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London Calling: Bourdain's Trip to the Culinary Capital Leaves Me Hungry

I love the Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. It's a travelogue with a bit of snark, a love letter to the culinary world from a guy you'd sooner expect to sneer than smile. So why did last night's episode, in which Tony traveled to London and Edinburgh, leave me so cold?

At the start of the episode (in addition to footage of Tony recording a song with British trip hop group Morcheeba), Tony posed an interesting question: what happened to British cooking? With the very best traditional ingredients, centuries of good food, and a history of uniting those two things, where did British cuisine go wrong? It's an intriguing thought to ponder, even if it does seem, in the age of London gastronomy, a little outdated. But still, in a land that can produce Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater, Tom Aikens, Nigella Lawson, Marco Pierre White, and a slew of other celebrity chefs, why does the turkey twizzler exist?

I was excited to see Tony tackle the London restaurant scene. After all, for nearly two decades England has been my home away from home and I hoped to see Tony heading off the beaten path for some novel culinary explorations before jetting off to Edinburgh to do the same up north.

Sadly, I was really let down by this episode. I think it was a bit of a misstep to combine the London and Edinburgh chapters into one episode (both could have been expanded into their own separate entities) and I don't think that the question was ever answered, not fully anyway.

Yes, British cuisine saw a downward turn a few decades back and somehow became entrenched in the minds of Americans (not this one, mind) as synonymous with overcooked, boiled foods. Since then, London has become one of the world's great gastronomic capitals but I wanted to Tony to really cut away the gristle from the meat and answer that query: how did it happen and why?

I wanted answers, not just the sight of Tony eating a deep-fried haggis with crime writer Ian Rankin. For an episode that I had anticipating for so long, I do have to say that I felt let down and disappointed, as though Bourdain had missed the point of London, missed the opportunity to explore its backstreets, farmers markets, haute cuisine temples, and its pub grub.

What did you think? Was the episode another sterling example of Bourdain's chic and smart foodie travel series? Or were you too let down by this sub-par installment? Discuss.

Comments

I am a huge Tony Bourdain fan but I haven't been that impressed with this season of No Reservations. The last episode in New Orleans was interesting but the preceding episode in Greece left much to be desired. It was obvious that Tony did not want to be there and so it was easy to feel, like him, apathetic about the whole experience.

The London show was definitely a let down. I don't know why you would split it up with Scotland as there's so much to explore in London itself. I thought that the questions he was asking about British food were both interesting and important but, ultimately, I felt like he got sidetracked (what was with the music recording stuff?) from those questions and didn't come up with any real answers.
iko said…
I agree that the episode was rushed - having never been to England or Scotland, I would have loved to see an hour devoted to each country, or at least an hour to London. That said, I think Tony did get the answer he was looking for: that processed, convenience foods became too available and easy. He then went on to relate that back to the current state of (food) affairs here in the U.S. This may be the trendy answer to the problem currently, but I don't think it makes it any less valid as a reason why most people have lost their taste for good food.

I did love how riled up Tony got over the blood cake, though. He looked so happy...

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