We were a bit tired last night. All our gourmandising finally got the better of us and we retired to the hotel room with a bag of chilli crisps and a bottle of Picpoul from the local Waitrose. We didn’t even make it through the bottle. I think we may be coming down with something…
Breakfast this morning was at Bill’s – a Holborn diner that has origins in greengrocery around East Sussex, and now has about 25 brothers and sisters in the country. Raw wood and scuffed leather grandpa chairs, brown paper bags and wait staff in converse, all cleverly arranged into a recycled, homely, organic parcel to make you feel like you’re doing the best for god and country while you throw back nuggets of cholesterol and artery plugs in your typical English brunch. Very good veggie breakfast though, I must say.
As if by magic, all seemed rosier after free range eggs and local, home-cured bacon, which is a lucky thing. This is the day we had to hit Camden Markets. And they are the epitome of cool. I remember as much from my last trip to London (in 1995), so I have that on very good authority.
But we got there, and realised we are old. Very, very old.
I’m sure there used to be more there than faux-punk printed t-shirts, friendship bracelets and fake Doc Martens. There must have been something else to lure a poverty stricken 21 year old Australian barmaid. Although there were several nice young men with dreadlocks – perhaps that was the appeal. And I suppse, that despite my grumbling I did manage to pick up a plastic umbrella in the shape of a Geisha girl. That’s a real find.
The street food is a very decent offer, but Lulu and I were still crammed with our local sustainable breakfast and so we contented ourselves with all the free samples, assuring stall owners we were assessing and would return. Or course we didn’t. We weren’t hungry. Chin-Chin Labs was finally the one to break us, offering up liquid nitrogen, which we may have developed an addiction to yesterday. Ice cream is made using dry ice, and the custards to start with are quite gourmet – Pondicherry vanilla, valrhona chocolate, and a lychee and orange blossom sorbet. Not too sweet, but served with sticky sauces (including the ever-present salted caramel) if you like that kind of thing. We shared a lovely pot, but just couldn’t finish it. Must be coming down with something…
One o’clock on the watch, and sun well over the yard arm, we tucked into Gilgamesh – Camden’s hottest restaurant/bar at present. So hot that it was totally devoid of diners or drinkers at lunchtime on market day. I’d read that the interior is quite something, but we were totally unprepared for the crushing weight of carved wood lining every surface. It’s like the horse of Troy rolled up to Camden, and vomited up a bellyful of wooden mythical creatures all over it’s copious cavernous interior. We were going to have a drink, but just couldn’t cope with the acid-trip of an interior (and the lack of wifi), so we made our apologies and galloped off. Wow – no drinks at lunchtime. Must be coming down with something….
We found the exterior, and the body crush of millenial hippies and stall touts even more oppressive by this stage, and looked at each other with those lost-the-will-to-live faces. We ejected like a popping cork, not able to accept that we were finally free of the press of poly-cotton tie-dye, ylang ylang and the combined smells of 38 nationalities of food truck until we were looking over the Cumberland Basin.
A sweet hobo was resting on a park bench as we refilled our lungs with the clean air of city streets and fetid canal water, and told us we should go and climb Primrose hill. We always listen to hobos, so we obeyed. It’s an almighty huff-and-puff to the top for a portly 40-year-old on a week-long gourmet binge, but we did manage to make it without a heart attack, and sucked in the view for 5 seconds, only to realise that we were a bloody long way from the train station. And now, devoid of energy (because we hadn’t eaten anything but samples and a teaspoon of nitro-ice since breakfast), we’d have to walk through the particularly boring district of St Johns Wood to get to the tube. Resolved we should never listen to hobos.
Evening, we had a committment with The Committments. The afternoon repose had cleared the cobwebs, so we walked down to the Princess, via a brief stop at Bodega Negra for a pre-show tipple and taco. Friendly barman and great little pork belly tacos – definitely worth it for the mad dash before entry, because drinking in the dress circle is enough to make you pull your hair out.
Customers who wait in the queue for ten minutes, only to get to the bar and ask their partner “what do you want?”, a barmaid who measures every glass of wine in an aluminium tumbler before adding it to the plastic beaker, elderly women who have got their stilettos out of the cupboard for the first time in two years, and have forgotten how to stand in them without impaling the toes of everyone in a 50cm diameter. And queue dodgers of course, but we got a handle on them with out death-stares and preemptive handbag swings. All for a plastic tumbler of pink champagne (which is flat, because it was transferred from the measuring receptacle) at £12. Ahh… If only we could live without it.
The seats are tiny. Probably made for the bums of the Great Depression, about 15cm wide and 10cm off the floor, with enough leg room to squish a cat. The show however was good. Despite the tiny seats, we were the only ones in the dress circle to stand up and dance. We were in the front row, but confident that everyone would join us when they realised they would either have to participate or watch the charming view of 85 years combined cellulited backsides twerking to Mustang Sally. But when I turned to assess, I realised we were surrounded by people with a mean age of 92 and an average of 1.5 hip replacements each. We suddenly felt alive, and added whooping to our twerking, the perfect ladies we are.
Perhaps we’re not so old after all.
————-Please note: All of these photos are taken with an iPhone and are not edited by anything more technical than instagram. This is done in the spirit of fast posting – a new thing for me. Proper pics and reviews will follow when I have time upon my return to Dubai.
Summary of activities:
Bill’s – one of a chain, but has no appearance to be anything but independent. Good breakfast. Well priced. Slow service. Lots of happy food. 7.5/10
Camden Markets – Despite my complaints, actually pretty decent, particularly for street food (but it’s easy to get overwhelmed). Lots of cheap crap, so don’t get ripped off. If it’s too cheap to be leather, it’s not leather. 8/10
Chin-Chin Labs – One of many nitrogen ice cream stores popping up around the city. Good ice cream, and a fun gimmick. A little steep at £4 a pop. 7/10
Gilgamesh – can’t rate it because I didn’t stay. This place scares me. Mixed reviews from others.
Primrose hill – Apparently the best place in London to view London. Nice enough, but whoever said that has never been in a tall building in the city centre. Gardens are expansive but a dull comparison to Regents Park next-door. 6.5/10
Bodega Negra – Cute Mexican, which seems to have taken advice from the early slammings by critics and changed their tune. Good tacos, cold drinks, stupid amount of Tequila – the best pre-theatre option in the area. 7/10
The Committments – Really worth it. Super lead, hilarious sidekick character, pretty theatre (the Palace), and a stack of songs you will know the words to already. 8.5/10