When you move abroad, to embrace the expat life in all its glory, the last thing you should be doing is yoyo-ing between your country and the new country. All your efforts must be spent loving your new home, learning all about its culture; the good, the bad and the ugly. If you spend too much time between the two places, you will never settle and you will always be comparing this, that and the other. This is what I did when I moved to Spain. I stayed away from England for a healthy 3 years. The two times I went back in those 3 years where just once for 5 days and later for 10 days. The 10 days were in the deep of winter which was enough to come back screaming to Spain. Boy am I glad I did not yoyo between countries. This gave me the opportunity to really love the expat life and make deep roots in Spain, so much so that Spain really feels like home.
But, for the first time in 3 years, I have come to spend a month in the U.K. Truth be told, I did not realise just how much I had missed it until I came back with excess time to feel right at home. For the first time since moving to Spain, I feel like I might not return to Spain. There are certain things I realised I had gotten used to but really I should not have.
Minor things in life always tend to make the difference. It cannot get any more minor than fresh milk and the abundance of it. Every time I go to a coffee shop in Madrid and find fresh milk, I leap for joy and it is usually followed by a glowing blog post. But here, it is so standard, my mum keeps it in her fridge. It might not sound like much, but after 3 years of UHT milk, you will understand what I mean.
Without getting too much into detail, I must say, it has been wonderful not getting stared at. You almost feel invisible as people go about their daily business. To some this is a minor issue and to others, it is major. It is even more wonderful to walk in a place where all cultures seem to be on equal footing. There are black and Asian people dressed in suits alongside their Caucasian counterparts. In the same way, the same races are also on the streets struggling to make ends meet in seemingly similar proportions.
Away from the minor things, in the few days I have been here, I have been amazed at how easy it is to get good food. Most visitors to London are quick to complain about how terrible food in the UK is in general. But, those are the same people you find eating in all the chains and looking for excellence in tourist hotspots. In the same way you wouldn’t expect a person to find Spanish gourmet food in Plaza Mayor, you wouldn’t expect a person to find gourmet food in the likes of Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.
Not only have I eaten brilliantly in a few days, I have also spent less that I thought I would. Thanks to the phenomenon we all know and love, gentrification, a former no no area has become the must visit venue. I was able to enjoy a world class English breakfast in Brixton market. Everything was on point but the bacon and sausages topped it all of. You just can’t get good sausages outside of the British Isles (I say anyway). What I loved the most about being in Brixton market was the sheer number of independent restaurants dotted around the market and all serving excellent food by the looks of it. From Australian style cafes to grilled meat specialists, to English tea and cake cafes, it was all there ready for a foodie. The market itself was a hub of multicultural London with different stalls selling African style clothing and cloths, Caribbean cuisine favourites, and of course, local produce. I don’t know about you, but I struggle to think of a place with similar characteristics in Madrid.
Even when I did find myself in the heart of tourist London, a good meal was never a needle in the haystack. All it took was a careful search on the gem that is Instagram. Safely nestled on the outer fringes of Soho, I came across a restaurant called The Flat Iron. The restaurant does not take reservations, so you just have to turn up and hope for the best. When I arrived on Saturday evening, we were told that the wait would be an hour and a half. I begged and pleaded for a rubbish table, even by the bar. I really thought nothing would come of it, but to my surprise Isaac and Jack, the hosts for the evening, ran frantically up and down to find a space for me and my family. I just could not believe the extra effort they went to to find us a table. Before even beginning to eat, I was already in awe at the excellent level of customer service. Something I had started to not value too much.
The Flat Iron was an excellent choice for dinner. The restaurant only serves one thing on their menu, a rib eye steak, soft and tender and cooked the perfection. If ever you find yourself in London, read this post and get yourself to The Flat Iron.
What sealed my thoughts for wanting to stay in good old Britain was that, after a very unsuccessful trip to a restaurant due to transport issues and getting lost (London is a jungle), I randomly stumbled upon Ken’s Kitchen. Located just on the outskirts of the City of London, Ken’s Kitchen is basically that, a kitchen for the in and out experience so typical of the City of London. I did not expect to eat well there. I ordered a beef rendang with rice and salad. Honestly, I was surprised at how delicious it was. The lady who served me explained to me that her husband cooked all the food and that they specialised in Indonesian and Malay cuisine. They have only been open for 3 months and I tell you, their future is bright. These kind of experiences with international food are so rare in Madrid. Of course, with time Madrid will catch on but the U.K. has had years of experience.
Many are the things to think of before deciding a move back. But as a warning, do not be surprised if one day, all of a sudden, I find myself saying goodbye Madrid!
Enjoy the rest of your summer and see you shortly.