A London Fish and Chips Story: Sometimes, You Can’t Go Back, But You Can Go Forward

The famous fish and chips at Geales
London is just so London – Foggy day or not, I love it!

I’m an Anglophile

Glover Gardens followers know that I love London. I have for a long, long time. I’ve been an anglophile since reading The Secret Garden and Great Expectations as a child. My first actual foray into that foggy town was in 1997, and I’ve probably been there 20 times since. Every time I get into London, I’m torn between retracing my steps and trying something new.

Tell me – how does a gal decide between serendipity and going back to enjoy a beloved spot once again?

Retracing My Steps to Geales

Serendipity often wins, but last December, I finally went back to a cozy little seafood restaurant I had happened upon early in 2004 and returned to several times that year as part of a series of business trips. Just off the beaten path in Kensington near Notting Hill Gate, Geales has been open since 1939. That’s 80 years of serving seafood – they know what they’re doing!

From the Geales website

More Posh Than I Remembered

It was cold and drizzly on that December 2018 evening when I went back to Geales, and a little spot at a corner table was just what I needed to warm up. The place was more sophisticated than I remembered; back in 2004 it was loud and crowded, had a fisherman’s-wharf / corner market feel with fish and chips served in newspaper, and maybe even red-checked oilcloth on the tables. Travel-weary and in T-shirt and jeans, I felt a little underdressed in the genteel surroundings; you’ll note how smartly dressed the folks at the next table are.

View from my corner table; I did some people-watching and got caught (by the lady)

While researching Geales to write this post, I learned that there was a big revamp done in 2007 and a change of ownership, which explains the more upscale decor (slick but unfussy).

Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor
This photo courtesy of TripAdvisor
Photo from Geales via USA Today article

Let’s Talk about the Food

But let’s put the decor aside and talk about the food. The menu has definitely been updated. How updated? Well, alongside classics like mussels, fish and chips, fish pie and fish cakes, there are choices like lobster linguini with sun-dried tomatoes, and wild mushroom risotto with truffle oil. I’d have dressed better if I’d known that!

Lobster linguini from the Geales Facebook page

My first course was taramasalata. It was an excellent version of this special cod roe-based spread, very light and creamy, and not dyed an artificial pink like so many are. I’m pretty sure that Geales didn’t have taramasalata back in the early 2000s; that’s part of its new sophistication.

Taramasalata with grilled flatbread

My dish of choice back in 2004 was usually mussels served in a tin bucket, but I went for the grilled fish this time. However, it was my waitperson’s second day on the job, and she brought me fish and chips instead. She was delightful, young and earnest, and I didn’t have the heart to complain. So I ate it. Wouldn’t you? When in London…

Fish and chips with mushy peas

I almost never eat fried food, but the fish and chips were delicious, and the mushy peas were the perfect accompaniment. So very British. Breaking with tradition, I went for Tabasco instead of malt vinegar, threatening my Anglophile status. But hey, Tabasco is a global thing, right?

A Worthy Fish and Chips Experience

I didn’t realize until I was writing this post that Geales was ranked #3 on USA Today’s article, the 10 Best London Fish and Chips Restaurants. Perhaps I was meant to have fish and chips on that rainy London night. Serendipity.

All-in-all, it was a nice meal and worthy experience. While I was expecting the homey warmth and fish-market ambience that I had enjoyed in the earlier version of Geales, I got over my surprise at its more upscale vibe pretty quickly as I savored the food and the people-watching. (People-watching was always good at Geales.)

The Serendipity of the Unknown and Surprising

My conclusion is that sometimes, you can’t go back. What was there before no longer exists in the same form. But if you take a step back, look at it as something new, an opportunity, perhaps you can go forward. When the known and comfortable becomes the unknown and surprising, it can be serendipity.

Haiku: The Chip Shop

serendipitous
mushy peas and fish and chips
unspoiled by poshness

National Haiku Writing Month (NaHaiWriMo)

Note: because February is National Haiku Writing Month (NaHaiWriMo) and I’m a habitual haiku-er (is that a word?), all posts will have a related haiku. For more Glover Gardens haiku, click here.

