Friends and family got very creative when it came to my Bridal Shower last June. Since Joel and I had a transatlantic move on the horizon, my mom’s great friend, Rachel, surprised us with a truly special gift to welcome us to our new home…
Afternoon tea at Sketch!
A salon that feels like one part Mad Hatter, one part fairy tale forest, one part surreal wonder emporium, and one part spaceship art gallery….
To sum it up - Sketch is sensory overload, in the best way possible.
Our table was in the Gallery, the modern wonder emporium space of Sketch. I brought Elysha along, as Joel isn’t much of a tea man, but if the over the top scene at Sketch was any reflection, no other men in London are, either. However, instead of a typical ladies who lunch/drink tea tea crowd, the funky salon was jammed with an edgy fashion crowed.
The menu took a more modern artistic approach than you’d expect at traditional afternoon tea, including caviar and quail egg or salmon roe and creme fraiche finger sandwiches.
These were all a total win in my culinary book.
Surprise to no one, the assortment of pastries were as fantastic as one would imagine, particularly the fig custard tart.
But my favorite was the surprise dessert addition, this passion fruit and blackberry cheesecake cup.
Fluffy scones rounded out the meal, topped off with two made in house berry preserves.
We had such a difficult time deciding which one was better that we continually tasted one then the other then the other and so on, essentially running in circles on our taste buds.
But as good as the afternoon tea was, it was completely upstaged by the bathroom, an experience until itself.
It’s hard to say which is more unusual…..
The technicolor ceiling or individual pod toilets?
Totally a London scene.
Totally wonderful afternoon.
Thank you, Rachel!
I know, I know - another food market…but there’s a reason that Borough Market is London’s most renowned food market.
Elysha, Pascal, and I spent an entire afternoon here eating our way from stall to stall, talking with the chefs and traders, and saying “oh my gosh, that looks so good” about one hundred times.
The sheer size of the market was very overwhelming when we first arrived, so we created an eating plan of attack…
First, we did one full loop around the entire market. This was the most time intensive part of the day because all you’ll want to do is stop and stare at the food at every.single.stall. That’s totally okay!
Take in the sights.
Take in the aromas.
Chat up the other people to see what they’re eating, liking, etc.
Watch the masters at work, grilling, chopping, selling away!
Take advantage of gourmet generosity!
Almost all the vendors were more than happy to serve up a sample taste of their cheese, meats, noodles, fruits, breads, etc. There’s no better way to know if you’ll want to come back for more than to taste test yourself.
Side note: always ask before taking a cook’s photo - their knives could surprise you.
And try your hardest to save dessert for last. Or, if you’re like us, just sample desserts during the initial lap (like ten different brownies….)
At this point, take a break and pick up a cup of Pimms. You’ve earned it.
Consult your party and make a list of all the food you’ll want to eat. In an effort to taste as many dishes as possible, it’s best to share one dish per stall.
Then go nuts.
See a sausage you want? Snag it.
Want some paella with all the fixins? Chow down.
See some super gooey cheese being melted and spread on potatoes and think “my god, what is this culinary wizardry?” Don’t hold yourself back.
Make sure to stop and make some friends along the way. Like with this guy.
And this guy.
Don’t forget to leave room for a cinnamon donut break. Just because.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you’ll turn another corner and find even more to tempt you.
If you’re not good at the standing and eating thing, grab a table or your own spot of pavement to enjoy your selections.
Finally, I dare you to try and take a normal photo. If you’re like me, you’ll end up focusing more on shoving food in your mouth than smiling at the camera.
Seeing as the only person I knew living in London would be leaving within weeks of my departure (plus one surprise arrival coming soon), the city was literally a pool of strangers when I first arrived. The last time I was forced to go out and actively make new friends was freshman year of college and I questioned how I would approach the same situation ten years later.
To be totally transparent, the first two weeks felt lonely.
Although I was constantly meeting new people, most of the time it felt like forced social situations and instead of prospering, I felt suffocated, exhausted, vulnerable and even a bit scared. I suppose it’s the New Yorker in me that expects everything in life to be immediate (job, friends, flat, TADA!) and in retrospect I laugh at myself and how silly I was being - it was only two weeks!
As week three began, life in London did a 180.
We moved into our new flat (hurray!), meetings sprang up back to back (hurray again!), and all of a sudden I began to click with these potential new friends and filled my calendar with lunch dates, wine dates, and wine + cheese dates (possibly the very best kind of date…)
And I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Last Tuesday, I met up with three of these girls (two Australian, one British) for a day trip to Brighton. We’re all in a similar situation here in London, so to be able to talk to someone who fully understands the reality that is our life right now is invaluable.
