Truer words were never spoken than those of Dr. Samuel Johnson, in referring to his capital city (seen below on this vase).
I’ve just come from a fast but full week in London, and no matter how often I visit, the city is always teeming with new things to do to and see – along with the pleasures of revisiting beloved, familiar spots. Besides a visit to the British Museum, where the Enlightenment Gallery continues to awe and inspire, we went back to Hampton Court for a nostalgic visit to Henry VIII’s atmospheric palace (can’t wait for the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall!). We hit some favorite haunts: Burlington Arcade, Liberty, Rococo Chocolates, Aubaine, and Hatchard’s Books, but there were new places as well: Strawberry Hill, a Gothic fever dream that was the home of Horace Walpole, and Petersham Nurseries, an English nursery and organic restaurant that was my personal bliss. The English climate and national green thumb produce the most jaw-dropping flowers and plants I have ever seen – lots of photos to follow in an upcoming post.
We tried some new restaurants, and were drawn back to some of our favorites, like Scott’s, for its superlative British seafood. (There is a bit of a gawker element to Scott’s now, since Nigella Lawson was famously choked by her former husband, in full view of the paparazzi, as they sat at one of the outdoor tables last year – but you shouldn’t let that keep you from a wonderful dining experience.) We had dinner at an extraordinary new restaurant in the Edition Hotel, Berner’s Tavern, which – with its soaring ceilings and painting-covered walls – is very baroque and atmospheric. It felt like we were dining in one of the great palaces of Europe, and I’d happily go back for the Lake District cote de beouf. There’s been a lot of press about an Austrian place in Soho called Fischer’s, so we thought it would be fun to try out the schnitzel and pile some schlag on a healthy slice of strudel. The food was good, but the hostess refused to acknowledge our reservations, even after we showed her the confirmation email – though the restaurant was only about half full. She finally seated us, but it left me wondering why restaurateurs leave that important first interaction with their patrons to people who don’t seem to enjoy human contact.
Sketch is a series of dramatic and buzzy restaurants on Conduit Street, and this time we went to their tearoom. Their china is quirky and fun, and especially made for the tea room; it adds a festive air to the quail egg salad with caviar and vegetarian croque monsieur tea sandwiches, as does the big coupe of champagne. Aubaine is a favorite casual French café found in several locations in London, and the seeds and grains salad was so good that I’m going to try to reproduce it for a post. There were heavenly macarons and chocolates at Pierre Herme, where they offer exotic flavor combinations, like white truffle chestnut and matcha tea ganache from the chef known as “the Picasso of pastry.” And the Patisserie des Reves in Soho is well worth a detour, if you’re going to be in London. The desserts are what you would expect from a place that calls itself the pastry shop of dreams: exquisite, tiny, cheerfully arranged in space-age glass domes (maybe so the patrons don’t drool on them). Their candy, tea, and ice cream were all so beautifully arranged that it made me want to buy one of everything.
And I can’t end here without noting the many and exceptional bookshops still found around London – Hatchard’s, Heywood Hill, Slightly Foxed, Daunt Books. I spent many pleasant hours exploring them, with their creaky wooden floors and slightly befuddled (but well read) clerks, and came back with a wealth of wonderful things to read. We need more of these places in America.
All in all, one of the best trips ever, and here are some of the photos to prove it. Tomorrow – Petersham Nurseries and the English spring in all its glory. Cheerio!