London Calling

There’s one place we’ve traveled where Beth and I don’t see eye-to-eye: London. She’s #teamlondon, and sees something romantic in marginal weather, royals, and obscene concentrations of wealth. I, on the other hand, crank up The Sex Pistols and turn my cynicism to 11.

We landed in London for an overnight stay on the way home from Portugal. A cabbie greeted us by plundering our wallet for the trip from Heathrow to our hotel in Kensington, where we checked into a room about twice the size of our dog’s crate. He gave me his card in case I needed to shed cash at any point during our stay.

True story: The last time we were in London (2010) we stayed in a room so small that at one point Beth found our son reading on the roof, where the walls weren’t inches away.

I digress.

I stowed my cynicism and put our itinerary, minus dinner, in Beth’s hands. She wanted to see the Portobello Road Market and The Famous Door (wait for it….). So off we went.

I’ll give it this: The people watching at the market was excellent. Beth checked out street vendors and I shot photos. It was a win-win. Eventually we got tired of being elbow to elbow with half the Americans in London and retired to The Castle, which answered the question, What would it be like to drink a pint of beer while surrounded by noise like ’50s-era jets taking off?

Did I mention “The Door?” This would be the purple door where Hugh Grant emerged during whatever movie it was that propelled Portobello Road into the consumer consciousness. We saw it (the door, that is). An angry man elbowed me in the ribs while I took a picture.

After Portobello we took refuge in The Beachcomber, a tiki bar where we drank from a glass skull. This was only two or three days after the final Brexit vote, and if I were British I would still probably be there with no plans to #leave. By the way, I had no idea tiki bars are a thing in London, but knowing this elevates my opinion of the city.

Dinner: We went to Hereford Road, which is the name of both a road and a restaurant. It’s where a butcher shop once stood and they serve all kinds of meaty goodness, while completely lacking any pretentiousness. I had the lamb chops and loved them. I would go back in a second.

It was raining hard when we left Hereford Road, so we Uber’d back to the hotel where I picked up an umbrella and walked to a gelato/coffee shop for an espresso. While I waited in line, a kid who was about five made a game of stealing my umbrella and bringing it back. His mom was horrified. I was entertained. The espresso wasn’t bad, and unfortunately I can’t recall the name of the place.

We flew home the next morning. Truth be told, I’ll miss that tiki bar.

Food Matters: Paris 2018

Following a recent trip to Paris, I have some new-to-us recommendations to add to my previous list:

  • Inexpensive and great seems like an oxymoron when it comes to Paris, but Raviolis Nord Est is on point. This hole in the wall near Les Halles offers salads and Chinese dumplings. Beth and I ate a filling, satisfying lunch for about 20 Euros. I recommend the octopus salad and pork and shrimp dumplings, fried. (1st arrondissement)
  • There’s a lot of buzz around Pink Mamma in Pigalle. They don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait. After two hours cooling our heels with wonderful cocktails in their speakeasy (go down the stairs, then through the meat locker and a door marked “no entry”), we were led past an American woman throwing a tantrum (“I simply must eat here before leaving Paris!”) to our date with some burrata and a kilogram tomahawk ribeye. The food: excellent. The service: Warm and casual. The vibe: Way more hip than us. It made for a fun night. I’d go back. (9th arrondissement)
  • Get in line at Breihz Café. Be patient. Then enjoy savory and sweet Breton crepes. Have a mug of cider from a long list of good options. You won’t be disappointed. (3rd arrondissement, though there are also outposts in Odeon, Japan and Brittany)
  • We have it on good authority that Le Village is one of the last of the true Montmartre bars. I can’t tell you about the food, though the menu looked enticing. Instead, we had a beer (me, a Chouffe) and a cocktail (Beth, a mojito, which is in fashion) and spent a couple hours talking with a French filmmaker we met there. It’s an unpretentious place filled with locals. (18th arrondissment)
  • We liked Pizza Caratello so much we went twice. Don’t be fooled by the name–they offer much more than pizza. The first visit we started with a large serving of Burrata, then I had ravioli with figs and foie gras. The second visit I went for pizza (and more burrata to start); a Napolitana with fat anchovies and capers. Reservations aren’t necessary, though you might have a brief wait. Be patient, the food and hospitality are worth it. (18th arrondissement)
  • Huiteries Regis has been on my list for years, and I finally was able to have lunch there. Unless you love oysters, skip ahead. There’s not much else on offer. I had the menu #2: Six each of two varieties of plump oysters that taste like the sea, a glass of Sancerre and a coffee. If you do love oysters, it’s completely worth trekking to Saint Germain and waiting outside for one of the few tables. (6th arrondissement)
  • Hardware Société gives Hollybelly a run for my favorite brunch spot in Paris. It’s the Parisian outpost of a popular Melbourne restaurant. Long lines are the norm, though we lucked into getting a table right away. The coffee is sublime, and the mushrooms and poached eggs are perfect brunch fare. (18th arrondissement)
  • Overlook the sketchy neighborhood around Gare du Nord, and make a reservation at Chez Michel. It offers old school French cuisine and a deep wine list. I had fish soup with chorizo, croutons and parmesian; duck with mushrooms; and Paris Brest for desert. It’s my new standard for traditional French bistros. (10th arrondissment)

Reservations are still the norm, but English speaking diners will be glad to know many restaurants now offer online reservations.