When people would ask me what I missed most about London, I would tell them honestly, “Waitrose. And Bob Bob Ricard.” American supermarkets were fluorescent nightmares, and American restaurants were full of cheap chairs and limited sparkling wine choices. I ran away from the Jewel’s and Dominick’s of the world, and started doing most of my shopping at the very tiny Green Grocer, which had everything I needed, really. (But still, no Waitrose.) And I found myself spending more and more time in the velvet and brass lobby bars of the grand hotels — The Four Seasons, my preferred choice — chasing that sense of escape and other-worldliness I had found in London at the all plush and all lovely Bob Bob Ricard.
So when Leonid (one of the Bobs of Bob Bob Ricard) invited me over last weekend for BBR’s “Hey look now we’re open for lunch on weekends” grand affair, there was no hesitation. Yes, Leonid, YES. I will be there. And it was just as beautiful as I remembered. One day, when I make the millions I deserve, I will paper my home with Bob Bob Ricard’s wallpaper and install “Press for Champagne” buttons in the most unexpected of places. I will smother myself in caviar, eat everything off of blinis and stamp all my toast with the BBR logo.
Bob Bob Ricard is an escape, a journey to a place you do not want to come back from. Where the sommelier Jeremiah, who you haven’t seen or spoken to in over four years, remembers you and the photography course you were taking in 2009, and you have to wonder if there’s a file on you somewhere, a photograph, a list. (“Prefers tap water, known to break glasses…”)
At the end of my meal at Bob Bob Ricard — caviar, sea bass, filet mignon — when the dining room was quiet again and the staff were gearing up for dinner service, I wanted to hug every single employee. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t stop saying thank you — thank you! — because if there was anything that confirmed to me that I was back in London, it was being back at Bob Bob Ricard. So thank you, Leonid. Thank you!
OK, now off to Waitrose…
I had lunch at Bob Bob Ricard with four — and then five — friends, as a guest of Leonid’s. He was — and is — extraordinarily gracious. And while I am no Tom Parker Bowles, I hope you read this and make yourself a reservation at Bob Bob Ricard’s soon. Tell them I sent you.
Dude, I was on a Hotwire roll in London. Who doesn’t love a discount? Particularly if the discount gets you a centrally-located luxury hotel like The Langham. Although upon check-in, as you can tell from the video, I wasn’t too enthused about my room — the furniture was ancient but not in a good way and the bathroom was badly in need of an upgrade — by the time I checked out, I was converted. There’s something to be said about staying somewhere with a high level of service.
Here’s what I liked and what I didn’t…
Location. I love Soho so being just a short walk away up Regent Street was perfect for me.
My bed was a marshmallow cloud. Seriously, the linens, the pillows, the mattress…the Holy Trinity of beds. Absolutely lovely.
The staff. Lovely, everywhere, helpful, funny, sweet, everything.
The bar. The bar at The Langham is absolutely gorgeous. I would gladly meet anyone here for a drink or five. Maybe even a mandarin panda drink. It gets way too buzzy and popular in the evenings, but in the afternoon, it is an oasis of calm with lovely and attentive service.
Bath products. Many and plentiful and restocked over and over again. I am past the days of collecting hotel bath products, but if you are still in those days, you will love it here.
Free wifi. Plentiful and everywhere and always connected. Well done, Langham.
Free canapes in the bar! Apparently at 6-something every evening, The Langham celebrates the year of its founding and sends out free canapes to everyone in the bar. NICE.
The room was a little dated. The service and the amenities made up for this, but I would generally prefer something a bit more updated.
The clientele. OK, this is picky of me but there are some very wealthy people who stay here and they act it, in that new money way. (Is that terrible of me to say that? To talk about new money vs. old?) Not once but twice while waiting for the concierge, I was cut in line by men who totally knew they had cut in front of me and they didn’t give a shoot.
Now all this being said, I did not get a chance to try out the fitness center or the spa. I was out and about for most of my stay. But while I was in my room, I was rolling around in my marshmallow cloud and feeling quite smug that I hadn’t paid $600+ a night for my stay.
The Verdict…And Hotwire Logistics
If you visit London and you like fine things, you should stay here. It’s tremendously lovely. I was lucky and got it via Hotwire. I booked this five-star mystery hotel for $275. 83 a night. At the time of booking, a comparable stay booked directly with the hotel would have been $6334.33, so I saved 56.16%. And I slept in a marshmallow cloud. Fantastic.
I’ve written before about my logistics and operations days. Today was one of them. I did really important stuff. Like LAUNDRY. I found this place on Yelp that washes your clothes for 10 GBP a bag. It’s called Marshall’s Laundry Service and it’s in Soho. And it was awesome. I dropped my stuff off around 10:30 and by 1:30, it was all done. 20 quid for a week’s worth of laundry. (It would have been 10 quid but I wanted the lights separated from the darks. If you think this is expensive, imagine how much my hotel would have charged me. 6.50 GBP for a pair of DRAWERS.)
I also did other really important stuff today. Like get my nails done. Sorry…you can take the girl out of Long Island, but you can’t take the Long Island out of the girl. I found this other place in Soho — also on Yelp — that does manicures and stuff and I walked in at 10:45 am and they took me immediately and did a shape and polish for 13 quid. They also did my eyebrows. Totaly cost? 19.99 GBP! A huge bargain, by London standards. (Normally, I go to Selfridges for my eyebrows where it costs about 20 quid.) This Soho place isn’t fancy but it does the trick. It’s called The Beauty Lounge and it’s at the bottom of Kingly Court in Soho. They might try to sell you all sorts of other things, but just say no.
Other things…I went to M&S and bought some new black tights, because M&S is where I get all my black tights. I also went to Boots and bought a million things I really don’t need. Boots is my favorite place.
What else? I checked my blog email. Words really cannot describe how much email I get via my blog. But then again, I just did the math and maybe it’s not that bad. So far, in April alone, my main blog account received somewhere in between 300 and 350 emails. (Sorry, I don’t feel like counting them all to find the number in between…maybe it’s 330?) I haven’t read my blog email all month — bad blogger, I am — but now I am caught up back to April 1. No, I still haven’t ready March or February. (Yes, LIFO.)
In between all this operations and logistics, I had a nice lunch at Antidote, also in Soho. A nice lunch, but that’s all. (Can you tell this was a Soho kind of day?) Oh wait…I should mention…the service was very French and VERY lovely.
Most time-consuming? Finding somewhere to have my 40th birthday party! (Yes, I’m 40. I still feel like I’m the 29 year old that started this blog — or, well, the precursor to this blog — back in 2004 but I will actually turn FORTY next week.) I called and e-mailed every place I could think of in London — with the exception of my favorite, Bob Bob Ricard, because the bar downstairs is apparently closed. The places I called told me to email them. My hotel concierge told me I should have my party at Sketch or Navikov. !!! I said nothing and instead sent all the places I wanted to go the same message:
I am looking to organize birthday drinks on Wednesday, April 30th. Probably 20ish people.I’d like to do something pretty easy and informal…some wines, some snacks, etc. 6:30 to 9:30 pm. (Worried about the tube strike so would like to keep this easy.) Can you oblige?
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.