This is a belated review of my nearly two-week stay at 51 Buckingham Gate in London back in October. Let’s get the blog-stuff out of the way. I paid for this stay myself, but lest you vastly overestimate my personal worth, through a right conspiracy of forces in my personal life, I was able to stay here at a very, very good “discount” that was completely, totally and utterly unrelated to my blog. I never would have stayed here otherwise. (And no, work didn’t pay for this either.) I am being deliberately mysterious here because I am just trying to figure out if what I did for the discount was worth it and that evaluation is still in progress. I don’t want to mislead you until that evaluation is complete. More to come around April.
Anyhow, even at just one bedroom, the flat I occupied at 51 Buckingham Gate — just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace — was bigger than both of the flats I lived in while I was in London. The bedroom in my suite was huge. The living room/lounge was huge. The master bath/en-suite was HUGE. Heated towel racks galore — and Molton Brown products — for just me. Plus an extra half-bath just in case.
That being said…it kills me to say this…SIZE IS NOT EVERYTHING. The Dean Street Townhouse and its lovely small rooms completely outshone 51 Buckingham Gate. So too did the room at my first stay at a Firmdale Hotel — The Covent Garden Hotel. Both Dean Street and The Covent Garden go luxury in small spaces over large spaces with, um, a half-hearted attempt at luxury. Another hotel also very good: The Zetter. All of these hotels had such a better mix of furnishings, service, and on-site beverage programs.
Because let’s face it…I got kicked out of the bar each evening at 9 p.m. 9 p.m.! I wasn’t there every evening, I promise. But I was there for a few. And around 8:45 pm each time, the staff would tell it was time to go — I was welcome to stay and avail myself of butler service — but the staff was going home.
Bah. Thinking back to what I liked about the place…I liked the Molton Brown products, and I liked the Whole Foods gift basket they gave me because I was staying more than six days. (That being said, I would like to speak to the person who assembled the gift basket because I think they could have put together a more useful combination of stuff. I have a liter of olive oil I’d like to get rid of now.) I liked the twice-daily room servicing, and I liked the library/cafe area.
I didn’t like the carpets in my room (they’d seen better days), nor did I like the windows (they let in the chill). The master bath, while HUGE, was old and in dire need of a refurb. I did not like the location most of all — the area south of Buckingham Palace is a wasteland of government buildings and is just very, very boring.
In short, even should the fates again conspire to put me here, I’d only say yes because I miss London so desperately that I am open to selling any part of my soul. (Seriously.) Otherwise, you can find me arbitraging on Hotwire.
Americans, stop it. Of London, you often say, “Boy I hear the food is really terrible there.” Stop it, stop it, stop it. Perception is NOT reality, my dear American friends. Yes, you will hate me when I tell you that I like the food in London better (generally speaking) than food in Chicago and that there is more more quality, more care, more variety, more fun. You will not believe me. You will speak poorly about me when I leave the room, the house, the event. But it’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I like the food in London better, with the exception of the need for the rare quesadilla, the rare chardog, the rare blueberry pancake. I go back to London to staunch the wound. It is deep. Very deep. Here’s where I ate in London last month, roughly in geographic order, west to east:
Terroirs, Charring Cross. We lucked out and had the best server ever in this well-kept little wine bar, especially in comparison to my past visits. Plus, our charcuterie and wine all on point. Great choice by Trafalgar Square.
St. John Hotel, Chinatown: Apparently under administration?? (That’s bankruptcy for the Americans.) But I love the bar, tucked up above Chinatown. A destination in an area of windows of dead ducks. Even if just for wine in the bar.
Four Seasons, Chinatown: I needed some crispy duck and prawn crackers. This place is a MACHINE. In, out, in, out. And everyone seems drunk. But maybe that was just me. I’m a cheap date, really. Not a destination, but fun just the same.
Koya, Soho: Simple and beautiful, affordable udon in intensely aromatic broth. Finally, finally finally. Liked it so much, I went twice in 10 days. Sprightly, attentive, and happy service. Wonderfully informal. Go.
Barrafina, Soho: Razor clams. Bar seating. Croquetas. That is all. Go.
Bubbledogs, Tottenham Court: Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Hot dogs! Champagne! Tiny little space! No reservations! And, um, sweet potato fries. (Been there, got the t-shirt.) This place is fun, although waiting for your table for over an hour on a Saturday night might not be so fun. I dig it. For now. I will probably not like it later, when there are 40 of them.
Drapers Arms, Islington: Stopped in on a busy Sunday afternoon to meet my friend Ben for a pint. Great to see it so packed and popular. A lovely neighborhood destination. Perfect for Sunday lunch.
