Finer points of English cuisine

Yes, I know I’ve had a bit of a hiatus. For regular readers, I am sorry. I was home for exactly a week before having to jet off again. This time it was not for my fellowship or even for pleasure. It was a national technology conference. Ironically, despite being a conference centered on tech, with the goal of teaching teachers how to incorporate better tech into their classrooms, I was only able to access the wireless about 50% of the time and usually it was when I needed it for the session, so email and blogging were out. Not that I would have bothered considering the times I could connect it was slower than dial up. Ug!

Although I was far from home, my blog was on my mind, especially when one of the sessions I attended was on using a plug in called comment press for wordpress. I lamented the fact I couldn’t check my blog, let alone add to it. Since I had some rather cruddy sessions though, my mind did have time to wander and I found my thoughts turning to a favorite topic of mine: food (the stomach does rumble when bored beyond belief).

One of the only aspects of London I didn’t get to talk about was the food. Now, I know Britian is not exactly known for their cuisine. Pubs, sure (but even then, I think Ireland has the real rep). In fact, reading more than my share of British novels (most of them 18th and 19th century), I’d say the dishes get quite a bad rap. And on previous trips, I had more than my share of nearly inedible food.

On my first trip I was treated to an “English carver” meal where the roast beef was so dry that even soaking it in horseradish didn’t make it moist (but did make me breathe fire). Another day we popped into a little place for fish n’ chips and I seriously thought I would die it was so horrid. Now, it could have been because I’m not a huge fish fan and what I do like is Long John Silvers–no shiny grey scaley part still on the bottom of the fish. It could have been because the tarter sauce was hot, and any product that uses mayo and is also warm just screams botulism to me. Or, it could have been that it was about 90 degrees outside and the restaurant with no air conditioning tucked in the back of a small, insular strip mall registered at about 110. They did have Cadburry candy bar machines in the tube though, and that made up for a lot. It also started my first really successful diet. I came back 7 pounds lighter and found motivation.

The second trip was better. I did not try the fish n’ chips (despite going to a place “famous” for them), but liked the mushy peas in my vegetarian dinner. I also had some pretty decent Indian food and some thin pizzas that were tasty. Plus, there were those tube candy machines.

This time since it was just my husband and me, we didn’t have any group meals planned. We could eat when and where we want, and we actully got some really great food. Now, don’t misunderstand, we had our share of duds. The diner-looking place across from our hotel called Patisserie was not good. I got a BLT, but since like all London bacon it was ham, and not bacon, it was really awkward to eat. The inside of the sandwich wouldn’t stay there. The “bacon” got stuck in my teeth constantly. I had to ask for mayo and even with it, it just tasted off. The chips were too greasy and I left feeling really gross. 

Our own hotel’s breakfast was unsettling to me, but I don’t so much blame the hotel as the English themselves for having such a yucky (and really boring after 7 days) breakfast. If you don’t know what the “traditional” English breakfast is, let me save you from a HUGE mistake. It consists of: a partially cooked boiled egg, toast, “bacon,” sausages that look tasty but taste like sawdust, baked beans (not the bbq type), toast, mushrooms and tomatoes. Even with the addition of cereals and pastries as an option, by the third day I really wanted something else. Strike that, anything else.

However, we also found some real gems. Although it is technically a chain, I highly suggest Bella Italia. I know that chain Italian place probably brings up images of The Olive Garden, and while the portions were pretty good sized (and boy did we need it that first day), they were not excessive and they were oh so tasty! The breadsticks with cheese were garlicky and stringy and delicious. My favorite dish (we did eat there three times–different locations each time) was Penne Funghi Pancetta, which had ham, mushrooms and penne pasta in a creamy wine sauce. My husband got pizza (each time) and each time ate the entire thing by himself. The best part though, was the Fondente al Cioccolato, a warm chocolate pudding with marscapone on top. I sort of wanted to swim in the chocolatey goodness. I could have eaten an entire plate of it.

Thanks to colonization, England is rather famous for their Indian food. One night we went to Memories of India. It had been suggested to us by our driver and our tour map had a coupon for it (and for Bella Italia). Since it was just down the road, we popped in. The papadons were amazing! They brought us four sauces, one was a chutney and I could have dipped all night! I’m not sure what my main dish was called, I think it was Sag Prawns. I know it was shrimp in spinach and it was out of this world good. Although I wasn’t super hungry before dinner, I was so disappointed when I reached the end of my dish. It was so tasty that I could have easily had an entire extra dish of it.

For lunch one day we stopped in to Ponti’s in Mayfair. I’d been to the outdoor Ponti’s in Covent Garden on two other visits and really liked the atmosphere. This time we sat indoors, but my sandwich was quite tasty. I had the Parma, which was parma ham, tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil and pesto. My husband, as usual, got pizza.

We ate at a couple of pubs, and even though they had different names, different decors and different featured beers, every single pub we went in to (five total), had the exact same menu. Only one had a difference, and that was the price. One day I had a steak and ale pie and it was pretty good. Another time I had the chicken with some sort of spicy sauce. While I know I can be a spice baby, they weren’t kidding, it was spicy! It was good, but man, my mouth had FIRE!

All in all, my food experience this time, was so much better than my first two times. We found some great places, most of them small, local and unique. The food was good, the portions were right and this time I know, even withut stepping on a scale that I didn’t shed a single pound!

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Filed under cool links, cool places, food, ramblings, travel, what makes me me

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