Skip to content

A Little Bit About a Lot of Things

A lifestyle blog with a focus on my food adventures

We just came back from a 2 week trip to Europe. I may have been the only one of the plane who wasn’t able to sleep…needless to say, for someone who is noise and smell sensitive….it was a VERY long flight!

First stop, London, where we stayed at the Bentley London, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel. My sister in law goes to London frequently for business and said that this was her favorite hotel. After going, we can totally see why – the rooms are spacious and the service is impeccable. The location is a little way away from the city center, imagine what Brookline is to Boston. The neighborhood of Knightsbridge is very safe, with some great restaurants near by and the public transportation is only 2 blocks away. We arrived on the morning of the 31st of August and checked out on the 3rd of September. We got a great deal online with an advance purchase rate. The hotel was cheaper than those that were located in city center. The exchange rate right about now is 1 pound = 1.57 dollars. The hotel was about a 13 pound cab ride from Paddington station (we took the fast train from Heathrow airport to Paddington Station for 18 pounds each). After being on the underground-which you should now be picturing the green line in Boston at peak traffic hours-taking that to our hotel with all our bags (granted we had two backpacks and two carry ons-go me!!) would have been a nightmare.

If you look closely in the picture you can see that some of the windows are boarded up. Long ago, there used to be a window tax (the more you had the more you paid) and many of the window frames were boarded up in order to save on tax.

The hotel was ornate.

We arrived before the scheduled check in time, so we weren’t sure if we would be able to get a room after our long flight. Fortunately one was available.

The hotel is a little on the older side, but has lots of charm.

The hotel has converters in case you forgot yours at home.

Everything was very clean-the had upgraded us one level on our room which was very nice.

My sister in law was so thoughtful and had a bottle of champagne waiting for us when we arrived at the hotel-a really lovely way to start any trip.

After checking in to our hotel, we went to pick up our London Pass. Is it worth it? For us it certainly was. You can buy the pass for 1 day, 2 days, 3 days and 6 days-with or without travel. We bought the 6 day with travel-now why would we do that if we weren’t going to be there for 6 days? The 3 day pass with travel only allows you to travel at certain times, ie. not before 9:30am-the 6 days pass lets you ride at any time. A single underground ticket is about 4 pounds, so it can get pretty expensive, as for the sights, well for me-patience is not one of my virtues, so being able to go to the head of the line made it worth it. There are 55 sites that you can see with the pass, see the list here and you get discounts with your card at a variety of places. We didn’t order the pass in enough time to have them mail it to us, so we picked it up at the office in London, it couldn’t have been easier, it’s located within a few blocks of the Picadilly Circus underground stop. The Britain & London Visitor Centre. No.1 Regent Street, London, SW1Y 4XT. (Make sure you go out the Southside exit). The price for a 6 day pass with travel for one adult is 145 pounds and it comes with a free guidebook. We also bought our tickets to Buckingham palace through them at a discounted price of 17.50 pounds per ticket.

We LOVED the underground. It was as efficient as Washington DC, and as simple to follow as Boston. The hotel was at the Gloucester Road stop on the blue Picadilly line. At Gloucester Road you could also pick up the yellow circle line or the green district line-most of the places that you want to see are within 5 or 6 stops from the hotel. There are maps everywhere, it’s a very easy system when you get the hang of it. There was sign boards that told you how many minutes the train was going to take to get to you, like they have in DC-a far more efficient system than what we have in Boston. There are also zones that you can travel within-on a map it looks like a bulls eye-it reminded us a little of how the Chicago system works. Also, it’s important to pay attention to the exits in the stations, depending on which one you take can depend what side of the road you come out on-for example, in Boston, at Kenmore, you can get out on the side by Eastern Standard or you can get out on the BU bookstore side-even though both are the Kenmore stop.

RESTAURANTS:

8/31/11 lunch at Nobu London, located at 19A Old Park Lane,  in the Metropolitan Hotel-next to the Intercontinental. The restaurant is part owned by Robert De Niro and was the first European venture for celebrated chef Nobu Matsuhisa. It opened in February 1997, where it earned a Michelin star that it still retains today.

The restaurant has it’s own entrance on the first floor-the main restaurant is on the second floor. The restaurant has clean lines and offers great views from their second story windows.

We were able to make most of our reservations for meals in London through Opentable.com. The dress at lunch was very casual, you can show up in jeans-although the British “casual” is usually more dressy than American casual.

