(More) Recent Eats in London

Big Ben

I’m lucky that I  live near Maroseika, a major Moscow dining street, which has many diverse restaurants. But it’s funny–anytime we’re likely to start talking about Indian restaurants someone says, “oh, Maharajah.” Yes, been there, done that. Oh, Thai food at Thai Thai? That too. In a city of ten million, surely there must be more than one restaurant of each cuisine. While Indian and Thai may not be so popular (“too spicy,” I’ve heard) sushi is huge here, and hopefully it’ll be only a little while before we see other Asian cuisines become equally popular. In the meantime, there are some super-luxe creations to contend with. Just take a walk down Tverskaya and you’ll see what I mean. None of what I ate over the holidays was super luxe, really, but most of the time that’s the way I like it. Simple and delicious:

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, 13-15 West Street, Soho : My colleague suggested this one ages ago. Any time he had a special occasion coming up, he said, he liked to book a place at L’Atelier. With good reason; this branch has garnered two delicious Michelin stars and has reasonable prix-fixe prices for the pre- or post-theatre crowd. Robuchon has been doing well in nine countries, and I see no reason to stop him. Indeed, I quite enjoyed my foam-laced amuse bouche and the most beautifully cooked salmon. Not to mention the darling French waiters and even more darling mango dessert.


The Dove, 24 Broadway Market, Bethnal Green: My sister’s friend lives in the area, which is so cool it might have already become ironic. She said that at one of the ATMs nearby she was asked if she wanted service in English or…Cockney. We made fun of those damn hipsters all afternoon–their beards, Ray- Ban glasses, plaid shirts, open-whenever-they-feel-like-it speakeasies, and the way people sighed after her flat, which used to be council housing–but I don’t know…I like a high-quality wine and an all-arts bookstore every now and again. And, obviously, brunch. This place served it up nice. I’d like all eggs florentine all the time, thanks. Later on we went to The Book Club in Shoreditch, where (case in point) there were no actual books, though there was, I believe, a ping pong tourney going on in the basement. Oh, and a good Aperol spritzer.

Recipease, 92-94 Notting Hill Gate, Notting Hill: There are lots of restaurants around, but I’m not sure I need Jamie Oliver’s name slapped on all of them. I’ve eaten at one of Jamie’s Italian places in Oxford, which was nice, but this one seems more necessary; it’s different because the ground floor is done pantry-style with prepared foods: fresh soups, pastries, even lasagnas and whole chickens, and then the upstairs is more of a traditional cafe: brunch offerings and sweet homemade (read: £3) sodas.

Princi, 135 Wardour St., Soho: For a good catch-up session, my friend Kasia and I ate giant buffalo mozzarella pizzas and sipped on fresh juice in this bustling shop. I wish I had taken my own pictures of their fabulous pastry section, but you can see the website for that. Highly recommended, with extremely good Yelp reviews.

Rossopomodoro, 50-52 Monmouth St., Covent Garden: OK, not our absolute first choice, but it was the 28th of December, and beggars can’t be choosers. This place proved nice indeed, and my olive oil pasta was simple and tasty. I also appreciated the giant portions of bruschetta and the sweetest and most humble Italian waiters.

Thai Rice, 42 Crawford St., Marylebone: I also like Two Point down the street, but this one is probably a bit better, though with strange lighted tabletops. Luckily, on those crazy tables as you enter are free wasabi peas to nibble on and clear the palate. Everything was really well prepared, especially the pad thai and its jumbo shrimp.

Pad Thai

Zayna, 25 New Quebec St., Marylebone: Somewhat hilariously, my Yelp review of this excellent Pakistani/North Indian restaurant was featured in their digest a while back. How proud I was! I’m also glad to know that this place is still going strong since the first time we first visited a few years back. Zayna, La Porte des Indes and Woodlands form the perfect trifecta of North Indian, French-influenced, and South Indian dining.

