A Return to the West

So, in the end, I had to flee India a week early. I had a great experience there but 31 days was more than enough for one go, and although I plan to go back, I need a break for a while. I was verging on the brink of agoraphobia (1.2 billion people can do that to you) when I booked a last minute ticket to London for the week (originally, the plan was to fly from Mumbai to Geneva to going skiing at Chamonix for a week; instead I will fly to Geneva from London). Anyway, I don’t have too much to report in the way of food, but my first stop from the airport on Sunday night was for a cheeseburger and it was fabulous.

Although London generally doesn’t have good coffee, there are a few gems, particularly Sensory Lab, which, of course, is owned by Australians. And what a pleasant post-India reminder of how good coffee can be.

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Tonight I’m going to a restaurant launch, so I hope to retrieve some material for the Blog.

THE Dinner (by Heston Blumenthal)

On Friday night, after months of anticipation, I finally had the chance to blow my budget at the renowned Dinner By Heston at the Mandarin Oriental in London. I was thrilled that my initial two and a half month old reservation for four turned into a 10 p.m. reservation for six because two more friends were able to join. After pre-drinks at Gordon’s Wine Bar (I recommend this bar–inside you can get food and enjoy a cavernous setting and there is a enormous outside space with additional bars, seemingly rare for London), a few of us headed to the Mandarin to sip on £20 cocktails (yes, that is over $30 and we limited it to one each). Apparently the hotel bar has a reputation for attracting high class escorts looking to pick up some business from London’s elite, and, as spectators, we were not disappointed by the show.

Nor were we disappointed by the dinner. Sadly for me, I seemed to have been suffering from lingering, mild food poisoning from the most horrendous fish and chips I’ve ever had (from a pub the night before) so while I did love what I ate, I was unable to relish it as I would have liked (i.e. gorge myself). Terrible timing. It was fun regardless.

Anyhow, if you don’t know, the theme of Dinner By Heston is British cuisine from centuries past. The menu itself provides the date and origin of each dish. I started my meal with “Rice & Flesh,” a creamy saffron risotto and oxtail that is cooked in a red wine sauce. The dish originated circa 1390 and was compiled in The Form of Cury The Master Cooks of King Richard II. The rice was cooked to perfection, the meat was flavorful and delicious, and the presentation was lovely.

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Another starter I sampled (despite my general aversion to poultry), and a highlight on the menu that someone at your table must order, is Meat Fruit, a food illusion originating from sometime between the 13th and 15th centuries. Is it a mandarin?

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Or is it chicken liver parfait?

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Amazing, right? Food as art or meat as fruit. Strangely, this food was a form of late middle ages flirting. Men used to fill a bowl with Meat Fruit and actual mandarins and ask ladies to guess which was which. Sounds like fun.

For my main course, I made the uncharacteristic choice of Black Foot Pork Chop, the dish favored by our waiter. The dish originated circa 1820 and is served with Spelt & Robert sauce and is based on Carême’s (the first “celebrity” chef also known as the “King of Chefs, and the Chef of Kings”) residency in London. Yum.

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I could go on about everyone else’s dinners, but I feel it is only appropriate to write about what I ate. Everyone was very pleased with his or her meal and we all highly recommend visiting DBH. Sadly, we were too full for dessert (well, I could have eaten it if I wasn’t poisoned from the night before; generally I can pack it in regardless). Fortunately, we were given complimentary chocolate pots with a small cookie. Dinner was expensive, needless to say, but not as bad as we anticipated given the price of the cocktails. Whether you can afford it comfortably or it is a splurge, go if you can.

In case you’re interested in a few fun facts, read these, which were presented to us as menu holders:

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I am now in Kenya about to set off on a safari here and in Tanzania for the next ten days. To the extent I have internet, I will share any interesting cuisine, however, I might be more inclined to show you the live meat that we see rather than eat. Stay tuned.

It’s Thanksgiving?

Other than with respect to some of its very fine dining restaurants, London is not exactly known for the quality of its food. Today, however, I found a new diamond in the rough called Rochelle Canteen. The canteen is owned by the catering company Arnold & Henderson and is located in a converted bike shed on old school grounds in Shoreditch that have been turned into artists’ studios. Originally the space was used for catering preparation, but lured by the delicious aroma of the food, artists began stopping in for lunch, and, eventually, it was turned into a restaurant. The menu is seasonal and changes daily.

For lunch I had a watercress, beetroot, caper, and goat cheese salad and ceps (mushrooms currently in season) on toast. This was no doubt one of the best non-Italian meals I have had in a while. The food was so fresh and flavorful, I almost forgot I was in London. If you come here, I highly recommend Rochelle Canteen and you should make a booking if possible. It is only open for lunch and informally for breakfast.

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Tomorrow I go to Dinner By Heston. I have reserved all of my annual Thanksgiving calories for this meal (I am choosing to ignore the less than average fish and chips I had tonight; they weren’t good enough to count). Expect an extensive report.