Monday, November 04, 2013

Pub Grub All Dolled Up


The Chelsea Potter is what can be considered a classic English pub. Heavy on dark wood, light on, well, lighting. It sets a mood of warmth on a cool British evening, traditionally accomplished with smoke and mirrors, literally. Now that smoking is no longer allowed, the lord be praised, the mood is still one of camaraderie, and the menu hasn't changed by much.


Bangers and mash, sausage and mashed potatoes have been a staple of the pub menu, providing the working class with a filling comfort food. Today's light gravy and onion chutney show some effort, but don't elevate this dish to the level one would expect from a "gastro pub".

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Roast meat, generally beef, is another venerable staple of the pub menu. On our visit, the roast beef with Yorkshire pudding was unavailable, so the waiter suggested the "pork roast". Since the Yorkshire pudding was really what I wanted, he offered to just substitute the meat and bring me the same set up with pork in place of beef. Great idea. I was surprised, but delighted to see that what he called pork roast was what I call pork belly. Instead of the dry, overcooked pork I had feared, it was moist and rich in flavor.

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The pork was delicious, tender and succulent, but I couldn't help but notice that there was no Yorkshire pudding. After an apology because that too was no longer available, our waiter offered to bring me an order of sweet potato fries. Hmmm, after looking over the plate and noticing not one but two forms of potato already, I declined a 3rd potato, no matter how sweet it might be.


Our waiter couldn't take "no thank you" for an answer and as we were finishing up our meal, placed a serving of Treacle Sponge on our table. Sitting in a pool of warm vanilla custard sauce, this suet imbued cake was much like a sticky toffee pudding and we were grateful for his persistence in trying to please a customer.

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The Trafalgar, a neighboring pub to Chelsea Potter on Kings Road in Chelsea, was trying for a more modern twist on pub grub. Although I liked the idea, and would go there again, it's success was modest.

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Plaice instead of cod didn't make a perceptible difference in the Fish & Chips category. Although it is also a classic version of a pub menu item, the parsley in the batter did not elevate this preparation to gourmet. It can be said that the mushy peas accompanying it were the freshest tasting I had ever tried and not unpleasant in color from overcooking like the traditional version. The fish was flaky and crisp, as were the "chips".

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A Chicken Caesar Salad fared much better as a means to modernize the menu. The whole anchovies were a good indication that the chef had actually tasted a classic Ceasar, since every other Ceasar we have eaten in Europe had subbed them for some form of meat, usually bacon or ham. Trafalgar definitely gets points for this execution.


They loose points for presenting a Californian with Sierra Nevada, when he asked for a local ale.


To be continued.....

Sunday, November 03, 2013

London's Chinatown

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Size shouldn't matter, but in all honesty, Chinatown in London seemed disproportionately small considering the the size of the population in general. Certainly one cannot expect all Chinese Londoners to live in one place, but as a central source for Chinese culture, traditional foods and community this chinatown would not set any records. As tourists, we are admittedly there "for the food" where size only counts when it comes to portions of food served in the restaurants.


Having grown up on the Pacific Rim in San Francisco, I was exposed to Chinese food at a young age, so it is an adopted comfort food for me. When I'm not eating pasta or risotto, I'm eating chow fun or fried rice. When traveling we occasionally need a break from local cuisine and head for the local Italian or Chinese restaurant to see how recipes have been adapted for local consumption.

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The young man who was hired to solicit customers into Oriental Dragon seemed so uncomfortable with his assignment that we decided to give him a bit more confidence and eat there, especially when we saw it was a dim sum restaurant, offering few surprises. Although I'm all for trying new dishes, sometimes only the familiar seems appealing. With further investigation it was made clear that the kitchen employs 5 chefs that make specialties from 5 different regions. That was a surprise.


If it weren't for the dim sum, I'm not certain this restaurant would have been as predictable as we had imagined. Luncheon meats and potatoes with vinegar seemed quite an adaption to local tastes.

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Ha gow and siu mai were just what we were looking for on this particular evening. Although no one can make a bad ha gow, it does seem that sui mai is wide open for personal interpretation. While we have been bombarded with the slogan, "Pork, the other white meat." was it too much to expect a bit of color and flavor in this dumpling? Was this siu mai even made with pork? Could luncheon meat be this pale? Needless to say, we did not argue over which one of us would claim the last dumpling in the basket.


Ah, barbequed pork fried rice, another stalwart of Chinese cuisine that seems to translate well, no matter what country in which it is served. This was the taste of home we were trying to find. It's true, we have never met a fried rice we didn't like and this was no exception, however it was not exceptional in taste either.

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Char siu bao, another dim sum staple, was an excellent example of a well rendered interpretation of a classic. While the meal was mundane, that may have had more to do with our ordering than anything else. I should have at least tried the stir fried lily bulbs or the marinated mooli, if only to discover what they were.

31 Gerard St
London, W1D 6JT
020 7734 2763