My recent annual visit to London (U.K.) was the best yet. And, as a long-time defender of British food – yes, this in the face of doubters and haters who think gray roast meat and overcooked brussels sprouts typify that island’s grub – even I was surprised at the high quality of chow (almost) everywhere we ate.
Ross and I spent two weeks covering a wide area of that magnificent city – the place where I lived during formative years from age four to 19 – while sleuthing food, live music and just plain old fun.
This was in between hanging out with my mum who, at age 88, is alive, kicking, still speaking seven languages, being a culture vulture, savouring Goethe in the original with her morning coffee and teaching young ‘uns to read at the local primary school in Primrose Hill.
We also made the hour-long train trip to Brighton where my brother Jonny resides. Here, we had one of the best meals of many at a renowned and glorious vegetarian restaurant called Terre a Terre, a place that regularly – and understandably – wins the Observer Food Monthly award for best veggie restaurant in the U.K The friendly, competent service, lovely room and luscious food, especially gorgeous desserts, all made this meal memorable. Even my seriously carnivore bro’ didn’t miss the meat. Note: My Toronto vegan friend Adrienne tells me Brighton is a hotbed of meatless dining and that this where the U.K.’s animal rights movement was born.
In the music department, a Django-style gypsy jazz live jam – a regular occurrence on Tuesday nights at Le Quecumbar in Battersea – was another highlight. However, eat before you go to this funky, adorably furnished boite in a gritty London nabe south of the Thames as the food is horrendous. A “pork shank” doused in an unidentifiable but likely bottled barbecue sauce was my unfortunate dish. Ross’s “beef burger” patties appeared to be dried-out kebabs that had been flattened. When I shared my opinion of these shocking offerings with the friendly waiter, he had this response: “We’ve all told the owner about the food but she won’t listen.” The owner was away so I didn’t have a chance to see if I would fare better.
We also discovered Pret a Manger’s amazing sandwiches and delectable Fruit and Oat Bar, the perfect hotel room breakfast when accompanied by a cup of Starbucks instant coffee. Pret a Manger is a brilliantly conceived, politically correct chain of fast food eateries specializing in sandwiches but also serving salads, the best muesli with yogurt I’ve ever tasted, cookies and the wonderful aforementioned Fruit & Oat Bar. Started some years ago by two young British men who recently sold it for a gazillion pounds, their mission – to sell healthy, delicious fast food using organic, sustainable ingredients whenever possible, to make all food fresh each day and to donate money and food to the homeless – is understandably a huge hit. I hear that, partly owned by McDonald’s, the chain has opened outlets in NYC. After a rocky start – people didn’t initially get the concept of Wensleydale cheese and chutney sandwiches – Pret is doing well.
Pret a Manger is now in the Big Apple. Why is there nothing like this on Canadian shores?