I arrived in London just days after the announcement of the Royal Engagement, and during the week I was there, I was surprised I couldn’t find a single “commemorative plate” or even a t-shirt in the chachkes shops.
What’s with that?
In the United States, the t-shirts, bumper stickers, plates and refrigerator magnets would have been ready to ship the moment William produced the ring.
But at least the engagement of Prince William to a commoner has given hope to royalty-struck men and women worldwide that maybe—just maybe—someday their prince (or princess) will come.
The British, being British, are already fussing over whether Kate Middleton’s promotion by marriage to a senior position among the princesses and duchesses in the Queen’s extended family will mean folks such as Princesses Anne, Beatrice and Eugenie will have to curtsy to her. (“The tantalising [sic] question at the heart of an epic battle of royal egos,” was how the Daily Mail headline put it.)
I suppose that beats endless debates about health care and taxes.
Anyway, I’m delighted to report that while Ireland grovels for a bailout and other European nations such as Portugal and Greece teeter on the brink of insolvency, London seems to be perking along nicely.
I couldn’t get a reservation at The Wolseley off Piccadilly for lunch or dinner. And I only captured a front-room table at nearby Langan’s in Mayfair by walking in around nine and telling the hostess I was an old friend of the late London gossip columnist Nigel Dempster. His mug sits atop the David Hockney sketch on Langan’s menu that also features two other dining-scene luminaries: Peter Langan, the Irishman who founded the restaurant (and who died 21 years ago in a fire at his home that he allegedly started during a row with his wife, who survived); and actor Michael Caine, who was bought out years ago by the restaurant’s current owner, Richard Shepherd.
I had to accept a late lunch table (2:30 p.m.) at Roast on Thursday at my favorite London market, Borough Market (left) near London Bridge and the Globe Theatre (note that the market is only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday). Roast is a lovely restaurant specializing in meats perched above the market. But don’t worry. Even with a late seating, you won’t be alone; the restaurant was still filled when we left at 4:30 to fill a bag with artisanal cheeses—almost all from U.K. farms—from Neal’s Yard Dairy adjacent to the market. Don’t miss the Borough Market, Roast or the cheese shop.
And all of this is to say, if you have a favorite restaurant in London, or you want to try my favorites, book as far ahead as you know your schedule.
Near the Borough Market, on the same side of the Thames, the Tate Modern features an exhibit of Gauguin paintings until January 16th. Admission is free to the museum, but there’s a charge for the Gauguin exhibit to non-members.
If my daughter and her family hadn’t just moved to London, I would never have taken the Piccadilly tube line to the Hammersmith station and caught the bus for the six-minute ride to the charming riverside suburb of Barnes. It’s a lovely residential community with a postcard-perfect High Street with tea shops, clothing and wine stores, and a great place to pick up frozen, ready-to-eat meals at a place called Cook.
The Terrace is Barnes’ street along the Thames that sports grand homes built as early as the 1700s. Through town, near the Barnes Pond that white swans call home, is a residential community of townhomes where actors, actresses and other wealthy residents live. Every Saturday, a small market (left) offers freshly shucked oysters, fat stuffed-and-roasted chickens, and other delicacies not normally found at a farmer’s market.
Take lunch across the street at a pub filled with families called the Sun Inn whose menu will encourage you to appreciate English pub cuisine in a new, positive light.
On Church Road, the Olympic Studios were where The Beatles recorded “All You Need is Love.” Other rockers who cut albums there include The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Queen, David Bowie, Coldplay, Madonna and even Ella Fitzgerald.
Now is a great time to head to London—airfares are traditionally lowest in January and February. Travel agencies and web sites report a massive surge in searches for tickets to London, almost entirely credited to the upcoming royal wedding. And I bet by this week, those lovely commemorative plates will be available.