Food has always been one of the greatest loves of my life. Even before it was my job, it consumed 99% of my thoughts. I would finish breakfast and think about what was for lunch. I would sit at my desk dreaming about what I was going to cook for dinner. It is not just the concept of eating delicious things that I love – and trust me, I do – but the ways in which food relates to people. The camaraderie of coming together for a good meal, the stories dishes and ingredients tell, the joy of pottering away in a kitchen with the people you love.
When I go travelling, I see food as an integral part of the trip. Restaurants, street-food stalls and bars are as important to the fabric of a city as its people, its architecture and its museums. So, in advance of our trip to New York, it was fair to say I’d done a fair bit of planning, mapping and booking. The Big Apple is often lauded as one of the greatest culinary cities in the world – and I think it’s safe to say we dug out a fair few of its best spots. But what it mainly taught me is how good we have it in London.
Although, I did see out our trip to NYC in pretty good style. There was a post-ferry ride Dunkin Donut (chocolate donut with plain glaze, obviously), dangerous in its ease and glut. A quick visit to iconic cocktail bar The Dead Rabbit offered a decent dose of Irish nostalgia and also a beauty of an Irish coffee espresso martini (and I have a fair few to compare it to). Los Tacos No.1 and its sister joint, Los Mariscos, were an absolute highlight of our trip. The tortillas were sturdy enough to hold up against the various juices and sauces and the fillings were classic in the absolute best of ways. It’s the kind of thing you’ll hoover standing up being vaguely jostled by other diners and ultimately leave desperately happy regardless.
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We made it to Win Son in Brooklyn for dinner – a delightful Taiwanese-influenced spot that came highly recommended. It was great, and exactly the kind of restaurant I think London is missing. A pile of guohua jie salad was a textural powerhouse, little nuggets of smoked tofu throughout adding an extremely satisfying touch. The egg bomb, filled with beef tartare, was punchy and crunchy and all things good. Wavy noodles with lamb and fermented bean sauce, meanwhile, was a dish I still think about all this time later. Simple but so damn good.
Breakfast sandwiches abounded, with a favourite being the bacon, egg and cheese we scoffed from Daily Provisions on our 50 block walk to Central Park. It was necessary fuel, filled with crispy, salty slabs of bacon, a sunshine yolk of an egg and a slice of cheese to meld it all together. A whopper of a breakfast bun from Frankel’s Delicatessen soothed our hangovers, but the addition of silky scrambled eggs meant it was a little too soft in comparison to the crunchy delight from the day before. The best by far, however, was hardly a breakfast sandwich at all.
On an unassuming street in the East Village sits Sunny & Annie’s, a corner shop that is so much more than just a place to stock up on loo roll. Wander inside and you’ll find a sandwich list long enough to rival any major chain, but the key order – “the move”, as food writer Jonathan Nunn so coined it – is the Pho #1. The pho connection is tenuous at best, it’s more of an Asian-accented roast beef sandwich, but god it’s good. Piled high with a mass of beef, avocado, slices of tomato, red onion, spinach, herbs, bean sprouts, hoisin sauce and sriracha, the finished result is a monstrous mass of carbohydrates that you would expect to disintegrate the moment you try to eat it yet somehow holds its integrity.
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Other highlights included Bamontes, a very old school red sauce-heavy Italian joint in Williamsburg that looks like every stereotypical American-Italian restaurant featured in any movie ever. Plates of pasta were enormous enough to feed a small village, and a gargantuan dish of fried calamari could have happily satiated four hungry adults. It was perfection. Thai Diner was equally as impressive. I ate the best laab I’ve had in years (rife with the gratifying subtle crunch of powdered toasted rice) and a crab fried rice that has lingered in my memory.
The bar at Momofuku Ko was a great way to dip a toe into David Chang’s empire without forking out for the entire tasting menu (and getting to gnaw at the infamous cold fried chicken which, let’s just say, is notorious for good reason). Tokyo Record Bar was a mad, fever dream of an evening where the food was aeons better than the music taste of our fellow diners. My favourite breakfast was had at Wu’s Wonton King, where we ate too many dumplings among enormous tables of friends and families celebrating Easter Sunday, and my second favourite pizza slice was eaten at L’Industrie in Williamsburg, where toppings like burrata break from the classic NYC slice tradition.
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I found joy and a necessary seat in Katana Kitten, a bar that holds its place on the World’s 50 Best list for good reason. And our trip finished off on an unseasonably frigid day with a warming bowl of ramen at Ivan Ramen of Netflix’s Chef’s Table fame. I was half expecting it to be a bit of a let down, but what we discovered was the exact opposite – a piping hot bowl of goodness that even had my soup-averse dining partner slurping happily.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the fog of living somewhere, and there’s nothing like a bit of a break to make the heart grow fonder. Racking up so many steps in New York encouraged me to do more of the same in London, swapping tube trips for strolls in the sun when I have the time (and when it’s dry). I’ve had more moments since our trip of thinking London is the greatest city in the world than I ever have before. There was one strolling along the banks of the Thames on a balmy evening, another huddling around a table at Supa Ya Ramen, a third sitting outside at 40 Maltby Street, desperately trying to pretend it was warm enough to do so. I always treat food with such seriousness when visiting somewhere I’ve never been before, marvelling in its newness. Eating in one of the greatest cities in the world taught me to do the same on home turf – and here, more than ever, we are spoiled for choice.