Spring Break in the UK – Day 3: London

2 May

After a brief weekend in the English countryside, Day 3 kicked off our adventures in London, the largest city in the European Union and certainly one of the most expensive.  We spent most of the day in central London, hitting up tourist-must spots like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, etc.

Spending a little bit of time in the morning planning out our day, we got off to a late start and decided to pick up a quick breakfast en route to our first attraction.  I’d been curious about these stands/shops selling pasties (that’s right, pasties, not pastries) that seem to be everywhere, especially in the train/subway stations.  We stopped at one of the West Cornwall Pasty Co. stands (they seem to be in every Tube station) and grabbed a traditional pasty for an on-the-go breakfast. 

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The pasty is a lot like a calzone, except the outer dough is flake pastry instead of chewey pizza dough.  Inside the traditional pasty is diced beef, potato, onion, and turnip.  It’s like a portable, hand-held pot pie that tastes like a mild beef stew.  I can see how a piping hot pasty for a mere £3 can be the right fix on any cold, rainy London day.

Inside the pasty:

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It looked like a mushy mess, but tasted like mushy deliciousness. 

After a quick tour of Westminster Abbey, Parliament Building, the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing St., and Trafalgar Square, it was time to meet our hosts for the week for lunch.  The destination was the Walkabout at Temple Station, an Australian themed sports bar and grill with locations all throughout the UK. 

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The Walkabout was like any other chain sports bar and grill with a standard menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads, and grill entrees with a cheesy Australian twist (as authentic as Outback Steakhouse, I presume).  Playing along with the Aussie theme, I ordered the Outback Beef Pie for lunch.  My suspicions were confirmed, there’s nothing Australian about the beef pot pie.

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Served on top a bed of fries (sorry, chips), the beef pot pie was almost a replica of the pasty I had for breakfast, except the pastry shell was shaped like a pot pie instead of a calzone.  The inside was so mushy that it was hard to tell the beef from the onions.  I know there’s the stereotype of British people having bad teeth, but is it really necessary to make every meal dentures friendly?  I didn’t hate it, but I was all mushy-pastry-ed out after breakfast and lunch of the same thing.  At least with a £3.50 pound price tag, the meal was easy on the pocketbook. 

We spent the early afternoon wandering around Covent Garden for some flea market window shopping (booth shopping?)  Then took a break for tea at an unsual spot, Coffee, Cake, & Kink! (61 Endell St near the Theatre District)

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This stylish, modern cafe specializes in the owners’ three favorite things (can you guess what they are?)  The shock value of the kinky book collection and gallery aside, the hot chocolate, tea, and cake we had were all quite enjoyable.

An extra large cup of rich hot chocolate with marshmallows and carrot cake with creamy, rich icing:

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Rose tea (I don’t think there’s any actual tea leaves in this mix, but the flavor was still nice):

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At £10 for the two drinks and a slice of cake to share, Coffee, Cake, & Kink is not exactly a bargain.  We were here to check out the novelty of the place, but it is a very open minded, accepting place for whatever your fetishes are.  The servers are lovely, welcoming people even if you choose to opt out of the kink part of the experience.  Other than the food, I did purchase a few humorous postcards to mail to friends back home (you don’t see cartoons of teddy bears tied up in bondage gear too often).

Then for a complete change of pace, we headed towards Buckingham Palace for another tourist-must. 

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From kinky to completely traditional, the area around Buckingham Palace is filled with gorgeous parks which were fully abloom with bright yellow and white daffodils for the spring.  Stunning.

We had tickets for the comedy Boeing Boeing that night, so we headed back to the Theatre District and grabbed a couple of brews in a tucked away pub.

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The Lamb & Flag (on tiny Rose Street near the intersection of Floral Street & Garrick Lane) is the oldest pub in the Covent Garden area at over 300 years old.  Its old nickname of “Bucket of Blood” comes from the many bare-fist fights that have happened here (not anymore, thank goodness).  The poet John Dryden was rumoured to have been beaten up here.  Charles Dickens also frequented this joint in his time (with no record of any beating).  The narrow, tiny space played host to mostly men in blazers over sweaters (apparently still en vogue in the UK) on the afternoon of our visit.  Guinness was by far the most popular beverage being consumed. 

Not a big Guinness fan, I opted for a pint of Scrumpy Jack cider instead.  Not as sweet as most other ciders, I easily downed my pint and was ready for some dinner.  We were looking for traditional pub fare but the Lamb & Flag didn’t serve food.  So we wandered around the area some more, and ended up at the Salisbury (90 St. Martin’s Lane). 

The decor inside the Victorian style Salisbury is extravagant and lavish.  Etched glass and rich mahogany sets the tone for the joint, where we decided on sharing a plate of fish & chips for dinner (we weren’t too hungry after having tea break with cake and some pre-dinner brews). 

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A trip to London just isn’t complete until you’ve had the traditional fish and chips, and the Salisbury certained served up a solid version.  Traditional crispy flour batter around a giant, tender fillet of haddock served with tartar sauce and a wedge of lemon.  Watch out, there were just a few bones in the fish.  Along with golden perfect chips,  bright green mushy peas gave some color to the plate.  I also had a pint of Old Speckled Hen with my traditional English pub fare dinner.  £16 for dinner, two pints, and tip is right in the middle range of pub prices in the Theatre District.

We picked Boeing Boeing out of the long list of things playing in the Theatre District because we didn’t want to see a regular Broadway show that we could see in New York (a lot closer to home, relatively speaking).  The story is the same as the one in the 1965 Jerry Lewis comedy, a French playboy with 3 flight attendant fiancees on different light schedules.  The light comedy highlights the cultural stereotypes of the 3 fiancees: the bubbly and airheaded American flight attendant from TWA looking for a millionaire husband, the forceful but sensitive underneath German flight attendant from Lufthansa, and the romantic and passionate Italian attendant from Alitalia).  The comments from the American flight attendant about why American men are hardworking but unromantic and her reasoning of what builds a strong economy are hilarious.

We did a lot of sight seeing on our first and long day in London.  We were ready for bed.  But on the way home, an ad in front of McDonald’s caught our eye, it was Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry season, just in time for Easter.

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The McFlurry cup is a lot smaller than the ones in the US (about 2/3 the size).  Unlike the promised mini creme eggs mixed in the ice cream like the ad claims, the Creme Egg McFlurry just has large chunks of chocolate tossed in with a few drizzles of syrup that tastes like the inside of a Creme Egg.  Disappointing.  It is McDonald’s, what was I expecting?

Having consumed way too many calories in one day, we headed back to get some rest before our second day in London. 

Interesting side note: curry is so popular here!  At the otherwise eastern Asian Wagamama, there’s the chicken katsu curry;  At the West Cornwall Pasty Co., chicken balti is a mild chicken curry wrapped in the same puffy pastry dough.  I am surprised that the KFC’s in the UK haven’t adopted some sort of curry chicken twister!  I guess the chicken curry dish is the UK’s version of our Asian chicken salad, available anywhere from fine dining establishments to Wendy’s. 

Onto Day 4

Back to Days 1 & 2

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