Visit to London
July 2007 London isn't a place where I've spent much time, despite having lived in the UK for three years. It's now my brother's home and I place I love to visit. I had a cracker of a time checking out the sites, catching up with friends and sneaking in a few sly pages of the final Harry Potter release. It is still basically true of London that "no matter how much money you have in your pocket at the start of the day it will all be gone by the end"; it can be very expensive (see here), but with a little local knowledge life can be reasonable. The sun was shinning, it was summer and I was on holidays.
Bakeries and Cafes
By the look of things Londoners are beginning to appreciate good bread and decent coffee. The Euphoria Bakery, Islington was one spot I stoped at pretty regularly. A decent coffee accompanied by a freshly baked treat was a great way to prepare for an intense sight-seeing schedule. Many of the cafes I wandered into did a fair job of putting together a cafe laite; but be warned if you're driving don't assume the same is true for motorway services!
Trendy Bars and Cool Restaurants
For a country in love with pubs London has its far share of ultra trendy, ultra cool, ultra hip bars. Friday night in the back lanes of Mayfair was where all the beautiful people seemed to be. As lost as I felt, I was hanging out on the most expensive Monopoly square paper money can buy and was generally feeling pretty cool. We moved our way through a selection of bars and finished with a meal at a restaurant called Rocket. Chosen by my brother's girlfriend the food was good and the service fantastic; a great night out.
As good as a packet of dry-roasted peanuts and a pint of bitter is, London pubs seem to have made huge strides forward and have actually become eating destinations, rather than just somewhere to stuff down a fatty burger to help soak up the pints. I was impressed with the number of pubs serving up fantastic food within minutes walk of my brother's house. The introduction of a blissfully smoke-free environment certainly helps, but there is also an obvious move away from swilling beer and double vodka-tonics to appreciating good food and decent wine.
I spent a cracker of an afternoon in the Drapers Arms, Islington. The sun was out, the beer garden was full of friends and the big bottles of iced organic cider were just what the doctor ordered. It was one of those awesome lingering summer days that seem to go on for ever, where you have had lunch and dinner in the same pub and the sun shines the whole time. I happily munched my way through a good, thick steak sandwich and a lovely serve of calamari. The Drapers Arms was a fine example of a 'gastropub', a concept I like, especially as I prefer the relaxed pub atmosphere to the overly stiff, formal, fake and wanky service you receive in many English restaurants.
Another pub within walking distance was the Islington Tap. A place with an open kitchen, friendly staff and a good menu of huge, home-made burgers, delicious looking pizza and tasty risotto. We enjoyed a variety of decently priced bottles of wine and I had a great night catching up with few close friends. There was however one questionable moment that DM wasn't even there for.
After a stroll around St James Park my last meal in the UK was a quick pub lunch with my brother. His choice was an 'Irish pub', but unlike the themed chains we have all learned to hate Mulligans was simply an Irish pub. It served Irish dishes, fresh Irish oysters and Irish whiskey. I couldn't help my self ordered fish 'n' chips; the large hunk of haddock and hand-made fat chips were delicious. A great note on which to leave the UK.