Some context: Recently, I was incredibly lucky to be able to spend 10 days exploring London and Paris because my cousin (Ali) and I wanted to visit our other cousin and her family in London before they move to the U.S. Since London is (hello) so close to Paris, the birthplace of all my dreams, I begged to stop there and that’s how we ended up doing 6 days in London, 4 days in Paris.
Of course, everything started with the 8-hour plane ride. I haven’t traveled internationally in years, so I was way too impressed with the in-seat TVs, which seem to have gotten exponentially cooler since last time. I, who can normally conk out on a plane for entire flights no matter what time of day ended up watching three episodes of Girls, That Awkward Moment (pretty bad) and Austenland (…not great) and get about 1.5 hours of sleep.
Still, I managed to stay awake long enough to meet up with Ali at the airport, who had flown in separately from Chicago. This turned out to be trickier than we thought since we’d planned the night before to meet before passing through customs. Only on the plane did I realize we would be landing in completely separate terminals…without any way to contact each other. As soon as I landed, I ran to her terminal and we had one of those movie-esque moments where I burst out of the elevator all sweaty and terrified that we would never find each other and then I heard: “Erika?” And of course there she was, strolling out of customs.
Crisis thusly averted, we bought tube tickets and rode all the way up to North Hampstead, where we were staying with our other cousin and her family.
Later that afternoon, we walked to Hampstead with my cousin’s kids (…second cousins? They are ADORABLE) and got cones at this gelato place that turned out to be…Oddono’s! I got caramel and fig and probably should have just gotten chocolate. We walked around the heath for a bit and I couldn’t stop marveling at the incredible green foliage. It looked straight out of the Hobbit to me, though Ali keeps reminding me that the Hobbit was actually filmed in Australia. #tomatotomahto
We had a nice dinner in that night and then (after watching half of Pitch Perfect with the kiddies) we passed out around 10.
The next morning, we got up relatively bright and early so we could find our way into town for one of the definite highlights of the trip. Oh, we were just off to meet……
IZY OF TOP WITH CINNAMON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I’m kind of a big fan.
I can’t remember when or why I first stumbled across Izy’s blog, but I know it must have been earlyish in my blogging career because there’s this post as a bookmarker of my initial obsession with her gorgeous photography + brilliant recipes. Anyway, I was so excited she suggested Nordic Bakery as our meet up spot because Stephanie had specifically recommended their cinnamon rolls! So Ali and I split a roll and a slice of this blueberry pancake bake thing.
Izy was just as funny and awesome and interesting in real-life as I ever would have imagined! She gave us so many awesome suggestions, from useful apps to directions to the Covent Garden Market and, of course, FOOD SUGGESTIONS!!
We managed to visit a handful of her suggestions (like Oddono’s!) and of course, they were all fabulous. (We made it to the first five; the rest will have to wait until next time!)
- The Fable
- Shoreditch High Street
- Monmouth Coffee
- Flesh and Buns
- Brick Lane
- Red Church Street
- E5 bakery
She also recommended the Citymapper and FastConnect apps, which were INCREDIBLY helpful. It was kind of discouraging to see how disoriented we were in a new city without wifi, but FastConnect was super helpful in finding wifi pockets and Citymapper was GREAT for figuring out how to get places!
Afterwards, Ali and I wandered over to Covent Garden Market (this will be a theme. A lot of wandering. Because we had no direction, or directions.) but didn’t buy anything. Then we somehow found our way to Polpo, which was incredibly exciting to me because it was totally a spot Deb talked about as the inspiration for one of her recipes (which I’d made for a dinner party this past winter break).
Since we weren’t super hungry, we debated splitting a pizzette and one of the amazing-sounding vegetable dishes, but ended up getting two pizzettes: spinach and spicy clam. I actually liked the clam one slightly better, but both were delicious–a solid lunch for £16. Wandering around afterwards led us to Leicester Square, where we took a stroll through the National Gallery and caught what turned out to be the Dismounting Ceremony of the Queen’s Life Guard in a courtyard afterwards. It was not nearly as interesting as I imagine the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace to be.
Ali had to watch a Very Important Soccer Game (world cup maybe?) at 5pm, so we met up with my friend Hadi studying abroad in London and some of his friends at a pub called the Doric Arch.
After watching Ali’s team win during a nail-biting overtime (really, I was biting my nails) we went to the Shoreditch Urban Food Fest. If you go, make sure you to withdraw cash ahead of time as the line for the ATM down the street was super long! There weren’t tooo many vegetarian options and I ended up with a pretty sad vegetable quiche, but it was a cool atmosphere and I managed to snap a very bad picture of this brownie bar stall. Brownies by the pound!
