After three eventful weeks in London, we all uprooted and relocated to Oxford. The journey itself was pleasant, as Oxford is only an hour and a half’s train ride away from London, and the countryside views are nothing if not picturesque.
To put it mildly, I loved Oxford. I was fortunate enough to stay in accommodations usually occupied by actual Oxford University students. Our apartment (or “flat”, as the Brits say) was quite spacious and homey. Our classes also took place in a classroom at Oxford’s Brasenose College, so although I didn’t actually learn from any Oxford professors, it was somewhat like getting the Oxford experience, especially since we also had access to the Bodleian Library.
Overall, though, I liked the small town vibe that Oxford had, especially compared to London. Everything was within walking distance, and I no longer had to suffer the mugginess and crampedness of traveling on the tube. As we now had a kitchen in our flat, we relied more on our own cooking than on eating out, but of course we still had to eat out sometimes. Our first group dinner in Oxford was at the famed Eagle and Child, a pub a few minutes’ walk from our accommodations.
The Eagle and Child is a tourist destination in Oxford in its own right, as it was famously the hang-out of a literary discussion group called the Inklings, whose most famous members included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Due to the size of our large group, we got the whole back room to ourselves, where, funnily enough, they’d labelled a random door as the entryway to Narnia. I mean, we all know that the entryway to Narnia is through a magical wardrobe in Professor Kirke’s house (or by the other methods shown in the other six books in the series), but it’s still a cute touch. There was also a map of the magical world of Narnia on the door, showing Narnia and its southern neighbours, Archenland and Calormen. I devoured the Narnia books as a child, and having dinner in the same place that C.S. Lewis regularly visited was quite exciting for me, in an admittedly geeky way. Other than that, though, the Eagle and Child was not unlike the other pubs I visited during my time in England. The decor was quaint and functional, while the food leaned towards the traditional rather than the imaginative.
Pickles had the Fish and Chips (£10.75), which was served alongside some mushy peas and tartar sauce. I was mostly impressed by the size of the piece of cod, as it was massive, especially considering the price. She found that the fish was a bit dry on the edges, which is quite standard for fish and chips. Still, she enjoyed how crispy the fish was, and that the batter was not too heavy or thick. The chips were the thick, starchy, potatoey kind, which I personally don’t prefer, but what’s a visit to the U.K. without trying some fish and chips?
I was lucky enough to be sitting beside Sim and she graciously allowed me to snap a photo of her dinner, which was the Vegetable Burger (£7.95). The menu stated that the veggie patty was composed of spiced aubergine, red pepper, sweetcorn, and chickpeas, but Sim commented that it mostly tasted like chickpeas. She enjoyed the burger as the patty was nice and crispy, as were the accompanying chips, which were again the thick variety. The burger also came with some coleslaw on the side.
Stacy and Catherine also shared a Tear and Share Cheesy Garlic Bread (£4.75). They were actually away from the table when it arrived, and it smelled so heavenly that we were all tempted to steal a bite. It reminded me of the clam chowder bread bowls I’d really liked as a child. I’m a sucker for anything that comes in an edible container. Anyways, this bread was filled with a thick, creamy garlic and cheddar sauce, and it was exactly what was expected, being warm and satisfying. Surprisingly, it also wasn’t messy at all, which I might have guessed from the look of the dish when it first arrived.
As for me, I had the Basket of Fish (£10.75), which included scampi, goujons (strips of fish), and calamari, as well as the requisite chips and tartar sauce. Everything was lightly fried, a bit oily as expected, but not too heavy, which I liked. The fish itself was light and flaky, while the calamari was quite tender. The chips were the same as the ones served above, but for some reason, I really liked the tartar sauce. I’m generally not a fan of tartar sauce, but the one here was light and tangy, which complemented the fish well. I usually find fish and chips to be a heavy meal, but I didn’t feel too bloated here, and I had plenty of room left for dessert. To add to the Britishness of my meal, I also indulged in a glass of Pimm’s.
Luckily enough, we still had room for dessert, so Sim and I shared a Warm Chocolate Brownie (£4.25), which was served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. It’s not like this was anything special or unique, but it was certainly a nice way to end our meal. The brownie had a nice crust to it, with softer, chewier layers underneath, and the cool, sweet ice cream helped to provide a textural contrast. It was also of a decent size to share between two people after the meal we’d consumed above.
