London is chilly at the moment so I warmed up by making some amazing potatoes for supper!
Preheat the oven to 200ºC / 390ºF.
Put a big handful of potatoes in a pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain.
Put the potatoes back in the pot and add a nob of butter and a glug of soy sauce. Toss well so that the potatoes are coated in melted butter and soy sauce. Transfer everything to a baking pan and roast for 30 minutes.
Boxing Day marked my one month anniversary in London. While I can't believe it's already been a month, I sorely demonstrated how I'm still quite a newbie to this city. My mistake? Visiting Oxford Circus in the middle of the afternoon.
Wow. How naive I was to think it'd be fun to see the crowds! I felt like a country bumpkin in the big city watching the waves of shoppers and their unwavering commitment to shopping. Laden with bags, children, purses, phones, and take-away food, the shoppers carried on shopping: in and out of stores, queuing for fitting rooms, queuing for cashiers, flagging down buses. They weren't even phased by news that a stabbing had occurred just a few blocks away!
It was a pleasure coming home to a cup of tea, big bowl of homecooked food, and the promise that I'd never, ever do that again.
Over the weekend, Lauren, Thomas and I went to Tayyab, a crowded, noisy, delicious restaurant in Whitechapel. It's off the high street and on a relatively quiet road, but I knew I was in for a delicious meal when I saw the line-up spilling out onto the road. Inside, Tayyab was packed with people - office workers, families, students, and Christmas merrymakers. The tables were crowded inches apart and waiters carried food past us that looked and smelled delicious. Lauren wisely made reservations and, within minutes, we were seated and pulling beer and wine out of our bags. We'd been alerted that the restaurant was a BYOB establishment, and it was so much fun! The waiters didn't bat an eye, there was no corkage or bottling or pouring fee. They just brought over a bottle opener and let us be!
To eat, we had sizzling lamb chops, chana, a mixed okra and onion dish, karahi chicken, and heaps of fluffy, chewy naan. Despite being full, I finished off my 2nd piece of naan by sopping up the bottom of the chana bowl. So good. I could eat that meal every day.
Yesterday, we worked off our Tayyab meal by walking all around Covent Garden and Central. We must have wandered up and down Charring Cross five or six times, including long visits to Foyles and Nisbet's, a kitchen supply store. The streets were bustling and the pubs were packed. Christmas in London really is something else.
Have you ever had pig's head stew? Slow braised with brussel tops, mustard, pearl barley, and topped with pickled carrots and crunchy barley? Or a goat taco? How about shredded duck in creamy rice with chorizo? A lamb wrap with lovely greens? Or a really juicy, cheesy hamburger on a soft bun with a side of dill pickles? Grilled pork belly with cucumber in a pillowy soft man-tou? How about all of these in the same evening?
I just had all of the above, seven of the tastiest little meals I've ever eaten (including the best cheeseburger I've ever had ever), served in paper bowls, with napkins stuffed into my pocket, huddled under a too-small tent.
Tonight, I went to the final evening of The Long Table, a pop-up street food market in Dalston. It was amazing. Some of London's best restaurants, including St. John (a.k.a. the happiest place on earth), Moro, Yum Bun, and Lucky Chip, set up stalls in a tucked-away square near Dalston Junction. We lined up, sorry, "queued" up, at 5:30 for the opening at 6, and the line was already half a block long. It was a cold night, with a hint of rain, but the sound and smell of a bonfire, roasted pork, and spicy mulled cider kept us in line, blowing steamy air into our hands and stomping our feet to keep warm.
I was first in line for St. John's pig head stew, which was packed with flavour. The broth was rich and thick and bursting with a meaty, gamey flavour. It was delicious. By the time we finished the stew and lined up for other plates, all the queues were lengthy and the tables were crowded.
But it was worth the wait and worth the cold. The food was messy and hearty, and the company was warm and happy. All around were clusters of friends and families, licking their fingers, balancing steaming cups of cider with handfuls of forks, bouncing bundled up babies, or stretching their hands over smoky bonfires. Everyone was talking and eating good food. Even as we left, the queue of people waiting to get inside were chatting and generally in good spirits, and they were hours away from even getting to stand in line at one of the vendors! Brits are truly dedicated to their street food.
My favourite part of the evening:
[all fairy lights and power go out]
[all fairy lights and power turn on]
I came away from the evening with frozen toes, the smell of smoke in my hair, and sauce stains on my coat.
I'm so glad I'm here.
St. John's Pig Head Stew with barley, brussel tops, and mustard, topped with crunchy barley and pickled carrot
Meatballs and eggplant parmiagana with polenta
Red and Green's pulled pork and goat taco
Moro's duck with rice and chorizo and slow-cooked lamb wrap with crunchy salad
Lauren is here! On Monday, my friend Lauren arrived and so far, our time together has been marked by delays in transportation. I'm realizing just how spread out this city is. It took me 1.5 hours to travel to Heathrow Airport on the Tube, and trying to find her friend's house in Brixton was a two hour affair! But it's not so bad when you have a good friend to chat with along the way.
On her first morning here, I took her to Upland's Cafe for her first British fry-up. Uplands is a no-nonsense cafe, with eight long wooden tables lined with chairs, and an order counter at the back. When we went in, it was full of construction workers (or "builders" as they say in England), which I take as a good sign. Lauren had sausage, beans, and an egg, and I had black pudding, beans, and hashbrowns. We both had mugs of very strong, very inky black tea, and then spent the afternoon wandering around East Dulwich and spending extraordinary lengths of time choosing Christmas cards and socks. It was good fun.
I also made a happy discovery: there's an Anthropologie in London! I saw it on Regent Street while sitting on the bus! I think I actually yelped with joy and frightened several passengers.
It's nice to show Lauren around and to test my wayfinding skills and confidence. While my circle of exploration is still quite small, it's so pleasing to tack on a few more new streets each day, to find a few more lovely little cafes that feel like my own little secret, and to be able to show friends my new discoveries.
Last night, a little after midnight, I heard this horrible, high-pitched, strangled screeching sound outside of Isobel's apartment. It sounded like a cross between a crow and a cat, and, while it only lasted about 30 seconds, it was really dreadful! In the morning, I asked her about it, and it turns out London is home to urban foxes!
I know, I know, they probably don't sound like George Clooney or Meryl Street, and they probably don't wear corduroy suits or flowered aprons or paint or play whackbat, but I can dream, can't I? City foxes do sound like something out of a novel, much more so than the suburban raccoons I grew up with!
I love pie. I loved that I knew the top 3 places to go get pie in Vancouver at 8 o'clock at night. I wish I knew that information for London. It will take research, dedication, and much pie-eating, but I hope to acquire that knowledge someday.
On that note, somebody needs to order this wedding pie and invite me to their wedding.