Four years ago minus one kid, we had a successful trip to Europe with my sister. So, when we learned that she would be living in England for a year, we saw another opportunity (or excuse) for an adventure. The Queen is not as popular as Harry Potter at our house, so a visit to the Warner Bros. Studio came before the Buckingham Palace in our plans. Our youngest is only 9 months old, so apart from this major attraction (Harry Potter, not the Queen), we tempered our ambitions and our schedule was pretty loose. The Warner Studio was way worth the 4 hours we spent there – and my 8-year-old son could have stayed another 4 days just soaking it all in over butter beer.
My husband had one request: to meet up with a childhood friend and introduce the families, which we did over an old-school Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury, Ciao Bella. With traditional Italian fare, big portions and reasonable prices, we met/caught up with friends and were ready for playground time at Coram’s Fields, a park with a small zoo, good ice cream and an aerial slide (small children’s version of a zip line). What else could we ask for? With nothing else on the agenda, I was free to venture into my food explorations, with some sightseeing in between.
We booked an Airbnb in Pimlico, a very walkable, quiet, residential neighborhood, full of charming restaurants and walking distance to some of the major historical attractions. Our first discovery was Cacio & Pepe, a relatively new restaurant with a cozy, modern atmosphere, where I had this perfectly silky, egg-y tasting fresh pasta, their signature dish: tagliolini Cacio & Pepe, obviously. In fact, my sister had the real thing – hot al dente pasta with cheese and pepper served in a crisp parmesan basket. My husband and I just scraped the kids plates after eating our own dishes, a habit I have been trying to stop for years (my husband is happy with his habit as he cycles to work). This time I was glad I finished their food. The kiddy version had no basket and was lighter on the pepper, but still fantastic. The kids themselves went hungry, unfortunately, passed out from the jet lag on the comfortable little sofas in the privacy of our table. At least we burned some of those late night carbohydrates carrying them back to the apartment a few blocks away.
Still adjusting from the jet lag, the next day we had the slowest morning and ended up getting out in time to find lunch before our walk to Buckingham Palace. We stumbled upon the most charming little deli, Delizie D’Italia. Around since 1925 and renovated about six months ago, it offers a combination of paninis, prepared dishes, a selection of Italian sausages and other Italian desserts and produce, along with good coffee and friendly service. With a few small tables outside, it was the perfect place to let the children play on the sidewalk while we fed the baby in slow pace. After the instant coffee I had attempted to drink in the morning, this place was our heaven. Our excitement over good coffee & canolis must have been visible, since the waiter brought our kids their complimentary kiddy pretend coffee (warm milk with a dust of cocoa), which brought instant smiles to their faces.
After strolling around the Palace and Geen Park, we found ourselves in front of the beautiful window displays of Fortnum & Mason, inspired on the movie Alice Through The Looking Glass. I took a little brake from the family to wonder around inside this beautiful English institution from 1707 where I found everything from chocolates, teas, a bakery, wine bar, ice cream parlor, restaurants, and much, much more. And then I remembered I had a husband and three kids to find on the street and ran. We finally made it to Soho where we were very tempted to dine in one of the many charming adult-like options in the area, but decided to call it quits and retreat back to Pimlico for dinner, avoiding exhausted kids in the wrong places, just in case. And we scored again. At Khallouk & Taylor we found a delicious version of our go-to four cheese pizza for the kids and a bresaola one, with spiced olive oil, in a cozy and perfect environment to wind down over Italian beer.
By the next day, I was dying to hit the Borough Market and try some British foods, since until then I could have been in Italy… We arrived with hungry bellies and ready to try stuff. My husband took 2 seconds to settle for a sandwich from the Roast Hog, after watching that whole pig being sliced on the spit before his eyes. We would not last as vegetarians… A pig marinated with rosemary, fennel and garlic, roasted for 5 hours and served with a generous piece of crunchy crackling on a bun… I think my husband made an excellent choice. The kids decided that pork skin is their new favorite, next to bacon. I did not walk much further and picked the slow roasted lamb and salad box from Cumbrian Specialty Meats, where I learned that Herdwick is the name given to lamb from pure-bred sheep from the region of Cumbria, in the North West of England. Top quality meat with a gamey flavor, roasted, pulled and served with salad and a cucumber yogurt sauce. Not convincing enough to my children, so they picked the “cheese and more cheese” pastries from Balkan Bites, but decided they were too cheesy (is there such thing?). We still had room for ice cream, and at the Greedy Goat we tried the pistachio and strawberry flavors and the chocolate milkshake, which my son described as a “cold hot chocolate”. Made with high quality British chocolate and goat’s milk, it is healthier, easier to digest and delicious! On our way out we picked up some venison pie from the Pie Minister for dinner, a couple of fine English cheeses at Alsop & Walker as gifts for my cheese lover sister (and ourselves, really) and drooled outside of Wright Brothers where we wanted to stop for oysters and a pint but could not physically fit three kids inside. We finished off at The Anchor, but not at the adorable roof garden – every single table was smoking – but at their larger seating area by the river, which was perfectly good for a quick rest and a pint. We combined a few hours at the market with an afternoon of walking over the Tower Bridge and the Tower Castle, which with the rare beautiful weather that we had, had the most spectacular views of the city and of the skyline of London.
On our final day, before catching the train to Birmingham to meet up with my sister again and continue our trip, we had time for just one more stop. We wanted it to be The British Library or the British Museum, not far from Euston Station, but opted for a quick visit to Kings’ Cross train station, for the amusement of our little Harry Potter fans – that’s where Harry’s cart goes through the brick wall at Platform 9 ¾ is. Kids happy, it was time for a quick bite. Right in front of the station there was a good selection of artisan food vendors, to my delight! The Real Food Market had a great variety of foods, and we had little time to eat, unfortunately. We tried the traditional scotch eggs from Hartland Pies (which I suspect would have been a lot more flavorful served hot), a super moist vegetable and goat cheese savory muffin from the Flour Station, a rich and syrupy salted caramel brownie from Bad Brownie (voted the best in London at the Chocolate Festival in 2014!) and, last, but not least: more canolis. The crispy little shells beautifully filled on the spot with pistachio and ricotta creams and chocolate were really meant to visit my sister in Birmingham, but, sadly, they disappeared on the train… I never told her that story. Well, she is just a little train ride away.
Next stop: Copenhagen!