:: From its vibrant cultural and gastronomic scenes, beautiful old architecture and winding streets, to the smaller things like squirrels in the park, the mournful cry of the English raven and the pure genius that is the Underground – London had me from the start.
It was especially lovely visiting over the Christmas period. The festive atmosphere was everywhere, with lights strung through tree lined streets and beautiful wreaths hanging from doors of every colour.
One of my London highlights was the visit to the Winter Wonderland markets in Hyde Park.
It had been a relatively clear day but in early afternoon the sky transformed into a dark, brooding mass and the heavens opened up. After a hasty detour to buy emergency umbrellas, we trooped across the muddy field of wintery Hyde Park towards the cheery, welcoming lights of Wonderland.
The markets are modelled on the tradition of Germany’s spectacular Christmas markets and the brightly lit rides and cosy stalls of food, handmade craftwork, set against such a dark and stormy back drop, were just magical.
In a nod to their German roots, there were dozens of timber stalls selling beer and bratwurst with all the trimmings. Other stalls offered large, steaming copper pots of mulled wine and another still contained huge slabs of wood fired salmon lashed to boards.
After a busy morning sight seeing and cycling the Thames, we were famished and gladly tucked into a bratwurst fresh off the grill.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, one must-go stop on my to do list was Ottolenghi, a vibrant gastro-deli that prides itself on preparing all its food and pastries on site from quality raw ingredients.
Whilst many customers of the Notting Hill shop opt for take away, I chose to dine in at the long communal table at the back of the shop.
The menu offers a lunch time deal of three salad options, so I chose roasted aubergines with feta yoghurt, caramelised onions, lemon zest and crispy kale; char-grilled broccoli with garlic and chilli; and the roasted butternut squash with chilli yoghurt, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon and coriander.
The fusion of flavours from Yotam Ottolenghi’s native Israel with your every day vegetable was just incredible. Mind-blowing!
My last day of the holiday came with sadness but also excitement to visit London’s famous Borough Market. Although I knew I was visiting a food market, I wasn’t quite prepared just how amazing a spread it would be. It was foodie Nirvana! Like stumbling upon some sort of delicious cross between Henry VIII’s legendary feasts and a country food fair…
Amongs the produce on sale are fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, meat, game, freshly baked bread and pastries, as well as a number of specialty stalls (there was even an entire stall dedicated just to cheesecakes!). There is also a wide variety of cooked and snack food on sale for hungry market goers.
I did a full lap around the market before picking my lunch selections and started with fresh shucked oysters, served with a wedge of fresh lemon or drizzled with a shallot vinaigrette.
One of my favourite stalls was a sprawling tent serving a vast selection of Turkish and Lebanese cuisine, including dips, salads, savoury pastries and freshly made felafel wraps.
While it’s normally pretty hit and miss with felafels (the worst being dry, tasteless balls of grit) these were little orbs of flavour – golden-brown, crunchy on the outside with a luscious, seasoned interior. They were served with a crisp mix of vegetables and silky hummus on fresh Lebanese bread.
On that final delicious note, my holiday was coming to an end. I am already making plans to return and in fact I’ll be exploring the northern ends of the UK in June, on my visit to Scotland and Wales. But there remains many nooks and crannies of Wales and Southern England that I glimpsed from a distance and have yet to explore. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before the expedition continues…