And then we thought about going out but weren’t really dressed for it and home was far and we were tired, so we grabbed a beer at Euston Tap and then headed home.
The next morning, we had brunch with a friend of Ali’s who is studying at Cambridge. We were only half an hour late to meet him at Workshop Coffee thanks to our excellent navigating skills.
According to Ali’s friend, pretty much all coffee shops have the same approach to brunch in London. If this is true, let me dine in London coffee shops forever. Ali and I both got the organic eggs option: two eggs poached, scrambled or fried with toast and tomato kasundi, and then you can choose add-ons for £3.50 each. It’s the only place I’ve ever seen that prices mushrooms and oak-smoked salmon the same. I unfortunately chose the thyme-roasted mushrooms because they sounded really good at the time and for £3.50, I figured they must be PHENOMENAL shrooms…but nope, they didn’t taste much better than the blackened blob below looks. (I still ate them.) Ali got buttery grilled haloumi, a far better choice. Her friend got avocado toast with dukkah, which gave me immediate food envy (the toast was served with a mini skillet filled with smashed avocado studded with feta and roasted tomatoes!!! Die.).
Since The Fable was so close by, we couldn’t not go. (Also because if Izy recommends a liege waffle, I’m going to go find it.) My photos don’t do it justice, but basically it was the cutest place in the world.
We split the American-style waffle, which was assuredly NOT anything like the somewhat chewy, bland waffles that I think of as the average American waffle. Instead: thick and fluffy, crispy on the outsides, with delightfully sticky insides. Not nearly as dense as some liege waffles I’ve had, which was a plus considering we were on course two of brunch.
With brunch thoroughly accomplished, we headed west (I learned my directions on this trip—so proud!) to the Queensway tube station for our bike tour. We did the Royal London bike tour through Fat Tire Bike Tours and it was a great experience (we booked through Yelp for a 10% discount, so it was £18 pounds per person). Our tour guide was great–an actor by trade, he was really animated and kept us entertained for the entire 4-hour bike tour–no small feat. The thing that stands out most? His description of being hung, drawn, and quartered. Ew ew ew. <– Do not click that link if you have a squeamish stomach. It was a thousand times worse watching it being acted out in person.
We went to dinner afterwards with Hadi at some Indian place around the area. Ali and I split a thali with prawn curry and some appetizer…of which I completely forget the name and what’s in it. Although it did have “biscuit” in the description and let it be known that by biscuit, they did not mean those bready things that I love (they mean cracker things). The food was unremarkable except for the papadum, and I didn’t even know papadum (the very thin, crunchy cracker taking up most of the plate below) could be remarkable. It was somehow just the perfect level of saltiness.
The next morning, we ate breakfast at the house and I asked you guys for suggestions on places to get good scones. You totally delivered!
The first thing on our list was the Courtauld Gallery since it offers half-price admission (£3) on Mondays before 2 p.m.
It was a really nice, smallish museum that kind of reminded me of the l’Orangerie in Paris in terms of how not-overwhelming it was (ahem, the LOUVRE). Definitely worth a visit!
Then, planning to visit Emirates stadium that afternoon, we trekked up to Islington for lunch at one of the Ottolenghi delis. IT. WAS. AMAZING.
You basically order either a selection of salads or a main course (meat, fish or a quiche) with accompanying salads. Ali got the free-range chicken as her main with three salads (£16.70) ,and I got a selection of four salads (£14). It’s hard to pick a favorite because the creamy green pea/butter bean mash went so well with the crisp, tart poppyseed-speckled cabbage slaw, which was perfect against the creamy, yogurt-smeared eggplant…but basically I loved everything except the green beans. They were fine, just not my personal favorite.
I was SO thankful to see vegetables and it was just overall a really enlightening vegetarian experience. It got me so excited about cooking with vegetables and left me with a burning desire to dive into all things Ottolenghi (confession: I received Plenty for Christmas and still haven’t made anything from it. This will soon be changed.). Plus it was just a really nice atmosphere and overall experience.
After a leisurely lunch, we ran out of time to go to the stadium since we had plans to have “tea” with one of our cousins back at the house at 3:30. So we picked up some treats from their bakery and headed back.
Around 6:30, we went back down to Leicester Square to watch 1984.
I can’t say I remembered to much of the 1984 plot from reading it in school, but I thought the play was well done and it was definitely an experience watching a production from a spot about 20 feet away from the domed theater ceiling. We passed by some bridge on the way to dinner and stopped to take pictures.