Polpo Smithfield: Perky service, darkly romantic in the evening, and fun small plates. Even though I’m just so very, very tired of small plates. MEATBALLS. Casual and reliable and poised to become an empire.
St. John, Smithfield: Bone marrow. That is all. Go.
Busaba Eathai, Shoreditch: Don’t hate me. It’s close to my office and it was a work lunch. My Thai green curry was absolutely fine! I’d do it again. Does that make me less of a person?
Grab Thai, Shoreditch. A stalwart, as it’s right by my office. I love it here. This is mainly a take-out place. Super cheap and likeable Thai. Nice staff. Great for lunch on the go.
Not enough time for all that I want to do. I’m coming back for you, London. I am.
Back to London. And the giant glowing orb in the sky actually cooperated for a moment. Everything was beautiful. (Look closely at Tower Bridge and you can see the Olympic Rings, getting ready for their descent.) I worked well, I ate well, I WALKED well. London is an incredible city to walk in, and I stayed entirely above ground during this part of my visit.
I moved into the compact but efficient Zetter in Clerkenwell for five nights. This made me more than a little teary-eyed because I was staying just a few blocks away from my old flat, a flat I lived in for over five years. Amazing how quickly London has changed in the short period I’ve been away.
I liked The Zetter. But the rooms are VERY small. (If you need to stay in this general area, The Hoxton is a bit more spacious.) The Zetter staff were lovely though and the bath products (Ren) were much much better than The Hoxton’s. (The Hoxton is generally cheaper than The Zetter though.) In short, if I could swing it, I might stay here again. But I think The Hoxton might still win out.
Here’s where I ate and drank…
Salvation Jane, 55 City Road, Shoreditch/City. I was glad to see something useful had finally gone into this strip of City Road. Let’s hope Salvation Jane lasts because the Indian street food place didn’t last long (and there were a lot of bailiffs involved) and then there was that Thai place that was all quite dark and scary and they were always rehabbing the toilets. We had some good coffees at Salvation Jane though, and the service was nice and overall, I like the vibe. The Verdict: Recommended for coffee talk.
The Old Fountain, 3 Baldwin Street, Shoreditch: I returned to one of my favorite pubs in London, The Old Fountain, with my friends Gerry & Ben. It was ridiculously different. There were no old men, the carpet had been replaced, and it had been entirely repainted and refurbished. I appreciate gentrification, but I was still a bit sad. That being said, the beer selection was ace and the rooftop was lovely. The Verdict: Recommended if you’re in the area and want to have some beers in a quiet place.
St. John, 145-57 St. John Street, Clerkenwell. I couldn’t not stop into the bar at St. John for some drinks and snacks. Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese for the win! The Verdict: GO.
Hoxton Beach: Whitecross Street Market, Barbican. You can’t see what’s in there, but it’s the most delicious falafel wrap EVER. I love these guys. I dream about them. And their pickled vegetables. Get a falafel wrap (this is the small) from Hoxton Beach and then head on over to the Two Brewers down by Waitrose for a cheeky pint. The Two Brewers lets you bring in food from the market. Genius idea. The Verdict: Yes to Hoxton Beach!
Grab Thai, 5 Leonard Street, Shoreditch: I think I’ve written about these guys before. Incredibly inexpensive, incredibly delicious. I normally stick to the green chicken curry for lunch. Good times: The Verdict: Cheap and filling and very good lunch. GO.
Tramshed, 32 Rivington Street, Shoreditch. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m an East London girl.) I really enjoyed my steak and chips. Couldn’t really complain. I also liked the design of the place and all the tilework. (It’s a Mark Hix place, btw.) Not sure how I felt about Damien Hirst’s preserved cow, but luckily, it’s high enough above the dining room that you don’t have to look at it while you’re eating. The Verdict: Very good.
10 Greek Street, 10 Greek Street, Soho. I’m somewhere in between on 10 Greek Street. I like the idea of the place and I like that it’s small and I thought all our servers were lovely but try sitting on a bar stool where a creepy man is pressing his sweaty back up against yours repeatedly for 45 minutes and, well, you might just end up feeling a bit UNWELL about everything. The food was very nice, but I drank a lot of white wine to get over my feelings of violation, so I am no good judge. The Verdict: I need to go back. (Talk about the beauty of natural light for photos, huh?)
Pitt Cue Co., 1 Newburgh Street. Somehow, during all my wanderings around Soho, I’ve never managed to make it down Newburgh Street. But here I was, hanging out on a street corner, 15 minutes before Pitt Cue opened. I think I might have fallen in love with one of the proprietors while I was waiting. Sigh. I meant to order the pulled pork bun but got the pulled pork meal instead (with a side of baked beans), but it really didn’t matter because it was all pretty excellent. And only 11 quid. The Verdict: GO. But don’t show up with 12 people. They are super super tiny.
