About 20 years ago, there was a billboard perched off the the 91 Freeway near the Wilmington Avenue off-ramp that read, in big, bold letters, "COMPTON...WE'RE MAKING IT BETTER".
You know a place has to be bad for that to be said. You'd never see a sign in Holmby Hills proclaiming that.
London, England is a place you hear a version of that when it comes to the food and restaurants. Lines like "London's dining scene is so much better now" and the like are common. For a recent week, Nancy Silverton commandeered a restaurant in the Shoreditch neighborhood called Passo and we had the opportunity to taste and test this theory that the food in London is better than ever. I don't know how it used to be, but the food, while maybe not on a Los Angeles level, had many outstanding moments. Here is a list of the top 10 dishes of the trip
11. Lamb shawarma at Berber & Q Shawarma Bar on Oxmouth Market. Everything we had at this small Lebanese restaurant was very tasty, but it was this lamb sandwich - the tender chunks of meat sliced from a vertical spit, the harissa, the pita fresh and soft - that keep me coming back. Twice I brought the Mozza crew shawarmas - lamb chicken, beef and cauliflower- from here for their after-shift, midnight meal.
10. Meat Pies from Fortnum and Mason on PIccadilly - One night after-shift meal was about !50 pound of chicken, beef, rabbit, game and vegetables pies from this multi-floored place that could be described as pretty, especially the candy and jam ground floor. Do not go their hungry. The pastry crust on these hearty pies were thick, but flaky. Their regular chicken pot pie makes a Swanson's chicken pot pie taste like something that should be doing community service along the Harbor Freeway.
This place has been in business since 1707.. (Not a typo)
9. Original Lehore - This Pakistani kebab house in St John's Wood that bills itself as serving authentic Punjabi cuisine since 1970 was awarded - at least for the first 40 minutes of out visit - as having a level of service that was less attentive and caring than the prison guards at Folsom.
It wasn't even that is was bad service, it was that it didn't exist. Twice I had to get up and ask for a wine opener, and don't get me started on how many times I asked for ice. I stared to wonder if there was ice in Pakistan
But, once the lamb and chicken tikas and the lamb biryani showed up, the service was forgotten and the feast began.
8. Chicken Cottage , City Road branch - One particular long continuous lunch and dinner shift that last nearly 12 hours left the crew tired, cranky and middle-class starving. I walked to the Old Road underground "Tube", station, dipped in and emerged on the other side of a roundabout where the fast food restaurant Chicken Cottage was dishing it out. I asked "What's the best thing here?" Fried chicken and grilled chicken, I was told and ordered both.
Back at Passo, the staff greeted my arrival like I was Admiral Lord Nelson returning from the magnificent victory over the Spanish and French fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. (That is a exaggeration, but it was a lot fun to write)
They loved the chicken, especially the spicy grilled version. What i spend on meat pies, i made up her as the shabang cost less than 10 pounds.
There are several Chicken Cottages, but this one is at 125 City Rd, Hoxton, London EC1V 1JB, UK
7. Turbot at Brat on Redchurch Street - Brat is kinda like slang for turbot, so it makes sense it was the star of our lunch here last Saturday. Chef Tomos Parry slow-cooks the turbot on the charcoal grill and it comes out succulent with a delicate flavor and a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt. April Bloomfield recommended this place so we knew it was gonna be good.
6. Sweet Potato with Miso Butter at Foley's - Nancy had built this side dish up to just about mythical levels as she had it on a December trip here. It lived up. We had a memorable times at this Fitzrovia favorite where chef Budgie Montoya blends Asian flavors with European technique. The charred broccoli, the banana leaf roasted sea bass with chili brown butter, the char su lamb, and many other dishes of chef were all very good, but it is that sweet potato that i crave right now. Special thanks to Budgie who feed us like we had just returned from that Battle of Trafalgar mentioned above.
5. Cheese Plate at St. John Restaurant, Smithfield - St. John is one of London's most acclaimed restaurants, Owned by chef Fergus Hendersona and Trevor Gulliver, it is known for offal, those less than glamorous part of animals. But, St John's variety of the English blue cheese Stilton, here called Stichelton, is, well, just get it if you go here. It's intense and dense. It could single-handedly propel the United Kingdom to qualify for the World Cup of Cheese. They wouldn't win, but just getting to compete says a lot. This Stichelton is also available at Neal's Yard Diary cheese store at Borough Market. That's even where the restaurant gets theirs.
https://stjohnrestaurant.com/a/restaurants/smithfield Here;s the link to Neal's Yard Dairy. https://www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk/shop-finder/neals-yard-dairy-borough-market-shop/
4. Toastie at Kappacasein next to Borough Market - Just outside the entrance to that charming collection of food stalls known at Borough Market, is this stand that has a mound of freshly grated Montgomery cheddar cheese on view that people stop and stare at. It's time for a "toastie", known in America as a grilled cheese sandwich. But, what made me have to have one was the bread, It is from Poilane Bakery in Paris. You could put anything legally classified as food between two slices of Poilane, and I'm in. Here's to Kappacasein and its owner Bill Oglethorpe
3. Cheese Stick at Ottolenghi in Islington - The best cheese stick I have ever had. Worth taking the Tube to the Heart station and walking nearly a mile just to get it. I brought one, along with several desserts and some side dishes, paid and left. A half block away, I took one bite of the cheese stick and stopped cold. I spun around and went back. The cashier lady said "Is something wrong?". I said "Yeah, I need more cheese sticks." There was four left, I took three. I didn't want to be that guy that denied everybody else.
2. Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce, St John - The color alone of the butterscotch sauce at St, John would get this dish in the top 25. The best bread pudding. I mean, look at that thing. Should I eat it or put it up at the Tate Modern?
1. Shoulder and Leg of Lamb at Nuala, - For our last meal, a Sunday Roast, our charming host, John Michael Sookias, the man in charge of and responsible for bringing Nancy to London and to Passo, took us to Nuala, a restaurant we walked by everyday and never considered going. Too bad. We walked in and knew right off something good was going on at this place named after a female of Irish mythology. . Above large open fired hung two glistening legs and shoulders of lamb.. When the leg came to the table, accompanied by a mound of lamb shoulder meat, that might have even been better than the leg, well, it was the best way to end our dining experience in London.
I could have made this list up of solely dishes I ate at Passo, but they were all Nancy Silverton dishes from Mozza served at the pop up at Passo. I didn't get a chance to have any of the food normally served at Passo, but if they have the good taste to bring Mozza to London, then I'm betting it's, as Det. McNulty says, spot on.
Yes, they are making it better in London. And, I guess, compared to the old days, they making Compton better, too.