We went to dinner at a tapas bar called Opera Tavern afterwards. A bit on the pricey side and we were both somewhat underwhelmed by the food unfortunately. We got a starter of flatbread and rosemary compound butter (delicious, but how can you mess up bread), stuffed zucchini flowers, jersey royals with pesto, goats curd, mushroom and farro, pan-seared scallops with honey butter and an anchovy-crusted tuna loin. The deep-fried, goat cheese-stuffed zucchini flowers drizzled in honey were extraordinarily tasty, but for £4.50 each…not sure they were worth THAT much. The tuna loin was also great (the confit tomatoes were AMAZING) but the scallops and jersey royals dish fell very flat. Unfortunately, they had run out of the grilled asparagus with poached egg that we were both excited about, and my wine was just okay.
We were both sort of feeling gelato afterwards, but on our way to the tube, we just happened to run into Balthazar…so we stopped in for a tarte tatin which, of course, was very good—a suitable nightcap for the night. (And then we of course found an Amorino right after, about twenty feet away.)
The next day, we started at Tower of London.
We caught a tour with one of the yeoman warders (the hour-long tours start approximately every 30 minutes), which gave us a great overview of the place. Then we went to check out the Crown Jewels, the “Royal Zoo,” the White Tower, and several other places.
So much history! Not to mention blood and torture (at least that what it sounded like according to the yeoman). My favorite part by far was the Crown Jewels. They create a whole experience while you’re walking down the hallway to actual see the jewels (weaving backstory through a variety of videos, wall text and more) so by the time you see the actual crowns and stuff, it’s even more impressive.
Then we walked over the London Bridge to Borough Market!
This was a spot that had been recommended by many people, so I was excited to go and it didn’t disappoint. Mondays are supposed to be the most dead, but when we got there on a Tuesday around 2 p.m., it also seemed pretty uncrowded. That made deciding what to eat (so many options!) and standing in line a breeze.
Ali stocked up at the souvenirs shop before we headed back to the house to drop off her loot. I think we stopped by Hampstead to see if we could find a scone on our way, but Gail’s turned out to only have the most gigantic English muffins I’ve ever seen and no scones. And then I got distracted by an antique shop across the street.
I got a tart pan, and a few antique-y looking spoons for £3! I didn’t get the name of the store, but according to the man I talked to, it is apparently run by Keith Fawkes, a distant relative of Guy Fawkes. I was hoping for more cutlery, but after waving me into the back room absolutely stuffed with random boxes, the man pointed at a box underneath a whole stack of large boxes and said that he could dig them out tomorrow if I wanted.
In one of my favorite adventures of the trip, after dropping stuff off at home, Ali and I decided to walk to dinner. Well, it was really my idea. Our cousin recommended a gastropub in Hampstead called Bull and Last, which was about a 45 minute walk from the house. Since we were planning to get fish and chips, it seemed like an obvious, brilliant idea to burn some calories PRE-dinner.
But we got there eventually. And I got fish and chips and Ali got a pastrami sandwich. And we took the bus back.
On what Ali called our “leftovers day,” we started at the Tate Modern, which was very cool. After a lot of impressionist and renaissance art, I missed me some weird modern art.
With no lunch plans, we went back to Borough Market since it was close by. I got a twisty spinach and cheese pastry in phyllo dough that I had been eyeing the day before and Ali got a gorgeous-looking olive and tomato-studded focaccia and a chicken skewer.
We made it to Harrod’s in the afternoon and I bought a box of Maldon sea salt for £2.35, pretty much the cheapest thing in the store. I had no idea Maldon salt was harvested in the UK! I had to. Ali rolled her eyes, but I still think it was a great deal, especially considering I saw the same box in G. Detou for over €3.
We strolled by tons of souvenirs, but since I had heard from many people that you should buy souvenirs elsewhere, I didn’t buy anything else aside from a currant scone for later, though I was HIGHLY tempted to buy one of their beautiful baked doughnuts. #regret
We ended up splitting up in the shopping district near Leicester Square so Ali could go to some sports stores and I could make it back to the antique store in Hampstead before they closed. But not before I loaded up on pastries!! Since Sacred Coffee was nearby, I stopped to pick up a scone (recommended Vikalinka). It seemed like a very cool place and I was sad I didn’t have time to hang out longer. And then, after reading Michelle’s blog for years, I HAD to get a cupcake from Hummingbird Bakery!
I split the red velvet with my cousin later that night. Delicious.
And then I raced back to the antique store. To my disappointment, the cutlery box was still buried under the same pile of boxes as yesterday. But after hanging around for way too long, the man took pity on me and moved the entire stack to unearth a treasure trove of rustic-looking silverware and odd utensils. I picked up the lot below for £5!
That night, we had dinner at a Japanese place in Hampstead, watched the other half of Pitch Perfect, packed, and went to bed early. Because PARIS!