And there you have it. For more London recommendations, check out my initial Edible Guide to London (Parts I and II), and some more recent eats.

Recent Eats in West London

West London–Marylebone alone–is full of such amazing food choices that you might never need to leave the neighbourhood. Fancy some chicken tikka on a Sunday night? Done. Wood-fired pizza or casual tapas? Done and done. In London, like many other cities, you can also make trips to specific areas of the city if you’re looking for certain cuisines: Notting Hill for West Indian fare, Brick Lane for Indian, Edgware Road for hookah bars and falafel.

All the restaurants I’ve listed below are places I visited recently and would return to with pleasure. These are all lovely, relaxed places for a good meal with entrées usually under £20 (sometimes well under) that should fill you up and keep you happy.

Il Baretto 43 Blandford Street (Italian Wine Bar): I went here last night, so the memory of Il Baretto, the “little bar,” is fresh in my mind. I started with a nice light Valpolicella wine, a rocket and parmesan salad, and a burrata cheese and tomato pizza. All of my food was delicious and fresh, served in the quiet, leathery lower level of the restaurant.

Photo: UK Restaurant Guide

Ed’s 19 Rupert Street, plus others (American-style Diner): I came here with some girlfriends for a chocolate malt and onion rings, and it was everything I ever wanted and more on a dreary, rainy day near Piccadilly circus. We stayed a few hours and there were no bothers to our vinyl-seated lunch. In classic diner fashion, you even get to listen to old tunes from Grease and Elvis films. Great for a nostalgia trip in one of the busiest parts of the city.

Idler Cafe 18 Westbourne Park Road (Coffee shop, Cake shop, book shop): When my friend Alex told me she was taking me to The Idler, I thought I had never heard of this place. In reality, I had heard plenty. Owned and managed by Tom Hodgkinson, The Idler Academy stocks eclectic titles on everything from history and anthropology to poetry and criticism. The selection of books on London is particularly fine. The shop functions mainly as a bookshop, but it serves a nice coffee (and the chocolate cake looked very tasty indeed).

Photo: theprintproject.co.uk

Locando Locatelli 8 Seymour Street (High-class Italian): My Aunt and Uncle were in town from Toronto a couple of weeks ago, and we went here to celebrate their visit. It’s sort of fancy, with dreamy black club chairs, creamy white walls and convex mirrors. The fanciness matches the Italian phrases sprinkled in with your meal: a buonasera here and there. We started with prosecco, and I moved on to a beautifully made chestnut pasta dish and some fabulous homemade chocolate truffles. Apparently, Jude Law and other celebs come here sometimes. It’s sort of hidden away, so I can see why.

Pix 63 Neal Street, plus a branch in Soho (Spanish Tapas and Wine): I went here about a month ago after a long week, intending to have a bit of rosé. We stayed for three bottles and multiple tapas. We started with churros and hot chocolate (which, take note, are the only food options before 5:30) and rosé, then moved on to the tortilla española, then rosé, then croquettas, breaded olives and cheese. By the time we left, a little after 8, it was packed.

La Porte des Indes 32 Bryanston Street (Indian): An Indian restaurant with, inexplicably, a French name. Although it appears to be quite small, and is right off Oxford street, this is actually a really large, impressive restaurant. The service is great, the decor is strange (I was seated right under a giant bronze horse), and the food is tasty and hot. My mum and I ordered our standard Indian fare: potato-filled naan bread, saag paneer, vegetable samosas, eggplant curry, and some cooling yoghurt-based cucumber raita.

Portrait Restaurant Trafalgar Square (All-purpose Lunchtime Retreat): A beautiful view atop the Portrait Gallery. You can get a really good 2- or 3-course meal or just some tea and appetizers. Though I wasn’t expecting too much, my pickled herring, toast and tea were top-notch.

