13 April 2008

A Day in the Life

I had a fun day in London Town yesterday, despite the best efforts of the weather to piss me off as much as possible. I had brought kit for all occasions (hat, scarf, gloves, brolly, sunglasses), all of which was used. It was really quite mad walking along Carnaby Street, feeling quite hot one minute and squinting in the sunlight, only to have to dive into a shop (so tough) the next minute because it was hailing.

Eventually, the rain was so torrential, we had to stop for lunch at Fernandez & Wells, one of my favourite coffee shop/cafés, in Soho. We were lucky to get a seat (given that we weren't the only ones to have the same idea) in the window, which provided some entertainment as pedestrians were forced to leap out of the way, in an amusing manner, every time a car drove past through the huge puddles that had formed. Schadenfreude... Further entertainment was provided by the couple sitting next to us, of whom the man was clearly a casting director and was talking about the difficulty of casting someone to play Maggie Thatcher (indeed, there is such a movie planned so maybe it wasn't complete bullshit). The café is run by Aussies and they make really good coffee but as I'd already had an espresso at home, a cap on the train and a cap at the breakfasterie we went to in Marylebone, I decided to have a cup of mint tea (I know!) instead, which was pretty refreshing. I also had a "Free-Range English Cooked Ham, Montgomery's Cheddar and Piccalilli (optional)" ciabatta (without the Piccalilli, of course), which was good, albeit far too filling for moi.

I didn't really want to do any shopping (I know!), possibly thanks to the imminence of New York, even though there were some nice things in Banana Republic, which will be massively cheaper when I'm in New York. S wanted a man bag, so we idly wandered in and out of various purveyors of metrosexual men's gear, trying to avoid the rain as much as possible. We then had a few hours to spare before dinner and as we were eating in High Street Ken, we decided to go to the Natural History Museum. Obviously, the place was rammed, given that it was four-thirty on a Saturday, but we entertained ourselves well enough with the fun, interactive exhibits like "dinosaur or no dinosaur" where I'm proud to say that we both beat a seven-year-old and an eleven-year-old.

We then went on rather a long walk in not quite the right direction. I was following S, because - thanks to force of habit - any navigational ability I may ever have shuts down completely when I'm with him. Trouble was, he didn't know where we were going (I had sent him a link to the restau but I guess he assumed I'd be head of nav on that one; error). This wasn't a massive problem as we hopped on a RouteMaster bus and jumped off at the Royal Albert Hall.

We ate dinner at Byron. The restaurant is right on Ken High Street, although perhaps just the wrong side of the Tube station to catch the eye of the majority of shoppers. Still, the restaurant itself is really nicely done out, with white tables, turquoise and green seats, and with chairs at the bar of the central, open-plan kitchen for lone diners and booths at the back for groups. We arrived at seven and the place was pretty quiet as most of the family groups were leaving and the dinner crowd proper were filtering in; this meant we got a seat by the window for maximum people-watching.

Byron specialises in burgers - and by specialises, I mean that if you don't like a burger (or the chicken/vegetarian equivalent), you're pretty much out of luck, although there are a few salad options too; the restau's motto is, "Great beef, great buns, no bull," which pretty much sums it up. S and I both went for a Byron burger (with dry cure bacon, cheddar and Byron BBQ sauce), although I was tempted by a Skinny burger (with a small salad instead of the bun) given that I never eat the bun (I'd rather save stomach space for the meat) and intrigued by the Mini Classic (three mini-burgers). We were also asked how we would like the burgers cooked, which I thought was illegal in the UK, but I didn't complain as I do like my burgers juicily medium rare.

And indeed, a juicily medium-rare burger with properly mature, melted cheddar and bacon that was cooked just the right amount was exactly what I got. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that it was one of the best burgers I've ever had outside the US (Mr Bartley's Burger Cottage in Boston and the Corner Bistro and Lever House in NYC still lead the overall league table of Bex's Best Burgers). The fries weren't so great - too anaemic for my tastes and - worse - they came pre-seasoned with pepper, which I wasn't too impressed with. Still, it's a lot easier to get decent chips than to get a decent burger, especially in England, so I was willing to let them off for crimes against the potato. By the time we left, it was about nine (I had wanted a chocolate brownie for pudding so badly but was far too full by that point), the place was rammed and people were queueing for tables; not bad for a place that's only been open a few months. The location is not the best from my point of view, as I generally tend to base myself around Marylebone, Soho and Covent Garden, but a burger this good is worth a Tube ride - in my books, anyway.

Later, we hopped on the tube for a drink at the Coal Hole, although I was really far too tired and just wanted to get home. For once, the timing worked perfectly at King's Cross and I hopped on the 11.08 train, hoping that it was faster than the 11.15. It was and I collapsed into a seat about two seconds after the doors shut, falling soundly asleep until we got to Nowheresville.

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