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Archive for April, 2011

When I came to London last May, I left friends,  a city I loved, and a very dear project and blog behind. I learned so much and had more fun than I ever imagined with Dining In Austin Blog. I met good friends and amazing acquaintances through it.  It was a project made out of love for life, food and community in the ATX. Best of all, I got to share it with my amazing friend, Mariah. This creative outlet designed to complement our rigid science-y careers told the stories of our lives as lived through our food. We included irreverent and offhand tales of life as a 20-something (and then 30-something) Austinite.  People started reading it and before we knew it, we were involved in the Austin food scene in a way that we’d never expected but that made us really happy.

This was a good lesson for me. Do the things you love. Success will come.

I consider Austin, Texas a home. The people and culture are unique. The city is a blend of urban cowboy, artist spirit and burgeoning eclectic beautiful city. A huge chunk of my heart will always be there, but I have wanted to experience another country and culture and the time and opportunity was right. My intuition said to go.

I have such a desire to love London with the same passion and tenacity. I’ve wanted to devour every bit of it and live it completely. I get frustrated and homesick when the impossibility of experiencing it all becomes obvious. I have had to dramatically adjust my mode of thinking.

…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.

– Samuel Johnson

The two cities are distinctively different. I found it difficult to experience all of Austin. I find it downright impossible to experience all of London. I can’t afford to. I don’t have the money. There will never be enough time. I don’t have the social network and close friends I had in Texas. My approach has to be entirely different. Friendships have to be developed. Places and experiences have to be explored for the first time. I feel less on top of everything and more like I’m swimming about, tasting life along the way. I’ve come to realize that this isn’t better or worse. It is just different.

Consequently, I can’t write about London like I wrote about Austin. I struggled with this at first. Should I create another dining blog? I couldn’t afford all the dining out and I definitely couldn’t write about London like an expert. I also wanted to expand. I wanted to write about events, art, community, food, yoga, life, travel, philosophy – the things that I love. Or just whatever happened. I didn’t want to be tied to a particular subject even though I knew successful blogs were more often singularly focused.

To hell with success. It’s ok for things to be about the process instead of the outcome.

So what did I do? I just wrote. I picked a name and I got on with it.

After a bike ride around town early on in this blog’s life, I arrived back at home and turned to then-Boyfriend “so… that’s London.” Thus a temporary name was formed.

And I wrote more. I let the blog take on it’s own personality. I let it develop organically and become what it was going to be – a reflection on life in London as told the only way I could tell it. The honest account of a Texas girl hanging out on this city along the Thames. Not quite the same Texas girl anymore. Definitely not British.

Now that I’ve found a voice, this blog has been appropriately renamed. You can now find me directly at www.TexasOnThames.com

I hope you enjoy.

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After my post about bluebonnets and daffodils, I was pointed to this Guardian article on bluebells in Southwest Britain. Seems like the UK has it’s own spring time sea of blue. In the past few weeks I have started to notice blue flowers in small and large patches of green around town. For an excursion, a friend recommend I check out Abbey Wood.

A walk through the ancient south east London woods did not disappoint.

Bluebells at Abbey Wood

Bluebells in Abbey Woods

As we wandered through the woods, we eventually came up on Lesnes Abbey. The abbey, now in ruins, was founded by Richard de Luci in 1178 as penance for his involvement in the murder of Thomas Becket. In 1524, Lesnes was closed by Henry VIII along with scores of other monasteries in England and Wales. The ruins make an interesting backdrop for picnics and the like. The proximity of the woods and abbey to London makes it an easy place to visit.

Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey

After our outing, we stopped by the Old Mill, a converted 18th century mill with a large beer garden. The locals were on good form and so was the owner, so we ended our day in Southwest London with a few real ales. I am embarrassed to admit that  real ale tastes like flat warm beer to me. Perhaps I need to spend more time at the pub to develop a true appreciation.

Authentic Real Ale at the Old Mill

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People love Sacred. Time Out recommends it, my coworker recommends it, random stranger on the street recommends it, so I decide to try it.

Sacred plays on it’s name as a place of worship. The barista is set up on a pulpit and the congregation spills out onto the street at it’s Soho location near Carnaby Street. This makes it a very nice place to hang out on a sunny day soaking up the rays or people watching, on your lunch break, or in-between shopping.

A customer approaches the pulpit.

