From London, with love: Kunal Vijayakar on his favourite eats in the Harry Potter-esque city
HT48HRS_Special Updated: Oct 16, 2015 15:40 IST
My constant lament about Mumbai is that, while we have new restaurants and cafés opening up nearly every day, cuisines still remain quite conservative. The flavours-of-the-day usually vacillate between pan-Asian chic, Mediterranean pseudo and Mumbai kitsch. Not that I have anything against that kind of food, in fact, Mumbai’s kitschy cuisine embodies some of my favourite tastes. But where are the breakthroughs in the grub?
I’m just back from London after a short six-day gastronomic sojourn. I do this a few times a year, simply because I like the city, and it is not as far away as Melbourne, New York or Los Angeles. Now, my average trip to London is a parade of breakfasts, lunches, teas and dinners, all curated by friends, acquaintances and experts, and I thought I’d share the highlights of just one day and four meals, with you.
I started with breakfast. On Piccadilly, right next to the glamourous Ritz, is a Harry Potter-esque wrought iron gate that leads you into The Wolseley. It was once a motorcar showroom, but is now a café-restaurant in the grand European tradition. And when in England ,you must have a full English breakfast. I did two boiled eggs and soldiers, with sausage, baked beans, tomato, black pudding and mushroom.
The boiled eggs are soft and come with two butter-toasted soldiers, which you dip into the golden yolk and devour, whilst using the left hand to fork up some beans and sausage. I indulged myself further, by adding a portion of devilled lamb kidneys and crispy bacon.
Following this, lunch had to be non-English, so I settled for Italian. I am not the greatest fan of spaghetti and pasta, so when I was invited to Scalini, I went with a bit of trepidation. Scalini turned out to be one of the oldest traditional fine-dining Italian restaurants left in London.
Situated in the fashionable area of Chelsea — right behind the celebrated shop Harrods, in a quiet lane — it’s an unpretentious place. We started with Bresaola & Ricotta (cured wafer thin slices of tenderloin with the freshest and softest ricotta cheese blobs herbed beautifully and drizzled with olive oil) served with a basket of Italian bread (ciabatta, pane di genzano and friselle).
For the mains, it was Rognoncini Mostarda (chopped veal kidneys and mushrooms in cream, mustard seeds in brandy sauce) while my host ordered the Costoletta di Vitello Scalini veal (chop stuffed with ham, mushrooms, topped with cheese and truffle butter). My blinkered views and shuttered opinion on Italian food changed that afternoon as I stepped out under the trees at Egerton Crescent and onto the sunny Brompton Road.
They say, when in London you must do tea. And by ‘do tea’ it means more than tea. So, it was a quick short walk to Harrods and an elevator ride to the top floor. The Georgian has been up there since 1913. The dress code is smart casual attire and the place does not permit shorts, singlets, flip flops or thong sandals, or anything with a bare midriff or bare feet.
For afternoon tea, The Gerogian offers Rosé Champagne, thin, dainty sandwiches, including a lobster club or Rosper roasted steak sandwich, baked scones served with clotted cream, strawberry jam and homemade lemon curd, and strawberries with Pimm’s syrup. On the side are a Somerset brie tart, and spinach and caviar in puff pastry. It ends with a chilled pot of Harrods Trifle pudding.
I broke all my rules and agreed to eat an Indian meal for dinner. Considering that most Indian restaurants in London are run by Bangladeshis, it really doesn’t sound appetising. But a movement, which was started by Camellia Panjabi with Veeraswamy and Chutney Mary a couple of decades ago, has added quite a few Michelin stars to London’s Indian food scene. The latest happening Indian food destination is Gymkhana. Cavernous with dark wood interiors and with pictures of colonial memories hanging on the walls, Gymkhana’s food is not really Anglo-Indian but stylishly Indian.
Chef Karam Sethi from Mumbai’s famous Trishna serves up a beast of a feast. Emotions tug at your heartstrings as you start with a basket of mixed papad (cassava, lentil and rice) along with pickled green chilli chutney and mango chutney. Its signature starter is simple but audacious — duck egg bhurji with lobster served with Malabar paratha. And for the rest, you’ve got to be game. Venison keema naan, quail seekh kebab, wild boar vindaloo, and dosa with Chettinad duck and coconut chutney.
I’d say, all these were meals fit for a king. But then, England is still a long way from getting one.
Author and TV show host Vijayakar is “always hungry”. Follow him on Twitter @kunalvijayakar