I was still too young to appreciate the history behind a country the last time I visited the UK with my family as my dad drove us from London to Scotland on a cross-country trip. I remember standing at Stonehenge and staring bleakly at the massive rocks, wondering why people were so excited as they walked around the site with their faces glued to the walkie-talkie audio guides. Moments of fascination as I zipped through Madame Tussaud’s looking at celebrities, the queen, and wax heads in the Chamber of Horrors. My first impression of how all universities must look after wandering through the vaulted alcoves and rusted brick buildings of my dad’s school, the University of Glasgow. What memories I had were glimpses through a dusty copper lens, so my excitement to return after 12 years was tremendous, although I wouldn’t stay for long before trekking to Paris with my aunt and cousin.
I arrived at Heathrow on a rainy morning around 7, tired senseless and in want of a proper meal that was not the zapped, bland mush they call food on an airplane. Luckily, I found it in a M&S berry smoothie. I followed my cousin, who was kind enough to wake at 4am to pick me up, to Paddington station where we could take a train to Reading. Stupid American that I am, I gawked a bit at the handsome glass arches and the silvery trains as they slid into the platform. A lifetime of living in the states, where beautiful architecture is nonexistent, can do that to you. I made sure to not take my camera out to snap pictures like a tourist. The train ride to Reading was a short one hour journey past verdant countryside I was too tired to appreciate. After a hot shower and putting on enough makeup to hopefully hide my sleep (YSL, you did promise 8 hours in one look…although I’m not sure it reflects in pictures), we went out to town centre for food. Based on the good things my cousin had heard about London St Brasserie, I had hopes that it would at least match Wood Tavern.
London St. Brassiere had a romantic feel to it, with soft fabric couches slouched against creamy pastel walls and the small occasional chandelier to add just a touch of class and light. Its menu was quite voluminous, with starters ranging from baked goat cheeses to seared Cornish mackerel. We finally chose the following.
Starters: Crispy fried salt & pepper squid with oriental salad and chili jam, Cured Lochinvar salmon with Evesham asparagus and poached bantam egg
Main Course: Roast halibut & salt cod brandade with broad beans & peas in lemon butter sauce, Slow roasted duck leg with broccoli, almonds & Jerusalems in bitter cherry jus
My cousin’s choice was a great one; the squid was tender with a golden crisp on the outside that went well with the sweet and tangy sauce. The pan-fried slivered carrots and sweet peas were crisp, and the addition of crunchy sesame seeds lent the slaw a nutty fragrance.
My choice was more of a disappointment. While the asparagus was sweet and thick, the salmon failed to impress. The worst part was the poached egg; its whites had been boiled to a floury and rubbery texture that almost tasted pasty.
The duck was a slight improvement, the flesh tender and juicy. However, the components didn’t blend well together. The cherry sauce was sour and carried a strong flavor of alcohol, but it didn’t go well with the sweet beets nor the toasted almonds. Each ingredient seemed to be singing its own tune, which had me wondering why the chef decided to combine these things together.
While the halibut had a beautiful golden crisp, it was overcooked and way too dry. Dipping it into the creamy citrusy sauce helped a bit, but nothing could save the texture. Overall, I was more than a bit disappointed with the restaurant. Although the term brasserie is far removed from its original meaning, almost all cosmopolitan cities has helped to establish it to mean a small restaurant that serves a creative menu (often at a certain price range) that promises to taste well. London St. Brasserie has failed to pass. If anything, the French chain restaurant, Côte, just a minute’s walk away, proved both a better deal in taste and price.
I shopped a bit with my cousin in Reading afterwards, had a minor nervous breakdown over a swollen eye that was quickly cured by antihistamines, before finally pigging out on prawn cocktail crisps from Morrison’s for dinner. Why can’t America have cool flavors too?