I’ve finally been to London. Splendid!
While the city has been on my to-visit list since long before I even had a passport, somehow London just hadn’t quite made it to the top until now. Our weekend city breaks are usually decided through some combination of favorable logistics (can we drive there? does the flight itinerary maximize our short stay?) and a mutual curiosity, which often calls for somewhere new to both Johan and myself. Other times, though, our adventures are prompted by a particular event.
In this case, the call-to-action for a jaunt to London was a Persian cookery class hosted by food writer and cookbook author, Sabrina Ghayour. If you’re not already familiar with her recipes, Sabrina is a UK-based, self-taught cook who specializes in Persian and Middle Eastern flavors. I was introduced to her work by an uncle of Johan’s, Håkan, who had us over for dinner one night after preparing a selection of dishes from one of Sabrina’s books. Delighted by the food and always eager to expand my own horizons in the kitchen, I promptly ordered her first two books, Persiana and Sirocco (affiliate links there, yes). According to my Amazon order history this was just in mid-2017, but perhaps it feels like longer ago because I reach for her books so often. Sabrina’s food has an emphasis on big flavors without fussing over precise ingredient ratios, and her writing style is fun, relatable, and she’s a hoot on social media. So when Håkan suggested we meet up in London to attend one of her cooking classes, I was all for the idea.
Our class took place at Divertimenti, a fabulous kitchen supply store with a professional setup downstairs for cooking lessons.
Aprons on and everyone (I believe there were 12-14 of us) in place at a cutting board, we got started right away.
First up was a lamb and celery stew with loads of parsley and dried mint. While stews are often left to bubble gently for hours, this one was expedited for our three-hour class with skillful use of higher heat and appropriate lid-on, lid-off monitoring. The results were wonderfully tender chunks of lamb nestled in forest green herbs.
Next, we made koofteh berenji, or meatballs of minced lamb, rice, and yellow split peas (and herbs, barberries, onions, saffron, etc…) formed into generously sized rounds and placed into a simmering tomato sauce.
While I didn’t manage any photos of the third dish, it was an aubergine and onion kuku—essentially a Persian-style frittata. This baked treat had a pleasing texture thanks to the incorporation thick yogurt and fat cubes of pan-fried aubergine. Lots of flavor from soft onions, saffron, and [of course] fresh parsley.
We finished off the meal with two simple-to-make accompaniments: a yogurt and spinach spread with sumac, chopped walnuts, and a drizzle of good olive oil; and a wee little cheese plate of feta, herbs (basil, mint, tarragon), soaked walnuts, radishes, and spring onions, all with flatbread to serve.
If you watched my Instagram stories from the day, you’ll have seen this clip I hastily recorded before diving into the feast, which does show a glimpse of the kuku and two sides:
Other weekend highlights included afternoon tea at The Wolseley: a grand space that began in 1921 as an automotive showroom for Wolseley Motors, served as a Barclays Bank branch from 1927 - 1999, did a brief stint as a Chinese restaurant following renovations, then finally became the majestic cafe that it is today from 2003. Regrettably, my few photos of the place are terrible so I’m not going to bother posting them here, but I highly recommend a visit for yourself should the opportunity arise.
With such limited time in the city, we weren’t able to do quite as much sightseeing (or restauranting) as we’d have liked, but we did spend a pleasant Saturday afternoon wandering along the Thames, passing the Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge, briefly perusing Borough Market, and admiring the Tower Bridge from the London Bridge.
Saturday’s dinner was at the Charlotte Street location of ROKA. We enjoyed a tasting menu at this outstanding Japanese restaurant, highlights of which were the yellowtail sashimi with yuzu-truffle dressing, a scallop tartare with yuzu miso, and the most wonderfully grilled Korean-spiced lamb cutlets. Sadly, no photos here as I opted to live in the moment and not be annoying by trying to document every dish before anyone touched so much as a chopstick to to the plate, but here’s a quick shot of the tasting menu lineup that evening, if you’re curious.
We continued on to Vermuteria, an Italian-inspired Vermouth bar that Johan has had his eye on via their Instagram account. As lovers of bitter refreshments and Italian bar culture, Vermuteria’s drink list was a dream for us (along with their wall of vintage spirits, which we eyed with admiration until the place closed at 11 PM).
And while we didn’t have a proper meal on account of visiting just a couple hours shy of our Friday teatime at The Wolsely, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our stop at the Beak Street location of Polpo. I’ve had my eye on owner Russell Norman’s cookbook of the same name (Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (of sorts), yes, this is another affiliate link) for some time, and popping in for a damn good negroni to pair with ‘nduja arancini and crab bruschetta with celeriac, apple, and capers was all I needed to convince myself to hit the “complete order” button on that pending purchase.
We also sought out a proper Scotch egg, which proved as wonderful as I’d hoped of a jammy egg wrapped in sage-seasoned sausage and fried. We tried two; one from Sawyer’s Arms near to Paddington Station, and one from the Borough Market booth of Scotchtails. They were both a treat, but we agreed there was something about the egg from Sawyer’s Arms (shown here on the left) that won the spot as our favorite. Research shall continue during future trips to the UK.
One last pub food shoutout goes to The Clarence on Whitehall near Trafalgar Square, where we sat upstairs and shared a portion of ‘nduja mac & cheese with Sussex Charmer cheddar that was so good I’m still thinking about it in explicit detail.
Finally, we wrapped up the weekend with a pre-flight Sunday stroll through Kensington and Chelsea, Portobello Road Market, and Notting Hill. I am now accepting donations from anyone who would like to contribute to my acquisition of a home in this area.
Perhaps the only thing I didn’t enjoy during my brief visit to ye olde London was the tube during rush hour, but maybe being packed like sardines into an underground train full of strangers is one of those things that grows on you with time.
A shame the optimism shown in this cigarette disposal box didn’t apply to the Brexit vote…