The ’ber months have started and you may be planning your Christmas vacation. How about Great Britain? That is, if you’re not feeling like Ebenezer Scrooge and willing to splurge a bit.
A few notables in the land of William and Kate:
Dinner by Heston
The most notable entry in this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants is Dinner (www.dinnerbyheston.com) at the Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park, London. Earlier, the much-lauded Heston Blumenthal had sealed his reputation with the Fat Duck, (www.thefatduck.co.uk), a concept restaurant that garnered three Michelin stars located outside of London in Bray, Berkshire. A meal at The Fat Duck is priced at (don’t fall off your seat) 180 British pounds or nearly P10,000 per head. Less highbrow yet equally creative, with a la carte items that range from 32 pounds, or over P2,000, to 72 pounds or almost P5,000, is Dinner. The concept is something our own food historian Felice Sta. Maria would very much appreciate: the resurrection and reworking by Blumenthal and chef Ashley Palmer-Watts of recipes from the history books of Great Britain dating as far back as the 14th century.
To be honest, the only conclusion I had after a meal here is that the dukes and dames of centuries past did not eat much differently from the way we do! But all the creations here are exciting, beginning with the much-celebrated Meat Starter of chicken liver dressed as a Mandarin orange! (Picture an orange but it’s all exquisite, melt-in-your-mouth liver spread inside.) The pigeon, apparently also served at a celebration of the Malolos Convention, was cooked to juicy perfection with not a hint of gaminess and just a hint of spice. The steak tasted like…steak. No petticoats here, you can come as you are and simply enjoy the masterpieces of the great Blumenthal.
This is located at Notting Hill (made famous by the Julia Roberts-Hugh Grant romantic-comedy), quite a train ride away. It’s the fancy neighborhood restaurant in the posh side of the suburbs, if you will. The crowd is very upper crust. The service is excellent: attentive and educated yet accommodating and not at all snooty. The servers explain the processes that Australian chef Brett Graham undertook to achieve what you are about to experience for every item on the menu. And the sommelier gives honest takes on the wines.
The hemp biscuit with foie gras and the starter of quail egg with Kataifi pastry flakes reveal the chef’s Asian influences; the artichoke pâté alongside Cèpe mushroom purée, the simple but excellently cooked Mackarel, and the scallops with seaweed expose the chef’s excellent techniques. Best of all, the chef is “super guapo” and “wow so cute”—so ask to be introduced!
Who doesn’t love Jamie Oliver? Fifteen London is both his restaurant and advocacy. Here, 15 kitchen apprentices run the kitchen. The setting is casual, the prices are reasonable, the servings are generous both in size and taste. The starter of burrata is enough to seal your opinion of the meal: fresh, beautifully gooey, and, alongside caramelized almonds, absolutely heavenly. The gnocchi, which literally melts in your mouth, is the lightest I have tasted in my life—maybe I’ve been deprived! The pork dish is like lechon kawali but not as oily. It’s an experience that definitely lives up to the Jamie Oliver signature. (Note: This is also quite distant so make sure you get proper directions.)
This is Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant. While he is celebrated in the United States, apparently the Brits don’t appreciate much Ramsay’s rude antics. But the meal did not disappoint: the steaks would satisfy a connoisseur and I was personally happy with my quail. However, if you are already at the Savoy, I would suggest to skip the grill and have tea at the lounge instead. It is so pretty with its little gazebo with a grand piano in the middle. You can have a perfect English cup o’ tea. Also, this lounge offers the best Eggs Benedict ever.
For the real foodie, you must hit Borough Market. Think Salcedo Market on steroids and with better weather! Stall owners offer varieties of cheese, tea, cacao, English jams, bread, greens, mushrooms, you name it. The best fish ’n chips I tried during my visit was also at a stall here—and it cannot be said that I did not look. It’s open only on Fridays, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s just off London Bridge so you will get a glimpse of it, too. Although there’s really not much to see there—there’s more to see at the market than on the bridge!
Sherlock Holmes Pub
For a taste of real Guinness amid a real English setting, there’s the Sherlock Holmes Pub. Actually, you can get this almost anywhere but it’s just fun to have that pint of dark beer amid the very English memory of Sherlock Holmes.
If you forgot to bring pasalubong from Manila, you can cheat by going to Earl’s Court where the Filipino Channel is located. Danny Buenafe, TFC bureau chief, was kind enough to show me around and I was happy to discover a shop called Divisoria which has so many Pinoy items, including Chippy! Saan mang sulok ng mundo, mabuhay ang Pilipino!