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Sunday, August 5, 2018

OCFoodieGirl in London

I love London! 

What can I say about a city that I've visited many times over the years yet always look forward to visiting again?! 

This time I was visiting on a girls' trip for my birthday so this trip was all about ME for the most part, and the things I love to do best - EAT, spa and theater (and yes, in that order!) ;) 

Our first night in London my friend & I wandered over to Piccadilly Circus looking for somewhere to dine as I wasn't sure how over our jet-lag we'd be so I hadn't booked anything ahead of time - very unlike me, I know. ;) Even so, I pulled up the yelp app to see what was in the area and pinpointed on Dishoom in Covent Garden - the well known modern Indian food restaurant.  I have to caveat this by saying that Yelp is not as popular in the UK (or Europe in general) as it is in the states so it's somewhat limited in terms of # of reviews as they tend to be very low BUT Dishoom surprisingly had over 1,000 reviews and a 4 star rating at that so of course, this was a draw for me! Later, my friend Sauceboss Shelby reminded me that she'd mentioned it to me which perhaps is also why it stood out when I saw the name. I also later learned from the restaurant itself that they have five locations in London. We had chosen the busiest in Covent Garden. Of course. ;) 

Apparently there is always a line at this location as it is the 
original and most popular. They told us upon arrival it would be about an hour and an hour it was, but it did go by quickly as they constantly brought around samples of their chai tea, lemonade and other drinks for you to try.  A nice touch and teaser to keep you from leaving the line, which very few did. After finally being seated, we were quite impressed with the interior as the restaurant - high ceilings adorned with lovely pendant lights, and a chic black and white decor with marble touches. The seating was a bit cozy but it helped in our attempt to see what others were ordering. We had been told we MUST order the Chicken Ruby and the House Black Dahl lentils as they were known for these dishes. We LOVED the Chicken Ruby which was basically an amped up version of chicken tikka masala - very well made with outstanding
flavor. We sopped up every bit of this dish with the equally delicious garlic naan and some of the very tasty raita. We were less than thrilled with the Black Dahl - both my friend & I felt it was a bit on the bland side and didn't live up to the hype. We even tried to season it a bit but to no avail, and we ended up leaving the majority there at the end of our meal. 

I have to also mention the lassis at Dishoom - they have a yummy mango lassi but they also have a rose water lassi that was the most delicious lassi I've ever tried. Something about the creamy yogurt mixed with a hint of rose water really worked. I could've drank 10 of these things but my mild lactose-intolerance wouldn't have stayed mild if I had. Alas....

Our second day there was my actual birthday which started out by going to the infamous Harrods for some shopping (a must do in London!) and to check out the amazing Harrod's Food Hall! 
If you've never been, basically the majority of the first floor is devoted to the food hall which is made up of several dine-in eateries like a caviar and champagne bar, along with just about every gourmet food item you can think of - a gourmet butcher with wagyu beef, a patisserie with the most divine sweets, an in-house coffee grinder shop where you can have your beans ground for you and many more! It was a food lovers' dream and soooo worthy of a pop by even if you don't intend to buy anything here. 

After indulging our inner foodie at Harrods and picking up a few foodie gifts for the co-workers back home, the remainder of the afternoon was spent at the lovely and historic
Connaught Hotel where we were pampered at the beautiful Aman Spa for three hours. The Connaught is a beautiful historic hotel located in the upscale neighborhood of Mayfair.   Little pockets of beauty are everywhere you look inside the hotel, and the Aman spa was equally stunning with a black granite infinity swimming pool with a cascading water wall at one end. 

This is actually the first and only Aman Spa that is not located inside a luxury Aman resort - interesting little tidbit we learned. I couldn't have asked for a better way to spend a birthday afternoon. They even surprised me at the end with a little birthday treat! 

My birthday was topped off with dinner at the three star Michelin, Alain Ducasse at the Dorcester. From the moment you step into the restaurant off the hotel lobby, you're transported to a modern yet classy other world that is quite different from the Dorcester itself. Modern wall decor that appears to pop out at you, along with a private dining area ensconced in wall to floor crystal lighting, make for a bit of a surreal look to the restaurant. 

The meal itself started out with an amouse of grougeres, warm little cheese balls that explode in your mouth. We struggled from eating them all as they were rather generous with the portion and they were hard to resist, but having ordered the seasonal tasting menu we knew we had quite a bit of food coming still. 

The seasonal tasting menu consisted of 7 courses. The standouts for me were the seared foie gras w a grape and rye compote and the dry aged beef w artichoke and olives. 

It also included two lobster dishes which were very noteworthy - both bright and fresh. Alain Ducasse offers four different menus from which to choose for your meal so there are options for everyone, including a less expensive three course a la carte menu with many choices for each course. 

 All in all, it was a fabulous birthday meal and most definitely worthy of three stars. 

Although my friend & I have been to London many times and didn't anticipate doing much sightseeing we did opt to do the Hop on Hop off bus just to re-acclimate ourselves and get an overview of what had changed since our last visit. I was quite surprised to see so many skyscrapers - both built and in progress - dotting the London skyline. Gone are the days of height restrictions in London which has spurned a time of rapid growth

toward the sky in this fair city.

 It's both good and bad I suppose as many of the shiny new buildings did have some character like the shard but others IMHO didn't appear to add much to the City in terms of aesthetics. Even so it was interesting seeing home much this City I love has changed since my last visit. 

here's something about doing tea in London that is different than anywhere else, and Tea at The Savoy is something I've always wanted to do but had been unable to on prior trips due to poor planning as you pretty much can't get in here without a reservation. This time I made sure to book our reservation far in advance to make sure there were no glitches.  

