London: Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates

The Islington shopThere are now two locations.

Ever since Ann and Jonathan moved to the other side of north London, I’ve gotten to know Islington better and better. One store that I insist on returning to each time I pass through is this little treasure box of chocolates, located on a cobblestone pedestrian side street off of Upper Street. The hours the store stays open are frustratingly few, but well worth the accommodation of my schedule.

Chocolates spiced with all sorts of strange flavors — chilies, cinnamon, lime, salt, lavender, ginger, to name a few — sit in neat little piles on pedestals placed around the cream-colored shop. They don’t offer as many samples as I would like, but I’m willing to take a chance on some of the options, like saffron and honey.

According to the website, a shop has recently opened up in the east end. Since most visitors to London tend not to make the effort to find Islington, the shop in the City is worth the effort to find.

London: Very good, relatively inexpensive, quick lunch

img_9743.jpgThere is no getting around it, if the dollar is your currency, it is impossible to eat cheaply and well in London. Moving into the realm of relativity, among the best, healthiest, and least expensive food in London can be found in a new chain of small restaurants called Leon. Vaguely Mediterranean dishes like vegetable salads with or without chicken, delicious lamb meatballs in a dense tomato sauce, sweet potato falafel, and freshly squeezed fruit juices occupy center stage on the menu. Don’t expect fine dining. But if you out and about, with children, feeling peckish, Leon’s is far better than most places you have to choose from. The one pictured here is near Liberty’s, but you’ll easily find their exact locations if you google “Leon London”.

London: Good Italian Grocery in Soho

img_9739.jpgAlmost no one takes my word when I say the best food shopping in Europe can be found in the United Kingdom. You have to go to Britain and discover it for yourself. The British understand sustainable agriculture and organic food better than any other European people and better than Americans. I am amazed at the quality and variety of food to be found even in mainstream — albeit up-market — supermarkets like Waitrose. It’s only there that you’ll understand how well the British have mastered the mass production of tasty, healthy take-out food.

But shopping on a small scale remains the single most appealing aspect of food culture in London. Farmers’ markets in Marylebone and Church St. make me wonder why our farmers’ markets at home don’t offer a similar variety of fresh cheeses, pork, lamb, and vegetables. Borough Market, a huge open-air food hall open on Friday afternoons and all day Saturdays, located on the south bank between London Bridge and Southwark, fits anyone’s idea of a fantasy food market: acres of tables covered with oysters, breads, cheeses, vegetables, and prepared food with samples available everywhere. The mushroom stall alone makes the visit worthwhile. It’s a foodie’s Disneyland.

The neighborhood of Soho mixes old respected food shops like the Italian grocer, Lina Stores Ltd., with sex shops, cafés, and jazz clubs. When I accompany Ann here for veal-stuffed ravioli, polenta, cured meats, and parmesan, the Italian owners always bring an ameretto biscotto around to the front of the counter for one-year-old Ava. Lina’s is by no means the only Italian grocer in Soho, but Ann has to come to prefer it to the others.

You’ll find Lina & Co. on Brewer St. near Wardour St.