My friend Adiben told me the other week that she wanted to take me to lunch for my birthday at any restaurant of my choice. She and I have done far too many afternoon tea together, and she made it clear that she’s a little bit tired of this quintessential British pastime. “I’m a bit tired of eating dainty sandwiches and sweets. I’d rather have late lunch than tea, Sister Elna, just pick the restaurant and we’ll do it.” she told me. She has been my constant ‘tea partner’ since we first did it together at The Ritz back in 2010; and because I’ve been doing this English ritual longer than she did, I can totally understand why she wanted to take a little break from it. Continue reading “Nosh and Chat”
We eat out pretty rarely, but every now and then, we go out for a really wonderful meal. So with a list of restaurants in London I’ve wanted to try, I decided on having the celebratory meal here — a couple of factors were the deciding ones. First, it wasn’t so over the top (like The Ritz Hotel) that we were going to break the bank or have to dress up too formal, which I don’t mind really, but which Jared equates with various sorts of torture (for someone like him who, once upon a time, had a medieval castle as a playground, he’d rather be in the countryside exploring the woods or deer hunting). Secondly, I am a history and culture buff, and also an intrepid eater. I do enjoy visiting historic places and like to try new treats to savour. Jared, on the other hand, is the sort of eater who, when faced with various arty-crafty portions on his plate, is wont to say things like, “uh-oh! What’s in it? It’s such a tiny portion, it won’t fill me up. I’ll be bitin!” (He knows a little bit of Tagalog you see).😉 Oh, and by the way, if you bring him to an ‘Eat All You Can’ — buffet type restaurant, he’d never complain.😂So it’s not easy to get him to accompany me to a new restaurant especially if I wanted to try a tasting menu. In fairness to Jared though, he doesn’t mind trying new food albeit rather hesitant, and once he likes something, he’d ask for it on many occasions. Like for instance, he doesn’t like the smell of dried fish but after he tried some danggit, dilis and dried squid many years ago, he liked it a lot that after he first had it in Manila, he occasionally asks for it, here in London, of all places! 🙂 And he even enjoys eating them just like any Filipino would do — with bare hands, dip the crispy fried danggit, pusit or dilis in coconut wine vinegar and eat it with loads of rice. I am always proud to tell everyone that my husband loves Filipino food, and that he even eats danggit, pusit, and dilis. So yes, when it comes to food he can be adventurous. He once had a balut 😮 much to the delight of my family back home (I have yet to try this bizarre Filipino delicacy).
Going back to the birthday dinner . . . so we went to The Gilbert Scott restaurant at St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. St Pancras, formerly Midland Grand Hotel, is an iconic building in London, and one of the few surviving Victorian railway hotels in the country. During the Victorian period, each of the London termini (Victoria, Charing Cross, Paddington, St. Pancras, Marylebone and Liverpool stations) had its own grand hotel and they were one of the wonders of the Victorian age.
We were greeted as soon as we walked into the huge lobby. Pictures above show the former taxi lane that has been turned into a beautiful lobby, this is where the carriages and cars would drop people off to get on the train during the Victorian era. Adjacent to this massive space is Booking Office Bar & Restaurant, once the bustling ticket office of St. Pancras station.
After taking photographs of the jewel-coloured Gothic ceilings and 22-carat gilded cornices, we went to see the Grand Staircase. It is indeed so grand that seeing it for the first time reminded me of the ill-fated Titanic. For a few minutes we explored and admired the gigantic staircase with its soaring church-like windows, colourful ceiling, and romantic murals, and then we finally went to the restaurant.
We were seated promptly for our reservation. Appropriately named after the renowned Victorian architect, the Gilbert Scott Restaurant and Bar is a pretty massive space, with friendly service.
Shortly thereafter a server brought the menu and after she took our order, we were then offered a choice of warm slices of breads. Then another server showed up with a complimentary drink called ‘1873’ (the year the hotel was opened), and we tasted it but Jared didn’t like it at all. It was too sweet but I like it, and ended up drinking it all. 🙂
I loved my first course — foei gras and chicken liver parfait topped with crunchy granola and served with toasted brioche on the side. It was a big surprise — lovely flavour and texture, and I really enjoyed it. Jared was just as happy with his starter. I tasted it, and could see why he was very impressed. He had chosen a warm smoke trout; served in a bed of finely shredded celeriac and drizzled with beetroot aioli, which turned out to be a very fine combination. Again, it’s nothing I’d ever think of throwing together, necessarily, but it is quite lovely and I will try to replicate it at home. Surprisingly the smoked trout wasn’t oily nor salty and it was perfect with the crunchy celeriac — the very thing designed to tick off my husband. These tasty appetisers boded well for the main course to come.
Both of our main-courses, however, were exceptional. I had sea bream brandade — more than sufficient for me, since I always have to pace myself with a multi-course meal. I very much enjoyed the fish and the accompanying perfect block of creamy mash potato, and the little clump of pungent black cabbage. I wanted to lick my plate, but refrained. 🙂 Jared was very happy with his Cumbrian pork chop — two huge chunks of pork served with Brussel sprouts, parsnips and sauced with chestnut and cranberry jus reduction — I had a bite, and the meat was tender and very delicious.
We were busy with our desserts when I began to pick up the conversation from the other side, a couple of diners next to our table, while Jared appeared not to notice, engrossed as he was in forking up his dessert. There was talk of wedding, baby shower, etc. I took a spoonful from the crumbly carrot cake, and eat it with ice-cream, and then our conversation shifted to feminism, discrimination, etc., after Jared overheard one of the men sitting on the other table made a blatant sexist remark to the server. This lady was the one who also took our order, and I felt sorry for her. Realising that I really tend to forget about other people because we mostly dine á deux, I said to Jared, “She’s from eastern Europe, and with her seemingly limited English, she probably didn’t even understand the sexist remark made by that dirty old man.” I glanced at the server and the two old men, and said, “Ah, the theatre of dining out . . . sometimes it can get dramatic. Let’s get the bill and go see the most iconic chamber of the hotel.” (St Pancras has a Ladies Smoking Room back in the Victorian/Edwardian era, now a function room, it was the very first place in Europe where women could smoke publicly.)
The server brought this to our table — a big surprise.
I then looked up from the luscious two plate of sweets, and caught Jared’s eye. He looked at me and said, “I’m so glad I married you. There is no one else in the world I wanna be with but you. I love you.” “And I you, my love,” I responded, as the waiter brought the check to our table.
Not only did we have an exquisite dining experience, but being at the hotel afforded us a priceless glimpse into one of Victorian treasures; the cathedral-like windows, picturesque murals, and low lighting that imitates original Victorian light bulbs are nostalgic charm of a vanished era.
Note: Featured image – St Pancras Hotel. We only have our iPhones as a camera to this meal, and the restaurant had a very low lighting so most of them are blurry — which is sad, since the food was pretty.