View from the Portrait restaurant

Photo: searcys.co.uk

The Providores 109 Marylebone High Street (An Antipodean Brunch): I wrote about my desire for a good brunch house before, and at that point I hadn’t been to the Providores. Well, let me tell you that all your brunch fantasies can be satisfied at this place: wicked Eggs Florentine, sweet french toast, and fluffy cheese scones. My expectations were pretty high since I often walked by this place on Sunday mornings, and it was always very busy. I was not disappointed and, best of all, did not have to wait.

Next Stops: The French Laundry at Harrods (a pop-up version of the über-famous California original), Roganic (another pop-up, on Blandford Street), Inamo on Wardour Street (where apparently you order on tablet computers!), Soho’s Secret Tea Room (a very busy, only semi-secret tea room above Coach and Horses), and Mad Hatter Tea at Sanderson’s Hotel.

The Quietest Spots in London

Mount Street Gardens

I mentioned the quiet moments I’ve experienced worldwide, but I’d also like to say a little something about London. Living in the centre of London, a hugely dense city of some eight million people, sometimes it’s really hard to escape the grind and find somewhere peaceful to let your mind wander. Often, these peaceful spots prove to be pretty unexpected places, because clearly you’re not always going to find an oasis of calm out in the middle of Oxford Circus. But London’s a very lucky city, actually, as there are parks and alleyways and hidden corners all over the place. This list was partly inspired by my friend Gemma, who runs a consolidated list of peaceful spots on her blog. The ones I’ve listed below are my favourites. What are yours?

Daunt Books

Daunt Books 83 Marylebone High Street, plus others. This is my favourite bookshop in London, bar none. In an era of W.H. Smith, Foyle’s and Waterstone’s, not to mention the influx of Amazon, I think it’s important to have some independent bookshops around. There are several Daunt Books branches, all of which are different and connected in some way with their respective neighborhoods. I don’t know about the others, but the Marylebone branch has the ordinary categories–fiction, non-fiction, cooking, and so on–as well as country categories; that means that if you’re searching for books on, say, Russia, in addition to travel guidebooks you’ll also find books by Russian authors like Dostoevsky and Turgenev and fiction set in Russia. Genius.

Mount Street Gardens When I used to work right around the corner, I came here with my lunch all the time. Grosvenor Square is nearby, too, but it’s usually packed and lacks places to sit (well, except for the grass). Mount Street Gardens are full of benches and quiet spots, facing a beautiful old church one side and–lucky, lucky–the Christian Louboutin shoe store on the other.

Starbucks on South Molton Lane: Why yes, Starbucks: the quietest place on earth. But for serious, this branch is always a goodie. Even when Oxford street is teeming with people, the upstairs of this branch is a quiet spot for a crême brulée latte. Even better, it’s housed in a sweet old building with rickety stairs and comfy chairs.

Yumchaa, 45 Berwick Street: This is another place that has a tendency to get very busy during lunchtime or on the weekends. But never fear, there’s a lovely basement seating area, which is a fine space to while away some hours with a nice chai latte.

A Summer's Day at the V&A


Victoria and Albert Museum: If you go to the special exhibits on a Saturday afternoon then, no, you will not have this place to yourself. If, on the other hand, you go to one of the quieter areas, like the prints or textiles gallery, or parts of the costume exhibits, you can have a lovely peaceful time. Bonus: the outdoor seating area is lovely and calm, and the food is some of the best I’ve ever had at a museum.

St. Paul’s Cathedral: If you get the chance to go to a concert here, please do say yes. What a beautiful, resilient structure; in 1940, during the Blitz, through some miracle or divine grace, St. Paul’s was left standing while everything around it was burned to ashes. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s just such a calm, awe-inspiring stained-glass spot.

Hampstead Heath

The Parks: Oh boy, too many to choose from! I think London has a real leg-up in the greenery arena over other giants like Moscow or New York. I’ve never seen anything like it. I usually go running in Hyde Park, but that can get awfully crowded on a sunny day, so nice alternatives are Kensington Gardens or Regent’s Park, both of which are still very central. Another idea is to pull a Julia Roberts (à la Notting Hill) and jump the fence to one of London’s private gardens. No one will ever know! I also hear really lovely things about Richmond park, but I haven’t been there yet. Possibly my favourite green gem in the city is Hampstead Heath up north. The village is really lovely, you can visit Freud’s house or the Keats museum, and you can walk across the park to Highgate cemetery, such a beautiful old spot (and burial ground to Marx, among others).

