Part 1: The West End & An English Pub
Part 2: Borough Market, The South Bank, The City, & A Super Steak
Part 3: Hyde Park, South Kensington & Knightsbridge, Hummingbird Bakery, and Portobello Road
Part 4: Best Salt Beef Beigel, A Szechuan Restaurant, and Buckingham Palace
Part 5: British Food I Love (and then some)
Cream Tea, High Tea, Breakfasts I love, One Great Goose Egg, Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, Chinese Food in London, and that god-blessed Clotted Cream…
- Fortnum & Mason’s teas and jams section. These photos were taken “ninja-style.”
Fortnum & Mason, or F&M as it’s commonly referred to, is London’s oldest department store. It turned 300 years old in 2007 and clings tenaciously to its “Old World” charms. It’s known especially for its teas and a food hall specializing in food hampers. Everything is so exquisitely packaged that I’m tempted to blow £100 right now just on jams and various teas and … oh, look, lemon curd!
Upstairs, I have tea at The Parlour Restaurant, so called because it’s an ice cream parlour boasting quite the bonanza of frozen treats. But apart from the ice cream counter and counter lights that look like upside-down sundae glasses laced with chocolate sauce, it’s rather the genteel place with nary a child to be found. At this teatime hour of 3pm, it’s just plenty of middle-aged couples and table-for-one me.
I have what’s called by the British as Cream Tea: a pot of tea, warm scones, (strawberry) jam and clotted cream but which this restaurant calls Duo of Scones (£6.50). A fruited scone and a plain scone abut one another, each touching a portion of strawberry jam and a large scoop of clotted cream. Positioned on a vintage glass plate, I’m so pleased to be able to enjoy a treat like this: English tea in England!
My scones are popular amongst my friends but the ones I make are more akin to American scones which are flakier, larger, and sweeter than British scones. The ones I’m having for tea today are quite firm and floury, perfect canvases for lashings of jam and clotted cream — oh, that clotted cream! Unable to stop myself, I use my teaspoon to taste it. At first, it sits on my tongue like the firm cream that it is. But then faster than a thought, it begins melting inexorably – seeping slowly to the far reaches of my mouth leaving only the transcendent flavor of butter. And cream. It is, quite frankly, one of the sexiest things I’ve ever put into my mouth. More, please.
Like a captivation that compels, I smear now the clotted cream onto my scone. It clings to my knife and spreads on its bready bed, sprawling indolently and awaiting its jammy cover. I won’t get into the debate the English have over whether jam should go atop the clotted cream or vice versa – I do what I feel is right (clotted cream then jam), and as a sensualist, flavor is my first priority. Here, it’s unbridled indulgence through and through from the clotted cream that’s shot with sweet from the jam, and the slight firmness of the scone.
Today, I’ve chosen a tea called Afternoon Blend described as such on the menu as “A bright light blend of tea for the afternoon, in a very British style…” exactly what I want. I brew my tea deliberately, mindfully, taking great care to pour the hot water just so over the waiting strainer and into my cup. Though my tourist attire bespeaks otherwise, I feel very dignified and proper. And so truly happy.
Afternoon tea will do that to you.
The Parlour Restaurant at Fortnum & Mason
181 Piccadilly, London W1A 1ER
Another time, I have what’s known as High Tea. I can’t say it’s “proper” because it’s in a sidewalk café in South Kensington as opposed to a five-star hotel in Westminster. Still, I believe that I can’t ask for more, especially because it simultaneously delights and comforts me in the midst of this unfortunate bad mood I’m in today.
The café, Caffe Concerto, calls it Afternoon Tea for 1 (£14.95) and I inadvertently gasp sharply when it arrives. On a triple tiered cake stand are the dreams of a dessert lover like myself. The base is a trio of savory sandwiches, all traditional fillings and all on white bread: chopped, hard-boiled egg with mayonnaise and watercress, sliced cucumber, and smoked salmon with a squeeze of lemon. In the middle, melding the divide between savory and sweet is a large scone, plump and squat it is with a ramekin of clotted cream alongside. Atop these tiered treasures of pleasure is a fruit tart glistening in a translucent jelly, its crown of various fruits are edible gems that elicit elation.