The Gate, 370 St. John Street, Clerkenwell. So here’s my first question…when you KNOW you are going to open a restaurant on St. John Street, WHY do you give it the same name as a BAR further down on St. John Street? Confusing. Then, when I enter your restaurant, why do you ignore me? And then when you finally take my drink order, why do you walk away in the middle of my conversation? And then when you come to take my order, why do you tell me not to order anything on the menu because it is all going to take a really long time? And then when you come to ask “How is everything?,” why do you walk away before I can even answer??? My dining experience at The Gate is worth a short story of its own. I think you get the gist. They are CRAZY. The weird thing? My asparagus rotolo was weirdly EXCELLENT. The Verdict: I’m afraid to send you here. But the food is really good. (Note entirely vegetarian.)
While I was in town, I also saw the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern, which was quite affecting. I’d recommend it. I’m still thinking about it, a week or two later, and I think that’s what art is all about. I also saw the Christian Louboutin exhibit at the Design Museum, and while it’s nice to look at shoes, the exhibit didn’t give you much context about the artist, which was disappointing. There were also a lot of screaming 10 year olds. Who takes 10 year olds to a French shoe exhibit? Odd.
I’ve been thinking lately about trying to get back to London more often. Let me know if anyone is interested in an intermittent flatmate.
P.S. I’m realizing after posting this that I didn’t include Sedap on Old Street or The Modern Pantry on Clerkenwell Road. I revisited both. I still highly recommend Sedap, but I wasn’t too impressed with my watery omelet at The Modern Pantry, unfortunately.
Back to London, a trip in two parts. And although it was gray and rainy and dreary for the entire Part I of my visit, it was still amazingly wonderful. To the few citizens of Chicago who read my fair blog, I hope that if we do not ever meet, I have at least one little small impact on your life: You pack your bags and go to London sometime. Eight hours on a plane is NOTHING. It is worth it. You should go. (But leave your sweatpants and pillow at home. Just a pet peeve of mine on airplanes. A bit precious, innit?)
Although I saved money on the Amsterdam leg of my trip, I SPENT money on this part of the trip. I splurged on The Haymarket Hotel, located right off Trafalgar Square. A while ago, I spent one night in the Covent Garden Hotel (also a Firmdale hotel) and LOVED it. So I was excited to try a second property. The Haymarket did not disappoint. The staff were all amazingly lovely and helpful and the facilities were gorgeous and I just wanted to roll around in the bed for ages and ages and ages. On my first night, the hotel staff left me stationary. And room spray. I wanted to write you all love letters from London, old school style.
The bathroom in my room at The Haymarket was as big as, if not bigger than, my hotel room during Return to London, Second Part. (Stay tuned.) Nice Miller Harris products too.
I dropped into MEATliquor for lunch one afternoon. I could barely see my burger and onion rings — thank goodness for the flashlight app on the iPhone – but everything was pretty darn good in a really messy sort of way. Although I still prefer my bun more toasted. Holds up to the meaty juices better, you know. This was also a tremendously good value of a lunch at just TWELVE POUNDS for a burger, onion rings, and Diet Coke. Do it.
But I’m skipping ahead. On Sunday afternoon, I met up with partners-in-crime, Ben & Antonia, for one of those perfect Sunday Lunches. Elliot’s Cafe in Borough Market. Great lighting. Great food. Great service. I got a little teary-eyed afterwards, really.
Look at the lamb! Pink! Perfect.
And I don’t know what they did to this asparagus, but I want MORE. Might be one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten this year.
I won’t torture you with the steak tartare starter or the lovely strawberry and elderflower jelly we had for dessert. And all of this PLUS MORE for just 25 QUID per person. That’s $38 USD. People like to tell me that the UK is more expensive than America (especially people who have not lived in both countries), but on food, I disagree. In London, you will get better quality food for less money. I am sure of it.
Cultural break. I went to the National Gallery. It was very stressful as there were many children having severe meltdowns. I had to leave. But I admired the mosaic tile floor in the entrance landings. Gorgeous.
Had to, had to, had to, had to revisit Spuntino. LOVE Spuntino. You will too. But get there early like I did because it is VERY small and there are only 20 covers or so, mostly bar seating. So if you go and there’s a queue and you have to wait forever, you will hate Spuntino. But if you get there early and can get a seat, you will love it. I promise.
