After a rousing first and second day in London, day three would put them all to shame as I managed to try two different restaurants while going all out at night at some fun night clubs and bars. However, let me start at the beginning.
It was a laid-back day where I mainly walked around the museum area of South Kensington. I thought I would be able to knock out both the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in one day…how foolish I was. I would highly recommend a trip to the Natural History Museum over the Victoria and Albert Museum since they have many great biological, geological, and astronomical displays. The only downside was the hordes of school children that swarmed about every main display like screaming ants at a picnic. After braving my own personal running of the schoolchildren, it really worked up an appetite. So, I decided I would take a trip to south London, specifically Brixton. This area has been known over the decades as a bastion for Caribbean immigrants along with scenes of brutal violence like riots and knife crime. Naturally, like many ethnic enclaves in a cosmopolitan city, it has recently become trendy for students and young professionals to take up residence in Brixton. With them comes the phenomenon of gentrification, but where I walked around in the neighborhood, I didn’t feel it was as widespread as in certain neighborhoods of Chicago (read: Pilsen). I was determined to visit El Negril that specializes in Caribbean food, but as always with my luck, they didn’t open until 5 pm. So I walked back toward the tube station to find another eatery called Bamboula which drew me in with its vibrant colors.
Once inside, it was moderately full, and I was the only white person in there which seemed to come as a shock to the main waitress/hostess. I was quickly seated opposite a guy who seemed to be either touched in the head or communicating with Jah while eating/paying for the bill which annoyed my waitress greatly. Next to him was a Rasta tapping out a reggae beat on his plate between mouthfuls and seemed to be quite a devil with the ladies. After soaking in these surroundings, I went for the lunch special of goat curry, callaloo rice, grilled plantains, and salad. It also came with a drink, and there were so many things on the menu that I didn’t even know what they were. True to form, I went for something called “sour sop” juice. It all eventually came out with a wonderful presentation.
I started with the goat curry and the callaloo rice. The goat was quite bony, but the chunks of meat were tender and tasted like a mix between beef and lamb. The brown curry it was swimming in went exquisitely with the the rice which seemed to be made out Basmati rice and seasoned with some scotch bonnet peppers to give it a proper kick. This starchy side gets its name from the callaloo leaves which were originally eaten by West Africans and then their ancestors when they arrived as slaves in Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago etc. I could only describe them as having a very subtle spinach texture and taste. The salad was refreshing but nothing out of the ordinary, and the plantains were delicious since they were savory yet had a bit of the sweetness of their banana relatives. Then there was the mysterious sour sop juice. It looked like lemonade and tasted like a sublime mix of passion fruit, pear, and pineapple juice. Once I demolished all of my meal, I asked Princess what exactly a sour sop was, and she said that it’s a type of fruit that is native to Latin America that kind of looks like a green pear. I sent my regards to the Rasta chef and was on my way to see the Brixton Market.
It was an entire street and mini community of food hawkers that catered to the local populace with sour sop stalls, piles of callaloo, roti shops, tea houses, and plenty of reggae beats floating overhead.
It was like I was transported to a completely different world far from the pomp of Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Since I was in the mood of markets, I moved from Brixton Market to the more upscale Borough Market in the middle of London.
My friends recommended that I check it out even though it’s a bit more expensive/tourist ridden than the other central markets. These negative attributes fell by the wayside as I was in some sort of culinary Valhalla as I wanted to try everything in sight, but unfortunately I think it would take at least a week to hit up every stall.
I obliged, and the earthy aroma nearly knocked me over with how powerful it was. I can see why they’re only served in small slivers as garnishes to dishes. Eventually, I decided this would be the perfect place to get dessert, and I saw a bakery stall with a very long line that was moving quickly.
I jumped in line, and I immediately knew what I was going to get: a monstrous chocolate chip cookie. It was a bargain at only 2 pounds (~4 bucks), but it was quite possibly the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had.
It was semi-soft with rich chocolate slices spread evenly throughout along with some rich brown sugar that sang with every bite. I liked this market too because it was mostly covered as I discovered it had been raining for awhile as I walked out to the tube station in the shadow of the Shard building. At night, I went out with my friends Ravi, Rav, and Bob in Shoreditch to a restaurant called Chico Bandito which allegedly was a Mexican and Cuban restaurant.
Upon looking at the menu, I couldn’t see even one receta cubana, but the Mexican food all looked muy sabrosa. I hit it off with our waitress hablando espanol, and she hooked us up with some festive hats as we indulged in the last ten minutes of happy hour.
Both were some of the best nachos I ever had because the tortilla chips seemed to be lighter than the ones back in the USA and with less of an overpowering corn flavor that allowed the gooey cheese, cool sour cream, spicy chorizo, and zesty guacamole to really make their mark on our palates. As for the main entree, I went for the chicken chimichanga which ended up being a softball-sized fried, stuffed tortilla.
It was expertly made with a crunchy exterior that gave way to a spicy monton de pollo. The rice and mixed bean and green salad on the sides were delicious, but the problem was that the chimichanga alone ended up sitting like a bowling ball in my stomach for the next three hours. I couldn’t even finish the rest of the meal. I didn’t feel greasy, just extremely full which kind of put a damper on our night out when we went to Bar Kick. I’d highly recommend checking out Chico Bandito though for quality Mexican food. I eventually felt better by the time we made it to the dance club Concrete where they were having Biggie and Tupac night. After a long night of dancing to 90s rap tracks, we rode home on rent-a-bikes from the club at 2 am through the streets of London. I then realized It’s tough being a food critic and a gangsta at the same time.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.