Highgate Cemetery Angel

The Mews: Hidden in alleys and culs-de-sac, the mews of London are the former stables of the gentry. But where the gentry once parked their horses, we now park ourselves. And really, these are some of the most desirable properties in London–secluded, central, with charming window boxes and cobbled streets, and sweet young families pushing prams.

Marylebone Station: I can’t say I’m one of those people who just rides the trains for fun, but it’s a nice idea, especially if you’re starting from Marylebone. This is a very quiet place, as far as train stations go, and it’s a lovely little labyrinthine walk from my house–I get to pass around the back of people’s houses and our local church. Fun times! Marylebone station also houses the Bakerloo tube line, which gets you to the centre of the city, and is my favourite; it’s never as packed as, say, the Central line, so I try and take it whenever I can. Marylebone forever!

Future Quiet-Time Plans: Other good ideas for quiet times should include the British library, boating along the Thames to Greenwich, a trip out to the Cotswolds some few hours away, a peaceful afternoon tea, and more museum-hunting. Have fun!

Sources (from top): Mount Street Gardens: Keep Britain Tidy; Daunt Books: Lagom Design; all other images my own.

London: An Edible Guide (Part II)

Photo courtesy of Food52

Part II: An Edible Weekend

What are your plans for the weekend? In London it’s Open House weekend, where all sorts of private residences and institutions open their doors to the public. For free! I plan on seeing the London Library (whose miles of books have enticed past members like T.S. Eliot, Tennyson, Dickens and Thackeray), Mansion House and the Argentine Ambassador’s residence, a Thomas Cubitt “villa” from 1851.

Sometimes living in London overwhelms me a bit with the fear of missing out; you could be seeing an amazing West End show every night of the week or spending your entire salary eating at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, and it might not be a bad way to go. It feels a bit lazy to not be doing something spectacular every minute, but sometimes you need a break. Sometimes it’s best for me to do only what I’m really, really interested in and skip the rest. But one thing I’m always in the mood for is a good brunch.


I’m still looking for the perfect London brunch spot, preferably one with a queue out the door, mismatched china and a waffle maker in perpetual motion. (For those of you in Toronto, something like Aunties and Uncles.) I’ve heard that brunch at Modern Pantry and Providores is fab, or maybe I should head out of the centre a bit to hipster haunts like Railroad in Hackney. In any case, I’ve still done some nice weekend eating so far. My picks below:

My half-finished coffee at Monmouth

Monmouth Coffee 27 Monmouth Street, plus others: Monmouth is very, very popular, and with good reason; roasted, freshly ground coffee, warm pain au chocolat, lemon tarts and truffles, and attractive staff that look like they stepped out of an American Apparel ad. I was once around Covent Garden early and there was a line of people outside, eager to get their coffee fix before 8 am. It’s that good.

My cousin's half-finished lemon tart at Monmouth

The Wolseley 160 Piccadilly: This used to be the home of Wolseley Motors, a car showroom, before being acquired by Barclays bank in 1927. It was then restored and turned into a swanky restaurant in 2003. Much more useful than a bank, I say. It’s right next to the Ritz, and the interior really is opulent, but the prices are actually very reasonable. Despite the surroundings, there’s not much snobbery here, so you can certainly just come for coffee and a pastry if you like.

Lido Cafe Hyde Park: While the weather is still nice enough to sit outdoors, get a seat beside the Serpentine Lido and watch joggers, weekend meetingers, and boys and girls meet up for brunch dates. You might also get a rogue swan as a guest.