Spuntino Truffled Egg Toast, I think I love you. Fantastic. (Sorry, forgot to take a photo before diving in.)
And then, lucky lucky me. Pierre Herme in London was having a little launch event for their new line of breakfast products as well as their line of lemon products. Long-term readers will know I am a sucker for all things lemon. So I went and it was gorgeous. There was hazelnut praline spread — it took Mr. Herme three years to create this — and then there were lemon macarons and lemon chocolates and lemon pound cake and I rolled myself out of there, a bit addled by lemon in the best possible way. Mr. Herme, please come to Chicago.
Love London. Love it, love it, love it. I’ve missed it so much that I made sure I visited twice in one week. Stay tuned for Return to London, Second Part.
Hello Northern Line. I’ve missed you. Yes. You. Even though you totally suck at rush hour. But when you’re empty and you make the sounds that you do, I do love you. You’re efficient. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’re clean. (Except during rush hour, with all the newspapers flapping about.) You’re — strangely — comfortable, you with your blue velour cushioned seats. London Bridge to Angel, in no time then.
Yes. I was back. A flight to London in the $800 range? This is a good thing. Lots of points on my credit card, letting me stay three nights at the The Park Lane Hotel? Even better.
Too bad The Park Lane was such a dump, relatively speaking. The carpets had seen better days. Way way better better days. But at least the bed was comfortable. Oh, and they had one of those outlet panels that let’s you plug in an American plug. Even though you’re in the UK. Nice.
The lounge at the hotel was GORGEOUS. Utterly old-school gorgeous. Makes you want to drink champagne gorgeous. Too bad this didn’t translate to the dumpity-dump-dump dumps of rooms.
To make myself feel better, I took myself out to dinner. At Dinner. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. You know, this guy. I would like to thank — profusely and obviously so — the maitre’d at Dinner for squeezing in our table of six on a Friday night at 8 pm. And into a very prime table no less. I’m sad we never got a chance to meet. Or hug. Because truly, this was one of the loveliest of evenings…definitely hug-worthy. Even if @leeturnerconn – aka Feathers –was ready to pass out at the table. (Pregnant. Twins. We forgive her.) But that Meat Fruit (pictured)? Like silk. Edible edible silk. (Foie gras. Mandarin. You get it.) The maitre’d also popped for a round of biscuity champagne, a wonderful surprise that made an already festive evening even more so festive.
I had the pork chop to end all pork chops at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Soft like a blanket inside. In the best possible way.
The Tipsy Cake — a wonderful pineapple creation — nearly brought me to tears. Happy sad tears for everything I had left behind and everything yet to come. (Even though this was the end.) Slow-roasted pineapple. On a spit. Carmelized and only-God-knows-what-else-brioche with custard — custard which I am normally not a fan of, but which worked marvelously well here. I didn’t want to leave Dinner, and nothing could spoil anything, not even the couple at the table next to us, who stopped to (rudely and obviously) count the number of (perceived) Americans at our table. Sigh. We’ve been in the country a while now. We talk with our inside voices. Really. (And you two didn’t talk to each other one bit your ENTIRE meal. Sad!)
The Verdict: You should go to Dinner. If you don’t live in the UK, you should get on a plane and fly there. Just don’t cry. Like I did, in the terribly short taxi ride “home,” against the darkness of Green Park, wide awake with jetlag, wondering how I could make this all never end.
Chin up though! After a spin through Borough Market Saturday morning, where I had one of these…
and wept with happiness (that’s the chorizo & rocket sandwich from Brindisa), @tehbus suggested I come on over to Ferdies Food Lab that evening, which Simon himself had invited me to a week or two earlier. I took this all as a huge sign and headed over to Aldgate East to meet the gang for what would turn out to be a memorably bizarre evening. (You know…where there’s a man wearing a beret who talks about his black cape, and there’s someone else who manages to tell an entirely different story to everyone there about how they came to be there, and then there’s an in-depth discussion of the pros-and-cons of “adult” dating Web sites and before you know it, someone has drank all your wine so you’re drinking someone else’s and hope they don’t notice before it’s time to leave. And then you try to take a taxi home but the black cab driver kinda goes a lot crazy on you — only the second time that’s happened over hundreds of cab rides over more than seven years — to the point where you just pay him and get out in the middle of traffic at Oxford Street tube, even though you’re going to Green Park. )
Ferdies Food Lab is what I’d call a supper club. A large one. And a loud one. Either I’m deaf, or no one but @tehbus speaks loudly enough for me to understand.
The main of slow roast lamb was — and I hate both of these words — moist and succulent. Hard to turn away from this dish. I sorta wanted to take away the leftovers. But I had nowhere to put them. (Sob.)
