We always knew this time would come – most expats do – but we just didn’t know when. Until now. After almost four years of calling this manic mosh pit of a city our home-sweet-home, we have decided that it’s time to say goodbye. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but our feet are getting itchy, our minds are a tad weary, and all the other little signs were pointing to the need for a change. A certain someone has done this whole ‘see ya later London’ thing before but for me, the thought of uprooting and leaving our London life behind is still a little overwhelming. Aside from all the logistical issues of packing and storing our stuff, and plotting our next steps, I’m not sure there’s anything I can do that will truly get me ready to leave.
Being a temporary Londoner has been thrilling, frustrating, engaging, challenging, rewarding – just throw in the whole gambit of human emotion and take your pick of what it might be on any given day. There are things about this city I despise, there have been brief moments where it has turned me into a person I don’t like (mainly when public transport is involved), but nowhere is perfect and all that seems trivial when I think about all the opportunities and experiences I’ve had here. So in honour of this city which I clearly love so much, these are the ten things, in no particular order, I’ll miss most about London…
Now, I certainly don’t want to encourage emotional eating but I’m also not self-righteous enough to condemn it when the stress levels hit boiling point. We’ve all had those days: friends that pester, colleagues who whinge, clients who complain, or heck, even just random strangers who lack those common social etiquettes can drive me bonkers. All those things make me shamefully inhale that packet of crisps at 11am or that Snickers bar at 3pm. If that still doesn’t help, I go for the big guns – a big ol’ bowl of noodles or pasta.
I’m not fussy about which of those carb-heavy comforts rush to my rescue, as long as one is in front of me at dinner time, I’ll survive. So after a particularly long and arduous day in the office, no one was happier to walk through the recently refurbished doors of Venerdi than I was, especially when smacked in the olfactics with such sublime aromas! I won’t lie, a double dose of Aperols (joys of the Happy Hour) arriving within minutes of me sitting down, perked me right up too.
How many successful restaurants does it take to build a restaurant empire? Five, ten, twenty, or something in between? Asking someone like Jason Atherton could be a smart move, the man has fifteen restaurants in The Social Company. That sheer number alone would constitute an empire, but then you also consider their locations – London, New York, Dubai, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Cebu, and Sydney – and wow, that’s what I call a proper empire. In a climate where opening one successful restaurant in any of those major cities is an achievement, having fifteen under your belt is quite a miraculous feat.
Whether he managed it through sheer skill, hard graft, or dumb luck, I was curious. So where better to start my investigation than Atherton’s flagship, Pollen Street Social, the first of three Michelin star restaurants, in The Social Company. We arrived on Pollen Street to find a refined and much larger than expected dining room, it was well-kitted out but not ostentatiously so; I like that sort of restraint.
Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen was probably the first proper London restaurant I ever went to. Flashback to 2012: I was the wide-eyed tourist visiting London for the first time, I was rather excited to be catching up with friends for lunch, and at the restaurant of one of those telly chefs no less. Ah, how blissfully green I was back then! Dishes were not photographed before consumption in those days, so I hardly remember anything about the food but I do recall being impressed by the concept and operation of Fifteen.
Over four years later, I’m still impressed. It all started with fifteen young apprentices in this restaurant, all given a chance, not a handout, to gain some skills in the hospitality industry and improve their lives. No matter what you think of Jamie Oliver – sell out, obnoxious motormouth, anti-sugar tyrant, pukka tucker himself – the idea behind this venture, the difference it’s probably made, the standard of food it’s churning out, is all very admirable.
I uncovered two fun facts about El Pirata when I did my customary restaurant google: it’s been serving tapas in Mayfair for over twenty years and is Fred Sirieix’s favourite restaurant. Any restaurant which can last more than two decades in this city is all very impressive but who the heck is this Fred fella and what does he know about good food? More googling reveals that Mr Sirieix is the country’s most famous maître d’ but obviously, those of you who watch First Dates already knew that.
While you’re judging my sheltered TV-watching habits, I was judging Fred’s taste in restaurants. In a recent Guardian article about the best things certain people in the know had eaten in 2016, he mentioned the black rice, the langoustines in tomato sauce, and the ham. We hadn’t intended on copying his order, but rice, prawns and pork are some of our favourite things, and according to our waiter, they are some of El Pirata’s signature dishes.
The universe must really want me to eat my words. After admitting my distain for pan-Asian restaurants, it has already forced me to make one exception to the rule. And now, it’s made me get off my high horse again for a tiny Islington restaurant with a kooky tale behind its name. Apparently, Tootoomoo is a little girl who cooked for a giant and now the restaurant serves dishes cooked to her recipes. All too fantastical and ridiculous for this no-nonsense eater; all I care about is whether this Tootoomoo was actually a decent cook.
Given the gimmicky backstory I was expecting another run of the mill reproduction of some popular Asian dishes, but Tootoomoo kicked these expectations to the curb. The menu is a collection of sharing dishes, split into categories such as plates, sushi, sashimi and salads, tempura and grill, and wok – an Asian style tapas type thing, if you will. The plates are small, and so are the prices which means you can try quite a range without worrying how far away pay day is.
Dining plans at Thai restaurants fill me with hope and dread. My meticulous scanning of the menus beforehand leaves me to hope that this time, thiswill be the one which converts me into a fan. The dread creeps in after the first few bites when I am inevitably disappointed, and I have no idea why. I should love everything about Thai food – the dishes, the flavours, the spice… but for some reason, we never completely see eye to eye.
I wasn’t as wowed as I should’ve been at what is supposedly one of America’s best Thai restaurants, but was it something I ordered? Nor was I joining the masses in falling head over heels for what’s often described as one of London’s best Thai restaurants, but was it something I didn’t order? I should just give up on them but ever the optimist (or greedy sucker for punishment) I keep turning up at Thai restaurants…