I eat it all, all by myself, my every sense alert, my face aglow.
152 Brompton Road, London SW3 1HX
Breakfasts I Dream About
Crumpets with Clotted Cream & Jam
- Clotted cream is thick with a yellow crust that’s formed by allowing cream to rise from whole milk, heated quickly, then allowed to cool briefly. The crust is more of a coating as opposed to a crackly cover.
In the house that is my home during my stay in London, I buy some crumpets from Sainsbury’s and toast them for a quick breakfast. Made from a thick and yeasted batter that bakes up with a profusion of holes, it’s a sponge that sucks in the clotted cream and red currant jam I smear atop. I take a bite and the divine mess escapes my mouth and slips down the side of my cheek. I giggle at my mini mishap. So I try again. The heat coming off the crumpet melts both the cream and the jam. In my mouth: a gentle crunch; the flavors: soft echoes of lushness and silk.
The Great Goose Egg
It’s at the grocery in Selfridge’s that I see it and it stops me cold. The package reads: A seasonal, Cornish free range GOOSE EGG. (!) It’s almost £7 but if you’re aware of my obsession with eggs, then you know how monumental this moment is for me. I’ve already detailed my encounters with a lizard egg, duck eggs, an ostrich egg, and here now, in London, a goose egg! I exhibit exceeding care whilst hand-carrying it on the Tube and when walking home. When I recount the experience to my Bin, he laughs uproariously and comments, “It’s just an egg, hon.” The look I give him could fry an egg.
And that’s what I do the next morning at breakfast.
Employing the help of my not-an-egg-lover husband, it takes some concentrated whacks against the side of a metal mixing bowl to crack it open. The shell is rather thick, almost twice that of the regular hen egg, and so is its yolk and white. I read that it takes about 9-11 minutes to (hard) boil a goose egg but I like fried eggs simply because I can see the yolk (and thus, how fresh it is). Fried, this egg cooks up (cover on) in just under four minutes.
- goose egg on left (obviously), hen egg on right
As for flavor, I guess I’m not surprised when I pierce this saffron-colored sunrise. It tastes exactly like a duck egg, complete with the comparatively tough egg white. Still, an egg is a wondrous thing and eaten with toast soldiers (toast strips), I’m a happy egg lover.
The Full British Breakfast
Such a delightful notion, this Full British Breakfast, also known as A Fry Up or A Full Monty, and is different from other breakfasts known as A Full Irish/Scottish/Welsh (Breakfast).
Traditionally, a Full British Breakfast includes black pudding, bangers (sausages; above), toast, and – if my research proves correct – up to 40 (!) interchangeable items, everything from fried eggs to baked beans. It boggles my mind most deliciously.
This is a rather sad photo specimen of such a revered British (mostly weekend) morning tradition, and I kick myself for not taking a better photo. Straight up bacon, they’re called rashers, I believe; a grilled tomato; brown bread; some overly-done fried eggs; a lone banger; and what I liked the most, black pudding. A blood and black sausage, its ingredients pose a frightening proposition of pig’s blood, fat, oatmeal, onions, and plenty of spices, most distinct of which was nutmeg. I take a fancy to it, its texture is rather mealy and smooth with notes of nutmeg thrumming throughout. It’s something you either love or hate. I love it.
Going around London, I see many café and breakfast places with signs that read, “Proper Porridge.” A fanciful suggestion, and it sounds so dreamy. Porridge. Mmm. I know it’s just oatmeal but – I reason to myself quite erroneously – because I’m in England, it’ll taste different, better perhaps, than my morning sludge.
So it’s what I order at a café in Covent Garden when I meet up with my friend, Marc. “Ay manay, Quaker lang yan,” he chides me. “But ‘porridge’ sounds so romantic, don’t you think?” I reply. Oh, the foolish dreamer I am!
Should’ve listened to Marc. This “proper porridge” is really just Quaker. Even looks like it. Blimey.
