I think it's hard to not eat really well in London and Paris. Even rushing around on a business trip, I was able to find "fast" -- or pretty darn quick -- phenomenal food. I had brilliant Japanese treats on the fly, simple elegant Italian food, and every morning I had one of my favorite London treats: “porridge” (aka oatmeal in the U.S.) with fruit compote. The porridge is found at a very popular chain that is now popping up in the US, Prêt à Manger. I haven’t been to our version of the chain, but can attest that the London porridge with fruit compote is outrageous. It is my perennial pursuit to copy it exactly at home.
Another tried and true culinary source in London that everyone has heard of is Harrods. I don’t think you can get a bad meal there, let alone a bad crumb or morsel. I had the best dim sum of my life there and every morsel of food is of the highest quality and exquisite preparation.
One of the best things that has ever hit my taste buds was found in Harrods' chocolate section, which is like Disneyland for chocoholics. I didn't even make it to the Chocolate Bar upstairs! I had both of the chocolates in this photo (above). The one on the left is Dark Chocolate with Green Tea & Pistachio. Divine. But, the one on the right is breathtaking dark chocolate nirvana laced with Hibiscus & Cassis. When you bite into it, and inhale as it hits your taste buds, the warmth of the cassis goes all the way down the back of your throat and then back up to rejoin the deep rich chocolate. That is followed by a delicate flowery breeze of hibiscus. The smile didn't leave my face for at least 24 hours.
In Paris, my longtime favorite café since I lived there in 1982 is Le Loir dans la Théière (“The Dormouse in the Teapot”), decorated with “Alice in Wonderland” murals and design elements. They now have a full kitchen and make the best savory tarts on the planet. The recipes are inspired, and the many extraordinary desserts are made fresh daily.
There are several savory tart specials each day, and I always have to try one because we just don’t have anything like this in the US. This is not quiche, there are no eggs. This time it was eggplant, tomato and black olive with a delicate sprinkling of Parmesan on top. The crust had the perfect crunch due to the cheeses they had interlaced with the flour and butter. They are geniuses with crusts, whether savory or sweet.
For dessert — I can’t help it — I always have to order the lemon meringue pie, even though other deserts scream at me from the elaborate dessert buffet. The meringue is of epic height and has the texture of whipped cream when you reach the middle of the meringue tower. The lemon custard is perfectly tart and rich, and when juxtaposed to the crust has an even greater depth. The crust is perfectly sweet, salty, and textured. I have tried desperately to recreate this pie at home too.
I just realized it’s actually kind of great that I can’t recreate these international favorites exactly. That’s one of the delicious things about traveling and returning home afterward — the longing for that distant wonderland of taste.