February in London! Not a month that many would think to go visit the U.K., since it is usually cold and wet. This time it was in the 40s and sunny and tiny crocus appeared as a harbinger of spring. So what does one do when in London for 50 hours? Eat, drink, and shop!
First stop: a wonderful French Brasserie, The Brasserie on the Brompton Road, which is owned by a Frenchman and one can get a taste of Paris without flying quite so far. Red wine, steak frites (the proper French ones that are skinny with the outside crisp and the insides soft) to ease one into Europe after the seven and half hour flight from the East Coast, which was a perfect start to the day!
Then it was on to Fortnum and Mason, the most British store in the world. Proper picnic baskets with china plates and good flatware as well as glasses, napkins, tablecloths, serving pieces, and space for your wine are on one floor. Exquisite teas either already blended, or blended to your liking, and teapots galore are next to the delicatessen area where there are a variety of jams as well as clotted cream and great deli meats and potted shrimp and more than fifteen types of mustard. The bakery on the first floor makes the perfect scone with or without raisins (I prefer the without) and they are fresh and ready to eat. They also, of course, have fresh croissants, fresh pain chocolat, and all sorts of cookies and cakes. All of this is to go, or you can go to one of their restaurants in the building and enjoy a full tea in all its glory. Nothing is better than elegant tea sandwiches with egg salad, smoked salmon, roasted chicken, tiny slices of cucumber, and all of the bread crusts have been removed!
A brief break to see a movie, This is Forty, which we picked because it was supposed to be a comedy and I had to go to a funeral the next day. It is not what I call a comedy. It is more of a tale of a totally dysfunctional family whose parents yell and scream and swear and then wonder why their children do the same. Both parents have unhealthy relationships with their own parents — what a surprise! I don’t exactly come from a functional family but mine looks like the picture of sanity and niceness in comparison to this family. If you want to watch a family struggle, by all means see the movie. Just don’t think it is a light-hearted comedy. We left depressed.
So, of course then one needs a great Scotch (and the British put up with my putting ice in it although the Scots growl if I ask for ice in Scotland in my whiskey) and a wonderful meal. My favorite Indian restaurant in the world is in London, The Tamarind on Queen Street. Ahhhh, with an amazing wine list that includes many of my favorite Bourdeaux labels, we over consumed the spicy spinach and the Murgh Makhani (otherwise known as butter chicken). Along with the perfectly cooked jasmine rice and garlic naan, the depression of the movie disappeared.
The next day was another day of drinking and eating and driving through the countryside. Going to a funeral is never fun, especially of someone who died before his time. The one way to make it bearable is to spend more than an hour each way in a car with four people who told tales of our dead friend and laughed at all the antics we had with him. We knew we would drink and eat our way through the afternoon and evening once the service was over which also helped.
There is a reason for a funeral — you cry, you laugh at the stories, and you say an official goodbye. Our friend was well over 6 feet 4 inches and when his casket rolled out of the church and past me, the tears had to flow because it is so final seeing that long box going away with him in it forever. But tear ducts do need to be cleared every once in a while, and having a friend put an arm around you and hug you, reminds one of the important things in life and how swiftly we can lose people.
One of the many great things about our friend, was, like me, he loved single malt scotch. I had the excuse to drink for him the rest of the day. And I did! Four of us drove back to London through the beautiful countryside bathed in bright sunshine. We stopped at a great pub, The Bridge at Barnes, which is a stone’s throw away from the Hammersmith Bridge. (Our driver happily informed us that it had been damaged years ago so the loads had to be small as we went over. I offered to get out of the car and walk if it would help the weight. Instead we decided to drink before crossing and then maybe wouldn’t care if the bridge collapsed!) Glasses were raised for our dear friend and then we were off for the next pub, The Scarsdale Pub in Edwardes Square. We sat by the far and downed another round of Scotch. This pub is quite famous for the actors that sometimes pop in, but we saw no one we recognized that evening.
Next stop: dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant, Mediterraneo in Notting Hill Gate. I can highly recommend the burrata, pappardelle with meat sauce, and the veal Milanese. They have a wonderful Italian red wine list and the waiters know their wines very well so ask for advice.
Two doors down is a lovely bar called Montgomery Place and there we finished off the evening with martinis — some of us vodka, some gin. We managed to leave before they kicked us out.
So, although I hated losing my friend, he did make certain that old friends met again. I met new wonderful friends and we will always have the memory of his making it happen. I would say Rest in Peace, but Simon never rested at anything so he is probably reorganizing Heaven and starting a new Rugby team to play on Heaven’s pitches. So, instead, I’ll say, “Play on, Simon, play on.”