I love it when I can get a more relaxed day to spend in London and when I do have the opportunity I tend to plan a trip with food in mind, those opportunities are rare but all the more special when they happen.
My trips to London these days are mainly business related and time is precious, so much packed in, full on days of meetings, seminars and rushing around. Although those days are always rewarding they tend to leave me a little frustrated that I haven’t had time to sample some of the cities delights at a more relaxed pace.
For those times when I do get a chance to indulge myself I will plan a day that goes something like this.
Being on the early train to Cannon Street takes me back in time instantly, I can close my eyes and still hear the clunk of the old carriage slam doors, feel the passing chill of winter air on my face and the transition to commuter air.
For me London’s beauty shines in the quiet moments, those brief pauses in the mania of an average day. They tend to be most evident early before offices open and stores lift their shutters for business. I love any city first thing in the morning, there is the scent of anticipation, of rich promise in the air, an excitement about the day ahead and what it may bring and there is also a moment where the buildings stand proud unhindered by passing bodies. I could lose myself for hours just marvelling at the design and craftsmanship that has endowed these many-storied buildings with such ornate decoration. Character features whose design changed through the ages as styles altered and construction techniques evolved. History speaks through stone, not completely timeless but enduring and stubborn. although so much of London has changed since my days working in the city.
Cannon Street Station has changed, it looks fresh and modern from the outside where I look more worn and aged, hopefully in something of a good way and i say that for both of us.
Most people will exit the station and cross to Walbrook but I have a habit of turning to the right and crossing to pop down St Swithins Lane, that’s just me though. You reach King William Street and then turn left to head towards The Bank of England and there, on your left is a surprisingly innocuous doorway that leads you into 1 Lombard Street.
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day so make sure it’s a great one. Within this former Bank Building you’ll get more buzz from the supercharged atmosphere than you will from a pot of coffee. How much business is done here before office hours begin, who knows? Whatever the reality it is a great way to start the day, a fabulous full english always draws me despite the enticement of continental pastries, well I manage to consume a few of those too generally.
The noise is generally the first thing that strikes you as you are escorted to your table and then you get to look around the room, your eyes can’t fail to be impressed by the circular bar, above it a domed skylight designed by Pietro Agostini. What was life once like working in this building? Today it still houses banking employees, now they come to eat, to talk, to plan and then they disappear to their offices elsewhere.
Once breakfasted there will be a period of activity before lunch, I’ll use other blogs to describe some of the pleasures of London in time. This treatise is gastronomical and let’s retain that theme.
Our most recent trip found us sat at The Ivy for lunch. 2015 saw the restaurant undergo a five month refurbishment, was it an improvement? If you are a regular there let me know. I found it looking wonderful and again with a buzz that gives a sense of life and purpose to the day. The menu has an intriguing mix of dishes and the whole dining experience will leave you wanting to return.
My dilemma always is that London is awash with fine dining restaurants and intriguing places to eat. When you are not necessarily tied to an area within a short walk of your office the array of choices becomes overwhelming. Choose Michelin starred or quiet back street gem, whatever catches your fancy, it’s hard to be disappointed.
Restaurants such as the Ivy tend to be booked in advance, don’t rely on booking via the website. Phone the restaurant and book direct, I find it easier. You’ll struggle to get a spur of the moment table at many top restaurants but it’s surprising what you can achieve.
I’ve listed a few of my favourite places below, restaurants to dine in along with the likes of Fortnums, Harrods and Selfridges, the food hall always delights me and then there are the Paxton and Whitfields and Neals Yards, the gastronome stopping points from which to stock the larder.
London is awash with great food, I haven’t touched on the markets and food stalls, the little deli shops and cafes and there are a swathe of wonderful restaurants beyond the few mentioned here. The only disappointment on returning home is that I don’t get to sample more delicious treats in one day. A trip to London can take a large bite from your wallet but choose carefully where you visit and it’s worth every penny.
Addendum 11/02/2023 :
Since first writing this article so much has changed. The Covid years sought to wreak havoc upon the hospitality industry and yet the names below are still with us. Explore the streets of London and you will discover an amazing cornucopia of new eateries, dining halls and street food. The wealth of choice is intoxicating and makes it almost impossible to dine frequently in any one establishment alone, how can you ignore the delightful interiors, wondrous scents and glorious feast for the eyes that greet you in every street. Dine your way through London, a gastronomes heaven.