Overall, the food we sampled at The Eagle and Child was quite yummy, and of course it was exciting to eat at the favourite haunt of the Inklings. If you’re passing through Oxford, I’d definitely recommend having a meal here, if only to experience the vibe of the quintessential British pub. Oh, and don’t forget to have some Pimm’s as well!
The Eagle and Child
49 St. Giles
Oxford, United Kingdom OX1 3LU
One lovely morning in London, Pickles, Chantallyhoo and I decided to head off to Harrod’s. Not to shop, obviously, but just to visit one of London’s most famous landmarks. In all honesty, I found shopping in London to be quite expensive, although I was excited about the number of shops that aren’t available in Vancouver, including River Island and Uniqlo. Harrod’s was an interesting experience to be sure, and the three of us made a few purchases at the gift shop, where the prices are much more on par with what the average tourist can afford to spend.
After our little adventure, it was time for lunch. We walked around looking for a McDonald’s or a Pret a Manger or even a Starbucks, but for some reason, we were unable to find anything even remotely fast food-like. Since we still needed to eat, we wandered into Spaghetti House, where we were promptly seated and received our food quite quickly.
I had the Penne Arrabiata (£8.75), with spicy tomato sauce, crushed red chilies, and cherry tomatoes. It was a rather sticky and muggy London day, and this was served piping hot. While that’s usually a good thing, for some reason my pasta stayed hot to the end, and verged on being uncomfortable to eat. I personally would have preferred the pasta itself to be a little bit softer, as I felt it was a tad undercooked, but the tomatoes added a perfect sweetness, while the chilies had that promised dimension of spiciness. Ultimately, this was a filling bowl of pasta, and I would probably order this again, if it hadn’t been inexplicably hot.
Chantallyhoo went with a classic in the Spaghetti Bolognese (£9.95). She quite enjoyed her pasta, remarking that the noodles themselves were quite chewy, with a bouncy, toothsome texture. She found the sauce a bit watery, but that it didn’t detract from her overall enjoyment of her meal. Overall, she thought that it was a filling and comforting bowl of pasta.
Pickles had the Margherita Pizza (£7.95). She didn’t have much to say about her pizza, saying that it tasted quite average. She found that the flavours were balanced but that the pizza itself was nothing special. I think that’s a good summary of our experience here overall. I quite enjoyed my lunch, but mostly due to the conversation rather than the food itself. If I were in the area again, I would probably want to try something else.
After lunch, the three of us ventured to the Natural History Museum. Like the British Museum, the Natural History Museum is publicly funded, and, therefore, free for the general public, although donations are welcome. That being said, the line to get in was quite long, but well worth it. Vancouver isn’t exactly a hotspot for museums, and we had a lovely afternoon just admiring fossils, samples of various minerals, and such.
Even if you’re not interested in natural history (although how anyone wouldn’t be interested in dinosaurs and mineral formations is beyond me), the building itself was astoundingly beautiful. In some ways, it reminded me of New York’s Grand Central Station, and in other ways it reminded me of Hogwarts. I suppose I’m just trying to point out the grandeur of the architecture. The wide open space provided a perfect backdrop for the larger-than-life displays, and navigating the area was easier than you’d think, with helpful maps and signs in clearly designated locations. The gift shop was definitely more geared towards children, with arrays of stuffed animals and other toys, although that didn’t stop us from picking up our own souvenirs. I only wished we’d arrived earlier so we could have spent more time poring over more exhibits.
Out of the tourist spots that I visited in London, the Natural History Museum was one of my favourites. As much as I love discussing literature and British imperial history, spending the day amongst fossils and other ancient objects was a welcome and much-needed break. Although the Natural History Museum hadn’t been on my list of sights to see in London, I’m glad that I got to spend an afternoon here.
London, UK SW1X 7RB
Despite my incessant raving about Japanese food on this blog, I would have to say that Thai food is also one of my favourite cuisines. I only discovered the magic of Thai food about a year ago, which is when my uncle visited us in Vancouver and we had dinner at Bob Likes Thai Food. From then on, I’ve been enamoured of Thai food, and regularly try out new places in Vancouver, although none have surpassed Bob.
