I have been accused of overdoing it on occasion in London.
Maybe, just maybe, I’m guilty today.
And we knew it was going to be a busy day because we had reservations for tea at 2pm, a get-together with friends planned for 5pm and late dinner reservations at 9:30pm
Which meant we needed to start our outing today with a snack. Finn had spotted a local Iberico ham shop at the Kensington South Underground stop that sold simple sandwiches - Iberico ham on a baguette - for about $7.
If you’ve never had Iberico ham, you’re missing out. It’s a slow cured, dried Spanish ham made from pigs that eat a steady diet of acorns. The ham has a life-changing depth of flavor. It’s rich and salty. Never too chewy or fatty. Sliced incredibly thin, I swear it’s eaten at every meal in Spain.
Finn eats an entire sandwich. Grainne and I share another. And we’re ready to take on the day.
First stop, Harrod’s. It’s become a bit of a tradition for us to visit London’s king of department stores and try to spot some bargains. We searched high. We searched low. Women’s shoes. Men’s department. The fantastic food halls. Even the Harrod’s gift store.
Not even a 10% off sale to be found.
That’s OK. We spotted men’s jackets priced at $1,000, New Zealand honey going for about $300, a $40 apple pie and $4,500 Beluga caviar. Gordon Ramsay was selling hamburgers for $30 and milkshakes for $15. Somehow we resisted the temptation to purchase any of these things.
OK, so we did buy some tea and some tea towels because they were in our budget. But wow. Just wow. Even if money was no object, I think I would have still `walked away. With the exception of that apple pie. It looked really good.
By the time we drop off our little purchases at the apartment, it’s time to head out to Brown’s Hotel for afternoon tea. We arrive a little early in the heart of fashionable Mayfair, so we do a little window shopping at Harry Winston’s, Van Cleef and Arpels, Mikimoto, Stella McCartney and Christian Dior. We stay on the sidewalk and away from the cash registers.
As we enter Brown’s Hotel, we’re greeted by the doorman wearing the traditional top hat and morning coat. He leads us to the Drawing Room. Brown’s Hotel is one of those special places in London. In operation since 1837, it’s a favorite of A-listers, whether British royalty or American actors.
All six of us - Grainne, Pierce, Ghazal, Garrett, Finn and me - are here for the belated celebration of our 35th wedding anniversary. The wait staff look after us just like we’re A-listers ourselves. A selection of teas. Finger sandwiches including coronation chicken, cucumber, shrimp and salted beef.
That’s followed by fruit and plain scones served with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. Little choux pastries filled with chocolate cream, apricot and lemon slices. Just as we were almost finished with those, the waiter showed up with walnut cake, flourless chocolate cake and more.
A piano player performed tunes from the Great American Songbook (the Great British Songbook?) including selections from Gershwin and Cole Porter. They asked what song we’d like for our anniversary. Without missing a beat, I said “As Time Goes By.” I’m such a sucker for Casablanca.
It was a special time, made even more special by the team at Brown’s. We might not be royalty, but we sure felt like it by the time we left.
Somehow, Pierce, Finn and I squeezed in a haircut before meeting Grainne’s best friend Gabrielle and several cousins at Gordon’s Wine Bar near Embankment Station
Gordon’s is thought to be London’s oldest wine bar, and it’s one of a kind. Located down in the depths underneath Embankment Station, you have to stoop in order to get to your table. The light is dim. Trains rumble overhead, shaking the arches over your head and the ground below your feet. If you’re claustrophobic, you may want to think twice before entering.
Several of the group had other engagements, so Grainne, Finn, Gabrielle and I went for a wander up the street to Covent Garden. Once London’s flower market, the area is now an epicenter of restaurants, pubs and long-time home of the Royal Opera House.
Gabrielle suggested the rooftop bar at the Opera House, which is open to the public and requires no tickets to the opera. We grabbed a table with a view of Covent Garden and the London Eye Ferris Wheel glowing in the distance. This little hidden gem should be on your list when you need to take a break between tourist activities and your evening meal.
Finally, it was time for dinner. A 9:30pm reservation. Yes - that’s pretty late. Most nights at that time you can find me nodding off on the couch. But not tonight. Tonight, we had reservations at Rules Restaurant, London’s oldest continuously operated restaurant. Only a two minute walk from Covent Garden, Rules is old-school British.
The decor features antlers and plenty of wood paneling. The menu boasts grouse (with a warning to beware of lead shot), meat pies, steaks, veal, roast beef. Mashed potatoes, new potatoes, chips. The two favorite desserts on the menu are sticky toffee pudding and apple crumble. We opted for the Golden Syrup Sponge, which I can highly recommend.
Did I overdo it? Maybe. But just think - Tea at one of London’s oldest hotels. Drinks at London’s oldest wine bar and the majestic Royal Opera House and dinner at London’s oldest restaurant.
Sure, there’s plenty of “new” in London. That’s what gives the city its vibrancy. But there’s plenty to be said about tradition as well.
As Tevye sang in Fiddler on the Roof - “How do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word - Tradition!”