Royal China Club 40-42 Baker Street, plus others: More of a dim sum kind of gal or guy? This place gets super-busy on weekends, but that only heightens the anticipation for some of the best dim sum in London! Mm, prawn dumplings, scallion pancakes, and Singapore vermicelli. It’s done à la carte-style, which I actually prefer; it means you won’t get stuck with some mystery dish, only to find out it’s chicken feet! My warning comes from experience, of course.

One of my favourite weekend alternabrunches is to head to one of the markets around town, pick up free samples and some supplies for that evening’s feast. I like Borough Market, the most obvious choice, and the Marylebone farmer’s market near me for Sundays when Borough is closed. Also check out Cabbages and Frocks, which is great for pastries and scouting out new-to-you vintage clothing.

Afternoon Snacks:

It’s just not summer (or fall, or winter…) without ice cream. It may be my favourite treat of all.

Gelupo 7 Archer Street. This has a cozy Italian gelateria feel, and is a welcome respite from the manic Piccadilly area. After opening the super-popular Boca di Lupo across the street, team Jacob Kennedy and Victor Hugo (great name) opened Gelupo with mad success. Their flavours change daily; today’s choices include Ricotta, Chocolate and Black Pepper; Saffron and Vanilla; Black Forest. Delicious and inventive.

Hot chocolate at Freggo

Freggo, 27-29 Swallow Street. Reawaken your childhood fantasies in this purple-walled, space-agey Argentine ice cream shop. And since they’re often open till 2am, this place is great for a break after a midnight stroll along Regent street.  Their hot chocolate is lovely on a cold day, but do try some dulce de leche—that marvelous boiled-down condensed milk beloved by Latin Americans everywhere—in your ice cream or alfajore. Bonus: Freggo will even deliver ice cream to your house. Amazing.

99 Flake, all over the city: You do yourself a disservice if you’re in London and haven’t gotten one of these yet. Essentially it’s vanilla soft-serve with a Cadbury flake bar stuck in the middle, but it’s so good! They definitely don’t cost 99p anymore, but they come out in full swing at midsummer festival time, or you can buy them pretty much all year from ice cream vendors.

Nighttime Treats:

What do you want to do tonight? Go to the cinema? To the theatre? Out to a club? A bar? The ballet? A poetry slam?! You can do all of that in London (though maybe not all in one night).

Scenes from a disposable camera: Blurry crowds at Somerset House

Cinema: I love, love, love the cinema, so London is a great place for me. You can see great films at BFI all year, but during the summer and early fall, you might like to head to one of the city’s outdoor cinemas; Rooftop Film Club at Queen of Hoxton is fantastic but sells out very early. Sign up for their e-mail list and book ASAP! Then you can drink your cider on their lovely rooftop in East London and watch classics like Ghostbustes, The Goonies or Trainspotting. During the summer, Somerset House also does about a week of films in their atrium area, which is totally beautiful. Then there’s Nomad pop-up cinemas all around the greater London area, which screens films indoors and out, all around London and as far as Canterbury.

My sister, waiting to see In the Mood for Love at Somerset House

Nightlife: Do note that ordinary old bars are required by law to close at 11, which seemed absurd the first time I heard it. What that actually means is that lots of places apply for permits which allow them to stay open longer–sometimes way longer–so you’ll have to check opening and closing times for each place you visit. One of the most interesting bars I’ve been to recently is Purl, on Blandford Street. It’s like an old-fashioned speakeasy with fancy cocktails, candles, and dark corners. If you fancy something more intense, just head out to Shoreditch on the weekend, right past Old St. tube station, and hit the bars. Tiger Tiger had been recommended to me, but honestly, there are people pouring out of all sorts of venues in that area. Take your pick. A final suggestion is The Church, a club which is only open on Sunday afternoons. Say what?! Apparently it’s like a show that runs from midday till 4ish. I’ve never been there, but my friend studied in London for quite a while and she loved it. There’s nothing better than a great party and the chance to dress up!

