Travel Eats: A weekend in London

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Duck and Waffle foie gras creme brulee
Foie gras crème brûlée, with pork crackling brioche and glass of rosé, Duck and Waffle

Before I go into any further detail about my weekend in London, I must explain this first photo. Duck & Waffle is a 40th-floor restaurant with panoramic views of London; it’s also open 24 hours a day. When I called to make a reservation, I was told that 12:45 was available. As in, 12:45 a.m., a reservation time that has never occurred to me as a possibility. But we took it, and were later whisked up 40 floors in a glass elevator for our late-night meal. A second revelation was soon to follow: this 24-hour menu listed foie gras crème brûlée as an actual dish you could order. My mind could barely conceive of this decadent combination, but there was no way I could pass it up. It had the texture and caramelized sugar shell of a crème brûlée, but the meatiness of foie. As strange as that sounds, it worked really well, and the brioche on the side even made it feel more like a appetizer. My glass of dry French rosé was much needed to cut through the richness. And of course, the lovely nighttime city views heightened the whole experience.

Rainbow of meringues, Meringue Girls at Broadway Market
Rainbow of meringues, Meringue Girls at Broadway Market
Chorizo scotch egg and Vietnamese iced coffee
Chorizo scotch egg from Finest Fayre and Vietnamese iced coffee from Cà Phê VN, both at Broadway Market

On Saturday morning, we strolled through the Broadway Market and were able to sample several offerings from local vendors. I was greeted almost immediately by the most gorgeous, colorful display of meringues I had ever seen. I tried the watermelon variety, complete with decorative black sesame seeds, and the flavor was spot-on as well. Next, an array of scotch eggs appealed to my savory breakfast cravings. I opted for chorizo, which was just a little spicy and anchored by a perfectly soft-boiled egg. I got my caffeine fix from an excellent version of Vietnamese iced coffee, whose stall also had a nice seating area. I saw a display of Persian stuffed dates, and couldn’t help but try one – the orange mascarpone, burnt almond, and pistachio were such an unexpected treat together. I was also pleasantly surprised by our donut selection: I knew I’d appreciate the banana cream and the sea salt caramel, but the mild tang of the chocolate sourdough base made it much more interesting.

Persian dates, Zardosht
Persian dates with orange blossom mascarpone, burnt almond, and pistachio, Zardosht at Broadway Market
Salted caramel donut with banana cream
Sea salt caramel and banana cream donut, Crosstown Donuts at Broadway Market

Sunday brunch was also quite special. Dishoom has a few locations in London, and serves cuisine inspired by the Irani cafés of Bombay, India. I was enticed by the dry-cured, cold-smoked bacon in the bacon and egg naan roll, and it was the perfect fusion of breakfast flavors: the classic bacon and egg alongside chili jam and cream cheese, all wrapped up in puffy naan bread. The side of masala beans were richly spiced and almost smoky. To drink, I had a bottomless cup of Dishoom’s incredible blend of house chai.

Bacon & egg naan roll with masala beans
Bacon & egg naan roll with masala beans and bottomless house chai, Dishroom

I snagged some enormous figs at the fruit market on Brick Lane, also charmed by the adjacent sign that called pomegranates “pommys.” And I couldn’t leave London without a classic, fruit-filled Pimm’s cup. The version at Marksman Public House was just the refresher I needed after braving the crowds at the famous Columbia Road Flower Market.

Figs and "pommys" at Brick Lane Fruit Market
Figs and “pommys” at Brick Lane Fruit Market
Pimm's cup
Pimm’s cup, Marksman Public House

The details: Crosstown Donuts, Broadway Market Schoolyard at London Fields Primary School; Meringue Girls, Cà Phê VN Saigon Street Cafe, Finest Fayre, and Zardosht, all at Broadway Market; Duck and Waffle, 110 Bishopsgate; Dishoom (Shoreditch), 7 Boundary Street; Brick Lane Fruit Market, Sclater Street; Marksman Public House, 254 Hackney Road; all London, England

This week’s Best Bite: Pecorino cake, caviar brioche, shrimp toast & more, Sink|Swim

This Best Bite is one of the 20 foods and 15 drinks I’ve set out to taste and document in 2015. View the full list to see my plan and progress.

