Having never lived in our capital city, I am thoroughly in love with a dream of London.
Growing up on the East Kent coast meant that it was never too far for a weekend day trip with my parents. Particularly around Christmas time, we would head into the big city and gawp our way through such treasure troves as Harrods and Hamleys, content to simply stare at this other way of living. Sometimes we would be taken to see a musical (Beauty and the Beast was a favourite whilst it was still running) and other times we would visit the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum. My Dad used to hold me up to the Tyrannosaurus Rex head which used to absolutely terrify me!
I still find that same kind of heady, childlike joy when visiting London at Christmas. And when I visited for a whirlwind weekend with my uni housemates, it was still there waiting for me.
(P.S., sorry for the phone pics but camera = so, so dead).
We met up one Saturday afternoon, after our various long slogs into the city. Coming from Exeter on the coach meant a tidy five hour journey for me whilst Lauren had even further to come from Liverpool (where we all headed last year for our annual meet up).
Nevertheless, we were all excited to be back together again and quickly set off to wander around London without the slightest hint of a plan!
In search of a Christmas spirit booster, we headed to Covent Garden to see the tree and all the decorations. We decided to walk everywhere so that we could save money on transport and also make the most of being out and about in London together. Perhaps it's because I've never spent extended periods of time there but I still love walking through London. It has one of those city centres where almost every street and corner is interesting and beautiful to me.
A trip to Liberty's Christmas shop always forms part of my Christmas countdown. The building is as interesting on the inside as it is on the outside and my trips tend to be more of an architectural/museum kind rather than for retail therapy. It's crazy to think that this huge Tudor-style building isn't even a century old yet and that the internationally renowned business grew out of a small shop on Regent's street with only three staff.
We headed to our cosy hostel in Willesden Green where we'd gotten a private 4-bed room for £20 each at late notice (bargain). Dinner was booked for 9pm so we had plenty of time to get ready and refresh after a long day (although we did end up getting pretty peckish which resulted in us raiding Sainsburys for cheese strings and bread rolls and drawing strange looks as we ate our appetisers on the Tube...)
But when dinner finally came... boy was it good...
Lauren had spotted Trufflesecco online and shared it with me as if there are two things I love in this world, it's prosecco and truffles (I sadly don't have the income to match my tastes, sigh). Seeing as we are both cheese fiends and pretty much everything on the menu also involved cheese (Truffle-eese-secco?) we were more than a little keen to go.
To our great surprise and delight, Frankie and Vicky agreed to indulge us on this occasion. Despite the fact that they both absolutely hate truffle. It quite honestly felt like my birthday. I didn't question it, I just booked us in.
Upon entering the restaurant however and being hit with a wall of truffly perfume, they both realised what they had done.
And proceeded to order everything without truffles!
(Just for the record, they definitely enjoyed themselves and polished everything off quite happily. I'm not quite that cold-hearted, even when food is involved.)
Luckily for us, the waitress brought over the truffle that would have been on their dishes in separate bowls so Lauren and I could have even more. It was quite honestly one of the best days of my life.
We had burrata with truffle followed by gnocchi with truffle and sage butter and then Lauren and I finished the lot off with the truffle cheese board. All washed down with a lovely crisp prosecco. I don't know about you but for me, this is peak life goals.
Despite our initial ideas of heading into nearby Camden after dinner, we were absolutely exhausted by the time we rolled back outside into the crisp evening air. So we loaded up on chocolate from the supermarket and headed back to the hostel for a proper girly sleepover.
And if you can think of a better way to spend an evening... well then I don't believe you!
Day 2 was for museums and more food.
We spent the morning wandering around the awe-inspiring collections at Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum. Some of the photos were absolutely insane. My favourite part was the documentary series - I love seeing a collection of images that all tell a story together and bring a current issue to life. If you don't get a chance to visit the exhibition, you can still take part online by voting in the people's choice category - there are some incredible photos to choose between! I still haven't made up my mind!
Sadly, Lauren had to pop off to catch her coach back to Liverpool so we bade her farewell before hunting for some much needed lunch. Lots of places were heaving by that point (Sunday brunch time in Kensington with no reservations... oops!) We saw a couple of places that looked intriguing but with queues snaking out of the door, we gave them a miss.
We were about to head off to a greasy spoon when we spotted Fernandez & Wells.
I'm assuming that most people in London know about this place - they've been open for a while and have a few spots in prominent locations around the city - so excuse the London newbie raving about what's probably a well-known place. We'd never heard of it and thought it looked pretty nice so we headed inside.
On seeing the menu and the spread of sandwiches and cakes on the bar, we promptly elbowed a girl out of the way in a battle for the final table (a lovely window table no less, with seats arranged counter style for the best kind of people watching) and ordered a fair few dishes to share, reasoning that they'd probably be tiny given the reasonable prices. "After all," we said, "this is London!"
And then the food began to arrive.
Hummus with toasted sourdough:
Thick, creamy, far superior to anything you can get in the supermarket and better than any I've managed to whip up at home. Seasoned with oil and spices and an absolute treat to start with. Plus, a portion rather larger than we'd expected. We began to get excited.
Warm and comforting with meaty chunks of aubergine in a rich tomato sauce, seasoned with crumbled feta and wild origano. Definitely one to try and recreate at home!
The most pungent of Swiss cheeses melted over potatoes with cornichons. A kind of posh cheesy chips if you will. And one that has left me with a serious cornichon addiction (if ever a thing existed?!)
Fried eggs with za'atar:
Simple but tasty with a drizzle of olive oil and another serving of sourdough toast. I don't normally like fried eggs but these were lovely.
Grilled potatoes with a wonderfully garlicky aioli and romesco peppers. Not necessarily authentically Spanish (Frankie has spent a lot of time in Spain, including her year abroad in Cordoba) but bloody wonderful.
We also got a grilled cheese laced with leeks and red onions and set about destroying our feast.
Between the three of us, we managed to polish a fair amount off but were finally defeated - and we couldn't believe that the food had come to a meagre £14 each! We were left absolutely bursting at the seams and couldn't even contemplate the wonderful cakes that had tempted us in in the first place.
I will most definitely be going back again (and probably ordering the same spread as before!)
Our little group began to shrink even further - Vicky and I waved Frankie off and set about walking our lunch off. We did a spot of dream house hunting and nattered away in the fading afternoon.
We were halfway to the Chelsea Embankment (where I mistakenly thought it'd be a quick 15-minute walk to actual Embankment, where I was supposed to meet a friend within the hour - see earlier disclaimer about never having lived here before) when we noticed the spirit of Christmas calling to us...
I'm not even kidding, we spent a good 40 minutes in this garden centre looking at baubles and smelling the Christmas trees. It was wonderful. They also had some really amazing fake apples that were uncannily similar in both appearance and weight to real apples... weird.
Sadly, it was then time for us to bid each other goodbye. (Vicky has since headed off to the South Pole where she is carrying out research for her PhD - how cool is that?! She's spending Christmas on a scientific cruise in the snow surrounded by penguins!!) We had a big long hug to last the next few months before disappearing back into the city in different directions...
No I didn't end up in the Ivy. But I did end up getting rather drunk with one of my best friends, Dave, who didn't mind too much when I was a liiiiittle bit late after my Embankment journey time miscalculation fiasco...
With whom I concluded the weekend having a good old catch up and eating sushi in McDonalds. (Seriously, sushi and McDonald's chips is an insanely good combination. Although now I feel like I'm going to be hunted down by the food police...)
And then it was time to climb back on the coach for another five hour slog back to Exeter!
It was an absolute dream of a weekend full of all the best food and the best of friends. What more could you ask for?