That’s it for now. Have a great weekend!

London: An Edible Guide (Part I)

Part I: An Everyday Dinner

These are some of the places I’ve come to like over my many trips to London. I’m lucky to live pretty centrally, so you’ll see that this list has a heavy bias towards the Marylebone and Soho areas. After all, it is my “everyday” list when what I want is a reliable place for a simple, nearby meal.

Belgo Centraal  50 Earlham Street, plus others. Best for: Belgian beer and pre-theatre moules-frites. I had been craving moules-frites for some time when, as luck would have it, I found myself across the street from Belgo Centraal lining up early one morning for theatre tickets at the Donmar Warehouse. I considered it a good sign, and we came here before seeing the Eugene O’Neil play Anna Christie. If you come early you can eat pretty cheaply, unless you really make use of that extensive beer selection.

Busaba Eathai 8-13 Bird Street, plus others. Best for: Quick and cheap Thai food with plenty of options. If you come on a Friday or Saturday, expect this place to be very busy and very noisy. But realistically, on any day of the week, this is not a spot to linger over your food. It’s all done Wagamama-style, where you’re served quickly at large family-style tables, then sort of shuffled out. But don’t let that deter you, because sometimes that’s what you want, right? Besides, the curries are spicy, the rice fluffy, and the tea plentiful.

Defune  34 George Street. Best for: Upscale sushi. Despite the ridiculous prices (last I checked, £4.80 for miso soup) Defune serves some very good sushi. On my last occasion I shared salmon sashimi, and rolls of spicy tuna, california, and salmon-avocado sushi. We also got some very nice matcha green tea (which, fortunately, was free) and those fancy hot towels. There’s no overabundance of cheap sushi in London (I’ll have to head back to Toronto for that) but this peaceful place does its job well, and will never rush you out the door. They may also serve food done teppanyaki-style, but I wouldn’t know, as we’re usually the only people there. Like I said: peaceful!

The Grazing Goat 6 New Quebec Street. Best for: After-work drinks, jetlagged houseguests, or a mixed group. This gastropub is très English, to be sure, with a good selection of beer on tap and a modern classic sort of menu. What’s great about the food here is that it seems to appeal to all sorts of people, which makes it a fine place to go when you’re not sure where to go. They make very nice soups, calamari, and fish and chips with mushy peas. The Golden Hind up the road is famed for its fish and chips, but I think I might like them better here. Or maybe I just prefer the decor.

Tapas Brindisa 46 Broadwick Street, plus others. Best for: Sharing, of course! You know the drill: tiny plates, try everything. My friend and I were looking for afternoon eats on a Sunday and had actually intended to go to Sketch for scones. Sadly, it was closed, so we walked a bit and found this place instead. A very happy accident; we shared some Manchego cheese and quince paste and then the Tortilla Española, that delicious, fried, potatoey omelette. Me gusta.

Woodlands  77 Marylebone Lane, plus others. Best for: Peaceful, white-tableclothed south Indian vegetarian fare. The staff at Woodlands is so friendly and the space is quiet, with very simple decor and no music–so different from many Indian restaurants! The thalis are especially good, but it’s quite a lot of food for one person, so on my last visit I was sharing paneer tikka masala, vegetables jalfrezi, tarka daal, a lemon rice and a plain rice, and a potato-spinach dish whose name I’ve forgotten. Next time I might substitute a dosa, as it’s a south Indian specialty. I’d also recommend starting with a sweet (or mango) lassi, which is delicious and helps keep the spice levels from becoming overwhelming.

Zizzi’s 116 Wigmore Street, plus others. Best for: All-purpose Italian. I haven’t found a go-to pizza place in the Marylebone area yet, but this spot is pretty close. There are different branches of Zizzi’s all over the city, and they serve up all kinds of homemade pasta and pizza, with those twinkly lights and furnishings hewn in a rustic, sort of Italian country home mode.

Stay tuned for updates about drinks and desserts!

