We tend to follow the same plan when we visit; not because we want to play safe, it is just that we cannot bear to miss a morning coffee and an almond croissant at the Bluebird cafe. A slow walk up the King's Road with it's exclusive shops and boutiques brings you to Sloane Square - just in time for lunch. This time we found, to our dismay, that our usual dining spot had closed down so we tried the Botanist, almost opposite, instead. It proved to be a good choice for the food was excellent, as was the service. My biggest criticism of it is its name which, of course, with me being a 'planty' person had rather appealed. The decor consisted mostly of pictures of insects so we now refer to it as The Entymologist instead.
A taxi ride took us to the National Portrait Gallery. One of our New Year resolutions is to take in a bit more culture as we are becoming rather reluctant to move out of the secret valley, generally preferring the peace and quiet of the rural life. A trip to 'the smoke' from time to time is just what's needed to stop us from becoming complete country bumpkins. We hadn't allowed enough time to look at the pictures in any depth - we really need to visit when we are not being dictated by the thought of food. A mental note has been made to visit again quite soon, that time bypassing the restaurants ..... Mmm, we'll see.
When we came out of the gallery daylight was fading fast and London appeared to have renewed energy. Somehow a city at night with all it's lights seems a more exciting place. I seemed far more aware of statues, theatres and red buses - I'd forgotten just how much I like cities! I've never lived anywhere other than in the country and I'm not too sure how I would fare if I suddenly found myself in one permanently. Not too well, I would think.
Another taxi ride took us to my favourite London store; favourite perhaps because it is another food place. Forget Harrods, which I'm afraid I dislike intensely, give me Fortnum & Mason's anytime. The Christmas windows and decor were still in place but even without those, F & M exudes quality from every pore - or do I mean from every chocolate?
Who could possibly bite into these white chocolate bears, though?
The first thing I do when I enter the store isn't to think of my stomach, surprisingly, as I am surrounded by goodies to eat. I always go to the central circular staircase and lean over to look down which is dramatic, then descend down the old wooden staircase which is equally full of character.
A wander around the coffee and tea halls with their wonderful aromas is another must.
The store has a reputation for making some of the best hampers in England. I was lucky enough once to be given one for a Christmas present and it was such an exciting treat unpacking it and seeing what all the tins and shiny wrappers contained. I was rather taken with their picnic hampers but there would be no point in us having one: although we picnic rather a lot because of our outdoor life, they always end up big social events. What starts off as a casual chat with a couple of friends snowballs and it is not unusual to find twenty or thirty arriving to enjoy the feasting. Fortunately they usually bring food and drink with them too. If we had a Fortnum's picnic hamper it would have to be a quiet, small affair - just the sight of the baskets conjures up images of check tablecloths laid on the grass, eating in the shade of the willows down by our little winding river.
And what would a visit to Fortnum's be without having one of their splendid traditional afternoon teas? By the time I had forced down two scones with strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream and cake, all washed down with a pot or two of Orange Pekoe tea it was time to think about returning home.
If we were lucky and didn't get held up in traffic jams we would be back in the secret valley just in time for supper. I think a belated New Year's resolution ought to be excercise more and eat less .....
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