Tuesday, October 5, 2010

London Trip - Day 2

I had every intention of getting out of bed really early (like around 5:45 am) on the morning of Day 2 to check out the action at London's historic Smithfield Market, which has been the city's main wholesale site for butchered meat for about 800 years. Similar to Tsukiji (the giant fish market) in Tokyo, tourists are advised to get there at the crack of dawn, when business is at its peak. Unfortunately, jet jag intervened, waking up both me and Mrs. Hackknife in the middle of the night and rendering me pretty much useless until around 7:30. By the time I managed to haul my bedraggled carcass to the market complex, the place was nearly deserted (I did see a few hanging pigs, though). Discouraged, but not surprised, I stopped in at Smith of Smithfield restaurant, a hip meat-focused eatery across the street from the market to grab a quick breakfast before heading out on my main sightseeing junket. I was lucky to get a table as it was packed with young, mostly professional-looking Londoners having a bite to eat prior to the Friday workday. I ordered what was called a "bacon butty", really just a couple of pieces of English bacon (leaner, not so crispy) between two slices of thick, crusty white bread, plus a banana smoothie and an orange juice. All three of these items were mediocre at best and didn't really provide me much other than basic sustenance to help climb the 500-odd steps to the very top of St. Paul's Cathedral later that morning. Equally uninspiring was the cottage pie lunch special I had at the historic Lamb and Flag pub, which apparently is a better place to drink than eat.

So, by the time that Friday evening rolled around, I was in major need of culinary redemption. Mrs. Hackknife and I headed over to Brick Lane, ground zero for London's Indian and Bangladeshi communities, seeking a good place for dinner. The neighborhood was definitely a little rougher around the edges than most of the places we'd visited thus far. The street was lined with hawkers trying to entice visitors into their restaurants with promises of the best Indian meal in town. My guidebook (which had yet to steer me wrong) recommended The Shampan (79 Brick Lane), which was hawker-free (a good sign) and practically empty (not a good sign) when we arrived. As with the night before, I ordered a combo meal to get a good sampling of several dishes, this time with a focus on Bangladeshi food. After our starter plate of samosas (which were very good), I was presented with the behemoth that you see on a platter in Picture 1 above. All of it (with the exception of the yogurt, easily identifiable at about 2 o'clock on the plate) was delicious. Alas, the restaurant has no website for me to reference a menu after the fact and I did not take any notes about what I was eating (probably taboo for someone who has a food blog - my sincerest apologies), so I'm afraid I can't provide anything but a vague description of the dishes (note - if it makes you feel better, I'm not sure that I could really tell you what they were even while I was in the middle of the meal). There was a roasted, mostly whole fish with crispy onions (lower left), a bowl of tasty rice (middle), the ubiquitous flatbread, the aforementioned yogurt, a spicy lamb dish, chicken dish, and vegetable dish, washed down with a Cobra beer. No dessert necessary, my friends, as Mrs. Hackknife returned to the hotel and I headed out to catch some bad League 1 soccer (Leyton Orient hosting Brentford), belly full enough to avoid the ever-present meat pies and pasties on the menu at the game.

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