I didn't realize until I started organizing this trip how many friends I've have who have been lucky enough to up in London over the years. I was so pleased to be able to meet up with Allie McConnell, a friend and fellow language nerd from high school, one of the three other students in our makeshift Italian course, where we spent our lessons delving enthusiastically in to Italian grammar, watching Italian films, and maximizing our conversation skills. Despite the fact Allie has lived in the UK for 10 or so years now, we always manage to pick up right where we left off (my favorite kind of friendship!) and just when we thought Allie couldn't get any more fun, her equally awesome fiance Phil came in to the picture. We also were reunited with our usually Rome-based friend Fiammetta, who has moved to the UK for an internship -- bravissima!!! -- and who after only a few short months has acquired a British accent so convincing, we wondered if we were actually getting lunch with Kate Middleton. We also got to spend the day with Gloria (my former co-blogger, and without whom Pancakes & Biscotti would never have come in to being) who has been living in England for a little over a year baking full-time as a pastry chef at The Chequers Inn. Gloria, who we met on the first day of classes at the University of Bologna all the way back in 2009, was our very first Italian friend. She became a fixture of our daily routine in Bologna -- lunch at the university mensa, trips to her town of Bertinoro, American-style breakfasts for supper at her house -- and our friendship has endured all these years later, even with all the time differences, distances, and various other life-changes. We hadn't seen each other in nearly two years so this was perhaps the most exciting reunion of all. In order below: Allie, Fiammetta, and Gloria!
I'm going to go against the grain here and say it: I loved the food in London. I know British food usually has a bad rep, but I personally was counting down the days before our trip to eat fish and chips, banoffee pie, and English-style breakfast, and overall revel in anything that wasn't pizza or pasta for a few days. I was not disappointed. Here are some of my favorite places we ate -- click on the hyperlinks to get the location/more information if you want to visit them too:
Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, how we love you! This cafe was located right next to the apartment we were staying in, and was lovely -- the coffee was great, and the sweets, especially the toasted banana peanut butter bread, were fantastic (I realize that banana peanut butter bread is not at all British, but it is most certainly something I'd never find in any cafe in Italy, which made it all the more exciting). A special shoutout to Nadia, our favorite barista, who was so friendly and helpful and great about helping us navigate the city!
We had delicious Indian food at a ginormous, three floor restaurant called Dishoom, where Allie and Phil brought us on our first night in London. The wait was about two hours long -- Dishoom doesn't take reservations -- so we had to queue (see, I did learn some British English!) for about two hours before sitting down. Luckily, Dishoom provides the people waiting outside in the cold with chai and green tea. Once we finally sat down, we ordered more dishes than I can count -- and proceeded to finish them all! -- but the standouts were a classic chicken curry, spicy potatoes with a yogurt dipping sauce, and a pineapple crumble with custard for dessert. Thank you Allie and Phil!
Mexican food in Rome tends to be pricey and there's really only one good Mexican restaurant in the city (La Cucaracha, if you're wondering) so we were beyond excited to lunch at La Bodega Negra in Soho.We opted for veggie burritos and chicken tacos, with some chips and guacamole (the chips and guac disappeared so fast I didn't have time to get a photo!)
Indian and Mexican food cravings satisfied, we decided it was time to sample some proper (!!!) English food as well. Allie and I headed to Notting Hill where we had lunch at The Duke of Wellington Pub, ordering steak pie with a side of mash (aka mashed potatoes) and roasted veg. We also sampled a roasted fennel, potato, and red pepper salad with halloumi, which, while not British, was still something we'd never find on an Italian menu and thus fully appreciated -- might try and recreate this one at home. A day or so later my sister, Gloria, and I devoured the best fish and chips I've ever had -- at Poppie's, in the East End! -- where we finished off the meal with Sticky Toffee Pudding served with a scoop of ice cream (get my recipe here!)
To top off the curry, tortillas, and chips, we were in need of something sweet -- we stumbled across Dark Sugars Cocoa House, in the East End, drawn in by the beautiful displays of chocolate all throughout the store. They had all sorts of truffles and chocolates (free samples were abundant) as well as a selection of homemade hot chocolates -- we opted for the white chocolate caramel and chocolate hazelnut hot chocolate and were not disappointed.
Last food highlight! Rachel, my sister, and I went for tapas at Pix Pintxos in Soho the night before her show (nothing like a tapas buffet to get you prepped for singing at the Royal Opera House!) I didn't take too many photos -- was too excited to dig in -- but the selection of tapas was extensive, the prices very reasonable, and the staff was incredibly friendly. My favorite was the Spanish potato tortilla and the albóndigas were delish as well.
TEA - SOHO'S SECRET TEA ROOM
No trip to London would be complete without having a proper English tea, am I right? We joined Rachel and her daughter Lydia at Soho's Secret Tea Room a blink and you miss it kind of place, as it is hidden away on the top floor of what looks like your average British pub (we weren't 100% sure we were in the right place when we first got there, but I guess it's called Secret for a reason). We ordered peppermint tea and enjoyed a selection of cakes, mini Bakewell tarts, scones with jam and -- best of all --clotted cream, one of the most delicious things to ever grace the planet (why isn't this a thing in Italy and the U.S?!) Lydia, as you can see from the below photos, was also very pleased with her tea and cake.
Last, but not least -- the reason for our trip -- an evening at the Royal Opera to see Rachel perform the lead role in Der Rosenkavalier, an opera in 3 acts by Richard Strauss (get the summary here!) If you're not an opera fan, let me put it like this -- getting selected to sing at the Royal Opera house is the equivalent of an Oscar nomination, or playing baseball at Yankee stadium, or making it to the Olympics -- it's a big deal. We couldn't have been prouder of Rachel -- spectacular voice aside, it was such a joy to see her in her element on performing on such an important stage. During the intermissions and at the end of the show we got to visit her backstage -- we felt very VIP, see stage passes below! -- and, added bonus, got to see all of the costumes used by the famed Royal Ballet, as Rachel's dressing room was right in the same corridor. It was a completely unforgettable experience - thank you Rachel!
And just like that, our trip to London was over. My sister and I were both quite sad to leave, but we've already been checking the Royal Opera's schedule for the next few months (Rachel is after all singing again in March...) so here's hoping that another trip happens sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a few other photos to end this post, quintessential telephone booth photo and all.