Monday, July 9, 2012
Vegan On Vacation: London, England...
London is overflowing with great vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Take one look at HappyCow and you’ll see, the list is so long it’s almost overwhelming. Unfortunately my husband and I were only in London for four days, so we only got to eat at four restaurants. Four might seem like a low number to you, but my husband and I are savvy travelers. We tend to only eat two meals a day while traveling and we prefer to only have to pay for one of them. Lucky for us most hotels have a decent complimentary breakfast and so we load up with 2-3 platefuls until we’re literally bursting. Which gives us enough fuel, energy and food to last us until we grab dinner sometime between 6-9pm. If we do need a little mid-day nosh in-between we’ll often pick up fruit from a fruit seller, or a bag of nuts or some other kind of snack at a local shop. This has always been our way, and it’s a great tactic. Not only does it help spare your wallet a little but since toilets can sometimes be hard to find while traveling it saves you from being on constant lookout for a bathroom. It’s also in my opinion much better to spend most of the day walking around on a satisfied or empty stomach then on a terribly full one. You tend to feel lighter and move faster, and the faster you move the more you see. So I didn’t get to enjoy all the spoils of London that I would have liked, but, I got to enjoy enough.
First I’ll start with our hotel, because the complimentary breakfast was good enough to warrant a mention. We stayed at The Rubens at the Palace, which is at 39 Buckingham Palace Road. It’s a great location directly across the street from Buckingham Palace and only a couple minutes walk from Victoria Station (from where you can take the tube virtually anywhere.) This was the first time my husband and I have stayed in a hotel in a very long time. I always prefer to stay in Hostels because they’re cheap and have great atmosphere and they’re almost always very central to a city. I also prefer hostels because I travel light and I travel hard. What I mean by travel hard is I tend to be out all day and most of the night so I feel that paying an ungodly sum of money for a room I’ll hardly use except to sleep in is ridiculous. I may be having second thoughts on the whole hostel thing after this vacation though. The Rubens was fantastic. I can’t take credit for picking it, that was the doing of my mother-in-law. You see the first portion of our trip was another family vacation the second in 8 months but with my husbands family this time instead of mine. Anyway, I’m glad about the hotel, it was clean, comfortable, luxurious, quiet. The staff was friendly, and helpful. The bed was especially amazing after an 11 mile day, and the breakfast was more then I had hoped for.
There was much more food then I had been expecting, and mush more vegan food then I’d even dared to dream. Lots of lots of breads. The fancier ones of course were not vegan but there were plenty of grain, wheat, rye or white breads/rolls that could be enjoyed with jam or marmalade. There was toast. A large assortment of fruits. Whole apples, grapes, and bananas, then cut up fruits and fruit salads, berries, caned pears, and delicious, delicious figs. There was also a large assortment of cereals, corn flakes, bran flakes rice flakes, two different kinds of granola and something else I’m now forgetting. Also on the cereal table there was an assortment of nuts, seeds and dried fruits that could be sprinkled over top, and they even had soy milk! So of course I took advantage, I had wheat toast with delicious black current jam, a huge bowl of fruit loaded with figs, and 2 large bowls of granola with soy milk and all the toppings. My husband had roughly the same and with that we were set for the day. There was of course another counter that had vegetarian items like waffles, hash browns, beans - for beans and toast presumably - cut up tomatoes, and then of course the typical omnivore fare. Definitely tasty stuff, and I very much appreciated starting my day with a good cup of English tea.
Our first night we didn’t eat dinner until quite late, and I am entirely to blame for that. I had unfortunately not been feeling all that well since getting off the plane, and in an attempt to prevent myself from feeling worse I decided to abstain from eating all day. Not only was I suffering the misery of cramps but my stomach also just didn’t feel quite right, but I soldiered on. We had a busy day of exploring Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Parliament, St. James Park, The London Eye - which we didn’t go up in because the line was ridiculous, and it’s a little too touristy for my liking anyway, - Trafalgar’s Square, and various other streets of London.
