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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Maybe the English Can Cook (Second in a Three-Part Series): London

"My jet lag is getting a bit ridiculous. But, you know, it's first-world problems. It's a wonderful problem, 'Oh I have to travel around the world; how awful."

--Margot Robbie

Bitching about air travel may now be the greatest American pastime. I'm guilty of it as well. We get frustrated with long TSA lines, busy airports, and cramped seating on planes. 

I thought about this as I stepped off the plane one overcast late morning at Heathrow. A mere eight and a half hours before, I was 3,000 miles and six time zones away.  But yeah, jet lag can be a bitch. Here's how we handled it.


It's late morning, and I'm tired. I should've slept more on the plane, but I was jacked. Customs in the UK can be tough. Laura is the pro, so I let her do the talking.

Heading out to the taxi stand, the first thing I notice is the temperature—at least twenty degrees cooler than muggy Alabama. It's like I got placed into a time machine—Alabama in mid-December. We pile into one of those classic, black London cabs. They are something out of Harry Potter. When I first saw one pull up, I think: "There's no way in hell we can get four massive suitcases, three backpacks, and all four of us into that thing." But damn if we don't all fit, Bento box style.

We arrive at the hotel but our rooms are not ready. The kids check email; Laura plows through a conference call; I nap on the sofa in the lobby. And then we're off to the Imperial War Museum. We jump right into this thing. Jeta lag? What jet lag?

We skip lunch though not sure why. Maybe we are recovering from the three meals we got on the plane. We do find the tea room at the IWM. (I will discover that every museum, castle, and random tourist attraction in the U.K. has a tea room or café, typically next to, or in close proximity to, the gift shop.)

We eventually get into our rooms. Laura and I unpack...sorta. I head to the bar for some R&R and to edit my photos. 

Dinner tonight is at the Laughing Gravy, a gastropub in Southwark. I'm tired; we're all tired. (Hamp's head droops several times during dinner like a crapulous sailor.) But this place is worth fighting through jet lag to get to. It's a good start for this "The-Brits-Can't-Cook" Francophile. The food and wine list look promising. The server brings me a decent martini. 

Dinner arrives:
Chicken liver and foie gras pate with a cherry glaze, wild mushroom and game croquette, farmhouse crostini and candied hazelnut
Duck faggot ragout with pappardelle, girolles, and spring vegetables (We laugh about the un-PC name of this dish—at least for Americans. We consider asking for a safe space.)
Milk jam ice cream sundae sandwich, candied nuts, peanut butter cream, white chocolate popcorn mousse.

I think to myself: "Emphasize the "gastro" in gastropub for sure!"

Bellies full. We all sleep well. 

The next morning we are up early, even Hamp. With Laura's knowledge of London's serpentine streets, we quickly make  our way to the Churchill War Rooms. 

On the walk over, I read about them on the web, trying to remember to look left and not get run over as I stare at my iPhone:

Construction of the Cabinet War Rooms, located beneath the Treasury building in the Whitehall area of Westminster, began in 1938. They became operational in August 1939, shortly before the outbreak of war in Europe. They remained in operation throughout the Second World War, before being abandoned in August 1945 after the surrender of Japan. After the war the historic value of the Cabinet War Rooms was recognised. Their preservation became the responsibility of the Ministry of Works and later the Department for the Environment, during which time very limited numbers of the public were able to visit by appointment. In the early 1980s the Imperial War Museum was asked to take over the administration of the site, and the Cabinet War Rooms were opened to the public in April 1984. The museum was reopened in 2005 following a major redevelopment as the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, but in 2010 this was shortened to the Churchill War Rooms.

As I walk through this amazing museum, dedicated to a man I've always respected, I realize that, not only did he kick some Nazi ass for five years, but he ate and drank pretty damn well. Cognac. Champagne. Port. Madeira. Wine. Repeat. Repeat. 

I walk around the corner and find a kitchen. A bunker with a kitchen! Churchill had a private cook. Her name was  Georgina Landemare. And she made a lot of dishes with Béchamel sauce. A lot.

And I thought. Maybe the Brits are unfairly maligned for their cooking. Sure, food doesn't fortify their culture the same way it does for the French. But to have fine food and wine during the darkest days of WWII--to show Hitler that "life goes on"; the whole "stiff upper lip" thing—perhaps that makes up for all that boiled meat. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Maybe the English Can Cook? (First in a Series of Three Posts)

“The British Empire was created as a by-product of generations of desperate Englishmen roaming the world in search of a decent meal.”

-- Bill Marsano

One of the joys of traveling is not just eating local but eating well. So when I told folks I was traveling to England and Scotland, I heard the typical cracks about bad English food and queries whether I liked haggis. But believe it or not, food in the U.K. is probably better than it's ever been. After all, the U.K. is home to Gordon Ramsey, Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver, Marco Pierre White, and Tom Kitchin (youngest chef to win a Michelin star). With chefs like these, I bet a lot more English and Scots are eating at home these days. But first we had to get there...

The plan was to fly out of Birmingham on United #5846 to Houston and then fly out on a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner to Heathrow. The weather in Birmingham was clear that day, with thunderstorms not predicted to arrive until several hours after we were leave. But of course those T-storms had to come from some where, and guess where? That's right. Houston.

A two-hour delay, which equaled, to the minute, the layover we had in Houston. 

We were clearly going to miss our connection. But thanks to Laura's status with United (I've nicknamed her the Flying Pharaoh), United put us on a Delta flight leaving Atlanta at 9:45PM. After a quick dash to retrieve our bags, we were on the road in a Hertz rental. With light traffic, we made it to Atlanta in record time (the underpowered Jeep notwithstanding). Before we knew it, we were nestled into our pods in business class. 

The last time I flew Delta international was four years ago--a fifteen and a half hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa, in Economy Plus. To this day, I still don't know what they served us to eat on that flight. Needless to say, I faced this flight with some trepidation, business class or not.

I've always thought that the only reason to eat food on an airplane is help to pass the time. Though airline food is getting better. In fact, it may be the best it's been since the so-called golden age of air travel. (This probably has a lot to do to do with the fact that airlines have finally recovered from 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008-2009.) It seems like every airline these days employs a celebrity chef to put together their first/business class menus. Air France has Daniel Boulud; Qatar has Nobu Matsuhisa; and Delta has .... Linton Hopkins. Ok, Hopkins may not be a household name, but he's the chef and owner of a very, very good restaurant in Atlanta called Holeman and Finch Public House. Kudos to Delta for supporting the culinary home team.

For starters, we had a cream of corn soup topped with a lobster tarragon salad garnish; heirloom cherry tomato and cucumber salad; Mediterranean roasted chicken with chickpea salad, haricots verts, and natural au jus; and a warmed blackberry crisp for dessert.

I must say, I was pleasantly surprised. So, if this was just the meal on Delta Business Class, then there was hope that the food in London would be better than it was the last time I was there in my twenties when I could only afford bitter and meat pies at the local pub. Yeah, I know that's a pretty low bar.

Stay tuned for Part 2 to find out!

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