A Taster's Journey is a newsletter on food, wine and travel. After 15 years of studying, tasting, teaching, and selling wine, I created this newsletter to not only share my passion about wine, but of food and travel as well. Each month I hope to share wines that I am drinking, food that is in season, restaurants that I have enjoyed, and places I have traveled. Enjoy!"

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Strolling & Eating in London

June 28th, 2006

Quaint Chelsea Street

Quaint Chelsea Street

Visiting London for the fourth time I was able to look beyond the main tourist attractions and begin to appreciate the neighborhoods. Yes, Westminster Abbey is so historic, and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace is so regal, but London is filled with gorgeous parks, beautiful architecture, great cultural activities, and some inspiring culinary highlights. London is large and very diverse, so I was pleased to experience a couple new things every day. It’s a city that has something for everyone – and each visit you are sure to find a few new hidden gems.

London can be very gray and damp, so if the sun comes out be sure to head outside. On Saturday there is a huge outdoor flea market on

Portobello Road

Portobello Road

Portobello Road in Notting Hill. It can get very crowded, but it can be a great excuse to head to this charming neighborhood. It is an area filled with great boutiques and up and coming restaurants. While visiting this area be sure to visit my favorite park, Kensington Gardens. The gardens surrounding Kensington Palace are really pretty.

Just south of Kensington Gardens are the areas of South Kensington, Knightsbridge, and a bit further down, Chelsea. I find this to be the most charming area of the city, and certainly this is where I would stay. Sloane Street, Kings Road, Brompton Road and Walton Street are lined with beautiful brownstones, and charming stores. You can walk through this area for hours, it is exquisitely maintained, and has a lively bohemian feel. This is a great area to have lunch, The Ivy and Bibendium are two popular restaurants that have been satisfying customers for over ten years. This last trip I ate at Daphne, an Italian restaurant with a beautiful backroom that has a fireplace and a massive skylight. The food was great, I had a mushroom risotto made with morels that was heavenly. After seeing three other tables order zucchini fries, we joined the crowd – really tasty.

South Kensington is also home to The Natural History Museum for those interested in dinosaurs. I didn’t want to spend time in the large museums, but went to see a special exhibit on Wildlife Photography. It was the most extraordinary collection of photos that I ever saw. Check out the website, wildlife photography, and perhaps you will want to enter one of your photographs in next years competition.

I also saw another special exhibit while in London, “Americans in Paris” at the National Gallery. It was so interesting to see works by Cassatt, Hassan, Homer,

National Gallery

National Gallery

and Whistler and see how they were influenced by the Impressionists in Paris. I am a real fan of Monet, and it was interesting to see aspects of his work in other artists paintings. These special exhibits can be so fascinating, but at the same time not overwhelming. And if you are not in the museum all day, then you will have time for my favorite pastime…eating. Near the National Gallery I ate at Rules, the oldest restaurant in London which was initially established in 1798. It serves British food with a focus on game. It was not a touristy pub, but one rather well frequented by local businessmen. I had a Barnaby chop (massive lamb chop) and a pint, and couldn’t have been happier on this dreary rainy day.

A British friend of mine suggested that I visit his favorite restaurant , Sweetings which is located near St Paul’s. It is only open for lunch, and they do not take

Sweetings

Sweetings

reservations, so be sure to get there by 12:15. Since St. Paul’s Cathedral may be my favorite site in the city, I thought I would visit there first. What a magnificent church, oddly it doesn’t feel like a tourist trap, it feels like a place of worship. It was designed by Christopher Wren, and it held the funerals of Wellington and Churchill as well as the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana. But what strikes me most about this church is that it takes an active role of working with other churches in the pursuit of world peace. After a great visit I was excited to head to Sweetings a few blocks away. Ok, my friend said it was unique, but I have never seen anything like it. The restaurant was at least 100 years old, and I am guessing the decor has not changed much over the years. It serves only fish, and most of the seats are at counters crammed into the different corners of the restaurant. This restaurant had a clubby feel, a pure business crowd from Fleet Street. As you enter there is a large table of ice filled with oysters, shrimp and salmon. Since the oysters were in season I had a mixed plate, then I had a fabulous dover sole. What a hoot, a real memory. If your over in this end of town, I would recommend crossing the
Millennium Bridge

