What could be more British than high tea at the legendary Brown’s Hotel? Nothing. Except for maybe David Beckham, and he wasn’t available. So off to Brown’s we went. Brown’s has been my favorite London hotel for a long time. In my past life I stayed here a few times. I love its history (reportedly the oldest hotel in London, where Rudyard Kipling wrote “The Jungle Book”), its size (small and boutique-y), and its exclusivity ($$$$). Surprisingly, its high tea was among the least expensive of the places we checked out (L39. There’s no “L” for pounds on my keyboard. That’s the best I can do).
So the one catch for me, at high tea, is that I don’t like tea. I think it tastes and smells like dirt. I’m pretty sure I’m the only Asian on earth who would rather be thirsty and cold than drink a cup of tea. But I’m up for something new and a return to Brown’s, so off we went. There were a dozen or so choices for tea, and I commenced looking for the least tea-y one of the bunch. The server suggested Brown’s Afternoon Blend, which I doctored up with milk and sugar, making it pretty much a cup of milk and sugar and water. I could hardly taste the tea, which was perfect.
The little sandwiches with the crust cut off were really good… cucumber, salmon, egg and chicken salads. The pastries and the scones with clotted cream were pretty and delicious as well. We, and several other parties, were there at lunch. And a few days ago, I saw people having high tea at Harrod’s around noon. Maybe it’s the American heathen in me, but couldn’t we just call it “lunch?”
Of course, before lunch, there’s brunch. The concierge at the hotel told us about a little place right around the corner. We suspected he was just sending us to his friend’s establishment, but if that was the case, he should get himself invited over to eat often. Ffiona’s is small and comfortable and Ffiona is a hoot. Everyone is “honey,” as in “Honey, what do you mean you don’t have room for pancakes for dessert?” Dessert after breakfast? A woman after my own heart. Ffiona’s has traditional British breakfast (ten kinds of meat and baked beans and tomatoes), plus all kinds of eggs, a tureen of oatmeal, and really good coffee. You won’t leave hungry.
Moving on to dinner. We found another fab restaurant, this time in Soho. Maison Touareg is a Moroccan and Lebanese place right on Greek Street. It didn’t take two minutes before I realized that this part of Soho is a place for folks to have a gay old time. Matt and I wondered if and when the Admiral would put two and two together (that would be two drag queens and two stores selling ass-less chaps) and know that the rainbow flags weren’t just flying to add color to the place. But he never did, happily oblivious with his beef tagine. Or maybe he did and just didn’t care. Either one is fine. I had baba ganouj, as I always do in Arabic restaurants, always comparing it to the perfection of my ex-husband’s grandmother, Sitoo NeJame’s baba ganouj. It was perfect… garlicky, smoky, smooth consistency. Sitoo would have been proud. The chicken with cous cous was amazing, too.
And the baklava was reordered after dessert and taken back to the hotel. I still have some of this in my backpack. If you see me in the next, ohhhh, ten minutes, I might still have a piece for you.
Now, the fish and chips. As I said before, we found it on menus just about everywhere we went (with the exception of the Indian and Moroccan restaurants, of course). On our last night in London, we hit upon the fish and chips motherlode, a place called The Rock and Sole Plaice in Covent Gardens. The name gives away three of the fish offered deep-fried and delicious (rockfish, sole, and plaice, which is flounder). They have the big fat steak fries, decent tartar sauce if there is such a thing, and cold beer. You also eat outside under heat lamps, with other people if it’s crowded, which it apparently always is. They also had cute little meat pies (pasties?) that I wanted to try but didn’t. If you’re going to bust up the healthy eating, this could be the place to do it. But order the regular size, not the large. Even the Admiral couldn’t finish his (he put the fish he couldn’t eat on Pally’s plate so it looked like she was the one whose eyes were too big for her stomach) (busted).
To burn off all those calories, we took on a few of the markets where you can buy pretty much anything you want… even if it’s a pair of vintage boxing gloves with a speed bag or a “Notting Hill” shirt with pictures of Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant on it.
That was at Portobello Road in Notting Hill. No sign of Hugh Grant. This market, self-reported as the world’s largest antiques market, is only open on Saturdays, so as you might imagine, the tsunami of people is astounding in size and always moving in the direction you’re not. If you have a high tolerance for imitating a salmon swimming upstream, go for it. I hit the wall after about half an hour. Covent Gardens was similarly overwhelming (but with jugglers).
More to my liking was Greenwich, which is about an hour’s ride on the tube and train, but so worth the trip. They had groovy little booths full of artists and craftspeople who were there with their stuff. Small, open air and lovely. Everyone was nice and happy to chat about what they made, and the prices were more than reasonable. I bought handmade catnip mice for Emmitt Smith and Lucy, whom I CAN’T WAIT to see in a couple of days. I’ve only been home in Park City for about a week since the beginning of June, and I’m just hoping the cats remember me. I may just stay put with them for a bit. Maybe.