The last time I came to London was the day princess Diana died (yes, it’s been a LONG time). On August 31, 1997 while on a flight from JFK to Heathrow on Virgin Atlantic, the pilot came on to say that he had heard reports of princess Diana being in an accident. When we landed in London, the pilot informed us that she had passed away. Needless to say, the entire country was in shock and my visit to Kensington Palace was a sad one.
Well, this time we arrived in time for the country to celebrate prince William’s engagement. Hoping for a happier and fun filled trip here, Paula and I did a few things we absolutely loved.
One of the most interesting thing we did was at the National Gallery where downstairs in the basement, we designed our own tour. All we had to do was review a list of artists and photos of the paintings, and using a touch screen to pick out what we most wanted to see. Based on what we selected, a customized print out of the tour was prepared for us. It was the most genius thing we came across; a totally interactive and engaging experience to say the least!
We also took a short visit to the British Museum where we saw the Rosetta Stone, the statue of Ramses, among others. But what we loved the most were the mummies on the top floor. Seeing the X-rays of the bodies still inside those carefully packaged mummies gave me a chill.
Now onto the food part of our short visit to London. More than anything else, Paula wanted to have lots of scones in London so we went on what we dubbed as “the great scone hunt of 2010.” We had already eaten one (with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam) at the Tate but it just wasn’t enough. But we didn’t want to partake in a full blown afternoon tea just to have another scone, so we set out to Selfridge’s and to Marks & Spencer’s food halls for scones. And we also took a walk over to Bloomsbury to a bakery called Bea’s where we found more scones (plus clotted cream and strawberry jam). We knew that scones are really not for breakfast but we saved them all until the next day when we went on “the great scone binge of 2010” on our way to the Gatwick airport with Rita and Paula. While it took Paula and I better part of a day to collect our sample of scones, we noted that it took us all of 8 minutes to devour them all.
As for other yummy British foods, we knew we had to have some Indian food, a classic pub meal, and a proper Sunday roast. We managed to squeeze them all in and thoroughly enjoyed them all. For Indian food, Paula’s research led us to a Pakistani/ Punjabi place called the New Tayyabs. We had to trek over far east of London to get there (without all the tube trains running this weekend it was difficult), but it was well worth the trip. We ordered the house specialties; karahi lamb and karahi prawns. While the restaurant itself was a bit run down and the tables were so close to each other that I almost knocked down some of the plates from my neighboring table, the food was excellent. We also loved that we seemed to be the only tourists in the whole restaurant and were eating next to locals. We were cold and hungry when we arrived so when the food came out quickly, we were all too happy to dig in. The lamb was juicy and tender, and the sauce carried a lingering spiciness that I only felt after a few minutes. I loved their naan which was hot, fluffy, and shiny from a generous brushing of ghee. It was a perfect meal on a cold London day.
For a typical British meal, we went to a pub/restaurant called Fox and Anchor for dinner. On the menu for the evening for us were a scotch egg, chicken & ham pie, pan roasted halibut, and apple cobbler. Paula and I drank our share of English ale and Rita, who came to meet us with her friend Alyssa, had a few hot toddys.
My favorite meal in London was the Sunday roast at Modern Pantry. Since our stay in London was over a Sunday, we thought it would be fun for us to do a traditional Sunday roast. I think what we ended up having was a bit upscale/ slightly fancier version of the traditional Sunday roast but it was fantastic. We spent the morning running around the city looking for scones and by the time we arrived for our Sunday roast at 2:30 we were ready for a feast. We ordered a good bottle of Spanish red to go with our roasted sirloin, pork, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, beet puree, apple sauce (for the pork), and Yorkshire pudding. Everything was cooked to perfection and the beet puree, which had a hint of horseradish, was a stand-out component of the entire meal. We spent the next 2 hours enjoying every bite of our delicious feast and loved the cozy ambiance of this little restaurant. We liked it so much that a few hours later, we returned for another bite and more drinks with Rita. I would highly recommend this restaurant if you ever find yourself near Clerkenwell in London…
Aside from the museums and great meals, Paula and I wanted to do something we could only do in London on our last day. So we went out into the city searching for a few Harry Potter related adventures. It wasn’t so difficult tracking down where some of the Harry Potter movies were filmed (all we had to do was a simple Google search)- you could see where they filmed Diagon Alley or the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron, etc. There is an entire Harry Potter walking tour of London you can do! In the end, we decided to go and find the platform 9 & 3/4 where Harry and his Hogwart’s classmates take the train to their school. Having downloaded the instructions on how to locate the platform, Paula and I set out towards King’s Cross as the sun was setting. We felt as if we were contestants on the last task before the pit stop on the Amazing Race as we ran up and down the stairs, looking for the red brick wall to the post box, back around and down the train platforms. We were almost giddy when we finally found the brick wall where we located a simple sign that read “Platform 9 & 3/4” with a trolley that was half disappearing into the wall. It was a fitting end to our great weekend in London where we stumbled upon one fun thing after another. We were grateful for the weather, for our lovely hotel, for our pure luck in finding so many wonderful bits of this vast city. I don’t know if I could have put together a better itinerary if I actually planned it…