London, UK // Quick Hop, Skip & Jump Across the Pond
My life is normally pretty crazy and I constantly feel extremely fortunate for all the amazing experiences I’ve had, but being in London on an all expenses paid trip this weekend with Rahim was truly unfathomable prior to my departure last Wednesday! Being the planner that I am it stressed me out to book this last minute (remember my pre-Mammoth freak out?) and I’m not going to lie, there were lots of ups and downs in the process: “am I going?” “is just Rahim going?” “how long will we be there for?” “can we get on the same flight?” “who will watch Watson?” “will work let me off?” But sometimes you have to say screw it and just go with the flow, and holy crap am I glad I let my control go and spent the past 4 days in London with Rahim :).
Both Rahim and I had been to London before, but never together which immediately made the trip better. I actually lived there for 3 months in college so it was such a treat to bring Rahim along to my old dormitory, favorite pub (it’s a true dive - someone fell off their chair too drunk) and general “ol stomping grounds.” My “Fake Aunt” Barb (she’s the sister of my dad’s sister’s husband aka my uncle) and her husband Keith also live in London, so it was just fantastic to be able to see her again. I hadn’t been back to London since 2009 so quite a bit has changed, it was fun to see the improvements on the city, especially the Kings Cross station by where I used to live!
I put together an itinerary which I’m proud to say we mostly stuck to. I definitely tried to pack too much in but I wanted to leave our options open because I wasn’t sure what Rahim had seen or not seen. As much as I love all the cathedrals, monuments and museums in London, once you’ve seen them you definitely don’t need to go again! Well except for museums that have rotating exhibits of course ;).
When I touched down on Thursday it was late morning, so by the time I took the Piccadilly line straight to Holborn and checked into the hotel it was the perfect time for afternoon tea! A quick side note on our hotel, The Rosewood, oh em gee you MUST stay here if you get the chance. Rahim found us a bundle deal on Expedia so we got a fantastic rate on this 5+ star hotel. Before we even got to London they asked us if we wanted limo service from the airport so the impeccable service wasn’t a surprise, but at every turn they exceeded our expectations. Fluffy robes and comfy slippers, enormous room with gorgeous details (umbrella included which we sadly used!), and round the clock concierge service which I can not rave about them enough as we took quite a few of their suggestions and were happily pleased each time. The restaurant and bar inside the hotel - called Scarfes Bar -were both such a treat as well, with live music every night in Scarfes and a beautiful outdoor terrace to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner from the kitchen. Even the room service was delicious (we had to one night at 4am when McDonalds was not appetizing) with a club sandwich for Rahim and tagliatelle bolognese for me. Don’t worry, we did have time to check out the McDonald’s across the street the following night ;). It’s also a really good location, with Covent Garden, Oxford Circus, Soho, Farringdon, St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster all within a 30 minute walk. Literally one block from the Holborn station too, so anything you can’t walk to is a short tube ride away.
I could gush about our hotel for hours, but moving on! As I mentioned, after check in and freshening up we headed straight for afternoon tea at the Wolseley! I tried to get us into the Ritz but with only booking this trip a week prior it was all booked up (so was Duck & Waffle a killer restaurant I wanted to try and Harry Potter and the Cursed Boy wahhh). Luckily this was not only right next door to the Ritz but was also fantastic! Especially after a long flight I really enjoyed all the adorable pastries and delicious, caffeinating tea :-D. The Wolseley is stunningly decorated and buzzing with energy, right in the Mayfair area too so tons of amazing bars and restaurants to go to nearby as well as Buckingham Palace (hey Queen heyyyy).
We then walked back to our hotel from there (even though we took the tube there, lots of options in London!) through Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Covent Garden and Soho. Piccadilly Circus is a mixture of Times Square in NYC and Shibuya in Japan - batsh*t crazy bustling with people and surrounded by theaters or places to buy theater tickets. There’s a pretty cool looking fountain in the middle and it’s definitely worth a looksy if you haven’t been to London yet, but very busy sooo enter with caution. The fun thing to do around there are all the little streets surrounding Piccadilly Circus - tons of bars and restaurants from low to high price range and it’s pretty central so easy to get to other things from.
