Monday, August 1, 2011

London Recap

Hi everyone!  I've been wandering through pretty much each charter'd street this past month, and what a seriously amazing month it has been! 

Still, I've been living in a little hotel room with a tiny kitchen, cooking things that require no chopping and few ingredients.  This was probably the best "home-cooked" meal:

spaghetti with "harissa" (about which more later), salt, oregano, and cayenne; lentils with salt, oregano, and cayenne; steamed greens with salt, cayenne, and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar

About that "harissa"... I feel like the label speaks for itself.

Not. remotely. spicy.  Three lil chilies?  Really???  Only in England.

The other lowpoint (just wait, I'm getting to the super high points!) is beer in England.  Most of it's not technically vegan (or even vegetarian); moreover, it's forced into this binary of lagers and ales.  The lagers are all pretty boring (Beck's, Stella, etc.), and the ales are mostly boring in their own way (flat, heavy, yeasty, bland).  I seriously craved something dry, fizzy, hoppy, and interesting--this doesn't appear to exist in the UK.  Among the, ahem, several beers I tasted while in England, I found two I really did like: Fuller's ESB and Hook Norton Haymaker.  Fuller's is fizzy but ale-y, like an American amber or pale ale.  The Hook Norton may have been an English ale--which means its pumped and not fizzy--but it was hoppier and fresher-tasting than most of the others I tried.

And yeah.  Most English beers are actually not even vegetarian.  Apparently Fuller's is and Hook Norton isn't.  Eek.  I pick my battles.  The idea that "vegan" is a clearly defined, easy-to-observe category is a delusion.

And now the really good stuff!

I had one of the best meals of my life at Rasa, a Keralian restaurant in Stoke Newington.  Recipes definitely forthcoming.  I went there twice.  On the first visit, we had 1) a nair dosa, stuffed not only with potatoes and spices but also with beets, carrots, and ginger; 2) rasa vangi, an eggplant curry; 3) a black-eyed pea curry (w/coconut!); 4) tomato rice (with coconut milk and cashews); and 5) some whole wheat chappatis.  But the real star of the meal was 6) rasa kayi.  Good gods.  It's "a mixed vegetable speciality from the Southern State of Karnataka. A spicy curry made of beans, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes and simmered in a sauce of garlic, ginger and fennel."  We also tasted cinnamon and cardamom in addition to the fennel... basically, it was perfect.  I WILL recreate this dish if it's the last thing I do.  :)

So I went back a second time, with other friends, and we had amazing kathrikka ("finely sliced pieces of aubergines are dipped in a special batter, blended with coriander and chilli, before frying. Served with a fresh tomato chutney"); spicy potatoes ("A combination of potatoes, peas and peppers stir fried with onions, cloves, black pepper and tomatoes"); coconut rice; parathas; and the glorious return of the nair dosa and rasa kayi.  What's really incredible?  We had all this food, plus three beers, and the bill was only 30 pounds!  I'm about ready to move to Stoke Newington.  It's a bit of a commute to UCLA, though.

While in England, my professor Saree also took me and my colleague Alex to two gastopubs in Clerkenwell that were fantastic: The Eagle and The Easton.  The Eagle had a velvety chickpea-eggplantstew on the menu; it had lots of cumin, with slightly sour and caramelly flavors, and a buttload of cilantro (I mean, "coriander leaf").  We also had some fantastic garlicky olives and bread with our meal.  At the Easton, there was nothing really vegan on the menu, but when I talked to the waitress, she had the kitchen make me an amazing entree salad with couscous and roasted garlic, tomatoes, and artichoke hearts.

Then for the runners-up round:

After a seriously epic walking tour of East London, we stopped at Tayyabs in Whitechapel for dinner.  It sort of reminded me of Jitlada in my neighborhood in LA--an amazing "ethnic" restaurant that has been discovered by white people and has consequently resulted in crowds, higher prices, and crappier service... but is still more or less worth it for the excellent food.  I ate: papadums and chutneys, pakoras, veggie samosas, dhall karela (lentils and pumpkin!), rice.  However, the place is really known for its grilled meat, and I think the people who ate that were more impressed than I was.

Finally, I really wanted a full English breakfast.  Thanks to quarrygirl, I heard about Inspiral Cafe in Camden Town.  And this is what I got:

tofu scramble (with dill!?); roasted mushrooms; beans (chickpeas, canellinis, kidney beans, tomatoes, grated carrots); tempeh bacon; housemade veg sausage; roasted tomatoes; toast

The roasted mushrooms were incredible, and generally the breakfast was really good.  Still, it mostly just made me miss my kitchen.  I also wasn't crazy about the dill in the scramble.

And here I am!  I have a huge backlog of stuff to make/post, but I also am newly resolved to focusing on schoolwork for the rest of the summer.  We'll see how this pans out.  In the meantime... this new brewpub/restaurant Mohawk Bend is opening tonight near me and I am SO EXCITED.

It might take leaving LA for a bit to really appreciate just how many amazing people and places there are here.  London used to be the city of my dreams--in 2007, I left everything in the US to move there without job, friends, or apartment--but I have never been happier than I am now, in Los Angeles, of all places.  Almost no one wants to admit to belonging in LA, but... I am so, so happy to be here.


janet @ the taste space said...

Welcome back. Sounds like an invigorating trip!

Helen said...

I feel exactly the same about LA. Makes me happy to hear you saying it! welcome back!