Back to our day trip…
Brighton is a beach town on the southern shore of England, a quick hour train ride from London Bridge Train station. If you’re looking for a sandy walk on the beach, look elsewhere - it’s nothing but rocks here….
But if you look closely, you may find a quirky surprise.
For lunch, fish and chips was a no brainer. Thankfully, Jen proved to be a tremendous planner and found The Regency for us. After walking passed a bunch of other empty “Fish and Chip” type restaurants, it was obvious we found the Brighton all-star thanks to the packed restaurant and, what we would soon discover, the food.
Plus, I learned that cod is the “less fishy” fish and chips, while haddock has a stronger fishy taste.
We spent the afternoon exploring “The Lanes”, winding roads of shops. While there were a couple unique stores, the vast majority fell into two categories - tourist shops or chain stores that we’d all been to already in London.
And although I didn’t fall in love with Brighton, exploring a new town will never get old.
Lauren is a mere days away from leaving London (and me!) and returning to the States, so we’ve been trying to spend as much time together as possible.
She recently took off an afternoon of work and somehow, after we determined we “wouldn’t do anything touristy”, we found ourselves in the heart of Covent Garden…..tourist central.
I hadn’t been to the area since I was 14 and being the street performer enthusiast that I am, it was actually a welcome surprise.
Since it was a Friday afternoon, the crowds were very reasonable and not too overwhelming.
I watched a man perform a singing solo in the atrium…
Ran into an old meaty New York friend…
And stared at this man for a solid ten minutes trying to figure out his trick.
I proceeded to do the same thing with yoga, but alas, their gravity secret remains a mystery.
At that point, Lauren suggested some afternoon tea - how very British!
We continued the touristy theme and popped into Lauduree, which although was once revered as a Paris-only attraction, has lost a bit of its cache thanks to global openings.
Frankly, if a cafe can serve up a pastry and tea like this, I could care less how “touristy” it is.
We shared this raspberry delicacy, which combined with the heavy cream for tea was sweet heaven.
As if you had any doubts, we joined the clean plate club.
I have so many traditional Afternoon Tea spots on my list…
Let’s see how long it takes me to eat and sip my way through them!
Although tomorrow is Labor Day, the US’ unofficial end to summer, last Monday’s Bank Holiday was the UK version. To say the city was dead would be an understatement.
I imagined Brits enjoying their holiday in the countryside, dinging on the traditional Sunday Roast. I may have been in London, but I found a restaurant that felt a bit like the country and served a Sunday Roast - two birds, one stone.
The Orange is located on a street full of furniture shops, perfect for pre or post meal window shopping. Once you arrive, the light wood interior coupled with the weathered chests and wide open windows make it easy to forget that you’re in the city.
Joel went for the beef roast while I opted for the chicken.
I slightly preferred the beef, but both were strong contenders.
What really took me surprise was…
There was so much food!
Meat, potatoes, veggies, Yorkshire pudding (similar to a popover). As seen in the picture below, I barely made a dent.
One thing to note - I’m not a huge fan of roasted potatoes, but The Orange’s took them to another level. They were perfectly moist on the inside and very, very crisp on the outside.
First Sunday Roast? Check!
Have any other Sunday Roast restaurant suggestions for me? Shoot me an email at CaseyCulture@gmail.com
Oh, and guess what? London seems to be back in full swing!
It didn’t take long….
It was likely more of a mental craving than anything else, but on our first Sunday in London, I craved brunch. Something similar to New York. Something that would refresh my taste buds of my former life.
Turns out, London takes their brunch equally as seriously.
After a quick Google search, I found Tom’s Kitchen, which not only was a quick walk away, but also boasted my ideal brunch: locally sourced food + casual, “neighborhoody” atmosphere.
90% of the time, Joel and I split our meals.
In fact, this is such a important point in our relationship that Joel mentioned it in his weddings vows.
So, why do we do it?
Easy - we get to taste more of the food. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a restaurant, perused a menu and thought “hmm, there is only one item on here that I’d like.” Reality is, I’d usually like to try at least 75% of the menu, but that’s likely not a smart strategy.
Fast forward to Tom’s Kitchen where Joel and I executed our typical share model that works best during the always tricky “Savory vs. Sweet” brunch dilemma. We picked Belgian Waffles with Blueberry Compote and Chantilly Cream and Eggs Royale (i.e. Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon).
As I wrote earlier, I do prefer locally sourced food. Yes, this is such a yuppy thing to say, but you cannot disregard the taste difference - that’s a fact. And frankly, when it comes to food, I’ll get behind almost anything that improves the taste of food.
While reading the menu, I saw the following featured next to the eggs section:
"Ever wondered why our eggs taste so good? They’re from Clarence Court in Liskeard, Cornwall. A cross between Old Cotswold Legbars and Mabel Pearman’s Burford Browns, the hens eat grass, herbs and cereals laced with sun-drenched maize, which help produce a more intense yellow yolk.”
