London, England English Food and the Vh1 Thing

I’m on a brief layover in London. As is my habit, I am ranting mid-journey on my way to Istanbul.

I’m a huge fan of London. It’s one of my favorite places to visit. Fantastic mix of cultures. Some of the best museums in the world. Every street and alley soaked through with history. But my God, the food is still terrible.

I’m stunned. Every time I come here I expect it will have changed. I mean, it’s not that hard to get a decent meal these days. Ingredients you used to have to seek out like kalamata olives and feta cheese are now readily available at 3 in the morning in the dank corners of your local 7-11. I’m embarrassed to admit how good the food is at tacky mall chains like Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s. I even enjoy airplane food. Evidently, fine dining can now be cheaply and reliably mass produced. So how come everything I eat in London tastes like paper?

Don’t hate me for saying so, oh loyal subjects of Her Majesty, the Queen. The truth is, I adore you. I’d trade my annoying accent in a heartbeat for any one of yours (except Yorkshire — that’s rubbish). I just don’t understand why you’re stuck in the culinary dark ages. Is it a curse from some old imperialist transgression? If I snuck a panini through customs, would it magically come out dry and flavorless? Or is that just how folks here like food to taste? Even Australia’s gotten their act together.

What gives?

The Vh1 thing airs tomorrow. It turned out surprisingly bearable. They were merciful with the interview footage they used. I come off seeming like less of a dork than usual. I just wish they’d been able to spring for the right music:

I’m on my way to Istanbul to shoot a television commercial for a Swedish travel agency. As far as I know, my obligation is pretty much limited to dancing badly from time to time over the course of two days. There’s worse ways to make a living.

This is a quick refresher before I leave to start the new Stride video in 10 days. It’s a chance to test out my new luggage — Salomon laptop backpack and Osprey Porter 90-liter main bag — a revelation. I’ll be back home in time for trivia on Monday…I hate missing trivia.

The trip over today went all pear-shaped very quickly. I wasn’t even supposed to be here in London. Bad weather in Chicago delayed my flight from Seattle and the connection to Istanbul had left before I even landed. The airline desk was abandoned and their 800 number was closed for the night. The Istanbul flight only goes every other day, so it was looking like the whole trip might have to be scrapped, until an angelic American Airlines agent rerouted me on a red-eye to London that involved some running and panting.

I thought I had a pretty good sob story, and then I realized every other person in the airport had gotten screwed worse than me. This seems to happen a lot at O’Hare. Bad weather makes everything go to hell. Apparently one sixth of all US flight cancellations happen at that one airport. Maybe our nation’s second-busiest transportation hub shouldn’t be in a quasi-arctic climate.

50 Responses to London, England English Food and the Vh1 Thing

  1. austin

    yea im so excited you’re going on another trip! im a huge fan matt, dont get me wrong but sadly i didnt become one until after your second trip was over. im stoked to get to follow along and check out your posts as you travel. it’ll be awesome. any chance you could hint as to where all you’ll be going? anyway, good luck man and safe travels. Austin

  2. Oh Matt – glad you’re on your way to what should be a fantastic voyage. I so look forward to reading your stories when I get out of work and can kick back. Be sure to post your Swedish commercial and stay out of trouble!

  3. Richard

    What’s up with you and the British food? – You know plenty of people love everything about the U.K. and if you can’t learn to…

    Just kidding!! I thought I would try to be the first moron to start bad mouthing you on this trek. Have a blast – Can’t wait to read your updates and travel vicariously through you. Dance well and be safe.

  4. I didn’t know PF Changs was a chain! I’ve only ever seen the one in Westlake, and they’re okay. Too big for my taste. Not that there’s any limit to the number of little pan asian restaurants in this city.

  5. Agreed about the food in London. I have found one place I do like, though: Soho Spice. Great Indian food.

    Best of luck on all your trips. I travel a lot, but you make me (and most of the rest of the world) look like a home-body.

    Gute Reise!

  6. LOL if you think the food is getting better here try a resturant in Perth called Billy Lee’s worst food and service ever.

    Have a good one mate.

  7. LOL if you think the food is getting better here try a resturant in Perth called Billy Lee’s worst food and service ever.

    Have a good one mate.

  8. Hey the video is nice, you don’t look dumb (except when you’re showing how to dance in socks).
    Seriously it’s very nice. Please put pictures of your bags and stuff, it really helped me knowing what “hardcore backpackers” use when I was traveling.

    PS: I took my macbook in my trip and it was the best thing that I could have done. Leaving it home it would be stupid. Yeah, people “scarfed” at me like “you’re going to get robbed with that expensive computer”, and usually 2 minutes later they would say “hey, do you mind if I check my e-mails?”.

  9. I have some suggestions for London food. In Soho hit up Soho Thai or Basubasa Etai (may have misspelled). In Covent Garden, Punch & Judy’s has some tasty traditional food . . . same with Ye Ole Cheshire Cheese. Wagamama’s is also tasty. Safe travels!

  10. Autumn

    I just found your videos today and they filled me with glee and wonder. I cannot even begin to imagine how utterly amazing your journeys have been. Awestruck and wishing I was you. :-)
    Found them today and here you are in my hometown.
    Hope you have a FANTASTIC trip!