While I was in London, this same uncle happened to be in town for work, and of course we decided to meet up. It was strange to see him in a city that neither of us call home, but after nearly a month without any direct contact with family, it was comforting to see a face that was so much like my dad’s.
We started off our afternoon by visiting Westminster Abbey. I thought I’d become desensitized to churches and cathedrals of all kinds, but I was wrong. Although it lacks the majestic Gothic beauty of the Notre Dame and the simplistic elegance of the Basilica de Sacré-Coeur, I thought Westminster Abbey was impressive simply due to its size. It reminded me of a scene in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, which is the last book in The Chronicles of Narnia. In the series’s finale, Lucy and Peter and the others find themselves in a magical, idealized version of Narnia, which appears to grow larger and larger as they venture further in. That’s a bit of a digression, but that’s how Westminster Abbey felt to me. It was also exciting to see the tombs of what seemed like every famous British person ever, from Queen Elizabeth I to Charles Dickens. Of course, in more recent news, the abbey was also the site of Prince William’s 2011 marriage to Kate Middleton.
Once we were done exploring the abbey, we stepped out into the muggy, sticky London weather. After taking a few tourist photos with Big Ben, we headed for an early dinner at a Thai restaurant that my uncle had visited numerous times before on previous visits to London. I was happy to be able to indulge in tasty Thai food, as my last experience with Thai cuisine in London had been nothing but disappointing.
Busaba Eathai offers a clean and spacious atmosphere for dining, with two arrangements of seats available. The first is a square wooden table with a wooden bench on each side, which is perfect for large groups. I also saw several of these tables seating two pairs of couples at opposite corners, which is a good option for maximizing the restaurant’s space while minimizing the awkwardness felt when sharing a table with strangers. The second type of seats, which we chose, were window seats that looked out onto a not-too-interesting London street. I liked our seats, which allowed us to have a quiet conversation while enjoying our food.
We decided to share three dishes, the first being the Tom Yam Talay (£6.90), a spicy, sour soup with prawns, squid, fish cakes, and vermicelli noodles. The soup had that strong lemongrass flavour that I always associate with Thai soups, being more sour and tangy than spicy. I loved that they weren’t skimpy with the seafood, and that the prawns were large and juicy. Considering the atmosphere of the restaurant and the quality of the food, I also thought that the prices were decent, especially considering that the restaurant was located near some tourist hotspots, especially the National Gallery.
Next, we made a very predictable choice in ordering the Pad Thai (£8.20). The rice noodles were accompanied by the requisite prawns, tofu, egg, ground peanuts, bean sprouts, and a wedge of lime. Fortunately for us, this was deliciously tart, tasting of real tamarind sauce as opposed to ketchup. As with the soup, the shrimp tasted fresh, retaining their natural snap and sweetness. The noodles were toothsome, and the other ingredients all tasted as they should. It wasn’t a life-changing plate of noodles, but it was certainly memorable.
Lastly, we indulged in more carbs with the Crab Meat Egg Fried Rice (£7.20). I suppose if I had to pick a disappointing dish out of this meal, it would be this one, but only because the other dishes were excellent. There was nothing inherently wrong with this dish, as the rice was slightly moist, and the crab meat added an unexpected dimension of flavour. It simply didn’t have any special appeal, and tasted like any other version of fried rice. I’ve found this to be the case with fried rice at many Thai restaurants, and maybe it’s my fault for continuing to order it despite this. Still, for the price we paid, this was a decently sized portion, and quite satisfying, although ultimately unmemorable.
Overall, I had a great time catching up with my uncle over the food at Busaba Eathai. It was by far the most satisfying experience I had with Thai cuisine in the UK, as it tasted quite similar to the Thai food available in Vancouver. Although I personally have never been to Thailand and therefore cannot vouch for the actual authenticity of the food here, my uncle enjoyed our meal as well, and he’s been to Thailand numerous times and knows much more about Thai cuisine than I do. In any case, if you’re ever in London and have an intense craving for Thai food, I would heartily recommend the dishes that I tried.