The next morning, I went to Automat in Mayfair for the most disappointing of American breakfasts before heading down to Brockley for the most amazing of barbecues and the most beautiful of skies. And then the Big Green Egg came down from the skies and gifted us all with food and we were very happy.
Yup…even though I was just there in April, I was back again in June. Wild horses and all that. And what a whirlwind! Work work work with a little fun on the side. Here’s where I ate and drank and what I thought…
Made in Camden, Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road: LOVED IT. Totally empty on a Saturday night at 8 pm. But luscious food and friendly, professional service. Maybe it’s the somewhat odd location — a concert venue — that was keeping the punters away. We almost ordered a second batch of roasted pork belly, confit fennel crumble, plum and rhubarb relish and I loved the grilled onglet, smoked chilli sambal, asparagus, and broad bean. Casual, but still very nice. The Verdict: Highly recommended.
The Hide Bar, Bermondsey Street, SE1: After dinner with Al & Louise, I headed over to London Bridge to meet EuWen for some birthday drinks. Cheese & Biscuits, Bribed with Food, and Jordi were there too, and it was great catching up. Plus some others, but my memory is a little hazy after all the Albariño and, well, the jetlag. Everyone seemed really tall and rosy-cheeked and had posh accents. A man waiting at the bar told me I should smile more. Verdict: I’m too old, I fear. Nice private room though.
City Best Kebab, 10 Pittfield Street: Not one of my prouder moments. After saying goodbye to EuWen, I was wide awake and — can you believe it — starving. So I went to City Best Kebab and got a small lamb doner to go. And it was pretty awesome. Verdict: If it’s after 2 a.m. and you’re in the ‘hood, sure.
The Japanese Ladies on Brick Lane: Across from the Sunday Up Market entrance, and just a bit north — right by the lane that takes you into that other market (the Backyard Market?), I picked up a chicken katsu curry for £5. They don’t do smalls anymore…only big bowls. A little too much for me, but still very delicious. And I like that you can see them frying your chicken right in front of you. As the first order of the day, my chicken was damn good. Verdict: Fun if you’re on Brick Lane on a Sunday.
Prospect of Whitby, 57 Wapping Wall: Gerry, Ben and I dropped in here for a pint because it’s one of London’s oldest pubs. It’s been taken over by a pub chain and has lost some of what I’m sure was original charm. Verdict: Not worth the trip.
The Wapping Project, Wapping Wall: After our disappointing stop at The Prospect of Whitby, we hopped across the street to The Wapping Project. And fell in love! We did not eat here. We just drank. But it was lovely, with the sun coming through the windows just SO. The Wapping Project is set in an old Power Station. There’s a spookily lovely exhibition in the back — a wedding dress suspended over water. Verdict: I can’t vouch for the food, but for drinks, it’s a really lovely and unusual setting.
Bevis Marks, 4 Heneage Lane: On Monday, I had dinner with a business colleague who keeps Kosher. I had no idea how difficult it was to keep truly Kosher in London until I had to feed someone for a week without making constant trips to Golders Green. (Note: Waitrose on Whitecross Street has a small number of kosher sandwiches. Look for the ones in the green boxes.) So on Monday night, I made my first trip ever to Bevis Marks, a place that’s been on my list for a while. The service was really lovely. The food was competently done. But as my Israeli colleague said at one point in the meal, “I come all the way to London and I’m eating Eastern European food.” I also felt the portions were VERY large. Oh, and they were out of latkes. OUT OF LATKES?? Verdict: A good choice for a Kosher meal. Pricey though.
The Rivington, 28-30 Rivington Street: On Tuesday, we had a big group dinner at The Rivington Grill in Shoreditch. My beet salad starter was GREAT, but my roast chicken main was dry and HUGE. It felt like 1/2 a chicken. They swear it wasn’t a whole half, but it sure was BIG. Verdict: I’ve dined at The Rivington many times and generally like it, but I felt a little let down by the chicken. Ah, also they totally struggled with a big group and we waited forever for our food. They did charge my iPhone for me though.
The Bricklayer’s Arms, 63 Charlotte Road, Shoreditch: I bought 20 Kronenbourgs here, 20 minutes before closing. Seriously. Verdict: Fine. A nice little pub in an area chock full of trendoids.
Grab Thai, 5 Leonard Street, Shoreditch: I noticed this little Thai eatery down a side street by my office on my first day in town and knew it warranted a visit. I liked it so much I went a second time later in the week. Nice green curry. Verdict: Great for a casual lunch.
