Here is the typical marathon blog update that coincides with my trip to our fair nations capital. Friday through Sunday feels like a very long time, but alas it goes by in a blink of an eye. After much deliberation, I took the usual prerequisite dozen t shirts and 42 shirts for what would be a two t shirt and 2 shirt job, one of which was bought in London itself alas, and had to struggle through tube automated entrances and through claustrophobic corridors and halls with an overly bulging bag. I’m never very good at it, packing that is. I bought a weekend bag to look chic. But when you wash bag is threatening to burst the zip, your boots are squeezed in by some minor miracle and your clothes that were expertly ironed will alas come out far more creased than before I set up the ironing board then I begin to think the pretension that influenced my purchase was very ill informed.
We arrived early afternoon in London and made our way to the hotel. The Cumberland is on Great Cumberland Street, which is the road facing Marble Arch. It’s lobby is a vast modern space, with art as it’s focus. Installations, sculpture and photography fill the space and I’m sure if I’d asked the staff they would have said it’s to allow the space to be enjoyed by it’s guests as an interactive experience. The visual installations were of people tumbling and falling about on a trampoline, and changed over the day to reflect the “mood of the day”. I was unmoved.
So we headed on out on arrival, firstly for a light lunch then to check out a bit of Oxford St, an area I tend to avoid as it’s always full of people who cannot walk at a reasonable pace and who like to stop very suddenly in awkward places. We went round Selfridges, which I always forget about yet always love going round. The food hall is a great experience, with macaron’s being sold next to artisan bread, around the corner from cupcakes and americana foods, whilst a thousand varieties of olive oil can be located next to Yo Sushi and within the eye line of a fishmongers. Then you walk down a few steps and are faced with high end stationers, pen stalls, wallets and pocket books, before being presented with the likes of Mulberry, Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton. One could shop nowhere else. I saw a woman doing what looked like her weekly shop. That blew my mind. The basil oil I paid £1.70 for in Sainsburys was £4.80 there. I mean, this woman probably lives next to Nigella and Saatchi, but I’m still in awe of that kind of lifestyle.
Whilst out shopping I indulged myself with a new denim shirt. All Saints, which meant I could have bought it at Meadowhall, but hey, who cares. It began a theme of the weekend, which was to spend this holiday buying for our next holiday! Mykonos is never far from our minds… We returned to get ready for the fun filled events of the evening, which was a trip to Gwyneth’s London recommendation for Italian food and the London Palladium for the Wizard of Oz.
Bocca di Lupo is on Archer Street in cosmopolitan Soho. Like everywhere in Soho, it’s surrounded by a mixture of slightly shabby-chic doorways, hoardings for suspended renovation works, a gelato owned by the same business, strip clubs and licensed sex shops. As we approached it, I couldn’t help but wonder what Gwyneth thought the first time she was taken into this area for a slap up dinner. I do think however that the city must breed an anaesthetised youth, let’s face it Apple and Moses will have seen it all by 16 and be barely shockable, and should be wholly tolerant of all walks of life. As we walked out the restaurant after our meal, there was a gay couple midway through the what I can only assume was foreplay in the doorway of some unmarked property. Both were wearing cut off denim shorts and leather biker boots like something from one of those Tom of Finland cartoons. We forget such things exist in Sheffield, I think people who dress like that go off to Manchester.
The restaurant was lovely, it had a really simple unassuming air to it. It was quite timelessly decorated, a colour scheme of wood against a clean cream. The chefs worked behind a long bar to the right of the restaurant, and diners are invited to eat at the counter as well as in a more formal dining area. We were there at OAP o’clock for a pre theatre meal, so we got a table with no fuss. Now I could have ordered everything, from pasta to risotto and back again, but I had a conversation from the previous evening ringing in my ears where someone said that there is no point eating something in a nice restaurant that you can make yourself. That is a habit I need to break. Why pay £15 for pesto?! So I ordered Cuttlefish risotto, which was coloured with the ink from the fish. It was divine. Something seems to happened when there is an imbalance between what your head tells you something should be like and what your taste buds then experience. What I thought would be a dark, unsubtle, heavy food was light, creamy, and the epitome of balanced and subtle. I loved it.
Pete had a starter of red peppers, served with anchovies. It was antipasti served with some fresh bread which was delicious, a soft oily onion brioche and a sourdough which were perfectly executed, demonstrating my truly amateurish take on baking in comparison!
Main course was for Pete a crab linguine dish. By all reports it was heaven. I cannot say I tasted it, simply because I was presented with an epic scaled meal which I did not anticipate. I ordered poussin served with a tomato and caper panzanella. Ladies and gentlemen, I can now share with you a further reason why I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ina Garten. I know what panzanella is. She recently made it on Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. Ina made a panzanella from the organic veg box she got from the women who run the cooperative farm behind Eli Zabar’s place. I can’t recall what she made it with, I think tomatoes, and the two baguette’s Eli gives to each box. But when I read it, I knew. I had to confirm my recollection, always having room for self doubt, but I was right. Oh Ina, you enrich me more and more every day.
The panzanella was lovely, however the bread was quite mushy, and I just wish it could have retained some texture. Chicken, tomatoes and wet bread all had quite a soft texture and I began to feel almost a craving for some crunch. This explains the toasted coconut on frozen yogurt I had afterwards. We asked the Sommelier to recommend a light red wine to alongside it. I have no idea what it was, some southern Italian wine, but it was lovely nonetheless.
