London - British Isles

beigel_big.jpgWhat is it with all the Queen’s men? In an earlier piece on great sandwiches in London, I mentioned my British friend Craig, who now lives in LA and told me “there are no great sandwiches in London.” At a recent TV Academy event, I met Steve, a young English director, who said the exact same thing. Even though he admitted that he loved the Brick Lane shop I trumpet below, he later emailed and said: “[I would] argue that 5 or 6 places out of 1000 still means we have a long way to go before we catch up with the US of A.” Then today, adding insult to injury, my friend Colin, who is here visiting from his home in Shepherd’s Bush, said that eating at certain places in Los Angeles is like a religious experience to him! Is he in the same LA I am? London is clearly having a difficult time shedding its age-old reputation as a town where baked beans on toast is a gourmet meal. But listen to me, Craig, Steve, Colin and assorted infidels – you’re out of date and worshipping at the wrong temples! Herewith, more great London sandwiches to try to convert you:

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One of my favorite bites of 2009 was a bit of a trek, which is most unfortunate because if I lived nearby I would be a regular. I'd eat there so often they'd probably have to name a table after me. The last time I was there I ate the perfect meal and as simple as it sounds, it's impossible to replicate. Scenery and location are always a bonus and The Smuggler's Speciality Restaurant could qualify for a memorable meal for those reasons alone.

"Smuggler's" as the locals call it, is in Waterville, Ireland at the end of the Ring of Kerry. It's not fancy, inside or out, but it doesn't need to be. It sits on Balliskelligs Bay where the mountains meet the sea and every table has a view. I had been there many years ago and when my best friend Missy and I decided to drive the countryside of western Ireland for a week in September, Smuggler's immediately came to mind. I love their logo "The fish is only fresher if it's in the sea." And I love the directions they give on their website, "One mile from Waterville on a sandy beach."

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angelusLondon has become a mecca for great restaurants...contrary to the myth that has grown up probably due to ignorance and jealousy especially by the French and also by many Americans unfortunately. A few years ago I was invited to lunch with a group of writers in Los Angeles. It was given to honour the Minister of Culture from the UK. After the luncheon he asked each of us to speak a few words and when it came to my turn I told him that my mission was to dispel the myth that had grown up in the USA about British food and since that time I have been doing that.

Nowadays many of the British chefs are invited all over the world to cook and I for one also find this disturbing as their egos become inflated and they start producing cuisine that is over the top! Unfortunately because of the demand by the public to have exotic dishes many chefs bring in foods that are not seasonal and this is also is to their detriment.

However, we still have hidden away restaurants in London and many towns across the UK where you can find great food being served. Using local products mostly organic and also only seasonal vegetables and fruits, they take pride in the quality of what they serve.

So let me tell you about Angelus a fabulous eating house near the Royal Park Hotel just off Westbourne Terrace. Once it was an old pub frequented by such illuminati as Winston Churchill and other political figures. The interior has an elegant Art-Nouveau feel incorporated into the original early 19h century architecture. It is also located in one of London's few remaining working mews next door to the Hyde Park Stables.

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piccadilly.jpgSpring break senior year, two months before I graduate from NYU is not exactly a vacation even though I went to London to visit my Dad.  It’s more like preparation for my final senior project, a focused study amalgamating EVERYTHING I’ve learned up ‘til now, split up by small breaks of art, shopping, and of course, food.  Basically, stress oozed out of every pore the entire ten days.  I tried doing yoga; I tried going for runs; I tried a few breathing exercises, and sure, all of that helped, but there’s really only one thing that hit the spot: chain restaurants.

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shardbuildingIt may have started with the London cabbies, but the city’s new skyscrapers all have affectionate but cheeky nicknames: Can of Ham, Cheesegrater, Gherkin, Walkie-Talkie, and the Shard to name a few… They are all easy to spot; their height and outrageous design makes them obvious. It is said that the Walkie-Talkie has created scary wind patterns with its Downdraught Effect and worse, “A Death Ray” as one report called it “channeling the sun in its concave façade to temperatures capable of melting cars!” YIKES! All in all, 230 such towers are in the planning. Wow!

It is the Shard AKA Shard of Glass, Salt Cellar or London Bridge Tower, however that took our fancy! Called the Shard as it truly does look like a large sliver of broken glass, this structure houses, according to its architect, Renzo Piano, “a tower as a vertical city, for thousands of people to work in and enjoy.” Besides offices, the Shangri La Hotel and numerous bars on the top floors, it has the sexy HUTONG – my new favorite Chinese Restaurant. If you have been in London within the last two years you may have already had the pleasure of experiencing Hutong, or if you have been to Hong Kong you will recognize this as an outpost of the renowned restaurant with the same name. If not, let me sing its praise.

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