Thursday, September 14, 2023

What We Ate In Britain and Ireland

Well, guided tours aren't generally the place to experience dining adventures (aside from specifically designed foodie tours), and Great Britain and Ireland are never touted as being the home to the world's great cuisines.  Every breakfast was essentially identical, a hotel breakfast of pork sausage, ham, scrambled eggs, bacon, sunny side up eggs, cereal, black pudding (a black blood sausage), potatoes, and a bunch of other stuff I couldn’t eat.  Generally I just loaded up on sunny side up eggs and ate just the egg white.  Also sometimes I had Weetabix cereal since it was whole grain.  But clearly, I never want to see another British breakfast ever again.  Nevertheless, for the record here is what we ate on our two week Trafalgar tour to these two countries.

Even before we left on our United Air Lines flight from Los Angeles there was confusion the meal schedule, where our flight itinerary only showed lunch, despite the fact it was a 10 hour flight.  I asked the travel agent about that and he said the United Airlines confirmed that fact.  And I went to the United website and found a passage saying that additional snacks were only available on flights of at least 12 hours or more.  OK.  Just means we had to pack stuff with us.  Except on the flight there was actually a second meal and a hot snack too.    This was the surprise second meal near the end of the flight.  I was puzzled why United Airlines was serving chicken chow mein on a Los Angeles-London flight. More puzzling is that the described choices were “chicken” or “pasta”—and this was the chicken dish.


Another mystery on one of the airplane meals was something labelled as a wheatberry salad.  Apparently it's what we know as bulgar.

Not to complain, but that left me with a bit of uneaten food when I got off the plane.  Consequently, I did end up eating a Family Pastry baked bbq pork bun from Los Angeles Chinatown in my London hotel room as my first food on British soil.  (And the Instagram post got a thousand likes.)


The guided Trafalgar tour didn't start until the morning of our third day in London, so we were on our own for meals on both Friday and Saturday.  And our first meal in London was Friday night at Five Guys on the Thames River. Couldn’t pass up the combination of Five Guys and an awesome view of the London Tower Bridge.  We had been walking around the Thames River for five hours, so fast food was the best alternative.  We were annoyed at the length of time it took to fill our order.  However when our tour started a couple of days later, the tour guide mentioned that all restaurant meals in Britain were drawn out, on the presumption that anyone going into a restaurant desires a leisurely meal.

Clearly the best meal of our trip was Saturday lunch with Jenny Lau, founder of the Celestial Peach UK website and project, who hosted us at Wong Kei in London Chinatown.  Wong Kei certainly wasn't the best Chinese restaurant in London Chinatown, but it was certainly the most storied, an old Cantonese restaurant with a longtime reputation as the rudest restaurant in Great Britain.   However, under current ownership, rudeness was no longer on the table, though as a longstanding pillar of London Chinatown I wasn't expecting that much since the best Chinese restaurants are usually the newest ones.  But, I was pleasantly surprised by the fare here, as well as the fact that most of the clientele was Chinese.  Chinese broccoli was good and also became more appreciated as our trip went on, as we discovered there would be few green vegetables for us to eat on this trip.


The duck broth was the tastiest I've ever had in this bowl of rice noodle soup.

Eggplant stuffed with fish paste and tofu was excellent.

Certainly a wonderful meal to remember London Chinatown by.

For dessert it was a brown sugar boba in oat milk with no sugar added at Pretty March in London Chinatown.

And a peach mochi.


Later for a light dinner, cod fish and chips at Traditional Fish and Chips (“100% Halal”) along the Thames River in London.


The organized Trafalgar portion of the tour started on Sunday morning and we headed straight out of town, first to Stonehenge, and then to Bath.  This is the Cornish pasty (beef, onions, potato) at La Baguette in Bath. Had always gone through life assuming pasty rhymed with pastry, but just learned it didn’t, but rather rhymed with hasty.


Our first overnight stop was in Cardiff, Wales, where we had a welcome dinner of steak and ale pie, fish and chips, and strawberry cheesecake at The Cwm Talwg (not a misprint) in Cardiff. 




On Monday morning in Cardiff, what did we spot but a Portuguese egg tart shop called Natas?  Whooda thunkit?

We had a lunch stop in Pembroke prior to taking the ferry to Ireland but we didn't see anything we wanted to eat in the allotted time.  So we had this ham and cheese pannini at Boylan’s Brasserie on the Oscar Wilde cruise ferry between Pembroke, Wales and Rosslare, Ireland.


Landing in Ireland in the early evening Monday, we headed to Waterford where this herb crusted fish at Elva Restaurant was OK.

Pickings were slim Tuesday in Killarney, where we had to settle for fast food, particularly chicken sandwiches, at Supermac.  I'm surprised McDonald's hasn't sued them for infringement.


Finally some excellent local food on Wednesday afternoon with Atlantic salmon salad and Atlantic seafood chowder at the Ring of Kerry Hotel in Garranebane, Ireland.



Traditional Irish stew at Molly Gallivan in Kerry is not what most people expect. While the mention of Irish stew likely evokes images of a hearty meat and potatoes dish, it’s actually a mostly vegetarian dish of turnips, parsnips and carrots, with bits of lamb. This actually makes sense though when considering Ireland’s history of extreme poverty.


Late Thursday morning, I had a most intriguing meal in the small town of Cashel, a chicken sandwich at a place called Martin O-Dwyer Family Butcher Shop, a small grocery store and butcher shop, where the sandwich cost only about $3.50.   One of the few Euros we spent on the trip.


We arrived in Dublin on Thursday afternoon where we were taken directly to the Guinness Storehouse.  Admission included a pint of Guinness.


