April in London (Part 2) – Where We Ate

We did not eat here –  The Churchill War Rooms Kitchen

On my last visit to London, I was overruled by my kids whenever I tried to plan a meal at a special restaurant – they insisted we allow serendipity to rule when choosing where to eat. This time, with Irene on my side, and half the child contingent at home (sadly, but in this case…), I actually planned a few meals ahead of time, letting the restaurant location drive what else we did that day.  Thanks ever so much to pastry chef and blogger Shuna Fish Lydon, whose London fave restaurant list served as our personal Zagat guide to the city.  I’m hoping this post will serve as helpful to my readers as her post was for me.

St John’s Bread and Wine
94-96 Commercial Street, London E1 6LZ.

Our first dip into Shuna’s list yielded the best meal of our trip – Lunch at St John’s Bread and Wine on a rainy Thursday mid-afternoon.  St Johns specializes in what is called “nose to toes” eating, a traditional British way to use all of the animal, which is why the menu was rife with offal dishes, offal being the word used to describe organ meats such as kidney, tongue and liver, which despite what you may think, do not necessarily taste awful. (Sorry, I just had to do the obvious…)

We played it safe just in case and started with the salted beef broth with dumplings. Irene, who readers know is the best home cook in the world, declared it the best soup she’d ever eaten. (Anyone who has ever tasted Irene’s chicken soup will appreciate just how stellar this beef broth was…)

I think I agree. Next up was the best appetizer I’ve ever eaten – Fois Gras and Duck Liver Toast with a side of cornichons.

If you have any doubts as to how good this really was, just look at this bread.

Irene insisted that we guild the lily, and while I only did this for one bite, that bite was such stuff as dreams are made of…

Finally, a salad that I plan to replicate at home very very soon – cauliflower, leeks and chickpeas with capers and a light horseradish dressing.

The crowd at St Johns that late afternoon was mostly hip bald British chef-types and young male foodies with an occasional woman thrown in for color. The owner of the place was holding court at a table near us and there was lots of wine flowing. I felt a bit like I had crashed a private party, but we were treated quite well despite being the only non-locals in the place.

St Johns is worth making a special trip. Go on a Thursday and combine it with a visit to Spitalfields Antique Market just across the street, which is what we did.

Olivelli Ristorante Paradisio
35 Store St, London WCiE 7BS

This unassuming restaurant on Store Street in Bloomsbury was around the corner from our hotel, and we popped in for lunch on Friday after my daughter’s final performance at RADA (Did I mention she was wonderful?….).The service was excellent, and while the pasta and risotto were quite fine though not especially memorable, the mussels were probably the best I’ve ever eaten. On the smaller side, which I like, perfectly cooked and seasoned and teeming with garlic. If you’re looking for a good meal in Bloomsbury, this place is a sure bet.

Chez Marcelle
34 Blythe Road, London W14 0HA

My sister-in-law Nancy, who frequently visits London for work, recommended this lovely restaurant in Olympia for delicious, well-priced Lebanese food.  It was our first meal in London, and set the tone for what was a great trip food-wise. The #10 bus took us practically there from our hotel in Bloomsbury, making it not as out of the way as one might think.

Chez Marcelle is a one woman show starring Marcelle herself, who hosts, cooks, hosts and serves, along with only one assistant the night we ate there. We arrived on the early side, about 6:30 pm, and had Marcelle’s undivided attention until the place began to fill up, afer which we had to share her with the other diners. That meant we had to wait until she was finished preparing our neighbor’s meal before she could write out our check, but that was fine with us. This is not haute cuisine, but home cooked authentic Lebanese food, every dish freshly prepared by Marcelle and every dish delicious. Here are some examples from our meal –

  • Bazinjan Rahib  – Grilled aubergine peppers, onions, tomatoes and parsley dressed w/ lemon, olive oil & garlic. Like baba ganoush, but better, and added to my list of things to learn to make.

  •  Grllled Halloumih Cheese

  • Jawaneh – Grilled chicken wings with garlic and lemon juice

  • Kebbe Maklieh

If you love Lebanese food, Zagat has compiled their top 5 London Lebanese restaurants, but they don’t list Chez Marcelle. Someone needs to let them know about this special place.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK)

Okay, I admit this restaurant is part of a chain, but the burgers,”made from 100% West Country beef”, are fabulous, the price is right and there’s a branch on Maiden Lane, making it a perfect place to grab a quick bite pre or post theater.  The service on Maiden Lane was not as good as at the Putney branch, where we ate the last time we visited London.  But the atmosphere was lively, our fellow diners friendly and talkative, and the burgers tasted just as good, if not better than the ones we ate at the more sedate Putney branch. Great fries and milk shakes, too. With branches all around London, GBK is a one place to keep in mind when you need a reliably good meal fast. Or just crave a fabulous burger.

The Modern Pantry
47-48 St John’s Square, London EC1V
4JJ 020 7553 9210

The Modern Pantry was another recommendation from Shuna that I wish I could say I loved as much as she did, but…

Any menu that takes a paragraph to list the title of a single dish is probably making cooking more complex than it need be.  Other than a delicious scallop on a bed of parsnip puree, I found the food overly fussy, with competing flavors and no rhyme or reason as to why certain ingredients were paired.  I know this is called fusion cooking, but it seemed more like mishmash cooking to me – almost as if I had filled my plate with several different dishes from a buffet rather than ordered a single dish. For example –

  • Confit duck leg, sweetcorn, black beans, sugar snaps & coriander, plum & Bramley apple relish
  • Fig, apple & raspberry oat crumble, goats curd sorbet, runny cream

That said, the service was fabulous, the wine absolutely incredible (such legs!…), the atmosphere warm and inviting and the location on St John’s Square – perfect.  So if fusion cooking is your thing, you’ll love The Modern Pantry. The place was packed, so you won’t be alone. Tell them I sent you.

Tea at the Tate Modern Level 7
Bankside, London SE1 9TG

The Food at the Tate is well-priced, with views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the city that alone are worth the visit, and more than made up for the lack of decent art on display downstairs on the day we visited. (Don’t get me started on Damien Hirst..)

The scones with clotted cream were surprisingly and unnecessarily large – but they were moist and delicious and the tea was lovely, served in little tea-press pots. My cheese platter was a bit disappointing – nothing special about the cheeses they chose to feature. The tea sandwiches and baguette were fine. But the views – I could have sat there forever.

Store Street Espresso
40 Store Street, WC1E 7DB

Best place for coffee in Bloomsbury, according to my barista-trained daughter. My one cup of takeaway cappuccino was perfect, so I’d agree. Not to mention great atmosphere, free wi-fi, decent food and a book exchange.

More London Restaurant Reviews 

Up next – Old Spitalfields Antique Market 

4 Responses to April in London (Part 2) – Where We Ate

  1. […] world – Emily and Irene.A fine pair of traveling companions indeed.Up Next – Part 2: Where We Ate in London 5 Comments« Previous PostNext Post » 5 Responses to April in London – Part 1 […]

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