By the time we returned to our apartment the prior evening, we were thoroughly and ridiculously exhausted, though quite content from a superb first day of the trip. That contentment spilled over into a fine night’s sleep and the next day we arose reasonably refreshed. That sleep, however, neither dispelled a need nor a desire for coffee. Prior to the trip, I asked my friend, coffee savant and Drift publisher, Adam Goldberg, if he would recommend coffee houses in London. The one he specifically pointed to was Brooklyn Coffee, which was located not too far from the apartment and along the path we would take to our first destination of the day.
Being from Brooklyn originally myself, I found the name of the café amusing, since I came to London only to have coffee inspired by that from my original hometown. That hometown, however, as might be imagined, was the also the hometown of the café’s owner, who conveyed the name to his small, but busy and expert café.
I enjoyed a V-60 pour-over of Ethiopian Aricha that had been roasted by London’s Caravan Coffee Roasters, which roasts all of Brooklyn’s selections. With its fine balance and nuanced flavors, I enjoyed it very much.
I also had to taste their espresso before heading out. It was robust without having an excess of bitterness or burnt notes. I was now ready to conquer the day and at least some more of this great, cosmopolitan metropolis.
Energized, we sauntered back down to the banks of the Thames to visit one of the most atmospheric and significant historic sites, not just of London, but of the world. Of course, I refer to The Tower of London, which nimbly picked up gruesome threads from the prior evening’s macabre tour that took place in its very shadows.
Unlike the Jack the Ripper tour, in which the victims appeared to be common prostitutes of the area, the death tolls here were rung for those from society’s highest ranks, including Queens, bishops and all manner of nobility. Many of the stories are well known thanks largely to the pen of William Shakespeare, while others have simply come down through drier sources, as much happened within and without those castle walls of great significance, not just to England and the UK, but ultimately, to the rest of the world as well.
We meandered on our own for a bit, but joined the first Beefeater Tour of the day, led by the erudite and humorous, Yeoman Warden Towell. He fed us the history of the development of the Tower, which reflected the history of the development of the country and its monarchy.
He regaled us with tales of the queens of Henry VIII and the eventual and unfortunate demise of each, as Henry struggled to find a male heir. Those struggles resulted in a schism with the Church of Rome and led to the founding, by him of The Church of England. With that, much blood was spilled, as noble men and women held different allegiances, with many dying for their allegiance to Rome. He showed us the sites central to the story of how Richard III essentially stole the crown from the twin young princes, who rightfully heirs to the throne, were imprisoned and killed within the Tower whilst under his charge and supposed protection. We saw and heard about the life and death of Sir Walter Raleigh, who spent over twelve years of his life imprisoned within the walls, before, he too was executed with his head on the chopping block. Even the eventual Queen Elizabeth I had been imprisoned here, seemingly destined for execution, but she managed to void that foul fate to reach the throne at a critical time for the nation.
Yeoman Warden Towell’s knowledge was deep and his skill at conveying it remarkable. We heard and saw many other sites and stories of significance and subsequent to his speechifying, managed to return for closer looks.
The Tower of London is also home to the nation’s Crown Jewels, a stunning display of regalia, most of which stemmed subsequent to the crown’s restoration after the brief reign of Oliver Cromwell, who destroyed most of the royal hardware from earlier times. Unfortunately, photography of any kind is forbidden and I have no photos to show of them. They are well worth viewing, however, and the Tower of London is a must-visit for anyone with even passing interests in history or Shakespeare.
With visions of greatness and gruesomeness etched into our eyes and brains, we hurried off to lunch. Our appetites had not been dulled and though we rushed to get there, we relaxed over lunch at the highly recommended Indian “home-style” restaurant called Gunpowder. The restaurant is a small family run affair near Spitalfield Market and the Liverpool Street Station. Staffing is minimal, but friendly and efficient. The food and drink, however, belie its home-style nature and proved to be one of the finest meals of the week as well as one of the finest Indian meals that I have experienced anywhere, including in India.
My Bow Barracks Gimlet, while no threat to the creations of Dandelyan from the previous day, was a simple, yet delightful variation of the classic with the addition of ginger. It was well made and perfectly refreshing.
