Westminster Abbey Cloisters Morning Services 2017

My parents divorced when I was an adult, some seven years ago now, and it’s meant that Christmas isn’t quite the same as it was. No more huge family gatherings in the country farmhouse where we grew up in Northamptonshire, no more hunkering down in rural bliss for a week. The house was sold, my parents moved on, and it was time to make new traditions, and to explore what else one could do over the holidays.

Because neither myself or my sister have children (if we discount the dogs), the imperative to celebrate a traditional country Christmas disappeared. In the intervening years, amongst other plans, I have been to Thailand (twice), and stayed in a hotel near my mother’s cottage (very successful as it cut down on the quotidian bickering). This past Christmas however I decided to do something revolutionary.

Reader, I stayed in London.

It was wonderful. Every minute of it. I was flip flopping before Christmas, as I wrote here, trying to work out whether I’d like to wake up in a rented remote country cottage with Lettice, or  rise blinking in a gorgeous bed in smart London hotel. Or stay in my lovely own home by the park, and head to one of London’s great churches with Rach for wonderful music, and quiet contemplation, and then have lunch somewhere lovely in town.

Christmas Tree Christmas Eve LibertyLondonGirl Liberty London Girl

In the end, I took the latter option. On Christmas Eve I had the most wonderful time at home, decorating my tree, just pottering around, tidying up, popping onto the High Street to buy last minute gifts and a Chromecast from my beloved Maplin so I could finally (after seven months) watch TV on my old flatscreen.

I was supposed to drive over to Muswell Hill to see Tara and her gorgeous family, but I completely lost track of time, and ended up staying put with Lettice and Maisie, drinking gin in one of my super large copas and watching University Challenge.

Christmas Eve Gin University Challenge LibertyLondonGirl Liberty London Girl
Lettice is never going to be complaining about extra snuggling opportunities.

(Cashmere polo neck from Uniqlo)

We all went to bed early, feeling extremely virtuous.

Miniature Dachshunds Sleeping

Because of my gentle evening, I was awake early so I drove to Westminster Abbey before 9am on the empty roads. I managed to park just behind Methodist Central Hall, and was in the line for the 10:30am Morning Service by 9:15am, about twenty people back from the front.

Westminster Abbey Cloisters Morning Services 2017

It was very, very cold, but that was nothing that my furry Tom’s Alpine snow boots, (currently reduced to £29.99 from £85) a layer of HeatTech and my padded over ear headphones couldn’t deal with. I listed to a podcast and noodled about on my ‘phone as I watched taxis draw up one by one to deposit the most motley crew of attendees on the pavement, from smart London families over three or four generations to the lovely Polish husband and wife behind me, via elderly couples, and parents with babies and small children.

Westminster Abbey Cloisters Morning Services 2017

After about half an hour, around 0945hrs, the doors opened, we passed through a security check (O tempora! O mores!), and walked through the great door into the nave. And kept on going. Much to my delight we were ushered through into the West Transept and given seats just underneath the pulpit, between the chancel and the choir stalls. (Picture the royal family at a wedding and that’s pretty much where we were seated.)

I know it’s church and it doesn’t matter where one sits, but it is wonderful being so very close to the choir, to be able to see the clergy process at such close quarters, and watch the priest at such close quarters when he is preaching his (excellent) sermon.

Westminster Abbey Cloisters

After Morning Service we wandered out into the cloisters in search of a loo.

Westminster Abbey Cloisters Morning Services 2017

We had debated for days over WhatsApp about what we should do for Christmas lunch. Everywhere we checked out was either fully booked or, if they had tables, were charging upwards of £150 for long, convoluted set menus. I’m sure it’s wonderful if one eats meat, and drinks like a fish, but both Rach and I aren’t big eaters, and I am loathe to spend that kind of money on risotto and other mundane vegetarian offerings.

Then on Christmas Eve I had my Bright Idea – Chinatown! Whilst it’s perfectly normal for all sorts in New York to eat delicious Chinese food on Christmas Day, (especially if you are Jewish), it’s still not a widespread custom in the UK beyond the Chinese community.

