London

Leaving London part 2, preconceived ideas about the English working class

As I am writing this, the content of our flat is currently being stored in… I am not sure where, to be honest. Even D, who negotiated the contract with the moving company, is not fully sure, but we believe it’s in England. June 2009 036

So we moved. We spent the entire last week cleaning and going through everything we had collected in our two years of London life and threw away a lot, but there was still a lot for the movers to pack and bring down the 4 flights of stairs that separate our lovely rat trap, as we called our apartment, from the street.

Yes, I did say pack. When you move internationally, the removal company is held accountable for the content of your boxes. This is why they usually insist on packing everything themselves, which means means that you end up standing in the middle of your apartment, not doing anything while strangers rummage through your stuff and wrap it.

So after a week of getting everything ready for the movers, we had our leaving drinks at our local pub on the eve of the move. Although we were pretty much ready to go, we felt quite nervous about the movers, hoping they wouldn’t hate us too much for the 4 flights of stairs or at least that they wouldn’t take it out on the heavy Italian designer sideboard D had fallen in love with a few years ago – it must weight 100kg/200 lbs.

Sharing our fears with friends on that night, we received the exact same answer from everyone and I do not think I had ever seen such a unanimous crowd: buy tea. Yes, tea. "Offer them a lot of tea. It must be very strong, and very sweet. They’ll feel like you care about them and the sugar will give them the quick energy they need for those stairs." Really? That simple? They even agreed on the brand I had to buy.

So after going to bed at 3 on that evening, I woke up at 7 to run to the grocery store and buy some PG Tips, working man’s tea par excellence (and sold for $7 a box in Brooklyn, New York) along with some milk and sugar. I was getting so excited about this cultural experiment, I almost bought stuff to make bacon sandwiches as well.

A few hours later, the movers arrive. While I was expecting two big, thick accented, 40 something men from Essex, I see two young, fit, thick accented young men from… Poland.

Poland huh? Pg Tips? Hum. Oh yes. They are, after all, part of the new English working class, they work in England, they MUST be tea drinkers. So I go on, all excited, with the phrase I had been rehearsing all night in my sleep (you have to seem like you know what you are talking about, like you make it all the time, while also making it sound like you are doing something special for them… not as easy as it seems).

"Would you like a cup of tea?"

[big, big smile] "No, no, thank you."

Hum. That was not planned. Must be trying to be polite. Hey, I have a pot of boiling water on the stove and I do not want tea so I will definitely not let politeness win. Plus, he’s kind of cute.

"Really? Are you sure? I am making some right now…"

[more big, big smile… and I swear there was a wink as well] "Hum, maybe later?"

So yes, they were nice and they were smiling, maybe even flirting, but they still hadn’t weighted the italian sideboard. And they won’t drink tea. But everyone told me: THEY MUST DRINK TEA. Or else my move is, literally, out the window. That’s how it works in England; locals told me.

Panicked, I run over to D and tell him that the movers are being very nice but that, however, they have been refusing my tea. We MUST do something. Time is running. We agree that they would be more open with D and that some good old male bonding will make them loose their polite side and accept our offering. D goes over. I hear talking, I hear laughing, more laughing, then D comes back.

"Dude, they’re Polish – they don’t drink tea. I’ll go to Tesco and get lemonade and coke."

Londres… c’est fini!

Et oui. C’est la fin d’un époque. J’ai officialisé la nouvelle au travail et je me sens enfin prête, deux semaines avant le départ, à faire de même ici. Nous quittons Londres. Le 12 juin. Douze. Juin. Deux semaines.

De ma cusine - Londres

Évidemment, Londres va me manquer. Nous avons eu la chance de passer deux ans dans un quartier où, selon moi, on trouve la plus grande concentrations de bons bars et restaurants de toute la ville. Les vues sur St-Paul, les pubs et restaurants où les employés sont presque devenus des amis et, surtout, le luxe d’aller au travail à pied à tous les jours!

Trève de nostalgie, le plus intéressant dans tout ça, c’est la porte qui s’ouvre, pas celle qui se referme. D et moi partons, sac au dos, meubles vendus (ou presque) pour six mois d’aventure dans des endroits assez éloignés pour justifier 5 vaccins et beaucoup trop de médicaments anti-paludisme.

Au menu: Hong-Kong chez une amie de longue date, sud de la Chine, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodge, Thaïlande, Malaysie avec soeurette, Singapour, Suisse chez une autre amie de longue date, mariage à Québec, escale à New York qui incluera probablement quelques repas avec celui que j’appelle “le sommelier fou“, Panama, Pérou, Bolivie et Argentine, où nous risquons de croiser Élisa avant de rentrer à New York pour la fin de cette parenthèse londonienne.

