Sometimes the most enjoyable breaks are the ones that you take in your own city, when you treat the place as somewhere fresh to be explored, and just surrender to enjoying yourself, without worrying about checking email, or tidying your flat, or running errands.
Rachel, one of my great friends from New York, has moved back to England too. We both have hectic lives and don’t see nearly enough of each other, so we thought sod it, and spent 24hrs, from Friday to Saturday, wholly indulging ourselves in London.
On Friday afternoon at 3 o’clock we convened at The Langham on Portland Place for Afternoon Tea. Given that I drive or bicycle past its Victorian splendour almost every day (it’s bang opposite the BBC’s Broadcasting House) it’s rather shaming that I have never been in the hotel. It’s also important on an own city mini-break that one does something completely new.
Tea takes place in the restored Palm Court, which has been serving afternoon tea since 1865. I skipped lunch, and bicycled there in the vague hope that the five mile round trip would ameliorate the effects of too much cake. I fear it was a forlorn hope.
We were there for the Wonderland Tea, which has a rather splendid Olympic Team GB theme at the moment: There was a wafer Olympic Torch cone containing Cornish salted caramel, along with a WHITE chocolate tower with added javelin decoration, azure BLUEberry macarons with Union Flag decals, and a RED velvet North Greenwich Arena, with the most delicious Kentish raspberry mousse-y topper.
Of course there were also elegant sandwiches, perfect hot scones and jam and cream, and a tea menu of many pages and delights. (I eschewed my usual Earl Grey for jasmine pearls.) All wholly delicious, and a lovely way to end a stressful week.
An hour or so later, we jumped in a black cab to E1 for Prosecco on the roof of Shoreditch House, with some conducive friends, before heading across town to Mayfair and Little House for Old Fashioneds at the bar. A few drinks later, someone suggested visiting The Box, which I hadn’t been to in London.
When The Box on Manhattan’s Lower East Side opened at the very beginning of 2007, we haunted it, and I had many fairly debauched evenings there. Unfortunately the new-ish London outpost was utterly, utterly grim, as low rent as could be, despite its charming vaudeville mise en scene, all swagging, sconces and velvet, and, after a glass of Champagne, I scarpered. Still, I was glad to check it out to know I need never return, and it only took up an hour of my evening.
Next morning we were in need of fresh air, so we put the roof down on my battered convertible, and drove up the Highgate side of Hampstead Heath to refresh our hangovers by swimming long lengths in the bracing chill of the Ladies Pond.
Then it was off to brunch at The York and Albany, hard by Regent’s Park at the non-gothic end of Camden, where we ordered one of those restorative meals that encompasses most of the menu: watermelon & feta salad because it is so refreshing, heirloom tomatoes and goats curd, big crunchy crispy seat salt encrusted chips, salmon ceviche with avocado for Rachel, squashy black Greek olives and marinated almonds, a large bottle of fizzy water and large cups of very strong coffee.
We went our separate ways after lunch: Rachel to the ministrations of Richard Ward, and me to write. Later I went back to the ponds in the early evening so my sister could swim: she doesn’t drive at the moment, and she can’t manage the journey on her own, as there’s a long pull uphill after the bus drops you off at Parliament Hill.
It was quite different swimming at the end of the day: The Pond is no longer in sunlight, so the contracting cold doesn’t disappear quite so quickly, and you need to swim quickly to stay warm. Still, it’s a glorious way to finish the day.
Thank you to The Langham Hotel, London for the delightful Afternoon Tea.
The Langham is at 1c Portland Place, Regent Street, London, GB W1B 1JA