We signed up for the dinner and cabaret show at Taylor's Three Rock for something like $85 per person.  The show wasn't especially good--I preferred the Killarney show a couple of days earlier at half the price.  And the food was so so.  I think I had salmon.  Or was it sea bass?

On Friday, the bus dropped us off on Nassau Street in the heart of downtown Dublin.  The kim chee and rice chicken wrap at Coffee Angel was pretty good, with the Asian influence being quite surprising.

When we first bused into Dublin, I spotted a Hong Kong style bakery, Hong Kong Taste, just three blocks from our hotel.  What an unexpected treat!   The baked bbq pork buns and egg tarts were comparable to what you'd find at a Hong Kong style bakery in the United States.

And there was a separate counter labelled 18CTEA where we ordered this passionfruit green tea
It was up early Saturday morning for the ferry back to Holy Head, Wales, so early that we left before the hotel breakfast opened.  So in lieu of our hotel buffet, we were given a voucher for a standard English breakfast on the Irish Ferries Ulysses.   Anyway when I got to the ferry breakfast line, I saw this stunning poster on the wall–there was a separate counter for what they called Phoenix Asian food, with genuine pan Asian dishes including Chinese breakfast pancakes (jian bing).  Stunning because there were just a few Asians on the first ferry from Wales to Ireland, and besides us, no other Asians on this ferry going back to Britain.  And stunning to the cashier, too, who when I went to pay, had no idea what I had ordered and how much to charge me.  (And I never saw another customer there the whole time.)  Indeed, this is probably the most stunning Chinese food find of my entire eating career.  You still can’t find this dish in Los Angeles Chinatown (which is an issue discussed separately in my blogs) and finding it here borders on the supernatural.

Back in Britain, we were supposed to go to Chester, but the ferry ride took too long so we detoured to
the Welsh town with the long name, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch This is the beef pastry at James Pringle Weavers.

It was on to Liverpool for dinner at Browns in the Liverpool One shopping complex by the waterfront where we had pan fried seabass and chicken leek pie.

Sunday it was on to the Lake Windemere region.  At Ubuntu in the resort town of Bowness, we had some pretty good avocado toast and tuna corn sandwich.


Sunday night's stopping point was Edinburgh in Scotland.  Here's our Scottish hog roast roll at Oink. Pretty good with an apple topping.

Scouting the area near our hotel,  I spied what looked like Chinese characters plus the name Fusion Gourmet.  Could this be a Chinese restaurant?  Even if not authentic it would be exciting news.  But nothing prepared me for when I checked the menu in the window.  Sichuan drypots!  A largely Chinese clientele, with some non-Chinese.   There was a separate section of the menu for Euro Chinese dishes. which explained the lo wai customers, with everything else for Chinese customers.  As I discovered later, the restaurant was not too far from Edinburgh University, which like universities in the US and Canada, obviously had a good representation of mainland Chinese students.  In any event, it was a welcome dose for Monday's lunch of  Chinese vegetables and the chance to try Scottish beef in black bean sauce.


Monday night was one of those dinner shows, this time at Gillie Dhu's in Edinburgh.  Another overpriced dinner with unremarkable entertainment aside from a few bagpipes.  Can't complain about the haggis, the national dish of Scotland, made from sheep intestines, lungs, heart and kidney.  Deep fried haggis ball was actually pretty tasty.  I'm not sure what my entree was--I think it was a beef dish.


Tuesday's destination was York, but there was an intermediate lunch stop in the town of Thirsk, where we picked up a tuna sandwich at Plenty Sandwich Shop.


York provided another unexpected surprise for Chinese food.  While touring York's city center, I found a branch of Mooboo, which turns out to be the largest boba chain in the UK.  This is their strawberry oreo drink, no sugar added.

But the bigger surprise, close to the main street of downtown York, was Duck Shack, a Hong Kong style deli.  Here's their roast duck buns.

And to top off the day in York, our hotel was literally around the corner from Shi Shang, which served both Cantonese food and had a separate authentic Sichuan style menu.  More Chinese vegetables for us, along with chicken corn soup.

Wednesday it was into the home stretch in Stratford-on-Avon.  Throughout the trip I had seen Pret-A-Manger sandwich shops, so to save  time I got this pre-packaged chicken and bacon sandwich which was good and inexpensive.

Wednesday night was the farewell tour dinner, which one might expect to be extra special, but which was gruesome.  Indeed, while I'm used to hotels putting fancy names on ordinary food, this was clearly the most egregious episode I have ever encountered.  Who wouldn't be enticed by a dish at the hotel restaurant dubbed "The Orangery of Walton Hall", described as miso marinated aubergine steak with yoghurt, pomegranate and coriander.  Also known as yucky eggplant.


But nothing was as bad as my brisket dish.  In Chinese cooking, sometimes both meat and bone are boiled to create an extra rich broth by boiling all the flavor out of the meat.  That's what this beef tasted like.  Our tour director, who did not eat with us, apparently based on previous experience assumed that the beef was great, when speaking with us after the meal.  Well, uh, no.

Thursday was the final day of the tour, as we visited Oxford and stopped for lunch in the centuries old covered market.  Being under the weather we settled for chicken with onions and ginger at the Sichuan/Japanese restaurant Donburi Inn and a salmon baguette at Sofi de Paris.

We arrived in London around 3pm with one piece of unfinished business--Indian food.  Here's chicken tikka masala and sorisa salmon salad at Cafe Ishaq in London.


And rounding off the trip Friday morning, colorful spicy ground beef and vegetable dumplings at Shan Shui Chinese Kitchen at London Heathrow Airport. Interesting to see Chinese food represented in this way at Heathrow. Would indicate that Mainlanders are a perhaps the most significant target for Chinese food here.