Going Global, Eating Local (London Style)

Friday, October 28, 2011

As you know, my diet is built on a foundation of local food (to the extent possible). Not surprisingly, I talk a lot about farmers’ markets and fresh produce, where it all begins. Coming soon, you’ll hear more about why this is so important in a short video filmed at the lively Copley Square farmers’ market here in Boston. Look out for it!

In the meantime, healthy, sustainable eating habits travel with me wherever I go—coupled with a goodly dose of sheer indulgence—so in this post I’m summarizing a few of the outstanding dishes I had when I was recently in London. Meals featured seasonal produce including wild mushrooms and root vegetables; local seafood such as oysters, mackerel, and coley; fabulous British cheeses like stilton; and pints of smooth, local ales.

And all I can say is: Wow.

Fine Seasonal Gastropub Fare

After wandering through Borough Market, we popped into “arguably the cosiest pub in Southwark” for a snack. A combination of classic- and gastropub fare, the food was a delight to the eyes and palate. We started with the mushrooms and stilton cream on rye toast (below)—rich, velvety, and extremely satisfying.

Mushrooms and Stilton on Rye Toast (And a Pint of Ale)

After relaxing a bit we headed back out to do some more browsing, but we liked the food and atmosphere so much we went back to complete our meal. We thoroughly enjoyed the fig, goat cheese, pecan, and roasted squash Wensleydale tart, followed by a chocolate and beetroot brownie with creamy vanilla pod ice cream (both of which we split). I was intrigued by the beet addition: though I didn’t really taste anything beet-y about it, ’twas a great brownie nonetheless, with moist crumb and deep chocolate flavor.

Late Lunch with Local Honey

We pulled a rookie move and thought it would be possible to get a quick bite before heading to the theatre for an early 7.30 curtain for Les Misérables. This was sheer folly, and we should have known better. Europeans don’t rush meals, especially in finer restaurants, and though I was clear about needing to leave promptly at 6.45pm our food came at 6.38.

So much for a relaxing pre-theatre meal.

Which is really too bad, because the food was sensational. “An ardent follower of the ‘field to fork’ movement,” Caxton Grill is a lovely spot. It is beautifully appointed and looked upon our hotel’s gardens, still lush given the warm fall weather. (It was so nice to see deep blue hydrangea and other colorful blooms one last time before next year!) The restaurant prides itself on local cuisine. And they do mean local. Check it out: “Our honey is made by the bees on the roof of St. Ermin’s Hotel, pollinated from flowers in St. James’s Park and Regents Park.”

It was such a pity we needed to scarf down our food! I loathe rushing any meal, especially in restaurants. We tried the “smalls” of smoked haddock chowder, pan fried mackerel with horseradish and roasted beets, and honey-roasted root vegetables. The mackerel in particular was outstanding. We were also thrilled that our meal was preceded by an amuse bouche of phyllo stuffed with goat cheese and tomato confit. Of course, flaky, buttery phyllo could be filled wtih styrofoam and it would still be delicious but goat cheese is even better. And I love being served an amuse bouche in restaurants – it’s always a wonderful surprise, kind of like when someone gives you a present unexpectedly. (The kind you actually want.)

By the way: in case you are not familiar, an “amuse bouche” is a complimentary small dish of the chef’s whim designed to whet your appetite. The literal translation is “amuse [your] mouth.” Which, while accurate, sounds much more lovely in French.

A Modern British Late Night Supper

What a joy when a hotel’s concierge provides a stellar recommendation! We never would have found Hix otherwise, an unbelievable restaurant nestled into the West End a few blocks away from the theatre.

The menu was so local it needed translation by our knowledgeable waiter. Intrigued? This super hip restaurant and its four course meal—I held back—require their own post. Check back soon for more details.

Obligatory Fish and Chips, Locavore Style

Eating fish and chips at least once while in England is a must. And I do mean at least once. On our our first road trip together exploring England, Irelend, and Scotland together in 2004, my husband and I ate fish and chips more times than I could possibly remember. (An aside: V never ate fish before I started cooking it for him; now he loves it. Remember what I’ve been saying about exposure? He even eats oysters on the half shell. And guess what? He’s the one who introduced them to me!)

Though we can certainly find some delicious fish and chips here in New England and elsewhere in the US, it just isn’t the same. One of the biggest differences is that in the UK the fish is generally a full, skin-on fillet. My guess is that they also use better different ale in the beer batter. In tandem, it creates an incomparable fish and chips. Quality can certainly vary across the UK but in general it’s incredibly tasty. (And I have a fairly large sample size.) You may know that many Brits enjoy malt vinegar with their fish and chips, as do Canadians, but tartar sauce is also available.

As I was saying: Quite possibly the best fish and chips I’ve had in England. Ever. And I am so thrilled that now I know exactly where to go for my fix whenever I’m there. This was not the actual Fish!kitchen restaurant, by the way. It was one of the outdoor vendors in Borough Market (near the actual restaurant).

A Look of Bliss Upon Discovering Perfect Fish and Chips.

I’m willing to guess that part of the reason this particular fish and chips was so spectacular, other than its perfectly crisp exterior and incredibly tender interior—i.e, baby, they can cook—was because the fish was delivered early that morning. Now, I had been looking forward to one of my favorite British dishes since arriving in England, but I never expected to stumble across a street food vendor serving up locally prepared fish and chips. I reiterate: Wow. I’ve been thinking about that fish in wonderment all week long.

The voices and choices of the local food movement are growing stronger each year, and the world is better because of it.

Will you join in our crusade?

PS: Lest you think the above statement is a bit over the top, do I need to mention this is from the finale of Les Mis? Then again, perhaps I really am an utter zealot for eating local. Select whichever you think makes me cooler.

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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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