Lamb Roti @ Roti King
Roti King. A Malaysian place. Very affordable. Very good.
This was one of the first places that I had visited in London. According to my friend, it was simultaneously listed on a London’s Best Food list and a London’s Best Cheap Eats lists. So, from its presence on both of these lists, the reasoning goes that the food must be good.
It was. The wait had been roughly 15 minutes. It was a small and shop down the stairs of a street adjacent to a major street. I later discovered that the wait is at least 15 minutes regardless of when I arrive at the entrance. When I finally caught a glimpse of the inside, I see that the structure of the restaurant is a series of wooden tables and benches spread out throughout the entire store. Every table was filled, each with numerous families and friends sitting next to each other without knowing each other. The waiting staff bustled around, furiously distributing the roti that were being made near the entrance.
I am glad that my friend had dragged me here. The first time that I had gone, I ordered the lamb roti. I was cheaper than many of the foods that I have seen, but I was sick and I couldn’t smell the dish very well. I didn’t want to waste a good dish to a sick state. From the little flavor that I could derive from it, I immediately knew that I stumbled into a world of wonders. Even from the mere textures, the roti had a dreamy quality to it where the crispy exterior crunched with each bite, leaving the lamb sauce to fill in the gaps. After a few chews, the soft interior consecrates the remaining substance as the textures meld together.
At the time, the roti I hate was just a roti. But, on reflection, the first time that I had gone to Roti King marked a very distinct period in my life. It was a time when all I wanted to talk about was love and existentialism, but there were so few people to talk about love and existentialism with. As a result, it was a time in my life when I did not believe in the value of conversation anymore. There seemed, to me, to be so little point in conversing at all. It was a time that I felt profoundly alienated from the world, especially from my friends, who I felt were no longer relatable with me. But, as one does, I got over myself.
After my first time, I had gone to Roti King a couple more times throughout the semester. The final time I had gone to Roti King was during my reading period. I had already finished the three essays I needed to write for my English classes, and I was just grinding away for my Issues in Economic Development final. It was a time when I had been waking up at 8 AM and sleeping at 12 AM, filling the time between with an hour commute and studying from 10 AM to 10 PM. Every day for 18 days. It was a feeling that, if I was being very honest, I missed. I had not studied that hard throughout the entire semester, and I missed the sensation of reducing myself to just studying.
I was not talking to many people during that period, but it was a period that felt very true to me. It was, by no means, my preferred natural state. But, it was a state when my internal reflections on myself mirrored the physical manifestation of my lifestyle. I felt like shit, but I wanted to feel like shit. I wanted to feel like shit my entire semester, but there are so little opportunities where I could actively force myself to feel like shit. Becoming a memorization robot is one of those ways. In the lonely semester that it was, it was a sensation I enjoyed. Roti King, that time, was merely a proxy of storing those memories in another delicious egg roti.
In terms of capturing my growth as a person throughout the semester, I could think of no better a place than Roti King. The quality of the food remains the same regardless. The vegetables and the sauce that comes with the vegetables remain as good as ever, and there will always be that one man in the entrance throwing around roti behind the booth. But, regardless of the consistency that is the roti factory of Roti King, it seems that every time I enter, I change slightly more into the person that I have become now. Roti King remains constant, but it captures my evolution as an individual in (mostly) getting over myself.
Sunday Roast @ Blacklock
It was preceded by a trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is a big cathedral, and there is very little that I dislike more than material excess in the name of religion. I remember when the tithe bag was passed around, I found the idea of giving to an organization that has historically had such excess while so many had so little to be quite repulsive. But, it is also one of those moments that made me realize, who am I to judge?
It was also preceded by a trip to street wear shop. It was there that I discovered a contradictory aspect of my personality: that I simultaneously like the aesthetic of street wear but also hate the aesthetic of street wear. Wearing a cosmic-themed puffer jacket that was twice the size of any other jacket that I had ever owned, I realized that I quite liked the flashiness of it. I checked the price tag. Then, I realized that I no longer liked the flashiness of it. But, at long last, I finally was able to justify wearing a fake Supreme lanyard to myself.
