Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gastronomic London

London is beyond a shadow of a doubt a city that I love exploring and where I feel utterly fabulous every time I visit it. This last visit was the longest and it allowed me to spend more time revisiting places I had been before, but more importantly to discover new spots in my (still) incomplete map of discoveries.

It was a visit almost entirely dedicated to gastronomy, therefore being something of extreme interest and fulfilling.

I don't think my admiration for the English chef Jamie Oliver comes with any surprise to the reader, someone whom I find to be a force of nature and a mad lover for what is does. Thus I couldn't help but going to his restaurant in London, the Fifteen.

That said, Tiago, forever an enthusiast of this passion for Gastronomy that I have, took me to no. 15 of Westland Place. I really enjoyed what I saw, an easy-going place, cosy, fresh and with a menu clearly carved on the likings of Jamie Oliver for Italian cuisine.

It was not difficult finding a table, nor were the price tags something that scared us for in fact, London is not as expensive as one might think. I can even go so far as saying that Lisbon is more costly a place, whether we talk about public transportation, supermarkets, clothing and restaurants.

Following Tiago's sense of (mid)direction, and having already had lunch in King's College bar, we asked for a platter of Italian bread that we would taste, such as focaccia and ciabatta, accompanied by an exquisite olive oil, also made in Italy. Yes, little awkward a starter, but as I said, I followed Tiago's sense (mis)direction and the rest is history (however, it was thanks to him that all of this trip's gastronomic adventures took place). Nevertheless, it wasn't all that bad, just different, thus allowing for a more careful study of the surroundings.

I only have two things to point out from what I saw: first of all, the lack of attention on behalf of the room's chef for he let us stay there for 20m, already seated, without sending anyone to approach us and take our request; secondly, and even though it is an easy-going type of place, the waiters could dress a somewhat more professional uniform other than a t-shirt and jeans.

Besides these two side notes, I really enjoyed the place and the atmosphere of it.

On that same day we went to the most famous cheese shop in London, La Fromagerie, a place which has been previously covered here at Passos. I only have to restate that at La Fromagerie we can find a broad spectrum of high quality gastronomic products, from fruits to vegetables, mushrooms, meats, jams, chocolates, breads, cakes, wines and of course, cheese, the big reason why every time I go to London I have to pay it a visit.

This time I bought a less matured Camembert and a fantastic Caprino Sardo, which shares some common features with our very own São Jorge cheese. But I will get back to it in another post, for there is much to say about cheese as I bought a total of 9 different types in the following days.

In the following day the sun vacated and let the rain take over, but we still managed to go ahead with our plans.

In the centre of London, relatively close to Trafalgar Square, we took up searching for some used gastronomy books and the overall result was very positive: 4 books for 15£. One dedicated to breads around the world, another about pasta, the third about Mediterranean cuisine and the last about several international cuisines.

With all the shopping done for the day, nothing better than to go out and listen to a concert of classical music at the London School of Economics and Political Science. On a weekly basis (every Thursdays), they have free concerts open to the public, where one could relax to the compositions of Brahms, interpreted by the Doris String Quartet accompanied by Alassdair Beatson in the piano.

Fantastic and inspiring.

It is interesting to realise that a whole lot of people (around 70) spend part of their lunch break to listen to classical music or jazz for an hour, not worrying about anything else but enjoying that little moment of tranquillity with a smile on their souls.

What followed this concert was even more pleasant, revealing to me this abundant new world of flavours, fragrances and exotic products so far unknown to me – Indian cuisine.

We went to an Indian restaurant together with two friends, true natives whom introduced to us the fascinating world of their home gastronomy.

Satya and Priyanka (see picture), two extraordinary individuals, joyful, extremely polite and even more captivating of whom Tiago can finally see himself and a friend.

This was absolutely one of the best meals I have ever had, with our hosts serving us to a sort of degustation menu with several starters and even more main dishes which we shared amongst all:

- Chapati (Bread)
- Samosa (Pastry envelopes stuffed with spicy minced meat)
- Saag Paneer (Indian cheese cooked with spinach and spices)
- Lamb Pasanda (Lamb with almonds, coconut milk and spices)
- Chicken Korai (Chicken with onions, mint, tomato, green pepper and spices)
- Naan (Indian bread)
- Keema Naan (Spicy minced bread with spices)
- Roti (Bread baked in a clay oven – brown flour)
- Lassi (drink)
- Papadum (Plain or spicy wafer thin crispy bread)

Divine! Lunch started at 2h45pm and it was well past 5pm that we left that place of rejoice, with plenty of conversations and exchange of cultural and gastronomic experiences. Tiago and me were left with a great desire to visit India and to me in particular, it opened a great “appetite” to fully discover the Indian cuisine, its variety of products, flavours, fragrances, colours, combinations.

I have booked a full article entirely dedicated to this fascinating world which shall firstly be reviewed by my two Indian friends, so I don't incur in any mistakes.

This in the realm of Indian cuisine, Satya and Priyanka granted us another amazing lunch right before my departure – Chicken biryani. I think it was a sort of appreciation for having prepared them some meals with all the fanciness that a college residence allow us to grant: creamy milk, chocolate salami, polenta, pasta-stuffed tortilla, vegetable pie.

In fact, food revealed to be an excellent instrument to abridge barriers and a perfect vehicle to captive and look after those who share some parts of our everyday lives with simple ingredients and techniques, but with some extra carefulness in presentation in order to provide great moments of mingling.

The following day was dedicated to Greenwich, an historical site within the Greater London, in the Southern part of Tames River. There we visited the National Maritime Museum where Britain's naval and commercial might is self-evident, having also visited the Observatory with its Greenwich Meridian line.

The place features a film-like historical scenario filled with wide and fresh gardens, a beautiful overlook of the Tames and a background view of one of London poshest areas – Canary Wharf.

I was fascinated with all that I saw, bought and tasted, an extremely enjoyable place where we are invited to “prove” a little bit of everything.

My last morning in London was spent in the Borough Market, a mouth-watering place where I couldn't resist but to buy several varieties of cheese, and tasting a whole bunch more, as well as having a gorgeous focaccia. It too will be subject to a separate article altogether, for the diversity of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, cakes, olive oils, wines, breads, is simply overwhelmingly extensive to be all covered in these lines.

The departure however was not pleasant at all, as I didn't feel like coming back at all, given everything I saw, learned and the people I lived with provided such a sense of well-being. Oh well, I am certain there will be more opportunities in the future, provided that all goes well to my Tiago (which I'm certain it will).


PVieira said...

This is absolutely lovely Joana, and very well written! Maybe you should be a food journalist instead of a chef! Although you're more than welcome to make creamy milk from time to time, hehe. :)
You are missed here as well. I hope we are able to visit soon, one way or another!. Big hug.

Rafael Jiglly said...

Very nice post! Here we meet a gastronomic London that the most of magazines and newspapers forget to explore.
There's only one point: you are asking the Fifteen's waiters to wear more professional clothes... But, actually, the Fifteen is big Jamie's project envolving young ones with economic problems. There's a big history, it's a social program. I think they are trying to show us that history through the clothes, the decoration, the stuff at all. And I believe they are doing it well.
If you are interested, take a look in this site to learn about the project, that's very nice:

Thabk you, and keep on going!