The Zetter Townhouse: Dropped in here for a quick couple of drinks before dinner on Wednesday. Loved the old auntie feel in here…like you’re in your grandma’s lounge. All very civilized. Verdict: Recommended for cocktails.
Bistro du Vin: Without a booking, we managed to walk in off the street on a busy Wednesday night and snag the only unreserved table. I’m sure it’s a nice place, but my experience here left me ANGRY. I watched as the gentleman at the table next to us sent back his steak frites because the steak was underdone. Then my steak frites arrived — ordered medium rare — and it was pretty bloody. So I asked to send it back. The waitperson tried to argue with me that it was indeed medium rare. (Strike #1 — don’t argue with the customer. In this particular instance, it doesn’t matter if I’m right or wrong…I will want it COOKED MORE.) I patiently said that I was sure it wasn’t medium rare, but that it didn’t matter and I just wanted it cooked a bit more. She SMIRKED at me, started to take the plate away, and then started this tsk-tsk head-shaking thing as if my request were just so ridiculous…to the point where I had to say, out loud, “Don’t you shake your head at me. It’s undercooked. Take it back.” Verdict: Meh.
Thursday: I took Thursday off and went to bed ridiculously early. It was awesome.
Cay Tre: Have you figured out what hotel I was staying at yet? On Friday night, I met some friends over in Hyde Park to see The Killers. And it was awesome, but shame about the rain. I realized when I got back to my hotel why I was so hungry — I hadn’t eaten dinner yet — so I dropped into Cay Tre for some duck curry to go. Just like The Killers, it was awesome. I really, really enjoyed this. This may have been helped by the 17 beers I had drank earlier, but still. Pretty damn delicious. Oh, and while I was waiting for my food, I totally watched this 70 year old man mack on a 20 year old girl. FASCINATING. Verdict: Yeah! (Cay Tre, that is. Not dating old guys.)
I went to London last month. For seven full days. The longest I’ve been back since my work trip last September and after I left in August. I went in April too but it wasn’t the same. That was a super-quick trip for my birthday — conveniently overlapping with the Royal Wedding. Next time, I want to go for two weeks…get an apartment in Islington or Shoreditch or somewhere. So I can relax.
I took some pictures while I was in London. (Of course.) And fell in love with Instagram. You will too.
Coffee at The Hoxton Hotel
The Northern Line at Old Street
Chalk Farm Underground
Dinner at Made in Camden
Top of the 43 at Bank
What Turned out to be an Ad for Jim Beam on Great Eastern Street
Two Sundays ago, I was very happy to be back in my old routine in London. I meandered down Great Eastern Street, over Shoreditch High Street, down Hanbury Street, and up Brick Lane. A bit south of Cheshire Street–very close to the East London Line bridge–I saw this guy. I’ve seen him before, of course. But it’s been a while. And I hadn’t thought of taking any video previously. This time, I whipped out my iPhone, held it the wrong way (AGAIN), and made this…
Americans who go abroad often have a problem with European hotel rooms. They are too small, they say, Read TripAdvisor or anything similar and you will find gazillions of my countrymen (sorry — countrypeople) lambasting the size of European hotel rooms.
So let’s just get it out of the way now. My room at The Dean Street Townhouse was small. Pretty small.
But it was also absolutely gorgeous. GORGEOUS.
I want to hire the person who makes the bed to come to my house and iron all my sheets and make my bed every day, so tight and snugly was it done up and so soundly did I sleep here.
When I lived in London, everyone that was up on London and restaurants and drinking establishments knew about The Dean Street Townhouse. Part of Soho House (and Shoreditch House), it was quite hard to ignore. But what people knew about was the restaurant. Not the hotel. Sascha over at LibertyLondonGirl posted a video review of the hotel quite some time ago, and I remember being charmed by all this small boutique property had to offer. So when it came time to book my birthday stay in London over Royal Wedding Weekend, it was the first place I looked…after I figured out that every other hotel I’d want to stay in was going for more than $600 USD per night. (The Dean Street Townhouse was still not cheap in American terms…£250 or $410 a night. Ouch. Hurts me to think about it in dollars. But in pounds, £250 sounds so much better.)
For a small hotel, Dean Street was jam-packed with amenities. I’ve yet to stay in any other hotel that offers Sky+ to their guests. (That’s Tivo, to my American readers.) There was free-wifi throughout the hotel — even next door in the neighboring restaurant — and even better, there was this…
See all those bottles there? Those are Cowshed products. Four different types of body wash to choose from, along with a lovely shampoo and conditioner. FULL SIZE. The conditioner was so good that I bought a bottle before I left. Really…amazing. (I have ridiculously thick hair with a wave that only responds to professionals. — I’m on the 4th week of a very intense Keratin treatment at the moment. — Cowshed’s conditioner tamed it more than any other conditioner I’ve ever tried. Truly.)