The Sunday Roast
I’m amused to learn that the nickname the French have for the British is “les rosbifs.” It’s a name dubbed half admiringly for the quality of British meats, and a sneaky half-jab at the precious little the British (apparently) have to offer in terms of food.
Saucy soubriquets aside, Sunday mornings in England are awash in sultry smells of roasting beef. From whole joints of beef and lamb to simpler slices of roast beef, it’s a meal that satisfies on all levels. At a small pub in Wimbledon High Street called the Dog & Fox, almost all the tables on this Sunday afternoon have a plate or more of what the pub simply calls, The Sunday Roast.
It’s mouth-droppingly impressive, no doubt. Served straight out of the kitchen, the Yorkshire Pudding sits in its grand and puffy, almost 6-inch glory. It’s made from a batter cooked in a large, shallow baking pan layered with the roast meat’s drippings; this particular cooking fat coupled with high heat ensures that Yorkshires have exceedingly light, almost airy insides and crispy outsides. Upon cooling, the Yorkshires’ interiors become slightly doughy, though they are – in any state – perfect vehicles for sopping up the gravy.
Hidden beneath that giant of a popover (apologies to the British), thin slices of lean but juicy roast beef form a heap underneath. Adding to the joy that is this brown bliss of au jus, called “God’s good dripping” by British food writer Simon Majumdar, are carrots and potatoes which – despite all the gravy – maintain their crunchy coat. I learn that they’ve been parboiled then shaken in the pan they were cooked in, a process that creates rough edges that crisp up during cooking. Delightful!
This is a wholly gratifying meal, a simple classic disguising the fact that it takes substantial skill to execute properly.
Dog & Fox Pub
Chinese Food in London
After several days of British food and plenty of curries, the Asian foodie in me starts to feel a twinge. “Rice,” it calls out weakly. So, on one of my treks around the West End, I head to London’s Chinatown. It’s very small, just two streets – Lisle and Gerrard, but it’s similar to its global counterparts in every way. Faux Oriental gates and an equally fake pagoda usher in unsuspecting tourists and this worldly Asian girl into a milieu of red lanterns, Chinese street signs, collisions with delivery carts, and best of all, a taste of home, Chinese food.
- My doughy dreams come to life.
I choose Far East restaurant simply because it’s one of the few that’s open before 11am. A display of Chinese bready delights induces crazy carb cravings in me so I order a siopao (steamed pork bun, it’s called), a coconut bread (which was warm and dizzyingly doughy), an egg tart that makes me happy and then sad because the ones back home in Manila are going extinct, plus a bowl of pork noodle soup.
I have only this to say about this Chinese meal in London: They excel in their bready delights – I still dream about that egg tart and bun. But that was a fake siopao they served me (scarce filling, and where was the sauce?) and let’s not even talk about that (ersatz) pork noodle soup.
- Chinatown’s evening energy is electric.
Four Seasons Restaurant
- Outside the restaurant.
- The scintillating ducks that hang in front. I shoot this while standing in line and peering through the restaurant’s grease-stained window.
My Bin’s London-based officemates are eager to take him to this restaurant that they say serves the best duck in the city. I’m wont to believe them when we get there half an hour before our reservation. There’s a line that snakes out the door and people don’t seem to mind milling around and waiting despite the cold. In case you wonder, this restaurant is in no way connected to the decidedly glitzier Four Seasons Hotel.
We have a number of traditional Chinese dishes and of course, two kinds of duck, which is what the restaurant is famous for. There’s the shredded duck that we eat smeared in plum sauce and scarfed down with lots of white rice.
Then there’s the Peking duck (eaten with the pancakes pictured above) that comes with the traditional pancake and spears of leeks and cucumber and heaps of hoisin sauce.
It’s all good and being with fellow Filipinos is wonderful. But I’ll say this: When you’ve eaten duck from Hong Kong and Peking Garden and Choi Garden, there’s really no other duck that can come close. Even in London’s “best duck restaurant.”
Four Seasons Restaurant
12 Gerrard Street,Chinatown
London, W1D 5PR