Vous l’aurez deviné, les préparatifs me rendent folle! Et surtout, trouver l’équilibre entre m’enfermer chez-moi pour tout préparer et profiter du soleil et des amis avant de quitter. Bref, sur cette note, pique-nique à Hampstead et tournée d’Upper Street à Islington, une routine du week-end qu’il sera difficile de remplacer à New York (je disais la même chose de ma routine du week-end à New York avant mon arrivée ici!)

Plus de détails sous peu!

Nos bonnes adresses – où nous trouver à Londres

The English version of this is available here.

Bon bon bon. Puisque j’ai un peu plus de temps ces jours-ci, je me suis finalement décidée à faire certains changements dont je rêvais depuis longtemps. C’est bien beau les recettes, mais il y a longtemps que D et moi avions envie d’un blogue qui réflète mieux notre vie ici. On cuisine beaucoup, mais on sort aussi pas mal!

Il faut dire que nous ne sommes pas les plus branchés de Londres mais on aime bien les endroits qui se démarquent, qui offrent un bon service – si une barmaid m’appelle love et se rappelle de ce que je bois, vous pouvez être sûrs qu’on va retourner! – et/ou des produits de qualité.

Presqu’à chaque fois que nous découvrons un de ces endroits, j’ai une petite pensée pour ma soeur, Brian, ma mère, ma soeur, mon beau-père, Claudine bref, tous ces gens qui nous manquent et dont nous nous privons de la présence au quotidien afin de vivre ici. À chaque fois, un de nous pousse un soupir et dit “Wow, imagine comme xyz aimerait ça; il faut vraiment l’amener ici quand il/elle va venir!” Le seul problème avec ça c’est que mis à part Brian et Judith, y’a personne qui nous rend visite!!!! Mais bon, ça c’est une autre histoire.

Bref, pour remédier à tout ça, quoi de mieux que ce cher blogue? Voici donc la liste de nos fréquentations londoniennes.

Vinoteca – Un de nos classiques depuis le tout début de notre séjour ici au printemps 2007, Vinoteca est un restaurant/bar à vin qui combine cuisine des saisons (le menu change quotidiennement), une longue carte des vins variée et une bonne sélection de vins au verre qui change régulièrement. On y retrouve beaucoup de bouteilles difficiles à trouver ailleurs et on peut aussi acheter le vin pour emporter et ce à un prix – et rapport qualité prix – qui bat même souvent l’épicerie. L’attente peut être longue en soirée mais ça vaut toujours la peine.

St.John est un autre classique – et je parle de l’original, sur la rue du même nom bien sûr! Juste en face de Vinoteca, qui s’y approvisionne en pain, St.John est la propriété du chef Fergus Henderson, célèbre pour une cuisine très carnivore mais aussi de très grande qualité. Le restaurant est connu comme étant un des meilleurs à Londres mais faute de n’y être jamais allés (il faut réserver quelques semaines à l’avance), c’est le bar que nous adorons. Bonne sélection de vins au verre et de bières locales, ambiance relax (c’est un peu comme une grosse boîte blanche en béton avec des chaises en bois dedans); c’est aussi le meilleur endroit du quartier pour acheter son pain ainsi que pour croiser les vedettes du milieu culinaire londonien dans leurs temps libres, sans mentionner Fergus lui-même. Les Welsh rarebits sont incroyables, tout comme les lentilles et les toasts aux anchoix. Pour ce qui est des os à moëlle (on vous en sert 4 par portion, dégouliants de beurre, de sel de mer et de persil haché…)… intense.

Pho – C’en est un autre qui fait partie de nos habitudes régulières. Je parle encore une fois de l’original, situé à quelques pas de chez-nous (il y en a un autre installé depuis peu près de Oxford Street). Beau, bon, pas cher et plutôt santé, que demander de plus un mardi soir ou on n’a pas envie de cuisiner?? On y va probablement aux deux semaines et presqu’à tout coup, D commande une méga soupe vietnamienne et moi un bun, pratiquement une version sans bouillon de sa soupe servie sur nouilles de riz vapeur. La carte des vins ne vaut pas le détour en soi mais complémente bien le menu à un prix raisonnable.

The Dovetail – This is a great Belgian pub located in a tiny alley by the Clerkenwell Green. We used to go to much more often last spring and summer as we have been pretty unlucky with their opening hours in the last few months. Summer is the best time to go there anyway, especially late at night or in the afternoon when you can get a table by the window and familiarize yourself with their extensive beer list while eating a cone of their fantastic fries.

