travel

A gourmet day in London

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Our room was quite warm when we woke up and had been for much of the night. Despite a somewhat fitful sleep, we were off and running. D rather amusedly showered in the shower/toilet combo bathroom, while I busied myself with getting our things ready for the day. Apparently, breakfast is included in the price, so we made our way down to their breakfast room. It was, perhaps not so unexpectedly, an underwhelming breakfast, consisting of cereal, instant coffee and toast. Nevertheless, we loaded up on the necessary sustenance and headed out to check-out the British Library, which was quite handily only a couple blocks down the street. I was surprised to find out that the Library was a modern structure (I had assumed the British Library would be house in a much older, suitably ornate building), but it was beautifully designed on the inside. An impressive centerpiece was the King’s Library, a several-story collection of rare books housed in glass, thus visible from all around the library. We found a booth to work in, off one of the cafeterias, and set up camp for the morning. The cherry on the cake was of course the free WiFi provided by the library, allowing us to do all our necessary surfing in the relative quiet of the library (as opposed to a crowded, noisy café). After chugging away for several hours (and grabbing a rather tasty cheesecake from the cafeteria), we were kindly asked to vacate the seats to make room for the lunch rush, which we took as a good cue to get on with the touristing of the day.

I was eager to get a little shopping in, as I had been patiently refraining in all our previous cities. D needed a bite, so we found some sandwiches before hopping on the tube. First stop: Green Park, as I wanted to show D a little store called Fortnum & Mason, which was renowned as being essentially a gourmet department store. It felt a little like the retail arm of the royal empire, selling exotic goods at somewhat exorbitant prices. Its interior were luxurious, gilded and sparkly, with rows and rows of tasty and intriguing treats—teas, coffees, chocolate, cheese, meats. We even found edible scorpion-infused vodka (with a little scorpion floating inside your little bottle of vodka, which had been specially treated such that you could eat the scorpion too). Being foodies, it was heavenly for us to walk around, although potentially dangerous for our wallets.

From there, we walked down to Covent Garden to begin our shopping tour. Lots of pedestrianized streets lined with shops to peruse; although, by and large, I didn’t find too much that grabbed my eye. In our various wanderings, we came across Neil’s Yard, the reputed cheesemongers that had been recommended to us when we were in Edinburgh. They had warned that lines sometimes went out the door, but we were fortunate that at that particular moment, it was quite empty. The seller we chatted with was extremely knowledgeable and rattled on about enzymes and mould and goats, all the while feeding us delicious slices of cheese. Unable to resist, we quickly snatched up three types of cheese, and got a little pamphlet for the shop to go along with it. Buoyed by our cheese success, we continued on…I found a tights store, filled with a myriad of coloured tights in all shades and grabbed a couple colourful selections. Our legs were complaining, so we searched for a place to sit down. Quite by fluke, we came across Monmouth Coffee Company, a darling little coffee shop that D became quite enamoured with, not only for the fact that the coffee nerd in him appreciated that it had an informal, friendly feel and that roasted their own coffee, but also because it was the best coffee he’d had on this trip.

We wandered on and came across the Seven Dials, a square where seven streets met. It also had a tall obelisk-like structure in the middle that apparently acts like a giant sun dial. We searched for a decent pub to grab some dinner and finally settled on the Prince of Wales. While ordering at the bar, we discovered our bartender was actually from Vancouver as well, on a world travelling tour and just working in the UK for a couple months. D was eager for the half roast chicken, and I settled on beef lasagne. Our meals were tasty; D claimed that his chicken (which he suspected may have been cooked in pork fat) was one of the best roast chicken’s he’d ever had. In search of one last pint, I suggested we try one of the pubs on my map that I’d earmarked as being decent, and we successfully found it (the Cross Keys)! We made our way home soon after, settling in for some truly delicious cheese and TV shows.

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