Category Archives: london

London on the Cheap

Budgeting for a vacation in Europe is tough. The plane tickets are enough of an investment, and once you’re there, the weak dollar means even a “bargain” is comically expensive.

Here are a few ways we managed to get out of London without going broke:

1. Museums, museums, museums! Most of the museums in London are free, and there are enough to provide days of sightseeing. We saw the Wallace Collection, the Victoria and Albert, the Natural History Museum, the Tate Modern, and the National Gallery. And we only had time to see a small part of their enormous collections.

2. Cheap transport. Most of the time, we walked – probably at least 5 miles a day. But we also bought Oystercards, which are a LOT less expensive than cash tickets- a ride costs £1.50 instead of £4!

Belgo Centraal Beat the Clock special
Beat the Clock specials at Belgo Centraal

3. Food specials. My favorite was at Belgo Centraal, a large underground Belgian beerhall featuring robed waiters and co-ed bathrooms. Between 5 and 6:30 on weekdays, you “pay the clock” for an entree and a beer. (In other words, come at 5 and pay £5.) The dishes were great – we had wild mushroom puff pastry and roasted vegetables in a pastry shell topped by a delectable slab of goat cheese.

Another good low-priced option is The Stockpot, with affordable fixed-price and a la carte options, and the kind of food you’d imagine eating on a Sunday night at home growing up in England. The restaurant has several locations.

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A London institution since 1849, Harrods is a must-see for anyone who loves food. A good starting point is their food hall, filled with everything from tea to fresh fish and exotic fruits. The variety is astounding and the goods are laid out artfully. It’s more like a food museum than a grocery store – especially if you’re not ready to spend your entire vacation budget in one day.

After the food hall, don’t miss the chocolate bar on the second floor. We stopped by, eager to recharge after hours of walking, and I had one of my best food experiences of the vacation – a cup of traditional Italian hot chocolate. It was sweet, dark and as thick as mousse. And with the horrible exchange rate, it was over $10. But I do not regret a sip.

Harrods: A luxurious cup of Italian hot chocolate, Macarons from Laudree

Right around the corner from the chocolate bar, you can ogle kitchenware and fancy appliances.

On a later day of our trip we returned for the Laduree store which opened in Harrods a couple of years ago. Laduree is a fancy French pastry store best known for inventing the sandwiched macaron, worshipped for its perfect texture and variety of flavors. Put off by the long line for a table, we bought a box to go. An exciting part of the Laduree macaron experience is picking out a box to house the delicate pastries. I found the perfect black box and chose a variety of flavors including rose, pistachio and cassis.

London: Borough Market

One of the highlights of our trip to London was visiting Borough Market. It’s a food market on the South Bank offering a wide variety of delights, from cooking ingredients to prepared food. We went by ourselves on Friday and again on Saturday with a foodie walking tour.

I’m a cheese lover, so I was delighted to see a number of cheese vendors with plenty of samples. Among other cheeses, we tried some Caerphilly and the raw-milk version of Stilton, Stichelton.

Cheese at Borough Market in London
Stichelton, Our “foodie walking tour guide” Anna offers us Caerphilly, the legendary cheese sandwich makers at work

Hungry, we devoured a couple of sausages – first, a bratwurst from the German Deli booth and then a wild boar sausage with spicy sauce around the corner. A giant brownie was the perfect dessert, though it was hard to choose between several vendors proclaiming their brownie the best.

Sausage at Borough Market in London
A bratwurst at the German Deli stand, Wild Boar sausage with spicy sauce

Not only can you visit the vendors, but a food community has grown around the market, with stores such as Neal’s Yard Dairy and Konditor & Cook (where we had luscious hot chocolate and a fruit tart).

I already want to return to London because we failed to try the “Platonic Ideal of a Cheese Sandwich“. It seems inexcusable, but after plenty of samples, two sausages and a brownie, it was hard to convince ourselves to stand in the long line. I’d also love to stay somewhere with a kitchen so I can experience the market’s amazing vegetables and meats.

Borough Market is London’s oldest food market, dating back to at least the 13th century (it’s been in its current location for “only” 250 years). It experienced a rough patch in the 1990s, but was revisioned and revived by local food lovers and is now a great success.

Back from London

Last week, my blog was silent for a good reason – I was in London! It had been a couple of years since I’d been to Europe and it was definitely time for a trip.

I have so much to tell you about my adventures in London, but I’m really busy catching up on everything. So I’ll just leave you with a little bite – my first meal in London, eaten at a pub called The Swan. We had been wandering around for hours waiting for our hotel’s 3pm check-in, and I was feeling dizzy after a sleepless night of being sick on the plane (possibly food poisoning from an airport fruit cup – eek). This tasty beef and ale pie was nothing out of the ordinary, but it was the perfect hot, restorative meal to get me back on my feet!

Beef and Ale Pie at the Swan
Beef and ale pie (the ‘pie of the day’) at The Swan in London

Did you know that the first pies were savory and meat-filled? I guess Chicken Pot Pie is still popular in America, but for the most part, we tend to think of pies as being sweet. Check out this page on the history of the pie for more pie trivia.