When we found out we were moving to Switzerland, I pictured lots of weekend getaways to fabulous European cities. This past weekend, we had our first to London.
I know that London in February sounds dreary, but Nick had a business trip there and we lucked with enough sunshine to enjoy the outdoors.
Nick had never been to London before, so we did many of the staples – Westminster, British Museum, Portobello Road, The Globe, a show in the West End – but we managed to find a few gems that weren’t in our guide books. I thought I’d share them in case you’re planning a trip to London soon. Almost all of them are food. Not sure what that says about us, but enjoy!
We stopped in this place for dessert and a nightcap after dinner at a too-trendy restaurant in East London that was a little too infatuated with pig offal. If we could do the night over, we’d eaten at Angelus instead. The dark and romantic lounge was the perfect spot for a late drink and the service was impeccable. We each had a great glass of red, and the dessert – pressed apples and pears topped with salted caramel – was better than anything we’d had at dinner.
There’s not a lot of Indian food in Switzerland, so we ate as much as we could in London. On Thursday night the tube strike prevented us from getting to Kew Gardens to meet a friend, so we went to this place around the corner from our hotel. It’s tiny – just eight tables – and on an alley. But the dining room is warm and fun, and the wait staff had a great sense of humor. The waiter was about to seat us next to another couple in tight quarters when he suddenly took a sharp turn.
“They are fighting at each other,” he said with a chuckle. “Let’s give them some space.”
And the food, my God, the food. We shared the Papdi Chanaa chaat, a mix of chickpeas, yogurt, wheat crisps and tamarind sauce that sounds like it doesn’t make sense. But it’s wonderful. And the mango salad and tandoori chicken didn’t disappoint.
Nick’s sister recommended grabbing lunch here, and we figured she and half of London’s working professionals couldn’t be wrong. The hardest part was deciding what to eat. Nick settled on a venison burger and I got a pork belly sandwich. We washed it down with hot apple cider and some French pastries. And because we ate standing up, we burned calories too.
Like everything else, haircuts are absurdly expensive in Switzerland. Nick can’t find a barber to give him a trim for less than $60 USD. So while we were wandering around the East London thrift stores, he found Jack the Clipper on Yelp.
It’s a tiny place with three immaculately groomed barbers who say it’s the oldest Turkish barber in London. For 20 pounds (about $33 USD, still pricy but less than Switzerland), Nick had the best haircut of his life. The price included two washes (before and after), an immaculate cut and lots of extra attention to his eyebrows, ears and nose. Nick left dreaming of ways to make monthly trips to London just to visit Jack’s.
Nick’s friends invited us to a Sunday roast here, a tradition we’d never heard of. Basically it’s like brunch but in the afternoon instead of the morning and with slow-roasted meats instead of eggs. But there are plenty of Bloody Marys!
This adorable pub had surprisingly tasty food, an excellent Bloody Mary and a wonderful wine list. The charming courtyard would be great in better weather, but inside the dark wood and plaster walls made us feel like we’d gone back in time.
We fled to the British Museum when it started raining, and the other tourists followed us there. After fighting the crowds to see the Rosetta Stone and the Egyptian mummies, we were exhausted and fed up with people. That’s when Nick discovered afternoon tea at the Great Court restaurant.
On the top floor, the restaurant sits underneath the beautiful skylight that stretches over the roof of the whole museum. It makes you feel like you’re sitting under a glass cake dish, quiet and filled with light. We could sit here, away from the throngs of people, and have cream tea in peace.
The scones and tea were good, but the timing was best of all. It soothed my nerves and regained my composure. I now understood the genius of afternoon tea. Everyone should have afternoon tea. The world would be a happier place.