A Very English Afternoon Tea

To my mind, there’s no more quintessentially English dining experience than an afternoon tea, with its crustless sandwiches and clotted cream. So for my birthday yesterday, my mum and I headed to The Connaught in Mayfair, right beside the peaceful Mount St. Gardens. On this day I forgot my camera, but I’ll do my best to recount the delights we experienced there. You may even get lucky and do some celebrity spotting; we were seated right behind Jason Bateman and it was all I could do to stop myself from quoting Arrested Development.

I started with a sweet, milky Earl Grey, and then came the sandwiches: salmon and cream, cucumber and wasabi, egg salad on whole grain, and the wildcard teriyaki chicken. We then moved on to the plain and ginger scones–the best part, really–with clotted cream and jam. A special Connaught detail is their jam selection; you can choose between over a dozen jams produced by Christine Ferber, who apparently bakes in the morning and makes jam in the afternoon from her Alsace village home. Adorable! I got the fruits du jardin (rhubarb-strawberry-raspberry) and my mum went for blackcurrant. Mix and match.

After scones come cakes and pastries: frangipane with lemon curd (my favourite), chocolate-coffee cake, maple religieuse, strawberry cheesecake, and a ginger mousse. This kept me full through dinner and then some, so afternoon tea isn’t a regular occurrence for me. Instead I’ll usually opt for cream tea with only the scones. Many of the fancier hotels won’t offer this, but I can recommend Sketch in Soho for this purpose (and for its eccentric, Mad Hatter decor). You can also try the Orangery in Kensington Gardens or the Cakehole cafe at the back of Vintage Heaven on Columbia road. My friend Louise and I were shopping for flowers (in January!) and stumbled across this sweet shop.

My sister and I some two years ago at Sketch. Photo by Louise Miller.

As I say, most of the fancy hotels (and plenty of the more ordinary ones) will offer some version of afternoon tea. For more ideas, look to Time Out, the London Tea Guild (they have awards for this stuff!), as well as Yelp, which works on reviews and can guide you towards some nice new spots. Brown’s and The Dorchester always come highly rated and are next on my list. Cheers!

Sources (from top): Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland site; scones from BBC Good Food

The Notting Hill Carnival

This past Monday, for Britain’s August bank holiday, my cousin Kelly and I ventured out to Notting Hill for what is apparently the second-largest street festival in the world (after Carnival in Rio). I’m not sure why this carnival takes place in August and not Mardi Gras-style before Lent, but it’s a tradition; it has been going on since 1964 and shows no signs of letting up. This 2011 festival was said to have over a million visitors on the Sunday and Monday, and I can definitely believe that: the Carnival diverted traffic over hundreds of blocks and blocked off at least four tube stations. Actually leaving required some skill!

Of course, with all the recent riots, the city was especially careful about keeping violence in check: most shops were boarded up and Scotland Yard was working hard, out with something like 6,000 police officers. (It’s worth keeping in mind the fact that the city’s first racially-motivated riots took place in Notting Hill in the late ’50s.) As I found out just now, a man was still stabbed despite all the precautions taken, but dozens fewer were hospitalized than in previous years, so that’s saying something.

But we were basically ignorant of all this because we arrived around 11 not looking for a fight, but for food. Getting something to eat was definitely not a problem–all sorts of fried goodies abounded, especially Trinidadian and Jamaican favourites like roti, curried goat, fried plantain, ackee and saltfish, and beer like Red Stripe. Oh my, so much Red Stripe. We settled down with vegetable patties for me and jerk chicken for Kelly, washed down with some fresh coconut water.

I think there might be some kind of awards process during the festival, for best costume and maybe best ensemble, but that’s not really the point. It seems to be more about appreciating London and all the people who live here, especially after nastiness like the riots. This woman below seems to sum up the spirit perfectly. I was just trying to get a photo of her on the sly, real sneaky-like, but she saw me and gave the most beaming smile. She was obviously really happy to be there. So I was, too.