We start with a king crab taco (3.25 pounds) and a spicy tuna taco (3 pounds). Nice, simple presentation-even if the tacos were on the small side.

The spicy yellow tail hand roll (8 pounds).

The shrimp tempura cut roll (9 pounds) and a spicy tuna hand roll (7.25 pounds). The tempura roll had some asparagus in it, which added a nice crunch, and but the tempura itself wasn’t very crunchy. The tuna hand roll was excellent.

For dessert, we shared the chocolate satandagi (10.50 pounds)-like warm chocolate filled munchkins with almond ice cream and caramelized pistachios. Not bad-but not crave-worthy. The service was included in the meal and the service was so so-a little on the slow side even though there were only about 3 other tables seated. Total bill-57 pounds, a pricey lunch, but hey-we’re on vacation. They get you with the sodas, each soda was 4.30 pounds-and there are no free refills here-they serve the cokes to you from glass bottles.

Nobu on Urbanspoon

8/31/11 dinner at Gaucho Picadilly located at 19-25 Swallow Street.

The restaurant is like a 3 floor nightclub: dim with the music blaring and the loud hum of dinner chatter-not what we expected for an upscale steak restaurant. We walk up to the 3rd floor, where we are greeted into a large dining room that is something like a mix of the queen of hearts meets Mooo and while you’re at it, throw in a couple of ornate chandeliers. The floor is black and white check, the seats are faux cow hide and the same pattern repeats on the wall…it feels like there is no theme. The waiters and hostess’ are very attractive-they could all be models-dressed in tight mini dresses and tailored black suits with skinny ties. Our waiter, Robert, is very knowledgeable but seems like he just doesn’t have the time of day for us, or maybe we aren’t buying enough wine for his liking-either way, we are waiting for a good amount of time. He finally comes over with the meats of the day on a plate-We get the bife de ancho 300g (20.50 pounds) and the churrasco/chorizo 300g (23.50 pounds).

The bife de ancho-served plain-no sauce, basically a rib eye. It is tender and flavorful-just enough fat and a wonderful salty crust on the outside. We get it with a side of broccoli (5.25 pounds), sweet potato chips (fries-4 pounds) and oyster mushrooms (5.25 pounds). They suggest 3 sides per table, but it is far too much, we can’t even finish. The broccoli was good-still had a nice crunch to it, the chips were tasty but we wished that there was more chorizo in them, and the oyster mushrooms were bland.

The churrasco/chorizo was tasty as well. Very tender marinated spiral cut of meat-again, served plain with no sauce (you can have your choice of bearnaise,peppercorn, mustard or mushroom for an additional 2.75 pounds). Both dishes were so tender that they don’t even give you steak knives, you just don’t need them.

We ended the meal with a mocha tart-coffee, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream and raspberries. Tasty, but again, not crave-worthy. It was just ok for 8.50 pounds. Total bill for dinner, 67 pounds-scary because that’s only 10 more pounds than lunch. The noise level was quite loud-we had to yell to hear each other over the other noise. The tables were fairly close together-and the dress code was smart-women were in dresses, men with button down shirts and proper shoes. No jeans or flip flops here. They say on the bill that gratuity isn’t included-which goes against what our guidebook says-that it is. Great meal but it gets demerits for poor service and ambiance.

Gaucho - Piccadilly on Urbanspoon

9/1 breakfast at the Bentley Hotel-continental breakfast included in room price.

The dining area is a bit out dated. There are two other tables seated when we arrive, it feels as though you are having breakfast at your grandmother’s house, or in a library-people are talking in whispers. They have a buffet, nothing spectacular-continental is included in the price of the room-ie. coffee, juice, breads or pastry (regular price 18 pounds).

At this point, we wonder how empty the hotel is, but they said that even when they are at full capacity-it’s still this quiet!

9/1/11 lunch at Borough Market an open air farmers market where you can buy food from local vendors. Take the tube(train) to the London Bridge stop-they are open Thursdays 11-5, Friday 12-6, Saturday 8-5. You can find cheese makers, bakers, people selling shellfish, bread makers, meat vendors and a variety of other wonderful goodies.

We stop at a stall for pizza and eat it on a grassy area nearby.

A slice of cheese pizza.

I got this calzone type thing, cheese on the left side and roasted vegetables on the right side. The dough was light and fluffy with a little hint of salt.

We picked up this great almond tart-somewhere between a cookie and a cake.

And a super delicious strawberry tart. They were from Cafe Patisserie, they have a shop at 126 Whitecross street as well as a stall in the Borough Market.

