London offers a ongoing and ever-updating curriculum of on how to live well in a city that is too expensive to live in. No other city I spend time in offers as many free or nearly free diversions for families as London does. Granary Square, the South Bank, the Tate Modern, Regent’s Park, the list of public spaces that make you feel like a circus is always in town goes on and on.
This trip, I learned that…
1. …bubble gum on the sidewalk can have redeeming value. Ben Wilson (whose Wikipedia page will explain his mission) looks for gum squashed on all kinds of pavements and transforms them into miniature works of art. On the corrugated metal path of the Millennium Bridge, which spans the Thames between Tate Modern and the area around St. Paul’s, Londoners have commissioned him to create memorials to dead family members; schools have sponsored little emblems; newly-engaged couples pay him to commemorate their troth. Children and adults walk across the bridge bent at the waist in search of his little gems.
2. …the World War I memorial art installation at the Tower of London is best seen from an aerial perspective. 350,000 ceramic red poppies on stem-like stakes flood the moat around the Tower’s outer precincts to symbolize the number of lives lost in the Great War. From the parapet surrounding the walls, the poppies stand in striking contrast with the green grass growing underneath. But why does it flow from the Tower? What is the intended symbolism? And why skimp on the number of poppies flowing out the window, leaving the rickety scaffolding supporting them in plain sight? I was more impressed by images taken from above.
3. …London’s closest beach town, Broadstairs, would be recognizable perhaps to Charles Dickens but definitely to Graham Greene. With the original Bleak House in the background, a brass band played Elgar’s “Nimrod” under cloudy skies. I hoped in vain the crowd of mostly seniors would break into “Underneath the Arches.” A round of mini golf finished off a wonderful day spent on the sandy beach in our cardi’s.
4. … and finally, the Anchor & Hope restaurant is as good as it was the last time I ate there seven eight years ago. This place puts the lie to the worn-out notion that British food is bad. Worth every penny. Check out their menu.
And now, off to the airport. Next stop, New Jersey!
Design Museum, Shad Thames, SE1 2YD, website here.
I’m a sucker for museum shops and cafés. They appeal to me almost as much as the art that justifies their existence. I associate a good lunch and shopping experience with looking at art, as crass as that may sound. Occasionally, as in this case, the food and merchandise outshine the collection on exhibit.
To find the museum you take the tube to the London Bridge stop and walk along the river on the concourse known as Shad Thames, past the mayor of London’s odd office building and restored brick warehouses, to a modern white building. You enter the Blue Print Cafe either through the elevator or from the Shad Thames door. A wall of glass turns the river traffic, the Tower Bridge, and the opposite bank into an endlessly interesting exhibit that competes with the museum’s collection. Each table has binoculars for examining the river on display in more detail.
The main gastronomic discovery made here were crubeens, which are rich tasting fried patties of shredded meat from pig’s trotters, served with a grebiche sauce. A plate of smoked trout with cucumber-dill in crème fraîche, a whole pan-fried sea bream with a warm potato, shallot and caper salad in mustard vinaigrette, and two timbales of risotto, pan-seared on one end and sitting upright in a bright green spinach puree completed our ambitious lunch. All of it was very good, although we wished that our skills at de-boning a plated fish were better. We should have asked the wait staff to assist, but managed on our own.
The lunch was not cheap. Then again, nothing is in Britain. In the end, I felt it was worth it.
Various locations throughout London, available on their web site.
Noodles of any kind are my weakness. And Asian noodles have been my downfall more than once. Ever since I started passing through London, I eat ramen or udon at one of these restaurants. The one I usually go to is located in Bloomsbury near the British Museum. On this most recent trip, I discovered to my great joy that the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow has a Wagamama. Whichever one you enter, you’ll find a very urban hip wait staff — unnaturally colored hair, bared-midriffs, tatoos, edgy t-shirts — who scribble your order on your paper placemats on the long, picnic-table style tables so they can deliver your bowls of steaming soup or plate of pan-fried noodles to you and not your neighbor. In whatever form you ingest them, the noodles here are always good.