Ah and see this…these are all the goodies that maybe you forgot to bring along with you. Like I had forgotten facial cleanser. So I used Cowshed’s. I don’t normally use toner, but as long as I was using the cleanser, I also used the toner and let me tell you…I am now a believer. My skin has never — honestly — felt younger. I don’t understand why the best of hotels don’t provide this sort of amenity basket. The upside from someone like me buying the £18 bottle of conditioner certainly pays for all the products in here. Including the prophylactics. Yes. There were even prophylactics in the basket.
The rest of the room — what admittedly there was of it — was similarly delightfully and thoughtfully put together. Every day, they filled up my tea and biscuit tins. And in the drawers of that cupboard there was not only a Babyliss hair dryer, but also a HAIR STRAIGHTENER. I have never stayed in a hotel before that offers hair straighteners. That’s awesome.
The only downside to my three-night stay here? The floor covering was something rattan-like. I accidentally left a sweater on the floor one night and was picking hay off myself for the next 48 hours.
The Verdict: STAY. NOW. OBEY.
The Damage: Significant. But it was my birthday. So there is that.
London. Friday, April 29. I got up bright and early to head to the flat of my friends Kellie and James. (You might remember them from my weekend in Amersham.) They live right off of Queensway, a very strategic location for our Royal Wedding Plans. James was super sweet and bought us champagne and croissants and we all got a little teary-eyed watching the Royal Wedding. Seriously. I had picked up a few Union Jacks at a local convenience store on the way over and we did a little flag waving in front of the telly as Wills and Kate left Westminster Abbey.
Once the main event was over, we hoofed it through Hyde Park on our way to Buckingham Palace, hoping to get caught up in the festivities and make it close enough to see the balcony and of course the kiss. As you can see from the photo above, we were not the only people with this idea! (Taken from the end of Constitution Hill, close to Hyde Park Corner.) Kellie and James hopped a fence and disappeared into the crowds. I was wearing a dress and I don’t do fences; instead, I took myself out for a late lunch.
I headed to Barrafina in Soho. Actually, I walked there. Not a short walk, really. Particularly for a repatriated American who isn’t as used to walking as she used to be and is more than a little bit jet-lagged from my flight the previous day. Hyde Park Corner tube was closed and I couldn’t find a Boris Bike to save my life–well, I did find one and it was mine because I have a bike key, but I didn’t feel like fighting with the big American who was about to purchase it with his credit card. I also couldn’t find a taxi. Truth be told, the atmosphere and mood in London was just so boisterous and happy (with said exception of big American man who didn’t want me to take the one bike left on Grosvenor Square) that I didn’t mind the walk.
There were a handful of seats open at Barrafina when I arrived. They quickly called “last call” and I rushed to place my order. Razor clams and their Catalan spinach, which is seriously one of my most favorite dishes ever. The razor clams were disgustingly delicious–and I mean that in the best possible way. I had to order bread just to sop up the remaining garlicky deliciousness.
The next morning, I headed over to Notting Hill to meet Sarah and Bernard for lunch and a stroll–the beginning of THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER. Our original plan of dining at Books for Cooks was thwarted when we learned they were only serving pastries for lunch. Not being much one for pastries, I suggested the Italian place around the corner. We headed to Osteria Basilico.
The afternoon we visited was amazingly lovely. The sky was bright blue and it was — dare I say it — actually quite hot. We were the first to arrive at the restaurant and were offered a coveted window seat.
Hello delicious Fettuccine al Ragout di Vitello, Rosmarino e Scaglie di Parmigiano. Where have you been all my life? We should meet here more often. This was lovely. I’d go back for more.
After lunch, we stopped into Dri Dri on Portabello Road for some gelato. I think Bernard tasted every single one they had before deciding on a flavor. I was very predictable and had mint chocolate chip. It was just okay.
I said goodbye to Sarah and Bernard and headed back to my favorite place on earth, Liberty, to meet up with Feathers. Feathers had forgotten her wallet so I had to bankroll her makeup purchases. That’s what friends are for, huh? Oh Liberty, how I love you.
After Liberty, we made our way to the cocktail bar downstairs at Hix Soho, where the bountifully generous Ben & Antonia gifted me this memento of my London weekend.
Ben & Antonia headed off for their dinner booking at the St John Hotel, which funnily enough, was shortly before MY dinner booking at the St John Hotel. I said goodbye only to say hello when I saw them at the restaurant about two hours later. London’s a small place sometimes.
