40 Hours in London

4/15/2019 09:21:00 PM

When we were planning our trip to Germany for Christmas last year, we decided to spend a couple of nights in London on the way back. Sandra had been in London for work before the Germany trip, so we had to fly out of Heathrow anyway, and it's a city that I love! I hadn't visited in over five years, so I was more than keen. Seeing as we'd both spent time in London before, we didn't try and create a frantic itinerary. Accommodation had been booked in advance (of course), and we had two pre-planned activities (one a meal, one a show), but apart from that we were relatively chill. We Googled a few things in the week before the trip, and also decided as we went. We walked a lot, and ate even more. It was only forty hours, but it was great!

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Regent's Park, which was exactly what we needed it to be - in a decent location, clean, reasonably priced and serviceable. I was in charge of booking accommodation in London, and the choice was bloody overwhelming! After going cross-eyed from reading hundreds of Tripadvisor reviews, Airbnb listings and endless Googlemapping, I finally thought to just ask my friend An, who is quite the frequent traveller. He always stays at that Holiday Inn when in London and his description of it was something along the lines of: "It's not exciting but absolutely fine". Perfect! Woohoo, decision made.

We landed at Heathrow around six-thirty on a Friday evening, and after cabbing into town and checking in to the hotel, walked to a nearby pub for dinner. Green Man (383 Euston Rd, Euston Greater London NW1 3AU) was a nice local pub, all cosy and friendly.

Fish and Chips at Green Man Pub in London
Fish & Chips - Chunky beer-battered cod fillet with chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce - £12.99
Steak & Red Wine Pie - Slow-cooked British beef in a rich red wine gravy, with roasted baby onions and mushrooms in a hot water crust pastry. With a jug of gravy, seasonal potatoes & mash - £12.29

The food was delicious too! I ordered fish and chips (mainly because it came with mushy peas, which we don't get here), and Sandra had a terrific traditional beef pie. Both fish and chips were fried perfectly, and I stand by my belief that adding mushy peas makes it healthy. (Ahem). The pie was full of slow-cooked beef in a red wine sauce, and thrillingly for me, was one of those self-standing pies made with a hot water crust pastry. Sandra also enjoyed that it came with mashed potatoes and a JUG of gravy. Winner all around.

The next morning, we were up bright and early for breakfast at Honey & Co (25a Warren St, London W1T 5LZ).

Honey and Co London
Honey & Co

I hadn't heard of Honey & Co previously, but the week before the trip I was Googlemapping the hotel, and I noticed a little food symbol nearby with the name "Honey & Co" and thought it sounded interesting. I looked it up, and learned that the owners previously worked for Ottolenghi before branching off and opening their own place. Decision made! (If I hadn't come across this place, we would taken the Tube or a cab to one of Ottolenghi's cafes, but obviously this was far easier, and I got to try somewhere new).

Honey & Co is a cute little cafe / restaurant serving Middle Eastern food. At breakfast they offer a range of cooked savoury breakfast dishes, and have a display of house made cakes. They also serve one made-to-order dessert at breakfast time. (More on that shortly).

Shakshuka at Honey & Co
Shakshuka - 2 Cornish farm eggs baked in a tomato sauce served with coriander zehug & milk bun - £11.50

Sandra's breakfast order was an excellent shakshuka. The eggs were cooked just right - all lovely and runny - and the tomato sauce was rich and spicy. Perfect for dunking that bread! The fresh and pungent coriander and garlic zehug really lifted the dish.

I went off the breakfast menu, ordering the cold cheesecake with kadaif pastry and raw Essex honey. It seemed to be a signature dish, and I figured that if they were specifically offering that particular made-to-order dessert at breakfast (and that dessert only), then there must be a pretty big demand for it and therefore it must be good. My reasoning was right. It was incredible!

Kadaif Cheesecake, Honey and Co
Cold cheesecake, Kadaif pastry, raw Essex honey - £7.5

The disk of kadaif pastry was lovely and crisp, and that cream was so wonderful! I later learned that the cheesecake mix actually has feta in it, as well as the more usual cream cheese. It's very rich and has the best creamy texture and tang. I also loved the sweetness and fragrance from the honey, the crunch of the well-toasted almonds, and the fresh pops of blueberries. It was absolute perfection and I'm so glad I ordered it rather than being conventional and going for an actual "breakfast" dish.

Just down the road from Honey & Co is Honey & Spice (52 Warren St, London W1T 5NJ), a sweet little grocery store from the same team, so we popped in for a look after our meal.

Honey and Spice London
Honey and Spice

They sell Middle Eastern groceries (think spice mixes, kadaif pastries), cookies, jams, wine, and the like, as well as kitchenwares and cookbooks. They also have a salad display and do takeaway savoury meals. I liked their cake display - the white chocolate and tahini babka looked particularly tempting! I think this would be a nice spot to drop in for a coffee and cake.

Honey and Spice London
Cakes at Honey & Spice

The same team also have a third venue in the same area, Honey & Smoke, a much larger Middle Eastern grill house and restaurant. Incidentally, I had considered Honey & Smoke for dinner on our first night, as I thought the menu looked really appealing, but Sandra enjoys neither honey nor smoke, so she vetoed that idea pretty quickly! I'll keep it in mind for a future visit.

After breakfast, we had a slow stroll down Tottenham Court Road and onto Oxford street, popping into shops and building up an appetite for lunch.

Oxford Street London
Oxford Street

For lunch, we went to Rovi (59 Wells St, London W1A 3AE)! I couldn't NOT have at least one Ottolenghi meal while in London! And yes, this was one of our pre-booked activities. Rovi is Ottolenghi's newest restaurant, in FitzROVIa (geddit?). The menu is vegetable-forward, but not exclusively vegetarian, and also focuses on fermentation techniques and cooking over fire. It was quite chic and upmarket (especially the gorgeous central bar!), but still warm and relaxed. I'll just show a couple of highlights from the meal here.