35 Panton Street
London, UK SW1 Y4EA
Following Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, the second of our class presentations revolved around Sarah Waters’s 2002 novel Fingersmith. I never considered myself a huge fan of Victorian novels, since the sheer length of the books always deterred me from reading them. Still, one book that will always remain close to my heart is Dickens’s Great Expectations. I don’t know what it is about that book, but something about the complex plot and Pip’s unrequited love for Estella set against the backdrop of industrial London is simply so memorable. In any case, Fingersmith reminded me a great deal of Great Expectations, but of course with a modern twist. I guess “twist” is the key word when it comes to Fingersmith…
Luckily enough, Fingersmith is largely set in the Borough, which was a quick walk from our accommodations. We had the chance to walk down Lant Street, which figures prominently in the novel, and was also the home of Charles Dickens. Once we were done exploring the world of Fingersmith, we were set loose in the Borough Market to procure our lunches.
The market is situated right beside Southwark Cathedral. I think that the thing that most struck me about London, and Europe in general, is just how old everything is. Living in Vancouver, everything is relatively new, while in London, you can still see remnants of Roman architecture, which is just astounding. The idea that you can still casually walk along the street where Dickens used to live just boggled my mind. We visited many churches and cathedrals during our stay in Europe, and the beauty of the buildings is just breathtaking. I’m not a religious person by any means, but I do think that religious buildings are often the most beautiful, whether it be a church or a mosque or a Buddhist temple.
The Borough Market offers a wide variety of stalls to choose from. After some hopeful wandering, I stopped in front of Baxter’s. I’ve mentioned my affinity for “exotic meats” before, and I’d just realized that I’d never tried wild boar before. Also, I was quite hungry, and it was a dreary, rainy day, and I was in the mood for something warm and filling. Baxter’s appeared to be family-run, and everyone was friendly and helpful when answering my questions.
I decided on the Wild Boar Sausage (£6), which comes in two sizes: small or large, of which I got the latter. Basically the only difference between the two sizes is whether you get one or two sausages. The sausages come enveloped in a ciabatta bun, accompanied by some arugula (or, as the Brits say, “rocket”) and onions. This was my first time having wild boar, and, as expected, it was quite similar to pork, with a slight gameyness. The sausage itself was meaty, with some chunks of tasty fat and a bit of spice to alleviate the richness of the meat. I would have preferred the bun to have been toasted slightly, as there was nothing special about it, but the sausage was so flavourful that it really didn’t need much. They also added a dash of peppercorn sauce, which just enhanced the flavours. And, of course, the veggies also helped to cut the richness of the sausage. This was definitely one of the most satisfying meals I had in London, especially when eaten outside while ducking to avoid the rain. I also had an Iced Earl Grey Tea from another stall in the market, which was flavoured with a mint leaf and lemon. I liked how the tea wasn’t overly sweetened, which is often the case with iced tea.
After a satisfying meal and a lazy, relaxed afternoon of shopping, we had quite an evening to look forward to: seeing Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. Despite never having seen the musical itself, I’ve been a fan of the music since the eighth grade, due to some influence from my brother and a couple of friends. So I was incredibly excited to see it for myself. And although I adore listening to the soundtrack from the original Broadway cast, seeing it on stage is just another experience altogether. The two leads were immensely talented, and the plot of the play is just so fast-paced and jam-packed with musical numbers that you never have the chance to feel bored. Out of my three theatre experiences in London (the other two being Pride and Prejudice in Regent’s Park and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Rose Theatre), this was by far my favourite.
This is a bit of a digression, but I’ve also read Gregory Maguire’s original novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, off of which the musical is based. The novel’s universe is vastly different from the musical, with the novel delving more into the serious issues briefly explored in the musical. Personally, I enjoy the musical more, as the novel is a bit dense and difficult to understand, but it’s good, although not essential, to have knowledge of both works.
In any case, I realize this post was only minimally about the food, but I just felt the need to recount one of my favourite days that I got to spend in London: a yummy lunch, shopping amid the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, and then getting to see a musical. What could be better?
8 Southwark Street
London, UK SE1 1TL
I don’t consider myself to be too picky of an eater (although my mother may disagree), and in general, I’m quite open to trying new and different foods. For one thing, I get quite excited whenever an “exotic meat” (a.k.a. anything outside of the usual realm of pork/beef/chicken/lamb/duck/seafood) is available on a restaurant’s menu. Well, this food adventure didn’t feature any exotic meats, unless you consider lamb to be exotic, but it was still exciting in that it was my first time trying Lebanese food.