© 2019 Glover Gardens

Kitty Fisher’s in London Pulled Me In, Fed Me Well and Charmed Me Completely

…and I didn’t even know they were trendy, hot and famous, with a “cult-like following” (to quote a review)!


Photo of Kitty Fisher’s courtesy of TripAdvisor

It Started with a Walkabout

It was a chilly and rainy December Saturday, and I was in London. I had slept well, slept hard and slept late in my cubbyhole-sized room at a giant chain hotel in Kensington / Shepherd’s Bush. Rested and ready, I headed out to do what I love to do most in London: walk around and take in the sights, smells and sounds of the place. The feel of it. And the people. Most of all, the people.

I took my time, and my first find was C. Lidgate’s, the subject of a previous post.

Lidgate’s is a carnivorous cook’s dream! There’s a huge selection of meats, fish, poultry, sausages, cheeses, pies, condiments, cured meats and deli items.

Part of what makes London a fantastic walking city is the Tube, because you can hop on when you’re through walking in one area and quickly make your way to another. Which I did. I love the Tube system!

Shepherd Market was My Destination

My Tube stop was Green Park Station, the nearest to Shepherd Market in Mayfair. I LOVE this tiny celebrated enclave with its rich and colorful history that practically walks alongside as you make your way through the square on cobblestone streets past pubs and restaurants in historic stone buildings. It was the home of the first Mayfair public market in the late 1600’s, and has always been popular with writers and artists. And me.

From www.shepherdmarket.co.uk

Although it was drizzling in that way that only London can drizzle, I walked through the streets in Shepherd Market several times, trying to decide where to have my late lunch / early dinner. Pausing in front of various establishments, I scanned their posted menus and checked out their ambience, sneaking a look at the meals on the tables.

The Manager at Kitty Fisher’s was Irresistible

At Kitty Fisher’s, the manager opened the door as I was lingering outside drooling over the menu and literally pulled me into the door, albeit gently: “Don’t you want to eat with us?” I couldn’t resist her and did as I was told. (Like Eliza Doolittle, “I’m a good girl, I am!”) Kitty Fisher’s namesake is the famous 18th-century courtesan, but she couldn’t have been half as charming and welcoming as the front-of-the-house team in this lovely little place.

The manager, on the right, is the one who literally pulled me into the restaurant; the bartender the left entertained me the whole time I was there

I spent two happy hours at Kitty Fisher’s. The ambience is an appealing mix of cozy old England and fresh, trendy-foodie-creative.

The bar at Kitty Fisher’s is warm and appealing, like the staff

I Like to Sit at the Bar and Watch

I sat at the bar, my favorite place to be when eating alone.

Bartenders have great stories, and watching them work is fascinating. The good ones are always willing to narrate what they’re doing. Kitty Fisher’s bartender (below) was making one of the infused liquors used to create their imaginative cocktails, one of which is called “Bad Kitty” (see the photo on the left from an article in The Times). I wasn’t in a cocktail mood that day, but will try the Bad Kitty next time…it has gin, sloe gin, elderflower cordial (house-made), lemon juice and cava. Sounds great!

Enjoy the Meal with Me

And the food, oh the food! Sweet Tower of London, the food was magnificent! Sit down with me here and let me describe it to you.

I started with bread and butter, the perfect way to warm up on a foggy day in London town. Yeasty, crusty, chewy, it had a satisfying, grandmotherly quality, but on the other hand, Grandma never toasted her bread on a wood-fired grill (look at those grill marks!) or served it with whipped butter dusted with onion ash. That’s right, onion ash. Yum!!!

Check out those grill marks and the dusting of onion ash – oh my goodness!

And then there was the pasta, the glorious pasta, specifically: smoked cod belly and egg yolk raviolo with pickled golden raisins, hazelnuts and curry butter. It was heavenly, a rich and subtle combination of complementary flavors and textures. The creaminess of the egg and sauce are perfectly balanced by the crunch of the toasted hazelnuts and smoky cod.