We shopped and took our sweet time on our walk home, so by the time we were back to our hotel it was already time to change for dinner! Since Kings Cross is not the best area (or it didn’t used to be, it’s pretty nice looking now!), I thought I should get showing Rahim that out of the way night one. On Time Out I found this fantastic new restaurant German Gymnasium, which is just like its namesake a German restaurant from a converted Gymnasium. The decor inside is vast and beautiful and I really felt like we were in a modern version of a German Beer hall. I highly recommend the peach bellini though ;).
After dinner we walked around the station a bit, there’s a swing inside a beautiful light up structure and some fun new restaurants and monuments to see. Then I took Rahim up the street toward my old dorm, Nido, and my true “ol stomping grounds” - Miller's Pub! Like I mentioned above this is a true dive, but I must admit I think I spent 4 nights a week at least here for 3 months. I didn’t recognize any of the bouncers or bartenders, which I consider a good thing considering I haven’t been there in 7 years, but it still looked and felt the same. One of the best things about London is these bars/pubs exist on every block all over the city, where people start drinking right after work and if it’s nice out (like it was most of this weekend) they just stand outside with their beers. UK 1, US 0 on that one. Important distinction though - a pub closes around 10pm whereas bars stay open till 2. They tend to look the same so just make sure you check hours before you shlep over to one. We were pretty tired and attempting to get on London time as best we could, so off to bed after that for us!
In the morning I was feeling ungodly jet lagged to the point of feeling hungover which led us down to the restaurant at the hotel, the Holborn Dining Room. Pro tip - butter on the delicious sourdough bread you can get at any restaurant in London + some soda water will perk you right up! As in most major European cities meals are pretty leisurely in London, so once I stopped figuratively dying we got to enjoy brunch together on the terrace. When I first checked the weather for our trip the forecast was all sun, but this being London it started to get mighty cloudy as we sat at brunch. Rahim had some work to do and I definitely needed a relaxing start to the day, and this was just the ticket! The only issue is that we got a little too leisurely and stuck in work and ended up missing our boat ride :/. Since it was raining anyway we weren’t too upset about it, but I did read and hear amazing things about the RIB Boat Tour and would still highly recommend if you get a chance! We walked around the areas we would have seen on the boat tour so we got the same views at least, and especially with the rain it was actually much better to buy a 5 pound umbrella (as in British pounds, not weight haha) and mosey through Westminster. We saw the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, The “Mall” and of course the Thames in which this all surrounds. Weirdest thing was outside the Palace there weren’t guards with fuzzy hats, there were guards with cool hats on horses. I really wanted to take a picture with the fuzzy hat guards!
We grabbed afternoon tea and a bite to eat at this charming cafe right off of Trafalgar square Caffe Concerto. Borderline gaudy chandeliers and vibrant blue couches filled the completely full restaurant, and while the service was slow as usual the food was decent and the tea even better. All of the desserts looked phenomenal but given how..decadent…British food can be, we normally weren’t hungry for dessert on this trip. Rahim had one more work call to jump on which gave me time to wander around the National Portrait Gallery and the streets surrounding Trafalgar Square. After my walk and Rahim’s phone call the sun was finally out, meaning time to head back toward our hotel through my favorite Covent Garden!
I can’t say enough good things about Covent Garden, it’s just one of those places you want to sit and stare it’s so beautiful. Cute little kiosks and shops fill the square, from tea stores to clothing shops and froyo to food with live music. Tons of street artists perform shows for large crowds to enjoy and there’s always some sort of beautiful local art to enjoy. We ended up in this area every day which just put a huge smile on my face, especially to enjoy it with my one and only. Right outside of the main square of Covent Garden is this new beer shop Startisans which has a start up brewery festival every Friday in the summer. We went around 530pm and admittedly it was pretty empty, but had 4 taster beer and wine booths and live music. I think this has major potential and could be a very fun evening if it becomes more popular. The event also goes from 5-10pm, so we might have just been too early, although Brits loooove to drink so you can’t really tell :).
