London Memories and Grace Notes

May 5th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Best restaurant in the world was the restaurant in London’s Connaught Hotel (it was right up there with Le Pavillion under the reign of Henri Soule).

The Connaught Dining Room

HG gathers that the cuisine at the Connaught has changed but HG likes to think about it during its glory days. HG and BSK always lunched there during visits to London. Superb smoked salmon sliced paper thin and served with brown bread, butter, capers, etc. (HG once remarked on the perfect slicing. A captain explained: “James has been slicing salmon here for 37 years”). A mixed grill with souffle potatoes or perfectly de-boned, grilled dover sole with savory butter sauce. Stilton and port to finish.

Once, the HG/BSK table wasn’t ready as per their reservation. HG and BSK were ushered into a lovely chintz and old oak ante room. With graceful apologies we were offered glasses of chilled, dry sherry (on the house, of course).

Another London favorite was J. Sheekey, the seafood restaurant in the theater district. More casual than the Connaught and the perfect place for oysters and grilled fish. Once, a waitperson spilled a drink at the HG/BSK table. The wet table cloth was whisked away and replaced by a new one. Once more, graceful apologies ensued and (with a flourish) a bottle of very good, gratis champagne appeared. Nice memories of English grace and generosity.

International Santa Fe

November 11th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Two cliches that should be buried: You can eat well in London if you only eat breakfast and you can eat well in Santa Fe if you only eat burritos. Okay, English breakfasts are great if you hold off on the tinned mushrooms and beans and burritos smothered in green chili are a blessing. But, London is now one of the world’s great food cities, on a par with New York (better than New York for Indian food, not as good as New York for Chinese dining). And, Santa Fe, though resolutely New Mexican, offers the eater a wide variety of exceptional international food treats.

Jambo Cafe, located in a strip mall on busy Cerrillos Road, is an HG favorite. Chef-owner Ahmed Obo offers a distinctive Afro-Caribbean cuisine. On a chilly afternoon this week, HG warmed body and soul with Jambo’s “Island Spice Coconut Peanut Stew.” Flanked by a plate of fluffy jasmine rice, this was big bowl of layered flavors. There was plenty of heat (Jalapeno or Scotch Bonnet peppers?) gentled by coconut milk and chicken stock. The peanuts gave the stew a Szechuan Tan-Tan noodle zing. The chunks of chicken in the stew had a juicy, free range taste. There were some halved cherry tomatoes in the stew and it was topped with grilled scallions. A super generous portion designed for all day nourishment. There are other great stews at Jambo — goat stew reminiscent of Jamaica, East African lentil stew, Moroccan lamb stew. There’s jerk chicken, plantains, lamb burgers, hummus — cooking that hops and skips from the Maghreb to Eastern and Southern Africa and over the seas to Caribbean islands. Everything is assertively spiced and served by charming wait persons in a very busy, casual room.

Other Santa Fe destinations for the discerning internationalist: Eric Stapelman’s Shibumi Ramen Ya for outstanding ramen and small plate izakaya treats; plus his adjacent restaurant, Trattoria Nostrani for sophisticated and creative Italian cuisine. Another good Italian bet is Steve Lemon’s “O” Eating House, located a short drive north of town (HG has written about it often). There’s Shohko Cafe for wonderful sushi and tempura, La Boca for Spanish tapas, New York Deli for bagels and bialys and Geronimo, for classic cuisine in the elegant European style. Raaga is the spot for Indian food (whole curry leaves enliven a number of dishes). Nile Cafe has good middle eastern fare and Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvadoreno fills its customers up with hearty pupusas (like tamales but more robust).

Lots of good international dining. But, don’t skip burritos and green chili.

and green chili.

They Know A Gent When They See One.

March 25th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Why is HG a Brit-loving Anglophile? HG recently studied his discharge summary from University College London Hospitals. The summary starts: “This nice gentleman is in London on holiday, etc.,etc.” HG has been called many things in his time but “nice gentleman” has not been among them. HG welcomes the recognition of his better qualities.

Rule, Britannia!!

March 24th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

If you have the misfortune (like HG) to be diagnosed with a pesky strain of European pneumonia make sure you are in London and check into University College Hospital. HG had superb care there. And, the food wasn’t bad. What HG liked was a patient could opt for vegetarian, halal or Afro/Caribbean food. HG chose Afro/Caribbean and it had some spice and zest to it. Thank you, Doctors McAnn and Crummy.

Random Thoughts: Paris/London

March 7th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Says HG: If you want great at-home dining lease an apartment in a less than posh neighborhood. Expensive clothing stores (Prada, Gucci, etc., etc. ) have pushed out the mom-and-pop bakers, butchers, cheese, etc. shops. In Paris’ 9th and 18th the little guys reign supreme and a baguette, fromage, a roast chicken with roast potatoes are always footsteps away.

London’s takeaway soup and sandwich shops are super good, super cheap. HG likes EAT in particular. Very good pho and hoisin duck soups. When counterman adds some extra chili, London damp disappears from the bones. Tea with scones, clotted cream and marmalade is a London blessing. In American terms, good French wine is very cheap. Britain’s Oddbins wine chain is what US needs.