Lobster Crumpet at Rovi
Lobster crumpet with kumquat and chilli sauce £8 at Rovi

Lobster crumpet. How could I not? I found the crumpet itself just slightly on the oily side, but other than that really enjoyed this. The sturdy doughiness of the crumpet, the luscious lobster meat and the toastiness of the sesame seed coating. It had a nice crispness on the outside (I believe it was deep fried), and the sharp kumquat and chilli sauce freshened it up and prevented it from being overly rich.

Celeriac Shawarma at Rovi
Celeriac Shawarma, bkeila, fermented tomato - £14.50 at Rovi

Of course, we had to order the famous celeriac shawarma. It's difficult to photograph, but absolutely wonderful to eat. Inside the crisp and fluffy house made pita were six-hour slow cooked celeriac, bkelia spinach sauce, fried onion and a heavy dusting of fragrant dry spices (primarily turmeric that I could notice), but for me, the star of the show was that fermented tomato and chilli sauce. It was one of the best chilli sauces I've ever eaten, with a wonderful flavour and a lovely hum of heat. I would buy bottles of this sauce!

Is anyone keen on seeing the meal at Rovi blogged in full? Let me know in the comments!

After eating lunch we were kinda stuck for ideas on what to do. We were seeing a show that night at seven-thirty, but other than that had no plans. We were too tired to keep shopping or visit a tourist attraction, and were certainly too full to go for coffee or squeeze in an afternoon tea. Being winter we didn't really want to go sit in a park either. But then Sandra had the brilliant idea to go see a West End show matinee. Kinky Boots, to be specific. She'd seen it twice before (including once in London about three weeks prior), and loved it, and was more than happy to see it again. She bought the tickets on her phone while we were still sitting at Rovi, we then took a relaxed stroll down to the Adelphi Theatre, picked up our tickets and then spent the next two hours being entertained by the amazing Simon Anthony Rhoden and the cast of Kinky Boots. It was so good! Definitely recommend. And it was the perfect way to spend the afternoon.

Kinky Boots London
Kinky Boots, Adelphi Theatre

After the show, we took a long slow walk past Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace, towards the Victoria Palace Theatre, where we were seeing our second show that day, Hamilton!

Dinner that night was, unfortunately, not great. There was no pre-planning whatsoever; we just needed something near the theatre. We wandered around the nearby Cardinal Place retail and office development, and ended up at Zizzi (15 Cardinal Walk, Westminster, London SW1E 5JE), an Italian chain. They have a huge menu with a big variety of pizzas and pasta, and on the night we were there, it was very busy with a buzzing atmosphere.

Pasta Della Casa, Zizzi
Pasta Della Casa - Oven-baked casareccia pasta, roasted chicken, pancetta, baby spinach & riserva cheese, all in a creamy mushroom sauce.

The pasta dish I ordered was, frankly, quite poor. It sounded nice - oven baked casarecce pasta, with roasted chicken, pancetta, baby spinach and cheese, all in a creamy mushroom sauce. Despite the presence of so many strongly flavoured items, the pasta was somehow uniformly bland, and didn't have any of that golden cheesy topping I was hoping for. Oh well. The other pasta dishes we saw going to other tables all looked and smelled good; so maybe I just ordered a dud dish. Sandra got a woodfired thin-crust pizza, which was actually really nice, all crispy and flavourful. So if you do happen to visit, I can recommend getting a pizza but would avoid that particular pasta dish.

Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of the pizza, because the meal became unexpectedly very stressful and we completely lost our appetite. (I must emphasise this was through NO fault of the restaurant at all!) You see, the Hamilton show has this paperless ticketing system to prevent scalping, where you don't receive an actual ticket, but instead, you need to bring your confirmation email, ID and the card you paid with, and you get given a ticket at the venue. During our meal, we realised that we no longer had the card we paid with, and it started to dawn on us that we might not be let in to the show. We frantically read through the terms and conditions online, and they were very clear - no card, no entry. If, for example, the card expires or is lost or stolen after purchasing the tickets and before the show, it is the customer's responsibility to call Ticketmaster during business hours to update their details. FARK.

We'd purchased our Hamilton tickets months in advance. They were £250. EACH. We had been fans of Hamilton for ages and were so excited that we had an opportunity to see it! We only had forty hours in London, and even if we had more time, it was a sold-out run. Was I throwing away... my... shot?

We ate what we could of our meals, and then rushed to the theatre, where the queue to get in was already snaking around the block. We found an usher, told him that we no longer had our card, and before we could even ask any questions, he simply handed us a token and explained that it would be fine, we just needed to join the queue, and when we got to the front, show our token and we'd be directed to a different desk, where we'd show our ID and they'd give us our tickets. OMG. His explanation was spot on and it ended up being absolutely fine, thank goodness! I swear to God it felt like we couldn't exhale until we had those tickets in our hands! We were so lucky, but moral of the story: make sure you read all your terms and conditions in advance and be prepared!

Of course, Hamilton was amazing, everything we were hoping it would be and more! Hooray! (You can read more gushing details in my latest Current Obsessions post).

Victoria Palace Theatre
Photo source: Delfont Mackintosh Theatres website

After the show, we just took a cab back to the hotel, packed up and slept, completely exhausted. We flew out first thing in the morning. Phew!

Ticket snafu aside, it was such a great short break! Delicious food, culture and fun. We sure fit a lot into those forty hours!

What would your must-visit places in London be for a short trip? Do you like musicals? Cheesecake for breakfast - yes or yes?

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My email address is sarahcooks [at] hotmail [dot] com.