Of London and Food

The past few weeks have been rather busy, and to those who have contacted me wondering why I have been silent, I thank you! One of the peculiarities of blogging is that one writes, and has absolutely no idea if there is anyone listening; fortunately, and encouragingly, there seem to be a few of you out there!

Since I wrote last, I have bought a hotel, the Bear Country Inn in Churchill, started a complete revamp of the part of my business that operates polar bear-watching tours in Churchill, travelled to Denver, Toronto and Chicago, met some wonderful people and eaten some extraordinary meals.

And it is about food that I wanted to write today.

One of the best parts of travelling is the ability to sample a huge variety of restaurants. This benefit should, of course, be balanced with the opportunity to sample a wide variety of different exercise opportunities, but let’s leave that alone for the moment.

And so it was that my friend Joseph and I toddled off to dine at Simpson’s in the Strand. At first he wasn’t too keen; Simpson’s, you see, is one of London’s most venerable institutions, and one that we had both frequented thirty and actually forty years before. It was the sort of restaurant that parents took one to to instil some kind of British Pride and appreciation for the country’s tradition. The worry now was that as such Britishness seems to be on the wane, the restaurant might have turned into some sort of theme park for American tourists.

We needn’t have been concerned; it was wonderful. A beautiful panelled dining room, whose carpets, it has to be said were showing signs of age, reflected some of the more glorious days of the past. The food, of which the roast beef and lamb, carved table-side could be considered the signature dish, was splendid, and the service was excellent. We congratulated ourselves on our choice of dining establishments, and followed the meal with a short walk to the Garrick Club, of which Joseph is a member, and over a couple of reflective glasses of wine, contemplated life, the universe and everything.

Simpson’s was in complete contrast to Ravel’s, a favourite little restaurant of mine near Belsize Park, where we had recently dined. Joseph writes considerably better than I, and I shall leave the description of our dinner there to him and a subsequent review he wrote as one of a brilliant series of reviews that he writes for a north London paper.

Belsize Park is a fabulous location, just far enough from the tourism lunacy of the West End, but close enough to be in the centre of the action within ten of fifteen minutes on the redoubtable Northern Line. It is one of a number of small communities within London that make the city so endlessly interesting. As a visitor to London, staying just a little further out than tourism-orthodoxy might suggest is rewarded by an intimate glimpse of real life in London. Close by is one of London’s arterial highways, the Finchley Road; it is an ugly street, it has to be said, and certainly not a centre of night-life nor really anything much except some pretty bland shopping, and four lanes of traffic heading toward (or from) the northwest. However, stuck among this uninspiring landscape is the finest Indian restaurant that I have ever had the opportunity to visit.

Eriki’s is absolutely superb; recommended by an Indian friend-of-a-friend, off we toddled last night to dine. Now I have had many an Indian meal at a wide variety of restaurants ranging from the barely edible to the stupendous. I have enjoyed curries in North America, Europe and India, and know that by and large, the UK’s offerings are pretty good; this, however, was without a shadow of doubt the finest.

The atmosphere was great, the decor interesting and the food perfect. I shall most certainly return.

And now, the morning after, I find myself on a train, heading north to Leeds for lunch. I am doing this because my cousin Penny, a rather brilliantly talented artist who lives in the wilds of Lancashire, often comes to London for lunch when I am around; I really enjoy her company, and today, with a little time on my hands, it only seems fair to head north to see her for once. When she comes south, we always lunch at a great little place near King’s Cross station called 6 St. Chad’s Place, and let it be said that we lunch with great enthusiam; today we will see what Leeds has to offer.

It’s all go.