I am an extremely lucky woman in two or three senses, these days. I have gotten to visit London over the winter break when I would never have expected to go, thanks to a snap decision of my husband’s, and my husband and daughter actually enjoyed themselves. Despite the cold (it was colder than it had been in 10 years, people said). Despite the fact that even with the British pound down against the dollar, it still trades at $1.60 per when you get there, so you’d better be sparing with those restaurants. Despite the fact that many of the museums and restaurants were closed New Year’s Day and that we didn’t really leave the hotel room until nearly noon because we were jetlagged. There were a Waitrose grocery store (surprisingly good, with fruit and inexpensive serious breads and Greek yogurt and so on) and a Tube station on our block–and a French bakery. And a Starbucks, just in case.
On New Year’s Day we saw some pretty good paintings and lots of really silly gilt-trimmed furniture AND a diamond tiara with a huge purplish ruby in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace–and the guards at the palace gates (and two policemen in lime green jackets and assault rifles pacing the grounds for backup). The Queen was in residence and scheduled to announce all the orders of the British empire and so on. I don’t think she heard us snickering at all the gilded couches.
We stayed longer than we expected to and then walked to St. James’ Square for no great reason except it was equipped with a Tube station. But we were starting to get hungry and had no clue where to eat. Nothing was open at 4 p.m. but a dismal-looking Pizza Express, or so it looked to us. Then I caught sight of the sign next door. It was an actual Italian restaurant, Colosseo, and it was full. A lot of the customers were Italian–somehow it seemed like a good sign. And it was.
They served us savory-sweet pumpkin-filled tortelloni in saffron cream and a slab of just-right grilled salmon on a bed of arugula with sautéed porcini and a small drizzle of truffle oil on top. And a cheese pizza which our daughter, who often leaves such things half-eaten, rolled up her sleeves to finish, declaring it better than any of the ones she’d eaten at home (Oh, lovely, I retorted. But it was probably true).
It was all wonderful, in fact, despite the fact that the olives in the salad were the rubbery flavorless black kind and the lettuce was iceberg. But you know, it was kind of homey that way–the kind of salad you would have gotten anywhere in the South when I was a kid. I don’t think we appreciate how deeply the food revolution has affected our expectations in America. And it made the quality of the main dishes stand out even more.
If it was odd to be eating supper at 4 p.m., we wrote it down to jetlag and an early sunset at such high latitudes. We were too full for dessert or coffee, so as we waited for our check–which only came to about 40 pounds with a tip, much much better than we would have expected for the quality of the food–we looked around us at what the other patrons were eating. One typical pair in hornrims and skinny jeans had a huge bowl of one of the 20 or so pasta dishes, the aforementioned wimpy salad, and on the side, a huge pizza with slabs of ham like playing cards baked into it for balance, and they showed no signs of stopping either their forks or their philosophical argument. We couldn’t blame them.
For my part, the time spent roaming around London and its museums every day meant I came home to another good surprise–five pounds down without really trying. And the dishes I’d left behind hadn’t actually scuttled away–not too far, anyhow.
Still. I would want to try making some of Colosseo’s food at home. The pumpkin tortelloni might be a challenge, unless you can find it ready-made someplace local to you. But the salmon is quite doable at home–though for my taste I’d leave off the truffle oil, which I find a little too cloyingly sulfurous (okay, cloying is the wrong word for a savory but still), and substitute a little toasted sesame oil or a drizzle of vinaigrette, something to cut the richness of the salmon. Hey, the dollar is still down against the euro.