Rich and satisfying, this pasta was a patchwork quilt of flavors and textures

“Eat your vegetables,” my late mother’s voice always rings in my head, and I’m so glad I listened to her at Kitty Fisher’s. (“I’m a good girl, I am!”) The hispi cabbage was a satisfying surprise, a big, thick steak-like slice of it that was grilled and then topped with a mustard seed sauce.

Surprisingly good hispi cabbage “steak” with mustard seeds

A Walkabout Inside the Restaurant

Kitty Fisher’s wasn’t busy when I was there in the middle of that rainy Saturday afternoon and only a few other customers were there to enjoy it. (Apparently, this is highly unusual, as all the glowing reviews take pains to mention the need for reservations and how hard it is to get a table.) 

After I polished off my delicious meal, I wandered around and took pictures.

Downstairs has an old-school, snug, clubby feel with its red upholstery and dark green walls, but isn’t stuffy.

Downstairs at Kitty Fisher’s

Kitty Fisher’s building was once a Georgian bakery, and the relics embedded in the walls downstairs are part of its charm and personality.

Reviews I read from diners who ate downstairs mentioned the experience of watching what goes on in the small kitchen, which is visible through glass doors.

Star Treatment Makes Memories

Noticing me with my touristy curiosity and camera, a member of the kitchen team came out to meet and greet me, and then summoned the rest of the staff to take a photo with me. Really. It wasn’t even my idea. They are that nice.

The excellent kitchen staff at Kitty Fisher’s, swarming me with welcome

In addition to praising the food and remarking on Kitty Fisher’s diminutive size and imposing presence on the London restaurant scene, reviews by restaurant critics unfailingly mention the patronage of stars and TV personalities (Kate Moss, Brad Pitt, Nigella Lawson, to name a few) and even a former prime minister (David Cameron). I’m a nobody from the colonies, but the staff treated me like I was royalty and served me a meal to match. If everyone gets that star treatment, and I suspect they do, Kitty Fisher’s will be around for a long, long time.

And I will be back to reunite with these folks who made me feel like family.

Photo taken at the insistence of the manager; don’t I look happy and well-cared for?

© 2019 Glover Gardens

Reminder: all recommendations, such as those in this post, are based on personal opinion and experience and should not be considered as advertisements (Glover Gardens is not a commercial blog).

London’s Jekyll and Hyde Park

London’s Hyde Park has multiple personalities, and that’s a good thing.

During the holidays, there’s the excited frenzy of families enjoying Winter Wonderland. It is all that if you’re into that kind of thing – and lots of folks are, let me tell you. Hordes. Masses. Gleeful sticky-faced children clamoring for that next ride on the Ferris wheel or another hot chocolate, serious shoppers searching for treasures at the Christmas Market, ice skaters at every skill level gliding around and around the rink. It’s an experience.

Photo from Visit London

But Hyde Park is a big, big place. If neon, joyful shrieks of small children and hot dog vendors aren’t your thing, you can ease on over to the other side of the Serpentine and take a quiet walk along its banks.

That’s what I did. 

That’s what the waterfowl did, too. 

There were others, but only a few.

It was lovely.

Those Brits are smart, with their multiple-personality parks. There’s something for everyone, even the birds.

© 2018 Glover Gardens

Silver Bells Reminiscing: “It’s Christmas Time in the City”

This photo I took in London last week reminds me of the lyrics of Silver Bells. I could feel the Christmas classic’s rhythm in the busy sidewalks, hustle and bustle, and general air of festivity and expectation as folks hurried on their way in the December dusk of this great city.

Shoppers rush home with their treasures near Hyde Park's Marble Arch and Marble Arch Station.
Shoppers rush home with their treasures near Marble Arch station at Hyde Park.

Silver Bells, by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans

Silver bells, silver bells
It’s Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, (ring-a-ling) hear them ring (ting-a-ling)
Soon it will be Christmas day

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas
Children laughing, people passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you hear

Silver bells, (silver bells) silver bells (silver bells)
It’s Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, (ring-a-ling)
Hear them ring, (hear them ring)
Soon it will be Christmas day

Strings of street lights, even stoplights
Blinkin’ bright red and green
As the shoppers rush home with their treasures
Hear the snow crunch, see the kids bunch
This is Santa’s big day
And above all this bustle you hear

Silver bells…

And in memory of my Dad, who would probably be listening to this right now while drinking his coffee and reading the paper if he were still with us, here’s the iconic recording of that ubiquitous holiday song by Bing Crosby. Perhaps Dad and Bing are harmonizing on it in heaven.

