Well, Berch on Food is back from this fall's set of travels, and I have a full sheaf of notes and several gigabytes of photos to show for it. This trip I was unburdened by work obligations, leaving the days and evenings free for touring and eating. Given a transatlantic flight, where should we head? I nominated London and Paris, and Maggie nominated Berlin and Stockholm, and somehow we managed to fit all four cities into three weeks. I headed to Nebraska to meet Maggie beforehand, and consequently ended up doing a lot of flying. (My final itinerary, in airport codes, was SFO-DEN-LNK-ORD-LHR(-)ORY-SXF-ARN-LHR-OR
After arriving in Lincoln, Maggie met me at the airport and we headed not for the Haymarket, but for the new second location of The Oven, at 70th and Pioneers, in the same center as Venue. It's a nice room with high ceilings, modern decor, and halogen track lighting. I ordered my favorite herb-crusted lamb shank with vindaloo cream, which was delicious, and we drank a 2004 Seghesio "Old Vines" zinfandel. (The Oven East is still building its wine list, and didn't have our favorite Stag's Leap petite sirah, but the Seghesio zin was very nice with the lamb and Maggie's chicken tikka korma.) And before leaving Lincoln we managed to get to BBQ4U, which has turned into Lincoln's consistently best barbecue.
I managed to score us first class award seats from Chicago to London and back on United, which entitled us to the very nicely stocked International First Class lounge at O'Hare, with a decent bar, good beverage selection, and some tasty food, including a cold pate en croute with pistachios, a ham and cheese roll-up, various nuts and cheeses, and good coffee.
We boarded on time and were escorted to our "suites" on the Boeing 777. There are only 10 seats in F on United 777s, and each is a mini-suite that converts to a lie-flat bed, and has plenty of storage space, an IFE screen, laptop power outlet, satphone, and comfy pillows and a blanket. The seats are angled and we each had 3 windows to look out of. Service was very gracious and the seats were very comfortable.
Dinner service began with a cucumber salad and a combo of short rib won tons with thai barbecue sauce and sauteed shrimp, probably the best starter I've had on an aircraft. I ordered the filet mignon for a main course, but alas, it arrived burnt due to an oven problem in the galley; profuse apologies ensued and it was replaced with a fillet of salmon with spinach, which was fine. I was nearly full by the time the cheese course came by, but managed to enjoy some gorgonzola, parmesan, and a bit of chevre, with Sandeman's Reserve port.
After a fitful night (I still can't sleep on airplanes, even in a mini-bed) we were greeted with a breakfast of an omelette, tomato, ham, and assorted fruit. After landing at Heathrow and clearing immigration we repaired to the United's Arrivals suite for showers, coffee, and wi-fi, and then faced the trip into town.
I'd originally planned to stay in familiar territory -- the West End, South Kensington, maybe Camden or Islington, but after consulting several holiday flat rental sites and going down a couple of blind alleys, the best choice available turned out to be a new development called Maltings Place, on Tower Bridge Rd., SE1, in Bermondsey. It's a conversion of a former brewery, along with some new construction. Our apartment was in the old brewery, and the main room looked out on a small lane with mews houses, while the bedrooms overlooked a second-floor glass walkway to a set of offices. I admired the concept of the place, but the execution was somewhat odd -- in the en-suite bath off the first bedroom, it was almost impossible to stand at the sink without brushing one's shoulders against the shower and wall, and it was literally impossible to turn around in the shower.
The location, though, was exceptional -- all of Bermondsey seemed to be in the process of renovation and gentrification, and what had been run-down riverfront warehouses and abandoned buildings only a few years ago were smart offices and blocks of flats, along with a good measure of pubs and restaurants. And since the arrival of the Jubilee Line extension -- no doubt a prime mover in the district's recovery -- it was a quick trip into the heart of London.
But -- on to the food. One of Bermondsey's best points is its proximity to the fabulous Borough Market, London's largest and most famous wholesale and retail food market. While we weren't able to visit the market this trip, we were able to enjoy one of its major local effects, which is a wealth of restaurants orbiting its perimeter on Stoney St., Southwark St., and Rochester Walk. One that we had in mind was Roast, to which we had been directed by Maggie's mother, who found a review of it on the NPR web site. Alas, they were fully booked, but immediately next door was a very stylish and informal steak house, Black and Blue, in a space neatly carved into an arch-roofed former warehouse under an railroad overpass, and full to overflowing with smart young Londoners. Black and Blue is part of Britain's post-BSE beef revival and is known for its huge cuts of
sustainably-farmed beef, cooked rare. After a stint in the bar waiting for a table and appetizing on paté and tortilla chips with guacamole, we shared an enormous côte de boeuf (bone-in rib steak), and didn't finish it!
After a pleasant day touring the Southwark waterfront the next day, the highlight of which was a tour of the World War II cruiser HMS Belfast, Maggie suggested we try Roast again, and this time we were successful. It's a beautiful room, one story above the street (in fact, it overlooks Black and Blue). We started with the pressed rabbit with scrumpy apple chutney, and scallops with garlic and cobb nuts, accompanied by Audoin champagne, and we both opted for the roast leg of lamb with slow-cooked shoulder, greens, jus, and garlic creme as a main course. Both the leg and shoulder were amazingly tender and flavorful and the greens gave the dish a little bit of bitter contrast to the velvety meat juices. With the lamb we had a Trinity Hill 2002 Hawkes Bay "Trinity" red blend from New Zealand.
Unlike the starters and mains, which were exceptional, something was a bit off with the cheese course. Roast features a set of artisanal British cheeses, including Montgomery's Cheddar from Somerset, Isle of Wight Blue, and Flower Marie, a sheep's milk cheese from East Sussex. The cheddar was delighful, but something had happened to the Flower Marie, giving it an unpalatable barnyard taste (really, you don't want to know) which carried over to the Blue, either due to contact in the kitchen or storage, or perhaps via the serving knife. As all three cheeses are still on Roast's menu, it must have been a one-time incident. (I dearly love strong-flavored ripe cheeses, but something had clearly gone wrong here.)
On the way to the West End the next day, we lunched at The Bridge Lounge, a delightful pub on Tooley St., just west of the south end of the Tower Bridge. In an upmarket spin on bangers and mash, I had pork and leek sausages with onion, mashed potatoes, and a wine reduction sauce. Then we headed to the V&A and the London Eye, and from there to dinner at an old favorite, Porter's English Restaurant in Covent Garden. Porter's serves the traditional classics of English cooking -- shepherd's pie, bubble and squeak, steak and kidney pudding, spotted dick -- all the things that every American kid thinks that Londoners eat every day. We started with dressed Norfolk crab (a spicy crab salad) and we both had excellent fish and chips -- beer-battered cod with malt vinegar.
Our last full day in London was spent mostly at the British Museum, then back home to our neighborhood to a lovely dinner at a Bermondsey gastro-pub, The Garrison Public House. We started with mussels in white wine and cream sauce, and for mains we both had roast organic pork belly with new potatoes, bacon, and thyme jus, a nice filling meal for a chilly autumn night. We drank a 2004 Spanish crianza from Castillo de Chiva.
And with that our London visit came to a close -- the next day there was just time for coffee and a shortbread cookie before packing up and heading to Waterloo Station and the Eurostar... next stop, Paris!