Friday, September 24, 2010


When I first went to London 30 years ago, I loved the city but was underwhelmed by the food there.  Staples on the menu then included shepherd pie and prawn sandwiches which involve a gloppy shrimp salad filling.  Also it was difficult to find drinkable coffee.  At one point I found a cafe which served Italian roast and felt that I had been saved.

Even ten years ago, the last time I was in London, the food was better but still not what you would expect of a major international city.  I did, however, at that time discover Pret a Manger (PaM) which suited my "grab and go gal" disposition.  I still stayed away from the coffee.

This trip I was fortunate to stay near Piccadilly Circus and discovered that Piccadilly Street has coffee chain shops, like Starbucks, Caffe Nero and Costa Coffee, every block.  There is also a new take out chain called EAT to compete with PaM.  I still prefer PaM, particularly the tomahto and mozzerella croissant, the tuna and cucumber sandwich and the pain au raisin.  However, EAT did have some interesting soups and one of my colleagues swears by it.

The real difference this trip was the dinners.  I had three excellent dinners out during my four nights there.  The first restaurant was Dehesa, a Spanish tapas bar.  There were a number of us so we shared many items on the menu including venison.  My favorite was the squash ravioli.  And the excellent Spanish red wine.

The second meal was at Moti Mahal on Queen Anne Street near Covent Garden.   Nine of us shared many different dishes and  thanks to bounteous quantities of medicinal red wine I do not recall what I ate but do recall being very happy with the food.  Moti Mahal London opened in 2005. It  is a relative of the  Moti Mahal Delux in India which claims to have innovated different cuisines we recognize as "Indian":
Moti Mahal prides itself on a history of ‘firsts’ - from its invention of ‘murgh makhani’ (precursor to the famous ‘chicken tikka masala’) in the Sixties through to the use of the tandoor in the commercial kitchen. In London Moti Mahal has also been among the first Indian restaurants to adopt the use of the ‘Thatee Grill’ - a hallmark of Indian rural cooking. 
After a break from overeating, on the fourth night we went to my favorite of the three restaurants, Bleeding Heart Restaurant.  This French restaurant is located off a courtyard which houses other Bleeding Heart establishments--a pub, a bistro and something called the Crypt.   I ate lovely sea bass and a small piece of fabulous tarte tatin.  This time we drank cote du rhone in reasonable quantities. On the back of all the menus there is the following legend, which makes for fun reading while you are eating:
The Legend
Lady Elizabeth Hatton was the toast of 17th Century London society. The widowed daughter-in-law of the famous merchant Sir Christopher Hatton (one-time consort of Queen Elizabeth 1), Lady Elizabeth was young, beautiful and very wealthy. Her suitors were many and varied, and included a leading London Bishop and a prominent European Ambassador. Invitations to her soirees in Hatton Garden were much sought after.
Her Annual Winter Ball, on January 26, 1662, was one of the highlights of the London social season. Halfway through the evening's festivities, the doors to Lady Hatton's grand ballroom were flung open. In strode a swarthy gentleman, slightly hunched of shoulder, with a clawed right hand. He took her by the hand, danced her once around the room and out through the double doors into the garden. A buzz of gossip arose. Would Lady Elizabeth and the European Ambassador (for it was he) kiss and make up, or would she return alone? Neither was to be. The next morning her body was found in the cobblestone courtyard – torn limb from limb, with her heart still pumping blood onto the cobblestones. And from thenceforth the yard was to be known as The Bleeding Heart Yard.
Here are pictures of the courtyard leading to the restaurant (left) and away from the restaurant toward the bistro (right).  Great fun!

No comments: