Thursday, September 7, 2017

In Search of Your Favourite Tipple....  Berry Brothers and Rudd

Wandering around St. James in London, you can come across some of the oldest businesses in London. Established in 1698, and still trading on the same premises, is Berry Brothers & Rudd, one of the oldest wine and spirits merchants in the UK. Most American's are probably unfamiliar with the firm, except perhaps though Cutty Sark Scotch Whisky which was created for Berry Brothers & Rudd in 1923. This brand was sold in 2010 and is no longer connected with the wine & spirit merchant. Another of their specialties, King's Ginger, is now available in the States. Created in 1903 for King Edward VII, this is an amazing ginger cordial worthy of consideration for anyone who enjoys its wonderful spice.




Inside their ancient home, are two rooms set up for wine and spirits sales, as well as a large set of ancient scales, the front room dedicated to wine and the rear room dedicated to spirits. Featuring a staff quite familiar with their offerings, any selection here is one worth trying. Knowing my personal tastes, I went to the spirits room and browsed their amazing offerings, many of which are not available in the States. While an American might find their bourbon and rye offerings a bit thin compared to home, as is to be expected, you will be captivated by the selection of rums and Scotch whiskies.



I must say given how close America is to the rum producing region, we have ignored the great variety of regional rum which Berry Brothers & Rudd has on display. Unfortunately I could not bring back every bottle in the shop I wish I could have, both for customs and weight reasons. Forced to be selective I bought one bottle of Grant's Morella Cherry Brandy  and after sampling a few of their own Scotch whiskies, I picked the 1995 Berry's Glen Elgin Cask No 3187, Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Well worth the purchase and based on recent taste testing, superior to the Glen Morangie 18 year old, which was until this time, my favourite.


So if you are looking for a special bottle to bring back from London, look no further the Berry Brothers & Rudd. For more information, visit their website at https://www.bbr.com/

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Gentleman's Barber... Truefitt and Hill

Before I departed for London, I knew I needed to get a haircut, but decided instead of doing this in the States, I'd try something new, this trip I'd make a visit to a barber in London. Not any barber, but one my Uncle had pointed out to me on a much earlier visit to the city. So on my arrival in London, I made a point on that first day to visit the gentleman barbers, Truefitt & Hill. Located in St. James Street, they were established in 1805 and today it is the world's oldest barbershop. I've been familiar, and a regular purchaser of, their products in the States, so I decided to make a point of experiencing their barbershop experience first hand.



From the moment I entered the front door, to the moment I left their premises, I experienced a first class barbershop experience, which I have been close to achieving in the States, but have never reached this level of service.


I enjoyed a haircut by one of their master barbers and can't say enough how much I enjoyed the experience. This is one shop I will plan to visit at the beginning of each of my future visits to London to get myself looking top drawer for my time in the city.

For more information see their website at https://www.truefittandhill.co.uk/

Note: They have also opened shops in Chicago, IL, Warren, NJ, and Washington, DC, none of which I have had the pleasure of visiting at this time.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Perfect Destination for the City Mouse... Paxton & Whitfield: Cheesemongers

If you love cheese, then Paxton & Whitfield is a must stop for any visit to London. Paxton & Whitfield was established as a partnership in 1797 near Jermyn Street, where there shop is still today. In 1850, they were appointed cheesemongers to H.M. Queen Victoria, the first of many Royal Warrants the firm has held over the years.


Beginning with a trend away from traditional English cheeses towards continental cheese in the 1860s, milk being sent to industrial creameries rather than being made into artisan cheeses, and the rationing of eggs, butter and cheese during the Second World War, by the 1940s, their shop at 93 Jermyn Street became an ordinary grocery shop.




Following the Second World War, the firm reconnected with their contacts with the traditional British cheese makers and began offering the best of British cheeses once again. As Winston Churchill once observed, "a gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield." While other cheesemongers offer an exciting selection of artisan British cheeses today. You can't escape a visit to this Grande Dame of the trade in London.



I popped by on a Sunday afternoon. I'd always meant to visit, but even walking past the shop in Jermyn Street, I never seemed to make it in the door, despite the delicious aroma of cheese emanating from their front door. This trip, I would not make the same mistake. The shop is filled with an exciting assortment of cheeses, many of which you never see in the States. In addition they have a selection of accessories for cheese service and some other very British treats like Gentleman's Relish available for purchase.



The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable about every one of their cheeses and is happy to have you try a cheese before purchase. Nothing here is pre-packaged and is cut to order, so if you only want a small bite to enjoy in a nearby park, they are happy to sell you just the small size you need.



