This week…things that are on my mind…when the HMRC changes your tax code without asking you and changes it WRONG so your October 31st paycheck leaves you little to live on and they say “Don’t worry, you’ll get it all back next month!” And you say “BUT I NEED MONEY NOW.” Thank God for my friend American Express. Also, the man outside my window with a saw and a jackhammer at 8 am on a Saturday. The fact that it snowed in Chicago yesterday but it was 72 degrees and lovely here in London town. That I have lost 15 pounds since moving to London four months ago without really trying too hard. Oh oh oh…when am I going to be able to get into town to eat all the ramen?? And what am I going to do for New Year’s?
Viet Garden, Islington…My obsession with all things Vietnamese since my trip in March knows no bounds. I can’t wait to go back to Saigon and eat all the pho for breakfast. You should have seen me the other weekend, here in London, waiting patiently for 12 noon when Viet Garden was to open. I WANTED PHO. So Viet Garden opened and I did have some Pho but it was a sad, sad version of pho — packaged noodles, tiny slivers of beef — and although service was sweet and attentive, as my reflection reflected sadly back at me through the disappointingly thin, weak, and watery-with-disappointment broth, I thought to myself…”Surely, surely there is more to life than this.” The prawn toast was good though. The Loos: Spacious but in need a good high-pressure water hose treatment. The Verdict: Probably won’t go back.
Zucca, Bermondsey: Ms. Marmite Lover!!! She is, as my mother would say, a pip! You always know something — interesting, exciting, something! — will happen when Kerstin is around. She is a published author and the original supper club expert. Buy her book Supper Club: Recipes and notes from the underground restaurant on Amazon.co.uk or wherever books are sold. I hadn’t seen her in four-plus years so it was beyond time for a catch-up, particularly since I was having some deep thoughts about my own life that warranted further discussion. The conversation? Lively. The food? Meh. Although my zucca fritta was lovely (essentially, fried squash, great frying technique), Kerstin sent her kale salad back. My veal ragu was less than inspiring…while the pasta itself was great, the sauce lacked a bit in flavor. (Although it’s entirely possible that my American tastebuds are still coming down from their Sodium Chloride high.) All in all, a lovely afternoon, but I expected more of my main course. The Loos: Nice.I like a communal sink. The Verdict: Not sure I would go back although it is a nice “ladies who lunch” sort of place.
Crispy Duck (aka Overseas Restaurant), Chinatown: My American friend had never had crispy duck before or eaten in Chinatown, so we arranged an outing. I love duck pancakes. Sadly, the Crispy Duck Restaurant I used to know is under new ownership. Apparently though, they’ve kept the duck because so many people know it as the original Crispy Duck. After much confusion about my arrival (“You don’t have a reservation? Are your friends coming? Are you sure they’re coming? Maybe you should call them to make sure they are coming.”) we settled into a table on the ground floor and ordered a full duck. And while they get zero points for presentation, service and attitude — who know asking for additional plum sauce when our dishes were empty would cause such a ruckus — they get a few points for the duck. The Verdict: Probably would try some other places before I go back here.
Santore, Exmouth Market: Everyone raves about this local Italian and it’s full at all times of the day and night. Well, everyone is wrong because my food was pretty tasteless. So much so that I threw out my doggie bag on the way home. (Oricchiette, sausage, broccoli.) Maybe it’s the pizzas that are the winner here? Not sure. The Verdict: Probably won’t go back anytime soon, although maybe I would with a large group of people when we are looking for a lowest common denominator place.
J&A Cafe, Clerkenwell: Why haven’t discovered this place before? It would always pop up on Foursquare and similar sites as a place near to me, but I thought it was more of a black cab deli (not that there’s anything wrong with that) than a place to linger. Through a doorway into a quiet courtyard, tables spread across two buildings with a few tables outside in between. I enjoyed a peaceful breakfast and lovely, attentive service. An oasis of calm in London town. The Verdict: A new favorite. I will be back.