Nuba is a popular chain in Vancouver, with four locations located throughout the city. Gawa and I decided to lunch at the location on Main and 3rd one Saturday afternoon. It’s kind of an odd location, and, true to the spirit of the city, surrounded by apartment buildings in various stages of construction. Still, it ended up being a good choice for lunch, especially for Gawa, as it has an extensive selection of vegetarian items.
The waitstaff were especially helpful and enthusiastic to help us make our choices, and good thing too. Despite my unfamiliarity with Lebanese cuisine, everything on the menu sounded delicious. In any case, we started off our meal with a Mango and Orange Juice for Gawa, which was the juice of the day in addition to the usual flavours available. Gawa generously allowed me a sip, and, to be honest, it tasted mostly like orange juice, with the mango flavour being not as apparent. It was still refreshing and enjoyable, but I would have liked it more if the mango flavour had been more pronounced. But then again, I’m not much of a juice person. As far as juices go, it was tart, refreshing, slightly sweet, and ultimately satisfying. And honestly, what more can you ask from juice?
As for our mains, we both ordered off the “Plates” section of the menu, where the entrees are accompanied by hummus, salad, pickled cabbage, pita bread, tahini (a paste made from ground sesame seeds), hot sauce, and a choice of either roasted potatoes or organic brown rice. Gawa chose to have her Eggplant Stew with the potatoes, while I had the rice. Although she enjoyed the meal as a whole, she had more than a few critiques of the food. She found that the salad wasn’t well-dressed, and the dressing itself wasn’t anything special, while the hummus could have been more flavourful. Still, she enjoyed the olive oil that had been drizzled onto the hummus, which appeared to be of a good quality. As for the other sides, she especially liked the pickled cabbage, which, being extremely sour, served as a refreshing palate cleanser. As for the stew itself, she thought that it could have used some other types of chunkier vegetables, to add variety of texture as well as dimension of flavour, as it ended up being a bit too mushy and one-dimensional. Despite these complaints, she thought that the experience was a positive one, and would definitely consider returning.
I decided on the Lamb Kafta ($12), a grilled grain-fed halal lamb patty, served with the same sides (although with the rice instead of the potatoes). I enjoyed the lamb, although I thought it was served with way too much tzatziki. The dollop of tzatziki was pretty much the same size as the lamb patty itself, which was just overwhelming. Anyways, the tzatziki itself was fine, being chunky, sour, and tangy. It was a nice complement to the slightly gamey, salty flavour of the lamb. The rice tasted exactly like how I expected it to taste, with the texture being more apparent than the flavour of the rice itself. As for the sides, my opinions echoed Gawa’s, although I especially enjoyed the hot sauce, which was the type with a subtle spicy kick rather than an obvious heat.
Both of our meals were accompanied by some Pita. Gawa thought that the pita should have been thicker, but I personally had no opinion about it one way or the other. To be honest, I was quite hungry so I inhaled the food without too much thought. And although it seems like we had a lot of complaints about the food here, we genuinely enjoyed our meal, although that may be in part due to our hungry hungry hippo-ness on this particular day. More than the food, we enjoyed the atmosphere here. The dining area was clean and modern, and the service was friendly and accommodating without being overbearing. And, of course, the menu is a refreshing change of pace from the overwhelming dominance of Japanese food in Vancouver (although, as you know, I enjoy Japanese food as much as the next person). I would definitely return to Nuba to try some of their other dishes, especially Najib’s Special, which is apparently the dish to get here. I guess we’ll save that for next time.
146 East 3rd Avenue
Probably the cuisine I longed for most during my two-month European adventure was Japanese food. Authentic or inauthentic, we are blessed in Vancouver to be able to enjoy sushi, ramen, and other Japanese foods to our hearts’ content. Sometime soon after I returned to Vancouver, SB and I decided to try out Toshi Sushi, one of the most popular sushi restaurants in Vancouver, at least according to Urbanspoon.
