Happy New Year! What a great topic to start of 2015 with, my former home city of London. We just arrived back from a mini “break” and wine marathon; touring through as many shops and restaurants as humanly possible in four days.
When I lived in London (2012-2013), I used to go out all the time with M. Prices in restaurants are (at least were before the £ started regaining some strength) relatively cheap compared to Finland and Sweden, and prices in grocery stores (the city ones) high-ish. So it almost made more sense going out to eat than making food at home. Additionally, it was almost impossible to find real ingredients in the stores in the center. Everything was pre-made or at least prepared half way. The quality was not too bad, but it did put some limits to what one could “make” for dinner. However, it made my weekdays easy, and we compensated for the thin store selection by going out a lot. These days London is like the Disneyland for foodies (long gone are the days when the food in the UK was something that one would joke about). Many good restaurants, reasonable prices and a lot of diversity. We didn’t care if it was a three star restaurant or a taco truck, as long as they did what they did well. In Sweden, the cost of labor is really high, so that makes eating out every week a bit heavy on the wallet. This said, the occasional trip back to London is kind of like putting money in a bank (yes, that’s what I tell myself until I see the credit card bill).
Shopping for wine is also a different experience in London than it is back at home. As there is a free market, there is also a larger selection of wines and more competition. Here in Stockholm there is only one company that have stores (with several locations of course) with the selection being given. London on the other hand is almost crowded with small wine-shops with different focuses and knowledgeable staff. We raced out to six shops on New Years eve and four more on the 2nd of January, and it was bliss in almost every one of them. New producers, grower champagnes and chatty shop keepers with tips from around the world. Also some new fun concepts in the private label (i.e. the stores own ‘brand’) section (check out the picture of the baby blanc de blancs from Fortnum & Mason, how cute is that). Many of the boutiques had some area of specialization, like a country, region or type of wine, and most of them offered the possibility to taste the merchandise to give some spark to the buying process. Some even served food like cheeses and charcuteries. Snacking and tasting: That’s my kind of shopping experience. We ended up buying 14 bottles (on the first day) and lugging them back to the hotel in backpacks. And I feel we only scratched the surface. If we would have had the space, and more wine-sleeves we would have bought more.
We did so much in four days, so it is impossible to actually list everything in one post, but here are some highlights.
1. New Years eve at Kitchen Table. Head chef James Knappert (previously worked at the Ledbury) and his wonderful sommelier wife opened their own restaurant in 2012. The front restaurant, Bubbledogs, serves gourmet hot dogs and Champagne; and the back room is a fine dining experience where the guests sit on a bar surrounding the kitchen watching the chefs at work. The selection of bubbly in this restaurant is awesome, and the price for a champagne bottle will not knock you down. And they do have some wonderful food: Crispy chicken with mascarpone and bacon jam, doesn’t that sound delicious!
2. Shopping at the Sampler. This is my favorite wine shop in London. With two locations; one in South Kensington and one in Islington, the Sampler has a great selection of champagnes, classic French and US wines. They have sampling machines with around 50 different wines “on the tap”, so you can buy a tasting card and have as little as 20ml to feed your curiosity (and not get drunk). This concept is also great for tasting some more expensive wines that you could not really imagine buying without a try.
3. Coffee breaks at various hipster coffee shops. It is questionable which would be the first on M’s list if he would have to choose between coffee and wine. I would not hesitate to select wine, but M has a real keen interest in coffee. London is a great place to tour around in specialist coffee shops and buy some single origin beans. Many of the new interesting places were closed due to the holidays, but we did visit some old hangouts like Notes and Music (close to Trafalgar Square), Tapped & Packed and Workshop. We stocked up on some beans and now we have around 1.5kg to pack with us to Asia. You never know what you can find around there, so better travel prepared.
Yes, we did a lot of wonderful things and I will be posting about them in the coming weeks. You will be fed up with my London posts before you know it.