All in all it was incredible, and good value. Minus the 12.5% service added on, we had to pay £40 each for a first rate meal, including 1/2 bottle of wine each. No complaints heard.
So we went following this to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz. Upon arrival, we did what we always do, head off for a wee. Whilst in the toilet a big guy was present at the sink, doing what I often describe as “having a word with himself”, but it was an aggressive swear word laden conversation. I feared the worst and had a quiet word with the theatre staff in case his conversation got further out of hand. Alas I don’t think it did.
Now the reviews for Oz have been mixed at best, and people I know who are serious theatre fans have criticised it as panto at best. I think this level of trepidation as I entered the theatre, given that I was not blown away by Wicked at all (and I was so excited about seeing that) fared me quite well. I loved it. Now let’s just say, when designing a production of a movie from 1939 that the world and his wife has seen, knows well, and is pretty iconic, the task was always going to be how to transfer that and make those in the non-cheap seats feel they have seen something like a west end show. But I think that Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice have managed to bring it together as a legitimate musical. I really loved it. It took you back to that childlike innocence the movie had, and delivered it without any ill judged attempt at underlying irony or modernisation. It’s a family show, and first and foremost I can imagine taking Pete’s niece in a few years and her being completely enraptured by the Merry Old Land of Oz. It’s colour, vivid sets and the music carry you like the film did. The dog completely takes the show tho. Now, I’m a Westie fan anyway, but that dog on Friday night was at risk of being swept up by me into my coat and taken back to the hotel. Marvellous. Danielle was lovely, great voice, and Michael Crawford was a class act. But Hannah Waddingham as the Wicked Witch of the West gave the best performance. She was camp, fun and obviously is having the time of her life doing something quite so frivolous. A little bit different to Desiree in A Little Night Music.
Saturday morning came around after a decent night sleep, and we headed to Borough Market. I saved my first cup of coffee for Monmouth Coffee Co, and I really needed it when we got there. We had the bread and jam option with the coffee, which was delicious. The creme art was just a delightful touch!
We left Borough and we duly walked along the south bank a bit. The sun shone, and all was well. After a walk by St Pauls Cathedral we headed on the tube to Regent Street for a to ouch more retail. We had seen some shorts in Uniqlo we both liked, but I’m always a tad hesitant of shops that stock so much so cheaply. No matter how you look at it, high production numbers and low cost must equal lower quality. We found similar shorts which were a touch more expensive and better quality in Banana Republic which had 25% off, so they came out a similar price at the end of it all. I got a powder blue pair, which will look great with a tan. We both bought Gap vests and swimming trunks, mine are pink from Diesel Pete’s are a khaki green from Emporio Armani. Look at me, offering style musings. I’m like a more affordable Gwyneth. (Some funny commentary about the fashion advice given in the latest Goop newsletter in today’s Observer- come on everybody who is “up in arms” about the £12,000 worth of fashion featured- did we really think she was going to recommend M&S and Zara?)
We had a light lunch in Leon on Old Compton Street. I had a sweet potato falafel hot box, Pete had a chicken superfood salad. I think the word superfood was surplus to requirement really but it makes everyone taking a salad option feel even more superior to classify their salad as “super”. Like it’s going to improve their digestion 3 fold and polish their pancreas from inside. Some more Soho exploration took place, and we had a sit down with a coffee from the Nordic Bakery in the sun. Next to a bunch of lads who managed to talk non-stop for the entire time we were sat there (nearly 30 minutes) about a can of diet coke tasting funny. Honestly, straight men talk some nonsense sometimes. And fart unapologetically and still find it amusing in their 20’s it seems.
We had an afternoon siesta and headed out for dinner, again at pensioner o’clock as we had retired mid afternoon. Rather than eat at 5 and risk the mid-drinking lull and hunger (alas that was our theory) we had a couple of beers outside Bar Soho whilst people watching. We spotted Gok Wan, a man wearing a leash, dozens of women dressed like Noomi Rapace in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and tons of fashion highs and lows.
Around 7ish we headed to Wahaca in Soho. Now this branch I think is more suitably designed for the volumes than Covent Garden’s is. The bar is separate, the venue is above ground and there is natural light, and it felt like a better flow. I had three small dishes, Chicken Tinga Tacos, chicken taquitos and a chorizo quesidilla, with some decried black beans with chorizo on the side. Pete had a beef burrito and a veggie toscado. We loved it. It’s sociable food, and we had bench seats by the window so got to watch the people of soho passing by, mainly on their way to a Tesco it seemed.
Post Wahaca, we went to the Admiral Duncan for several drinks, enjoying the randomness of the crowd. In a city like London, where all quirks and leanings are catered for in many a niche venue, it’s nice to have that integrated feeling in a pub that you get in gay venues elsewhere, such as Dempseys in Sheffield. Although the twinks were out in force in G-A-Y Late. Pete points out that’s because it’s free. He-Man’s hair was replicated by one guy. A guy next to me insisted on recreating the Bad Romance dance routine move for move. I have some of his fingernails imbedded in my torso still. Why people think that they are on So You Think You Can Dance is beyond me. Ok, so you work in H and M but you are a trained dancer trying to get work, I get it. This is not a casting. No one here has any influence. Save it for Pineapple Dance Studios my dear.
Thank East Midlands Trains for this post, their free Wifi has ensured prompt posting. And that’s about it. Off to laze on the sofa and doze for the rest of the day whilst cursing Monday morning. No break from the typical weekend routine then.
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