Updated: Nov 27, 2019
Our trip to London was a whirlwind. We made the decision a little less than a week prior to our departure, and we were only going for five days, so we knew that we had to hit the ground running as soon as we landed.
We arrived at 6:30 in the morning, which worked in our favor because we were able to go straight to breakfast. We stumbled upon a Patisserie Valerie, a French-inspired café that turned into a breakfast staple for us during our short time there. As it turns out, there are a few Patisserie Valerie’s throughout London, but none quite as good as the one located in Paddington, right across the street from Mark and Spencer’s. Their pastry display is divine, but their English breakfast (my husband and sister are both huge fans) is even better. One cappuccino and a hearty helping of eggs and baked beans later, and we were ready to conquer the jet lag.
London is posh. Every store front is perfectly tailored, every cobblestone road led to another neighborhood with its own unique identity. I had always been told that the food in London is less than desirable, but I didn’t have a single bad meal during my time there, which goes to show you can’t always form an opinion until you have experienced it yourself. Everyone has a different palette, a different experience they are searching for.
One of my favorite things to do in the glitzy city was get lost in her streets and hop from one pub to another. To begin with, the pub names in London are incredibly entertaining and such a reflection of the city’s history. Pub names like “The King’s Head” or “Coach and Horses” abound, each with a plaque that details the story of some moment in history that occurred upon the ground you stand on; but my personal favorite was “The Hung, the Drawn, and the Quartered.” Hubby and I loved this name so much that it has entered into our regular dialogue. One can only imagine the type of shenanigans that occurred where that pub stands.
Soho and Mayfair were nothing short of fabulous. We must have walked through those neighborhoods ten times due to the aesthetically stunning window displays. Many of them stood out, but few were as striking as the Faberge store. The exterior of the shop is covered in a satin, royal purple fabric that is tufted with ornate gold buttons, and the intricate French doors leading into the store make you feel like you’re about to enter a palace rather than merely go shopping. I walked through more stores than I can count, and I bought some gifts at the famous Harrod’s (you may recall that Princess Diana’s boyfriend Dodi Fayed was the son of the owner of Harrod’s, a legendary department store that actually shuts down completely when Queen Elizabeth visits), but there was only one store that provided me a life-changing experience. A store I had never heard of, and one that not even my two, very own, England friends had ever visited.
Fortnum & Mason.
I stumbled upon Fortnum & Mason as hubby and I were walking around aimlessly, rather stuffed from our mid-day snack of scones and fresca mimosas, when I did a double take at the most exquisite store front I had ever seen. Covered in a shade reminiscent of Tiffany blue, the oversized windows were filled with Alice in Wonderland motifs. Alice in Wonderland themes are nothing new, but to this day I have never seen any that bring me down the rabbit hole like F&M’s did.
I wanted to keep walking, but I couldn’t. I had to go inside this store and see what else was there. What lied ahead truly changed the way I define art.
Fortnum and Mason is magic. The entire staff wore blue vests and blue hats, and they all were warm and helpful. To the right was an entire sweets section where they were making huge marshmallows from scratch and a variety of eclairs dusted in gold. At the center of the store was a monumental tea selection, all carrying the F&M brand. A beautiful F&M blue carousel with little music boxes stuffed with the most delicious chocolate-covered biscuits I’ve ever had, an old creaky set of 17th century stairs, and a wonderful display of hats that made me long to attend a Royal Ascot ; I was blown away not only by the aesthetic beauty of the store, but at the quality of everything they sold. From the café to the nightgowns, F&M is a one-stop-shop for everything you could possibly want when spending a day shopping in the city.
It's hard to imagine that this place could get any better, but the coolest moment came when I went to look over the balcony at the center of the first floor. I wanted to see if I could get a glimpse at the other floors before making the trek up, but when I looked over the ledge, I was awe struck by the dazzling detail that began at the bottom and went all the way up to the ceiling. They made each circle of each floor part of the rabbit hole, with clouds painted over the ceiling, and little porcelain and paper mache birds and woodland creatures suspended from the ceiling to look as if they were falling down the hole. The whimsical style of the store and the manner in which they executed it, with such an attention to detail where no corner was left untouched, made F&M more than just a department store, but an experience that changed the way I view aesthetics in both fashion and interior design. If you’re looking for a modern example of the kind of art London is capable of producing, then Fortnum and Mason is a must.
As much as I loved Fortnum and Mason for its visual appeal, you cannot visit London without experiencing an afternoon of high tea, and you can’t experience the quintessential London high tea without visiting Brown’s Tea Room.
