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Not Cooking Off the Cuff: Top Vacation Tastes in London and Munich

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Jackie and I are away at the moment and are having a wonderful time. I'd thought I might cook with London friends last weekend and thus have a new dish to describe, but by the time we got to their house all the cooking had been done; all I can do is say thank you, Alfie, Angela, Neil and Salvatore (in alphabetical order), for such a delicious meal.

As always, travel is inspiring in so many ways. We've seen paintings by new artists (new to us, that is), seen exciting operas and plays and, obviously, eaten food the memory of which will nudge my cooking in subtly new directions. We've been away (London and Munich) for thirteen days as I write this, so I'm going to list one standout taste from each.

Day One (London): Cod with lentils and salsa verde at Café Murano. Not just perfect fish cookery, but eye-crossingly well balanced flavors: lots of aromas and just the right spark of acidity in the lentils, and likewise in the salsa verde. Brava, Sam Williams, the restaurant's head chef.

Day Two: More fish. A compact and plump skate wing at Scott's. Nothing innovative here (it was garnished with the usual capers), but the fish itself, the neat preparation and the doneness were exemplary.

Day Three: At Opera Tavern, a small but thick ibérico pork hamburger with a little foie gras mixed into the meat. A well thought-out dish, with garlicky mayo, two kinds of onion and hot pickled peppers on the side. Believe it or not, I have a little foie gras fat in the freezer, and next time we have a burger this is going into it, possibly melted into the bun.

Day Four: Our Big Deal dinner at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught (which I've written about for Huffington Post Travel). The baba with Armagnac (see my travel post) was stunningly good.

Day Five: Boned crisp breast of lamb at Hutong in The Shard, Europe's tallest building. They braise the lamb in spiced broth, bone it, chill it, fry it and cut it into little rectangles. I'll make a version of this at home and report on it within a few weeks.

Day Six (in Munich): The mashed potatoes that came with my sausage platter at Spatenhaus an der Oper. Maybe talking about mashed potatoes sounds as if I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel, but no: these were topped with crisply fried onions. Again, nothing new, but they did it so perfectly that the dish was memorable.

Day Seven: Kaiserschmarrn at Zum Franziskaner. A thick, eggy pancake, ripped into bite-sized shreds in the skillet and properly caramelized, with raisins and nuts. Eating it almost made us forget the Day-Four baba. Almost.

Day Eight: A small thing, but one that's easy to duplicate. A soft pretzel (an excellent one), split horizontally and buttered: A Butterbrezel, which we had at the café in the Alte Pinakothek.

Day Nine (back in London): A big ham hock raviolo with greens and chicken broth at Merchants Tavern. Its delicacy was a big, pleasant surprise: rather than that over-salted, somewhat desiccated pink stuffing you might imagine from the name, this was based on a smooth chicken mousse with just the right amount of cured pork. Typical of Neil Borthwick's cooking at this excellent restaurant.

Day Ten: Haggis, mashed turnip (rutabaga) and mashed potatoes at the noisy but happy pub-restaurant The Ape & Bird. It was one day shy of Burns Night, so what else could we order? The grain in the haggis hadn't lost its chew, and the seasonings were lively and alluring. The texture of the turnips, too, was just chunky enough.

Day Eleven: A southern Italian sort-of salami called ventricina del Vastese, tasted at an impressive ham and charcuterie (and cheese) supplier called simply The Ham & Cheese Company. It's made of big chunks of unusually lean pork and lots of fragrant chilies.

Day Twelve was the night we had dinner at our friends' house. Hard to pick a highlight from so much good food, but the lamb shoulder simply roasted with vegetables was dreamy. Much of the credit goes to the cook(s), but a lot of it also goes to the butcher: The Butchery.

Day Thirteen: Scrambled eggs with soft, not over-salted bottarga and grilled sourdough bread at Café Murano. Yes, we went twice, and if we were staying longer we might have made it three times. As it happens, I have some bottarga in the fridge at home, so this will probably be on the agenda once we're back in New York.

And there are still two more days to go! I can't wait to see what's in store for us, especially at The Green Man and French Horn.

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