We eventually found ourselves in Leicester Square, starving at around eight. I was feeling much better by then and I’m glad because we went to a Vegetarian South Indian restaurant called Woodlands. It’s a small place, but very stylish and comfortable inside, and the menu offers a wide range of dishes. It’s a vegetarian place not vegan, but they do have vegan options so be sure to ask if you’re not familiar with Indian food, they’re more then happy to help. I can’t for the life of me remember everything we ordered but I know we got Samosa. I have never actually eaten in a South Indian restaurant before because most of the Indian places around here are North Indian, some have a bit of a mix of both cuisines but it’s typically only a couple of popular dishes, so this was an experience. One that I loved. Virtually everything on the menu was new to me and I loved it. I think we had a sambar, and I think I ordered a spinach Dosa but I can’t exactly remember. There have been too many weeks and too many restaurants in-between but I do remember that the food was amazing. I loved everything we ordered and ate it with relish. I also ordered a delicious cup of peppermint tea that was made with actual fresh mint leaves, rather then a tea bag or even dried loose tea. That was interesting, and so much more delicious then I was expecting it to be. I highly recommend this place, so if you’re in the neighborhood and you’re in the mood for some good South Indian cuisine stop on by. On the price scale I’d say it was pretty average. It did happen to be our most expensive dinner in London though.
Woodlands - Leicester Square Location - 37 Panton Street (at Leicester Square Underground Station)
Our second day was just as jam-packed and I’m happy to say I was feeling 100% better. Again we loaded up on breakfast and then headed for St John’s Wood to pay Abbey Road a visit. I was born a Beatles fan thanks to my dad, and so any trip to London simply wouldn’t be complete without paying a visit. Abbey Road was easy enough to get to, but if you go you may be surprised at how small it is. It’s much smaller then I imagined it would be anyhow, and it’s in this really peaceful neighborhood. Unfortunately it was full of a bus-load of silly tourists who couldn’t get their shit together fast enough to take a picture crossing the road before an onslaught of cars came wooshing by. So unfortunately it took us sometime standing around before we were able to get our photos and pay our respects, and paint our names on the wall outside. I of course wrote not only my name, but my dad’s as well since he’s never been, and he’s the ultimate Beatles fan. By then all the tourists had gone except us and we were able to take out picture crossing the street. We tried to set it up exactly like the album cover, I was in the lead - Playing John because he has always been my favorite - My mother in law was next in line, then my husband playing Paul, he even took his shoes off for the picture in imitation, then my brother-in-law behind. The pic was snapped by my father-in-law and I must say it looks pretty good. After that we returned to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard which I thought was interesting but really over-rated and though it was interesting to see I couldn’t for the life of me fathom why so many people were going ape-shit over the whole thing. There was a lot of pushing, and bumping into one another and a lot of rudeness, that I could have very well done without. Next it was back on the tube to 221B Baker Street to visit the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes. - My husband is very much a fan, of both the books and the films. - We checked that out, I bought a cool Sherlock style hat, and then it was off to Regent’s park for a nice walk round, then to Hyde Park for another walk round and a trip to Speaker’s Corner which was an experience to say the least. After that it was back to Trafalgar’s Square where some sort of Sikh Protest was taking place, then Leicester Square, where we stumbled into the London Film Premiere of the film “Rock of Ages.” Never a dull moment in London it seems. At first we didn’t know what was going on but the square was bursting with people, and there was live music. Then we saw the stage and an actress I don’t know was being interviewed. Eventually we saw Mary J. Blige, Russell Brand, and Tom Cruise. Then it was off to Piccadilly Circus where it unfortunately began to rain. It was then that we decided to take refuge in a restaruant and get some dinner.