Check out the enormous meringues they had!

9/1/11 Dinner at Barbecoa-the brain child of chef Jamie Oliver and bbq expert Adam Perry Lang located at 20 New Change Passage. It’s an amazing building with floor to ceiling windows. Take the mission house train stop to exit 3 (west) which is Cannon Street. They have an automatic front door controlled by the hostess…pretty cool.

The restaurant is two floors, the bottom floor is a bar area and the second floor has a spacious dining area. We are surprised at again, how loud it is. Barbecoa is a bit more casual than Gaucho, but people are still pretty dressed up. Has a little bit of a Post 390 feel to it.

They have a great wine wall, an open bar-as in, you can see the bartenders making the drinks, not free drinks. The service is better than last nights, but the waitress is still a bit absent for our liking. We sit at a two top with a great view outside,

We order the pulled pork sandwich with bbq sauce, coleslaw and jalapeno corn bread (16 pounds). The pulled pork shoulder was amazing-the sauce was sweet and tangy with a little bit of a bite. The cornbread was a bit disappointing-it was dry and didn’t have much flavor, but I loved the concept.

The duck fat chips (4 pounds) were tasty-crisp on the outside, and tender on the inside-did they taste all that different from other fries, hard to say.

The half roast chicken with smoked olive beurre blanc, thyme and toast garlic (18 pounds). Beurre blanc can be literally translated from the French as “white butter”, the hot, emulsified sauce is made from white wine, shallots and butter. As you can see in the picture above, there are whole cloves of garlic. The sauce is rich, you can taste the butter and feel the calories being added to your thighs as you eat it. The chicken is tender-really well done.

For dessert we share the knickerbocker glory-fresh strawberries with meringue and whipped cream (8 pounds). The strawberries were tasty but the meringue was chewy like a marshmallow, not crisp. Dessert was so so-nothing to write home about. Total of the check was 57.38 pounds with service included (12.5%).

Barbecoa on Urbanspoon

9/2/11 breakfast at the hotel.

Lunch at Hakkasan Mayfair located at 17 Bruton Street near a lot of high end shops. You could walk right by the entrance and not know it.

It sort of felt like you were going into a secret club- you walk downstairs to get to the main dining room where the light reflecting on the stairs makes you feel like you are walking on water-very zen like. There is a strong smell on incense in the air, burning at the landing on the stairs.

The restaurant itself is dim but there are spot lights above your table, so you see exactly what you are eating. The service is excellent, they don’t wait for your water glass to be half empty before they whisk it away and bring you a brand new glass.

We order the royal sweet corn soup (16 pounds) served with lobster-really amazing soup, as it should be for around $20. You can really taste the corn and there is a large portion of lobster-I could have had this as my meal.

We also had the vegetarian dim sum plate (10.50 pounds) which I have to admit, all tasted sort of the same-even though the green ones were the scariest looking to me, they had the best consistency of wrapper.

We ordered the pork shumai, but I’m pretty sure we got shrimp instead. Either way, they were delicious. Add on some white rice and a coke, and the total bill was 44.07 pounds with 13% gratuity included.

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

9/2/11 Dinner at Goodman Steak House located at 26 Maddox Street. The atmosphere was smart casual-a button down shirt and khakis for the men, pants or a summer dress for the ladies.

The inside reminds me of the Back Bay Social Club. You can order a steak off the menu or the meat of the day off the chalkboard by weight.

We start with the burrata salad with crisp toast, tomatoes and pepperoni (12 pounds). The burrata is smooth and cuts the spice of the pepperonis.

Our waiter explains the options on the menu and on the chalkboard, but clearly he is in the weeds and doesn’t give us the proper attention. We order the Goodman Ribeye, that is USDA beef (30 pounds). The meat is tasty, not as good as Gaucho-the meat isn’t as melt in your mouth and it needs a little salt.

We also order the 250 gram filet, also USDA. They have Scottish grass fed beef, but the waiter explains that it’s much gamier.

For dessert we have the chocolate mousse (6.50 pounds). Milk chocolate mousse covered in a milk chocolate shell, drizzled with white and dark chocolate. Pretty good-and it was light, a nice way to end the meal. With the 12.5% service charge, a side of green beans and a coke, the bill comes to 110.13 pounds-our most expensive meal and yet, not one of the best.

