I often get asked if I get tired of traveling so much; all that moving around must get old, right? It’s not for everyone, true, but there are so many things I love about touring! Believe it or not, I even cherish the in-flight meals, that’s how much I love it! But, there is one facet of being on tour that I would love to do without.
Our tour schedule can be grueling, by most travel standards. One five-week tour of Japan, we did twenty-nine shows, in as many cities!! We rarely sleep in the same hotel bed more than one night on any tour. The rigmarole of Pack-and-Unpack, Pack-and-Unpack, nearly every day–often twice in a day—is exhausting! Earlier this year, I finally realized that looking more than a few days ahead at our schedule simply isn’t worth the stress, but I still loathe the everyday packing routine.
So, you can imagine how utterly elated I was to learn on this tour that we would be staying at the same hotel in a neighborhood in London, England that I know well for four nights. In a row. It mattered not that we would be using London as a base for shows in Cambridge, Brighton, and, of course, London. The thought that I wouldn’t have to pack-and-repack, and would be sleeping in the same bed, for four nights was bliss. Icing on the cake was an entire day off in London, one of my favorite cities!
Our show at the legendary Apollo—traditionally known as Hammersmith Apollo, but recently purchased by a company that now tries to call it Eventim Apollo, much to the chagrin of Londoners who refuse to call it that—was as fun for us as expected. The shallow and wide layout of the hall, with nary a bad seat in the house, makes for an intimate evening, and sets the stage, if you will, for an exchange of high energy between audience and band. We all got a bonus when the von Trapps kids (descendents of Maria and Georg von Trapp) came on stage to join us for a few songs! I think, too, the fans that night were especially appreciative of that intimacy because the last few times we played in London was at the 5,000-seat Royal Albert Hall–which, by the way, is one of the most beautiful and amazing concert venues in the world.
But, tears did not come to me while at the Apollo. No, it happened when I was seated for a late lunch the other day.
In May and July of this year, we played two private parties on the beautiful Italian island of Sardinia. The May party was the last gig of that tour, so two of my bandmates, China Forbes and Phil Baker, and I stayed an extra few days on the island to relax, and to eat and drink local specialties to our heart’s content. That trip was transforming for me, and soon began an intense love affair with the flavors of the island, known for perfection in seafood and the white wine, Vermentino.
So, as I scanned the internet and Time Out London magazine (which, by the way, has whittled it’s Food and Drink section down to two pages, relegated to the very back of the publication…does anyone know why?) for inspiration for lunch, my heart literally skipped a beat when I spotted a review of a Sardinian restaurant! I immediately dressed myself, and made a pilgrimage to Sardo Cucina (www.Sardo-restaurant.com), in London’s West End.
One taste of the Fregola (a Sardinian pasta similar to Israeli couscous) with prawn and mussel brodo, and my eyes literally welled up with tears. A sip of the Vermentino with the Fregola, and I was blindsided by a Mac truck of emotion! That first tear was a new ingredient to the dish. I was completely transported back to the restaurant at the Hotel Petra Bianca on the island! Derek Rieth, my former bandmate, was seated across from me, which is the last place I saw him before he took his own life in August of this year. Finding The Perfect Food and Wine Pairing has always motivated me, but, I dare say this particular moment was the penultimate. Every bite and sip brought me deeper into a trance, and I could hear Derek’s warm, gentle voice as we discussed the food. Those last two trips on Sardinia were full of drama, much of it revolving around Derek, but he and I shared a special bond because he worked for many years in restaurants; not that he was super passionate about it, but he recognized that I am, and he often brought up the subject of food, knowing it made me happy. He was one of the kindest men I have ever known, and I didn’t want this meal to end. In fact, this meal will live on in my memory for the rest of my life.
It has been said that English food is nothing special, but I have to say the restaurant scene in London today is nothing short of exciting. Here is a short list of restaurants and wine bars in London I highly recommend (most of these have all been around for several years, but are still a part of the thriving scene here):
L’Etranger Restaurant (www.etranger.co.uk): One afternoon, I had a couple of hours to run out of our hotel in South Kensington, and grab lunch, and I ran into this classy wine-focused restaurant! What a find! Fine French cuisine (read: semi-precious) is perfectly paired with nicely-priced wines from their award-winning list. There’s also a wine bar downstairs that I didn’t see, but I’ve heard it’s worth a visit.
The River Café (www.rivercafe.co.uk): Ruth Rogers, the chef/owner of this modern Italian place on the River Thames, invited the band to dinner here in October, and we were all super impressed by the food, the wine selection, the convivial atmosphere, and, most of all, “Ruthie.” A lot of the food actually reminded me of Chef Adam Ruplinger’s, of my place, Coppia.
The Kensington Wine Rooms (www.greatwinesbytheglass.com): Located in Notting Hill, this wine bar has a great dinner menu, and they do a great job of pairing wines with it from their 40 wines by the glass. You can get a pre-paid card, walk around the main front area, where their Enomatic system houses the wines on offer by-the-glass, and get various-sized pours. Very nice staff, too!
Sketch (www.sketch.london): Stepping into the main hallway of this gigantic place in Soho is like walking into another world. Proceed to one of four of the dining rooms (each with a different theme and menu), and your senses are aroused from every corner, including the restrooms (trust me, check them out!). A center for food (2 Michelin stars for the Lecture Room), drink, music and art, Sketch has amazed and inspired people from around the world since 2002.
Hakkasan (www.hakkasan.com): I’ve only been to the original location, in Soho, several times, but there are several around the world now, many of them with Michelin stars. The contemporary Cantonese cuisine is spot-on every time, and the cocktail menu is full of drinks that shine with the food. The design is the epitome of restaurant eye candy, and the vibe is thumpin’.
Gordon’s Wine Bar (www.gordonswinebar.com): Thought to be London’s oldest wine bar, its interior has remained the same since its inception in 1890. A very, very cool Old-World feel, indeed. And, the list is interesting, with reasonably-priced selections of Old-World wines. A simple, but solid, charcuterie and cheese selection is all they offer for food, so don’t plan on dinner here.
Sardo Cucina (www.Sardo-restaurant.com): see notes in the body of this post. One additional note: the cured seafood plate is not to be missed!