London Pub Grub

London, one of the world’s truly great food cities, still fosters the kind of stick-to-your-ribs eats typically associated with Great Britain. Brown foods washed down with ale and served in a pub that’s been pouring and serving tavern guests for centuries. And while Britain’s great cities team with diverse and exotic foods, visitors should enjoy at least one really good English breakfast or Sunday roast in addition to the curries, noodles, tapas and sushi on offer everywhere you look.

On a recent trip to London, I filled up on pub food whenever I could. Day one of my trip ended in an upstairs corner of The Kings Arms where I dove into a steak and ale pie, fully encased in a simple dough and served with mashed potatoes, steamed veggies and a side of brown gravy. Inside, the filling was molten hot and teaming with tender pieces of beef swimming in a dark, savory sauce. Too much food after a long flight and afternoon meetings!


Steak and ale pie a la The Kings Arms.

As luck would have it, I got to catch up with a friend who offered to show me the sights via formal walking tours of a couple of London’s storied “neighborhoods.” After a fascinating London Walks tour of “Little Venice” (big thanks to our guide Shaughan!) on a blustery Saturday afternoon, we slipped into The Prince Alfred for a pint and a bite. What a find! This Victorian gem of a gastro pub treats visitors to beautiful interior architecture, complete with ‘snob screens’ in the bar area, a traditional dining room with fireplaces, and a funky private area downstairs in the building’s old coal storage cellar. I’ve never seen anything like it.


Easter Sunday roast at The Champion Pub in Notting Hill.

Honey beer revived us and generous helpings of hearty pub grub warmed us up. I jumped on the meat pie like it might be my last, devouring every drop and crumb. The buttery side veggies stood up well to the rich meaty gravy of the puff pastry covered pie. I honestly fooled myself into thinking before diving in that I’d only eat half and push the rest away. That didn’t happen!


The Champion Pub’s Sticky toffee & Medjool date pudding

I enjoyed an Easter Sunday roast at The Champion Pub in Notting Hill, just steps from Hyde Park. I was hungry and feeling like I needed to treat myself, so I eased into a soft chair near a fireplace, ordered a pint and a mixed roast of beef sirloin and roast pork loin with crackling (yes!) complete with roasted potatoes, seasonal veg, a crispy Yorkshire pudding and lots of gravy. It was plenty, but I felt indulgent and decided to add a side order of crispy deep fried mussels. Dipped in salt & vinegar mayo, the crunchy mussels were addictive, if not particularly delicate. But it didn’t end there. I had to have the sticky toffee and Medjool date pudding! It was one of the tastiest things on the trip.

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A proper English breakfast a la Fuller’s London’s Pride (Heathrow).

On my way out of London, I took one last bite of British fare with a proper English breakfast at Fuller’s London’s Pride inside Heathrow terminal 2. A full English breakfast may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but apart from being crazy hearty, what could be more satisfying to a carnivore than a breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, and black pudding? I’m never impressed by the grilled tomatoes served on these plates as they’re typically flavorless. But grilled mushrooms add plenty of rich, umami flavors. To an American consumer, those Heinz baked beans are weird as breakfast food, but they offer a sweet counterpoint to all that salty, fatty meat. It was a late breakfast, so I washed it down with beer. Hey, it’s London!


Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

  “I Got Baked in San Francisco” – Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Pastries occupy a special place in our relationship and in our hearts. When Jason and I first met, he was working at The Wild Flour Bakery in Ogden. We ate a lot of pastries in those early years (and I gained a little weight), thanks to the bakery’s leftovers. 

Needless to say, we expect a lot from pastries. Our usual haunts – Tartine, Knead Patisserie and B. Patisserie – never disappoint. When we try a new spot, these are the standards against which all others are judged. Croissants in Paris? Sure, they’re OK, but we’ve never eaten one that compares to the perfection that is a Tartine croissant. Kuin Amman at Dominique Ansel in NYC? Yeah, they’re pretty good. We admit it. But we’re a little judge-y when it comes to these things and that means we’re reluctant to spend those precious calories gambling on an unknown (to us) baker. 

Knowing we were likely too late to get our hands on the “croissant muffin” or “cruffin” at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, we decided to check the bakery out anyway (cruffins come out at 9AM and sell out quickly). The bakery is a small, kitschy little spot in San Francisco’s Tenderloin that is wildly popular in spite of the crappy neighborhood that houses it. In this city, that means they offer something people want.

  We tried the blueberry “Brioche Bomb” and a croissant. The brioche was soft and pillowy. Crunchy sugar crystals and a tasty crumb topping added nice texture. The blueberry filling was sweet, but not too sweet. Worth the visit.

  We liked the croissant a lot. It had a nice dark crispy outer layer and lots of flavorful soft layers in a perfectly sized portion. It was far better than almost all of the croissants you’ll find in a grocery or a coffee shop. Worth returning for more.

If you’re going, be sure to line up early for the signature cruffin. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
1042 Larkin Street (at Sutter St.)
San Francisco, CA 94109
They’re open daily from 7AM weekdays / 8AM weekends and close when they run out of goodies!