It wasn’t until the food started coming from the kitchen, however, that the real greatness of this nearly hidden gem, started declaring itself. The menu wasn’t long, but everything sounded appetizing. We ordered dishes to share.
Like most Alloo Chaats, the Gunpowder Aloo Chaat was sweet, but it was balanced with sourness and a complex depth of spice flavors.
The first true “wow” dish of the trip came next. Called “Karawaki Soft Shell Crab” it was deftly fried – crisp and fully cooked without any degree of burn. The coating was light in batter, but not in flavors, all of which served to enhance the native flavors of this meat packed crustacean. This dish was not just a flavor bomb. It was a textural masterpiece as well. The second true “wow” of the meal followed in quick succession as it was served along with the crab. The Maa’s Keshmiri Lamb Chops were rich, succulent, juicy, a perfect medium rare and quite possibly the most delicious lamb chops I have ever eaten! I do love a good lamb dish and at that moment I was unable to conjure an example more delicious and perfect than what was before me. They had plenty of spice and heat without overdoing it or overwhelming the native flavors of the lamb. This was a potent and formidable one-two punch!
Sigree Grilled Broccoli had the unenviable task of following those two powerhouse dishes and though it was a fine dish, it couldn’t sustain the total brilliance that they offered.
The vegetarian realm was better served by the Saag with Tandoori Paneer, a vibrant dish that finds its way on many an Indian restaurant around the world, but rarely as wonderful as that served here.
A more unusual dish was the Spicy Venison and Vermicelli Doughnut. I don’t get the doughnut craze that appears to have swept the world in recent years and so initially avoided ordering this dish, but upon seeing one served to a neighboring table, I changed my mind. I’m not sure why they call it a doughnut. It reminded me of a Sicilian arancino in concept, if not in content or flavor profile. Regardless of what its called, it proved to be another outstanding dish packed with great spicy flavors and wonderful textural contrasts. If all doughnuts were like this, I would understand the fad more.
A final dish of Auntie Sulu’s Wild Rabbit Pulao bedeviled with its wonderful fragrance and flavors, but put us over the top. This was a remarkable meal, that I would happily repeat over and over again were the restaurant in my backyard. The greatness of the food needs no qualifiers and the unpretentious nature of the place and staff augment the pleasures placed upon the table.
Alas, we were rushed again, as we had to hightail across town to Bloomsbury and The British Museum, where we joined another London Walks tour for a focused look at some of the vast collection on display there. While much of the contents have great inherent artistic value, the museum, is essentially a trove of archaeological artifacts. That, in fact, at least in British English is the real definition of a museum. It is a place of artifacts and curiosities, as distinguished from a gallery, in which art is displayed as such.
I learned that and many other things from our erudite guide, Rex, who took us from very early Egypt to the Assyrians to the Greeks and Romans, in each case pinpointing the progress of artistic development from one to another.
He also delved into the funerary rites of the ancient Egyptians, highlighting the origins of the rite of mummification as well as its progress and development through the dynasties. He finished with the fall of British Rome to the Angles, Saxons (each named for the principal weapons they carried) and thus the forebears of present day England. It was an inspired tour that taught a lot and taught it in a very entertaining way.
We had done a lot of walking and were in great need for a bit of refreshment. Fortunately for us, the legendary barman Tony Conigliaro, had a place nearby that was on my go-to list. I knew that I had to visit at least one of his places, but the others, 69 Colebrook Row and The Zetter Townhouse, were both somewhat out of the way from our itinerary. If I could have, I hoped to find a way to one or the other as well, but this one was perfectly situated for us and the timing was perfect.
Bar Termini is both a café and an aperitivo bar. It was the latter that I was interested in now. The menu is short and (mostly) distinct from his other menus, though the cocktail development for each is done in a central facility. A big Negroni fan, I was intrigued by the four different ones the bar had on offer. All pre-batched, they came in small tasting glasses designed by Tony himself. Though neither the glasses nor the tariffs were large, I only tasted two of them, the Classico and the aged Robusto. Both were exquisite representations of the cocktail, beautiful to behold and supremely satisfying to sip.
