Note: My 2011 visit to London series begins here.
Anyone serious about steak heads to Hawksmoor. Renowned for its dry-aged British beef from heritage breeds such as Aberdeen Angus and Hereford, it’s so famous that a New York City outpost will be opening next year. All Hawksmoor locations are loud and buzzy and you must reserve ahead.
On a bright morning, I wander around Seven Dials. Near Covent Garden, it’s an area where seven streets converge. The area is bustling, the establishments are varied and fascinating.
Within Seven Dials is a small alley between Shorts Gardens and Monmouth Street. All the retailers here focus on wellness and healthy eating such as Neal’s Yard Remedies and super popular porridge café, 26 Grains.
With barely enough seating, it’s impressive what the staff can churn out in such a tiny space. But with sweet and savory porridge on offer, porridge heads lap it all up and the tables can’t get turned over fast enough.
I suppose a concept like this works in London because of the cold weather but there’s something so appealing about fancy porridge, such imaginative departures they are from my childhood milk-and-sugar combinations. I enjoy the oats soaked in almond milk and enriched with a pat of butter. It’s then strewn with hazelnuts and coconut sugar and garnished with an apple. “Wow, who knew oatmeal could taste this good?” my husband-turned-porridge-covert muses after a spoonful.
The line at Monmouth Coffee’s store at Borough Market is impossible. Thank goodness for their location on yes, Monmouth Street in Seven Dials. Definitely more laidback with a charming collection of pastries, this is where I finally get to try Monmouth Coffee.
There’s communal seating at back with wonderful booths for sipping and savoring. The espresso machines are situated right beside the seating area so it’s possible to watch the coffee made every step of the way.
I suppose I could’ve gotten my regular black brew but I’m wanting the luxury of milk so a flat white it is for me and a latte for my Bin. The coffee comes through clearly, the milk smoothening out its edges, not drowning it.
Fernandez and Wells is another coffee place that is highly recommended to me. I don’t get to go on this trip but I will next time.
Balthazar is a New York-based French brasserie that’s found a home in London. Because its name is so close to our surname, we are compelled to go. We start with onion soup gratinee and a salmon tartare gilded with crème fraiche-hazelnut dressing.
“The Baltazars at Balthazar!” Has a ring to it, yes? Duck confit, a lip-smacking beef fillet stroganoff, and my chopped salad. The salad was utterly tasteless despite two fulfilled requests for various dressings. Seeing the barely touched plate at meal’s end, the manager removes the order from our bill declaring, “If you don’t like your food, you shouldn’t pay for it.” I am agog: truly the best service I’ve had in my life and because of it, I’m encouraged to go back to Balthazar next time I’m in London, chopped salad be damned.
Right beside the main entrance to the brasserie is Balthazar’s boulangerie. Treats to consider for next trip.
The Modern Pantry is a sleek and sophisticated restaurant that does indeed bring modern to mind. It is sunshine and glass and white surfaces and has a very descriptive menu that reads like a food lover’s contemporary fusion fantasy, with ingredients like chia seeds, garam masala, za’atar, etc. It’s just a pity, I feel, that the restaurant itself doesn’t have an actual pantry, shelves from which produce and products could have been sold. I blame the name.
Anyway, we’re here for breakfast on another day. Service is perfunctory but the dishes are delicious. I’m happy with my bowl of honey roasted-oats littered around a ring of Greek yoghurt. Grated apple for tang and pomegranate for pow, both nutritional and visual. My Bin has a rather straightforward plate of poached organic free-range eggs on toast with fried haloumi (“hmm, tastes like kesong puti”, he says), and a side of slow-roast tomatoes and spinach. This is one place I’d like to explore the menu of further.
One last spot of sightseeing
It’s massive and is known more famously as the site of Platform 9¾ in the new departures terminal. We can’t believe the line that forms all day just to get a shot in front of the fictitious platform and to shop at the Harry Potter store. No, we’re not Potterheads at all, but we just had to see this for ourselves.
Nearby is St Pancras Station. Not only is it a major transport hub, it also houses Europe’s longest Champagne bar, a grand staircase where The Spice Girls shot their “Wannabe” video…
… and this prominent 9-meter bronze sculpture called “The Meeting Place.” Depicting two lovers embracing intimately, ‘The Meeting Place’ is a 9-meter high bronze sculpture of a couple locked in an intimate embrace. The sculpture’s base displays a detailed frieze that’s stunning and striking.
Last meals in London
Am glad we got to try the almost-mythical Shake Shack. We liked it enough – what’s not to like about a burger and fries? – but my Bin isn’t enthused. I suppose the hype has gotten ahead of him.
My last meal in London at Gail’s. Still can’t get enough of the porridge but already looking forward to home.
Contact information of establishments mentioned in this article