Wednesday, October 15, 2008

London a la Lex: Part II

Saturday Morning

Frankly, London was showing off this weekend. The day broke with unashamedly glorious sunshine, almost as if the city were saying ‘right, I’m darned if another American is going to head home thinking England is gloomy, let’s put on a jolly good show’. Which meant that the whole city was out basking in the rays and chilling with cold beers, with the crowds unusually cheerful for Brits. Lucky Chef.

I can be a fairly hard tourist taskmaster, but honestly, it is purely with their best interests in mind. I’m not the sort to drag a visitor to the Tower of London, or the London Eye (yawn), but instead want them to experience some of my favourite bits of the city, which just happen to centre around the importance of some item of food or drink in hand.

With this in mind, we set off as early as was decent along the South Bank to Borough Market, arriving at 11am, and just, just in time to avoid that point at which BM becomes a seething mass of food tourists, and therefore unmoveable (/unbearable). I wasted no time in injecting Chef with a serious dose of caffeine - outstandingly good coffee from the Monmouth Coffee Company, where the mere aroma of ground beans instantly perk a tired/jetlagged/hungover (delete as appropriate) soul up. Chef chose a delightful Indonesian bean from Sumatra. I took a few sips (I’m laying off the caffeine temporarily) and I have to say it lived up to its reputation: earthy, potent, rich and roasted, and without the cloying bitter aftertaste I find I get from most coffees. Served also, I might add, in a very decent sized, small cup. Quality over quantity every day.

We lost track of time as we wandered in a state of bliss around the different market stalls, stroking beautiful glossy tomatoes, and eying up pies at Pieminister, the vast array of cheeses at Neal's Yard Dairy, olives, pasties, apples, and indulging in the various tasters that are strategically scattered about.

Borough Market is without doubt one of my favourite world markets, and I particularly showing it off to unsuspecting tourists, because of the sheer hum and buzz of energy in the air. Laughter and jokes mingle with mouthwatering wafts of baked bread, heady fumes of mulled wine and the earthy smell of mushrooms. Shopkeepers selling their carefully crafted wares – whether smooth, silky cheese or great hunks of dark chocolate, rich, spicy sausages or meaty British pies – are deep in conversation with eager customers, each party gesticulating wildly, facial expressions bursting with the excitement of potential. I find the passion in these interchanges completely contagious, and I never fail to leave without a big grin on my face (and generally a bellyful of tasters). However, keeping in mind our various eating ‘dates’ later on that day, we resisted spoiling our appetites and opted instead for one single indulgence: a scandalously good cranberry brownie from Konditor & Cook - exquisitely moist, ever-so-slightly tart, and smoothly sweet chocolatey goodness, savoured with eyes shut. A must for any brownie fiend.

Saturday Lunch

Dragging ourselves away from the market, we hitched a ride up to Spitalfields on a real live gen-ew-ine London bus, heading straight for one of the many ‘typically British’ meals on my weekend menu: Sausage & Mash (aka S&M). Cor blimey but it’s good. We had walked up an appetite and the juicy, meaty sausages with creamy mash (me) and a delightful bubble and squeak (him) with very British gravy (i.e. slightly gloopy), were the ideal antidote to a growling belly. All topped off with very hot English mustard and served up in a classic London diner. Nice guv.

Saturday Afternoon

Thank goodness we stocked up on the calories, as the afternoon was a whirlwind of walking. I have no doubt that this will have come as a bit of a shock to an American, but he kept up with barely a peep of complaint! We window shopped around the kooky nooks and crannies of Spitalfields, wandering up into eclectic Brick Lane where we stopped at yet another favourite – Cha Lounge (halfway up BL on the left) – for some digestive aid in the shape of Peppermint Tea. Ooh La. People watching a-plenty, so we were able to sit back and relax for a bit, catching our breath before…

The Horrors of Oxford Circus – ugh, let’s not even talk about this atrocity. On to…

Carnaby Street – well, it’s gotta be done, right? Give him a bit of the ol’ 60s swingin' history.

Through the Soho sex shops and onto Old Compton Street where, as per usual on a beautiful sunny day, the streets were lined with gorgeous gay men showing off their buff biceps. Good meandering, and perfect connection to…

…Covent Garden…Trafalgar Square…St James’s Park…and…a much needed REST! Ready for dinner.

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