Shrimp toast, Sink|Swim
Shrimp toast with n’duja, radish, avocado, MSG aioli, greens, and lemon

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: Sink|Swim is the second venture from the proprietors behind Scofflaw – widely considered one of Chicago’s very best bars – and is conveniently located on the same block. While I expected to be impressed by the menu, especially because of its focus on seafood, these dishes represented some of the most intriguing culinary concepts I’ve seen lately.

Take the shrimp toast, for example: instead of the individual-shrimp-atop-bread that you’d expect, the shrimp is mixed into spicy n’duja sausage to form a spread for toasted brioche (for more details, read Chicago magazine’s playful review). And who can say no to a mini umbrella? I also couldn’t get enough of the beef and oyster tartare, a combination I hadn’t seen before. Scooping the doubly delicious meat onto a crispy chip, together with the horseradish and pickled onion, felt almost like a deconstructed deli sandwich.

Beef & oyster tartare, Sink|Swim
Beef & oyster tartare with malt chips and horseradish
Pecorino cake, Sink|Swim
Pecorino cake with whipped honey crémeux, grapefruit, pistachio, and cappelletti

I’m always interested in savory desserts, and this pecorino cake fell into the “where has this been all my life?” category. The nutty cheese came through just enough in the dense cake itself, balanced by a swipe of honey-kissed cream, a generous dusting of pistachio, and an assertive kick from the grapefruit. Pecorino also made an appearance in the charred broccoli, joining furikake seasoning and creamy sauce for a completely unique (yet still comforting) flavor profile.

Charred broccoli, Sink|Swim
Charred broccoli with furikake, whey soubise, and pecorino
Caviar|brioche and Esplanade Swizzle, Sink|Swim
Caviar|brioche with onion caramel, smoked roe, and cured egg – plus an Esplanade Swizzle with El Peloton mezcal, amontillado sherry, lime, ginger, and Lucky falernum

But perhaps the most surprising snack was the caviar dish. The tiny rounds of brioche were soaked in onion caramel, then topped with smoked roe and shavings of cured egg yolk. Part breakfast (think eggs, smoky bacon, and biscuits with honey) and part luxury appetizer (it’s caviar after all), it was an entirely original, bite-sized treat.

Sailor, Sink|Swim
Sailor on the wall, in keeping with the nautical theme (he also makes an appearance on the website)

The details: Sink|Swim, 3213 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago.

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This week’s Best Bite: Peanut butter & jelly brioche sticky bun, A10

Peanut butter and jelly brioche sticky bun
Peanut butter and jelly brioche sticky bun

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: We technically visited Hyde Park newcomer A10 during Restaurant Week, but since we didn’t go for the three-course menu, I wanted to save this for a separate (albeit delayed) post. This pastry capped off a rich, seafood-heavy Sunday brunch. Besides its sheer beauty in the afternoon sun, the sticky bun was a knockout in flavor, its swirl of peanut butter brioche dough covered in bright elderberry syrup and powdered sugar. The dough was on the lighter, crispier side, which made it feel even more like a high-end peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. It’s safe to say that whenever I return to A10 for dinner, I’ll definitely be ordering dessert.

The details: A10, 1462 E. 53rd St., Chicago.

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2013 Best Bite #11: Brioche french toast, Longman & Eagle

Each day in December, I’m celebrating the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2013, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at 2012’s Best Bites.

Brioche french toast with foie gras frosting, pistachio custard, macerated strawberry, and candied granola
Brioche french toast with foie gras frosting, pistachio custard, macerated strawberry, and candied granola

Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: Much like Lula yesterday, Longman & Eagle is another neighborhood favorite that inevitably made the list again this year. Any brioche french toast that involves strawberry, pistachio, and granola is already a winner, but there was one last ingredient that took it to a totally new place: foie gras frosting (yes, you read that right). Adding subtle balance to an otherwise sweet dish, this silky, umami-boosted buttercream would have won over even foie-squeamish eaters.

View another Best Bite from Longman & Eagle.

The details: Longman & Eagle, 2657 N Kedzie Ave., Chicago.