Vivre at the Sofitel Heathrow – My First Chicken Tikka Pizza

Airport hotels are known for their incredibly delicious food. 
Hopefully, you can hear the sarcasm jumping out at you from across the interwebs. 
The exception to the rule of mushy pasta, boxed mashed potatoes and overcooked hamburgers is Vivre Restaurant at the Sofitel Hotel at London’s Heathrow Airport
This hotel is actually connected to the airport’s Terminal 5 – you don’t even have to walk outside to get to the hotel. It is connected to the airport via a walkway, and you don’t even have to step outside to get there from your gate. This is a GREAT thing when you have only a few hours to sleep after a long flight. 
Vivre is a large, well laid out restaurant with plenty of tables and a large open air kitchen.
The kitchen features a wood burning oven, an open grill and several other stations in which to cook the International specialties the restaurant includes. International doesn’t tend to be a buzzword for me with restaurants. 
Once again – exception. 
Lentil Soup
This was a light and aromatic soup with cumin, coriander and potatoes. It tasted like daal, but was much lighter than that dish, which can be creamy, rich and deep tasting. This was earthy but not deep or heavy – it tasted warming and hearty, but in no way greasy. The roasted tomatoes on top added a burst of acid and sweetness to the soup. This was delicate and lightly Indian flavored – not a wham bam of curry flavor. It was a delicious way to start the meal. 
Chicken Tikka Pizza with Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Tandoori Chicken, Red Onion, Raita
This was a revelation. Not because of the pizza itself – which was more of a crackerlike flatbread than a pizza, with too much gloppy mozzarella and a sugary sweet tomato sauce – but because of the toppings and the possibilities. Tender, aromatic tandoori chicken was juicy with charred edges. The raita was creamy and tangy, filled with diced cucumbers and tomatoes. The red onion, sweet and pungent at once, added a sharp edge to the dish. This pizza is genius. How have I not tried to make a chicken tikka pizza before? I would use a sharper, more Indian style tomato sauce with cumin, coriander, mustard seeds and other Indian spices. I would add cilantro to the dish, and use very little, high quality shredded mozzerella, if I used any cheese at all. The execution of the pizza was middling – great toppings, so-so foundation – but the creativity it inspired wins it many points. 
Chicken Jalfrezi with Jasmine Rice, Poppadums, Naan and Mango Chutney
I have never had chicken Jalfrezi before, and let me say that I am a fan. This dish was much sweeter and more floral than many Indian chicken dishes that I have had. It was redolent of cinnamon, nutmeg and I think fenugreek, which gave it a pleasantly bitter edge. There was a very slight heat to it, but it was more of a spiciness than a lip burning sear. This almost tasted Moroccan or Turkish to me – sweet and sour as much as it was zesty and deep, as I find much Indian food to be. 
The chicken was incredibly tender and infused with these aromatic spices, the thick sauce coating it and the onions and bell peppers stewed along with the chicken. Served with fluffy, pistachio dotted jasmine rice, freshly fried poppadoms, naan that was a bit too doughy and mango chutney that was so deliciously sweet and sour that we had to order 2 extra orders of it, this was a fantastic meal. It could easily have served 2 people. Of course, in our family, it barely served one of us. 
What a great airport meal! Of course it was overpriced, but, you know…it’s airport hotel food. They have a monopoly. They know that it’s 9 pm and you are starving. In that regard, the food was WAY better than it had to be. The lentil soup and chicken Jalfrezi were really delicious. The service was excellent – fast and competent. 
And this restaurant actually disproves my belief that you can’t have great food in an airport hotel.  

Farewell to London

Let me leave you with a few random shots of London that, sadly, fit in nowhere else:

Room service salmon at The Lanesborough (without a doubt, the finest hotel in London. I have stayed many places, and The Lanesborough has the perfect combination of elegance, luxury, service and subtle-ness…it is really TOO sublime). The salmon was outstanding-seared so the skin was crispy but the medium flesh was moist and tender. Served over ginger-scented jasmine rice with a melange of wok-sauteed veggies, it was the perfect thing to eat after getting of a long flight. It was the first thing we ate in London, and one of the best. 

