I’m not sure if this is a weird thing to admit, but I enjoy planning a trip almost as much as taking one. Figuring out an itinerary, plotting out which museums and murals and parks I want to visit, and – of course – researching the best food: these are all highly enjoyable endeavors to me. And in a town like London, which offers so much good food, coming up with a culinary itinerary is a particular pleasure.
This last trip to London, I was able to check off a lot of restaurants that had long been on my London bucket list. First and foremost was Barrafina, a restaurant recommended to me by one of those friends whose food opinions I always trust. Barrafina doesn’t take reservations, and it’s justifiably popular, so I got there about 15 minutes early to stake out my spot in line (I was 4th). Once seated, I dove into some tapas: scallops; salad with fennel, radish, and pears; and chipirones (small squids – salty, crunchy, flavor bombs). Everything was wonderful.
I opted not to get dessert at Barrafina, instead going around the corner to Milk Train. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, hmmmm, I don’t think ice cream is decadent enough, Milk Train is the place for you: they serve ice cream wrapped in cotton candy (or candy floss, if you want to be a Brit about it). I ordered one topped with salted caramel and popcorn. Talk about a splurge!
Truth be told, I visited Dalloway Terrace more for the aesthetics than for the food: the place is an Instagram fever dream, with beautiful decor dangling from the ceiling and cozy fur blankets at every chair. It was a pretty special spot for my first meal of 2018! And, while I didn’t necessarily go for the food, luckily, the food – yogurt with a side of bacon – was also quite good.
For my fine dining fix, I headed to Dinner by Heston. Their most famous dish is “meat fruit”: basically, a chicken liver pâté that’s been shaped to look like an apple. A pâté is never going to be my favorite thing on the menu, BUT, I couldn’t resist the chance to try such an iconic dish. Verdict: pretty good! For my main, I ordered the duck (which came with a super flavorful sauce), and for dessert, gingerbread ice cream with poached pears and vanilla meringue.
When in London in winter, a visit to a cozy pub for dinner is practically mandatory. On my trip, The Alfred Tennyson fit the bill (though, don’t get me wrong: it’s more trendy gastropub than it is crusty old London pub). I ducked in from the rain, happy to have such a warm and inviting place to dine, and ordered the classics: a tasty plate of fish and chips and mushy peas, and sticky toffee pudding for dessert.
I spent half my time in London staying in Shoreditch, a neighborhood with no shortage of good restaurants, one of which is certainly The Smoking Goat. I didn’t love my entree here, but the oysters topped with roasted chili were superb, as was my cocktail, the aptly named Rum, Mint, and Lime. Fair warning for the spice wimps (like me): they really mean “smoking”; a lot of the dishes here are quite spicy.
There are several branches of Polpo around London, but don’t let that make you think this is a typical “chain” – the food at Polpo is really great. They specialize in Venetian sharing plates, and I enjoyed basically everything I had here. Standouts included the radicchio, fennel, apple, and pecorino salad, the meatballs, the tiramisu in a jar for dessert.
Situated within the Somerset House complex, Spring is a solid fine dining option. While it was good, I wasn’t quite as “wowed” as I hoped to be. I opted for the clementine spritzer (love), burrata to start, and monkfish with mussels for my main.
After dinner at Spring, I hopped in an Uber and opted for dessert closer to my hotel in Shoreditch, stopping into Soft Serve Society. This place has some pretty unique flavours; to wit, I opted for the charcoal coconut. How often in life does one eat grey ice cream?
On a whim, I booked a table at The Barbary, a cozy – and I mean cozy – spot in Neal’s Yard (diners are crammed into tiny spots at the counter, which circles around the kitchen where the chefs are cooking). While space is in short supply here, good food certainly is not. I tried the Jerusalem bagel with chickpeas to start, and the octopus for my main (super yum).
The food was simple at Maggie Jones – I had a tasty roast chicken with veggies – but the true highlight here was the ambiance. The space gives off a decidedly French farmhouse vibe, with wooden tables, copper pans hanging on the walls, and candles everywhere. It’s warm and cozy, pretty much the perfect refuge on a chilly London day.
Soooo… that’s quite a lot of good food, right? Alas, every time I cross a spot off my London food list, another one seems to spring up in its place. I’m already itching to return.