96 Hours in London

So I'm finally getting around to posting about Europe. I say "finally" because I wasn't even jet-lagged when I got back - really it was just my stomach's hunger schedule that was slow to recover - so I probably could have done this much sooner (and frankly would have done it much sooner in my previous life). But alas, I was feeling lazy and indulging myself in that laziness. Better late than never, I suppose. The timeline of my Europe trip is a little bit messy because I spent time here and then there and then back here, but I've organized the posts to be a bit more comprehensive of my time in each city rather than accurate to the actual timeline; I hope that yields a more pleasing narrative in the end.

I've been to London countless times but never around Christmas and it was a real treat. The city looked super festive with all of the decorations and fairy lights and the Christmas markets were especially fun.
In regards to timeline, I bookended the trip with London; I had a few days there at the beginning and then a couple days at the end, but I've combined them all into this one post.

The flight out was easy-ish. We had a layover in Montreal, which we did on purpose in order to facilitate a red-eye flight (because for whatever reason, there were no cheap red-eyes out of NYC).

Initially, D and I had two days at the Hotel Mercure, which was a standard hotel. It was clean and modern and perfectly livable and a two-minute walk from the Tate Modern. Unfortunately, the day before we arrived, there was a violent incident on London Bridge but it didn't really affect our stay, other than people questioning our safety and maybe one Uber driver blowing us off.
Our first meal was an early dinner at Hixter, which was just around the corner from our hotel.
D and I both ordered the fried chicken sandwich and we were completely smitten with our decision. The sandwich was delicious and totally hit the spot, as did our beers.
We also got a side salad and a side of greens (which ended up just being a pile of buttered cabbage) to fortify our meal.
Our first breakfast abroad was a lovely treat at a friend's cafe. It's a little out of the way from central London, but for us, the company and the food were well worth the journey.
London is a fabulous city for tourists because most of the museums are free. There may be a couple of temporary exhibitions within the museum that require ticketed (and paid for) entry but if you're not in the mood to spend money, you certainly don't have to.
Since the Tate was so close to the hotel, I was able to spend a bit of time wandering around and enjoying some lovely art.
I've been to both of these sites before so I just snapped a quick photo as I was walking between them and didn't spend much time there.
I mainly wanted to stop by Leadenhall because it makes an appearance in the Harry Potter movies.
As many times as I've been to the city and to this particular site, I've never actually paid money to enter. I'm not sure why; I think that there are so many free things to do in London, it feels wasteful to queue up and fork over any money to just look at something.
This Christmas market was really lovely. There were loads of different foods on offer as well as various handicrafts for sale.
For dinner on our second evening in London, we met up with some of D's friends in Chinatown. We ordered a couple dozen dumplings, mapo tofu, Chinese broccoli, chow fun, bok choi, and a sauteed lamb dish. It was delicious.
After dinner, we went out for a beer at The French House...
... and at our neighboring table was a French bulldog.
After two nights at the Mercure, we moved over to the Hoxton, just because. It seemed like a cute and ritzy little hotel. In all honestly, layout-wise, it was pretty identical to the Mercure. However, decor-wise, it was like Instagram threw up all over this place and honestly, it was a bit much. There were just too many trendy design elements clashing together but I appreciated the effort. The only thing I really didn't like was their signature smell or air freshener that they pump into the rooms; it was so strong, it gave me a headache. On the plus side, it was a very attractive hotel and they provide free pastries and juice for breakfast, which was lovely.
Even though we were headed to dinner, we couldn't resist stopping by Ben's for a cookie. We got a dark chocolate one and it was pretty fabulous.
Both D and I had gotten recommendations from people to go to Dishoom so we tried our luck getting dinner there. Even though it was a Monday night, there was a queue and we didn't seated for 45 minutes. The staff were nice enough to offer warm chai teas and glasses of sherry to those of us who were waiting outside.
When we finally made it inside the restaurant, we were still provided with a buzzer and told to wait by the bar.
When we were finally seated, we were ravenous and set to ordering several dishes off the menu. We started with the prawn koliwada, which had a lovely crispy breading and a spicy bite. The cooling cilantro chutney served on the side totally hit the spot.
We were gluttonous with the carbs and ended up ordering basmati rice, garlic naan, and roti. For our mains, we shared the black daal and the chicken tikka. The lentils were super creamy and earthy with a really complex depth of flavor. The chicken was succulent and satisfying. We cleaned the plates with ease because everything was so delicious.
I overheard a man asking a police officer where Big Ben was and the officer kindly explained that it was behind all of the scaffolding getting a bit of a face lift.
I've been to the Changing of the Guards three times so I don't really feel like I need to go watch that ever again, but I do think it's worth seeing if you've never gone. There seemed to be quite a bit of hullaballoo in the area, which I originally assumed was because of the C-o-t-G but it turned out that there was a NATO summit.
D and I wanted to do afternoon tea The Orangery in Kensington Park as an homage to our 2009 Euro Trip but it was being refurbished so we ended up choosing The Drawing Room at the Flemings Mayfair Hotel instead.
The tea was lovely, albeit a little heavy on the sweets. The savory sandwiches included egg & mayo, pastrami, pickle & cheddar, chicken & truffle, and smoked salmon. The smoked salmon was my favorite. The scone tier included one sultana and one plain and instead of clotted cream, we were served a chantilly cream which was a bit fluffier in texture. The sweet tier included a profiterole with hazelnut cream, meringue, panna cotta, pastry cream with raspberry, and bon bons.
We briefly checked out the rooftop of our hotel just for the views.
For dinner, we went to Padella because it had a fantastic reputation and it was pretty close to our hotel. We got there around 17:30 and managed to get our names on the list. It was almost a 2-hour wait projected for us, but since we were so close to our hotel anyway, we just went back and relaxed in our room for a bit before heading out.
We were seated downstairs at the bar and got to watch the pasta making. The guy manipulating the dough and the pasta machine was super nice and actually let me know when he'd be moving onto the next step so I could snap some photos and videos.
They had wine on tap, interestingly enough, and D opted for the red while I went for white.
Initially, we decided to share three pastas: the pappardelle with beef ragu, fettuccine carbonara, and the tagliarini with dry chili, garlic, & pangrattato. Each dish was better than the last. The pappardelle was chewy and the ragu was rich and meaty. The fettuccine carbonara was made with delicious guanciale and the sauce clinging to the noodles was creamy and moreish. The pangrattato was made with a coarse-ground hearty bread which yielded extremely crunchy and crispy crumbs and that pasta blew me away. And for good measure, we got the arugula & radicchio salad, which was vibrant and simple and delicious.

