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London Day 1: In praise of young love and English cooking

We’re in London – for the first time in a long time.

And I’ve missed it. After all, many significant events in my life took place in England: Studying for my master’s degree, meeting my wife, getting married, the birth of three of our four children, working for CNN. And now there is another significant event on the horizon – our oldest son’s engagement.

Pierce – who lives in London - is in love. He’s in love with a lovely young lady named Ghazal. And we fully expect him to ask Ghazal to marry him sometime in the near future.

The question is – will it be this week while my wife and I are spending the week in London?

Grainne and I landed in London Heathrow a few minutes early and sailed through immigration thanks to a kind Virgin Airlines flight attendant who gave us a priority pass. On the other side of customs barrier stood Pierce and Ghazal, who rushed up and greeted us with hugs and kisses.

It was the first time meeting Ghazal in person, although we feel as though already know her from the many FaceTime conversations in the last year.

The two of them look fantastic together. They are inseparable, walking hand-in-hand and always by each other’s side.

We hop on the London Underground and make our way to their flat in Central London. Although it’s been a few years since I was in England, the Piccadilly Line remains pretty much unchanged. It’s a straight shot from Heathrow to Russell Square station, and a short walk to the flat.

By noon, we’re all pretty much ready for lunch. So we stroll over to the Skinners Arms pub to eat some pub grub.

Now, I’ve heard plenty of criticisms about English food over the years. And with plenty of reason. But for those of us who enjoy great meat pies and fish and chips, let me highly recommend the Skinners Arms. The beef and ale pie was a hearty combination of tender beef in a sauce grounded with Abbot’s Ale. It was topped with a light puff pastry crust and accompanied with fresh chips. A fresh side salad provided a light touch.

Fresh meat pies at Skinners

My wife Grainne had her favorite pub dish – fish and chips. It was huge honking piece of cod with a proper beer batter, served with those hot tasty chips. Pierce and Ghazal shared a chicken and leek pie, which was met with a thumbs-up from both.

Fish and chips. Nuff said!

With bellies full and bodies challenged by the time zone change, we head back to the flat for a two-hour nap. Refreshed, we hang out, catch up and then head over to meet our friends Robin and Liz for drinks at Good Godfrey’s, the bar at the Waldorf Hilton.

Robin and Grainne worked together at the London Stock Exchange back in the 1990s. The four of us also sang together as part of the Strand Chorale at St. Mary le Strand Church. We regularly lubricated our vocal chords at Good Godfrey’s following choir practice.

We spent a couple of hours catching up with Robin and Liz, along with their grown-up kids Tim and Heather. Ready for our next culinary adventure, we rambled over to Tom’s Kitchen at Somerset House. Headed up by acclaimed British chef Tom Aikens, Tom’s is everything that is right about British cooking today. Fresh ingredients, a tip of the hat to tradition, impeccable service. The manager checked in our table throughout the evening and asked us on more than one occasion to please return.

A reunion at Tom's

Seldom have I felt as welcome at a restaurant in a major city. After gorging on homemade pate’, slow-cooked lamb, steak and fresh vegetables, we said our goodbyes to Robin, Liz, Tim and Heather. Crowds emptied from the nearby theatres and the streets of London were full of life on this fine evening. We walked back to Bloomsbury to the flat where we collapsed after our first day in London.

Bodies full of delicious food. Spirits high from seeing our son, his girlfriend and our dear friends. And souls satisfied with the knowledge that London is still among the greatest cities on the planet.

Theatre goers empty on the streets

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