For the grand finale of our whirlwind stopover in London, we dined at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Opened in early 2011, the restaurant has already earned a Michelin star and is currently ranked 9th on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Stars and rankings are all good and fun, but what really drew me in to Dinner was its unique menu of historically inspired British dishes. Every plate served here has been thoroughly researched and can be traced back as far as the 14th century. Dinner is Heston Blumenthal’s love letter to Britain’s proud culinary past, one that continues to influence and inform this modern kitchen at every turn.
Upon being seated, each member of our party was presented with a neatly folded menu containing the night’s offerings. One side of the menu listed the starters, mains, and desserts, while the other contained the dishes’ “sources of origin” (i.e. the name of the cookbook in which the dish was found). The nerd in me loved how the menu read like an academic paper.
Food historians, as well as the British Library, assisted chefs Heston Blumenthal and Ashley Palmer-Watts with researching Dinner’s menus.
To further set the mood, the clasps holding the menus together contained anecdotes about British gastronomy. I particularly loved the one about the origin of afternoon tea. To think, the tradition began with a duchess and the “sinking feeling” she endured between lunch and dinner!
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While digging into doughnuts at St. John Bakery and Spanish chorizo sandwiches at Borough Market, Su-Lin and I made plans to get together the following day for Sunday roast, a traditional British meal of roasted meats, Yorkshire pudding, vegetables, and gravy. Su-Lin insisted that our feast take place at Notting Hill’s The Mall Tavern, whose Sunday roast is considered to be one of London’s finest.
While The Mall Tavern has been around since 1856, Chef Jesse Dunford Wood has only been cooking his brand of “beautiful and colourful British food with a sense of humour” since 2010. In addition to roasts, the gastropub serves a seasonally driven menu featuring old school British delights like cow pies and arctic rolls.
With four people in our party, we decided to order two different roasts and two of the pub’s signature dishes to share. The Roast Beef (£15) platter came with potatoes, heaps of carrots and shredded cabbage, as well as Yorkshire pudding.
The highlight of plate was the perfectly pink roast beef, which arrived thinly sliced and sprinkled with coarse salt. While The Astronomer preferred the meat straight up, I loved it with the chunky horseradish sauce served alongside. The Yankee contingent at the table was stoked to try the Yorkshire pudding, which was airy, hollow, and reminiscent of a popover.
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Sitting down for a proper afternoon tea was a must-do on my first trip to London. While I was trying to decide between tea at The Ritz or Claridge’s, my friend and former London resident Simon stepped in and insisted on Brown’s Hotel, which was voted “Top London Afternoon Tea” by The Tea Guild a few years back. Reservations were immediately made and anticipated.
Upon our arrival, my mom, The Astronomer, and I were seated at a cushy table by the window in the sprawling “English Tea Room.” A pianist filled the space with lovely arrangements of mostly familiar songs.
Tea is served everyday during the hours between lunch and dinner. Brown’s offers a variety of options, including Champagne Afternoon Tea and a lightened “Tea Tox” Afternoon Tea. We chose the traditional set (£39.50), which included all the trimmings and a few special touches.
Our teas were served in an antique silver tea service. A silver pot of hot water was also brought to the table so that we could refresh our teapots when needed to keep the teas from getting too strong.
Mom sipped a fragrant jasmine tea, while The Astronomer indulged in a fruity infusion that smelled like Hawaiian Punch but tasted like regular tea. I had the Nilgiri tea, which boasted hints of malt, caramel, and orange peel.
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Doughnuts have a way of finding me. While researching Chef Fergus Henderson’s St. John restaurant, I stumbled upon St. John Bakery, his wholesale baked goods operation. In addition to hearty loaves of all stripes, the bakery is famous for its exquisite yeast-risen, filled doughnuts. I thanked my lucky stars that our short stay in London included a Saturday, the sole day each week when the bakery is open to the public. Clearly, it was meant to be!
The Astronomer, my mom, and I dragged our jet-lagged bodies out of bed far too early on Saturday morning for our date with doughnut destiny. The bakery is only open from 9 AM to 2 PM, so it was imperative that we arrived before everything was sold out. Joining us was the lovely Su-Lin of Tamarind & Thyme, a mighty fine food blogger and London resident.
Two tube lines and nearly an hour later, we arrived at Arch 72, where a bountiful selection of breads and pastries awaited us.
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For the past two and a half weeks, The Astronomer and I have been frolicking and feasting around London and France with my mother in celebration of her 60th birthday. While our initial plans focused solely on France, airline prices dictated a jaunt through London first, and we were more than happy to oblige.
Our visit, which was sandwiched in between the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games, was the very definition of short and sweet. London charmed us to pieces.
We headed to St. John, Chef Fergus Henderson‘s quintessential London eatery in Smithfield, for our first dinner in the city. Opened in 1994, St. John specializes in traditional British cooking with an emphasis on “nose to tail” eating. Both the space and the plates here are sparse by design.
We were served slices of white and brown bread with perfectly softened butter just as soon as we were seated. The crust had integrity, while the innards were soft and wonderfully elastic. This was the first of many great loaves on our holiday.
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