This was during our wait for Blacklock, which supposed to be one of the best Sunday roasts in London, according to a list, at least. The place had been booked for the next month on Sundays, but my friend and I decided to shoot in the dark and asked to be placed on the waiting list for the day.
About an hour later, as we were window shopping in the alley next to the restaurant, the text arrived. We landed a spot for an hour. Making our way back to the restaurant, the air seemed to giddy with us. I used to laugh a lot at this one summer camp I had gone to in the past, and someone had described me as having inhaled laughing gas. It was an emotion that I haven’t felt in a long time, but I felt it again momentarily. I showed my giddy-ness to the host when he seated us. I showed my giddy-ness to the waiter when he came by to take our order.
We ordered a platter filled with everything. Two Yorkshire puddings. Two pieces of lamb. Two pieces of pork. Two pieces of beef. Potatoes. Tenderstem broccoli. Assorted sauces.
Yorkshire pudding is not like vanilla pudding. Yorkshire pudding is literally bread. It is bread to be eaten with the meat. Meat, which is supposed to be eaten with the sauces. Sauces, which each had a specific pairing. The mint would go with the lamb. The apple sauce would go with the pork. The horseradish would go with the beef. The potatoes were potatoes.
I followed the rules at first, eating my meats with their corresponding sauces, as the waiter had instructed me to do. The flavors complemented each other beautifully. The sweetness of the apple sauce added a much needed change in palette to the savory and rough slice of pork. The mint seemed to light up the existing flavors of the lamb in a way that reminded me of turning up the vibrancy of a photo while editing in post. The horseradish added a kick to a hunk of beef at the moment of contact and quietly dissipates along with my saliva digesting the beef in my mouth. Perfectly paced.
Then, I decided to be edgy and break the rules. I paired the beef with the apple sauce and the lamb with the horseradish and the pork with the mint. I mixed and matched and added the sauces on top of each other. It tasted just as good, but not necessarily better. Apple sauce does not seem to go well with any other meat; the texture just seems irreconcilable. It definitely was not worse, though. But, perhaps it is I that cannot taste the superiority of pairing lamb with mint and nothing else. Since the Sunday roast is such an established dish, it probably has gone through generations of evolution to reach the perfect pairing. Who am I to question generations of evolution?
This was the first of many Sunday roasts that have solidified many memories in London. Between my friends, my family, and my food.
Scotch Egg @ The Wigmore
This was one of the more expensive restaurants that I had gone to. To be honest, I don’t remember much about the food. I had ordered a scotch egg, a cod, and crumpets to share with a friend. The scotch egg, which is on the upper right, had burned my tongue, and I was unable to taste the food for the remainder of the evening. But I do remember the vibe.
It was a vibe I did not like. It was a business casual vibe. I do not like business casual, the concept. I especially do not like the vibe of young professionals in business casual going to happy hour. It makes me feel sick, even more than I had been already. Here was I, in a white hoodie and black jeans outfit that I have worn every day for the past month without washing, next to a sea of young professionals sharing a bottle of expensive wine. I did not fit. I did not want to fit. I felt comfortable in my outfit. I would never feel comfortable in business casual.
The walls were red. Because the entire room was illuminated by a couples of faux-candles, the red of the walls gave an ominous vibe. During the day, perhaps the red would be bright and cheerful in the presence of natural light. But, in the dark, I could not help but to be reminded of the color of blood. Similar to the wall, blood is also a shade of dark red that is only bright in the presence of light. Someone had smeared the wall in a even coat of blood, leaving us to wallow in the darkness of the room.
A couple of lamps on the tables supplemented the lack of light. The placement of the lights allowed faces to be lit from the bottom. It reminded me of the days during summer camp, when some older kids would scare the little kids by illuminating the bottoms of their faces with their phone cameras. There was chatter going on all around me, but I could almost imagine that an absence of conversation. Similar to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, it almost seemed that I was experience a moment that was not continuous. The conversation was there, but there was no conversation.