We headed to Tibits which was very close by. Arriving a little bit wet and very cold. Tibits is apparently part of a chain in Zurich that is the Oldest vegetarian Restaurant in Europe so I was curious to check it out. It’s on a very quiet side street, that may be a little hard to find if you’re not a native Londoner or all too savvy with a map, but it is worth looking for. It’s buffet style and you pay by weight. They have a vast assortment of hot and cold dishes, everything from salads to ethnic foods, and they even have several desserts. You can order coffees - with soy milk - or teas, - I had peppermint again and again it was made with whole fresh leaves, yum! - or other drinks of your choosing. The dishes are also clearly marked to tell you whether they are vegan or vegetarian and if they contain various allergens. This is very helpful. Each of us piled a plate high with a little bit of everything that was vegan and then made a bit of room to try each of the two vegan desserts on offer. Everything was delicious. Everything tasted fresh, not like it had been sitting around which is the feeling you get with most buffets. Everything was wonderful and the atmosphere was very peaceful. Great ambiance, lovely place to take shelter from the rain. If you’re in the neighborhood and you’re hungry I highly recommend it. Price wise, again I’d say it was pretty average, and the second most expensive meal in London.
Tibits - 12-14 Heddon Street (Off Regent Street)
After dinner we returned to Big Ben, The London Eye, and Westminster Abbey to see them lit up at night, then went on a mission in search of Tower Bridge to see that lit up at night. I am a bit obsessed with Tower Bridge, and I couldn’t really tell you why. I just think it’s one of the most beautiful bridges I’ve ever seen and I’m totally in love with it’s design. Unfortunately we got a bit turned around and lost and although we found the themes easy enough Tower Bridge was nowhere to be found. We did get to see St Paul’s Cathedral all lit up in the distance and it looked beautiful. As it was still very wet, and cold, and getting rather late by this point we decided to give up on Tower Bridge for the time being and return to our hotel.
The next day it poured rain, which at first I didn’t mind so much because I figured a trip to London wouldn’t be a trip to London without a bit of rain. By the end of the day however I could no longer feel many parts of my body and I was beyond cold. I was drenched right down to my bones through every layer of clothes. That aside, the day was quite alright. We explored St. Paul’s Cathedral, walked across Millennium Bridge and checked out Shakespear’s Globe Theater, went to The Tower of London with we thoroughly explored. I felt a real sense of sadness being there, particularly when standing over the spot in which Anne Boleyn was beheaded. You get this eerie sort of feeling walking through the halls and this sort of gloominess sets over you, which I’m sure was only encouraged by the grey skies and the rain. We also got to see Tower Bridge by day which was as lovely and magnificent in person ad it is on t.v. or in pictures. I took many pictures of it and we were even lucky enough to see it open, which I’ve been told is good luck, so I made a wish. It’s the exact same wish I make every time a situation calls for one, but no I’m not going to tell you what it is. Though I will specify that it has nothing at all to do with money. Afterwards we headed to Covent Garden for an earlier dinner then usual.
We enjoyed an absolutely fantastic meal at Sagar another Vegetarian South Indian restaurant. They have a vegan menu too so be sure to ask! The place is very small, and on a somewhat hard to find side street if you’re not a native Londoner. The way the map was set up was a bit confusing and we did at least one full circle before we actually found the place, but once there it was heaven. That atmosphere was warm and welcoming and the staff was very friendly and helpful. We ordered an appetizer the name of which I’ve now forgotten, got some sambar, and I ordered another dosa. My waiter informed me that the dosa I picked was very, very spicy and I said that was okay. We were in a rush, I wanted a dosa and I didn’t want to have to look over the menu again. I thought “How spicy could it be?” I’ve eaten plenty of spicy food before, hell I’ve made plenty of spicy food before - most of it on accident in my early days of cooking. - The food came and my Dosa was amazing, so delicious! I took several bites and didn’t feel any heat, it wasn’t till my fourth or fifth bite that it hit me, and boy he wasn’t lying about how spicy it was. It was probably one of the spiciest things I’ve ever eaten in my life. But it was so good, and I was so hungry and I gobbled it up like a champion. My husband couldn’t believe it, my expression never indicated that what I’d just eaten had been red hot, and I didn’t even break a sweat, not until the very last bite anyway. If you don’t like spicy, or are not sure if you like spicy then you should pick something else if your waiter tells you that something is spicy. If on the other hand you’re more adventurous like me, go with the spicy! It was fantastic, and probably the best food we ate in all of London, and definitely some of the best Indian food I’ve eaten in my life. The service here was also very quick which we appreciated since we were on a schedule. Had to get back to the tower by 9 for the Turning of the Keys ceremony. (Where we got to see Tower Bridge again this time by night!) Price wise this was a pretty inexpensive meal, especially for the amount of food we ate. Definitely a bargain.
