Snapshots from London: A Foodie’s Map to the Underground Tube
Please welcome Kang from London Eater and his wonderful guest post! If you live in London or ever plan on visiting London, this food lover’s guide to the underground railway is for you! Thank you Kang for this great resource and delicious foodie insight!
How to travel and eat with the London underground map
Like most Londoners, I rely on the tube to get to work every morning, to get back to my warm crib and to get to my favourite restaurants. But like most public transportation networks in sprawling cities, the system can be a bit daunting to follow what with all the names, colours and lines upon lines…
So I had a brain bolt and thought it’d be helpful to create a make shift foodie tube map for anyone wanting to eat with the underground map as a guide.
London is an organic city with the inner ‘heart’ of the city being where all the magic happens. Think of it like a two dimensional onion. London has layers designed in concentric ‘zones’: There are 6 major zones with zone 1 being central London. The further out you go, the less touristy it gets.
The London Foodie Map
A lot of great foodie spots can be found in Central London , a fairly small patch of the entire city – but densely packed in. Is this map definitive? – of course not, there are plenty of other great places to eat, but I thought I’d give you a few highlights. I guess we can start with that famous movie made in West London (no, not Wimbledon) with Julia Roberts playing a fictional version of herself and falls madly in love with a resident of Notting Hill Gate. Yes that’s the tube station to get off for the Portobello market which now sees millions of tourist flock to it, even though I think that foodies would be more interested in Borough market instead (more on this later).
Dim sum at Queensway
I think that great Chinese food can be found in pretty much every major city and one of my favourite things to do on a Sunday is to have dim sum for lunch. Perhaps the most popular one to have it is at Royal China in Queensway.
The dinner menu isn’t that stellar, but the dim sum menu is as good as one can get in London. Dim sum (in cantonese) roughly translates to ‘touch heart’, depending on whom you speak to, ’touch heart’ can mean that the food is just so heart-touchingly good, or that the food comes in small bite sizes, they are like little gifts to touch your heart. Both are valid interpretations in my opinion, especially when you are eating at Royal China. Typical dishes come in easily manageable bites (generally speaking, four if is tiny, three if its a big bite and two if its a mouthful).
They can be broadly split into steamed, fried and sweet categories, although, the varieties are endless. There are the safe dishes such as ha gao (prawn dumpling), cheung fun (rice noodle rolls), shui mai (pork and prawn dumpling), steam spare ribs in black bean sauce (pai kuat), steamed chicken feet (kai giok). I’m not a big fan of chicken feet, but you can’t go wrong with everything else.
NZ fusion Baker Street
If you travel along the circle line (yellow), which is literally a train line that goes in a circle in zone 1, you’ll find wax models at Madam Tussauds at Baker Street station. You’ll also find the now emerging Marylebone foodie village. On the tube map, it’s that bit of space between Baker Street and Marylebone station. Lots of nice places to eat but perhaps the best one is the Providores and Tapa room.
This two storey eatery is actually two restaurants in one: Upstairs is the Providores, a posh dinner restaurant serving contemporary NZ/Spanish fusion and on the ground floor is the Tapa room which is more of a café and does excellent breakfast. Their signature dish is a Turkish fusion dish of Greek yogurt and poached eggs in chili oil – but I particularly loved the sauteed creamed wild mushrooms with parmesan and jamon on toasted sourdough, simply yummy and absolutely divine.
Go to Europe at Kings Cross
King’s cross and St Pancras is the home of the Eurostar. The romance of this gateway to Europe is hard to ignore. It is still recognised as the ‘Cathedral of Railways’ with it’s Victorian roots and it’s awe-inspiring train shed – once the single largest structure of it’s time. Perhaps the most romantic quality of the station are the red bricks and blue steel frames, or maybe it’s the statue of John Betjeman – the man who saved the storied station – it could even be the St Pancras clock, but I think it’s most likely ‘the meeting place’ – the towering bronze statue of two embracing lovers at the end of the upper level, designed to evoke the romance of travel. Just outside the trains (yes, literally) is St Pancras Grand which has an interior that harks back to a much trendier time in the 40’s.