Parisians have become obsessed with the American hamburger but, alas, they never seem to get it right. Besides scarf tying, Parisians (male and female) are expert in walking very fast while eating a baguette sandwich and talking on cell phone between bites. An American would choke.

Yes, HG is shrinking (vertically) but the French and English are surely getting taller. Very fat people are exported to the USA. One can still eat well in a modest Parisian bistro for a small price. A comparable London meal will cause the credit card to sizzle.

Canned baked beans (and tinned mushrooms!) are part of a proper English breakfast. Everyone must have a minor perversion.

Tourist or native, one is always met with courtesy in London and Paris.

An HG opinion: Paris movie audiences are hip, quiet and polite. Makes movie going a delight.

Art And Great Indian Food. Hey, This Must Be London.

March 6th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Last day in London. HG back to normal (almost). Sunny day. Lovely walk over the Millennium Bridge to Tate Modern. HG loves this place. The building, the volumes of space. It all comes together as one giant sculpture. There were some enticing special exhibitions but HG and BSK concentrated on the permanent collection. No, it’s not the encyclopedic look at modern art you get at MOMA and it doesn’t have the depth of the French Biggies (Picasso, Braque, Kupka, Leger, etc.) you get at Centre Pompidou. What you do get is space (nothing too crowded); wit (artists’ comments on the works are illuminating and sometimes acid); curatorial discipline (each piece is vital and necessary to the drama of modern art). It is a museum where you are stimulated but not eye exhausted. It is all very friendly and comfortable. Loads of elevators, rest rooms. A pleasant recognition of mature museum goers. The cafe is a joy. A long, long stretch of tables facing the Thames, St. Paul’s, the financial center, the startling “Gherkin” building, etc. Perfect venue for tea.

Dinner at Chutney Mary in Chelsea. Beautiful, tri-level Indian restaurant with great style. The food is reminiscent of Vij’s in Vancouver, HG’s favorite Indian. Same creative fusion cusine, same light touch. HG and BSK started with monkfish filets steamed in banana leaves and crisp fried stuffed artichokes. There were touches of cilantro, basil, mint and cumin. All perfect. Then a platter of super tender, medium rare lamp chops in a fenugreek, cream and tomato sauce similar to Vij’s famed lamb lollypops (and just as good). Then a rich and fragrant butter chicken curry. Rice. Chutney. Raita. Bread from the tandoori. Very good English ale to drink and rasmali (the Indian cheese, cream and almond dish) for dessert.

Lovely farewell to London.

London Swings Again

March 4th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

HG and BSK haven’t been in London for ten years. The changes are immense. The city is shining, crackling with energy, spruced up, diverse. A true world city. Makes Paris look a bit diminished and dingy.

Off to the Victoria and Albert. Wandered the sculpture galleries. Wonderful Rodins and Canovas. Outstanding collection of postwar Britons (Eric Gill, etc.) not seen much in USA. Design section with all of the usual suspects (Mies, Corbu, Aalto, Breuer, Ruhlmann, Hoffman,etc.). Beautiful screen of lacquer cubes by Eileen Gray and one of chrome and mirror by Syrie Maugham. Timeless glamour approached in two different ways by two very different female sensibilities. Came away with renewed appreciation of inventive genius of Israeli/Brit Ron Arad. (HG must confess, however, that nothing tops the bravura rhinoceros bar by Lalanne at the Paris Arts Decoratifs).

Tea. Scones. Clotted cream. Marmalade. Strawberry jam. HG and BSK nibbled it all in the V & A’s civilized complex of cafes. A glimpse at the state of English dining 2011: The cafe has a tea bar, of course, but another counter of French treats like pates, terrines, celeriac and lentil salads, etc. A counter offers some very good looking hot meat pies and steak and kidney pies, British staples. There’s deli, fresh salads, soups, etc. All fresh. All savory. This is London mass feeding today.

Dinner at J. Sheekey, the venerable theater district seafood restaurant off Leicester Square. J. Sheekey is a collection of small, nicely lit old rooms lined with red leather banquettes and theatrical photos. Noisy buzz in the air. Deft, professional (but warm) service. Chiiled Muscadet. HG and BSK shared eight oysters from various spots along the British coast. Better than the best of Paris (but missed those French bulots). Then a dish of two razor clams. The long shells were filled with tender strips of the clam, very thin crisps chips of Spanish chorizo, fava beans, chopped herbs, fragrant olive oil. No garlic. Nothing to interfere with the purity of the dish. This was followed by perfectly done John Dory, moist, firm and flaky. The fillets nested on a bit of whipped celeriac and were topped by sea kale and a few long strips of poached celeriac. This was seafood cuisine that followed the Mies dictums: Less Is More. God Is In The Details. Need HG say more? HG got robust with a Welsh Rarebit (splash of Worcestershire) and a glass of Spanish Tempranillo. Sweet Italian Muscat for BSK. Finale: Salted caramel ice cream.

Home to sleep the sleep of the good, the pure and the blessed.

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