The incredibly spicy ponzu sauce with the salmon. See those little red things in there? Birds’ eye chilis. Make jalapenos seem like bell peppers. This sauce made me tear, sweat and curse like a sailor.
Needless to say, I loved it.

The Lanesborough’s continental breakfast. Note the adorable doily, fresh squeezed tomato juice, and ABUNDANT pastry basket. This goes way beyond toast and a stale croissant. Look a that fruit tart!  Fresh fruit, lightly glazed with apricot jam, filled with vanilla Bavarian cream. What a way to start the day!

Our loot the first day.
From the back left, going in a circle clockwise: Mr. Kipling Cherry Bakewell Tarts, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate bars, Marks & Spencer Rich Fruitcake, Roasted Chicken and Thyme potato chips, Candied Damson Plums, Tunnock’s Tea Cakes (like the BEST MALLOMARS EVER), Maynard’s wine gums, almond cookies, spicy parsnip soup, the aforementioned Gentleman’s Relish, chicken liver pate, a fruitcake, more chocolate, and…more chocolate.
Well we had to try it all, didn’t we?
Whatever we didn’t eat, we left in the hotel room.
There wasn’t much left, don’t worry.

Look how GORGEOUS the fruitcake was?! We got this at a plain old grocery store!
Dense, sweet, spicy, moist, simply LADEN with plump raisins and candied orange peel. The frosting was the thick, stiff variety that is incredibly sugary and incredibly delicious. Why don’t more companies make fruitcake like this? Everyone would like it!

Look what you can get at KFC! Maltesers are like much lighter versions of whoppers. So clearly…this would be awesome.

Oh this is such a sad story.
We ate at Amaya 3 times during our trip to London.
We were only there for 4 days.
What does that tell you?
Quite frankly, it is THE BEST INDIAN FOOD I HAVE EVER HAD in my LIFE in ANY COUNTRY…like, EVER! 
It is ‘modern’ in the sense that there are no gloppy curries, muddied vegetable slushes or piles of poppadoms with sickeningly sweet chutneys at the table.
(Though, truth be told, I certainly love that kind of Indian food, too!)
This is a tandoori specialist, where everything from the naan to the exquisite broccoli with yogurt to apricot-anointed quail is made in one of 3 tandoori ovens. The ovens range from 350-over 700 degrees! The atmosphere is elegant but relaxed, the staff is lovely, and the food is AMAZING.
They don’t let you take pictures.
Note Marmie begging the server to let us take pictures. To no avail. Nonetheless, I HIGHLY recommend this restaurant for its unique and particular take on Indian food. Please try the:
Madagascar Prawns
Venison Kebab
Roasted Broccoli
Cauliflower Briyani

Mushroom Eggs Benedict at the hotel. Nothing different, just wonderfully prepared eggs with runny yolks, creamy whites, crisp toast and meaty mushrooms.
Who can find fault with that?

Smoked Gammon and Chutney chips, Curry chips and Piri Piri chips along with assorted gifts. 
PLEASE buy strawberry jam in England…their strawberries are totally superior.

Don’t you just wish you could pop into your Subway and grab yourself a Chicken Tikka Sub?

Neal’s Yard Dairy’s delicious cheeses. Come here for the stinkiest, mellowest, creamiest, crumbliest, sharpest, smoothest cheeses in London.
Just don’t leave your bag of purchases there…like I did.
I know…I hate myself, too.

Leadenhall Market, where some scenes from Harry Potter were filmed! Once a thriving farmers market,  now with modern businesses, but the same beautiful architecture of its heyday.

Head to Bateel for a HUGE assortment of dates from the Middle East that we simply don’t see in America.

So many different dates! The ones stuffed with orange peel were my favorite.

More jam, madeira cake, knockoffs of the Tunnock’s Tea Cakes (close,but no cigar), Picallili (fell in love with this bracing, viaigr-y, mustard-y pickled veggie condiment. Use it with cheese, on bread, and straight out of the jar!), Tom-Yum Soup paste, double cream.
We drank the double cream.
Best decision I have made since getting DVR.