Goodman on Urbanspoon

SIGHTSEEING:

I had been to London years ago-and been to all the ‘sights’. My husband, on the other hand, it was his first time-so of course he wanted to do all the touristy things. We bought the London Pass as I mentioned above-for us, it was worth it, transportation wise-because we took the Underground everywhere, and time wise-we only had 3 days in London and didn’t want to spend the majority of it waiting in line. On our first day there, the 31st, we had already wasted half the day, between checking in to our hotel and getting our London Pass, and the jet lag-we decided that the best idea was to buy a 3 day pass on the Original Tour, a hop on hop off double decker- open top bus. Tickets were 45 pounds for two tickets. Out of all the cities that we went on open top bus tours, Lodon had the most to offer. There were multiple routes you could take and a lot to see on each one. My advice for these trips is sit upstairs, outside, with a seat closest to the road and try and sit behind the staircase, that way you don’t have anyone standing up directly in front of you and blocking your shot.

We did Westminster Abbey on the 1st (free with the London Pass), make sure not to go at noon if you want to miss the crowds of people receiving communion. There is an audio tour available. We went at 2pm and the crowd was pretty minimal. Monday-Friday 9:30-4:30, Saturday 9:30-2:30, closed Sundays. Take St James tube stop on the district and circle line or Westminster on the Jubilee, circle and district line.

We did the Tower of London in about an hour( free with the London Pass). They suggest that you do it in 3-4 hours. I am the kind of traveler that likes to do my own thing, I don’t want to be stuck on a tour bus or told what to do-we figure we’ll just go for it. We saw most of what we wanted to see there-we missed the bloody tower, but hey-leave something for next time right? There are no pictures if you go and see the crown jewels. You are shepherded into a room that has a moving walkway in front of the jewels-one on each side, so everyone can get a good view. All I’m saying is that if I had a crown(s) like that, I’d wear them every day-out to the market, you bet! What outfit couldn’t be benefited by a crown?? The tower is home to many ravens, who can not fly away because one of their wings are clipped. 1March-31 October: Tues-Sat 9am-5:30pm, Sun and Mon 10am-5:30pm; 1 November to 28 February: Tues-Sat 9am-4:30pm, Sun-Mon 10am-4:30pm.

We bought tickets for Buckingham palace when we bought the London Pass-all you have to do is bring your receipt to the Palace ticket office and exchange it for the next time slot they have available. We went at 12 and got in at 12:30pm. There are long lines everywhere-everyone wanted to see Kate’s wedding dress, and I’m pretty sure that as of early October the exhibit will be closed. They have an audio tour here-and it’s hard to get around the tour groups if you don’t want to go at their speed. There was confusion if you had to follow the queue (the line) or could you pass around them. There is a lot of walking and some long staircases-one lady passed out while we were there. There are a lot of things to see here, art collections, gifts to the queen and of course an area about the Royal Wedding-don’t worry if you didn’t make it for the wedding, you can still buy commemorative china at the gift shop.

Tate Modern offers a free audio guide at no extra charge. Sunday-Thursday 10am-6pm, Friday and Sat 10am-10pm. Take the underground to the Southwark stop on the Jubilee line-it’s a nice walk from the London Bridge along the water. The just finished up a Miro exhibit, that you had to pay extra for-check the website for current and upcoming exhibits. As for modern art, I think that most of it, I just don’t get. Some of the things were interesting, but for the most part, this wasn’t my speed.

While this may look like a hill of sunflower seeds, in reality they are individually hand painted porcelain replicas made by Ai Weiwei, a Chinese political activist and artist. There are 100 million seeds in this exhibit. Originally you were able to walk over the seeds, and touch them, but they found traces in the lead in the pieces, thus the roped off pile.

9/2/11

We started the morning off at Madame Tussauds. We did not buy tickets in advance, so we wanted to get there early and beat the crowds. The museum opens at 9:30am, and the tickets are 57.60 pounds for two. Even at this time in the morning, it is crowded and if you want to get a picture with your celebrity crush, you may have to wait in line. There are athletes, politicians, musicians and movie stars. The museum is only half open when we get there and there is a line forming to go into the ‘scream’ area. Personally, I find wax figures quite creepy, but it was priceless getting a picture of my husband with the queen on England. The scream area is where you walk into a dark hallway and live actors come and jump out at your, or make scary noises at you-you can’t touch them and they can’t touch you. Then there is a ‘ride’ where you see the history of England-very old school Disney and it smelled kind of funny. Worth it to go once, but you don’t need to go back multiple times.

