January 29, 2022

How to spend a holiday abroad thanks to food without leaving the heart of London

IIt took me until September to finally have a real summer vacation this year. Usually it wouldn’t matter so much, thanks to the balmy London evenings, the weekends filled with social occasions and Guardian Readers’ favorite pastime – wild swimming, also known as paddling in downtown backwaters. But a combination of the appalling weather this summer and the burnout of what can only be described as a relentless year left me looking for that vacation feeling everywhere I turned.

I was finally able to spend 10 days lying by the Adriatic, enjoying the last summer sun and generally relaxing in a way that I had not been able to do since the start of 2020. My sister finished her chemotherapy just before we left the UK, and watching she finally had the energy to spend endless hours swimming in hidden coves and sincerely smiling for the first time since being diagnosed, was a truly incomparable experience. It was like letting out a breath I didn’t know I had been holding, and I felt the heavy hand finally release its metaphorical grip on my chest.

While this feeling and its incomparable glowing joy cannot be replicated by a number of dark ponds, sticky beer gardens or piss-stained fields, I looked for a few pockets in early summer London that may take you for a while, even momentarily. My first international destination was the Caribbean via Hackney Wick. Legendary TV personality and chef Andi Oliver opened Wadadli Kitchen – a dual-use pop-up hidden along the canal adjacent to the Crate Brewery. Inspired by the Grenadian Ital Oil Down, the upstairs Wadadli Kitchen serves only two courses; seafood boil and vegan boil. Both are served straight out of the pot and on your table (the palm leaves serve as “plates”), foamed in a scotch bonnet butter and placed on a healthy layer of roti puff pastry.

Ital Oil Down Inspired Seafood Boil at Wadadli Kitchen

(Molly Codyre)

It is food to be eaten with the hands. It’s almost an intoxicating animal to rip crustaceans, hungrily bring them to your mouth, suck the juices from your fingers, and leave the sauce from one side of your face to the other. It also helps that the food is pretty darn good. There’s a subtle kick from the scotch bonnet and a deeply flavorful tone. In the end, our table looked like some sort of massacre on the high seas – shrimp heads thrown out, crab legs stripped of every inch of flesh, mussel shells thrown aside. It was such an anti-London experience, where so many restaurants focus on appearances, dress codes and give an air of considered nonchalance. Once washed down with one of Oliver’s famous rum punches, you could be forgiven for thinking you were millions of miles away. Don’t drink too much – there’s a place to throw axes next door and I’m sure a few finicky cocktails would send one flying straight into someone’s roast.

Then it’s off to the fish bars of Barcelona, ​​via New York to the Flounder Bar in the Netil market. The brainchild of Fishmonger Fin and Flounder (my favorite in town, although I’m a little biased – they took me through the lockdown), the laid back setup is at Netil Market, just around the corner from Broadway Market . Grab some turbot fillets – drowned in a tangy, buttery, and slightly spicy buffalo sauce, they’re a one-bite masterpiece. The crispy batter gives way to plump, meaty fish, while the Buffalo sauce is a real kicker. You can pretty much eat it on its own with a spoon. The shrimp burger is a classic, and everything you would expect from this seafood mix – insanely juicy patty, chewy American cheese, succulent chipotle mayo. I sucked mine in three messy bites. The salmon tartare comes in a torn bag of Torres truffle chips; I’m not really sure I need to say more here. There are others – I’ll be back for the seafood rice – don’t forget the vermouth. It’s literally on tap and sweetened with soda for proper daytime consumption. Pulling a hard-earned bench here is close enough to a perfect lunch, and on a sunny day it doesn’t feel so far off the shores of the Balearic Islands.

Then continue to Mexico to Sonora Tacos. In fact, it’s a great trip – right next to the Flounder Bar, you’ll save thousands of dollars in air miles and dollars. Recently reopened after a short hiatus, the taqueria is owned by Mexican-born Michelle Salazar and her partner Sam Napier, and is inspired by the cuisine of the northwest of the country. It serves some of the best tacos I’ve had outside of Mexico – both the toppings and the tortillas themselves, which inspired quick sales every time they went on sale during the lockdown. Take the drink they serve that day – it could be a michelada (a beer-rich version of a Bloody Mary) or a horchata (a rice or coconut drink topped with cinnamon) and run you towards London Fields. It’s not quite the lime coast of northern Mexico, but your taste buds might pretend it’s for a short while.

Finally, come to Paris thanks to the new Top Cuvée company: Cave Cuvée on Bethnal Green Road. The Eurostar is lovely but there is nothing on the center line that drops you off, slightly sweaty, just a 10 minute walk from the place (or, alternatively, take a stroll to the Netil Market itself and pass via Columbia Road for a quick Italian trip to Campania). Designed to evoke the sexy, underground atmosphere of Paris’ many wine bars, Cave Cuvée somehow manages to make a remarkable menu using just two simple hotplates. I can’t understand how they produced such a rich, fondant ham shank for the terrine, or what skill it takes to braise the beans until they are silky with such compact means. But this experience is part of the vacation; food of wonderful origin, deceptively simple and apparently evoked by pure belief. Bethnal Green may be the last place you would expect to find a corner of Paris and yet here it is.

The Bethnal Green’s Cave cuvée

(Molly Codyre)

Some of London’s best dining experiences exist outside of typical brick-and-mortar restaurants, and don’t get the same amount of press – relying instead on word of mouth and the power of social media. But what’s most special about street restaurants and pop-up spots is the intangible joy of discovery. It has the same feeling of stumbling across an excellent restaurant down a cobblestone alley while lost in a European city, or having one of the best roadside meals of your life in Bangkok. It allows for unprecedented inspiration, with chefs being freed from the rigid demands of menus and owners and results that are increasingly unattainable. London is one of the most exciting places in the world to eat, and no more at your local market or local street vendor. Have a good trip!


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