I love making to-do lists (even if I rarely stick to them), and when traveling I’m definitely one of those people prone to going through the guidebook and coming up with long itineraries for myself, featuring every museum or attraction that seems remotely interesting. Even in Paris, the city I’ve been living in for the last two months, I still play an intense round of the tourist game every weekend, where I walk around for hours and try to check off as many landmarks as humanly possible.
However, last weekend in London, I did almost no touristing at all, and it was wonderful. Instead, Liam and I spent the weekend just doing some really ordinary things–ducking into an arcade for a game of air hockey, going to the movie theatre, ordering take-out on the couch while watching the X Factor, and doing a lot of not much at all. There were some really special moments as well, of course, such as a fancy lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant and going to adopt a precious baby hedgehog, but not a lot of the things one usually thinks to do when they visit London.
London always strikes me as a cheerful city. Its full of beautiful, extensive green spaces, meandering roads, eclectic buildings and distinct neighborhoods. Paris is a city of straight lines and grand boulevards and very similar facades. Ever since I arrived, I’ve felt a little bit suffocated, and found in this relative uniformity an overarching moodiness that verges on melancholy. it’s a truly beautiful city and the more I get to know it the more I appreciate how much it has to offer, but it doesn’t smile.
So, I was glad to enjoy a change of atmosphere, some pretty green grass, and of course the ability to speak the local language with everyone I met.
Saturday we had reservations at Chez Bruce, an unassuming restaurant on Wandsworth common that is often accepted as being one of the best in London. According to the website, the aim of the restaurant is to produce “French influenced modern British food”, and I was interested to see exactly what that meant. I was especially looking forward to see how one of London’s top chefs applied the traditional techniques I’m learning to a modern palate, and under different influences.
I wasn’t disappointed at all. The food we were served was tasty (if not particularly interesting, but I don’t fault that) and service was impeccable. Chez Bruce prides itself on serving “unpretentious food”, and I’d have to agree with that…the dishes were perfectly prepared and beautifully presented, but there weren’t any surprises. You get exactly what you expect to get and you know what it is you’re eating.
Upon sitting down, we were immediately offered some cheese biscuits, which were delicious, and shortly followed by a beautiful marble slab topped with a round plat of butter, and some of the most delicious rosemary and sea salt bread I’ve ever tasted in my life. I hadn’t even ordered yet, and I was already swooning.
Liam opted out of ordering an appetizer course, but I couldn’t resist trying the civet of venison with homemade spaetzle. It seems like an odd thing to offer as a starter, which is why I was curious, but it wasn’t particularly heavy or filling. What it was: warm, homey, and perfect for a crisp fall afternoon.
My main course was Chicken breast with herb-crusted ballotine, gnocchi gratin and girolles.
I’ve never had a piece of chicken so moist and tender before in my life, and for that Chez Bruce deserves high applause. It was delicious. The ballotine was good, but I really wasn’t sure what to make of the “herb crust.” I didn’t end up eating very much of it, it was too much like felt in consistency to be particularly pleasurable to me. The gnocchi, oddly, was served separately to the chicken plate, in a little dish much like the venison. Liam and I both agreed it was delicious, soft and cheesy, and the perfect quantity.
Liam ordered the pork belly and black pudding with choucroute, apple, mustard and sage. He seemed to enjoy it, and it certainly looked good. I did end up eating most of his choucroute myself, which I thought was perfect–not too sour, obviously made in-house.
And here we are with dessert. Liam got roast figs, warm financier and amaretti, which was superb. I like figs, but had never had them cooked before…I think I’m going to have to try this at home. I ended up stealing several bites of the ice cream to put on my pie…amazed Liam didn’t try harder to stop me. If that had been my dish I would have fought for it. And here’s me with my Plum, almond and vanilla tart. Unfortunately that dollop next to it is only clotted cream, not ice cream…which is why I had to sneak some of Liam’s. It was delicious though, no complaints. The crust was magnificent.
Overall, a wonderful experience and I had a wonderful time there! This post isn’t meant to be a restaurant review but I feel the need to document it anyway. I’m actually now contemplating whether it might be a nice place to do my mandatory internship. It definitely has a lot of what is important to me in a restaurant—good, honest food, and a concern for people. I love that so much of what they serve-from charcuterie to bread, is made in-house…so a wide variety of things to learn and observe.
After stuffing ourselves with our delicious lunch, it was off to the next most exciting thing of the day…going to get our newest little friend–baby hedgehog! I showed you his picture earlier this week, but I’ll show you again…here he is:
Here we are waiting for the train to go home. i couldn’t put him down. He’s 8 weeks old and absolutely the sweetest, silliest thing I’ve ever seen. Liam would probably add that he’s messy and moody (but we all can’t be perfect, can we?). He mostly likes to find holes and places to hide, and spends most of his time nosing around in search of a good one. Not sure we’ve decided on a name yet, but Wasabi seems to be winning out.
Sunday we went to a showing of Wolf Children as part of the London Film Festival. Unfortunately none of the trains seemed to be running on schedule, so we were a little bit late. The movie was enjoyable, not the most spectacular film ever, but had an interesting premise and a positive message. From there, we wandered to Camden Town.
In case you aren’t familiar with London, Camden is an eclectic neighborhood that is most famous for it’s extensive markets, where you can find a wide variety of vendors selling everything from gothic fashion to moroccan lamps. It’s totally worth spending a couple hours there, wandering around and taking in the atmosphere.
Fitting perfectly with the weirder side of Camden is this new-ish nitrogen icecream parlor, boasting itself to be the first of its kind in Europe. I can’t imagine there are many outside of Europe either. The icecream begins as a liquid that is poured into a kitchenaid mixer at the time of the order, and then a generous portion of Liquid Nitrogen is added on top. I loved that they decorated it to look like a science lab, and named it accordingly. As Chin-Chin Labs‘ creator (pictured below) informed us, the purpose of using liquid nitrogen is that it freezes the ice cream before ice crystals have time to form, resulting in a smoother texture overall (although i assume the real reason you use liquid nitrogen is just for the novelty factor). We skipped the traditional chocolate and vanilla flavors in favor of some of the weirder daily specials…White Chocolate and Pistachio and Ginger Wine and Biscuits. The Ginger one was good, but had a strong ginger taste, and was slightly boozy, so I wouldn’t recommend if you don’t like those things very much. The white chocolate one was much sweeter, and very delicious. I like that the folks behind Chin Chin Labs treat icecream like a chef treats his menu…coming up with interesting flavor combinations and fun, unique garnishes.
Definitely an interesting culinary experience you can’t find anywhere else.
Unfortunately I had a train to catch, so my little London adventure had to end there. I’m definitely looking forward to my next visit…which hopefully isn’t too long to wait!