I spent the week of Guy Fawkes Day in London, (remember remember) and while I was there enjoyed quite a bit of food that is special to the country we (thankfully) once broke away from so many years ago.
While there, I enjoyed curry at an Indian place, curry at a Japanese place, and curry at a British place. They’re very big on curry there. And I can see why: it does a fantastic job of drowning out the otherwise bland flavors and poor ingredients they have to make use of.
I also had a beef-and-porter pie at a pub, fish and chips, and sticky toffee pudding. I had cod and scallops at a Gordon Ramsay establishment (Bread Street Kitchen), roast duck and butternut squash soup at Canary Wharf’s finest upscale fifth-floor establishment, lamb stew at Jamie Oliver’s Italian place, and some steak and frites at Le Relais, a restaurant famous for providing only one thing: steak and frites. And I had a burger.
The pie was fantastic. I had it at Porterhouse, a beer bar that apparently was carved out of a copper quarry or mine or whatever you get copper from. Seriously, I read that there was £2,000,000 of copper in this place and after seeing it in person, I’m willing to concede that that’s an understatement. Also the beer was good, including an Irish Red that easily takes the title for best of that style I’ve ever had.
The fish and chips were good. The sticky toffee pudding was a serious letdown since I was expecting something close to the awesomeness of Feast, where the sticky toffee pudding still holds the title of “greatest thing I’ve ever eaten.” Instead, it was a cakey mess with a bit of toffee flavor and some sticky but really nothing special.
The cod and scallops at Gordon Ramsay’s BSK were overly-salty. I mean, really really salty. And the accompanying cocktail was pretty good but not nearly as good as I expected when the bartender claimed he would “make something special for me.” The roast duck and soup were actually quite excellent (the restaurant is called Plateau and I recommend it heartily for lunch).
Jamie’s lamb stew was a bit fatty, which was surprising because:
a) It’s lamb stew, a not-usually-very-fatty dish, and
b) This is the same Jamie Oliver who comes to our country and endlessly attacks our cuisine (especially in school lunch rooms) as being unhealthy.
So it was a bit surprising that his lamb stew was not so healthy itself. Nor that great. I’ve, no joke, had better lamb stew in a school lunch room. (A college, but still.)
And the steak and frites at Le Relais? Pretty good. Not worth the £25.00 they cost, but not bad. Possibly the only part of London where they are capable of cooking “medium” or “rare.” The green sauce on top wasn’t bad either. It rather reminded me of the omnipresent curry elsewhere. My curry experiences were equally “pretty good” – if you can only have one meal in London, then curry is probably your bet. Wagamama, the Japanese place, put curry on all their dishes, but it was Mango Tree, near the London Bridge, that had truly good curry.
And then there’s the burger. My burger, called the ‘Taxi Driver’ from Gourmet Burger Kitchen was aptly named, as it encouraged me to find the nearest cab toward Heathrow airport. I chose Gourmet Burger Kitchen because multiple Londoners informed me it was the best burger available.
The pretty standard bun (which they tried to pass off as Brioche – psh) was topped with a burger covered with American cheese, an onion ring, “Cajun” relish, “dill” pickle, lettuce, tomato, and “chili” mayo. Those quotation marks are not from the menu. They are quotes I added to emphasize that GBK’s understanding of such adjectives is clearly different than my own.
The relish and the mayo, I couldn’t tell apart, not because of texture, but because of flavor. Apparently Cajun and chili mean the same thing in London. Not sure why I’m shocked, as really, what the heck do they know of Cajuns? I mean, the closest they’ve ever come is having their navy embarrassed by Jean Lafitte back in 1815. And chili? Well curry, they can do, but otherwise if you’re looking for spice, look elsewhere.
And the “dill” pickle was sweet. Whatever.
My real complaint is with the meat. It was bland. It was flavorless. It was overcooked. It was completely without merit. They didn’t just choose cattle that apparently had no redeeming qualities, they then took the worst cuts of meat and cooked out any excitement that may have somehow made it through the corn-centric diet’s destruction of any joy these cows may have felt in their obviously sad and painful lives.
I say “sad and painful lives” because this was made obvious by the beyond-the-grave vengeance that these cows exacted upon the otherwise unsuspecting patrons of Gourmet Burger Kitchen, myself included. On behalf of the human race, I would like to apologize to these cattle for the horrible lives they were made to lead.
And on behalf of America, I would like to warn my fellow countrymen against ordering a burger in London. If this is the best that England has to offer, I’d like to thank my lucky stars I didn’t try “mediocre.”