Lon­don: A Win­ter Visit

Taste & Travel - - Contents - byNATHAN FONG

NATHAN FONG en­joys Lon­don in the off-sea­son.

ALTHOUGH ONE MIGHT TYP­I­CALLY ex­pect a damp and dreary Lon­don morn­ing ar­rival, with a mild haze of smog, I landed at Heathrow be­neath a brisk, clear and sunny sky, de­spite the fact that ear­lier in the month, pol­lu­tion lev­els greater than those of Bei­jing had made front-page news world­wide. But here I was in one of the world's most mag­nif­i­cent cities — a me­trop­o­lis filled with his­tory, cul­ture, ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign, mu­se­ums, mar­kets and su­perla­tive cui­sine. Not to men­tion a well-de­signed metro sys­tem, (the world's first un­der­ground, built in 1863 and known af­fec­tion­ately as the Tube), car­ry­ing close to five mil­lion pas­sen­gers a day.

I lived briefly in Lon­don in the late `80s when the likes of Gor­don Ram­sey and Jamie Oliver were still in the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and some­what ques­tion­able “au­then­tic” In­dian and Chi­nese take­aways were the norm.

Avoid­ing the mass of sum­mer tourists, this time I was in Lon­don to work on a culi­nary project and to take ad­van­tage of this ever-chang­ing city. And of course food was at the top of the list! And boy had it changed…

Built in 1865, the leg­endary Lang­ham Ho­tel was the first of the grand stately ho­tels to be built in Europe. One of the largest and best known tra­di­tional ho­tels in Lon­don, it was to­tally ren­o­vated to cel­e­brate its 150th an­niver­sary two years ago. A favourite spot for ac­tors and roy­alty (Lady Diana, Win­ston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Noel Cow­ard to name a few fa­mous guests) and pro­vid­ing exquisite ser­vice in lux­u­ri­ous sur­round­ings, The Lang­ham is truly a Lon­don icon.

The newly re­fur­bished rooms and pub­lic spa­ces are dec­o­rated in var­i­ous hues of white and gray with ac­cents of blue, which give the once-dark in­te­ri­ors a grander and more spa­cious at­mos­phere. The bed­room in­te­ri­ors are lush and com­fort­able, not to men­tion the spa­cious, white and black mar­ble-ac­cented bath­rooms.

Be­yond the grandeur of the liv­ing quar­ters, the ho­tel's unique part­ner­ship with the culi­nary icons, fa­ther and son Al­bert Roux and Michel Roux Jr., can be en­joyed in all the restau­rants and bars, and even for in-room din­ing. In the mag­i­cal, domed din­ing room of Roux at the Lan­dau, gas­tro­nomic wiz­ardry is demon­strated on the crisp linen-lined ta­bles. Suc­cu­lent Orkney diver scal­lops, from the brisk, cold wa­ters of the North­ern Scot­tish archipelago, come plump and barely cooked, em­bed­ded in a lus­cious pool of fino sherry beurre blanc and Osci­etra caviar. A mag­nif­i­cent lo­cal Roset John Dory is ac­cented with co­coa beans, chorizo, ra­zor clams and a sub­lime Nor­mande sauce. No trendy plat­ing tech­niques, sauce swooshes, foams or froths, but re­fined clas­sic cui­sine at its best.

Win­ner of the cov­eted `World's Best Bar' ac­co­lade, the Lang­ham's wa­ter­ing hole, Arte­sian, named after the orig­i­nal 360-foot-deep well un­der the ho­tel, is ex­tremely pop­u­lar with lo­cals and cock­tail en­thu­si­asts. Over­stuffed leather wing-chairs in a mod­ern­ized, relaxed at­mos­phere are a far cry from the Old Boys' Club feel it once had (much to the dis­may of Churchill if he

were still alive!) while out­stand­ing mixol­ogy ranges from Arte­sian Clas­sics to ex­per­i­men­tal cock­tails for the so­phis­ti­cated.

In con­trast to the time­less, tra­di­tional am­biance of the Lang­ham is the 100-room bou­tique One Ald­wych Ho­tel, with its spec­tac­u­lar 400-piece con­tem­po­rary art col­lec­tion. The ho­tel oc­cu­pies the for­mer 1904-built Ed­war­dian Flat­iron-style Morn­ing Post news­pa­per of­fices that were trans­formed in 1998. A bril­liant sun­lit lobby bar and mez­za­nine res­tau­rant are pop­u­lar with suit-types, but it's in the glam­ourous sub­ter­ranean depths of the ho­tel where renowned Basque chef Eneko Atxa reigns. Eneko at One Ald­wych, a show­case for her fresh mod­ern Basque cui­sine, is an ex­cit­ing new res­tau­rant in the vi­brant Covent Gar­den district. With dishes such as Tx­ipirones en su Tinta (squid in ink sauce), Cau­li­flower in Tex­tures, and suc­cu­lent Braised Pork Cheeks with Con­fit Shal­lots, Chef Eneko cel­e­brates her pas­sion for pre­cise ex­e­cu­tion and qual­ity in­gre­di­ents.

Fif­teen years ago, long be­fore Noma re­ceived ac­co­lades as the world's best res­tau­rant, I had my first Nordic res­tau­rant ex­pe­ri­ence at Aqua­vit in New York, which was achiev­ing much ac­claim for an AfroAmer­i­can chef called Mar­cus Sa­muels­son. Last year Aqua­vit opened a sec­ond over­seas en­ter­prise (the first was in Tokyo) in the newly gen­tri­fied St James Mar­ket area where hip­ster bou­tiques, cof­fee and tea em­po­ri­ums, and chic bistros are cre­at­ing a new neigh­bour­hood buzz.

This glitzy con­tem­po­rary res­tau­rant, with curved tanned leather ban­quettes, wood pan­elling, brass and glass, cel­e­brates Nor­we­gian de­sign in a wel­com­ing, in­for­mal in­te­rior. From the gleam­ing Ge­org Jensen sil­ver­ware and sleek fur­nish­ings by Svensk Tenn to the server uni­forms by Ida Sjöst­edt, this is not an­other grand and over­stated res­tau­rant. In­stead, a cleaner sparse in­te­rior show­cases the won­der­ful Nordic-in­spired dishes.

PHO­TOS THIS PAGE CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT Linecaught At­lantic Cod with seafood sauce; Bor­ough Mar­ket wine store; Mod­ern Scan­di­na­vian fare at Aqua­vit; Af­ter­noon Tea at The Berke­ley

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