I left the shores of Ireland, a notebook brimming with half scribbled stories of even more Irish tastes and delights to be completed upon my return, only to arrive in London and experience immediate sensory overload. The diversity of inhabitants and the offerings available are boundless here and there is so much to explore in this short week.
I landed with a game plan to squeeze in as much of London as possible in a week without liquidating my teeney tiny budget all in one day. No matter your interests it can be found in London and despite being notorious as an expensive city, if you plan ahead and refrain from impulse its actually not too fiscally painful. Such as: Pack a lunch!! The green spaces
and royal parks are endless, there are benches and walls for perching at every turn and the people watching is the best. Don’t buy single trip tickets get an Oyster Card!! For a 5£ deposit you top up this travel card with any amount you like which allows travel on the tube, trains AND buses all day and will only charge a maximum of 8£ per day! Do your research and visit all the free “stuff” first, after you realize how much wonderful and interesting bits of history and cultural there is to see and do with out an admission price you’ll be too exhausted to actually pay to see anymore! And shop off the beaten path, they call it High Street for a reason!
Starting the first morning off headed to Brixton in south London. A mostly Afro-Caribbean community, the Brixton market can be found daily a block from the Tube on Electric Ave. In two blocks I counted 6 butchers/fish mongers, numerous vegetable stalls and racks of purses, beaded tunics and hats for every mood. Some ornamental white eggplants caught my attention and found their way into my bag. Only being 9am I had an unlimited amount of options and directions for the day. I stepped off at Victoria Station and thought I might catch a glimpse of the Queen out for a morning stroll, but alas only hordes of on lookers perched upon the fountain steps and surrounding the fence. Strolling down the mall I diverged in the direction of Piccadilly and stumbled upon the small church of St. James who caters to wandering caravaners, with a Monday Food Market in it’s courtyard. A quiet enclave with stall keepers busily setting up shop for the oncoming corporate lunch crowd. Sadly the amazing smelling Paella was not yet ready, but the Argentinian empanadas were, and delicious as well!
A block away the sun began shining even more brightly and angels started singing as I approached Fortnum & Mason. A legend in the department store business and gourmand trend setting for over 300 years with their innovative and experimental culinary offerings. From an enterprising start of recycling the Queens candle wax back in 1707, over the centuries this
store has been the leader in innovative and experimental foods and in establishing many of the eating habits still found in the British lifestyle today. From the exotic tastes found among the spices and teas of the early trade routes, to picnic hampers in the park, to scotch eggs and dried candied fruit, to introducing tinned foods and even Heinz baked beans to the british table – Fortnum & Mason have always presented gourmet offerings while accessible to the average citizen.
A Monday morning was the most opportune time as the staff was
busily setting their counters but refreshed and friendly to chat with the clientele. I was amazed at the amount of fresh offerings to be found in such an elegant environment. A charcuterie counter, a cheese monger, fresh prepared terrines and salads, fresh seafood, a baker and even a butcher; all among crystal chandeliers and oak staircases. Who shopped here, anyway?? I chatted up the butcher who was preparing the days lamb roasts, and was amazed to find that despite the elegance of offerings Fortnum & Mason fresh meat prices were 20% CHEAPER than
the local street butcher. And honestly when I started price checking I was surprised at the affordability and down right “cheapness” of many of the products. After a tasty visit with Marco the jovial & informative cheese monger, another hour of exploring the 4 floors of posh home decor and lifestyle accessories, and disappointed at not getting to visit the rooftop bee hives, I ventured back out into the wiles of London. The rest of the day was spent wandering and absorbing. Covent Gardens Market with its specialty shops and street performers as well as the Monday Antique Market.
A lunch of Fortnum & Mason’s Lemon Gin Chocolate Truffles and Smugglers Sea Salt Caramels on the front wall of the British Museum then into cruise the greek and
mycenaean exhibit. Discovering the curious nooks and crannies along the side streets to Soho such as the almost hidden Chapel house of St. Barnabas, which appeared abandoned and no definite signs of regular worship service and where I later found out was an old writing haunt of Charles Dickens. The chapel is part of the grounds of The House of St. Barnabas, which once served as an alms house and women in need hostile, but now is a charity venue that supports outreach programs of establishing sub stainable employment for the homeless. Adventuring into the streets of Soho, i enjoyed an afternoon tea of a good warm scotch in a tiny French Bar where conversation is king and you never know what creative genius may be sitting next to you.
And then on to Chinatown a true “neighborhood” where folks were greeting one another as they pass and crowds of neighbors gathered around in the street to catch up on all the latest before doing their daily shopping in the numerous packed Asian markets. I couldn’t resist sampling so I snagged a savory pork and a sweet lotus seed bun for the stroll home.
Arriving back to Richmond I cruised the local Tesco for dinner deals (their “reduced” specials can not be beat for daily shopping!!) and made my way back to the house where I prepared us a dinner of the roasted white eggplants with a puttanesca sauce over herbed
chicken followed with a cheese course of Marco’s ( F&M’s cheesemonger) suggesting, a creamy Stilton matured inside a layer of white grapes…heavenly!
The sun had sat on my busy first day in London, stark contrast to the relaxed Irish pace I had grown accustomed to over the past couple of months. Though that hospitality and friendliness found in the Irish may not be equalled, the tastes and sights to be found in London were long awaited!
For more pictures on the day’s exploration visit The Rucksack Foodie Facebook Page