Tuesday, August 4, 2009

12 Hours in London

A bit of history, some traditional English food and a number of pints on a day-trip to London. Thanks to a special promotion on the Eurostar, we booked a daytrip to London, but if you ever happen to find yourself stuck at Heathrow for an extended layover, there is plenty to do in London with only a few hours on hand.

Schedule
  • 7:15AM – Depart Paris, Gare du Nord
  • 8:20AM – Arrive in London, St Pancras
  • 8:30AM – Grab a tea at NĂ©ro in the newly remodelled international train station
  • 10AM – British Museum
  • 12:30PM – Pub Crawl Stop #1: Mitre House
  • 1PM – Pub Crawl (Impromptu) Stop #2: The Queen’s Larder
  • 2PM – Lunch: Fish & Chips at Rock & Sole Plaice
  • 3PM – Stroll through Covent Garden
  • 4PM – Pub Crawl Stop #3: The Lamb and the Flag
  • 5PM – Sightseeing along the Thames: Big Ben, London Eye, Westminster Abbey
  • 6PM – Traditional English Supper: Browns
  • 8:30PM – Depart London, St Pancras
  • 11:30 PM – Arrive in Paris
Somehow, in all my dozen or so trips to London, I had never been to the British Museum, so this was my one and only must-see. First of all, this is a very cool museum. Second, it is free (donations welcome). Third, they are smart, and they know that not everyone can spend all day at the museum (especially not us) so they have created three itineraries – 1) 1 Hour at the Museum, 2) 3 Hours at the Museum, and 3) Objects to see with Children. These are printable itineraries that give you the room and title, plus audio tour guide number for reference, to guide you through the museum. Brilliant, really. We tried to do the 3 hour tour in 1 1/2 hours, not very successfully. If you do nothing else, pop in just to see the Rosetta Stone.

Allegedly near the British Museum was a pub named Mitre House (9 Grower Street, now rumored to be on Ely Court), but it was impossible to find, at least this address is now a law office and was not serving beer. Onward…

On the way to our lunch of Fish & Chips, destination Fryer’s Delight (19 Theobald Road, Holborn Tube Stop), also near the British Museum, we spotted a pub and dove in for our first British beer of the day…a pint of Speckled Hen. The Queen’s Larder had warm beer and salt and vinegar crisps, exactly what we needed before lunch.

Unfortunately, our first choice of fish shops (and a favorite of cabbies according to our recommendation) was closed for cleaning. OK, so next stop…

Rock & SoleRock & Sole Plaice (47 Endell Street, Covent Garden Tube Stop) claims to be the oldest surviving fish and chips shop from 1871. The fish is huge and crispy and the chips are big, square and chunky. The tartar sauce is particularly good as well. The service could not be slower, but good things come to those who wait.

Since we were in Covent Garden, we had to take a quick look around, so stroll we did right up to the best little cheese shop I have ever found in London. Neal’s Yard Dairy (17 Shorts Garden, Covent Garden). First, it has amazing, artisanal cheese from England and Ireland. Second, it is a really cute shop. And since I bought 5 Kilos of the Montgomery’s cheddar while I was there, I am going to go have some now.
Wow, really nice.
Cheese in London2
Quick walk through Covent Garden and a glimpse of the street performers that draw incredibly big crowds. Then off to the next stop on our Pub Crawl, the Lamb and the Flag (33 Rose Street). Also, arguably, one of the oldest pubs in London, every time I come here, which is every time I am in London, I am amazed at how it still maintains its British clientele, even with the tourists snapping photos out front. Great pint of Courage Best Bitter.

We decided to walk off this third beer (we had one with the fish and chips of course) by sightseeing on what turned out to be a beautiful, sunny London afternoon. Big Ben was actually sparkling in the sun. The river was moving swiftly in front of the London Eye. Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace…OK, time for dinner. 

Image (2) Although we had a reservation at Rules, a famous restaurant for game due to the fact that they own their own hunting grounds, we couldn’t stomach a big meal just three hours after fish and chips and only moments after a third pint of beer, so we went to a tried and true favorite for a more casual meal. Browns Bar and Brasserie (82-84, St Martins Lane, Covent Garden) is always good food, always good service and always a pleasurable experience. This time, it was happy hour, so we tried a really interesting Gin & Tonic with elderberries in it, then a steak and mushroom pie and shared a sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Everything was great, I only wish I had had more room to stuff it all in.

Dash to the train and then back home to Paris. Incredible really, how much we did in one day. And how much beer you can drink if you really try hard.

Next time
  • Stay a little longer thank 12 hours…and spend a night at Haymarket Hotel (1 Suffolk Place, 44-20-7470-4000, http://www.firmdale.com/
  • Bacon sandwich for breakfast at St John Bread and Wine (94-96 Commercial Street, East London, breakfast 9 – 11AM)
  • Some eco-conscious shopping at Eco Age (213 Chiswick High Rd, open Tues – Sat), owned by actor Colin Firth.
  • Visit London's oldest food market, Borough Market (6 Southwark Street), to pick up fresh local fare from independent suppliers around the UK for a picnic. 
  • Lunch at Acorn House (69, Swinton Street, +44 20 73 59 09 55) for a new take on classic English dishes
  • So many pubs, so little time: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (145 Fleet Street) – this is actually a pub with beer, not another cheese shop; Old Bank of England Pub (194 Fleet Street)
  • Dinner at Rules (35, Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, 0207 836 5314)
Logistics
Eurostar, Paris (Gare du Nord) – London (St Pancras) in 2:20 hours. (http://www.eurostar.com/)

Resources
Time Out London Online – http://www.timeout.com/london/

P.S. We did get to spend "More than 12 Hours in London" in London on our next visit. Check out our latest travel advice from a weekend in the city.