The Queen turned 90, Obama visited to tell the Brits to stay in the EU and play with Prince George - and we flew in to check out the state of play in the food industry. A busy few days for London!
We whisked through Harrods, Harvey Nichols, John Lewis and Marks and Spencer mainly noting a move in those stores away from ingredients for cooking to completed dishes to go. Pret à Manger stores abound. As Helen, our self-appointed food tour guide daughter commented, the places we visited were not in areas where people would necessarily be shopping to cook. The remaining ingredients did however include Forvm vinegar, Ortiz anchovies, La Chinata paprika and Colonna extra virgin olive oil - plus some of the NZ Fresh As range and J. Friend & Co honey. Good to see we are holding our own.
The restaurant scene is definitely alive and kicking with bookings often hard to secure even if made well in advance - and sometimes given with the proviso that you be finished by a certain time. A desirable state of play for any restauranteur. We also noted the now widespread practice - even in many cafės - of adding a 12.5% 'service' charge to your bill. I hope the staff actually receive it.
Medlar, in Chelsea, was our first evening meal, where I took the opportunity to indulge my liking for offal and ordered the caramelised sweet breads with fresh morels, green asparagus, confit baby tomatoes and peas. Nicely executed as were all the dishes we tried.
The following day we stopped casually at Sketch - a large and interesting Alice in Wonderland style place with three entirely different dining experiences. One was decorated in delicate shades of pink and was very busy serving an elegant looking High Tea - which seems to be a very popular past time in London. We placed ourselves in the 'parlour' closer to the street with a broader menu and noted the use of Valrhona Manjari chocolate in their chocolate tartlet - and Dulcey with a foie gras terrine. Fascinated to see how chocolate and foie worked together, we were presented with elegantly plated cubes of terrine with shards of Dulcey posted on each as a lieutenant. The combination worked surprisingly well.
That night we went to The Ledbury, preceded by a cocktail at the trendy, slightly scruffy nearby bar Trailer Happiness. The theme was predominantly rum-based cocktails in a basement room filled with 70s furniture. Probably targeted at a crowd more Helen's age, we were so unfashionably early we were the only people there, but they treated us well. We tried the 'Hell in the Pacific' recommended by the waitress which was an appealing blend with a definite kick. The Ledbury was everything we had heard it would be. A lovely setting with great service and delicious food with some interesting high end excellent ingredients including English caviar on one dish and shaved truffles on another.
High Tea at Claridges had been a challenge for Helen to book, even months in advance. Every table was taken and a second serving of their signature ribbon sandwiches was offered, but in truth, the mouthwatering descriptions on the menu did not really deliver on the palate. The tea list was vast, and the platter of cakes and scones too generous to finish. Parting touches included a piece of Claridges fudge and any excess cakes were beautifully boxed and proffered for you to take home. A very expensive experience, as you would expect in this classic hotel.
It was raining as we left, though not in the Kiwi downpour saturating style, so we dashed through the rain to Oriole, another interesting cocktail bar from the people who have Nightjar, a place we tried a couple of years ago. Quirky sounding cocktails served in interesting vessels - one a rather fabulous crocodile-shaped jug, and the other a Victorian chamberpot.
The following day we tubed out to the smart new Allpress site at Dalston for a decent coffee, whizzed to Shoreditch to an art exhibition and had dinner at a very trendy Clapham restaurant called the Manor where most dishes offered something lactic, smoked, fermented or scorched. All quite interesting and tasty in a bohemian atmosphere with excellent service. We had a two hour booking and a crowd lined the bar awaiting their bookings as we left.
As Helen had secured tickets for The Rolling Stones exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery on the day we departed so we finished our stay spending a couple of hours indulging our rock'n roll muses. Many fellow entrants were dressed in theme. Flares and headbands seem to making a comeback. A very enjoyable show spanning their five decades. What a time they have had - long live The Rolling Stones!