Just entering The Savoy you feel the opulence of this historic hotel - everything shined to perfection and the staff have an understated classic demeanor.  We were escorted back to the Thames Foyer where tea is served which was simply stunning with a large garden atrium in the center, holding a piano which would soon be played by a lovely pianist during tea. 

We had a choice of afternoon tea or high tea - what's the difference? Well, high tea doesn't include any savory items such as sandwiches and is a less formal version of tea. Afternoon tea includes all your savory and sweet items and is considered more of a light supper, it's also a little more formal. We opted for afternoon tea, and didn't regret it one bit as the sandwiches were our favorite part of the tea. 

There were six different kinds of sandwiches served but the one I fell in love with was the roast beef with horseradish. It was pure heaven so much so that when they offered us a chance for seconds, I jumped at the chance to have another one. ;) 

The tea selection itself was also quite vast and had just about every kind of tea your heart could desire - white, green, black, roobios, etc. I chose a black vanilla that was perfectly steeped with a fragrance as delicious as it tasted. The rest of the tea was equally nice and ranks in my book as one of the top 3 teas, and I've done a lot of teas as it's one of my favorite things to do when I travel. 

That evening, we opted for a simple dinner at a local pub in Kensington where we were staying. Blackbird is your typical English pub with friendly locals, lots of ale and typical hearty English pub dishes. My friend ordered the fish and chips and I got the ale and savory pie tasting board.

Both were very good and I loved that my sampler came with three of their award winning pies to try - the steak and London pride pie, the sweet potato and Stilton pie and the chicken tikka masala pie. I liked them all but the steak and London pride pie was my hands-down favorite with perfectly cooked beef in a savory gravy baked into a flaky crust. Yum! 

One of the most fun things we did in London was the Secret Food Tour of the London Bridge area - this was recommended to me by a friend and I have to give props that it was a great tour! 

It was primarily set in the infamous Borough Market area which I can't believe I had never ventured to before on prior trips. Borough Market is an amazing area that started out as a local farmer's market and evolved into a large market with produce, gourmet items, food stalls and just about anything else you can think of for sale here! I could've spent a few days here sampling foods, checking out the local artisan vendors and talking to the friendly vendors. 

Our food tour took us around trying some of the best items available in the market and surrounding area. We got to try the famous Fish! Kitchen fish and chips - lauded as the best in London by many, and admittedly pretty delicious! 

We also tasted traditional sausage rolls from Ginger Pig,
authentic mead and ale from the Mughouse under London Bridge, and many other delicious foods in the area. The tour also provides a lot of history and affords for some amazing views as the London bridge area is very scenic.

It was a great tour and highly recommend it to anyone looking for something a little different in London! 

After our tour we were too stuffed to walk back so we hopped on the river cruise which came with our Hop on, Hop Off Bus tour ticket. This was a lot of fun and offered some unique views of the local sites from the river.

 We got lucky that it was a nice day in London with no rain and only in the mid-70's - couldn't ask for better weather while on a boat. 

After the river cruise, we wandered over to Mayfair, Soho and Oxford Street to check out some of London's fun and unique shopping. Carnaby was a definite hoot with some of the most creative shops, and a unique vibe all its own! Lots of yummy ethnic restaurants in this area too - for future reference! 

Oxford Street was fun too with it's large English Department stores - each of which seemed to have it's own food hall with unique offerings. We stumbled upon the Krispy Kreme stall at the famed Selfridges with not one but THREE doughnuts exclusive to London, one with the Selfridges namesake. 

After taking the tube back to Kensington, we ventured to a local Lebanese restaurant, Comptoir Libanais for dinner - seeking something a little different than the English food we'd be mostly eating. Wowza - the food here was amazing! I had a lamb burger that would put any burger to shame with it's depth of flavor seasons just right and topped with a melted hallumi cheese it was just perfection. 

The babaganoush was also divine, served with warm pita triangles and topped with spices and pomegranate seeds. If we'd known this little treasure was so close to our hotel we'd have come here sooner!  

You can't come to London and not go to at least one street market right? ;) Since it was a Saturday we opted for theinfamous Portobello Market in Notting Hill. Such a fun market where you can find just about anything from vintage items, to new items, to food, to anything! Crowded - yes, but not unmanageable by any means. Be prepared to walk though as it stretches for quite awhile not to mention even if you take a cab here you can only be dropped off so close. 

We had a great time here enjoying some delicious bratwurst, browsing a bit and even playing tourist at the Notting Hill Bookstore - made famous from the movie. 

The rest of our last day in London was spent at the Palace theater in the West End. We had been lucky to get tickets to 
see the new two part Harry Potter Play - the continuation of the movies set when Harry is an adult with his own children, where the movie ended.  Unfortunately for us, the play is sold out for the next couple of years and the ONLY way to get tickets is to buy the same day tickets where you see both plays (almost 3 hours each) in one day. 

They do give you a 2 hour break in between to go grab some dinner and if you're familiar with the West End, you know there is a multitude of places to eat here. 

We ended up eating in Chinatown at a Malaysian restaurant that was okay but mostly forgettable. The definite highlight of the day was the play! Even with seeing them both in one day it was a pretty spectacular performance with amazing special effects and acting. There is also quite a bit of immersion of the audience which makes it even more exciting. If you get a chance to see the HP play in London with the original cast I HIGHLY recommend it - not cheap, but worth every penny! 

London holds a special place in my heart as I've always felt it's a place that feels like home away from home for me. This birthday trip didn't disappoint me and if anything, it was fun to see how this beloved jewel of England has evolved in recent years. I suspect that the next time I visit it will evolve even more but even so, it will always retain the old school charm that made me fall in love with it in the first place. 


  1. Wow! So much to sere and do...can't wait for the day I finally get to London...probably not in the near future.

    1. Such a fabulous city - HIGHLY recommend a visit! :)