Spring Break in the UK – Day 5: Windsor and More London

7 May

Wednesday morning, we took a short train ride out to the Queen’s favorite place, Windsor Castle.  We were in a hurry to catch the early train out to Windsor, so breakfast again consisted of a pasty-on-the-go.  This time I sampled the steak and stilton pasty from West Cornwall Pasty Co., something that I soon regretted as stilton cheese is an acquired taste that I simply don’t have.

Out at Windsor Castle, we caught a better and less crowded changing of the guards ceremony than at Buckingham Palace:

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Then we hopped on the train back to London for an afternoon at the British Museum.  But first we were in need of lunch.  Checking out my trusty Frommer’s guide, we sought out Hakkasan (8 Hanway Place), a high-class creation by Alan Yau, creator of the giant Wagamama chain that we had visited in Bath.  As it turns out, though tucked away in a back alley in a basement, Hakkasan is currently ranked #17 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list by Restaurant magazine.  Considering the fact that I have never visited any of the exclusive establishments on the list (only 8 in the US), this was an exciting adventure for me.

Hakkasan exterior:

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The sign for Hakkasan is so small at the end of this alley that we almost missed it.  Though the entrance is unassuming (to put it nicely), descend the stairs and you’ll find yourself in a trendy and stylish space.

Hakkasan reception area:

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Luckily for us, Hakkasan serves dim sum during lunch hour as we were not travelers with a £60/person/meal budget.  Most small dim sum plates range from £4 to £9, definitely more affordable.  Here are the dishes we sampled:

Mango Spring Roll and Braised Duck Roll with Winter Bamboo Shoot

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The crispy mango spring rolls, filled with large prawns and scallops, had a great texture.  However, I found it odd that it was served with mayonnaise instead of a soy-based dipping sauce.  I think I actually liked the shrimp roll with a soy-vinegar shallot sauce at Babe’s Noodle Bar in Playa del Carmen better.  The braised duck rolls were decadent.  Rich, but not too fatty, in a mild, semi-sweet sauce next to flavorful shiitake mushrooms wrapped in a soft and chewey rice-flour shell with the surprise crunch of the bamboo shoot.

Char-Siu and Mui Choi Cheung Fun

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This is basically Chinese BBQ pork wrapped in a thin rice-flour sheet.  I did enjoy how the pork pieces were just the right size to manage, not in chunks like they are at most dim sum restaurants I’ve been to.  The sauce was similar to a char-siu roast sauce, but slightly less sweet.  This was my companion’s favorite dish as he is a huge fan of Chinese BBQ pork.

“Creme Brulee”

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I put the name in quotes because it’s more like a custard since the dessert is not torched like a creme brulee.  Inside the custard, chunks of fruit like mango slices and melon balls give it some excitement.  The lace basket cookies on top were a nice touch. 

It was a light lunch since we were planning on going to proper afternoon tea that day.  And at £23, it was a relatively economical way to satisfy a fanciful whim.  We certainly didn’t dress appropriate for this outing, though.  Surrounded by trendy Chanel and D&G donners, our request for “the free water” seemed ridiculously out of place (everyone else was drinking beer, wine, champagne, or Voss).  Oops.

We spent the afternoon goofing around the British Museum, which can be exhausting as the place is huge. 

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My feet were screaming at me after seeing about a third of the museum.  It was time for a tea break.

Perched on the third level in the middle of the main atrium, the Court inside the British Museum serves their modern version of proper English afternoon tea for £10 per person.  It’s not as ritzy or formal as the version at the Ritz Carlton, but the location and the view are hard to beat. 

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Crustless fingerling sandwiches (one with ham, mayonnaise, and tomato, one with cucumber and herbed cream cheese, and one with smoked salmon and butter) and scones with raisins served with raspberry preserves and clotted cream.  You get your choice of teas (I chose traditional afternoon blend) and sugars:

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The selection of four different sugars was amusing, though I did find the cubed brown sugar the most easily dissolvable in the tea (available at Central Market).  I found the whole experience fanciful and delightiful, or maybe that’s just the caffeine, sugar, butter, and cream talking (afternoon tea is not exactly a diet snack).

After wandering around the British museum until closing time, we found ourselves having a couple of pints right across the street at the Museum Tavern.  It’s a lovely, low key kind of place, not overrun with tourists as one would expect.

For dinner, we had reservations at Launceston Place (1 Launceston Pl) to celebrate one of our host’s birthday.  We did a little planning ahead and booked a table for London Restaurant Week, meaning that a 3-course dinner with a glass of bubbly is £25.  Launceston Place bills its cuisine as modern British and the Restaurant Week menu certainly followed suit.

Appetizers: Fennel Soup with Fried Oyster or Grilled Sardines with Fennel and Ginger

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Of these two, I had the creamy fennel soup which I really enjoyed.  The oyster toppers were another story.  Though the batter was airy and light (similar to the batter used on fish & chips), the oysters themselves were tasteless.  I’m not a big fan of oysters anyway, and this dish only added to my aversion.  I had a couple of bites of the grilled sardines, which had a nice, light flavor, but were difficult to eat because of the hard to see bones (restaurant was dimly lit).

Entrees: Breast of Guinea Fowl with Gnocchi, Mushrooms, and Madeira or Sea-Bass with Mussel and Saffron Relish

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My companion and I went half/half on these dishes, so I got a good feel for both.  The madeira sauce was a great complement to the tender, juicy guinea fowl but the gnocchi were hard and flavorless.  I guess there’s a reason why they’re usually served in a thicker sauce.  The fish entree was good, but the saffron sauce didn’t really stand out (tasted almost like the grilled sardines appetizer).

Dessert: Chocolate Mousse or Lemon Cheesecake (not pictured):

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The chocolate mousse was decadent and dense, much more dense than one would expect from the “mousse” misnomer.  Dense or light, the intense chocolate flavor was a dream for a chocoholic.  The roasted figs added a great accent flavor.  The lemon cheesecake, ironically, was light and airy and delicious.  Perhaps they should’ve named it lemon mousse.

Our third day in London took us through some fancier fares, all thoroughly enjoyable but none easy on the pocketbook.  After a long day, it was time to get in a good night’s sleep.  Tomorrow we head for Scotland.

Onto Day 6  

Back to Day 4

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