London Calling (Part 2)

I know it’s my job, but I’m more than just a bit San Francisco-centric when it comes to food. I have this horribly snobby attitude that no one can hold a candle to us when it comes to our pristine little scene, from the restaurants to the markets—and certainly to the produce (which I still think ranks second to none).

Well, my trip to London (see previous blog) proved me wrong on many counts. Here’s just a smattering of moments where London definitely “bit its thumb” at me (to quote Shakespeare like a dork).

1. The amazing butcher shops: Seeing rows of pork loin chops wrapped in like an inch of their own beautiful, white fat? I can never go back.

Not pork chops, but another fine example of London's meat

2. Then there’s the plethora of ethnic cuisines that you just don’t get in SF (I could have eaten South Indian every day). But the highlight of my trip was a lunch cooked by my friend Anissa Helou who has made her name as a author of many cookbooks on Mediterranean cooking, particularly Lebanese food, the food of her homeland. Perhaps her starkly chic two-floor loft had an effect on my perception of her cooking, but I was transfixed. We had a salad of whole thyme leaves (leafy things that I’d never seen before), the most beautiful slices of bottarga with slices of garlic all drizzled in olive oil, fattoush, pickled radishes, raw green almonds that you dipped in salt and bit straight into, balls of strained yogurt in olive oil, chicken wings baked in the oven. It was so ridiculously fabulous that I’m almost embarrassed to write about it for fear that the readers of this blog will be driven insane with jealousy. Which you probably should be.

Anissa Helou whips up lunch in her chic London loft.

3. Finally, the gastropub thing does not exist here and although I’m not sure it’s transferable to SF, someone (English) should give it a go and use The Anchor & Hope (36 The Cut, 0207 928 98 98) as an example, which is where I stopped after a trip to the Tate Modern. On the rather humble menu was a starter of snails, bacon and laverbread on duck fat toast, which the business men at our rickety wooden communal table were lapping up, along with two pints of beer each, all followed by a steaming steak pie big enough for four. I wondered how they could head back to work. (But then wondered about what it meant about my American work ethic that this was even my concern.) I had grilled lemon sole topped with teensy brown shrimp and pickled cucumber and my friend had suckling kid (goat) with fennel, olives and wild garlic. Ever seen the likes of any of that in SF?

A gastropub lunch of grilled lemon sole.
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