For dinner Friday night the concierge at the Rosewood (thank you!!) got us into Circus which I read about online - it’s a Pan Asian restaurant with live entertainment and burlesque. What a gem I am so happy we made it here. The evening started with a hysterical cross dresser singing Kiss by Prince, and continued with on of the most talented gymnasts I ever seen. This dude rocked it I don’t even know what to call his routine but both Rahim and I were bug-eyed and amazed. You have two options of seats, a small table which they situate facing the main attraction, or the long community table where they clear your plates every 30 minutes as the talent performs. Either way you get a great view of the show, but I sure enjoyed a front row table behind the main event! For food we split yellowtail sashimi, truffle chicken shu-mai, pumpkin and yuzu egg rolls and grilled steak with rice and porcini mushrooms. I think the yellowtail was my favorite, but everything here was really ridiculously delicious.
Afterwards we took a cab over to the London Eye for a sunset ride! This is another one like afternoon tea that I didn’t get to in the 3 months I lived here, which I know is absurd. We walked by the Eye earlier in the day when we missed our boat ride and the line was INSANE, so I’ve gotta say even though I picked it for the sunset photos, evening is a great time to go. Besides the fact that we got stuck behind a 25 person high school trip (they all had braces and pimples it was so cute!) it was pretty much empty and I think we got on within 5 minutes of arriving in line. We booked for 30 minutes before sunset and the best shots were right as we took off, if you’d like to do the same I recommend shooting for 45 minutes to an hour prior to sunset time. It was so beautiful to see the London skyline lit up at sunset and we both just loved the ride. Super smooth and controlled, I think even those afraid of heights would enjoy this ride!
After this the night got even more amazing because we listened to our concierge to go out. You MUST go to this bar if you get the chance - Mr. Fogg’s Residence of Mayfair. Not to be confused with the pub Mr Fogg's Tavern by Trafalgar, although I’m sure that’s great as well. Mr. Fogg’s is in this back alley in Mayfair and when the cabbie dropped us off we had a momentary “are we in the right spot?” thought, but when you see the well dressed doorman you know you’re in the right spot indeed. This place is old world library-esque with tons of funky decor, from stuffed animal heads to a floating hot air balloon in the corner. The drinks were fantastic - they’re known for cocktails but I was having sparkling rose of course - and they’ve got a little bit of food too. It felt super posh and everyone who walked in there looked like they could be a British celebrity for all we knew. Even the bathroom was expertly decorated and the audiobook Mr Fogg was playing in there.
I never wanted to leave but Rahim was in the dancing mood (which who am I to ever turn down dancing) so we went to our concierge’s second recommendation, Mahiki. When he told us that Prince Harry used to frequent this club we knew we were in for a treat, but this Hawaiin/Tropical themed spot was even better than expected. There are two levels below ground with different dance floors and bars, although we mainly stayed on sub-level 1 because it was way more lively. There’s a live DJ and extensive tropical drinks menu with tons of floral chairs and tables surrounding the dance floor. Only two negatives here: it was SO HOT and therefore pretty smelly, and the ceilings were super short so Rahim barely had to lift his hands to touch them. Otherwise all around a fantastic experience, best part being when LMFAO’s “Shots” came on and they brought out a surfboard with tropical shots and dry ice out for everyone to take a free shot! This would never happen in the US - meaning the score is now UK 2, US 0 hah!
Somehow I was not hungover the morning after this (we didn’t get in till 4am) BUT we did let ourselves sleep in until 1pm so that probably did the trick. Since it was just a short weekend trip we weren’t trying to fully acclimate to London time zone, meaning sleeping in till 1 actually helped put me toward LA time. We’ll see how I do tomorrow morning though of course ;).
Saturday was the day we got to meet up with my Fake Aunt so getting out of bed once we were up was not hard. Rahim had some shopping to do which Oxford Circus/Oxford Street was really our best bet, even though on Saturdays it is a total sh*tshow!! We ate a small lunch in Soho at Barrafina - a small little tapas restaurant a block from Soho Square. Since we were eating an early dinner pre-play we stuck to a cheese and meat plate here which you can really never go wrong with. Right across the street is this bar Garlic & Shots”where hysterically enough Rahim got dragged to last time he was in London and it ended up ruining his whole next day eating a blood-shot of some sort (didn’t really have blood that was just the name of it), and it’s now an infamous story among his old coworkers. Not only did we see it, but we sat right across from the place for an hour while eating. I think every time Rahim looked over he cringed :-P.