We went to the Sherlock Holmes museum located at 22b Baker Street. When you exit the underground station, there is a large statue of Sherlock Holmes. I have fond memories of when I was a kid and my father would read me Sherlock Holmes mysteries. There is a gift shop right next door to the museum-the price of admission is 6 pounds per person. There are wax figures of popular characters in the stories, which I find sort of creepy. There are multiple floors and countless familiar objects-however, if you aren’t a die hard Holmes fan, you may want to skip this all together.

Next we went to the Tower Bridge exhibition. (free with London Pass) Not to be confused with the London Bridge Experience. There are short movies at the beginning and the end, and you walk across the bridge in an enclosed glass walkway. You exit the bridge and go to the tower engine room and gift shop. Good thing that it was included with our London Pass, as I’m not sure it was worth it to us if we had had to pay for it. They take your picture when you go through the entrance and if you want a souvenier photo at the end, it will run you 10 pounds. 1 April-30 September 10am-6:30pm; 1 October-31 March 9:30am-6pm. Take the Tower Hill underground stop.

A trip to London wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Harrods department store. Presently there is a little bit of construction around the underground station-but it’s worth it to see all the luxury goods and their amazing gourmet food selections.

Top row left to right: 1. coffee nougat surrounded by white chocolate. 2.milk chocolate with a hazelnut ganache. 3.Dark chocolate ganache that was smooth like caramel.

Middle row left to right: 1.milk chocolate on top with a crunchy bottom-tasted sugary like honey. 2.chocolate on the bottom and white chocolate on top with a piece of florentine as garnish. 3. milk chocolate with mousse inside.

Bottom row left to right: 1. dark chocolate with a yellow liquid inside, tasted a little like lavender. 2. there was a fruity ganache inside. 3.coffee caramel.

MISC.

  • We would have liked to have done tea somewhere, but there wasn’t enough time. Sure, you have it in Boston, but it just wouldn’t be the same. The Ritz in Mayfair offers one, make sure to dress appropriately, as well as many of the hotels in the area.
  • If you are in Mayfair, you might also want to stop at the Burlington Arcade, a covered walkway that features jewelry shops and other high end goods. Make sure to stop at Lauduree, a famous shop where you can but macaroons-you can also visit them in Paris, but if you’re here, why not stop in for a little treat!
  • Green Park near the palace has a really great lawn area and they have cloth lawn chairs for the public. It’s a great place to rest your feet or spend the afternoon on a picnic.
  • We were going to do the London Eye, the world’s second largest observation wheel, but the weather while we were in London was cool and cloudy-so we opted not to spend the money if we weren’t going to have amazing views.
  • Changing of the guard…is it worth it? Lots of online posts say it isn’t-we went because it was my husband’s first time, and how could you not go. Make sure to check the website to see that it is in fact happening on the day you will be there.

The roads are closed down so the guards can march into the gates-most people try and get up close to the gates-which is fine if you show up at 10am to get in the front row. We showed up at 10:30am, they say that the official start is 11:30 but the guards start arriving at 11:15am-we were 6 people deep when we got there on the right hand side. Don’t try and climb up on the gates, you will be asked to get down. You might want to try getting seat on the wall just across the driveway from the gates of the palace, you will see all the guards walking up and the horse guards. The show is about 30 minutes, and they play show tunes-it’s a weird feeling to be in London and hear the band playing “New York, New York”.

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT LONDON: (and these are just my opinions)

As far as all the cities that we went to: London, Paris, Nice, Rome and Capri-London felt like the safest. My family had gone about 15 years ago- and my mother lectured me on how to keep my money safe (read:get a money belt), not to wear any jewelry etc.-somehow, London in 2011 in her mind looks exactly like a scene out of Oliver Twist.  I think that as long as you are smart about things, you will be fine. We didn’t see anyone asking for money on the streets, however there were some really great musicians playing in the underground stations. Don’t flash your money and don’t walk into dark alleys alone at night-you’ll be fine. If you plan on taking the underground, and you want to stand on the escalator, stand to the right, local Londoners are in the hurry and pass on the left. The high end shops are crowded-people come from countries that have stronger currency than the UK and buy buy buy. Men in London favor tapered skinny pants, not just for casual wear, in their suits too. Pointed shoes for men were also very ‘in’. The city itself was clean and efficient. For Guidebooks, I liked the Insight Guides London City Guide. I used google maps on my phone for a lot of things, but it is also handy to have your own underground map available-we used it quite often.

Stay tuned for our next city: Paris!

%d bloggers like this: