Thursday, February 27, 2014

London, England: Day 1 - Portobello Market & Wahaca Mexican Eating

Back to reality. After ten enchanting days of bopping around London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland it's back to reality for this little dreamer. That sinking, back-to-reality feeling at the end of a wonderful trip can feel so heartbreaking at times, that you can't help but wonder "was it worth it?" We all know the answer is always a resounding YES! Getting the opportunity to travel to the UK with someone I love, to experience all of the unique sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and so much more in a foreign country that ignited a fire in my soul can never be something I could ever regret. Thankfully I have so many fabulous memories that I can hold onto to keep that fire alive and, hopefully, will help to shake up my own routine-filled life. 

So enough with back-to-reality pity party, it's time to focus on a trip that I will be talking about for years to come! I arrived in London, England with my boyfriend Chris to visit his sister Melissa who is currently living in England (lucky gal!) working as a teacher. After hugs, hellos, and a big breakfast of eggs, toast, and bacon made by Melissa's roommate, the Canadian crew was off to enjoy our first London market experience. Melissa was so excited to take us to the world famous Portobello market, a street market that runs right through the heart of Notting Hill, taking up most of Portobello Road, with stand after stand selling antiques, fruits and vegetables, striking fashions and jewelry, and fresh, hot prepared food. 

It took all of two minutes for me to regret that large breakfast with so many tasty offerings being served up at each stand, the most appealing of which was the massive vats of fresh and colourful paella, filled with every shellfish imaginable. The smells as you walked past each booth was positively intoxicating, begging you to sample each and every dish. If only the servings of paella weren't quite so large I would have undoubtably given in to the mouth-watering Spanish dish...I'm still kicking myself for not. 

It was at the fresh churro stand that I had to stop to purchase an order for Chris, Melissa, and I to share, with each order containing far more churros than I could ever dream of eating. Prepared to order, the cinnamon and sugar dusted churros were just the pick-me-up I needed to do a little shoe shopping. I had heard that the shoe selection in London is wonderful, but was warned about the high cost of everything. To my delight, the rumors of London's beautiful shoe selection was true, but that high cost was pure hogwash as all three of us walked away with a pair of shoes much cheaper than we would have ever found in Toronto! High from our shoe purchases, we decided it was time for another snack. The long line up at the falafel stand was a telltale sign of high quality and flavour, so we joined the line for a quick falafel break. Although I didn't order a falafel myself (I was the mooch stealing bites from Chris and Melissa), I was once again kicking myself for my full stomach and not ordering one. These falafels were outstanding, and comparable to the falafels found throughout Israel, but with a Lebanese twist. The perfect fried-to-order, crispy on the outside, soft and moist on the inside falafel balls were drizzled in a zingy chilli-peanut sauce that gave this familiar dish an exotic twist that I couldn't get enough of...and let's not forget their impossibly creamy humous! With such a large Mediterranean community in Toronto, why can't we have falafels like this?  

It was definitely beer O'clock after all that walking around, so we wandered into the quirky, open-facade Mau Mau Bar for a couple of beers and on-the-house cocktails. This old school London bar had a laid back attitude that was just what we were looking for after winding through the crowds on Portobello Road. The friendly bartender was awesome, chatty, and generous giving Chris a Manhattan and a Negroni on the house! Hooray for British hospitality! 
After checking into the Crown Moran Hotel and a much needed nap in what was possibly the coziest bed I have ever been in, we were back out with our Oyster cards in hand, to hop on a double decker bus and the tube to meet up with our Canadian crew for our first dinner in London at Wahaca Mexican Eating in Covent Garden. Chris had raved about the popular Mexican restaurant from his last trip to London, emphasizing their fresh ingredients, reasonable prices, and great tequila selection. With a massive lineup that filled the lobby and wound up the stairs, we were nervous about getting a table any time within the hour, but lucky for us, a large reservation had not shown up, and we were able to snag a table for seven immediately! 

The menu, which is filled with an assortment of authentic Mexican street food, is made with care using the freshest of ingredients, which are all sourced as ethically and locally as possible. Encouraged to share, we started off our meal with mortars filled with tomato dotted guacamole and tortilla chips and, of course, margaritas! From there, Chris and I shared an order of Pork Pibil Tacos (slow cooked pork in Yucatecan marinade with fiery pickled onions), Chicken Mole Tacos (tender chicken in a rich red Coloradito mole sauce from Oaxaca), Chorizo and Potato Quesadillas (British chorizo, made with their own special recipe, with fresh thyme and steamed potato), Slow-Cooked Pork Burritos (toasted flour tortillas wrapped around slow-cooked pork, with frijoles, shredded cabbage, green rice, crema, avocado salsa, pink pickled onions, habanero chillies, and Baja cheese), and Spicy Slaw (shredded cabbage and red onion in a spicy dressing). Every dish (minus the lackluster not-spicy-at-all slaw) was fantastic, with the Pork Pibil and Chicken Mole tacos being our favourite! We ended our lovely meal with a couple of rounds of tequila shots to toast to an inevitable incredible trip! 

Despite our let jag and tired bodies, we had to do it up on our first night, so we headed down the road to the multi-floor Porterhouse Bar for live music and more pints! 

Stay tuned for Day Two and our visit to Camden Market!

Listening To:
Soko - We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow

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