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!


Hank’s Oyster Bar – Washington, D.C.

Steve is traveling a lot these days and that means he’s eating most of his meals in restaurants. And while our blog posts are generally intended to highlight the tasty things we’re cooking at home, we’re mixing it up with the occasional restaurant review.

We happened upon Hank’s Oyster Bar on a trip to Washington, D.C. a few years ago. It was a lucky find after wandering around Dupont Circle and struggling to find inspiration among the many little eateries in the neighborhood. Steve returned this week while on a working trip to D.C. It was as good as we’d remembered.

You go to oyster bars to eat oysters. Hank’s oyster offerings change regularly and usually include a nice mix of both east and west coast varieties. On this most recent visit, the raw bar featured a meaty, briny variety from Point Judith Pond, Rhode Island. True to their name, the Salt Pond oyster is one of the saltiest I’ve ever eaten and that’s a good thing. I tried one with a little lemon and a touch of mignonette. Perfection! They paired less well with the grated horseradish. The Sweet Jesus oysters from Maryland were a little flat, but like the Barcats from Virginia, they were fresh and clean tasting. Honestly, anything would have tasted a little weak after the Salt Ponds.

As tempting as the lobster roll and Old Bay fries were, the menu specials were too interesting to pass up. The heirloom radish dish was incredible. A mix of julienned Watermelon, Black Spanish and a green variety I didn’t recognize, were tossed in a light vinaigrette and embellished with a dollop of creme fraiche and a generous spoon of red tobiko. It’s an interesting mix of flavors and textures. The radishes were cool, crunchy and earthy. The vinegar brightened the radishes flavors without overwhelming them. And the cream, well … cream makes everything a little better. The briny, oceanic flavors of the tobiko were the best surprise of the dish. I thought it was a clever play on “surf-n-turf” to combine the mineral, earthy flavors of the radishes with fish roe. We need to replicate this dish at home!

The evening’s specials menu included wild Pacific salmon served on a mound of cool soba in a puddle of rich, soy based sauce that was almost too salty. But the soba noodles stood up well to the intensity of the sauce. The salmon was perfectly cooked rare to order. I tried to get them to prepare it virtually raw, but my server couldn’t wrap her head around the request. I was perfectly satisfied with the compromise.

I’d forgotten that Hank’s serves up a small handful of dark chocolate chunks with the bill. It’s a great touch and a nice surprise if you aren’t expecting it. And of course I ate it all in spite of the generous size of the pieces.

This was my third visit to Hank’s. There will be others when our travels take us back to D.C. With its consistently fresh, seasonal menu and uber friendly service, I recommend you add it to your list of good eats in the nation’s capitol.

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