© 2018 Glover Gardens

Deck the Hall at Heathrow

London during the holidays is teaming with people admiring how it glitters and glimmers with over-the-top decorations. Here are a couple of photos I snapped from the top of one of those iconic double-decker buses as it passed through Regent and Oxford streets.

That’s cool.

In stark contrast, here’s a little tree that was all by itself in a long, lonely hallway between terminals at Heathrow Airport.

A Charlie Brown tree in a hallway at Heathrow is full of holiday spirit and pluck.
A Charlie Brown tree at Heathrow

That’s cool, too. The hall was decked.

Someone has a sense of humor.

That’s really cool.

© 2018 Glover Gardens

Window Shopping: C. Lidgate’s in London

fullsizeoutput_2ed6.jpeg

fullsizeoutput_2ecd
From outside the window, looking in

Dear Reader, I stood outside this butcher shop and charcuterie at 110 Holland Park in London and gawked.

And then I went inside C. Lidgate’s and gawked some more.

Oh, to have a local butcher shop like this nearby when planning a dinner party or Christmas feast! It’s a carnivorous cook’s dream (with apologies to all of my vegetarian friends). There’s a huge selection of meats, fish, poultry, sausages, cheeses, house-made pies and casseroles, condiments, cured meats and deli items (even Scotch eggs!), and everything is displayed beautifully, looking almost Victorian in its lushness.

From a review by author and food writer Hattie Ellis on the Lidgate’s web site:

Chefs, dedicated carnivores and the locals of this foodie neighbourhood come here for anything from a lunchtime sausage roll to a magnificent rib of grass-fed beef for a dinner party.

The staff are super-friendly and were quite welcoming to this Texas foodie gal, telling me that the shop has been in the same family for 5 generations since it originally opened in 1850. They didn’t mind my gawking at all.

399112_405309919499610_814317798_n
This photo from Lidgate’s Facebook page perfectly captures the vibe of the staff: “we’re here to help, and we’re happy to do it”

I refrained from snapping photos inside Lidgate’s, because there were customers eager to be waited on, and I was something of an interloper, a traveler who could only window-shop and imagine what it would be like to have a neighborhood butcher shop like Lidgate’s where I could source all of my meat. I think I may have emitted a bit of a jealous sigh when a man asked for a chicken carcass to make stock, and the butcher said, “Right away!” That just wouldn’t happen at my local grocery store meat counter.

But if I’d been willing to annoy those regular customers going about their meat-shopping day with my shutter-bugging, I’d have gotten images of the house-made pies for you. They were things of beauty. So for you foodie-tourists, here are some of the photos from the Lidgate’s Facebook page.

24232820_1754563634574225_7021677365517372455_n
23559670_1736165899747332_803432887894336212_n22555691_1708460832517839_8488515344163987644_o

Oh my goodness! Can’t you just see this bounty on your holiday table?

Just a reminder, Glover Gardens is not a commercial blog and has received no compensation from Lidgate’s. I’m just sharing as a public service, so you can window shop along with me.

And for the family, I’ve put Lidgate’s cookbook on my Christmas list. 🙂

71jduxQBaUL
You can find the cookbook on Amazon

© 2018 Glover Gardens

I Ate Wrong on Mothers’ Day in London, But It Was OK

Traveling for work, I was out of town on Mothers’ Day this year. I arrived in London at about noon, very tired, as I can NEVER sleep on the plane.

I believe in soldiering on when traveling to Europe, rejecting all impulses to nap and staying up until bedtime in the local time zone to get acclimated, but I was so. very. tired. So I decided to eat lunch somewhere close to the hotel and maybe take a teensy snooze afterward.

A “genuine British pub” was close by. There were signs about the “Sunday Roast Special”, which was supposed to be especially special on what they call “Mothering Sunday”. The proprietor recommended the Sunday Roast Special, especially.

“When in Rome”, right!? So of course I ordered it. And of course it was a monstrosity.

