Spring Break in the UK – Day 4: More London

4 May

There’s just so much to see in this city!  We got an early start on Day 4 and headed for St. Paul’s Cathedral.  An early start on a Tuesday meant that we were click-clacking with quick footsteps in the Tube stations with daily commuters, marching to the general hurried pace of the city, and frequently running into opposing pedestrian traffic when unsure which way to turn or which side of the tunnel to keep to (sometimes it’s left, sometimes it’s right, I don’t know how these people do it).  When we finally surfaced at St. Paul’s Tube Station and caught our breaths, it was time for some breakfast.

Paul, with its simple and elegant exterior and sidewalk tables and location directly adjacent to St. Paul’s Cathedral (what a coincidence!), caught our eye.  A bakery with 250+ locations in France, Paul now has outposts in the UK, Spain, Holland, Turkey, Morocco, Lebanon, Kuwait, Dubai, Japan, and the US (3 locations in Florida).  Inside, it reminded me of the Dallas-based La Madeleine’s, only smaller.

Everything looked so tasty!  I decided on a quiche Lorraine and a cafe au lait and my companion ordered an apple lattice tart with a hot chocolate.  At a mere £8, this is a much better deal than La Madeleine’s (if you ignore the exchange rate)! 

The quiche Lorraine, with its rich creamy cheesy smoky bacon filling, was perfect for this somewhat chilly morning.

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The apple lattice tart was a real winner.  The airy pastry had just the right amount of glaze on top, not too sweet, not too bland. 

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I would definitely recommend eating at Paul when visiting St. Paul’s (this one’s for you, Tanya).

We spent the morning touring St. Paul’s Cathedral and then headed south for the Tate Modern Museum.  I love visiting modern art museums because they give you great ideas for DIY art.  I’ll definitely need more wall decor for the new house so the Tate was an excellent place to get some ideas.

St. Paul’s Cathedral:

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Wandering around the south bank of the Thames, we found ourselves at Southwark Cathedral, whose history dates back to 852.  The church has been renovated numerous times due to fires and general maintenance since then, but the entire church has never been demolished in any of these efforts.  As a result, the various architecture styles of the historic periods are reflected throughout the different sections of the church (Norman, Gothic, Reformationist, Elizabethan, and Victorian)  Not one of the most grand or beautiful cathedrals in London, but certainly one of the most architecturally interesting due to the haphazard collection of historic styles.

West End of Southwark Cathedral constructed in the mid-1500’s:

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On a fair weathered weekday during lunch time, the small churchyard on the south-side of the cathedral seems to be quite the popular gathering place for local office workers.  We noticed many of them had similarly packaged sandwiches that appeared appetizing.  We followed our noses and instincts and found the source:

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Tucked under the railway arches on the south side of Southwark Cathedral, Cafe Brood is a small coffee shop/cafe that draws quite the lunch crowd (1-6 Green Dragon Ct, Borough Market).  But their “BBQ” isn’t the smoked sausage, ribs, and brisket that we think of, it’s simply a term for open flamed grilling.

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Turns out that the “sandwiches” we saw were actually burgers, at least by Cafe Brood’s definition.  A thin, large patty of lean ground beef is grilled over the open flame, topped with cheese if so desired, then sliced up and placed inside a crusty French roll and topped with roasted red bell peppers, sauteed onions, fresh arugula, and mild red salsa.

My companion’s “cheese burger”:

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It’s not a traditional burger by any means, but the infusion of Spanish flavors and the crusty French bread made it a fresh gourmet lunch at a bargain price (£4.75).

Inside the large pan in the grilling photo is paella, which was my choice for lunch (£4.30).

Paella topped with chorizo:

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The chorizo was mildly spicy (flavored by mild Spanish paprika), not at all like the fiery loose ground Mexican chorizo we’re used to in Texas.  The paella was well seasoned but had a tad too much olive oil for my taste.

We spent the afternoon touring the Tower of London, which is an exhausting feat if you want to see the entire complex.  It is a worthwhile stop if you’re travelling with children (who seem to be fascinated by the horse statues, armour, towers, etc) but I wouldn’t recommend it to adult-only groups unless you are the type of traveller that absolutely needs to hit up every tourist-must.

View of Tower Bridge from outside Tower of London:

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At sunset, we went on the British Airways London Eye.  At £14.50 per person, I would have normally said “no” to this tourist trap, but my feet were so tired from touring the Tower of London that I was willing to pay for 30 minutes of sit-down time with a great view.  If you feel the need to spend the money for this ride, I would recommend going at sunset.  The views of the city were fantastic.

I could tell there was some sort of banner on the Parliament Building from the London Eye.  So we we got off the ride, I went to take a closer look.

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Yes, that banner says “Tony Hearts WMDs.”  It’s not actually on the Parliament Building but rather being held by a crane so it appears as such from this perspective, symbol of a Greenpeace UK protest.  Politics aside, it was amusing if nothing else.

In the evening, we headed towards Knightsbridge for shopping (actually, window shopping since the area’s quite expensive) followed by a beer break before dinner.  We ended up at the The Nags Head in the tranquil backstreets near busy Knightsbridge (53 Kinnerton St), a small 300-year-old pub loved by regulars as it was jam packed on this Tuesday evening.

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The Nags Head had the title of “London’s smallest pub” until 1970, when the downstairs eating area opened.  It is one of few true freehouses (not part of a chain) left in London and that small number continues to diminish.  In a freehouse, the landlord does whatever he wants.  In this case, the Nags Head bans cell phones and there are no TVs in sight.  All this old world knick-knack charm comes at a price though, a pint of Adnam’s Broadside was a surprising steep £3.30.

The Nags Head was so crowded that we only had chair seating and no table.  So we wandered some more to look for dinner.  If you think The Nags Head is out of the way, The Grenadier (18 Wilton Row), a Frommer’s recommendation, was even more tucked away in the Belgravia mews and even harder to find.  The Grenadier is a small pub with an older, well-dressed clientele that has a formal dining room in the back.  If you want a semi-upscale dinner, head for the formal dining room.  If you just want some casual pub fare and cheaper prices, good luck trying to land a table in the front.

The Grenadier is also rumoured to be a haunted pub, dating back to its military days when the Duke of Wellington’s Grenadier Guards used the upstairs portion as their mess hall.  A young guard named Cedric is said to have once cheated at cards while dining at the pub and subjected to a savage beating by his comrades, resulting in his death in September of an unknown year.  Because of this incident, the pub is known for supernatural activities during the month of September.  You can read more about the Grenadier’s haunted past here.

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No suspicious activities were happening at the Grenadier on this March night, except for the two tourists that were far under-dressed (that would be us).  We managed to snag a small table by the door and ordered another traditional pub fare entree for dinner, bangers and mash.

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Tender, mild sausages atop a bed of creamy buttery mashed potatoes smothered in a red onion gravy sprinkled with parsley… comfort food doesn’t get any better than this.  It’s not healthy, but it is comforting and goes great with a couple of brews.  At least we cut the calories by splitting the plate?

But then we made up for it by ordering dessert.

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Steamed rich treacle sponge pudding served with warm, creamy traditional English custard is the perfect ending to a winter evening.  Too bad it wasn’t quite winter.  The flavor of the pudding reminded me a lot of maple syrup.  Made from everything bad for you, every bite of this entire meal (£17 for entree, dessert, and 2 pints of brew) was a guilty pleasure.

Onto Day 5 

Back to Day 3

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