April 30th was my birthday by the way. I like Saturday birthdays.
The asparagus at the St John Hotel was properly fat. The plate was propped up just a little bit so you could pour the butter over the asparagus and let it run down the plate. So simple. So genius. I believe that’s smoked celery salt over to the side. Magic.
My main of snails and bacon was dangerously rich. I gave a lot of the bacon to Al because I just could not do things justice at this point. (I really need to be jetlagged more often because I seriously cannot eat when jetlagged.) I want to have this dish again when my head is not so discombobulated. (And maybe also after I’ve skipped the two Dark & Stormys earlier at Hix Soho.)
I convinced Richard, Mireia and Al that we should order a dozen madeleines…that no one does madeleines like St John. They were suspicious at first–a dozen madeleines for four people??–but relented. And they were glad. Seriously…you know I don’t like sweets but there is something about the way St John does these that is just so…dangerous. Mireia admitted they were better than hers…high praise!
After dinner, it was time to head home. I had a flight to catch the next day and we are just not as young as we used to be. I had this idea of taking one last stroll through Chinatown and Soho, but forsake it for the comfort of my bed at the wonderfully lovely Dean Street Townhouse.
Birthdays don’t get much better than this. Thanks to everyone who played a part. xoxo.
Where I ate and drank in London — as detailed in this post — and where you should too… Barrafina: 54 Frith Street, Soho. No bookings and quite small so arrive at an odd time and try not to bring six people with you. Excellent tapas. No tables…just bar seating. It’s like you’re in San Sebastian. Osteria Basilico: 29 Kensington Park Rd, Notting Hill. Popular Italian dinner spot. Friendly, family-like service. Neighborhood-y. Dri Dri: 189 Portabello Road, Notting Hill. Local gelato place. Limited flavors. Friendly, Italian service. OK gelato but not worth the trip, IMHO. Hix Soho: 66-70 Brewer Street, Soho. Solid British food upstairs, great cocktails and comfy chairs downstairs. Like it. St. John Hotel: 1-2 Leicester Street, Chinatown: I am a fan of all things St. John. A bit austere and plain, but that’s one of the things I like about it. All very white. VERY British food. VERY knowledgeable service. I do think the menu can be a bit challenging for Americans who don’t eat out much, but I still love all their locations and if you fancy yourself the tiniest bit “foodie,” you should go.
I arrived into London bright and early on a Thursday morning — April 28th, 2011. Feathers had kindly offered to put me up out in Blackheath, but I wanted to be central and it was, after all, my birthday weekend. So I had every excuse to treat myself.
I put myself up in one of the small rooms at the ueber-lovely Dean Street Townhouse. I am not the sort of tourist that expects my room to be ready so early in the morning, so I was prepared to take to the streets with my camera for a while.
I started out with some tea and macarons at the lovely lo-fi Yumchaa on Berwick Street in Soho.
I forgot I was still shooting with custom white balance, but in hindsight, the colors matched my mood. Just a little blue…
Still not fully caffeinated, I stopped into Fernandez & Wells on St. Anne’s Court for a latte or two, where the staff and I discussed donuts and why there aren’t more donut shops in London. (Cue oncoming onslaught.) I miss Fernandez & Wells.
I popped back into the Dean Street Townhouse on my way to lunch and admired the tile work in the ladies’ loo. Chicago just doesn’t do restrooms like this. I can’t get enough of white subway tile.
Then it was over to Spuntino for lunch with Chris and EuWen. Spuntino gives you free popcorn. I love Spuntino, so I’ll be writing a separate post about it.
Not the best photo — the server does have arms but it’s an action shot. The inside of Spuntino reminded me in an odd way of the older part of Highgate Cemetary. It boasts original tilework that they haven’t touched, giving the tiny little restaurant/bar an air of managed neglect.
After lunch, it was back to the Dean Street Townhouse for a quick nap. I loved my room. More about the Dean Street Townhouse in a later post too.
After my nap, I met Niamh down in the Dean Street Townhouse bar where I got to see all the proofs for her new cookbook, Comfort & Spice. Pretty darn exciting. Lee met us there too.
Lee and I said goodbye to Niamh and headed over to Nopi for dinner with the girls. You might know I am a fan of all things Ottolenghi. Nopi did not disappoint. I especially loved the complimentary babaganoush! Note the lovely golden napkin rings…I wonder how many have been swiped.
Nopi is all white and gold. The bathrooms are a carnival lover’s fantasy…a hall of mirrors from which you cannot escape.
After dinner, we all headed our separate ways out into the night and I took one more picture of the Union Jack bunting over Oxford Street. Gorgeous.