Monday, February 7, 2011

Eating my way through England

The Bird family recently migrated over to England for a week. We had an amazing time, and I took a million pictures. I also took pictures of just about everything I had while there, which has lead me to my next culinary goal: I want to try to cook everything I ate on vacation. I'm sure it won't be easy, but I think it's an interesting goal, and what better way to expand my culinary horizons? So I guess this blog marks the beginning of Mission: Dodgy Grub. Or something British-sounding. I don't know what order I'll do them in, but I look forward to the challenge!

But first, a run-down of what I ate. In no particular order.

Please bear in mind that these photos were taken by me, sometimes with my phone, and none of them are terribly good. Most of them I took without flash, in dark restaurants. So I edited some photos to raise the lighting, but that is all. Sorry for the low-quality, but I just get shy about taking pictures with flash and interrupting people's meals. So some photos have high-quality versions available, and others don't.

This pastry shop was right outside of Windsor Castle. I didn't get anything to eat here, as I was still trying to be healthy and such. Papa Bird grabbed a late breakfast here. I wanted to eat pretty much everything.

Before this little family migration, I had never eaten lamb. So when we stopped at The Jazz Cafe, and I saw lamb patty pitas on the menu, I decided to be adventurous. Isn't visiting a new place all about expanding your horizons, after all? (How many times can I work that phrase into this entry, I wonder?)
The lamb pita came with tzatziki sauce, a little side salad, and tabouleh in the pita. Thanks to my obsession with TasteSpotting, I knew exactly what tzatziki was (even some of the ingredients... Papa Bird was impressed), but I had never heard of tabouleh. Once again Mama Bird reminded me that I may never know as much as her, and she knew what it was.
And my oh my, it was delicious. I could hardly finish it, but I would have gladly eaten two.
Mission: Dodgy Grub Lamb Pitas with Tabbouleh and Tzatziki Sauce

This was actually my first meal in England: a cheese and onion chutney sandwich from The Lamb & Lion. Sadly, this was one of the only meals I didn't like. The chutney was sweet, which I hadn't expected at all, and the cheese was simply shredded because the sandwich was cold. Which is (supposedly) normal. It wasn't terrible, and I did eat most of it, but when I recreate this I think I'll make a non-sweet onion mixture.
Oh. And of course it came with chips. Everything comes with chips.
Mission: Dodgy Grub Caramelized Onion Sandwich

Yes, I know Miss Bird is on a diet (and still is, with only about 15 pounds to go!) but when we stopped in the Fudge Kitchen, I knew there was no way I'd leave without something sweet. So instead of splurging like I wanted and buying fudge, I bought some coconut ice. I have, in fact, already tried to make more, but I'll be re-attempting that, since it was a failure. But this candy was delicious. Now I miss it even more...
Mission: Dodgy Grub Attempt One

Papa Bird really wanted to show Sister Bird and I Avebury. Which is quite interesting if you aren't familiar with it, I'd encourage you to read up a little on it. While we didn't spend much time there, we did make sure to eat at The Red Lion, a place where my parents had eaten on previous trips. They also have a cool room that has an old well for a table, although that room was closed while we were there so I couldn't be freaked out and think of the Ring while we ate. (I was a little thankful it was closed, honestly.)
We ate here early on the trip, so the warning of 'oh, portions in England are much smaller, so be ready for that!' was fresh in our minds. So when I decided that I should order fish and chips here, I was expecting a small portion, thinking it'd be perfect before we went off to see Stonehenge. Buy my god, it was enormous.
It was also amazing. I ended up eating all of the peas, some of the fries, and maybe a little more than half of the fish. I felt terrible leaving so much of it considering how delicious it was, but our hotel had no fridge so it would have just got bad. Mmm, just thinking of it, with some of the tartar sauce... *sigh* How did the myth that English food was bad get started?

This was Papa Bird's lunch at The Red Lion. I think he ordered three or four meat pies during this trip, but I think this picture came out the best. The same taste I had was also great. It was weird to think of a pie as savory, but i have totally accepted it as legitimate now.

We went to the Martini Restaurant for someone's birthday while we in Bath. The first dish we had was a bread appetizer, with a few assorted breads that included focaccia, toasted garlic focaccia, and another I cannot recall, all with a light drizzle of pesto. I think I somehow managed to only eat two. They were delicious.