I'd decided on two favourites, Double Gloucester and Cheshire, as well as once cheese I never seem to find in the States, Single Gloucester.



My only regret is that Paxton & Whitfield does not have a shop in the States, but then again, that is what makes trips to London so special, the chance to enjoy such an amazing cheese shop which has stood the test of time and changing tastes.

For more information, visit their website at http://www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk/

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Refueling with Tradition... Some Thoughts on Dining in London Part 4

This is the final post in the four part series on Dining in London

My final full day in London was spent popping into some very unique venues. I began with a quick stop at the Jamaica Wine House, locally known as "the Jampot." 


Located on the site of London's first coffee house, the sign of the Pasqua Rosee's Head in 1652, the current building was built in the 19th century. 




It features a lovely wood paneled bar divided into three sections on the ground floor, and an elegant restaurant, Todd's Wine Bar, downstairs.




I slipped in for a quick pint in my quest to try a variety of real ales, this time trying Spitfire. A lovely little place tucked away in the City of London. Not an easy find, but well worth it for a pint and a rest from a busy day. For more information, visit their website at http://www.jamaicawinehouse.co.uk/


My next stop was Simpson's Tavern. Not to be confused with Simpson's in the Strand, Simpson's Tavern was established in 1757 and lays claim as the oldest chophouse in London. 


For those fans of the Harry Potter series of novels, you can's help but see the inspiration J.K. Rowling must have gotten from alleys like the one in which Simpson's is located, for Diagon Alley.



While waiting for my friend, I popped into the bar and enjoyed a pint of real ale, this time from Bass, which is not that common of a find in London these days.


Once my friend arrived, we headed upstairs to the restaurant which is arranged in stalls, the layout remaining traditional to the 19th century. The dining arrangements are communal, so if your party does not fully occupy a stall, be prepared to have others seated with you at some point during your meal.



I started my lunch off with Simpson's mysterious Famous Stewed Cheese. Recommended as a starter or a savory desert, this was tasty and the perfect way to warm up on a chilly day. It's not listed on the menu, though I did find it on the online menu, and it's quite tasty. Think welsh rarebit.


I then moved on to their cottage pie, a shepherd's pie made with minced beef rather than minced lamb or mutton. This London institution featured tradition London food in a traditional London chophouse. Exclusively a dining establishment for men, until 1916 when women were admitted, this is one place I shall keep in mind for the future and perhaps pop in for a chance to try their full English breakfast. For more information visit their website at http://www.simpsonstavern.co.uk/


About mid-afternoon, I was in need of a break so I made my way to Gordon's Wine Bar, which was established in 1890 and is believed to be the oldest wine bar in London. Located in Kipling House, named for Rudyard Kipling who lived in the building as a tenant in the 1890s and where, in the room overhead he wrote"The Light That Failed" and both he and G.K. Chesterton wrote some of their works in the little parlour of the Wine Bar.



With indoor seating in the old cellars once used to store wine, or outdoors in Watergate Walk if the weather permits, you are sure to find a unique place to enjoy a glass of wine. They have a varied wine list full of interesting wines as well as sherries and ports which are served from the barrel. They also have food available, but I did not avail myself of their varied choices from pies to cheeses. 


I decided to enjoy a glass of port, quite reasonably priced, in Watergate Walk. It was a lovely March afternoon and I only wish I had more time in London to enjoy such a lovely little wine bar. Highly recommended for those looking for a unique bit of London history and some well priced food and wine. For more information visit their website at https://gordonswinebar.com/


As the day began to come to an end, I made one last stop at the Admiral Codrington. not too far from my hotel, this was my chance to enjoy one last pint before I readied myself for dinner with family.


I settled in with my pint inside the pub and for it very pleasant. I do wish I had time to enjoy some of their bar snacks, but as I was in a hurry, I had but time for one pint and I was off.


As I'd been doing for my entire visit, I decided to try something unique, in this case The Admiral's Cask real ale, made by Marston's Brewery.  But I'd definitely pop by for a pint if I was in the area again. For more information visit their website at http://www.theadmiralcodrington.co.uk/


I hope you've enjoyed this brief look and some unique and traditional places to grab a bite to eat or a drink while in London.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Refueling with Tradition... Some Thoughts on Dining in London Part 3

This post is a continuation of part one of this series on dining in London.

On Saturday evening I joined friends of mine at Simpson's in the Strand. Established in 1828, it gained fame around 1850, firstly for its traditional English menu, particularly roast meats, and secondly as the most important chess venue in Britain. As my grandmother dined here in the 1920s and I'd dined here with family myself, this restaurant holds special meaning to me.


