“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…”
A cliché perhaps, but nonetheless I think rings true, especially when it comes to food. Through I love Dublin’s burgeoning foodie scene (and look forward to exploiting it when I finally get back there), and of course Paris is in a league of its own in terms of gastronomy, London has something neither of these do, and that is the sheer variety of places to eat. Every street has restaurants of every imaginable cuisine (and quality!). It is much more of a mixed bag than Paris, and perhaps the fact that traditionally British cuisine has not been ‘all that’ means that (like New York) immigrant cultures have really flourished over the centuries. Anyway, all this is a long-winded way of introducing 2 fantastic places I ate over my month in London.
Wahaca, Covent Garden
This one was on my list for a long time (the good kind of list..). The proprietress, Thomasina Miers was the winner of British Masterchef a few years ago, and is an all-around rockstar. She went off to Mexico on a gap year (ish) and fell in love with the food culture, came back and won Masterchef, then went to work with the equally cool Skye Gyngell in Petersham Nurseries, went back to Mexico for another while and then came back to London to open Wahaca. The name is the anglicised version of Oaxaca, the region in which she lived in Mexico. Now there are several Wahaca’s dotted all around the city, a testament to her success.
So to Wahaca Covent Garden. We stumbled out of the heady chaos that was the bows of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (some of us more emotional than others Alison..) and made our way towards the restaurant. It is a fundamentally cool set-up, quirky decor, friendly staff and a constant turnover of tables.
First off, we ordered cocktails (it being Saturday night), and to my chagrin the waiter informed me that they were out of passion fruit and so there could be no passion fruit margaritas. However, perhaps sensing my dismay he immediately said that he would make us his special, off-menu, watermelon version. Two of us went for that, the other for the Hibiscus Mojito. All were divine, really fresh with lots of lime and mint, and huge bricks of ice. We then set about deciding what to eat. Wahaca is my favourite type of place in that the menu actively encourages sharing, and thus means I greedily get to sample more of what is on offer. We got pulled pork pibil tacos, chicken taquitos, and a chorizo and potato quesadilla between us – each plate costing less than a fiver. We devoured everything in about 10 minutes – each dish as delicious as the others, mainly because with each mouthful you got a burst of flavour: fresh coriander, spicy salsa, soft corn bread and cool feta cheese and sour cream. Word to the wise, take seriously any indication on the menu that something is spicy – they mean it.
As it was pushing 11.00 at this stage, our friendly waiter approached us and said if we wanted to order dessert could we please do so! How could we refuse? I made an executive decision that we just had to share a plate of churros for the night that was in it – for those who’ve not yet had the pleasure, these are spanish fried doughnut-type pastries, served with a liberal dusting of sugar and cinnamon, and accompanied by a pot of deeply dark molten chocolate for dipping. The perfect end to a super evening.
strong>Disclaimer: the whole night being so enjoyable, I repeated the experience with 2 different friends the following weekend (also post-theatre), and we were equally impressed. This time, I had sweet potato taquitos (delish) and steak tacos with grilled cheese. I also got to sample the famed passion fruit margarita, and I can confirm, it was worth the return trip.
During my internship, I was lucky enough to be treated to lunch in one of London’s up-and-coming Indian restaurants, Gymkhana. I was terribly excited given that one of my favourite meals of the last year was in Jaipur on George’s Street, probably Dublin’s best Indian. We went for lunch, and the restaurant had a 2 course deal for 25 pounds.
The restaurant itself was unusually dark, but charming, with a kind of colonial, cricket playing, tea-sipping style. The staff was very helpful in translating the menu for us curious hungry people, and recommending things that would suit people who weren’t so keen on spicy food.
For starters, I had duck dosa, a spectacular looking dish consisting of a crisp pastry cone perched atop a rich and spicy duck curry, with a pot of cucumber cream on the side. For mains, we were brought out trays laden down with rice, naan, the most wonderful creamed spinach with paneer and a cauldron of black lentils. I ordered a creamed coconut prawn curry, which still had a serious kick to it, and dug into all of the sides. There were 4 different types of naan, included 2 made with cornflour (seeded and plain), one with chili flakes and one with cardamom. This was ideal in that it gave me an excuse to sneak extra pieces under the guise of trying each..
We didn’t do dessert as some of the real lawyers had to get back to work, but to be honest I was so full at that stage that I’m not sure I’d have fit another morsel. This is definitely a place you’d go to for a treat – I had a glance at the dinner menu and the prices were not for the faint of heart (or light of purse..), but I felt like the lunch menu was very good value, and a really exciting meal. Apologies for the lack of photos – too busy chowing down :P