For Christmas, my birthday, our anniversary, Valentine’s Day, and every other event for the rest of 2013 (I exaggerate), we treated ourselves to a long weekend in London to celebrate New Year’s Eve. We stayed on The Strand, an area that I hadn’t stayed in before, and we had a ball!
We started our visit with a late lunch at Nopi, a restaurant created by Yotam Ottolenghi, a Jerusalem-born chef, cookbook author, food columnist, and restaurateur. At the start of his culinary career, Ottolenghi specialized in vegetarian dishes. He has now branched out to include fish and meat on his menus, but his vegetarian dishes, which emphasize Mediterranean cooking styles and ingredients, still steal the show at his London restaurants. We weren’t certain that we could get a reservation at Nopi because of its popularity, so you can imagine our joy when our reservation was confirmed. Our meal at Nopi was one of our best meals ever, and I would return in a heartbeat!
After agonizing over the menu, where we would have loved to try one of everything, we shared appetizer portions of the following dishes—all divine and each one better than the one before: lavash crackers with chickpeas and pomegranate dip, zucchini and manouri (a Greek semi-soft white cheese) with cardamom yoghurt, brussel sprouts with maple syrup and shallots, crushed potato with preserved lemon and balsamic onion, prawns with kohlrabi and bacon sauerkraut jalapeno, spiced buttermilk cod (my least favorite dish), and five-spice lamb sweetbreads with carrot puree and horseradish cream. If you’re planning a trip to London, do not miss this restaurant and make your reservations NOW!
Too full to even consider eating dinner, we staggered back to our hotel on The Strand and took a short nap before going to see Singing in the Rain at the Palace Theatre. The play was great fun, although I was happy not to be sitting in the rows immediately in front of the stage. You may recall the Gene Kelly scene in which he “sings and dances in the rain,” splashing everything in sight, including a policeman, I think. At the end of the first act that scene was reproduced with the Gene Kelly character kicking, dancing, and splashing water everywhere, soaking the unsuspecting audience! At the end of the play the cast did a reprise with several characters singing and dancing in the rain and soaking the audience all over again! That would have been a cold walk home! I could laugh because I was sitting in the dress circle—high and dry, thank goodness!
On Sunday we went to the British Museum—my first time there—and it is simply stunning! Although the Brits can certainly be accused of pilfering the riches of the countries whose treasures reside in the British Museum, at least the Brits had the good sense to store those treasures properly and curate them beautifully. The enormous (and popular) Egyptian section still boggles my mind. And the Rosetta Stone! It’s there, too, and is the most visited object in the museum. I want to visit London for a week or so sometime and go to the British Museum (which charges no entry fee) every day until I’ve seen everything! Wow!
We had a delicious lunch at the Court Restaurant on the top floor of the museum and then walked to the Apollo Theatre to see a perfect production of Twelfth Night. The cast was all males, as it was in Shakespeare’s time, and the interpretation was spot on! I didn’t want it to end. Michael says it is the best Shakespeare production that he has ever seen, and that sums it up. After the play we wandered to Covent Garden where we had typical pub food (I had fish and chips, and Michael had prime rib with Yorkshire pudding) in one of the pubs. Fortunately, we lucked into a table quite quickly in the packed room.
On Monday it rained, and as we were walking along The Strand toward Parliament, someone stopped dead in her tracks right in front of me. Lo and behold, it was our old friend Barbara Perry from our Washington, D.C., days! She, too, had come to celebrate New Year’s Eve in London. Of course, we had to catch up, so we ducked into a bookstore, drank coffee, and jabbered away for an hour or so. That was great fun, Barbara!
After we parted ways, Michael and I wandered up to Fortnum & Mason to ogle the food displays. When we went to the lower level, we saw the 1707 Wine Bar and decided to have a glass of wine there. What a find! We each ordered a wine flight that included three glasses of wine (white for me and red for Michael), and then we glanced at the menu. That was it for the next two or three hours as we chose small plates of delectable things to try, including quail eggs (see photo). Because we had booked a New Year’s Eve dinner cruise on the River Thames, we eventually had to stop eating lunch and head home for a nap.
The dinner cruise conveniently left the dock right behind our hotel. We were seated at a table with two other couples: one lovely young couple who live and work in Paris and a Scandinavian couple. The thing I remember most about the dinner, which was fine but not remarkable (perhaps because I had eaten such a big lunch!) was the ceiling over our table began to leak—right into my lap—just as the first course was served! I was up in a flash! Fortunately, another table for six was free. Fireworks exploded over the London Eye at midnight, and they were really spectacular from the water. The Thames was littered with sightseeing boats, and it was a happy, noisy, chilly, fun, DRY (thank goodness, especially after it had rained all day) evening.
On Tuesday morning we walked to St. Paul’s and took an audio tour there. I was especially touched by a memorial honoring the American servicemen and women who died during World War II.
And that was it. A fabulous long weekend in a fabulous city!