After Barrafina we had time for a bit of shopping before heading over to Covent Garden for dinner. Oxford Street has many American stores as well as some British ones, it’s kind of like your Santa Monica 3rd St Promenade on major British steroids. We wandered from here through Carnaby Street - an adorable off shoot with live music, long tables for people to drink and eat on in the middle of the road and tons of fun art & sculpture features to enjoy. I really wish we had more time to spend on this street, I’m definitely adding it to any future itineraries!
Dinner was at this restaurant called The Ivy which was fantastic. Our waitress was a total hoot and everything was delicious, from our food to the two bottles of Rose we split! Word to the wise - if you are going to a play and you’re still semi-jetlagged, getting toasty prior to said play makes it really hard to stay up :-P. Rahim definitely took a nap at intermission and I struggled in and out of consciousness during act 1. That’s not to say that this play was not great though cause it really was.
I was deciding between 3 plays for us: Aladdin, The Mousetrap and the one we ended up on which was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, although if this trip had not been last minute I would have really tried to get us tickets to the newly opened Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Outside of knowing it has fantastic reviews, none of us knew anything about the plot which made this both exciting and conversation worthy. I won’t spoil it for you but the style of play is unique and very well done, the choreography even though it isn’t a musical is to die for (a former dancer like me really appreciated that part) and there is a LIVE PUPPY at the end. Like 10 week old golden retriever puppy that was so flipping cute I almost cried of happiness and also despair because it made me miss Watson so much. I was one of the lucky few to be in a seat that got a “present” after the play and I was REALLY hoping it would be getting to pet the puppy. Sadly it was a button, which I’m still pretty stoked about, but would have much rather pet the puppy to be honest!
Once the play let out it was 10pm and dark, so what else do you do in London but drink! We went to this adorable French restaurant/bar combo right outside of Piccadilly Circus, called Brasserie Zedel. We had walked by this place earlier in the day and Barb was raving about it, so it was a joyous experience to get to go there with her and Keith after. We had drinks in the Bar Americain in the basement, but there are several levels of different bars and restaurants inside. The most beautiful is the main restaurant that’s a converted ballroom, it was stunning and Rahim and I will definitely be eating there again next time we’re back! The drinks were lovely and we had the best time catching up with our family.
The tube closes at 1230 on weekends so after we dropped Barb and Keith off at the station and head out to find another bar recommended to Rahim, Milk & Honey. Sadly we both REALLY had to pee and could not find it hehehe sooo another thing on the list for next time :). By the time we walked back to our hotel Scarfes was closed, which meant bed time for us!
We woke up earlyish Sunday morning as it was our last day (super sad face!) and set off to cover the spots West of our hotel - Farringdon, Smithfields meat market, St Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge and then the Tate Modern. This was extra fun because Rahim had never seen any of these places before! We ate brunch at SOS (Smiths of Smithfields), one of my favorite brunch spots when I lived in London, recommended originally by my Fake Aunt Barb of course! Delicious enormous breakfast and coffee in a cool industrial area. Not to mention right next to Fabric, although depending on what you like that’s either a good or bad thing ;). From SOS it was a 10 minute walk to St Paul’s Cathedral and another 10 from there to the Tate going across Millennium Bridge. For those Harry Potter nerds like me, this is the bridge that the dementors destroy in the beginning of movie 5, it’s pretty modern and sculpturally interesting which is fitting considering it leads right to the Tate Modern. The Tate is one of my favorite museums and they currently have a Georgia O’Keefe exhibit, win win win! It’s also a free museum although Georgia O’Keefe was a ticketed exhibit and they encourage donations to keep the museum open. One last time, the score folks: UK 3 for free museums, US 0 hehe.
We took a long 30 minute walk back from the Tate to our hotel to collect my things and head back to Heathrow via the tube. Sadly Rahim had to extend his stay because his work wasn’t finished (see, it was a work trip! hahaha) so I’m now writing this on the plane solo, but what a blessing to get to spend the past few days with him in such a lovely city. Don’t get me wrong - I love love love America (albeit it’s been tough lately) - but it’s really nice to take a jaunt away from home to a new lifestyle, culture and city for a bit.
Cheerio, Pip pip!