No pictures allowed…seriously, London. Why do you hate cameras???
Around since the 1800’s, in an art deco building.
Expensive? Quite.
Worth it? Yep!
Get the smoked haddock over colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage) and do NOT miss the Cod Tongues with Beef Marrow and Bordelaise Sauce. The tongues were tender but with enough bite so you knew you were eating flesh. They were mild and meaty tasting, and I really don’t think they tasted like fish at ALL. With the unctuous wonder that is beef marrow, the silky and umami rich Bordelaise sauce and some garlicky toast points, this dish was TOTALLY a stand out of the trip.
But then…what wasn’t? Everything was wonderful here. The people, the culture, the weather and most especially the food. British food gets a bad rap, but let me tell you something: If you do your research, you will eat wonderfully here.  Yes, you will go poor while doing it.
But just keep calm and carry on.
Amaya on Urbanspoon

Heathrow is the Way to Go!

The airport is generally a miserable experience. Dirty, noisy, horrible food, rude people, nothing to do. I would do ANYTHING to avoid going to airports, and have driven and taken trains many times when a flight would have been faster, just to avoid the hassle and horror that is the airport.
Then I flew First Class British Air out of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.
THANK YOU SO MUCH DAD! All those years of telling you that you were my favorite parent is finally paying off!!!
After being whisked through security we went to this restaurant.
Oh no, I’m sorry, that isn’t a restaurant. That is the first class restaurant in the lounge, where the ENTIRE menu is free.
I know…I peed a little too.

Beautiful jams and jellies.

Fresh fruit with delicious strawberries. Even out of season, those English berries are really something else.

Kippers, mushrooms, baked beans, grilled tomato – a modified English Breakfast. The kippers were just amazing – tender, smokey, delicate tasting and just fatty enough to contend with the sweet beans and rich mushrooms. The fish was bony, but if you like smoked fish, you will love kippers.

Lovely bread.  Not amazing but…well, free makes it lovely, you know?

These are pictures of the business class lounge. Of course, I helped myself to a couple of cokes for the road. British soda just tastes WAY better.

Beer for the taking.

Gorgeous cold cuts are my kind of morning meal.

Fruit salad and yogurt.

The menu selection – as you can see, there are several soup options, hot buffet options,and salad/sandwich bar options each day.

BACON ROLLS…I love how these people eat!

Selection of goodies for your espresso.
Of course, I took some of these, too. The Walkers Rich Fruitcake was a particularly divine example of how moist, sweet and liquor-filled fruitcake can be.

Cereal bar.

Once we left the beauty of the lounge to explore the airport, we were greeted with this gorgeous phosphorescent display at Itsu, where you could grab any number of Japanese-inspired small plates.

Gordon Ramsay has a restaurant here.
When do you think Mario Batali will open a place in La Guardia?

I just love the names of their candies!

Waaaay back there, under the duty free sign, is a man passing out aged malt whisky samples.
For free.
At the airport…
I know.

This woman was passing out Baileys samples.
If I wasn’t going on the flight, I would have had a REALLY good time with these gals and guys!

After of course, attending an extensive tasting course at the World of Whiskies.

Balik smoked salmon samples – the most expensive salmon on earth.
The best, least salty, most butter and unctuous smoked salmon I have ever tried.
I had 4 samples.
At the airport.

An incredible selection of wines, vinegars and oils – I got a Spanish olive oil infused with chili.

The incredible selection of food at the Prunier restaurant – smoked salmon, shrimp, oysters, caviar…everything looked fresh and delicious and there was nary a fishy smell anywhere.

We then returned to the first class lounge for a stop at the CHAMPAGNE BAR.
I really wish I could drink before flights.

But I did indulge in a mince pie. And a few cookies for the road.
Everyone was so sweet and helpful. The shopping was as amazing as the food selection. It was actually worth coming here for the day as a tourist destination. And then we got on the plane…

Go to Roast To Go

Remember a couple posts ago when I said I wasn’t a breakfast person?

Turns out I am kind of a liar.

Because, I had one of my favorite tastes of the trip well before 11 a.m.

Roast is located at Borough Market, one of the most fabulous and historic open air markets in London (sadly not open during this trip). I have been to the main restaurant, which serves upscale versions of classic English dishes, made with natural and local ingredients. I can highly recommend their rich and briny potted shrimps and any dessert that includes the term ‘cream’.  However, there is also a little stand outside the restaurant that sells food for the girl on the go.

