If you read my last post, you know I still have a lot more to share about my recent trip to London. This is Part II of III, which I am unofficially dubbing, “The Savory Side”. (The first was breakfast, and the next post will be all about dessert. But I digress.)
I was in the UK for nine days, and I spent one of them visiting Oxford. Untouched by WWII, this quaint little town was overflowing with a rich history still evidenced by its gorgeous old architecture. As I wandered around the immaculately kept University grounds, I got a tiny thrill knowing that I was walking in J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis’ footsteps.
When they studied at Oxford, they and other literary enthusiasts formed an informal group called the Inklings. The Inklings would meet weekly to discuss their writing. They traditionally met at a pub called The Eagle and Child (which Oxfordians also know as The Bird and Baby) every Tuesday for lunch.
Like everything else in Oxford, this pub was hella old – dating from as far back as the 1600s – and had barely been touched. After my tour of the University, I eagerly rushed back to The Bird and the Baby to grab a beer, if only to spend some time in the room where so many literary giants were born.
Apart from a few students doing some studying in the front rooms of the pub (which, unlike in the days of Tolkien, were now equipped with free wifi), the pub was nearly empty. I grabbed an old wooden table in the back and ordered fish and chips to go with my beer – I had to get fish and chips in the UK at least once before I left, after all. The fish was delicious.
Out of all of Oxford, one of my favorite experiences was entering University College, the oldest of all of Oxford’s colleges. For a Harry Potter nerd like me, seeing the dining hall at Oxford’s University College – the inspiration for Hogwarts’ dining hall – was like meeting the Pope.
On my next visit, I will be seeking out the Turf Tavern, Oxford’s oldest pub, for my much needed “education in intoxication”:
Returning to London from my little excursion to the country, I found myself once again lost in a sea of restaurant options. Oxford was beautiful, but I much preferred the hustle and bustle of London.
Now let’s get to some grub.
This pasta carbonara was out of this world. I stopped into Vapiano in Soho on a busy Monday night after walking over from the Tower of London in the damp and the cold. I was carb-hungry and ready to sit down somewhere warm, so I figured I’d try this cafeteria-style eatery.
While they have Vapianos in New York, the system was a bit different than what I was used to: first, the front desk gives you key card, then you stand in line for whatever kind of food you want (either pizza, pasta, risotto, salad, etc.) and ask for what you’d like to order. The authentic Italian chefs make it fresh directly in front of you in no more than 5 minutes. Then you tap your key card on a reader at the counter before walking away with your tray of food to sit at one of the communal tables in the dimly lit space.
The pasta was fresh and perfectly cooked, and they were generous with the bacon. When I left, I tapped my key card on the front desk and paid for my meal. This meant it was so much cheaper than if I had gone to a regular full-service restaurant, but equally – if not more – delicious.
One of my favorite spots was Roti King, a Malaysian hole in the wall close to King’s Cross that a friend introduced me to. As a regular, she knew just what to order. (She also took most of the awesome pictures below – thanks Em!)
The chefs show off their roti skills by skillfully stretching and flipping the dough in the open kitchen for all to see. Then they fold up the dough, leaving air pockets between every layer, and grill it with some butter. It’s fluffier than chapati, and pairs perfectly with the chicken curry. I haven’t had anything like it here in the U.S., which is probably for the best because I would not be able to stop eating it. Seriously though, where is all the Malaysian cuisine hiding here?
The morning glory greens were dressed with shrimp paste and tasted wonderfully fresh. They had quite a kick, but luckily you’ll never find your glass of water empty at Roti King. (Also, the Teh Tarik is a must-have.)
After a fun day out, my friend brought me to Camden Town which is a lively area just north of King’s Cross. A stone’s throw away from the Camden Town tube stop was The Woody Grill, a casual Mediterranean spot serving up all kinds of kabobs and rice dishes.
Being the hungry ladies that we were, we ordered a little of everything: chicken and lamb both grilled and ground, grilled halloumi, a large salad, and pita bread with hummus and other assorted sauces. The ground lamb was moist and tender, and the grilled halloumi was soft, salty and creamy. Mixing everything together on my plate, my tongue got a little taste of nirvana. We proudly finished off most of the food, and then I slowly rolled myself back to my hostel to get some rest.
When I was wondering where to get Indian food in London, my friend recommended that I try Dishoom near Covent Garden. I finally tried it on a drizzly Sunday night, hoping the line wouldn’t be too long, but apparently there is never not a line outside of Dishoom. I waited outside for almost thirty minutes before a table for one opened up, but I didn’t care – I was just so happy to finally sit down somewhere warm and dry.
By this point, my hunger was in complete control of my faculties and forced me to order enough food for two people: a spicy vegetable stew with buttered buns called Pau Bhaji as an appetizer, a rich lentil Black Daal, and buttery naan with a side of rice.
The verdict? Mind. Blown.
Even though I was alone, the service made me feel as though I was a welcome regular. The Black Daal was another recommendation from my friend, who, as you can probably tell by now, has pretty great taste. It was creamy and hearty, with hints of garlic and ginger coming together with a tomato-cream base to create the kind of dish that makes you say “mmm” loud enough for the neighboring table to look at you like you’re crazy. The portion was larger than I had bargained for, but I left no bite un-devoured.
For dessert, I got Pistachio Khulfi, which they served as a popsicle. The ice cream was sweet and savory at its finest – I couldn’t have wished for a better end to the Savory Side of my journey through London.
A few more honorable mentions that I didn’t get to photograph (LIMA was definitely a favorite):
Upscale Peruvian cuisine near Covent Garden – the only Peruvian restaurant to ever get a Michelin Star! Excellent ceviche, squid, lamb, and wonderfully creative desserts. Service was A+ too.
Cheap, healthy fast-food chain with locations all around the city. One employee serenaded us while we ate. (If you’re familiar with Boston restaurants, the food was very similar to Bon Me).
Jamie Oliver’s Union Jacks
Italian through a British lens. The Porkie Pizza (a white pizza with pork, kale, and chili) was the highlight. In Covent Garden, you’re right in the middle of all the action. So it’s a touristy restaurant, but not bad.
And that’s all folks. Stay tuned for the next and final piece, Dessert in London, coming in a few short weeks! You won’t be disappointed. (If you missed it, check out part I about Breakfast in London here.)