For my meal at the Martini Restaurant, I went with manicotti alla romana, which the menu described as cannelloni filled with ricotta and spinach, in a creamy tomato sauce. I had wanted to order it for lunch at the place we had gone to, but they said it was a dinner special that shouldn't have been on the menu, so seeing it later that night made it seem like fate. And it was as good as I hoped they would be: full of creamy goodness, with just enough taste from the spinach, and in an amazing sauce. I am pretty sure I actually completely cleaned my plate. I am a pig. But you would have too.

Mama Bird made sure the waitstaff at the Martini Restaurant knew we had a birthday, and to be sure, they came out with a beautiful tiramisu for the lucky birthday boy. I helped myself to a corner, since I had never eaten tiramisu before, and honestly, I was slightly disappointed. I'm not a coffee person at all, so the coffee flavor was too much for me to enjoy, although I'll admit the rest of it was wonderful. The birthday boy certainly enjoyed it!

For most people, being on a diet would be enough reason to not order dessert. Apparently I am never going to be a good dieter. Because I ordered a chocolate brownie with hazelnut ice cream after finishing off my dinner at the Martini Restaurant. I honestly thought the ice cream tasted very much like just vanilla, which was disappointing, but the brownie tartlet did not disappoint. I think I waddled out of the restaurant that night.

The George Inn of Lacock really challenged my vow to try new foods. The staff was great, and we ended up talking to a man who it turned out partially owned the place while we were there for the better part of three hours. They had a lovely fireplace, great ale, and just a great atmosphere. They were also more than happy to talk to us and just give advice, and when he wrote the night's specials on the board I knew I had to try something different. I considered getting a steakstone and making myself some medium raw steak, but I knew I'd burn myself on the stone. Really, there was no question that would happen. So I went with something more interesting.
Yes, I went with locally made organic faggots. All I knew as I ordered it was that it came with some sort of gravy, and it was a meatball of sorts. Of what kind of meat, I didn't know. I did make sure it was primarily pork, since I'm not a huge pork fan. And they were interesting. A little gritty, some pieces were almost hard, but despite that description, they were delicious. The gravy they were in was also wonderful for chips and peas, but I was pleasantly surprised. Then the owner informed me that they were made of the organs of animals that had been used in other dishes, ground up with more meat and made into meatballs. And I wasn't even disgusted, just 'ah, I am becoming more worldly then.'
I have no idea how I'll go about making these...

This was Sister Bird's dessert at The George Inn, so it's not something I'm going to try to cook. I honestly don't remember exactly what was in this, beyond it was a puff-pastry like crust, with wonderful chocolate mousse, and then orange liqueur under it. The orange was too strong for all of us, but the mousse was good.

I actually did not eat this, since it was someone else's dessert. I don't know exactly what flavors it was, but I believe it was a lemon-y vanilla with raspberry sauce. I could be wrong, because that might be strawberry sauce. I wish I had tried it now, though, it looks great.

This was not my dessert, but the one I ate the most of. This is a spotted dick from the George Inn. Which is actually a sponge cake with raisins and cream. And in my opinion, by far the best dessert we had that night.

Please forgive this picture. It was by far one of the darkest pictures I took, so there was never a lot of detail to begin with, but making it visible made it look even worse. Apologizes.
This was sticky toffee pudding, the dessert I ordered at The George Inn. It was good, but I really enjoyed the dessert Mama Bird ordered much more, so we ended up swapping halfway through. Guess I'll have to make both of these...

I ordered chicken kiev from The Court House, a pub right next to Caerphilly Castle. I had no idea what it was, so I was interesting when I cut into it and a spring of butter poured forth. Once again, it was served with chips and peas, which I think must actually be a law. The chicken was well-breaded, not too oily, and tasted pretty good, although I spent most of my time in the pub busy staring at the beautiful view of the castle. Still, it's always nice to try something new.

So this was hands down the worse photograph of food I took. This restaurant was The Eastern Eye, supposedly one of the best Indian restaurants in the area we were in. This was the appetizer we all shared, and I honestly have no idea what it was called. The bread that was served with it wasn't naan, as it was very thin and crunchy. There were four dips: a yogurt sauce, diced onions, a very sweet mango chutney, and a 'picked lime' dip. I found the pickled lime absolutely revolting. Mama Bird seemed to enjoy it. The mere memory of that makes me shudder slightly; I have no idea how she ate it. The yogurt was fine, the mango I found far too sweet, so I ate a lot of onions that night. (I swear I'm not always as picky as I sound.)

