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!
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.
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).
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!
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.
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…
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 meantto 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.
The fifth post in a series, January Dreaming. Click for the series, and see the end of the post for the backstory.
In the dead of winter, it’s nice to dream of warmer good times. On this overcast January afternoon, I’m sipping some Earl Grey tea and reminiscing about the time The Grill-Meister and I enjoyed a traditional English tea at Kensington Palace in late summer.
Let me tell you, Old Bean, this lifelong anglophile and foodie from Southeast Texas was in high cotton that day! Afternoon tea at the palace where Queen Victoria grew up – by Jove, it was a jolly good show!
Check out those desserts!
After this scrumptious afternoon feast, a walk in the garden is not only pleasant, it’s required! It is so lovely there.
I’ve been to London quite a few times since this summer vacation with the Grill-Meister in 2010, but haven’t gone back to have tea at Kensington Palace. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem right to go without him. If he doesn’t come with me soon, though, I might just have to!
The January Dreaming Series Backstory
If you read this post, January Dreaming, you know that the inspiration for this series is my Mom’s longstanding loathing of the pitiful month of January. Like her, we’re dreaming of good times in warmer months, and celebrating those good times in this series.
…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.
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.
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.
I spent two happy hours at Kitty Fisher’s. The ambience is an appealing mix of cozy old England and fresh, trendy-foodie-creative.
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!!!
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
In stark contrast, here’s a little tree that was all by itself in a long, lonely hallway between terminals at Heathrow Airport.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
Mushy, overcooked vegetables sat alongside dry, shoe-leather meat smothered in tasteless gravy served with tough, dry Yorkshire puddings. Wow.
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.
I succumbed to the urge for a nap after that. Don’t judge – you would have, too.