Millennium Bridge

Thames over the Millennium Bridge and visiting the Tate Modern. A great little museum with a focus on modern art. I saw this sculpture by Rachael Whitehead called “Embankment”. It was a maze of 14,000 white cubes stacked several stories high. Many people raved about her cutting edge talent. I appreciate that art is a very subjective thing, but I didn’t get it… perhaps you will.

The far side of the Thames is away from the heart of London, and walking along The Queens Walk can be an escape. It gives a break from the crowds, and a spectacular vantage point to see many of London’s best known attractions. A little further up the river towards Big Ben is perhaps the best place to see London on a sunny day. It’s The London Eye, a towering high ferris wheel that will allow you to see for miles.

As I have enjoyed walking through some of the outer neighborhoods, you can’t help but get a rush from some of the beautiful parks right in the center of the city. I remember being in London for New Year’s Day, and we strolled along The Mall and Constitution Hill which run adjacent to St. James’s Park and through The Green Park. These roads we closed to traffic, and the streets were like a carnival. There were people dressed up in all sorts of outfits riding many different types of bicycles. Nothing like circus entertainment to bring in the New Year. Near The Green Park is a great place to eat called The Wolseley. This restaurant is in a fabulous old building that used to be a car showroom. The restaurant was like a brasserie, and the food was excellent.

London has many quaint neighborhoods, but if you are looking for the ritziest then none compare to Mayfair. New Bond Street and the dozens of smaller streets are filled with some of the best clothing boutiques in the world. The brownstones in this area would certainly be acceptable to any Duke or Duchess. Although we may not be able to afford to live here, it is certainly fascinating to amble about. On Grosvenor Square, right near the American Embassy, is Gordon Ramsey’s newest restaurant Maze. I realize London is expensive, but if you are willing to treat yourself to one killer meal…go here. This chic, modern restaurant is slick but very welcoming. And although this may be a difficult reservation, go a little early for lunch or dinner and sit at the bar. Although you can get a traditional appetizer and entree, I would suggest several appetizers instead, each is an explosive taste that most of us can’t cook at home. I remember a tuna and swordfish carpaccio with a lime/ cucumber marinade served with a soya dressing and micro greens, wow what a wake up call. This dish was refreshing and added new meaning to raw fish. I also ate a wood roasted pumpkin risotto with mild mushrooms that was spectacular. This restaurant was outstanding.

Not all of us can eat at Maze every night, perhaps the food is too rich or the budget too limited. I think one way to break up your trip is to go to one of the better department stores like Harvey Nichols (Harrods & Selfridges are two others) and visit the food court. The selections of cheese, pate and wine will ensure a tasty meal without leaving your hotel room. These stores are like a gourmet supermarket filled with culinary delicacies. It’s interesting to see so many Indian spices and curries, but not surprising considering the history between the British and India. You will also find many British staples that will make great gifts. Seek out the teas, biscuits, chocolates, and jams. Also look at some of the unique packaging of risotto mixes, soups in clear plastic containers, and fabulous marinades. Stock up and have a feast.

Ok, maybe I get a little obsessed about the food as I travel, but a man has to eat. Seriously, London has made huge strides on the culinary map over the last twenty years, and we should be thankful for that. I had such a great time in London earlier this year, I found new neighborhoods that were charming, I got to see some special exhibits that were quite moving, and I was blessed by some sunshine which allowed me to stroll along the Thames. London is a great city with so much to offer, I can’t wait to go back again because I am sure there are many more gems to uncover.

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