Mama Bird and I shared a burner. I no longer remember exactly what she ordered, but I believe it was Moglai Chicken, which I really did not like. It was far too mild for me, and the nuts gave it a very odd texture. She liked it, which is really what counts. I had garlic chili chicken massalla, which was so spicy I had difficulty eating it at points. But it was completely amazing. Papa Bird had so much spice between my dish and his that he was sweating by the end of the night.

And the other half of the meal from The Eastern Eye, was more chicken from Papa and Sister Bird. Someone made a silly comment about how it was strange they had no beef on the menu, but I won't name that silly bird. And no, it wasn't me. I no longer recall exactly what they ordered, but I believe Sister Bird had 'basic' Chicken Tikka Massalla, and Papa Bird had something rather spicy, which may have been Chicken Mon Pasand. This was my first time having Indian food, so the whole thing was adventurous for me, but it was also the start of a new love. I had no idea at the depth of flavor their spices have, and in the month since I've been back I've gone out for Indian twice. I don't think Boyfriend Bird has enjoyed it as much, but I don't think he likes food quite as spicy as I do.

Other than the appetizer, of which I ate really only the onion, dessert was the only other disappointing part of my experience at The Eastern Eye. This dessert, a chocolate caramel tart, seemed like it came directly from the freezer, and seemed like something you'd buy in a grocery store. Mama and Papa Bird also had a dessert that seemed like it came from the grocery store. While it certainly didn't ruin the meal, it wasn't the note I would have liked to end the night on.

Another picture that doesn't do the meal any justice. This pub, The Raven, was one of our favorite places to hang out. They had great bartenders, who were always fun to have a conversation with, great ales and ciders, and the night before we left the city, we tried their pies. And they were amazing. I would have gladly eaten there more than one night to get more of them. I ended up ordering the Raven Ale Pie, using their house ale, and... and I think this was one of the best meals I had on the entire vacation, honestly. If you are ever anywhere near this place, then try it out. Ignore how bad this picture is, it was dark and I was in a corner. Just have faith in me.

See how adventurous this trip made me? I ordered a chicken curry almost immediately after my Indian Adventure, from a place in London called the Captain's Cabin. I ignored what I think was sour cream, and completely cleaned off my plate. It was great. This is one dish I am really looking forward to learning to cook, because I know there are a million variations, and I'd love to find something close to this.

Papa Bird and I went to see Love Never Dies at the Adelphi Theater. The show was amazing. I could write three or four blog entries on that. (I might.) Sister Bird and Mama Bird went shoe shopping while we were watching the show, but before we split up we ate at a place called Topps Sandwich Bar. It was incredibly small. So I naturally was obnoxious and took pictures. This was Papa Bird's meal, which was advertised as a kebob, and was not at all what we expected. No idea how I'll recreate this, but I'll try!

My meal at Topps was rather disappointing. It was a cold lamb sandwich, even though I made sure to ask for it warm. But that aside, the lamb just didn't have a flavor I enjoyed. I ate half of it, and ended up picking off Papa Bird's plate for the rest of my meal. Even though I was hungry, Love Never Dies was still amazing.

One of the last meals I had on vacation was salmon patties, from a pub called the Coal Hole. They were pretty good, and I had to actually defend them from my family's poaching until I ate them.

The very last meal I had on vacation was in the airport, at a place called Giraffe. It was their soup of the day, which was a chili-like soup with garlic toasted focaccia. This will probably be one of the easier meals to recreate, but it was just what I needed before getting on a plane for eight hours.

Mama Bird and Sister Bird shared a fajita dish at Las Iguanas, which smelled amazing. We had a fair number of interesting dishes at that table, including a goat dish. Goat is stringier than I expected, but tastes pretty good.

This was my meal, a simple chicken enchilada with black beans and rice. The presentation here was really good, which gave me a lot to think about. The beans also had a lot of flavor, although the rice itself wasn't that special. The enchilada sauce also tasted quite nice, although Mama and Papa Bird did mock me for picking such a generic dish when there was goat to be had....

And there is all the food I ate in England, with the exception of breakfast. The only thing that isn't pictured that I'd like to try to make is curried chicken pockets, which I never remembered to take pictures of.

And if you're ever in Bath, then check out some of those places! You won't regret it!

(And for anyone who was curious, I actually lost a pound after eating all of that. Guess it was all the walking...)

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