Living in northern California, I take pride in having easy access to Peet’s Coffee. My pride crumbles to dust when I’m in London — not, you might reasonably think, the first city that comes to mind when you think coffee. The Algerian Coffee Stores (I’m not sure why the store’s name is in the plural) sells the best coffee and the best tea I’ve ever bought. Bear in mind that I’ve spent the monthly equivalent of years in Italy and Greece and still maintain that stance. I’m partial to Indonesian beans. At Peet’s, I buy either the Aged Sumatra or Garuda. At ACS, only Indian Monsoon Malabar will do. Its flavor is deep, earthy, and comforting in the morning.
The teas seem to be better than anything I can casually find in northern California. As a gift for Gary in Oakland, Ann usually buys a variety of teas — one part Darjeeling, one part Earl Grey, two parts English Breakfast or Ceylon, with a generous pinch of Lapasang — and mixes them. I’ve brought back this time some Darjeeling, first blush, and some Assam, whose delicacy I can’t find replicated at least at moderate expensive here in the U.S.
You’ll find the small shop on Old Compton Street in SoHo. Even if you’re just passing through London, stop in for an espresso. It’s a cozy, welcoming spot.
Almost 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.
Once I have bought bread and stopped at Casa della pasta for salami, bresaola, marinated artichokes, and other antipasti materials, I always stop here for patés and rillettes. It’s located a few doors west of the good boulangerie on rue Rambuteau between rue de Beaubourg and rue du Temple. The goose rillettes and the terrine de lapin à pistaches are some of the reasons I come to Paris.