We thought that tourist-ing through London should not be just for lucky holiday-makers that have decided to spend a week in a hostel and visit as many museums as possible. Partly due to a New Year’s resolution (we have those too!), partly due to a genuine interest, we ended up going to an organized tour in the National Gallery last Sunday (second one in 2 months!).
The concept of the tour is not about rushing to see 100 pieces over half-a-day, but spending an hour to view no more than 5-6 paintings for free. You don’t need more background knowledge than maybe be able to distinguish Manet from Van Gogh, but regardless of your degree of art-savviness, the two tour guides we have listened to were straight-forward and pretty fun. In a nutshell, we learned what portrait size was the most expensive to order in the 18th century; what rank you had to be in order to wear a red gown; how much an average aristocrat would spend for an outfit (we thought our suits were overpriced!), and why the Dutch produced orange rather than purple carrots at the time.
This weekend the highlights for eating out were three – Joe Allen on Friday, Hej on Saturday and Bella Italia on Sunday.
Joe Allen on Friday. It’s the third time we have had dinner in Joe Allen (Covent Garden) in the past year, which should put it somewhere high in our list, not that we have one. This time the driving force for our visit was a free Champaign bottle voucher with every two a la carte mains, which we must admit was a very tempting deal despite our small desire for American-style food. While there was a bunch a people (with a celebrity there too) who were waiting for a table to clear out, we were a bit more strategic and had a reservation.
Two-and-a-half hours later, with Joe’s Spiced Baby Back Ribs, Grilled Corn, Slaw & Fries and Shrimp & Crab Sandwich, Brioche Bun & Fries completely finished (not by one person!), a weak moment of ordering a Dark Chocolate Fudge Brownie having occurred and an unknown brand of Champaign bottle drank, the verdict was a pretty good evening of live piano music, unobtrusive service and good ‘crowd’ of hungry people. Oh yes, and a celebrity at the bar.
Hej on Saturday. Despite the food and drinks’ feast from Friday night, a Saturday brunch was still on the menu for weekend adventures. Having planned to visit this always busy coffee place just off Bermondsey Square for a while, it was a bonus to find an empty table around 10 am. Not sure whether Hej has authentic Swedish roots, but that’s definitely the theme they have gone for – you can find strange brands of jam jars and cheese on the shelves as well as coffee making equipment. Judging by the price tags, they must have not been adjusted for UK-income levels because a coffee grinder was 299! Despite the price shock, we enjoyed a pretty good and rarely strong latte, a cinnamon bun which was warmed up and a bite of a cream and salmon bagel. Atmosphere-wise, it definitely had more of a middle-class (whatever meaning you choose to interpret that as) than the usual hipster feel that you get from the Bermondsey Street cafes. Overall nice experience, excluding the long queue of coffee-deprived people who kept the front door open and encouraged us to leave earlier than planned.
Bella Italia on Sunday. You would think that by Sunday lunch time, we’d have had the urge to stay warm in the house and eat a pot of noodles, but you’re wrong. It was time for an Italian food, in between that gallery visit and the forthcoming shopping tour that occurred. We must have discovered Bella Italia late, because we ate there for the first time about 4 months ago and were quite impressed, so we came for more! We’re at the Leicester square‘branch’, just next to Five Guys (a place we stubbornly refuse to go to) and it reminded us of a reshuffled old pub which has been transformed into quite a family-oriented place. While perhaps a bit too cozy, space-wise, the food was utterly good. One may say there isn’t such a thing as bad pizza, but we can say we know when we’re having a good one. Having tried Calzone Carne (Pancetta, spicy meatballs, red onion, mozzarella and beef ragù) and the Pollo Formaggi al Forno (Chicken and crispy pancetta in a rich four cheese sauce with giant shell pasta and a cheesy crumb topping), there was no doubt that week of indulgence had a winner.
We are a bit ashamed to share our purchases from this week, as if you can be ashamed of shopping to begin with. We seem to have discovered Oliver Bonas again too late, but it already is a favorite place. It wasn’t even the sale that got us so excited, but probably the overly-cute atmosphere of summer dresses, 2015 diaries, quirky Champaign glasses, colorful scarves, you name it. That day we ended up making the most middle-aged combination of shopping items we have ever done and even questioned our own age at the end of it. Unpacking ‘Sense and Sensibility’, a coffee set for 4 people and … an anti-wrinkle cream from our bags was indeed a sign worth a giggle and a worry. It also probably explains why we immediately booked a hairdresser appointment.
If you have already read Part I, II and III of our series Irrational Markets, you would have noticed we like a bit of economics. We also took the executive decision to go to most, if not all, LSE public lectures that have either a catchy title, we are already familiar with the topic or they’re led by someone we consider worth seeing live. On Wednesday we ended up going to ‘The Hall of Mirrors’ by Barry Eichengreen, which was a lecture on the commonalities between the Great Depression and the Great Recession. An hour into it, we already had talked about will Europe fail, can you check out of the Eurozone as easy as you can check in, what was the answer of the Queen’s question back in 2008 ‘Didn’t you see ‘it’ coming’? and what could have happened if Lehman was bailed out.
Our honest opinion? It wasn’t that great. It often felt like another book promotion (Yes, you can buy Halls of Mirrors here) with quite a bit of repetition of ideas, but still an insightful perspective.
A recap of the week: paintings, celebrity spotting, over-indulgence, middle-aged shopping and neoclassical economics.