The Well – where everybody knows your name. This is our local pub, local as in the staff waves when we walk by – Lilli and her team are just awesome. It is a fantastic space: a wide open room with large wooden tables and floor to ceiling windows all around, it is permanently flooded with light and there is no better place to while away a winter afternoon. To be honest, we got hooked when they still had local microbrew Meantime on tap. They got rid of it and replaced it with Super Bock, a Portuguese beer that tastes like Labatt Bleue but the giant corn kernels, the fantastic light and the friendly staff are still there. Oh and the food’s quite good too.

La Fromagerie is a recent find as I had never set foot in Marylebone before May 2008 – shame on me, I know. It is owned by Patricia Michelson, a well know author and cheese specialist and if you are into cheese, her name probably sounds familiar. Although it is a bit pricey, it is well worth the visit and the splurge on some good produce and cheese. The cheese room is incredible while the staff is very knowledgeable.

The Slaughtered Lamb – on Great Sutton Street, it is not our favorite pub as the crowd tends to pack in a bit too much attitude for us but they have the great advantage of being open later than anyone else in the neighborhood and they are relatively affordable with a wide selection of beer, scotch and bourbons – oh and they have some great leather armchairs too!

Where to find us

La version française de cette section suivra sous peu

Recipes are one thing but it would be a shame for us to limit these chronicles of our years in London to home cooking. Throughout the past year, D and I have developed a nice list of favorites and not once do we go to these places without sighing, thinking how great it would be to take our dearly loved and missed friends and relatives with us; how much they would love it.

As you know, D & I can be quite boring creatures of habits, mostly because we can be very picky and selective. What saves us is that although we do enjoy becoming regulars in the places we like, these are usually pretty unique, either for what they sell or for the atmosphere. While living in New York, we were lucky enough to be able to share our regular hang outs and favorite shops with many of you so how about we use this blog to do the same while we are in London?

Vinoteca has been a classic since we moved here in the spring of 2007. Great staff, amazing food and a wine list that will blow you away by its diversity. One can also buy their wine for drinking at home and they always have some interesting low-price options. The nice thing is that their menu changes daily and that they always have wines that no one else has. The best way to enjoy Vinoteca is for a long, leisurely afternoon meal as the wait can be quite long for dinner but it is definitely worth it.

St.John – Although this is one of London’s most famous restaurant, owned by chef Fergus Henderson, the place we tend to go back to is their bar and bakery – which is inside the bar. They ususally have some pretty interesting beers on tap, good wines by the glass and their anchovy toast and Welsh rarebits are to die for – so are their lentils and their bone marrow is… intense. Their bread is delicious – they actually supply Vinoteca across the street.

Pho St. John Street – the original Pho, located less than a block away from our place. We probably eat there twice a month: good, affordable and comforting food, it is also relatively healthy. D usually orders a soup in a gigantic bowl, vietnamese style and I go for a bun, basically a brothless version of his soup with beef or spring rolls. The wine list isn’t really worth mentioning but it is perfectly fine for the foods they serve.

The Dovetail – This is a great Belgian pub located in a tiny alley by the Clerkenwell Green. We used to go to much more often last spring and summer as we have been pretty unlucky with their opening hours in the last few months. Summer is the best time to go there anyway, especially late at night or in the afternoon when you can get a table by the window and familiarize yourself with their extensive beer list while eating a cone of their fantastic fries.

The Well – where everybody knows your name. This is our local pub, local as in the staff waves when we walk by – Lilli and her team are just awesome. It is a fantastic space: a wide open room with large wooden tables and floor to ceiling windows all around, it is permanently flooded with light and there is no better place to while away a winter afternoon. To be honest, we got hooked when they still had local microbrew Meantime on tap. They got rid of it and replaced it with Super Bock, a Portuguese beer that tastes like Labatt Bleue but the giant corn kernels, the fantastic light and the friendly staff are still there. Oh and the food’s quite good too.

La Fromagerie is a recent find as I had never set foot in Marylebone before May 2008 – shame on me, I know. It is owned by Patricia Michelson, a well know author and cheese specialist and if you are into cheese, her name probably sounds familiar. Although it is a bit pricey, it is well worth the visit and the splurge on some good produce and cheese. The cheese room is incredible while the staff is very knowledgeable.

The Slaughtered Lamb – on Great Sutton Street, it is not our favorite pub as the crowd tends to pack in a bit too much attitude for us but they have the great advantage of being open later than anyone else in the neighborhood and they are relatively affordable with a wide selection of beer, scotch and bourbons – oh and they have some great leather armchairs too!