And then I slowly sliced open the poached egg and BOOM!
By more intense yellow, they meant orange…..and it may have been the best poached egg of my life.
The whole meal was simple and perfect, exactly what we were craving and more, so much so that we’re still talking about it a week later.
I won’t be living in Chelsea for much longer, but I’ll absolutely be back to Tom’s Kitchen.
With bells on.
New York to London….
On the surface, the cities feature many similarities, making the transition (so far), an easy one.
Another thing making the transition easy? The fact that one of my great college friends, Lauren, has called this city home for the past six years. To welcome me here, she planned a dinner at Oblix, a British restaurant inspired by the rooftop views and grills of New York….a bit of a culinary half way point to ease me into my new life.
Oblix is located in The Shard, a skyscraper adjacent to the Thames River that earned it name thanks to its shape.
Fun fact? It’s currently the tallest building in the European Union.
And the views? They make you feel really lucky to be in London, which is perhaps another reason for choosing this specific venue to celebrate.
After talking about living in London together for years, my time finally arrived…..just a couple weeks before Lauren moves back to the States.
The two of us stood there gazing at this fine city….watching the lights, bridges, and sky reflect back on us.
Lauren shared what she’d miss the most.
I shared what I was looking forward to the most.
And with a glass of wine, we toasted to new beginnings.
And then I pretended to play the drums, naturally.
While trying to not disturb this couple, who clearly scored the money table.
As the sun set and live jazz filled the lounge, we were finally escorted to our table.
Which included a detour through the open kitchen.
Our group of four shared a couple small dishes of Burrata (homerun…but then again, when is Burrata not?), Soft Shell Crab (excellent) , and Scallops (meh).
And then dove head first into our entrees - classic American steak for most of the table, lamb chops for yours truly, and decadent mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, and french fries….just in case. (PSA - although the meat was quite good, they overcooked most of our plates…..as in Rare came out Well Done.)
Verdict? The views were spectacular…..and deserve a repeat visit. However, I’d stick with the lounge, enjoy a cocktail, and skip the full meal.
At around 12:15 am, 4 hours after we arrived, we took in our final views and called it a night.
Welcome to London.
Last week, I texted this to my mom.
Bold claim, right? Well, it’s true. Dinner at La Sirene was shockingly good and came with price sticker shock (in a good way) but how we arrived at this off-the-beaten-path hole in the wall is even more unusual.
One night, I was craving steak, but since Joel and I have ben trying to drink our way through our stock before the move, I suggested we cook dinner at home. Joel wasn’t as into this idea (after all, we only have so much time to take advantage of the New York restaurant scene), so I pulled up the Urban Daddy app on my phone to see if there were any BYOB restaurants nearby.
As luck would have it, a BYOB restaurant, La Sirene, was a 20-minute walk away and after a quick google search, we learned that they were famous for their filet mignon. Plus, their Yelp page has 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. I could tell we were on to something…
We arrived at the restaurant and quickly learned why, even with tremendous reviews, it was still under the radar - it was located DIRECTLY next to the Holland Tunnel. Regardless of the less than desirable location, we entered the very cozy French restaurant and proceeded to have one of the best meals in recent history.
We popped the bottle of our favorite vino (Peter Michael Chardonnay) and perused the classic French menu.
To start, we split the Sautéed Baby Octopus with Garlic, Parsley Olive Oil Bread Crumbs, Tomato, and Mushroom. The pic doesn’t do it justice, but the octopus was some of the tastiest we’ve had in the city.
Both of us went with the Filet Mignon for dinner, which had received rave reviews. What we didn’t know is that it comes topped with a hefty slice Foie Gras AND Truffles. It was a truly decadent, delicious dish and cost a fraction of what it should. Frankly, if we cooked basic steaks at home, the cost wouldn’t have been so different.
Entrees also come with a tray of sides (cauliflower puree, eggplant, and more) and get this - it’s refillable! So you can just keep digging into more and more veggies goodness.
I think our plates speak for themselves.
Joel and I kept looking at each other, almost silent in gourmet ecstasy, only able to mutter “Why didn’t we find this place sooner?!”
There was zero need for dessert, but when you see a Banana Pudding Creme Brulee (my version of dessert hybrid heaven), you don’t say no.
So, to recap:
- Tremendous food across the board
- Very affordable prices considering the level of food
- BYOB = even more affordable
- Cozy, family run restaurant. Laid back, friendly staff
- 4 1/2 out of 5 Yelp stars, 23/30 Zagat rating
- Not ideal NYC location, but who cares?!
Get thee a reservation now!