I started this blog because I wanted to share my ongoing quest to experience a side of town(s) that tourists simply either don't know about or don't think to look for! I find myself writing this particular blog because I just had dinner with a good friend from back home and it all got me thinking...when do you stop being a tourist and start to belong?!
From the south coast suburbs originally, I grew up with the common and typically bland selection of chain restaurants that descend upon most provincial towns (you know the score: Bella Italia, Pizza Express, Slug & Lettuce, Zizzi, Harvester, Chiquito, Wetherspoons, Strada and the suchlike), and while the village green chippies and riverside pubs that remained were always predictably idyllic, so much of it somehow just started to feel a little rehearsed and manipulated by the aspiring middle class yachties. When I moved to Portsmouth then (more specifically, Southsea), I started to enjoy a bite at a slightly more bohemian and eclectic apple; it offered an owner-managed culture that seemed to still preside over the corporate conglomerates and as a result it had such an endearing personality. Despite outgrowing it a little in the end, I still have a myriad of fond memories towards it and I'd happily live there again one day!
Relocating from coastal suburbia to London feels a lot like being punched in the face with full brute force by a heavyweight omniscient giant with 5 personalities. In reality though, what this actually is, is colliding with 8.5 million people from every culture, ethnicity and class, spread over 1,500 square kilometers, while politely battling through 16.8 million tourists annually and competing with the plethora of brainiacs, megalomaniacs, insomniacs, and maniacs that make up the fifth largest city economy in the world. To say it's a brutal adjustment is an understatement and to claim that it didn't overwhelm me in my first few months would be an outrageous lie. What people don't often tell you though, is that it doesn't take too long for butterflies to replace jitters and for collected excitement to oust nervous blind panic! It simply won't work to sit still and expect things to fall into place here...you must get up, stand out, put in and be a part of this city if you want to flourish here. So every day, I try do just that...
I walk everywhere I can to see as much as I can and I roll around in the spoils of such epic ethnic diversity by eating my way around town. I've written about Chinese, Japanese, Italian, British, Indian, Caribbean, American, Peruvian, Spanish, Cuban, Swiss, and Mexican since July last year, but over the years, I've indulged in far more than this and have experimented with fusion concepts from most of the aforementioned! I've eaten in dozens of different countries, but sometimes when I'm dining in London, I feel like I'm getting a taste of the whole world without even breaching the M25! My latest venture took me to Tiroler Hut, to enjoy some Austrian hospitality.
I've been to Austria and gorged on bratwurst, sauerkraut, goulash and dumplings while drinking from a stein amidst cowbells before, but never have I been able to enjoy this kind of hospitality, food and beer accompanied by the gnashing beats of a Casio keyboard and the unbridled rasp of a saxophone! Entering from a tiny door on Westbourne Grove W2 that I missed the first time I walked up the street, we descended into a basement restaurant to be greeted by the most warm of welcomes from staff all with regional accents (always a good sign!). With low ceilings (oddly corrugated, but fine), dark wood beams and gingham everywhere, it was exactly what I wanted it to be so far.
After a chat with the affable waitress and a couple of beers later, we ordered heavy on the traditionally wholesome dishes, resisting with every fibre of my being, the urge to order a cheese fondue to start. The Bauernschmaus (Tyrolean Peasants Favourite @ £15.50) was steeped high with sauerkraut and oozing all sorts of different meat...mmm! I do wish that the bread dumplings were a little less wet and a little more large, but aside from this, I was exceptionally happy (not forgetting the relentless sax blaring away from a tiny booth in the middle of the restaurant!). All the plates are unfussy and rustic, presented as though you were at home in winter, being fed by your mother who doesn't think you've been eating enough! While not necessarily earth-shatteringly attractive to look at, every meal is infact precisely what you need and I for one, wanted more!
It was a quiet Tuesday night when I visited, but I imagine this place gets very busy and positively swells with frivolity and kitsch fun later in the week. It has so much charm and character that you can't help but to smile throughout the entire experience. I can't wait to go back...