Simpson's dinner specialty is their aged Scottish beef on the bone, traditionally carved at guests' tables from antique silver-domed trolleys for over 150 years. Other signature dishes include potted shrimps, roast saddle of lamb (which is not listed on the current bill of fare) and steak and kidney pudding. Having been remodeled in 2017, it appears the menu remains mostly the same with a wonderful assortment of traditional English deserts once again appearing on the bill of fare, but all slightly updated to modern tastes.

Featured by name in "The Guns of Navarone", "Howard's End", Sherlock Holmes stories such as "The Illustrious Client", stories by P.G. Wodehouse, and in film in Alfred Hitchcock's 1936 film Sabotage, it is without a doubt one of London's most famous restaurants.


I began my meal with one of their specialties, Potted shrimps with Warm toast. Not something you see in America, and that is quite a shame. Delicious and I'd order them again without hesitation


 For my main, I decided upon another of their specialties, the roast saddle of Lamb with homemade redcurrant jelly & gravy, and for sides had the roast potatoes and Savoy cabbage. The lamb is carved at the table from one of their traditional trolleys. 


Americans don't eat an much lamb as the British. I'm not sure why, but if you are in the UK, try it, it is delicious. And don't worry about the mint sauce, go with the redcurrant jelly and gravy, it was delicious.




I will say I was disappointed that there was no traditional British desert on the menu, so I reluctantly tried the Simpson’s Quidditch, a chocolate concoction of the chef's design. It was tasty, but not very British. the current desert offerings since the remodel now consist of English summer berry pudding, Simpson's trifle, Scorched egg custard tart, Fresh goats curd with chilled poached apricots, Eton tidy mess, Ridgeview sparking wine consomme, coffee-chocolate knickerbocker glory, Simpson's cheese selection and a selection of ice creams and sorbets, which all make me want to return to try them and appreciate their return to traditional English deserts.

For more information on Simpson's in the Strand, please visit their website at https://www.simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk/


After dinner we took a short walk to Rules for after dinner drinks and conversation in their cocktail bar where I enjoyed a classic cocktail, the French 75.



More to come in the next installment of this post...


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Refueling with Tradition... Some Thoughts on Dining in London Part 2

This post is a continuation of part one of this series on dining in London.

I spent most of my next day visiting with family and returned to my hotel late in the afternoon. I think we were all a bit knackered so the choice for dinner that night was the conveniently located Ebury Restaurant & Wine Bar at 139 Ebury Street. 



Located very near to my hotel, it was so convenient that it could not be ignored. But convenience is not the only reason to try this restaurant. Their food is delicious and this is very credibly rumored to be the location of Prince William of Wales bachelor dinner.



I decided to try their 3 course prix fix menu and started with the Smoked haddock gratin, leek and cheddar. 


For my main I tried their Pan roast sea bass fillet, pistachio risotto, courgette purée. 


And I finished things up with their Chocolate truffle torte, crème fraîche, filo crisp. This restaurant might be a bit out of the way for some, but it was incredibly convenient to my hotel and I would definitely make this a serious contender even if it was not so convenient.


For more information check out their website at http://eburyrestaurant.co.uk/

The next day, on recommendation of an American friend, I made a point to visit Rules at lunch time.



Rules was recommended to me by one of my American friends so I had a chance to do a little research on the restaurant prior to my arrival in London. It is located at 35 Maiden Lane in Covent Garden.  


Established in 1798, it holds claim to the oldest restaurant in London. This was also the location of private dinners in which Prince Albert entertained Lillie Langtree, as well as a site in the recent James Bond film, Spectre. These are just a tiny few of the historical facts about this special place in London.



I decided to have a light lunch in the cocktail bar and began by ordering a pint of Fuller's London Pride, served in a silver tankard, and a selection of Morcambe Bay Rock Oysters, Fines de Claires Oysters, and Native Oysters. 


Their service is with the top half of the shell still on the oysters and served with finely chopped shallots in red wine vinegar, as well as lemon. These are top notch oysters and this is from the perspective of someone who has grown up with Chesapeake Bay oysters.



Afterwards I decided to linger and ordered The Rules, a champagne cocktail made with Tanqueray, Dubonnet, and Vintage Crémant. This was not to be my only visit to Rules this day as I returned with friends for drinks in the cocktail bar after our dinner elsewhere. With the fireplace, it was the perfect place to enjoy a drink with friends. I shall definitely be returning to Rules on all of my future trips to London. For more information please see their website at http://rules.co.uk/

More to come in the next installment of this post...