London Food Diary

Posted September 3rd, 2018 by Deepa and filed in Food, Travel
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Fortnum and Mason

It is no secret that I love food.  My exposure to food beyond Indian cuisine started with British food – thanks to the Enid Blyton books that I devoured in my childhood.   In almost every Enid Blyton book, there is a detailed description of the “scrumptious” food that the main characters enjoy either at a picnic or at tea time or perhaps at a clandestine midnight feast.  Other enterprising Blyton foodies have written detailed articles about this here , here and here.  However, my first real exposure to British food was thoroughly underwhelming.  I was on my way to USA for my Master’s and I had to spend a night at London, courtesy delay due to weather issues and British Airways.  The Sheraton near Heathrow provided dinner and I recall that despite all of the anxieties of my first international trip, in fact my first solo trip , I was excited to taste the food eaten by the Famous Five! Instead I got bland baked chicken, boiled peas and a few carrots.  This was about 20 years ago.

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The Flying Pie

So, I was eager to go back to UK and taste some of these dishes that I always wanted to ! And this time I was prepared. I had made a list of restaurants I wanted to try out in every area that we were in (with back ups). But you know what they say about best laid plans ….. We quickly learned that in London , the average wait for a restaurant was about 2 hours ( at least the few restaurants that were on our list to try).  And what was more disappointing and didn’t make much sense to me was that not only did they not accept any reservation, they expected you to queue up for 2 hours just to get in. With 4 kids, that was not really feasible. A lesson for the future.   While I was very disappointed, it did have a silver lining. While in Covent Garden, after having given up on our first , second and third pick due to the huge wait times, we stumbled on this completely empty restaurant called Flying Pie. Seeing that the wait staff and the cook were sitting around chatting, we had zero expectations, but we were so impressed by this hidden gem. The menu had savory Mediterranean (or Egyptian)  pies – with lamb , chicken and vegetable stuffing in between warm flaky bread, baked right in front of us.  They also had some amazing rose and mint lemonade.  The lamb pie was especially delicious with crispy flaky bread and the meat just spiced right.

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Biscuit tins at Fortnum and Mason

Some other foodie highlights included visiting the original Fortnum and Mason store in Picaddilly.  Having read about Fortnum and Mason from Regency era novels , it was an absolute delight to see the original store with a plethora of sweets, biscuits, picnic hampers and wine and savory meats.  We were told that the Queen shops here for her staff during Christmas and shuts down the store to do.   Another pleasure was a picnic lunch at St. James Park where we rented a few lawn chairs and enjoyed some old fashioned fish and chips  and ginger ale !  We also got a chance to try classic Indian food like Chicken Tikka Masala – which was on my “must have in London” list, though I wasn’t very impressed with it.

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High Tea at Smiths

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Lemon curd Sally Lunn's Buns!

We had much better luck at Cotswolds and Bath in terms of getting to eat on restaurants we had identified.  I realized why Sally Lunn was an institution at Bath when I had the Sally Lunn bun with lemon curd.  The bread was crispy and sweet, and the lemon curd was tangy and just right. The salmon one and the ham was piccalilli one was amazing too.  A local guide was actually filming a review while we were there, and I agreed with him that If you are ever at bath you must have a Sally Lunn Bun!  Another must have item on my list was the high tea. We chose Smiths of Bourton-on-Water for the experience and it absolutely lived up to my “high” expectations! The tea room itself was pleasantly quaint, the sandwiches were filling and the cakes were delicious. And I finally understood why scones with cream and jam were so highly spoken of.  They even had a Teddy Bear  tea option for the kids! I don’t know if all high teas are like this, but it lived up to my imagination as a perfect high tea! Another place I want to recommend is the Bibury trout farm restaurant. We stopped at Bibury for some charming scenery but the food there was also really good. It was a self-serve café and it didn’t have many options other than trout. But the trout was cooked in multiple ways – smoked, baked in a pie or as sandwiches and all of them was really good.

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Salmon at Dundonnell Hotel

I didn’t find amazing food in Scotland, unfortunately. We did have the usual food that Scotland is famous for – oatmeal porridge and haggis and classic Scottish breakfast with beans and black pudding and sausages. I don’t really recall anything really standing out as either extremely good or extremely bad.  The restaurants we went to had good food specifically the Dundonnell Hotel in Garve, Scotland, but none were really outstanding that I would like to recommend.

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Cornish Pasty

However, I must mention food that I remember from stalls at the Kings Cross Station.  We were hungry and I remember having some excellent spicy rice bowl from Giraffes, a Cornish Pasty that was warm and rich and filling and my personal favorite a cool minty lemony mushy peas with shrimp (from Marks and Spencer) – which I subsequently tried to recreate at home with limited success.

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