Monday, January 2, 2017

London Food and Tour Highlights

I grew up as a British citizen, my father was British and I was born in Singapore which at that time was a British Colony. I became a US Citizen on my 18th birthday because I had to register for the draft.  I had not been to London for 25 years and a lot has changed since then.  London is a very large and diverse city and that has contributed to many of the changes to its culinary strength in the world.  We had a couple of highlights on our trip one that my wife had booked and one that I had booked.  We stayed at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair where we had a great suite and access to their Executive Club Lounge.  My wife is a great fan of tea. Each trip we try to find a purveyor of things we love to drink and eat.  This trip we found an awesome Tea company Simpson Tea, their winter afternoon tea is the best cold weather tea we have ever had.  I reached out to them on Christmas Eve and their owner Anna Louise Simpson responded and provided us a way to order it on line.  Great customer service even on Christmas.
We will start with my wife's which was a private tour of bespoke clothing capital of the world, Savile Row in Mayfair.  Our tour guide was Cindy Lawford who is an ex Pat who has been in London for the past 10 years.  Cindy specializes in tours of British Maker history including clothing, hats, shoe and art.
Master Tailors
Gold Embroidery
We met Cindy in Gieves and Hawkes, 1 Savile Row to start our tour.  Mr Gieves bought the current building from the Royal Geographic Society in 1912 and merged with Hawkes in 1974.   In forming this union they were to become the leading supplier of uniforms and caps to the British Military and endorsed by the crown with many Royal Warrants.  Gieves and Hawkes has the the distinction of becoming the first company to introduce ready to wear fine clothing to Savile Row which ad prided itself of bespoke clothing for the world's rich and famous. A bespoke suit ranges anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 depending on the quality of the material cut and features.  A ready to wear suit from Savile Row costs from $1,000 to $5,000.  
He has been there 45 years
Today we were lucky enough to see the tailor's workroom and get to hear them talk of their jobs and their passion for making such well crafted articles of clothing. It takes many years of apprenticeship to become a tailor for one of the bespoke shops on Savile Row, these folks are talented artisans that take the measurements and are in charge of every process of creating the clothing, this process often takes 3 to 4 months to finalize the finished product.  
The other highlight was to go into the Military uniform fitting room where
Military Uniform Fitting Room
Royalty and heads of state have been coming to get measured and fit for their new uniforms for over 100 years.  This room has many historic articles of clothing including a cloak the Queen of England wore to an event in the 50's. it is also used for the storage of the uniforms for the Honourable Corps of Gentleman at Arms.  these men come in several times a year get dressed in their uniform and march out together to their venue of the day. 
Awards and Certifications at G&H
This room is full of history from uniforms some as old as 200 years old.  There are pictures of the Royal Family in their uniforms and attire created by Gieves and Hawkes, there are coats from world leaders on display and the Royal Uniform of Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms.  
Guy Hills talking to JoAnn
Cindy took us to several other bespoke shops including the Huntsman who has dressed every major actor and statesman and Dashing Tweeds who takes the original sporting cloth of the UK Tweed and has adapted it to everyday urban wear.  Overall Cindy exceeded our expectations with a behind the scenes look of all things Savile Row and bespoke.  Cindy gives other tours in Mayfair and is a must for folks that are curious about London's finer things.

St Johns Bread and Wine

Friendly Kitchen @ SJB&W
Let's talk about my passion of eating great food.  Getting into restaurants in London is very difficult many close from the 23rd to Jan 2nd and others are just to hard to get into.  I had prearranged one reservation before we went and that was St Johns Bread and Wine.  The St Johns Restaurant brand was developed by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver.  Chef Henderson is often noted for his use of offal and other neglected cuts of meat.  The restaurant is in Spitalfield which would be best described as one of London's more hip areas.  

The best way to describe St Johns Bread and Wine is it is diner like with an open kitchen not fancy but serving outrageously great food at an affordable price.  This is a busy urban restaurant with no fanfare just a hook for your coat a basic wood chair and table.  During the holidays many restaurants encourage folks to have small office parties and there were several tables of 10 folks working their way to Christmas.  
Pressed Meat - Terrine
Scrumptious Pork
Our server Marijiana, she was a no BS cut to the chase but informative server.  The menu is very basic, you come here for everything Pork or different.  We started with the Pork Terrine.  The definition of a terrine is pressed meat parts and might sound disgusting actually turns our to be very delicious, served with some quince it is quite nice and something you could eat all night long.  We then had the Brown Shrimp (bay shrimp) served with Kohlrabi  and Chervil, this is kind of a shrimp coleslaw.  I liked this dish because it was creative.  On to the Quail with Spinach Coolea Souffle.  Quail is not my favorite dish because it is hard to eat but I took my time with it cut it is half and combined it with the Spinach and found it to be very delicious.  On to what we came for and that was the Roast Pig in this case it was a Middlewhite Pig which is specifically from the UK.  I love roast Pig the crackling skin, the juicy fat and the great melt in your mouth meat.  This was a very simple plate of several large sliced pieces
Whole Hog
served with Radishes and Watercress.  I could eat this plate at least once a week the flavor of the Pork still sits on my taste buds.
We wrapped up the night with some Hokey Pokey Ice Cream which is an New Zealand Dessert it is Vanilla ice cream with Honey Toffee chunks.
I am glad we went to this restaurant it reminded me what the UK was all about traditional well made comfort food served with no pretention. 
We also had an opportunity to get some Fish and Chips and some great Indian Food get highlights of that on my Instagram account @topcheftrail