Sunday, December 12, 2010

An English Afternoon

Fortnum and Mason
A day of Londonesque experiences.

I began the morning with "Caragh Mary Bernadette, the Irish Chiropractor of Harley Street", for some further back assistance. Things are improving glacially. She is going to work with "Dan ('Stomp') Baines", my trainer, to continue the sorting-out process. It's good to know that The Team is on the job.

The Wolseley, Piccadilly. A Grade II listed building.
Somewhat loosened up, I then tottered down to the West End, alighting from the Tube at Piccadilly Circus, my objective - lunch. I surveyed the section of the Monopoly Board around me. Hmmm...Duke Street, Jermyn Street, Bond Street, Regent Street, The Burlington Arcade, Fortnum and Mason, The Ritz...ah, here's a nice looking place: The Wolseley. In I popped and asked if they could seat one for lunch. The main dining room looked sumptuous - a beautiful old building carefully restored, black suited waiters and white tablecloths, dessert displays, cheese displays, wine racks, low chandeliers. I was ushered to a table in a front room and received impeccable service (in London!) and excellent food. The cuisine was quintessentially English. Just my kind of thing.

The Wolseley's lovely interior
While I was indulging in dessert, a fellow diner engaged me in conversation. Recognising my accent (as everyone here immediately does, unlike in the USA) he of course had to mention the cricket. People! Can't you do something about the cricket? You can hear the glad chortles everywhere here. I try to be gracious and say how nice it is to finally have a proper competition, and muse that there are young cricket fans in Australia who have never before seen Australia lose (all of which is really rather back-handed graciousness). And I harp on the hat-trick a bit. But it's hard, very hard. Tell the boys to pick up their game, will you please?

Anyway, in the course of this conversation, once we got off the cricket and had dealt with what is wrong with the Obama presidency, my companion asked if I knew the presenter of something called 'Top Gear'. Since this is a television program, I didn't, but understood that I should be impressed when told that this person was sitting  in the dining room next door. I was informed that The Wolseley is the "in" restaurant in London at the moment, popular with 'media and entertainment types', and that it is very difficult to get a reservation. Apparently the front room we were in is where they put the 'walk-ins' - the main room is booked solid. And here was I, fetching up here merely by dumb luck. Anyway, as I mentioned, it is lovely with great service and food, so deserves to be "in". Hopefully I can return some day.

Royal Academy of Arts

My apres-lunch goal was the Royal Academy of Arts across the road - a building with an exquisite interior, by the way. There they are showing an exhibition entitled 'Treasures from Budapest' which closes in a few days. Subtitle: 'European Masterpieces from Leonardo to Schiele'. I found it interesting, but of course the most interesting pieces were the ones by Leonardo and Schiele, as the marketing department clearly appreciated.

A little shopping?
Directly opposite the Royal Academy, conveniently and enticingly placed, is Fortnum and Mason, that majestic emporium of fine food and luxury products of all kinds. Thinking that a little window-shopping couldn't hurt, I inspected the floors of perfumes, lingerie, Christmas trimmings, the most spectacular shower caps you're ever likely to find, and....the Food Hall. Ah! The rest is history.

Laden with bags full of magnificent confectionery (I am bringing it all home to Sydney, I promise), I stepped across the road again, this time to a shop full to the rafters with winter coats. Yes, it seems I had found the mother-lode of Barbour jackets and coats. You may recall earlier blog musings on British Fashion in this season of chills and snow. Well, I made a prudent decision, with an eye on the forecasts of further snow in the offing, and am now the proud possessor of a down-filled, shower-proof, super-warm Barbour jacket, complete with  fake-fur lined hood. And, for good measure, one of those checked scarves that make you look like an English country squire-ess. I am now fully equipped for a week-end in the English countryside, should the opportunity arise. Bring on that snow!

The new Barbour - "fully prepared"
By now I needed a cup of tea, and where better than back at Fortnum and Mason? A pot of early-picked Assam, an indulgent piece of Victoria sponge cake, and my very English afternoon was complete.

The black cab ride home in the evening (which falls at about 4 pm these days) took me through all the West End Christmas lights of Regent Street, Bond Street and the aptly-named Oxford Circus. The lights in these West End areas are lit up all at once on special days in the lead-up to Christmas, generally in November (which I consider a little early, but that's just me), drawing thousands of merry on-lookers. London does 'festive' very well.

Oxford Street

Regent Street

Bond Street

Images from:'s%20Walk.htm

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