They sell wonderful British sounding things like a ‘bacon butty’ (a bacon sandwich just LOADED with butter) and ‘devils on horseback’ (dates wrapped in bacon, served piping hot after being roasted until the date is melting and sweet as brown sugar, and the bacon is both crispy and tender-fatty. Clearly, I am a fan).
But, after seeing these lovely specimens, I knew that I was trying a Scotch Egg and a Pork Belly Sandwich with Bramley Apple Sauce. Now, I had never tried a Scotch Egg before – the idea of a crumbly and dry hard boiled egg wrapped in greasy sausage and deep fried until the inside was way overcooked and the outside was mealy and tasteless was unappealing to me. I had never even considered the alternative; that I might become unduly obsessed with this food, when well prepared.
Ignore the questionable photography. Focus on the fact that this is an egg whose yolk was so creamy that it melted like a soft boiled egg in my mouth, and whose white was silken and tender enough to be mistaken for soft tofu, but with a singularly ‘eggy’ taste. Focus on the sausage that was neither greasy nor dry, but rich, porky goodness spiked with flavors like garlic and fennel. Focus on the feather light breading that was similar to panko. Focus on how wrong I was about Scotch Eggs.
Yes, I said I was wrong. Enjoy it – I won’t say it again any time soon.
This was a total revelation, and I am now on the search for wonderful Scotch Eggs in NYC…anyone have any ideas?

And the pork sandwich. It tasted so much of PORK – and not the usual melty, unctuous, rich pork taste that I love. This tasted almost…dare I say…light? More like tenderloin than belly, this pork was toothsome and tasted of pork and nothing else – no aromatics, no marinades. Just sweet, clean, pork flavor, augmented by the gentle honeyed taste of the apple sauce. All on a soft white roll…this was clearly Marmie’s favorite. 
She almost pushed me into traffic in order to snarf down the last 1/3 of it.
Roast to go was not only delicious, but inexpensive and fast. Just order, eat as you walk, and burn off the calories on the way to lunch. Or…perhaps…on your way to the airport…
Roast on Urbanspoon

The Orangery’s Follies

Every party has a pooper. And sadly, this is the pooper. 
The Orangery is located in Kensington Gardens, right near Kensington Palace. It has been around since the 1700s and used to be a greenhouse of sorts. Now, it is a casual cafe serving continental fare all day.
The building really is lovely, and Marmie and I were ready to partake in the totally delish looking menu. Unfortunately, the server seemed to be a little…confused. We waited about 15 minutes for him to realize we were there. Another 15 minutes to order after we got the menu. Appetizers arrived separately. Drinks were forgotten. Trying to get the bill was harder than searching for the fountain of youth…you get the picture. He was very sweet, just totally on another planet. Luckily, he seemed to have a very actively working cell phone over at the servers’ station, if you get my drift.

We started with the parsnip carrot soup. You think parsnip and carrots, you think: sweet, sharp, vegetal, creamy…anything, really. But what I tasted was…nothing, really. No parsnips. No carrots. No SALT, even. And the temperature was lukewarm at most. HATE that. I like my hot food STEAMING hot…or at least mildly hot! The accompanying bread was a delicious, soft, stretchy sourdough, but the bread was like drinking hot water. Really pretty awful.

My winter salad, on the other hand was excellent. Now THERE were those sweet carrots, starchy parsnips, and tender beets. Tossed with bitter radicchio, toasted walnuts, and a light vinaigrette, this was a totally delicious salad. In fact, it has made me start using more radicchio at home…love the assertive bite of this stuff!!

We got the tart of the day – a potato truffle quiche. DELISH!  Tender, light, redolent with the deep aroma of truffles and topped with a nutty brown of Gruyere. The salad on the side was light and fresh, and it was really a great dish.
The tart was described as a pizza. With no eggs. Now, we like eggs – and had been waiting at the table for about 14 hours by that point, so we were starving – but can you imagine if we didn’t want that dish? How annoyed we would be?

