I know that Foodism is a London magazine, but having spent the better part of six days eating my way around New York, my mind is very much stuck in America. It was my first trip to the Big Apple and I made it my mission to almost competitively eat my way through it, ticking off spots I had drooled over via social media for the better part of a few years. Armed with some thoroughly vetted insights from former NYC resident and hotel food and drink powerhouse Jules Pearson and a series of saved Instagram posts and tips from friends, I boarded the plane and flew the furthest I have since the pandemic started.
But, I am getting a little ahead of myself. As this fortnight kicked off in London, markedly at Brawn – which I rate as one of the city’s best restaurants, and a place that consistently delivers no matter the occasion. Winter tomatoes arrived topped with shaved bottarga, salty capers and crisp nuggets of crouton, covered in a punchy vinaigrette. Creamy bacalhau was topped with a jammy egg and samphire for seriously satisfying scooping. It was all so good – almost as if the city was showing off exactly how wonderful it was like some jealous lover before I headed off on my trip.
It was my first trip to the Big Apple and I made it my mission to almost competitively eat my way through it
The next evening was the launch party for Acme Fire Cult at 40FT brewery, which I will need to write about after I properly visit next week because I spent far too long chatting and getting slightly woozy on deceptively strong beers that by the time I emerged, hungry and foraging for scraps, all the food had been rightfully hoovered by the other attendees (something that is hopefully a good sign of things to come).
So, my partner and I, driven by empty bellies and slightly inebriated senses, headed up to Mangal 2 for an impromptu feast. In an almost annoyingly predictable manner, the cull yaw kofte was easily the best thing we ate (will that meat ever not impress?), but the wild mushroom pide was a delight as well, piled high with feathery, meaty mushrooms that sang with a subtle nuttiness.
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Then there was an absolutely wonderful dinner at Prawn on the Lawn, which I have always loved and write about with a tonne of bias because it holds such a special place in my heart. Wonderful oysters kicked things off, while baked scallops sat on the shell in a puddle of spicy, salty nduja, the sweet flesh cooked until it was just right. Then there was an orzo seafood stew – a new addition to the menu – packed with crispy skinned red mullet, clams, cockles and juicy prawns. Honestly, I love Prawn on the Lawn for a multitude of reasons (a large one being it was central to the first holiday I went on with my boyfriend), but largely because they have a knack for doing justice to good, fresh seafood.
I somehow managed to get to both Sarap Filipino Bistro and Singburi before leaving the country. Both were an absolute joy. Sarap was a series of incredibly impressive dishes – salty, sour, crispy chicken skin had me scraping up every last bit of its addictive seasoning, aubergine with winter tomatoes and shaved duck egg was the sort of food I could happily eat every day, delicately oily, lip-puckeringly acidic and enlivening in the best of ways. The pigs trotter was equally as good, again with a balancing dose of acidity that helped lift what could have otherwise been an overpoweringly heavy mouthful.
There isn’t much I need to say about Singburi except that I would happily eat there every evening. It is categorically the best Thai food I have had in the UK, and I completely understand why it holds such cult status among Londoners. We ordered so much food that someone had to hold at least one plate at a time to ensure everything fit on the table, and literally nothing disappointed.
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Onto NYC. I arrived starving, having foregone any of the plane food on account of the forlorn, greying meatballs sandwiched amongst a heaping pile of powdery mashed potato that arrived on my tray while we were cruising somewhere above Ireland. I could honestly write a small thesis on plane food – why is it so awful? There is no reason for it to be so bad. I know that because the stuff they eat up in business class is actually not half bad. Why don’t you get food even half that decent in economy? I would literally pay extra to get good food. There will probably be a future column on this.
Anyway, I digress. It’s safe to say I hopped off the plane ready to hoover my way around New York, consuming everything in sight like some kind of long-haired Pac-Man. We walked upwards of 20,000 steps each day – sometimes as much as 30,000 – which felt very necessary considering how much food we were eating. People rave about the New York food scene and while yes, it was wonderful, I do think London does a pretty good job of rivalling it.
There are areas where New York is more varied and exciting than London – particularly when it comes to Mexican and Southeast Asian food – but when there are such enormous swathes of the city almost completely empty of interesting places to eat, it does become a little tiresome. A large number of our steps were wracked up walking from a place we wanted to see to a place we actually wanted to eat – I’m not sure you’d ever make it that far in London without walking past somewhere genuinely good to go for dinner.
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In saying that, everything we did eat was fairly impressive. Obviously the pizza by the slice is far beyond anything I’ve ever had in London. We made our way through a fair few, but Scarrs pizza was the best (by a close margin – L’Industrie in Williamsburg was a tight second). It got extra points for embracing a sloppiness that made the slice moreish, while getting the balance just right so that the pizza didn’t find itself half down your front.
Meanwhile, the small-plates/wine bar combination seems to be having something of a moment in NYC at the moment. While London is turning its back on the small plate after years of not ordering anything near a main-sized meal, New York seems to be embracing them with the energy of recent discovery. Wildair was the quintessential small-plates wine bar, and perfect for the late lunch we had at what would have been considered an early dinner time, fueled by jet lag and a strong desire for sustenance after trekking through most of Manhattan below 30th street. The pissaladieclair was particularly good – a pissaladiere/eclair hybrid that essentially consisted of a cheesy choux bun filled with caramelised onions, kalamata olive tapenade and anchovies, for the perfect combination of salty and sweet.
While London is turning its back on the small plate, New York seems to be embracing them with the energy of a recent discovery
Cervos, a dinky, seafood-focused restaurant in the Lower East Side, was a highlight of the trip. We arrived having been awake for approximately 24 hours due to our early morning flight and very close to passing out right there at the table. Thankfully, the food was exciting enough to wake us up a little. Mussels escabeche were tiny little saline flavour bombs. Crispy prawn heads were tasty for one or two but quickly became arduous – requiring a little too much chewing for someone running on zero sleep.
Fried sourdough with tuna conserva and sweet onions was essentially a highly considered take on the seafood pate and sourdough that I eat copious amounts of at Little Palais in St Ives, which is basically a complicated way of saying it was divine. Ensaladilla with rock shrimp put most potato salads to shame and golden rice with clams and bottarga felt like a seaside summer holiday on a plate (never mind the fact we were in the middle of the steaming streets of New York).
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This particular fortnight of eating ended part way through my trip, so my next column will kick off with part two of our extensive eating adventure – it features an almost worrying number of tacos, numerous breakfast sandwiches, lots of craft beer and an old-school Italian joint that seems plucked directly from the set of The Sopranos, with the rumoured ownership to go with it. If you need me in the meantime, I’ll be roaming the vegetable aisle, desperately trying to counteract the last six days of aggressive consumption.