I could not emphasize enough that the only people who were in the pub were young professionals and old men. It would not surprise me if I had accidentally stumbled into the headquarters of some secret society with a reputation for being needlessly frightening. I could not think of a better metaphor. Pretentious, eerie, dreary — the Wigmore is nothing but a painting of a diner masked as a secret society of vampires.
Peri-Peri Chicken @ Nando’s
I went into Nando’s after a failed attempt to find pies. A middle-aged man in a suit ushered my friend and I in, asking us if we have ever been to a Nando’s before. I replied, “No.” My friend replied, “Yes.”
We ordered a chicken wing platter for two, composed of ten PERi-PERi chicken wings and four side. I have very little understanding of why the grilled chicken is called ‘PERi-PERi’, other than what I have found online about its Portuguese Mozambique origins that have been translated into an integral part of British culture through spicy sauce served on the side. But, because Nando’s started in South Africa, I am defaulting on my opinions.
I was impressed with the chicken itself. The charred bits of the meat added a much needed hint of bitterness to an otherwise juicy interior. Dipping my chicken into the Peri-Peri sauce, I found the acidic blend of lemon and herbs to be a perfect complement to my bites of chicken and chips. While the chicken already had its own flavor locked in its juices, the lemon and herbs accented those flavors in a way that overwhelms my taste buds. I have seen much of the same taste at more expensive restaurants. Yet, despite Nando’s superior taste, I found the overall vibe of the restaurant to be unpretentious, much resembling a fancy fast-food chain.
A lady beside me loudly complained to the waitress about her food, asking to speak with two other staff members and the manager before sending back her food, half-eaten, which would seem to indicate that she found the food to be edible. She had repeatedly used one adjective to describe the food: disgusting. I did not think much of it at the time, as it seems quite an ordinary occurrence. But, after I finished my meal, I asked the waitress what was the cause of her distress, and she told me that the woman thought her food was cold. Neat. Cold food, the worse.
Traditional English Breakfast @ Manis
It’s quite similar to an American breakfast. I don’t even remember what an American breakfast is anymore. It has pancakes right?
For my last breakfast (and also last meal) in the UK, I ordered a traditional English breakfast with an Americano with no milk. To me, it did not make sense to add milk, which provides so much body to the coffee, when I already had two sausages, two pork rashers, two scrambled eggs, two hash browns, mushrooms, and beans. Otherwise, the acidity of the coffee would not be able to cut through all of the fats that I am consuming. The milk would have added an additional 10 pence to my order, but the 10 pence was not my motivation for not getting the milk. I just think it wouldn’t have tasted as good.
I was sitting with all of my luggage in an alley in West Hampstead. It was nearing the month of June by this point, and the air had been a comfortable 61 degrees with a cool breeze. There were a couple of dogs on leashes here or there, and the cars on small street nearby could be heard. As per usual, there was an overcast.
I have had an English breakfast numerous times throughout the semester. It is one of those things that is actually sold in a lot of places. My first English breakfast occurred after class at a cafe near the School of Life shop, where I discovered the willingness of some individuals to pay for self-help books to address a perceived lack of satisfaction in their relationships. But, in terms of English breakfasts, I have no idea if anyone other than me actually eats them. It could be very well that only tourists eat them, and I am within a handful of people in the entirety of the UK that actually eats English breakfasts.
The sausage had a crisp exterior and a warm savory interior. The bacon was a bit too salty and unsatisfyingly dry, but it was within expectations. Each time I would take a bite out of the sausage or bacon, I would follow it up with a bite of hash brown and a gulp of coffee. The hash brown would mitigate the salt in the meats, and the coffee would annul the overwhelming oils in meat and hash brown combination. Although the egg was sunny-side up, the interior had been evenly and well-cooked. I would add some beans and mushrooms into my mouth to change up the texture whenever the others became monotonous.
For awhile, I have been feeling quite indifferent to my environment. I still feel that indifference to a great extent. But, at my last English breakfast, I felt something. I think.