9 culinary lessons learned in London (for the home cook)

One cannot expect to immerse oneself in a foreign food culture for five days straight and not have an epiphany or two afterward.

Not surprisingly, our trip to London in May was almost exclusively about the food. I observed and absorbed everything from their café culture to street market and restaurant trends. I ate and walked and ate again. I stocked up on UK food magazines for the plane ride home to continue my education.

Why? Well, while research and culinary inspiration were strong motivations for my exploration, I was also genuinely curious about what the Brits were still into (scones and clotted cream, Sunday roast), obsessing over (toast, cider), trend watching (whole bowls, ferments) and doing really well (sausage rolls, cake).

I’ve already shared what I ate during my travels in my post London Eats, and you should probably read that first, and now it’s time to share my personal takeaway/inspiration from the trip. This random listicle was pulled from notes on my phone that I had taken down for myself along the way; culinary-themed observations aimed to spark a firestorm of new recipe creations in my home kitchen.

This list isn’t exclusively British by any means (travel to Italy and you’ll also be inspired to stock a better quality olive oil), but everything was inspired by my London eats. I thought that if I could use a reminder – or an introduction – you might too.

9 culinary lessons learned in London (for the home cook)

A great olive oil goes a long way. Somewhere in the past few years, I lost my way in the olive oil department and stocked mostly ho-hum versions in my pantry. Dinner at the River Café started off with their own fresh bread and a bowl of grass-green olive oil. I had forgotten how peppery and pungent a really great olive oil can be. I’m off to the market to pick up a bottle for dressing salads and grilled vegetables this summer.

Radishes are made for roasting. See, I already knew this but I needed a reminder. My host, Julia, heaped hers on a platter, along with roasted asparagus and rapini, then served a lemon vinaigrette on the side. Simple and sensational. A recent issue of Delicious magazine roasts radishes in a brown anchovy butter. I’ll be making that very soon, I can assure you.

Few things are as good as a perfectly executed Pimm’s Cup on a hot afternoon – especially after touring an English garden. My notes to self on the plane ride home were:

  • stock up on Pimm’s No 1 and sparkling lemonade for summer.
  • Make sure the mint patch is thriving, as well as the strawberry bed.
  • Plant cucumbers.

Done, done, and done!

Date syrup is life changing. I’ve already raved about my breakfast bowl at Pride Kitchen, and I’ve since deduced that the drizzle of date syrup over the bowl was what put a relatively simple bowl of fruit and yogourt over the top. I have yet to experiment with date syrup in my own kitchen, but of course, our friends at The Kitchn have the full tutorial. You can also get the recipes for all of David’s breakfast bowls from his cookbook, Breakfast Love.

The simple goodness of panna cotta should not be discounted in lieu of flashier desserts. Dessert at the River Café revived another love of mine: a well-executed panna cotta. We rounded out our meal there with a grappa-laced panna cotta with champagne-poached rhubarb and the combination was one of the best bites of the trip. My Blood Orange Panna Cotta is an old favourite (pictured above) and I’ve been busy working on a spring variation that is coming next week.

Give (smashed) peas a chance. I have made pea purée for exactly two reasons in my life. The first was for a warm fish appetizer on the menu in one of Montreal’s top restaurants. The second was baby food. I am not currently cooking for either clientele anymore, and the thought of mushy peas had not entered my head in years – until London, where they call them ‘smashed peas’, season them correctly, and serve them as an accompaniment to fish and chips. Yes, peas!

Seek out better dairy. Double cream, full-fat yogurt, clotted cream, whole milk lattés — lactose is thriving in England and with good reason. It is really freaking delicious. It puts ours to shame.

Make time for tea and cake. Everyone else is. Afternoon tea (or coffee) is alive and well, and makes perfect sense, if you ask me. I’m singlehandedly keeping up the tradition here at home, currently with this Preserved Lemon Bundt Cake.

Sausage rolls are not scary. As it turns out, a well-made sausage roll is indeed a breakfast delicacy well-worth seeking out in London-town. And if they are hot from the oven, lightly spiced, and flaky without a hint of greasiness, (like the Sunday morning version at Lily Vanilli bakery) a sausage roll can be pretty darn fabulous. Don’t make our mistake and get merely one to share; instead get a few in a paper bag and stroll the flower market on the neighbouring lane.

Those sausage rolls are one of the many London delicacies that I need to recreate at home. Ottolenghi’s charred broccoli salad is another. The cucumber raita from Dishoom is one more.

London, you were inspiring.

What is a culinary revelation you have had recently?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Terry Kessinger says

    I love everything about this entire post! E-VER-Y-THING sounds amazing (or is a reminder that it is), and makes me want to run home to start cooking, or book a flight! Thank you 🙂

    • Oh I am so glad! Thank you Terry. I half wrote it for myself and wondered if anyone else would find my ramblings inspiring. Definitely go home and COOK!

  2. I have met many people who are put off by the very name “clotted cream”.

    Until I introduce them to home made scones served with similarly home made clotted cream and jam. Then they insist on knowing the recipe 🙂

    • Hear hear! I’ve tried to make clotted cream at home with no luck. Teach me your ways, Stuart!

      • clotted cream at home is stupid easy 🙂

        Take 1 pint (or more!) of heavy (whipping) cream. Pour it out into a wide baking dish. Put it into an oven set to 180F / 80C, and go to bed. In the morning, switch off the oven, take out the dish, and let it cool to room temp.

        Scoop off the thick cream at the top, which will leave a residual amount of still liquid cream, probably a respectable amount. This still liquid cream you can use either to make scones (yum!) or, if there’s a lot of it, redo the overnight in a cool oven and the rest *should* thicken up nicely to buttery, delicious clotted creammmmm!

  3. Oh please oh please share a great sausage roll recipe when you find one. My husband and son love those! I’m celiac so although I probably won’t attempt to make some for me, at least my family can enjoy homemade ones. It’s one of the few things I buy at Costco that is reheatable.

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