We also got the fish pie, made with shrimp, salmon, and peas in a white wine sauce under a crown of mashed potatoes that was run under the broiler.
Digging through that lightly browned, crunch lid to get to the creamy mashed potatoes, briny shrimp, rich fish, light peas, and that lemony, buttery sauce. It was a great idea! And delicious! AND it was WHAT WE ORDERED!!
This place is just ok. If I lived here, I wouldn’t come here. If I had small kids and they were starving and I was dying to sit down…I would get rid of the kids.
KIDDING (sort of).
The point is, London has too much amazing food to spend the time and money at a place where the result is just so so. I mean, even the airport food is incredible in London…
Orangery on Urbanspoon

Wonderful Wolseley

I am not a breakfast person. I love breakfast food, I’m just not in to eating it the second I wake up. Something in my system just begs me to wait 2 hours before I start ingesting food.
And by ‘begging me’, yes, I do mean that I will occasionally throw up if I eat too early.
There I go being all charming, again!
However, on a trip, I really try to buck up. Sometimes with a little croissant from room service. Sometimes with some fruit from a street vendor. And sometimes…
with a full on feast at a world class restaurants. The building of  The Wolseley has been around since the 1920’s, but the restaurant itself has only been open since 2003. They feature traditional English food made in an EXCEPTIONAL manner. 

The building is beautifully art deco. Unfortunately, this is the only picture that I could take of it, since pictures are expressly forbid, and I wanted to sneak more of the food!

A huge selection of freshly baked pastries tempted me, but I refused to go up and plunge my and into the dishes as if I was at a Vegas buffet.
I do have SOME dignity.

Marmie and I shared the Mixed Basket – croissant, pain au chocolat, danish, amandine,
pain sucrĂ© au beurre normand, cannelĂ© bordelais. The cannele – that almost black thing in the middle-was especially outstanding. A darkly caramelized outside that walked the deliciously dangerous line between intensely sweet and pleasantly bitter gave way to positively custardy insides, tasting of sweet cream and rich egg. It was nothing less than outstanding. The amandine was my other favorite treat, with its shattering layers of dough standing crisp and light above the dense and sweet almond paste that lay within. 
Everything else was basically perfect too. No oil in the croissants here, no, no none at ALL. It’s a full butter operation.
And now the life changing part of the meal…

Haggis with Fried Duck Egg. Haggis – if you didn’t read the last post – is a ‘dish containing sheep‘s ‘pluck’ (heartliver and lungs), minced with onionoatmealsuetspices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionallysimmered in the animal’s stomach‘ (Thanks, Wikipedia!). 

Sounds gross, right?

Well, imagine the minerally, rich, deep taste of liver. Then turn that into the melting texture of seared foie gras. Add in a bit more bite, heft. Toss in some garlic and onion for aromatics. Now serve that with an incredibly rich egg, where the yolk tastes 3,000 times more fatty than an average yolk. Serve it on buttered toast with the crusts cut off.

Can you see why I like it?

If you like liver, you will like haggis. Heck, if you like MEATLOAF, you will like haggis. And if you like over easy eggs, these duck eggs are your DREAMS come true. Really…they are uber delicious!

The Wolesely ain’t cheap, but nothing in London is. And the food is prepared excellently, in such an exquisite setting, that it is really worth it.

Coming up next…my unfortunately mediocre lunch.

The Wolseley on Urbanspoon

Wagamama with My Mama

Let’s get one thing straight: I really do love British food. Bangers and mash, colcannon, clotted cream, steak and ale pies…I really see nothing wrong with well made English food. It gets a bad rap because people eat bad versions of it. Think about how horrible pizza can be, versus how ethereal it can be when made well. 
That said, a saddle of lamb with beef fat roasted potatoes and a hot toddy is not quite what I can manage at lunch every day.  That’s when I turn to my favorite London guilty pleasure:
A pan asian casual restaurant that features noodle and rice dishes with Asian and Southeast Asian influences, Wagamama just has what I want when I want it- hot, spicy, and comforting.
That’s what she said.

There are many locations of this chain, and you sit at communal tables and benches in a casual dining space.  The whole gimmick with Wagamama is that you order a bunch of stuff and share it – no appetizers here. Stuff gcomes when it is ready. I love that!