Chinatown London Christmas Day Lunch Gerrard Street Soho

And, yes, Chinatown was open for business. In fact it was packed, mainly with Chinese families queuing to get into their favourite places, with a few dazed-looking tourists milling about. We soon discovered two things: the places that were open were cash only, and everywhere had put their prices up to £20 plus for a main course. Which is fair enough – I’d happily pay per dish for things I actually want to eat, rather than wads of cash for a dubious vegetarian fine dining set menu in the West End.

le hanoi vietnamese london chinatown (1)

We hasn’t booked, figuring that somewhere would be open, so we did a circuit of Chinatown twice to scope out our options. Darting into Macclesfield Street I spotted Le Hanoi, a place that looked a little less frantic. And score! An immediate table for two (everyone in line wanted a table for four or more) and, even better, just a moderate 25% bounty on menu prices. We both love Vietnamese food and it all looked delicious.

Chinatown London Christmas Day Lunch Gerrard Street Soho

We ordered crispy tofu, and summer rolls, along with a big plate of pak choi and crushed garlic, steaming bowls of pho, and umpteen pots of jasmine tea. I had a single celebratory Tsing Tao, and we were stuffed by the end. I think it cost £75 for the two of us.

Happy days.

Chinatown London Christmas Day Lunch Gerrard Street Soho

We scooted off around 1300hrs to our respective homes, and I took the Tiny Terrors out for a long walk in Regent’s Park before giving them their Christmas bones in my garden. (I had Maisie over the holidays as my sister was holed up in a hotel in Suffolk with my mama.)

For supper I indulged myself with a mini Christmas lunch – roast potatoes, my homemade bread sauce, and petit pois, along with a big wedge of the vegetarian Pithivier I recommended from Iceland (the story is here).

[As a side bar, yes, I really, truly meant it when I said last December that I thought the current Iceland offer is fantastic. My father ended up buying the raspberry tart for Christmas, and I loved seeing everyone’s receipts on Instastories when they tagged me to show they were shopping there after my blogpost.]

Bread Sauce Recipe Sasha Wilkins

My mother gave me this beautiful Victorian tureen (with a matching lid) for Christmas.

Roast Potatoes Sasha Wilkins Recipe

I do think I make the best roast potatoes. I’m afraid that I sluttishly ate my supper in bed, and watched a movie on Netlfix.

Miniature Dachshunds Christmas

The dogs were unimpressed that there was no turkey on offer.

Miniature Dachshunds Christmas

I did absolutely bugger all, bar read, read and read some more on Boxing Day, and it was splendid.  I eventually hauled my ass out of the flat mid-afternoon to drive the Terrors up to Hampstead Heath, where we had the most glorious tramp over Parliament Hill, and watched the sun set over London.

Parliament Hill London View Sunset

Sunset Hampstead Heath London

The Terrors were not quite so amused when I put their filthy little bodies in the bath the moment that we arrived home.

Miniature Dachshunds Christmas Bath Walk

Miniature Dachshunds Christmas Bath Walk

Miniature Dachshunds Christmas Bath Walk

And that was my three days of Christmas. A lovely, wholly self-indulgent period of my absolute favourite things to eat and drink, no polite conversation, lunch with one of my dearest friends, and lots of lovely dog walks. Perfect.

Next year, however, will be quite, quite different – I am hosting Christmas for my nearest and dearest here in London…

 

LE HANOI
4 Macclesfield St, London W1D 6AX. 
Menu: lehanoi.ukPhone: 020 7287 0288
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4 comments

Reply

Those roasts look delicious, I seem to have lost the plot with them lately, they go leathery. What’s your secret?

Reply

Hi Elaine
I use olive oil, but any vegetable oil will do, and there needs to be quite a lot. I make sure the oil is smoking hot in the oven before I add the parboiled potatoes (which I’ve shaken in the colander to rough up the sides), and spoon the hot oil over them to make sure all the surfaces are golden with oil. Then I roast them for AT LEAST 45 minutes, but my old oven used to take over an hour. I think the secret is lots of oil and taking longer than you think. Sasha x

Reply

That sounds like a perfect Christmas. The first year after I divorced I had the kids but the second one they were at their dad’s and I spent it alone. I had lots of lovely friends invite me to join them but I decided I would stay home, have a movie marathon and eat lobster (it was summer in Australia) and drink champagne. Still one of my favourite Christmases.

Reply

Christmas great time for merry making and great outdoor food

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