Sacred offers plenty of sandwiches and pastries. It’s run by New Zealanders who sell things like  jelly lolly cake. My experiences at Sacred and the Roastery are causing me to wonder what exactly is the deal with antipodeans and London coffee shops. Two coffee shops in a row- is this a chance thing or are NZ natives really into their coffee hangouts? I think I’m going to have to make a trip to New Zealand to get to the bottom of this. Either that or call up a friend and ask. The former option seems more dramatic and fun.

Scrambled eggs with wholewheat toast.

I had scrambled eggs with feta and spring onion on wholewheat toast and an Americano. This set me back between £8 and £9. Quite a bit for what is basically an egg sandwich and regular coffee. It took about 20 minutes to get my eggs and coffee, even though there weren’t many in the congregation that morning. In their defense, it was early morning so there were probably a lot of unseen to go orders and I think one of the baristas was training. Also, the coffee was very good.

Empty early morning.

Coffee!

Sacred on Urbanspoon

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I keep swearing that I’m not obsessed with Kate Middleton and the Royal Wedding but I’m starting to think that may not be true. As a foreigner, I find the pomp and circumstance and the entire concept of a monarchy utterly fascinating. But most of all, it’s downright impossible to ignore all the preparations going on around London for the big event. Here’s some photographic evidence of the massive effort to make it the perfect day for Kate and Will.

Flags hung over Regency Street near Piccadilly Circus.

It must be weird to have your face showing in every other window all over town.

Suspiciously nice looking flowers suddenly appear at Buckingham Palace. Accompanied by flags and supervisors.

Walking route through Green Park disrupted by massive tent structure.

Still a week and 4 days to go. I’ll do my best to post on something else during the next few weeks, but I can’t make too many promises!

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It was Friday night and I wanted to check out somewhere new. I had just finished my first week of work and was eager to celebrate legal employment. I remember that Yelp had arranged half-priced drink specials at The Ebury. I was curious about the establishment as I have frequently passed by it. Also (if you believe the hype) Kate Middleton has been spotted there flipping through bridal magazines. I’m not actually a Kate chaser, but I figure when in London…

The Ebury is a classic yet modern restaurant and bar on Pimlico Road. It falls in suit with the other establishments in the area- slightly upmarket without the snootiness of Sloane Square.  If you are a casual person, you might feel out of your zone when you first arrive, but on closer inspection you notice the worn carpet on the stairway and the glitches in the service. In fact, it took some downright effort to get our first drink. We only intended on staying for one or two, but I sent a text message to Cary who had just finished teaching his yoga class and all of a sudden we had company and a great reason to stay. At this point, our 1 drink turned into 3 and the service went from nonexistent to pretty good. Yes, sometimes yoga teachers have cocktails too.

The cocktail menu is extensive and has a lot of area for exploration. The Marilyn  Monroe was a sweet strawberry and champagne mixture. The Strawberry Basil Martini was subtler on the sugar level yet still fruity. The Moulin Rouge was not too sweet with a tropical vibe. Husband had a glass of rose that he winged about at first but then ordered a second. I guess it grew on him.

Moulin Rouge and Marilyn Monroe

With all these cocktails going to my brain, I needed some food. Rather than booking into the restaurant, we shared a massive Mediterranean Meze that included hummus, grape leaf wraps, tzatziki, warm pita bread, olives and other goods. It was enough for 3-4 people and should be for £17.

You might not spot Kate, but if you come between 5 and 7 you might spot me. At £8 – £11 a cocktail, I designate this place strictly for happy hour and the next Yelp special.

The Ebury is located at 11 Pimlico Road, London SW1W 8NA. Happy hour is from 5-7 everyday and includes 2 for 1 priced drinks.

Ebury on Urbanspoon

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Yesterday's lunch break on Primrose Hill

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I don’t have a sweet tooth so I don’t crave more than the occasional cookie or candy. Even when I do indulge, I will usually only have one or two bites. I would say this is a good thing except I tend to crave the fatty savory foods instead. It is more likely for me to dive into a bag of crips (chips) than a bag of biscuits (cookies).

However, while Rachel was in town we developed the wonderful habit of topping off our meals with a treat. I was getting a welcomed crash course in London pastries and sweets. We just finished a meal in Soho when I remembered that Hummingbird Bakery was around the corner. It had been recommended to me so I suggested we go there.

