Highlights and Recommendations from a food-filled Weekend in London
The Victoria, Paddington
If you’re looking for a quintessential London Pub, then look no further than The Victoria. This is a period piece that has been kept in its time and manages to retain its charm. The downstairs bar is always full of happy drinkers, enjoying the wide range of quality beers (especially good for Fuller’s lovers – not really surprising as it’s a Fuller’s pub) and other drinks. Then, if you can squeeze past the revellers, the upstairs dining rooms provide a great ambience for some high-class pub grub. One is called the ‘Library’ and the other is the ‘Theatre’. As you can imagine, these both had obvious themes and really lived up to their names. Rumour has it that the ‘Theatre’ is decorated using the remains of a previously demolished playhouse, so the authenticity is certainly there; this is where we were seated. The food was a generally classic selection. Lucy (gf – not gluten free but girlfriend) and her Dad had fish and chips. This had lovely crispy batter and the fish flaked nicely. As one would expect with this dish, it was a very healthy portion. The only criticism came from the fact that they left the skin on the fish which doesn’t help the texture. But this was not a deal-breaker as far as I’m concerned and my chicken with butter beans, seasoned with ‘nduja (my favourite spicy Italian sausage) was delicious! I liked that there was something different on offer and this was perfect for that. With good food, great ale and an entertaining atmosphere, this might become a go to for me when I’m visiting London!
The Mad Bishop & Bear, Paddington
My first more negative review. Sadly, this is not a pub I would recommend for anyone looking for breakfast in Paddington – but then again, when are pubs in stations ever the best? This was a quick stop to fill up, but the food was by no means rapid. In fact, like on the train platforms outside, we were waiting for much longer than we wanted and when it came the eggs weren’t runny and the food was fairly cold… On the plus side, the ingredients were good quality, particularly the pork products, which I assume are the same in all Fuller’s pubs. Lucy had eggs royale, which were again hard but the hollandaise was good and generally it was tasty. However, I am sure that there are better breakfast providers in the area. As such, I definitely would not recommend for anything more than a beer!
Belgo Centraal, Covent Garden.
Belgo was a much-needed return to a purring tum. This restaurant has a really cool, trendy, modern beerhall kind of vibe. The underground setting makes it feel like an epic cellar and the Belgian beer is enough to make any ‘hophead’ happy. Combined with this, the mussels really are immense! I went for something a little different and decided to have mine with a cider and bacon sauce. This gave a lovely salty, sweet flavour and matched nicely with the deliciously fresh mussels. These were large and sweet in their own right and gave that lovely taste of the sea which always gives me a kick of nostalgia. This was very welcome in the hustle and bustle of London. There was something great about eating food like this in a modern setting, at the heart of the Capital and being transported to the sea. This combo is only improved by a half Leffe Blonde or 3 to help cut through the salty richness of the sauce and frites. For London goers this ranks highly, because it provides this great experience and food within walking distance from Covent Garden. A much better idea than going to the soulless other restaurants which surround the more obvious tourist area – especially considering it’s pretty cheap too!
Gordon’s Wine Bar, Embankment
Sadly, I did not manage to eat at this fantastic establishment, but I have to mention it all the same. Gordon’s Wine Bar provides all the character one could hope for, considering its illustrious history as ‘the oldest wine bar in London’. It’s set in an old cellar, which would once have been directly next to the Thames. The decor and atmosphere are unapologetically dark and almost damp, but incredibly lovely in its own way (you’ll understand when you go). As you enter, you are welcomed by display cases full of cheese to whet your appetite. Then, as your eyes become accustomed to the gloom you see the bar appear with friendly-faced bar staff – but for me, the real deal breaker is when you see the barrels behind the bar. One of these is labelled ‘Tawny Port’. Now as a self-confessed PT (no, definitely not Personal Trainer; in my case it means Posh Twat), this is one of my drinks of choice. Normally, port is served in fairly small quantities, so I asked for a ‘beaker’ rather than a ‘schooner’. This turned out to be a brave call indeed! What I received turned out to be a tumbler, full to the brim with delicious port. This was both a blessing and a curse as I was trying to avoid getting too drunk at 4pm, but probably worth it… It has also made me determined to go back with a bit more cash and get there in the early afternoon. I can think of no better way to spend a winter day than at a nice discreet table in the depths of the cellar, with delicious wine, amazing charcuterie boards and fantastic (well-priced) ‘beakers’ of port to accompany the excellent looking cheese – Mr Gordon, I will be back!
