What’s Cooking in London…

Recap and images by Marilyn LaRocque

Although the Olympics dominate summer news from London, the city’s world-class restaurants are gold medal-winning dining destinations year ‘round, serving food that rockets far beyond fish ‘n chips. FYI…Reservations are essential; lunch is less pricey than dinner.

Making culinary waves and headlines, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (Mandarin Oriental) explores British cooking since the 16th Century and adds modern tweaks and tastes. Mealtime is show time as the energetic team of a dozen young British chefs performs in a glass-enclosed kitchen featuring a rotisserie cloned from Tudor days. The “oldest” dish, meat fruit, c. 1500, of Mandarin, chicken liver, and grilled bread, hails from the era of Henry VIII.

To start, we learned hay isn’t just for horses with hay-smoked mackerel spiked with tart lemon salad and herring roe (c. 1730). Spiced pigeon, served rare, was sweet and tender and liberally sauced with ale and artichokes (c. 1780). Tipsy Cake (c. 1810), totally sloshed brioche with spit-roasted pineapple, climaxed our culinary history lesson.

Sea meets farm in hay-smoked mackerel, lemon salad, and herring roe (c. 1730).

Borage, an exotic herb, and bergamot, an “orange,” dress up roast scallops (c. 1820).

Ale and artichokes hobnob with rare spiced pigeon (c. 1780).

Sides of carrots with caraway and Jersey Royal potatoes add veggie variety to chicken cooked with lettuces (c. 1670). 

Strawberry sorbet gives a tart chill to a scrumptious “tarte” of macerated strawberries laced with chamomile and orange blossom cream (c. 1591). 

Founded in 1798, Rules at Covent Garden, the oldest restaurant in London, oozes Edwardian excess, with virtually every inch of wall covered by vintage kitsch. It’s known for game, but the hunting season dictates what’s served. Not to worry. There are plenty of tasty choices.

Pickled artichoke and pungent Stilton cheese in hazelnut vinaigrette counter-punched the gamey quality of venison carpaccio. Horseradish gently jolted smoked eel and beetroot. Crispy lamb sweetbreads with lamb breast as charcuterie were generously sauced with piquant caper mayonnaise. Their roast beef, Britain’s claim to culinary fame, was succulent rib of beef on the bone, dolloped with horseradish. Accompanying Yorkshire pudding was the size of a baseball. In-season fresh asparagus basked in a light, tangy Hollandaise. Fresh raspberries with raspberry sorbet segued into a quintessentially British finale, savory Stilton with biscuits and celery and a heady glass of Port.

Edwardian excess dominates décor at Rules, London’s oldest restaurant.

Al dente fresh asparagus stars with lemon and luscious Hollandaise in supporting roles.
Venison carpaccio receives a British kick from Stilton and pickled artichokes in hazelnut vinaigrette.

Pink grapefruit morsels, chicory, and avocado add color and flavor to Dorset crab salad.
Smoked eel with creamed horseradish pairs smoke and fire.

Lamb exhibits a dual personality with crispy sweetbreads and lamb breast as charcuterie.
Fresh raspberries surround refreshing pink Champagne sorbet.

For a quintessentially British finale, nothing beats Stilton and port.

The most avant-garde restaurant in London is Viajante in the 1910 former Town Hall of Bethnal Green, East End, Cockney territory and cultural melting pot.  Masterminded by Chef Nuno Mendes, who interned at El Bulli with illustrious chef Ferran Adrià, it has no printed menu.  Your choice is three-, six-, nine-, and, at dinner only, twelve-course “tastings.”  Bright blues dominate wall hangings with appliquéd “plastic” flowers.  If you eat in the first of two small dining rooms, you’re practically in the compact open kitchen.
Each savory morsel is an amazing dining adventure, for instance, Amaranth with sorrel, squid with ink and bulrush, and a bread and butter course—brown bread with smoked bacon and walnuts and white roasted potato baguettes.  White butter was smoked with hay and toasted walnuts; brown butter had Iberico ham, purple potato powder, and crispy chicken skin.
Moving on to the “mains,” we experienced bream belly with buttermilk crumbs, sorrel, and almonds and Iberico pluma with chicken of the woods and quinoa.   Pickled and raw cucumber with reduced milk sorbet preceded caramel parfait with aerated chocolate and flowers and petite fours.   Just relax and ride this extraordinary magic carpet of cuisine.
Viajante serves a quail egg like you’ve never eaten before.

Expand your culinary experience with amaranth with sorrel.

Keeping it simple and unique applies to the décor as well as the cuisine.

Bulrush provides a crunchy accent to squid with ink.

Mom’s mashed potatoes never looked, or tasted, like these with yeast and black olive.

Bread and butter is a unique, stand-alone course.
Tea blends subtly with the exciting food.

An unusual trio of buttermilk crumbs, sorel, and almonds quietly accompanies bream belly.

Astonishing wall hangings keep pace with the sensational food.

The team of chefs meticulously prepares each dish

…in an open kitchen fronting the small main dining room.

Who would expect cucumbers for dessert…but Viajante serves them, both pickled and raw, with reduced milk sorbet.
Don’t expect a parfait glass, but do succumb to an amazing caramel parfait with aerated chocolate and flowers.   An unbelievable climax to an extraordinary meal.
Food, wine, and travel writer/editor Marilyn LaRocque has visited the seven continents, experiencing not only sights and sounds but also foods and wines. In Paris in May, she was named Vice Chargée de Presse Nationale, Des Etats Unis, of Les Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the world’s oldest and largest food and wine society. She was Senior Food & Wine Editor for LUXURY Las Vegas magazine for nearly 10 years and immersed herself in the cuisine scene in this over-the-top city. She knows and has written about celebrity chefs, their restaurants, and food and reported dining trends not only in Las Vegas but throughout the world, from South Africa to Scandinavia, New Zealand to South America. She knows master sommeliers and mixologists and has written extensively about wines and spirits, particularly California, as well as Oregon, Virginia, and Kentucky (Bourbon) and Tennessee (Whiskey). She has dined at globally celebrated restaurants such as Taillevent (Paris), Noma (Copenhagen), Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (London), Per Se (New York), and French Laundry (Yountville). She has served as a judge in culinary competitions, been guest lecturer at Le Cordon Bleu, Las Vegas, and served as PR consultant for the 2012 UNLVino, Nevada’s oldest and largest wine event. Photo by Jim K. Dekker