London food gave me a rasher

We went to Europe to eat. I like buildings and museums and stuff, but I went to Europe to eat. Sheryl went to Europe to eat too, I’d assume. Maybe I should ask her.

Going to London to eat is recommended, but only if it is the sixteenth century (and only then if you like your mutton charred). Inhabitants of the past half-millennium are better served by any culinary option available in the neighborhood of their particular space-time. I lived in London for 18 weeks and knew this to be true, but I was foolish and let my desire to show Sheryl My London trump my stomach.

(You’re going to have to forgive any accuracies in this retelling; I’ll remember as best I can, but some details might be changed for the sake of edible drama. Take it all with a grain or two of salt.)

Our first meal was the one I spent four years looking forward to: a return to Japan Centre. While training in London I worked with some kids from the Tokyo office, and someone back in Japan must have told them about this place, because starting the first week in London they were heading there for dinner after work. When I’d go with them it was a real treat: the setup was traditional Japanese lunch counter; you’d sit on a stool and order one of the katsu curry dishes, and the cooks would prepare them in front of you. They’d start you off with miso soup, though, and refills were free (if you could catch their attention with a well-timed sumimasen). The katsu, rice, pickles, miso soup and a delicate tofu block would go for £7. It was about as cheap a dinner as you could get in the city.

London is expensive.

In the interim, Japan Centre has lost its lunch counter (or, more accurately, the lunch counter has been reappropriated as a sushi counter; not a good sign). Some space that was previously devoted to Japanese manga and magazines was cleared away to make room for two rows of tables, and a sit-down restaurant, Toku, was born. The menu at Toku bore some similarities to what I remembered. There was pork katsu, but it was served with only an unjustified salad and a single bowl of miso (sumimasen be damned). And it was £12. So that was a bit discouraging.

We spent a lot of the time in London attempting to eat at Express Coffee Co., which despite the name makes some decent pizza while simultaneously not being Pizza Express. Express Coffee Co. was one of the places in London that was never, ever open. The majority of the Prets and Eats we passed by were never, ever open, either. Our sleep schedules were more than a bit off and we tended to pass by all these places well after the lunch rush, but you’d think they’d be occasionally open, no? We did manage to find a couple of Prets and a Nero coffee house that were open late (read: after 7:00pm), and I do like Pret sandwiches. There’s been a mini-explosion of them in midtown (tuna salad everywhere!), and I’d be very pleased if we got one down by the Brooklyn office. Packaged triangular sandwiches from Marks & Sparks also played a large role in our not-starving on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day we ate at a Lebanese restaurant. We also ate a very filling meal in Chinatown (Peking duck; a few veggie and beef dishes) on what I also think was Christmas Day, but probably wasn’t.

The highlight of our London food experience must have been Wagamama (because if not, what was?). Wagamama is a fun little chain of hippie-crunchy Japanese noodle shops. I had a chicken chili ramen bowl which was lovely, and the wasabi chocolae mousse cake was better than it sounded. But a few months back Sheryl and I wandered into Momofuku on a Sunday afternoon and managed to get seated–it’s really hard for any ramen to stack up to that, and when you factor in the exchange rate, Momofuku was much cheaper.

Then of course there was Paris, which was another, tastier beast entirely. I’ll post about that next.

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