De Hems Dutch Bar, Chinatown
This Dutch bar gets a quick mention because it does some delicious bar snacks. ‘Bitterballen’ are a phenomenon which I had not previously tried – I would now recommend them to anyone who asked! They are basically a veal croquette and this is just as delicious as it sounds. The sweet, tender, slow-cooked veal is juicy and full of depth, whilst the breaded deep-fried crust adds that salty crunch that any foodie must love. Simple, effective and great with a lager, the Dutch are onto a winner here!
Four Seasons, Chinatown
Chinatown is a tricky place because the sheer number of restaurants on offer can feel intimidating. This is why I am going to suggest that you cut out the dilly dallying and head to the Four Seasons. Famed for its roast duck, this Chinese was a cut above the usual takeaways. After waiting (longer than we would have liked) to be seated, we got pretty curt service which provided us with lovely Tsingtao beer. We got our orders in quickly and our starters were as good a start as you would want. Deep-fried salt and pepper crab is now a must have in my opinion, with the sweet, rich crab meat handling the strong chilli and garlic flavours brilliantly. The dumplings were excellent too. But the real winner of the night was not actually the duck, which was the favourite going into the race. It ended up being the roast pork belly. This was stunningly seasoned and the thin layer of crunchy crackling that came with every mouthful was a beautiful thing. Partnered with the soft, punchy egg-fried rice, this dish really was one to get you salivating! Now don’t get me wrong, the duck was not to be sniffed at either. Coming a close runner-up, the flavour and fattiness of the meat was perfect, meaning you always wanted another bite. However, on that night, the skin was not as hot as I would have hoped, meaning it was not as crispy as expected. This also made the fat slightly less inclined to melt in your mouth, which is why the pork pips it as the best of the night. Overall, this was a lovely meal which isn’t always the case when you take a lucky dip in Chinatown!
The Cleveland Arms, Paddington
Of all the places we went in London, this might have been my favourite. In my opinion, a home-made Sunday roast is rarely topped! The Cleveland might just debunk that theory. Sitting in a lovely tucked away pub, with a roaring open fire, made me feel like I was basically at a home away from home! We arrived very early having missed out on breakfast, so we had most of the place to ourselves, beating the inevitable rush of Sunday lunchers. This meant we got a prime spot and readied ourselves for some prime beef! All of us went for this option, although the pork belly was tempting. However, I was not disappointed with my choice when the tender, medium rare beef appeared. On the plate came the meat, horseradish and shining glazed carrots – all in great quantities! Then there was the one criticism which was the slightly random addition of cress, which doesn’t have any place on a Sunday roast in my DadBod opinion. But when the supporting acts turned up and I forgave this indiscretion. A huge bowl of salty but fresh cabbage, some of the best roast potatoes I have ever had, along with crispy and light Yorkshire puddings. Finally, a jug of glorious, thick and full-bodied gravy completed the dish (or it did when we asked for an extra one). So many aspects were sensational that I could not stop adding more to my plate. The roasties had a hint of an herb crust which lifted them to heavenly levels. In fact, they were so good I might have to ask what their secret was! Also, considering one always expects London to be extra expensive, I would say that I got more beef than I would have ever expected. And it was certainly good quality. Every mouthful was a delight, with very little sinew or gristle. The Cleveland clearly buys good meat and they know exactly how to use it. For me this is the place to go if you want to experience a true British Roast in the Paddington area – I haven’t actually tried anywhere else, but I just can’t imagine that they could do any better!
Yours in food,