Cakes and treats at Hummingbird Bakery

Hummingbird Bakery makes American style cakes, cupcakes, brownies and pies and even has a gluten free selection of treats. After much deliberation, Rachel chose a red velvet cupcake and I chose the tiramisu.

Tiramisu

All throughout Rachel’s visit we had been sharing food but we both drew the line here. The tiramisu, which is only available on Wednesdays, was so good that I might have involuntarily bitten off someone else’s fingers if they tried to come near it. That is a huge endorsement from a girl born without a sweet tooth. This may have been the best cupcake I have ever had.

Sorry, Mom.

Hummingbird Bakery has locations in South Kensington, Notting Hill and Soho with a Spitalfields location scheduled to open in May of 2011. Check their website for more location details and hours. http://hummingbirdbakery.com/

Hummingbird Bakery on Urbanspoon

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The other day while walking through the park and looking like total hell, I was thinking about how it was a good thing that I wasn’t famous. There was very little chance that someone was going to run up to me, snap my photo and then draw funny pictures around my image describing how I had let myself go all because I didn’t bother to put on makeup or heat damage my hair that day.

This thought was very fortuitous. The very next day I was walking through London a bit more groomed when I was nearly knocked over by a large man running down the street. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that he was holding a professional camera. I turned to see what was going on and realized there was a whole crew of men with cameras in their hands.

Waiting for the shot

Standing at the foot of The Wolseley the men were poised and ready for action. Papparazi, I realized. I’ve crossed paths with a few celebrities in the past, but hadn’t given much thought to how many there must be in London. I decided to pause for a moment to find out who it was.

When the door opened, the men started yelling “Kate! Kate!” and I immediately got excited that I was only a few steps from Kate Middleton. A minute later, a woman exited yelling at the papparazi to go away. She retreated into the restaurant and re-emerged with Kate Moss.

Oh, THAT Kate.

I texted Mariah back in the U.S. figuring this would be the exact type of thing she got a kick out of.

“So how did she look?” she asked.

“Gorgeous, of course. Flowing hair, large sunglasses, designer clothes. Actually with all of that in the way I didn’t see her at all.”

So that’s the trick.

That evening I told Husband about my celebrity run-in.

“Why didn’t you get a photo? You probably could have sold it” Husband asked.

I thought back on that day I looked like hell walking through the park. “I don’t know. I guess I wanted to respect her privacy. What if she was having a bad hair day?”

“Celebrities don’t get to have a bad hair day” he answered.

Exactly.

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Vantra.

11-13 Soho St

London W1D 3DJ

www.vantra.co.uk/

 

After our experience at Leon, Molly and I decided to add Vantra to our list of places to try.

Vantra is a casual restaurant in Soho that specializes in raw, vegan and gluten-free foods. The cafe is open and inviting with large wooden communal tables and an organic food bar.

“So how does this work?” I asked Molly.

“You can either pick from the foods behind the counter and pay per serving or you can get a takeout container and fill it up completely from another bar yourself and pay per box.” she explained.

“Kind of like Luby’s but healthy and minus the take-out option.” I reasoned.

The take-out self service option starts at £4 for a box and is available Tuesday through Friday. The food bar offers many selections for £1 to £2 per small bowl. In addition, you can grab crackers and dips, dim sum, kale chips and truffles for dessert.

Choices.

After struggling a bit with the process, getting the attention of the staff,  and making our choices, we finally settled down to a table in the back. Some of the items were better than the others, but most were tasty. At £1 or £2 per item, it’s OK if you get something that’s not your favorite. You load up with different curries, vegan stroganoff, vegetables, noodles and salads to try and go for it.

My choices

Molly's choices

mmm... Smoothie.

We decided to try some of the vegan raw truffles. I want to say they were great, but honestly they were just OK.

Raw vegan truffles

I love this concept and am grateful for this option. During my visit it was obvious that there were still some kinks to be worked out, particularly when it came to the staff. Vantra is still new and going through an adolescence phase. I will be back regularly to check on it’s progress.

11-13 Soho St
London W1D 3DJ
Area: Soho
Nearest Transit:

Tottenham Court Road (Central, Northern)

Leicester Square (Northern, Piccadilly)

Oxford Circus (Bakerloo, Central, Victoria)

Hours:

Mon-Sat 12:00 – 23:00

Sun 12:00 – 21:00

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