cantabrian white anchovies for £6.50); and Artisan Manchego sheep's milk cheese with quince paste for £6.75. There were some more unusual offerings as well, like the pincho de cordero al romero (lamb marinated in cumin and rosemary for £9). Of all the food we tried-and we tried a lot!-there was not one bad choice. The meat, cheese, fish, and vegetables were all top notch.

If you can't get to Spain on your European vacation, Brindisa offers authentic, tasty tapas at reasonable (for London) prices in the heart of Soho.

Tapas Brindisa Soho
46 Broadwick Street
London, England
020 7534 1690

Tate Modern Restaurant

The Tate modern (the view and the interior)

My conference happened to be taking place at the City of London School, right next to the Millennium Bridge and directly opposite the Tate Modern. When a friend from out of town suggested I meet her for lunch one day, I Google mapped places to eat around the conference that wouldn't take me long to get to and realized that of course, there's eating options in the Tate! With a 9- and 10-year-old in tow, I figured that the draw of "one of the best views in London" (according to The Evening Standard) would be a huge plus. The Tate offers a number of dining options, but I opted for the Restaurant on the 7th Floor (with aforementioned view).

The Tate Modern menu and an order of fish and chips

We had such a pleasant lunch that day that I ended up going back with a colleague the next day for a quick bite to eat between workshops. What did I love? The view, and, of course, the food-high-quality seasonal produce, beautiful presentation, and a kid's menu with real food plated in a very grownup manner. I also was impressed with the service. Completely inundated every day with tourists both wanting to eat and just wanting a glimpse of the view, the waitstaff remained non-plussed and efficiently handled the volume of guests; professional and respectful of those with time constraints. Also, the second time I went there, my friend and I only ordered light dishes (appetizers only, no main courses) which some restaurants would frown upon, but we didn't feel this was the case. We felt just as valued as those ordering three courses and drinks.

The children's menu at The Tate Modern

The Tate Modern's parmesan encrusted duck egg with asparagus dippy soldiers, vegetables, and chocolate délice

Favourites: the fish and chips with mushy peas (an elevated version; more a pea purée than "mushy") and tartare sauce, the chocolate délice dessert, the kids' brownie and ice cream dessert, and the parmesan-encrusted duck egg with asparagus "dippy soldiers." Outstanding.

I would definitely recommend to book. Both times I used the online booking system and requested a table near the window, and both times this request was accommodated. The whole restaurant is a lovely space, but let's face it, with a view on the Thames right there, you want to be as close as you can. What I found so impressive was that with its view and location, the Tate Modern could do so much worse and I am sure people would still flock there. Hats off for a job well done, you do your city proud!

Tate Modern
London, England
020 7887 8888

Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher and part-time food blogger based in Toronto. Her blog,eat.live.travel.write   focuses on culinary adventures both near and far because she travels as often as she can!


Posted: Mon, Jul 25 2011 by Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite

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