Sagar - 31 Catherine Street, Covent Garden
On our last full day we filled up on breakfast and then headed out to Hyde Park again, but the opposite end from where we were at two days before. Then we headed to Kensington Gardens and then Kensington Palace. After that we just so happened to be passing by a massive Whole Foods Market on our way to the Tube and so we popped in to take a look round, and ended up buying a couple of tasty - although quite sugary - vegan cupcakes. From there we headed to Bloomsbury to see the former homes of Virginia Woolf, - Of whom I am a fan. - and Charles Dickens, - Of whom my husband is a fan. - By then we were quite hungry and so we stopped at another Indian place called The Vegetarian’s Paradise.
This is a relatively small place and it looks a bit shabby from the outside. However we were very hungry and we very much liked the sign declaring that the all you can eat dinner buffet was only 6 pounds. We decided to through caution to the wind and step inside. Despite the look of the place the food was quite good, and the staff was very friendly. They had a nice assortment of items, breads, curries, pickles, relishes, sauces, fried vegetable fritters, rice and desserts. Plenty to keep you full. The fried foods were a bit greasy which is to be expected I suppose but the curries were quite good, if under spiced. I like my Indian food to have a bit more kick, but it was perfect for my husband who likes his more mild. My only complaint other then the lack of heat is that there weren’t enough veggies. I mainly ate fried foods, rice, bread and then some curries of course but even those weren’t overflowing with veg and one of them was a dahl. However all the carbs and fat certainly didn’t hurt as I’d walked an 12 mile day that day but be warned if that’s something you’re concerned about. Price wise this was our cheapest meal in London, and for the amount of food we ate you can’t beat it that’s for sure. However I’m not sure I’d venture all the way here just to eat if I wasn’t in the neighborhood already. Though if you are walking around Bloomsbury, perhaps visiting the home of Virginia Woolf yourself, and you find yourself in need of some eats then by all means stop on by. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.
The Vegetarian’s Paradise - 59 Marchmont Street, (A short walk from the Russell Square Underground Station.)
Our last morning we filled up again on breakfast again and then headed out early. We were on a mission you see. It was a very specific mission. We needed to haunt all the tourist shops within a 2 mile radius to hunt down a stuffed Wenlock before leaving London. Wenlock for those of you who don’t know is London’s Mascot for the 2012 Olympics. When I first saw it on our second day in London I thought it was the silliest looking thing I’d ever seen. Somehow it grew on me and by the end of our visit I decided I needed a stuffed Wenlock colored to look like a Union Jack. My poor, wonderful husband took me to every shop near our hotel, and finally he found me a stuffed Wenlock in a tiny little shop right next to Victoria Station. It was the last Union Jack Wenlock and I was very happy to have him. Then we rushed back to the hotel, quicky packed, checked out and headed to the airport to catch our plane to Munich.
And now the rest of the trip will have to wait until tomorrow or possibly the next day. I hope you’ve enjoyed the first portion, and I hope if you’re in London you try one or more of the restaurants I mentioned.
PS: For those of you very curious about what a Union Jack Wenlock might look like I found the following Image using Google Images. Cute right?