DSC_0002
You can’t see the meat for the gravy

Mushy, overcooked vegetables sat alongside dry, shoe-leather meat smothered in tasteless gravy served with tough, dry Yorkshire puddings. Wow.

BUT.

At the next table, only about 18 inches from me, two ladies ordered the same meal. One was obviously visiting, hailing from another city or even a foreign land (from her accent and looks). The “local” was a woman in middle age, talking about her grown sons and where they lived and worked. When their meal was served, she became rhapsodic about it. Her voice lowered, and almost in a singsong she murmured:

It’s just like my Mum served. Oh, you would have loved it so. The whole family at table, the Yorkshire puddings all puffed up and proud, everyone fighting over the extra gravy. A Sunday Roast Dinner is the best. This takes me back home to Shropshire in my youth.

And so. While I disdained the meal from my own perspective, I reveled in eavesdropping on the taste memories emanating from the next table.

We all have our beloved family comfort foods, and the memories they conjure more than make up for the lack of taste, sophistication or spice. It was a special time for me to reflect on that while eavesdropping on the British lady at the next table on Mothering Sunday in London.

DSC_0003
From another angle…look at that sea of blandness

I succumbed to the urge for a nap after that. Don’t judge – you would have, too.

© 2018 Glover Gardens

 

 

I Hate Beets (Haiku and Rant for NaHaiWriMo)

I hate beets! They make a promise with their glorious color that they cannot keep with their taste. To say it in haiku:

dear beets, please explain
the dichotomy between
your color and taste

Most foods are A-OK with me, but beetroot is tops on the Bad List, along with alligator and mayonnaise (the jarred kind).

I’ve tried to like beets, really I have, but they taste like the dirt they come from. I’m not even sure they are actually food! Maybe the first human who ate them were just really hungry.

foodism360-397333
Photo from The Goods, which has a nice article about beets, including their health value and history (I still hate the pernicious red root, but it’s a good article)

My son’s godfather (known as the Raconteur here – see this post about his margaritas) used to come to my house so we could cook crazy things together oh-so-many years ago. I was alone at home with a small child and the Raconteur, who was yet to be married, had spare time, adored my child and is an adventurous cook and eater.  We once we tried a dish that used ground fenugreek on chicken served in a beet-yogurt sauce. It was so bad that it was funny – my musician husband actually laughed out loud when he arrived home at around midnight and we served him Fenugreek Chicken with Beet Sauce.  It was close to inedible. I’m not hating on the fenugreek; the beets just spoiled the whole dish.

What were we thinking?!!!  It was actually the Raconteur’s fault; I was a doubter the whole time but he thought beets had gotten a bad rap because of the way our moms served them – pickled, from a can. His theory was that fresh beets with fresh yogurt (I think we made that, too) would be a whole different animal.  Nope.  Tasted like dirt.

The Raconteur married the lovely Kat-Woman, and we still find time to cook together when we can, now as a foursome with the Grill-Meister (another beet-hater).  Kat-Woman also hates beets. But the subject keeps coming up. It seems like they want to like beets. (What’s up with that???) Last month, Kat-Woman sent us a text with a photo:

Continuing our discussion about beets…… Maybe this version will be edible?😆😳🤔

IMG_3706.jpeg

I doubted it. And since I never heard back from her about this travesty (beet hummus???), they must not have been edible.

Then today, this message and photo:

 We’ve found a way we will eat beets. They do it right in London.

IMG_4242.jpeg
Beetroot and Goat Cheese Risotto from a restaurant in London; photo courtesy of Kat-Woman

They keep going back to the beet thing. I’m still very, very doubtful, but the thing is – Kat-Woman and the Raconteur have excellent palates and we love many of the same foods. I might just have to try this the next time I’m in London. Maybe.

While I’m confessing my feelings about beets, I’ll have to admit that I’ve never tried borscht.  I should, it’s a traditional food that a foodie should have knowledge of…but again, it’s got beets in it! Convince me, someone!

Or maybe not.  Beets are beets, and I’m a beet-hater.

© 2018 Glover Gardens (cover image from johnnyseeds.com)