Story by Manos Angelakis
London Culinary Memories
A few weeks ago we were invited to a cocktail party in New York City hosted by the Corinthia Hotel London and I chatted with Tom Kerridge, a 2 Michelin-star chef that has opened his first London restaurant “Kerridge’s Bar & Grill” in the five-star Corinthia. Tom is also a best-selling author of 5 cook books and a TV cooking and baking personality. He is an affable young man that enjoys creating great food.
At the event we also met Thomas Kochs, the managing director of Corinthia London, and I had a conversation with Ben Hoffer, the Food & Beverage director, about an up-to-now distinct rarity: English Sparkling Wines, that will now be featured in the Corinthia restaurants -- see in the Oeno File the story about an English sparkler available in the US.
We tasted numerous pass-around appetizers that Tom’s team prepared at the venue’s kitchen which was part of the large room where the reception took place, and I loved every one of them.
These great appetizers reminded me of the culinary wasteland that London was in the early 60s when I lived on Onslow Gardens; at that time London’s good dining options were extremely limited.
We use to say that “British Gastronomy” was an oxymoron!
One could get good meals outside the city, in such restaurants as The Waterside Inn in Bray, Thatcher’s on Thane, and a few others.
But the London City food scene was deplorable, with very few good dining rooms in private clubs where you had to be a member; some descent ethnic restaurants in and around Soho and in Chelsea -- mostly Cypriot, a few Italian, fiery Vindaloo Indian and Chinese with Cantonese dishes (I still remember the humongous beef chow main portions at Lee Ho Fook). There were very few good but pricey hotel restaurants such as the “Savoy Grill” that served dishes developed by August Escoffier while he was head chef at the Savoy in the 1890s and “Le Peroquet” at the Barkley, another member of the Savoy Group.
You could get an excellent afternoon tea at Claridge’s where butlers in Edwardian britches served your tea, scones with strawberry preserves and clotted cream and crustless tea sandwiches, as well as at Trusthouse Forte Hyde Park Hotel (now the Mandarin-Oriental Hyde Park) where afternoon tea was also excellent. Many of the other London hotels had carveries where the main dishes were Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding or Roast Leg of Lamb or, if you were lucky, Steak and Kidney pie. Oh… and I almost forgot “Simpson’s on the Strand” where a solid silver guideron would be wheeled by your table so that paper-thin slices of rare Roast Beef would be carved in front of you, placed on monogrammed plates and covered with Beef Gravy. The few times I could afford to eat there, I found the meat inedible!
The places where most of us had meals were the local pubs sporting such “delights” to go with our pints of ale as: Bangers and Mash, Bubble and Squeak with Gravy, Toad in the Hole, Shepherd’s Pie, Welsh Rarebit and Spotted Dick for dessert! There were also Fish and Chips vendors and, if you wanted a good portion of cod-fish in a beer batter instead of the most common plaice (flat fish), you had to go to the East-End, where fish and chips were rolled in newsprint cones to drain the oil from the deep-fryer; you could read the previous day’s news while munching on your meal.
Oh… how things have changed for the better!
Tom Kerridge’s Hand & Flowers pub in Marlowe is the only two Michelin-starred pub in the UK and now devotees of his food can have his great dishes at The London Corinthia.
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