It is also here that one can grab a pretty good example of steak tartare. This dish is almost a staple in French speaking Europe, but over here, it is still largely shunned because of the rawness of the dish when in fact it tastes pretty good. Yes, that’s raw beef steak minced and then seasoned with a host of ingredients, the key one being capers. In theory, eating raw beef is fine, so long as there are no bacteria on it. Bacteria are usually found on the meat surface only, which is why browning the surface and having full raw innards is quite safe to eat. With tartare, a cunning chef will use a ‘clean knife’ to cut away the surface meat (making sure it’s a good cut of meat and it’s fresh) and then finely chop what’s left into a mince.
Dine in complete darkness in Farringdon
There are only about three places in Europe where you can do this and London is one of them. Dans le noir’s concept asks diners to have complete trust in their blind waiters. The dining room is completely pitch black and it is quite an experience having to poke and prod the plate to find your food and then sticking one’s thumb into the glass to measure how much you’re pouring. I must say its pretty disorientating at first but once you’ve tuned your ears to the tonal space, visualized the restaurant and distinguished the guests by their chatter and chattering shoes, you will find yourself filling in the dark with a rich restaurant experience.
The British Gastropub at Covent Garden
Yes, there is such a thing as damn, good British food and you can find them in gastropubs. As the name implies, it’s a gastrocentric pub with an overachieving kitchen and food at gastropubs are straightforward, hearty and very British. Perhaps the best one I’ve ever been to is Great Queen Street.. along Great Queen Street. No.32 is almost legendary now, and their daily changing menu is reflects the seasons and is a breath of fresh air. If you are even on the wrong side of the pond, then you must try the Cornish crabs on toast. The lemon infused mayonnaise is absolutely divine and the chunks of crab meat will put you into a daze. Forget prawn cocktails or fish and chips, this is gourmet British food at it’s best.
Borough Market at London Bridge
Still with me on my foodie map? We’ve gone almost all the way round and are heading southwards toward London Bridge on the Northern (black) line.
If you love food, you must go and check out the gourmet food central that is Borough market. Borough market is not one big, continuous market. Rather it’s kinda made of different ‘hubs’. Each hub sells different types of food, for example, one hub would sell sweets and cheese, and another are a mixture of cooked food, veges and meat. There are also wine sellers, fine meat sellers and basically if there is a small producer or a purveyor of some kind of exotic food you will almost definitely find it at this market. Well worth a visit, the atmosphere and buzz alone is enough to give you lingering memories…
Lunch & cruise along the Thames
Every tourist will have got off at the Embankment tube station to catch breathtaking views of the Parliament, the London Eye and Tower bridge…
…. boring, boring boring! Instead of just watching the water flow, you should get yourself on a cruise that does a nice three course lunch and float along the river as you eat. I can’t vouch for all the vendors offering this service, but I can vouch for Veurve Cliquot Cruise, it really is pretty brilliant. The boat (Silver Sturgeon) is regal and the food is modern British , complete with free flowing champagne. As you dig into your haunch of venison, you’ll be passing just under the imposing Eye and as you are tucking in your apple crumble pudding, the boat will just be swinging around the O2. Amazing stuff.
The hummingbird bakery at South Kensington
We love our sweet things over here, and what better place to chill out than at the pre-eminent purveyors of designer cupcakes. The Hummingbird can be found in the very affluent South Kensington that is also home to Royal Albert Hall. The cakes themselves are dense, rich and very creamy. The best part of it though, is the luxuriously rich icing. You’ve got to try the red velvet, which features a red sponge that tastes much like vanilla and the icing is a very interesting cheesecake flavour.
The best Spanish outside Spain in Gloucester Road
So this is the last stop: Gloucester road, my home and also home of my favourite restaurant in London. The dish is char grilled octopus on a bed of paprika potato puree. The octopus is nicely flamed to give that smoky taste, wonderfully tender yet bouncy at the same time. However, the best part of the dish is the puree.
It marries nicely and compliments the octopus stunningly. Think blended potatoes, so fine that its a consistent paste. But its so well binded that it has the texture of a solid mash, with the fluidity of double cream. I know it sounds abit ridiculous, but it really is that good. It’s just the way the chef pairs and compliments flavour upon flavour, like building a house of cards, delicately balanced, when it all comes together in harmony, it’s like opera. Symphonic and totally edible. Finished off with olive oil and sweet paprika… The place is called Cambio De Tercio and on that note, I’m leaving you on Gloucester Road, I hope you find this little foodie tube map useful and I hope this little snapshot of London eating has whetted you appetite, as for me: time for some octopus. Happy eating folks!
Kang writes for the blog London Eater where he reviews a different London eatery in each post! Check out his site for more droolworthy reviews.