Located in London’s first hotel, the establishment has hosted some of the world’s greatest artists and historical figures, from Rudyard Kipling to Alexander Graham Bell, who actually made the very first phone call from the renowned hotel. The Tea Room has been serving the world’s elite since the mid 19th century, so as one can imagine, reservations are a must. When you arrive, you are greeted by a jolly, dapper man in a top hat who opens the door for you and leads you to the hostess. What awaits you in the tea room is something out of a Jane Austen novel.
We were seated by the fireplace under a brass chandelier, and our white-gloved waiter brought us a pot of peppermint tea, which was followed by a three-tiered stand that consisted of tea sandwiches, scones, and an assortment of petite fours and other addictive small bites.
The egg salad was my favorite, but the scones were the real star of the show. Served with a side of clotted cream, the Brown’s Tea Room scones ruined me forever. Ever since that day, I have tried a wide array of scones from a wide array of places hoping to find something that comes close to what I had at the storied hotel, but it’s proven to be completely and utterly impossible. Brown’s scones were dense but soft, not dry at all, and just a little bit crumbly. The clotted cream was freshly made and added the perfect twinge of sweetness to the subtle starchiness of the scone. In the past when I’ve participated in a high tea, I would spend most of my time consuming the dainty little sandwiches, but this time it was the scones that I couldn’t put down.
At the end of the meal, they brought out two tennis balls that were actually made of white chocolate. This was done in honor of Wimbledon which was in progress while we were there. In addition to the white chocolate, we were served with strawberries and clotted cream for dipping. I’m not a fan of whipped cream, but I'll never say no to clotted cream. There is something so spectacular about the texture of a whipped cream blending with the smooth taste of a quality butter.
Brown’s clotted cream is delicious, and the perfect accent to the array of sweet treats they present their guests with. After leaving Brown’s Tea Room, I spent the rest of our trip trying scones at every café I could find, trying to recreate that scrumptious taste once again to no avail. No other high tea has come close to what I experienced at London’s oldest hotel. If you’re looking to be thrusted back into the 19th century with all its propriety and decorum, then look no further than afternoon high tea at Brown’s Tea Room. You’ll never be the same.
It should come as no surprise that London’s theatre scene is thriving, and it takes minimal effort to catch a show last minute. Hubby and I bought a couple of tickets to Les Mis, but not before we took a detour to China Town and devoured a Peking duck at Golden Dragon. The staff at Golden Dragon do it right. They bring the duck over and shred it in front of you so that you’re left with pulled pieces of tender, juicy duck that leave you feeling full for at least the next 24 hours. The performances of the 7:30 showing of Les Mis we went to were fantastic. I had gone through my entire pack of tissues before the first act had even ended, and I was a blubbering mess by the end of the show, not just because of the tragedy of the story, but because of how beautifully each song was sung. I would have loved to have caught a showing of The Cursed Child, but as one can imagine, it was sold out when we went.
As always, we made sure to stop at the local grocery store to buy some local snacks. If you’re looking for something easy to eat on-the-go but that’s also delicious, it doesn’t get much better than Pret a Manger.
I think I’ve posted about it before.
French for “ready to eat”, it’s a little sandwich shop that makes simple, cold sandwiches on basic sliced white bread. The sandwiches resemble your traditional ham and cheese that you grew up getting in your school lunch box, except the ingredients are better, so the sandwiches taste super delicious. In my humble opinion; however, the sandwiches from Tesco, the local supermarket, were even better. When I expressed this opinion to our English friend, he bursted with uncontrollable laughter. Tesco is to him what 711 is to many of us. Things really do come down to perspective!
Hubby and I got a ham and cheese, an egg salad, and a turkey avocado with alfalfa sprouts, and we gobbled them up before we even made it back to the hotel. The ham and cheese was my favorite. Again, such a simple and basic thing, but great food is often times the result of fresh, delicious ingredients and the perfect execution of simple pairings.
Although I have loved visiting many different places, London is hands down my favorite city in the world. With all the pomp and circumstance and glitz and glamour, this swanky city brings you in. With all the history and centuries old architecture and remnants of literary prowess, this beacon of rhetoric and duty for the Western world makes you fall head over heels in love. As a writer, I may have teared up a bit as I walked through Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, clinching my copy of Idylls of the King close to my heart. As you ride the London Eye, visit The Globe, pose in front of Big Ben, and tour the military museum and the Tower of London, you must set aside a quiet minute to look around and take it all in. London is a multi-faceted powerhouse, and it seems that no matter where my travels take me, she will always be my favorite city to travel to because it was through her that I not only fell in love with Western Europe, but that I fell in love with travel.