Despite its popularity, I’d never been to Toshi before. Located on East 16th and Main, the tiny restaurant was bustling with activity. At least they have a system in place. Basically you just walk in and record your name on a list posted near the front door, and the servers seat people via this list. We had to wait half an hour for our seats after recording our names, but the weather was nice enough that we just took a walk around the neighbourhood.
We were finally seated at the bar. I personally love sitting at the bar because it allows me to observe the chefs at work. The sushi chefs here were clearly skilled, but also immaculate in terms of hygiene and cleanliness, which I think is a must-have for a restaurant where raw fish is a major ingredient.
We started off with four pieces of Maguro Sashimi ($5.75). We actually watched as the chef in front of us cut the slices, so the anticipation was that much greater. The sashimi was buttery soft and served in slices that were thick enough but not overly so. The thickness of the slices allowed us to really savour each piece as it melted in our mouths. The fish was also noticeably fresh and incredibly smooth, and an excellent way to start our meal.
Next up, we also had four rolls. The two rolls on the left, the Spicy Tuna Roll and the Spicy Chopped Scallop Roll made up the Spicy Combo ($7.75). We also added on the two rolls on the right, which were the Negitoro Maki ($3.50) and the Family Maki ($4.25). In general, I enjoyed these rolls, as they were clearly made with care. The rice had just the right hits of sugar and vinegar. The spicy tuna and the negitoro were quite similar in terms of the texture of the tuna used, which was pleasantly creamy. The naturally mushy texture of the tuna was nicely complemented by the use of cucumber and green onion, as well as the addition of spicy sauce in the spicy tuna roll. I was particularly happy with the negitoro roll here because of the sheer amount of tuna used, since most sushi restaurants in Vancouver serve the negitoro roll in a smaller portion. Anyways, the spicy sauce, which I believe was some kind of variation on Japanese mayonnaise, was the type with a subtle sting rather than overt heat, if that makes any sense, making it not too spicy. The same sauce was used for the spicy chopped scallop roll, so the two rolls naturally tasted quite similar. The family roll was basically a salmon maki with ikura on top, and mainly relied on the briney flavour and the texturally pleasing pop from the roe more than anything else. It was simple but delicious, just the way that sushi should be.
We had even more tuna in the form of a Tekka Don ($10.50). The rice, which didn’t taste too strongly of either sugar or vinegar, was topped with very fresh tuna sashimi. In fact, the rice almost tasted like simple, regular steamed white rice, with just a bit of vinegar seasoning. There isn’t much to say about this, except that the tuna was fresh and had just the right amount of fat, while the cucumber slices included were a nice touch.
We were still hungry, so we added on two more items. The first was the Chicken Wing Karaage ($4.95). I swear, at least five other tables ordered this while we were eating, and every time it left the kitchen, I could smell the delicious, deep-fried goodness from a mile away. The couple seated beside us also added this to their order once they saw us devouring it, so there you go. It was definitely worth the anticipation, being very crispy, hot, and freshly fried. The bones were separated so that the wings were comparatively easy to eat, and the chicken meat itself was juicy and tender. They were also lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, almost reminding me of the Taiwanese salty peppery chicken nuggets that I love so much.
And lastly, we had the Ika Tobi Kyu Roll ($3.75). I generally shy away from ordering squid at most restaurants, unless it’s calamari, as squid tends to be tough and difficult to chew. However, here, the squid was quite tender, with only a slight chewiness. The tobiko added that nice pop, and the cucumbers were fresh and crunchy. Still, I thought this was the weakest of the rolls we sampled, as there was simply too much rice. The rice was also a bit too warm, which distracted from the taste of the other ingredients.
Overall, though, we had a lovely time at Toshi Sushi. Other than the wait, our experience was flawless, from the delicious food to the friendly service. I mean, I hate waiting for food as much as anyone, but as the saying goes, all good things come to those who wait, right? The next time that I’m shopping at all those adorable boutiques on Main Street, Toshi will be high on my list of possible dinner locations.
181 East 16th Avenue
Out of the two months I spent in Europe, three weeks were dedicated to an English Literature course, which focused on contemporary British literature set in London. Our group project for this course consisted of visiting the areas of London in which these books had been set, taking our entire class to these areas, and discussing how our sense of place affected our interpretation of the novels. One of our course texts was Monica Ali’s 2001 novel Brick Lane whose protagonist, Nazneen, is a Bangladeshi immigrant who settles in London, on, of course, Brick Lane.