  11. Yorkshirebloke

    Eh up? oo’s this big girls blouse talkin’ about me accents pants? I shall tell you my boy I shall take off my belt and by thunder my trousers will fall down. Any road I Lark t’ video it were top class. Bin thinkin’ do one o’ me own lark. Top ‘otspots o’ yorkshire. T’ rollin’ hills ……….. be bit short granted but ‘t should make for a easy money never less.

    No in all seriousness top work on the video. First found it today and found it really uplifting but also made me reflect a lot. Only problem is can’t stop watching it!! Can’t wait for vid 2. Sure it’ll be even better. All the best.

  12. Candace Kowal

    Best of luck on your newest adventures Matt!

    [And hopefully you get a decent bite to eat eventually!]

    Awesome to see you recognised as well by VH1!

  13. SteveEST

    We wish you all the best Matt, we’re with ya, and ditto on the vicarious adventures post.

    The US couldn’t have produced a better ambassador to the world than yourself; Godspeed my friend!

  14. Patrick

    Hello from Guadeloupe, FWI
    Just had a look at your videos, Matt and i have to say I’m amazed at how beautiful and vast the world is. Wish I could dance like that as well :-)
    Congratulations, man Have to say I feel quite envious. I wish you all the best and hey, come to Guadeloupe you’ll have a warm welcome!!

  15. Ratler

    Sounds good Matt, i just happened to catch the actual show on tv while flipping through the channels…i cant believe some of the people that beat you, but good show. Have a good trip, take care.

  16. In London you can drink Real Guiness dratf (not caned or bottled) in the Coach & Horses pub. I love London and I miss it a lot.

    Great videos, mate. Great Song.

    Cheers from Rio, Brasil.

  17. hiya… you’re great! I’ve starting to do the same with pics before I met you in here (see my blog … still to be improved… still have got so many things to add)… well, come around from time to time… I’ll certainly come in here…
    ps: will you teach me dancing? :-)
    all the best for your trips and your life project… I hate working too… and love travelling… must copy your job, then.
    ciao,
    Morena
    (and next time you come to Italy, come and see Rome, Ferrara and Milan – let’s say I live in all of them… which is quite a nice travelling)

  18. alright, sorry, my fault, I hadn’t read your FAQ’s first and therefore didn’t notice you want to go where people are likely not to live… most unusual places also to visit. I understand -and agree-, then there’s a place I still haven’t seen and suggest anyone should visit one day: that’s Himalaya. As soon as you stop there and include it in one of your future videos, I’ll be glad to see your dancing on the highest mount of all, Everest – well, if not on top, that’s fine anyway :-). At least I don’t think I’ve seen you there, yet, have I?
    ps: hey, I’m not making fun of you. Never been more serious.
    Enjoy again.
    ciao,
    M

  19. Victor

    Hello Matt! I saw your video on youtube and i like it a lot and i’m happy to know that you’re doing another trip around some countries. Are you going to stay in Spain? You can go to sagrada Familia in Barcelona or Alhembra in Granada that are very famous monumetns or if you like landscapes come to Andalusia.There are some beaches and natural parks that are very beautiful.

    Bye

    Sorry for my english

  20. melody

    have fun in Istanbul! If you want to stop by Bulgaria let me know. We have a huge network of peace corps volunteers running around this country :-) I could even recommend some places if you are interested.

  21. Bravo Matt. I hope the world sees that there are more Americans like Matt and less like Dubya. On behalf of our country, thanks for your positive PR.

  22. Hi, there!
    First of all I’d like to thank MATT.
    Because his video gave me three and a half really good minutes of lifetime.
    Thank Uou!

    As I’m from Russia (who don’t believe it see my web-site) I’d like to see Moscow too in the video.

    I believe that Matt’s video has inspired a lot of people to travel all over the World.
    Keep doing this!

  23. Jane

    While in London, avoid McDonald hotdogs at all costs. And avoid British ketchup, unless you like it runny and vinegary.

    I recommend Pizza Hut for dependably good food. Seriously.

  24. Kathryn

    You are seriously an inspiration. I’m going on a round the world trip this september and couln’t think of a better idea than your of dancing. Truly awesome!
    Enjoy your trip!

  25. Hannah

    Matt,
    have you gone to Scotland yet? Seems that putting kilts in here some where would just be a natural thing to do…
    although, if you are complaining about the food in London, I just gotta know what you would think of Haggis! *grin*
    However, a point…everyone goes Scotland = Haggis and that is not really fair at all, because Scotland has some really gorgeous cuisine.
    Take care and keep dancin’ dude!

  26. london has some fantastic food (also some fairly poor food)! what are you eating? there’s an _awesome_ indian place on tottenbury court..

  27. Sonia

    Hello Matt!! I like very much your videos. I would like traveling like your you do it but my economy and my time do not permit it. As I believe that you go to follow traveling, I recommend you than go to my country Spain, there are places and very pretty monuments, like for example the beach of the cathedrals and the coast of death in Galicia, Asturias, Ibiza ( Balearic Islands ), the Alambra from Granada … and of course, Madrid, my city. I hope to see a Hispanic video.
    A greeting.
    Forgive for my English, he is not very good.