Other cocktails also represented the classic Italian canon, though with twists. A Bellini was peachy, but made more sophisticated with the addition of almond bitters, while the Spritz Termini eschewed the classic classic Aperol formula by adding Beefeater Gin, Rhubarb Cordial and Prosecco. Our goals were achieved and we left supremely refreshed.
We returned to the apartment to change for dinner and walked to the nearby Lyle’s, where we were to meet up with a fellow culinary enthusiast, the heretofore virtual friend, Foodocd. It’s a great pleasure to actually meet someone previously known only online and to share a meal with someone as interesting as he, even moreso. A London native, it was great to get his perspective on the London food scene as well as to get to know him better than can be sensed online.
The casual Lyle’s, located in Shoreditch, was recently ranked No. 65 on The World’s Fifty Best Restaurants list and represents what must be, at £44 for the set dinner menu one of the world’s truly great fine dining values. Starting with the superb bread and butter, the meal was one of finesse, utilizing top-notch British ingredients to craft a delicious dining experience.
Several amuse bouches were served before we arrived at the four course prix fixe, which is the only available dinner option. The first was pickled sea trout with sour cream and juniper, one plate for every two people. The dish was well conceived and prepared and like most of the subsequent dishes, subtle and nuanced – delicious without overtly strong flavors.
Cured Carrots with cured turbot roe, echoed the first snack, utilizing different subtle flavors and textures. The ingredients were superb and allowed to express themselves clearly.
While not a boon to cocktail lovers, Lyle’s has an excellent wine program with many interesting, well priced selections, including carafes for those who want to share wine for a course without having to buy multiple bottles. We started with a carafe of of Lovamor, a crisp, delicious “natural” white from Spain’s Ribera del Duero made by Alfredo Maestro with the not often encountered Albillo grape. Later we switched to another lovely wine served by carafe, the easy going Austrian “Atanasius” from Gut Oggau made with Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch grapes using biodynamic principles.
The first true course was a celebration of the English pea with raw peas, pea shoots and pea flowers dressed with lovage oil and accompanied by nasturtium leaves and Ticklemore, a firm, moist and crumbly goat’s milk cheese from Devon. Again, the flavors were subtle and restrained with the focus squarely on the peas.
Monkfish can be a difficult fish to cook well, but here, it was perfectly prepared and served alongside a torchon of monkfish liver and exquisite girolles or chanterelles. Chef James Lowe let’s his ingredients largely fend for themselves, supplying skill, technique and a few accents, but relying primarily on their natural flavors. With lesser quality ingredients that could be a disaster, but with ingredients such as he uses, that’s a wise choice.
This approach reached its apex on this evening with the meat course. While the natural flavors of the previous courses led to a relatively restrained, but still lovely flavor palate, the Dexter beef was richly packed with intense beef flavor, amplified by the sweetly savory roasted beets under the beef, the mild bitterness of the greens and the bacon-flavored minerality of dulse, a seaweed packed with flavor. None of the supporting elements, however, overshadowed, the magnificent beef, the product of the most diminutive cattle domestically raised. The Dexter breed may be short in stature, but they are long on beefy flavor. This dish was a masterpiece!
I have been enjoying Neal’s Yard cheeses from my local cheesemongers, but was keen to have some in their home country. With a £9 supplement I had my first opportunity to do so before the dessert course. The cheeses were in prime shape. The first, Cardo, is a washed-rind, raw goat’s milk cheese from Somerset that is coagulated with thistle rennet, the only cheese in the Neal’s Yard line to do so, as it is more typical of some cheeses from the Iberian Peninsula. I’m not typically partial to washed-rind cheeses, but this one, was delicate and tasty with a rind that I enjoyed more than most. The blue, was the famous Colston-Bassett Stilton from Nottinghamshire. It was a rich blue that reveled in its tasty blue veins and creamy paste. I find that some Stiltons can be overpowering, but this one was truly world-class and delicious.
Dessert stayed with the local and seasonal theme. Blackcurrants or currants of any color are not common ingredients in the US, but they were used to good effect here in a nicely balanced dessert that was tart and creamy.
It was nice being able, after a meal like this, to walk back to the apartment and within a reasonable time, call it a night, so that we may be ready to renew ourselves for the next day.