Brick Lane is the heart of the Bangladeshi immigrant population in London, which is reflected in the novel. Nazneen’s social circle consists mostly of other Bangladeshi immigrants and their families, and it appears entirely possible that a Bangladeshi immigrant could live there for years without acquiring proficiency in the English language.
When visiting Brick Lane, I could easily experience this culture, through the businesses and people present on the streets. Apparently Brick Lane is also home to a growing hipster population, which created an interesting combination. Among other things, Brick Lane is also world-famous for its graffiti, which includes work by Banksy, a famous British graffiti artist. I’m not a huge fan of graffiti, but when it’s done so beautifully (that tentacled elephant particularly), you can’t help but be awed by it.
Each presentation ended with lunch at a predetermined restaurant, and of course for Brick Lane, we had the chance to sample some authentic Bangladeshi food, at a mixed Bangladeshi/Indian restaurant called Feast & Mishti, which gladly accommodated our large group.
First to arrive was complimentary Papadum, served with what I initially assumed were three authentic South Asian sauces, but ended up being chili sauce, ketchup, and mayonnaise. The papadum itself was crunchy and light, a perfect, not-too-filling way to start our meal. I preferred to eat it without the sauces. The mayonnaise looked so white that it didn’t seem real, and the chili sauce was simply quite sour, with only a slight spiciness.
I tend not to indulge in drinks (alcoholic or otherwise) when I’m out for dinner. I always feel like sticking to water is a good option since drinks tend to be overpriced at many restaurants, with what I deem to be empty calories. However, when I’m on vacation…it’s a different story. I chose to indulge in a Mango Lassi (£2.50). The one here was nice and thick, with a good balance between the yogurt and mango flavours. It was an ideal drink for the hot London summer, and I liked how it was neither too sweet nor too tart, which is often a problem I have with fruit-based drinks. A couple weeks later, I tried another mango lassi while having lunch at the Borough Market, and I much preferred the version I was served here. The second version was too thick and didn’t have enough mango flavour, and tasted simply like drinking yogurt. I’m not a huge fan of mangoes, but this was a refreshing accompaniment to my meal.
Shawarma (which is, just to be clear, the alias of one of my fellow diners, as opposed to the actual food) was brave enough to try out the Rui Mach Bhuna (£4.99), a traditional Bangladeshi dish consisting of rui fish and onions cooked in a sort of chili sauce. Shawarma remarked that it was quite a spicy dish, and much spicier than the chili sauce served alongside the papadum. Still, she quite enjoyed her dish, and it ended up being one of the better dishes enjoyed at our table. Maybe we should have all tried out some of the Bangladeshi dishes, instead of sticking to the more familiar Indian dishes available.
I chose to have the Lamb Biryani (£5.99). Every time I’ve had biryani in Vancouver, it was served on a hot plate, but here it was served on a regular plate. I found the rice quite dry, and the lamb even drier. I mean, I anticipated gaminess, since it is lamb, but it was too dry and too tough to be palatable. It also didn’t taste much different from beef, and the natural taste of lamb wasn’t too noticeable. The biryani was also quite oily, and didn’t taste much different from regular fried rice. I thought it could have benefitted from more flavour, overall.
My biryani was accompanied by Daal. While reading Brick Lane, I noticed that the main character, Nazneen, is constantly mentioned eating daal, and I was excited to try it on my own. Daal is a stew primarily composed of lentils, peas, and beans. I found it to have a thick consistency, but it worked well when trying to moisten my very, very dry biryani. I honestly wouldn’t say I enjoyed the daal very much, but it was exciting to try out something new.
I’m not sure how I felt about this restaurant. My biryani wasn’t particularly great, but in hindsight, I wish I’d tried some of the Bangladeshi dishes, like Shawarma did. In any case, I’m glad that I had the chance to visit Brick Lane, which afforded me a very different experience than the rest of my sightseeing in London. Even if you don’t plan on reading Ali’s novel, Brick Lane offers a different and fascinating view of one of London’s richest ethnic communities that you can’t access from more traditional tourist spots like Trafalgar Square or the London Eye.
Feast and Mishti
245/247 Whitechapel Road
London, UK E1 1DB