We were having such a good time that we decided we needed to order one more dish.
We had ordered the fettuccine because we thought that carbonara was just cacio pepe with meat and we kind of wrote off the pici cacio pepe. But since we still had a little more room in our bellies for food, we got it and I'm so glad we did. The pici, which I'd never heard of before, were squiggly, chewy, wonderful noodles and whatever cheese they used was fantastically fragrant and nutty and salty and the fresh cracked pepper added such a lovely bite without being overpowering. It was such a well-balanced dish and ultimately, I was most impressed by the texture of the sauce because it was perfectly velvety and it never got thick and unmanageable, even as the dish cooled.
I stayed at the Portobello Hotel at the end of my trip before my return flight home. I found this hotel extremely comfortable and charming. The neighborhood was lovely and quiet, the rooms were really spacious, and I especially loved the bathtub.

My only complaint was that I had to fight through some crowds to get to the tube station because there were hoards of people heading to Portobello Road Market.
I love Borough Market and will always try and make time for it. There's loads of delicious foods on offer and fun souvenirs to buy.
My friend, Ann, had recommended I get a cheese toastie here and even though I was staying in Southwark at the front end of my trip, I'd missed out and made the journey all the way back to this neighborhood to indulge. Padella was so fantastic, I'd made plans to eat lunch there anyway.
I ended up buying a bunch of spices and teas for myself and for friends and family.
RABOT 1745
I didn't make it into the initial seating of Padella so I had about half an hour to kill before lunch. It was chilly and I wanted to sit in a cafe for a bit so I ended up at Rabot for a cup of hot chocolate. I got the 60% cacao, so it was really rich and delicious without being too sweet, which I appreciated.
I loved Padella so much, I had to go back, though this time I practiced a little more self-restraint. I got the salad again (because it was the only vegetal item on the menu, I needed something fresh with my meal, and I loved it enough to get it again).
For my main, I got the tagliarini with anchovy butter and pangrattato. It made for a perfect lunch. The pasta was flavorsome and moreish and I ate every last bit of it.
I didn't want to risk making any mistakes with my food at this point in my trip (basically my final two meals) so I ended up at Dishoom again. It was an easy choice to make since the Kensington location was just a 20-minute walk from my hotel.
I ordered the murgh malai, kachumber (which is like an Indian salad), basmati rice, and garlic naan. Everything was fantastic and I'm so pleased I went back. In fact, I'm craving some now. The reason Dishoom is so popular is not just because the food tastes so great, but it's really affordable.
This time around though, I left a little room for dessert so I got the gulab jamun. It was a lovely end to the meal.
Since I'd gotten a day tube pass, I didn't want it to go to waste so after dinner, I used it to hit up a few of the Christmassy squares I'd gone to during the day time to see it lit up with fairy lights.
For a pre-breakfast snack, I decided I needed to have one more scone before leaving the UK. Basically, I was craving clotted cream. I went to the Muffin Man and got one scone and slathered it with the entire serving of Devon cream they gave me. That being said, their scones were really good so if you're ever looking for a delicious breakfast in Kensington, I can't recommend this place enough.
I'd made a reservation for breakfast at Dishoom (they actually only allow reservations until 18:30 and after that time, you can only make a reservation if you have a party of 6 or more).
I got their house chai, a bacon naan roll (which was basically like a breakfast burrito except with naan), and the coconut yogurt and fruit. Everything was delicious and now I'm thinking I'll have to stock up on more naan from Trader Joe's so I can make naan rolls for breakfast at home. The yogurt was fantastic; it was tart and sweet and speckled with vanilla bean. And the chai was spicy and fragrant.
My time in London was so wonderful. I love this city so much and can 100% picture myself living there someday.
Here's my video diary: