London: Blue Print Café

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Design Museum, Shad Thames, SE1 2YD, website here.

I’m a sucker for museum shops and cafés. They appeal to me almost as much as the art that justifies their existence. I associate a good lunch and shopping experience with looking at art, as crass as that may sound. Occasionally, as in this case, the food and merchandise outshine the collection on exhibit.

To find the museum you take the tube to the London Bridge stop and walk along the river on the concourse known as Shad Thames, past the mayor of London’s odd office building and restored brick warehouses, to a modern white building. You enter the Blue Print Cafe either through the elevator or from the Shad Thames door. A wall of glass turns the river traffic, the Tower Bridge, and the opposite bank into an endlessly interesting exhibit that competes with the museum’s collection. Each table has binoculars for examining the river on display in more detail.

The main gastronomic discovery made here were crubeens, which are rich tasting fried patties of shredded meat from pig’s trotters, served with a grebiche sauce. A plate of smoked trout with cucumber-dill in crème fraîche, a whole pan-fried sea bream with a warm potato, shallot and caper salad in mustard vinaigrette, and two timbales of risotto, pan-seared on one end and sitting upright in a bright green spinach puree completed our ambitious lunch. All of it was very good, although we wished that our skills at de-boning a plated fish were better. We should have asked the wait staff to assist, but managed on our own.

The lunch was not cheap. Then again, nothing is in Britain. In the end, I felt it was worth it.

London: Wagamama

Various locations throughout London, available on their web site.

Noodles of any kind are my weakness. And Asian noodles have been my downfall more than once. Ever since I started passing through London, I eat ramen or udon at one of these restaurants. The one I usually go to is located in Bloomsbury near the British Museum. On this most recent trip, I discovered to my great joy that the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow has a Wagamama. Whichever one you enter, you’ll find a very urban hip wait staff — unnaturally colored hair, bared-midriffs, tatoos, edgy t-shirts — who scribble your order on your paper placemats on the long, picnic-table style tables so they can deliver your bowls of steaming soup or plate of pan-fried noodles to you and not your neighbor. In whatever form you ingest them, the noodles here are always good.