I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone bellow with quite the impressive room-filling intensity of the order-taker at the Regency Cafe, but holy crap. I wish I had taken a video of this because there’s no possible way I can adequately describe it with just words. She sounded like a pretty normal person when she was taking orders, but then when they were ready and she called them out? Her voice got two or three octaves deeper and it was like she had a megaphone embedded in her larynx.
I guess it was one of those “you had to be there” things, but it was actually quite awe-inspiring.
The Regency cafe is famous for its take on the full English breakfast, which in this case came with toast, eggs, baked beans, sausage, and bacon — I chose to add on black pudding (i.e. blood sausage) and hash browns, because go big or go home, right?
Even with the addons, it came up to just eight pounds (which also included a very strong cup of English tea), so it’s a pretty amazing deal considering the absolutely monstrous amount of food that you get.
It’s the type of meal where you want to lie down and go into a food coma immediately after. And it was seriously tasty — no individual component on the plate was particularly mindblowing, but taken together it was an absolutely phenomenal breakfast. Plus, you won’t need to eat anything else for several hours, which is always a good thing for a traveler on a budget.
After spending a couple of months in non-English speaking countries, there’s something oddly comforting about removing that struggle.
Can I just say how amazing it is to be able to read a menu? Because it’s amazing. And being able to ask for stuff without having to worry about being understood? The best.
Not that it’s all that difficult to get around as an English speaker in Europe; a surprising number of people speak at least a little bit of English. This varies from country to country — in Italy, it can be a bit of a challenge outside of the touristy areas, but in places like Austria and Sweden, practically everyone speaks English.
Still, you can never assume that someone can speak English, and whether or not you’ll be understood is always a question mark.
It took a few days to wrap my head around the fact that I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. In my first couple of days here, there’d be times where I wanted to order something, and I’d think “Oh man, how am I going to ask for it, though?” Then I’d remember: I can just use my words. And they’ll understand them. Delightful.
I’m a pretty huge fan of stuff like pastrami and Montreal smoked meat, so when I found out that they have something similar in England called salt beef, it instantly shot to the top of my list of things to try.
I went to a place called Beigel Shop to try this, and between the very fresh, slightly chewy bagel and the ultra-tender salt beef, this was clearly a sandwich for the ages. The addition of thickly-sliced pickles actually complimented the beef quite well, adding a vinegary sweetness that rounded out the salty, fatty beef.
There’s also an insanely generous amount of meat in the sandwich; at less than five pounds, it’s an absolute steal.
There are roughly seven billion pubs in London, and a good chunk of them have long and storied histories.
One such pub: the Lamb and Flag, which has been around since 1772, and which was reportedly a favourite of Charles Dickens.
I have to imagine it was pretty different in his day — back then it was nicknamed “The Bucket of Blood” thanks to the bare-knuckle fights that were staged there — but it’s still standing.
The inside looks pretty much exactly how you imagine it’ll look. It’s the classic British pub through-and-through.
I ordered the sausage and mash and got a pint of beer to drink (of course). The food was actually pretty decent, particularly the very generously applied gravy, which was rich and satisfying.
As for that thing about the British drinking their beer warm? It’s not true, but it’s not exactly false, either. The beer definitely wasn’t warm — but it also definitely wasn’t cold. It was more on the chilly end of room temperature, I guess? But it was a stronger, more flavourful beer, so the temperature actually worked really well.
I’ve had some pretty great fish and chips back home. Plus, it’s a pretty simple dish, so how much better could it be over here?
It turns out: substantially better.
I went to a fairly well-regarded place called Poppies, and had what is almost certainly the best fish and chips of my life. The fish itself was tender, flaky, and perfectly cooked, but what really stood out was the crispy batter.
Most fish and chips joints back home feature an overly-thick crunchy shell that steals the spotlight from what should be the main attraction: the fish. It’s basically fried batter that happens to have some fish inside of it.
Here, on the other hand, the batter is crispy enough to provide a nice contrast to the soft fish, but thin and delicate enough that it absolutely never steals the show.
The chunky fries (sorry, chips) were perfect too: crisp exterior, creamy interior. Good times.
Thanksgiving was last week, and thankfully there’s one Canadian pub in town that saved me from going sad and turkeyless (and considering that it’s called the Maple Leaf and it’s absolutely festooned with Canadian flags, there’s no mistaking it for anything but a Canadian pub).
They served a traditional turkey dinner with pumpkin pie for dessert, and it was actually pretty awful, but hey — it saved me from spending Thanksgiving without eating turkey like some kind of maniac, so I can’t complain too much.
I will say, though, that the whole thing tasted like it was prepared by someone who knew what a Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to be in theory, but who had never actually tasted one. The gravy was all wrong, the turkey was insanely dry, and though the stuffing was actually not bad, they only give you two golf-ball-sized portions of it, so there isn’t nearly enough.
As for the pumpkin pie, aside from the fact that it had raisins in it (no dessert in the history of desserts has ever been improved by adding raisins), the crust was mushy and it was served piping hot, which was just bizarre.
I’m sorry, did I say I couldn’t complain too much? Yeah, clearly I was wrong about that.
Here’s a pretty big bummer: Big Ben is currently under a pretty substantial renovation, which means that the outside is almost completely covered in scaffolding, and its iconic bonging has been silenced.
If you go to London and you didn’t see or hear Big Ben, were you even there?
You wouldn’t know it from this blog, but I’ve actually been in London for the last couple of weeks — I had a fairly substantial backlog of posts that I’ve been working through. Which is a good thing, because up until a few days ago I was doing pretty much nothing but watching movies at the BFI London Film Festival and then writing about them.
I saw 37 movies at the festival, and wrote about 35 of them.
The best film I saw? Brawl in Cell Block 99. It’s a gritty, ultra-violent ’70s-inspired prison thriller featuring an absolutely electrifying performance from Vince Vaughn (if all you know him from are his silly comedies, prepare to have your mind blown).
The worst was, surprisingly enough, Manhunt. This is John Woo’s return to the type of action movie that made him famous, and it was surprisingly awful. Please don’t watch it, unless you want to be sad.