Togashari pepper, chili oil, and regular and low sodium soy sauces located for your convenience. That togashari pepper is really spicy and really outstandding.

And this is how much ice you get, when you order a soda, all over Europe. Kinda hysterical.

Chilli Beef Ramen –   noodles in a spicy chicken and pork soup topped with beef sirloin, beansprouts, red and 
spring onions and chillies. Garnished with coriander and lime. I always get this and it is always delicious. The broth is light yet full flavored because of the pork/beef combo flavor. The beef is nicely charred on the grill with a pink interior – -I do wish  it was cooked a wee bit less, since the beef continues to cook in the broth, but the flavor is wonderful. The pickled chilis on top are fruity and firey, the onions are sharp, and the noodles are SO delicous. They are springy, toothsome, and absorb the meaty, salty, spicy flavors of the soup perfectly. With a bit of togashari pepper, this really is one of the world’s perfect meals.
DUDE, I want another bowl NOW!

We also shared a  raw salad of mixed leaves, red onions, mooli (daikon) and carrot, garnished with fried shallots and served with Wagamama house dressing. Simple, but a fresh and delightful counterpart to the spicy and complex bowl of soup. The dressing was ginger and soy based, and the fried shallots added the MOST delicoius salty curnch to the dish. Think French’s Fried Onions, but about 7 million times better.

Oh, and we got these Japanese pickles. Turnip, cucumbers, and maybe eggplant? Crisp, sour, and funky the way that good pickles should be, these were still nothing memorable.

 Teriyaki chicken donburi – grilled juicy chicken glazed with orange teriyaki sauce, sticky white rice, with thin sliced carrots, pea shoots, spring onions and sesame seed,s and a side of spicy kimchi. I didn’t get to taste this, but Marmie basically licked the bowl clean.
That’s why I liked her.
I DID try the kimchi – garlicky, sesame laden, mildly spicy.  YUM!
For London, this was a cheap meal – about $50 for 2. If you just heard someone yelping in pain, that was me…realizing that the dollar is SO weak in England.
What wasn’t weak was the food at Wagamama. Fast, delicious, and – for London – affordable.
Yeah, that was me yelping again. But this time…a yelp of joy.
Wagamama on Urbanspoon

Fortnum & Mason Sensation

Fortnum & Mason must be on any foodie’s itinerary while visiting London. It is like the Neiman Marcus of foods of London, in that it is pretentious, overpriced…and TOTALLY irresistible. It is housed in the most beautiful building and features wonderful food that you cannot get in the USA…come take a tour with me, won’t you?
The window displays are laden with antique and ornate banquet tables.
And recreate famous paintings in 3D form. These are simply exquisite window displays. 
Just like the ones at your local grocery store, right?
The best thing about travelling right after Christmas is that the displays are still up, but EVERYTHING Christmas related is on sale.
About 26 different types of honey, arranged in this dollhouse.
I KNEW I was never arranging honey the right way.
Gentleman’s Relish. This is basically an anchovy paste with different herbs and spices that is used as an ingredient in cooking or as a sandwich filling.
If you don’t think I bought this, this must be your first time reading this blog.
At first taste – WHEW! This stuff is FISHY and SALTY-like eating fish sauce, anchovy paste, and minced garlic straight up!  But I can absolutely see it mixed with cream cheese and served on a sandwich with tomatoes and cucumbers to an AWESOME effect.  I will keep you updated on my progress with this experiment.
I could not agree more.
There was a HUGE display of these…all on sale…I SO regret not buying one of these lovely veiny wheels! Just IMAGINE how incredible they would be with some juicy dried apricots and a fresh baguette.
Biltong is a South African sort of beef jerky.  Springbok is an African gazelle.  This was absolutely the most beautiful looking animal that I have ever eaten.
And it was great! More tender and less salty than American jerky, it was meaty, caramelized, and chewy in the most delicious way. It had no additives or chemicals and I would welcome this in the USA anytime!
SO MANY kinds of champagne that we cannot get in the US.
Fortnum & Mason was a freakin delight.  Next stop…where the commoners shop!
Fortnum & Mason St James's Restaurant on Urbanspoon