This lengthy trip is finally rolling to an end, and thank goodness. Not often you’ll hear me wanting to get back to North America from the heart of Europe, but this trip has been a near disaster…
Frankly, none of the meetings panned out for anything project-wise, so it was kind of a wasted trip. There were very few highlights on this trip (the Costes evening in Budapest being one of them), and many real downers (like the horrific John Dory at Se7en Oceans). Despite the 4 Michelin-starred restaurants I dined at (2 were 2-star), most of them left me wanting and disappointed. But nothing was as bad as the horrible food poisoning in Hungary…ugh…that all but ruined key days of the trip.
So in a way I was happy to get back “home” to the UK en route back to the US. But Sod’s Law dictates a last minute nasty surprise as British Airways cancelled my flight back from Hamburg. Nice… They made it so ridiculous at first, trying to push me on the next day’s (!!) flight. I checked, and plenty of seats on the flight that left 1.5 hours after my cancelled flight. Idiots! I have flown BA with reluctancy the past decade, but now…
So with some extra time to kill in Hamburg but not enough to do something planned, I went to a nearby restaurant for a quick lunch. Gasthaus an der Alster was a little pub that was popular with the lunchtime crowd, so I was glad I was early. I bypassed many of the items I had missed on this short trip (including the famous Labskaus – of which the Liverpool version led to the ‘scouse’ nomer). But was in a fishy mood and my stomach still churning, so went for “comfort” — and that meant herring. So ordered what I thought was the best of the lot, the cold herring.
This was a very large serving, and it took me ages to eat it. It tastes as you would expect, though on second thought my stomach should have had something warm instead. I always wondered why herring is not more often served more unadulterated and hot, because when it is cold the much-loved oiliness of the fish is obscured. Oh well, it was filling (with a few beers) before heading to the airport…
Not much drama at first though I do dislike the “non-Schengen exile” gates at many German airports…the utter lack of services in those areas… Flight was uneventful but the UK Immigration officer in Terminal 5 (which I utterly hate) just seemed unable to realise one can pay for hotels with credit card these days. Not had such stupid questioning upon entering the UK in a decade…
Got to central London and checked into hotel…finally things moving well. I had planned to meet with very good mate for dinner, a belated birthday celebration. He suggested we try Newman Street Tavern, a well-regarded gastropub on…you guessed it, Newman Street. I didn’t want to write a full review here because I was really enjoying the company and was not paying as much attention to really warrant a full review.
The place was rather busy on the Wednesday night on Easter week — when those who are lucky finish the week to created a very long Bank Holiday weekend. So lots of people having a drink before popping off somewhere. We had a drink downstairs before being moved to the dining room upstairs.
The first course was a nice roe dish. Generous portions, unadulterated. Just what I needed after all the over-chef’ing I’ve seen on this Michelin-laden trip. Nice. However the main of Middlewhite pork was a little bland…maybe a little under-chef’ing here?
Really rather ordinary, seemed more like a product of a pub lunch rather than a serious gastropub. But the whole point is of company, and despite us having a rather tame session (for our standards), it was a good night catching up with one of my closest friends, who has become my partner in crime in fine dining in London for over a decade. Not many people you can chat with can converse at length and detail about history, drink, film and food — all in one sentence. Much needed.
The next day I had a busy afternoon so rushed somewhere for lunch (a full review is coming), and met with with another old friend (and former boss) for dinner in The City at the Jugged Hare. The place was slammed as it was the Thursday night on eve of Easter Bank Holiday weekend… But it cleared and after a few pints and catching up, we shifted to a table inside.
It’s a typical gastropub and at first I didn’t expect much, especially after last night’s rather meh’ish meal at a better-regarded gastropub. But tonight began with a very strong surprise.
The starter was just fantastic, some excellent scallops. The samphire was a great addition, and why don’t more kitchens use this is beyond me. I still remember an awesome mixed grill with samphire at Warsaw’s fantastic seafood paradise Osteria…mmm… It works so, so well with grilled seafood… This was a pleasant surprise. Sorry about the photo, none of them came out too well… The main was a bit of a mess tho…
This pastry ball they call the “mutton bomb”…and well, it bombed. It was just meat in some pretty dodgy pastry. I snacked at this after defusing it, emptying out the meaty centre. But this evening was mostly about the company, and it was a very liquid evening too, catching up with one of my favourite people on the planet — someone I can talk geopolitics and food with with ease. I’m lucky to have such friends!
The next day, with wee headache, I headed across the Thames to meet with a respected journalist and expert on Russian affairs at the Blueprint Café. I had forgotten it was tourism hell it being Good Friday…and stupid me I gotten off the Tube at Tower Hill and walked across the bridge. I almost threw a bunch of people off the bridge…ugh…
But we had a good meal at this nice restaurant with a brilliant view of the Thames (the selling point of so many places on the south side), talking politics and other events that has been in the media lately. After a so-so cauliflower soup, the pork chop was rather nice. Frankly it was done better than the Middlewhite from the other night, so I was content. Sorry, no pix — too busy chatting! And after dessert, we chatted on — but unfortunately I was running very late to get back to catch up with a friend in the centre.
So walking extremely fast (and sweaty now) I fought through the tourists near London Bridge and entered the packed Jubilee Line to get to Oxford and Bond streets…tourism hell, if there was a definition… If it wasn’t to catch up with a good friend for a quick drink I would not have gone there… But that’s London for you…
Later that evening met up with the same friend from Wednesday and a few others for a Korean BBQ at Myung Ga in SoHo. I won’t say much but I was rather unhappy with this meal (despite having some good ones here in the past). The service was shaky and rude at times (especially condescending to one member of our party). Having to pay for a rather lacking banchan presentation when were were 4 and spending a lot is also very un-Korean and rip-offish. Some of the meats, like the galbi, was very bland, poorly marinated. Some of the kitchen-prepped items like the spicy squid was good, however. But it was very lacking, a big miss. But I did cleverly hide my coat under everyone else’s, so I don’t smell of BBQ meats at Heathrow the next day…
And finally, my trip was at an end. I had a spare 45 minutes before running to Heathrow so I stopped at one of my favourite places, Hereford Road. I’ve been coming to Tom Pemberton’s excellent eatery since the month it opened, and it’s been a magnet for me since. Tom manages some excellent items each time I come here, and rarely has it missed.
I didn’t want to write a full review because it wasn’t fair — I chose items that I wanted but also because I was in such a rush. I will write a review of this awesome place when I have a chance to eat like a normal person. But it was a good start with one of my all-time faves, the cuttlefish…
Delicious, though I miss my gigantic ones back in the US. Tasty, doesn’t need much work. Excellent, usual Tom-style cooking, simple but solid. The main was the grilled mackerel, a dish I’ve had a few times here.
Always solid, and easy and quick to eat. Sadly I had to run off like a madman to get my bag and head to Deathrow, but at least I got my Hereford Road fix in…it is good enough to be called an addiction! Heavily recommended!
So after all this, I was homeward bound… This has been such a knackering trip overall and culinarily I am exhausted…completely. I don’t want to be in a Michelin-starred restaurant for a long time. I want plain, ordinary food for awhile, unpretentious but good. It’s experiences like this that sour me on “fine dining” and over-planning such meals during short city stays. Maybe I’m just getting jaded…who knows…
Yeah, it’s the price of Midlife Crisis…you get jaded and become the old man you once mocked for being jaded…
Gasthaus an der Alster
Newman Street Tavern
48 Newman Street
49 Chiswell Street
28 Shad Thames
1 Kingly Street
3 Hereford Road