A London Diary 3: Food in the City Chiller

Saturday, May 26, 2012


This post rounds up my food journal on my recent London trip.

I mentioned in the first post that this was neither a vacation nor a food trip. I did not plan on visiting any Michelin-star restaurants and we were contented to make some discoveries ourselves. I am grateful for some pointers on this site's Facebook page but apart from that, we were very much guided by our own senses - and our limited budget.

The Salad Pullover

It is strange to be excited about a bowl of green salad.

One afternoon, it was raining and not wanting to be cold and wet at the same time, we popped into a Spanish Tapa restaurant at Kensington. As we were not lunch hunting, we opted for something light: mixed green leafy salad and some cured hams.

A good green leafy salad needs this: Good fresh crunchy greens to begin with, a good vinaigrette and when tossed together, the greens should be lightly coated. You can taste the vinaigrette, but hardly notice it visually. In fact, cheese and nuts are optional if you have a good base to begin with.

And I - and probably you, unless you are a 'true' carnivore - have eaten many bowls of these. I have made many bowls myself. Though basically simple, getting the few basics perfect is difficult. For one thing, the greens here are seldom fresh enough. And the bother of ice-reviving the greens and then spin drying them can be a put off if you do not have the time.

Mixed Leaves Green Salad at Casa Brindisa  
Occasionally, if you get it perfect, you will enjoy it down to the last leaf. This bowl of overflowing foliage at Casa Brindisa had everything going for it. The greens were fresh, crunchy and visually you can tell by the way the leaves were curving. The Moscatel vinaigrette (fruity) was light and barely noticeable. In fact, we did not even shave black pepper on it. We were enjoying every bit. When it came to the last leaf, we had to politely offer it to the other. I can't remember now, but it must be the junior who had the last one.

The rains subsided and we continued our way with the memorable greens still on our minds. If salad can be this good, it may not be a bad thing to turn over a new leaf and go vegetarian! (by the way, try also their fish plate selection and octopus cooked Galician style)

Credits to Brindisa. That said, if we keep popping into restaurants or bistros, we may well get some great salads all over London. It has been said that London does not contain museums - she is a museum herself. She is indeed a historic city.

But weather-wise, the same can be said. Summer it may be, but London herself most times is a one huge city-size chiller. Greens - and almost everything else - stay fresh for so much longer in this city. 

Roast Duck at Baywaters

Not showing their best side but the London sun was on it
So why should Singaporeans rave about roast ducks in London? Some even pack them on their flights home. There is a well-established roast duck exporting system in the Cantonese roasts eateries at Queensway at Baywaters. Just ask - and pay - and they will do the rest, deboned, sauce and all.

Now, duck stalls can be found everywhere here in S'pore. We see them hung up in stalls. But do not encounter any waddling ones on our streets or anywhere else for the matter. Where do ours come from? Up country, of course (M'sia), where the sun shines all year round, similar to our tropical city.

See?
In the cold English Chiller, humans wrap themselves in layers of clothes. But ducks - especially the "Cherry" species - grow layers of fat. Unlike our tropical counterparts, they get really big, fat and juicy.

The Cantonese Roast Masters discovered this secret very early on. As migrants, cooking and selling Chinese food was a quick way to find income in a foreign land. I should know as one of my uncles migrated to London and stayed illegally. For the first few years he hid himself and worked in the kitchen of a London Chinese restaurant till he met a distinguished English gentleman who became a family friend and helped him stay legally there. That was years ago and it is all legit now just in case you think I am giving something away. He is now a grandpa and a proud UK citizen.

And these Cantonese cooks, skilled in roasting meat, discovered that the English duck is perfect for roasting. Do it right and you have the right amount of fat still left to form a nice layer underneath the skin. And the meat is tasty, succulent, moist and tender if properly roasted. Keep the duck whole and slice it only when you are serving.

We have similar fat/meat layering in the Pork Belly cut too, and if you like, this is the duck version of it. These Cantonese Masters have their version of Fat Duck way before Heston established his.

I was introduced to this gold mine, er...Gold Mine by a friend. Apparently, her chief cook used to work in the more popular Four Seasons. And I came back for another round before I flew back.

You may have heard of the local roast meat stall here which cost more than 2 million to buyout. If there is a stall here which sells this kind of roast duck, I cannot imagine what the cost of the buyout will be.

Do I need to say more?

I won't describe our eating experience. After all, it will be cruel and if you think this is the local Queesway, you will think I am pulling your leg again. Sorry, Baywaters is not an MRT stop away. That said, view the photos (still cruel) and imagine the taste.

The Roast Pork (lead photo) was good too but I won't rave about it as you can get good ones locally too. The think skin was crisped perfectly and the meat layered as it should. The sauce which came with it was caramel-ly sweet and went well with the savory pork.

Stare at this...in silence.
Great. This wraps up my London Food diary. I hope to be back one day and perhaps then, I can do more justice to the culinary depth and variety found in this cosmopolitan city.

Hey, I miss cooking. But first, I need to get over the jet-lag and lots of church work to catch up on.

I will be blogging a recipe - in a bit.    


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