  28. ShelleySoCal

    The only way to survive on the food in London is to mainly eat Indian and Thai, with the occasional High Tea and Italian Gelato. :) I especially recommend the tea at Brown’s Hotel – very quiet and restful after a weary day of dancing and sightseeing, not that expensive for what they offer, and not at all hoity-toity. At least they were nice to a scruffy American girl from California!

  29. You like to video game and watch movies. Contact ComfySacks.com and we could become one of your sponsors. We need more video game guys like yourself.

  30. Fernando

    I was visiting London 2 days before you Matt.

    Went to Scotland on March 20th. You should try going there next time… dancing with a Kilt should be a nice experience.

  31. ciara roche

    well form an iris girl who likes her good irish food( meat, potatoes, brocilli) i abosoulutey hated food in america ur meat is all processed everything is so pricessed an chemcalised nothing looks or tastes homemade! and ur sweets were horrible except reeses peanut butter cups which i would gladly bow too! love ur taco bell too rite on!

  32. Barbara

    Oh my God – YES! You are soooo right about the food. I arrived after long long trip (AZ to London) around 3 in the afternoon at my cheap hotel in Paddington (funny funny room but I loved it). Woke up around midnight and asked at the desk if there was anywhere I could get food at that hour. Desk clerk very happily gave me directions down the street and around the corner to the right where I saw . . . . yes, a Burger King! Totally horrified (why leave the states to eat the same junk food?!) I looked around me and thankfully across the street saw a nice little Indian deli. I bought a couple somosas (to which I’d become addicted in Sydney buying them from a tiny stand in the red-light district that we passed through on the way back to our hotel), some grapes, some great chocolate and a lemon drink. When I returned to the hotel with my purchases and aske for my room key the face of the clerk (who was I think maybe Pakastani) lit up with approval. “Somosa?” he inquired and when I nodded and enthused over finding the deli I was rewarded with a huge smile. Food bad – people nice. Next time you’re back I highly recommend the Pride of Paddington pub on karoke night. Everyone there was lovely to me – although I’ve read comments from others on some internet sites saying they aren’t nice to outsiders. Piffle. If the outsiders are nice and lacking in attitude, the folks at the pub will take you right in. Even had one take me on a tour a few days later of the entire Temple Bar area –

  33. hannah

    You are clearly eating in all the wrong places!! There are many many great pubs in london that serve delicious food. If you care to venture out of central london to well, anywhere that isn’t mainly inhabited by tourists.. i’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    Great videos! Very inspiring!

  34. Danielle

    I used to work at O’Hare as a flight attendant and it’s weird to say but I miss O’Hare. I miss the choas, the cancellations, the running from gate to gate.

  35. Karen, Geneva

    From one of Her Madge’s subjects, that’s funny (but probably you are going to the touristy places, where the food is shite). At the very least we have an abundance of condiments to add some taste :) Looking forward to reading the rest of your blog. Video was excellent and waiting for the book.

  36. Elin

    Haven’t you been anywhere but London in the UK? You might like it, but I consider London to be one of the least pleasant places to visit in the whole country! Try York, Chester, Oxford, Durham, go to Devon and have a cream tea and then tell me our food sucks. Same applies to Cornish pasties in Cornwall. Have some mature Cheddar, Wensleydale, a Melton Mowbray pork pie or a Lincolnshire sausage and tell me they taste of paper. Go to Scotland! Get some haggis action in!

    I can’t believe you’ve got three posts on London and that’s the extent of your UK travels. I’m deeply saddened. Have you even seen Stone Henge/Avebury?!! I bet even in London you missed the only nice bit – the South bank. Please get your act together on the UK! This is a plea from a Brit! Get some fish and chips in Whitby, a curry in Birmingham, Yorkshire puds in York. Sort it out! Please! (Or “os gwelch yn dda” as they say in Wales, which you’ve apparently never been to either).

    – A concerned Brit

    ps – other than that- love the site xD

    pps- the reason for the food situation in restaurants is from the wars, when it was rubbish, they just never got out of the habit really when it turned out people still paid for it anyway. But if you go to someone’s house and get an English breakfast, a cornish pasty for lunch, tea and cake in the afternoon and a Sunday roast for dinner you wouldn’t think our food was rubbish ^_^ It’s just in people’s homes not in restaurants

  37. fran

    Seconded – there is nowt wrong with Yorkshire, and i guarantee you if you danced here everyone would join in, not like the southerners!!! If you want to dance in Leeds, give me a shout! x

  38. Carla

    Hi Matt, a friend of mine posted a link to your 2008 vid on facebook ages ago and it’s been saved in my favourites ever since – only just found it again.

    I’m having the crappest couple of days but your vid is the thing that has finally made me smile – how could it not! Thank you, and best wishes for your future travels.

    BTW I agree with everything Elin said on Jan. 31st 2009 (three above this) – from a Welsh-born, Norfolk-bred, ex-London-dweller. London is awesome but please try and see what else there is to Great Britain – London is probably the least British place on the whole island!

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