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Flat Iron in London

Flat Iron

It was lunch time in Covent Garden and we were hungry. We nearly went to an All Bar One for old time’s sake, until we spotted a man butchering a huge piece of meat in the window of another restaurant: Flat Iron.

Amidst so many tourist traps, this place was a gem and really the best lunch experience we had in London – very reasonably priced (¬£10 for the whole shebang), awesome customer service and a unique dining experience. Beef dripping popcorn to start, flat iron steak as the main event (with horseradish because that’s the way I roll) and salted caramel ice cream, rolled in chocolate, scooped on your way out. Small menu so they know what to do and do it well. It was a well-rehearsed dance that was smooth and effortless from start to finish.

Plus, they were very cool with our kids. My son ordered the burger, which was massive and decadent (probably would order without the b√©arnaise sauce for kids’ next time, but I took a couple of bites and loved it). An ooey, gooey masterpiece.

Flat Iron

Flat Iron

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Vanderpump (does) rule

Vanderpump Rules

I’ve been in a funk since the election and with the inauguration and this hot mess of the past week in the news, only one show cheers me up: Vanderpump Rules.

I discovered it on Hulu last fall and after a couple of episodes, I was hooked. Somehow the over-the-top antics of this twenty-something restaurant staff at Lisa Vanderpump’s Sur restaurant in West Hollywood was just what I needed. It’s soapy and silly and reality TV at its best when you just need a light mental break from the heaviness of life. It’s the visual equivalent of a sweet, bubbly, decidedly pink cocktail.

If you don’t know Lisa Vanderpump, she is the very British owner of three L.A. hot spots – Villa Blanca, Sur and Pump. She is grounded and funny and smart, despite her millions, a wonderfully accomplished restaurant head, a confidant and voice of reason with her young staff, and she is so delightedly British and likable.

This past weekend, I finally finished Season 4! If you haven’t watched it, give Vanderpump Rules a try!

A proper tea

I made the very good decision to schedule our English tea on the day that we arrived. After sleeping only a couple of hours on the plane, I just needed proper pampering and we had reservations at the Park Room at Grosvenor House Hotel.

I’ve never been to Grosvenor House, but it was absolutely perfect for our family. I ordered their special Christmas tea.

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The British love affair with Cheesecake Factory

When we first moved back to California from the U.K. more than a decade ago, we had lunch at the Cheesecake Factory in Union Square in San Francisco. It kind of epitomized everything that was American – unapologetic, calorie-laden decadence detailed in a really long, laminated menu. It felt like a world-is-your-oyster kind of place. You want pasta? Steak? Omelette? Pizza? Burger? Sandwich? Seafood? Salad? You can get it here. Oh yeah, and of course, there’s over two dozen different types of cheesecake. There is simply nothing like it in the U.K.

Fresh Strawberry CheesecakeBut for me, the Cheesecake Factory ship has sailed. I have nothing against the Cheesecake Factory, but it no longer holds the appeal that it once had. We had no official falling out. It’s just become this kind of American dining experience (like TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s, Sizzler, Outback Steakhouse) that I avoid (not because I am snob, although if the shoe fits …), but because there are so many amazing independently owned restaurants in San Francisco, I couldn’t imagine eschewing them all in favor of a stop at a chain restaurant like the Cheesecake Factory.

And yet, everytime we have friends visiting from the U.K., without fail, they suggest dining there. These are friends that don’t know each other. Relatives that don’t know the friends. No common connection except for their Britishness. But they’re all on the same British Cheesecake Factory bandwagon. They don’t ask about any of the other chains, mind you. They save their love for Cheesecake Factory.

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Dining at The Spotted Pig

Spotted Pig

I’ve been wanting to eat at the Spotted Pig in NYC for quite awhile.

With British chef April Bloomfield at the helm, it has reached legendary status among celebrities and foodies alike and has shown the world over that British food can be tasty.

Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris eat at Spotted Pig

Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris eat at the Spotted Pig.

We came for dinner on Friday night around 7 p.m. and were told that it was a two to two-and-a-half hour wait. There don’t take reservations – ever. Only the opportunity to leave your cell number and, of course, there’s this great big beautiful city to browse while you are waiting.

We had a drink at the White Horse Tavern, which was nearby, and best known for being Dylan Thomas’s favorite watering hole (along with many other writers like Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, James Baldwin, and the list goes on. It was a cash-only bar and felt like your average local pub in Britain.

Then we just took a stroll, making stops at Goorin Bros. Hat Shop and Sockerbit Swedish sweet shop, where we bought one of these for the holidays:

Swedish trolls

These gnomes are not edible.

It wasn’t until about 10 p.m. that they called our name. Score!

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The best fish and chips in London

Fish and chips at Masters Super Fish

We stumbled upon a truly excellent fish and chips shop on our last trip to London and I have to share … Masters Super Fish on Waterloo Road. It’s not much to look at – a simple hole in the wall that is reputed to be a favorite among black cab drivers. In fact, when we were there, we did see quite a few!

But we were there to get our fish and chips fix, not for the ambiance. We had met up with my sister-in-law for a tour of Parliament, followed by a trip on the London Eye earlier in the day. It was the logical next step.

Whitebait and onion rings

We started with some whitebait (not for me!) and onion rings. The kids enjoyed the look of the whitebait and my son enjoyed eating it!

But the best bit was their fish and chips, which were accompanied by white bread, prawns and a pickle. I ordered the haddock and it was the best British fish and chips I’ve had in years. Great batter, fresh fish, enormous portions, good price. We will be back!

Masters Super Fish, 191 Waterloo Road, Southwark, London. SE1 8UX. 020 7928 6924

Anniversary dinner at Ode

Ode

Interior of Ode

One of the highlights of our recent trip to England was celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary at Ode in Shaldon, which has been named UK’s most sustainable restaurant by the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

The food was absolutely amazing, delicious, fresh and exciting from beginning to end. Service was friendly and helpful (owner Tim Bouget was lovely!). And all of this for a great price! Our wedding anniversary fell on a Wednesday and Ode features a reduced price menu on Wednesdays: three courses for 29 pounds! We added a couple of glasses of kir royale to start and a very pleasant French white wine to accompany our main courses.

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An ode to Ode

I love the story of the tortoise and the hare, of David and Goliath, or any time when the little guy triumphs over the big.

Best case in point this past month: Ode in Shaldon, a charming little Devon seaside restaurant that has been named Sustainable Restaurant of the Year by the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

Photo credit: The Telegraph

It beat out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage, which took second place.

Chef-proprietor Tim Bouget got top marks for local sourcing as well as energy and water efficiency and waste management. Check it out the next time you are in the West Country!

Fork and Knife Fare

Ever see the Seinfeld episode where Elaine watches her boss eating a candy bar with a fork and knife?

The first time I ate pizza in the UK, I was reminded of this as I watched everyone eat their pizza with a fork and knife. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating pizza from a Michelin-starred restaurant or Pizza Hut, you don’t use your hands. It’s not a thin-crust issue. It’s not a this-pizza-is-too-flipping-hot issue. I believe it’s an issue of manners.

Speaking of manners, Matthew is frequently horrified when he eats with Americans and finds them doing the familiar dance of cutting up their food — steak, for example — into pieces (knife in right hand, fork in left), only to put their knife down, swap their fork from their left hand to their right and then stab the little pieces with their right. The process is exhausting and inefficient. By contrast, he keeps his knife in his right, fork in his left and cuts each piece, stabs and then eats with his left. No silverware shuffle. It’s the essence of simplicity and actually the way I prefer to eat now. Even when I’m enjoying a Snickers bar.