On the fifth day of my trip, I found myself accompanied through the London streets by some pals from University – three physicists and a mathematician, to be exact. Nick, Tom, Caleb and Daryl (Daryl of Hamleys teddy bear snuggle fame) managed to organise a London meet up day with relatively short notice and it was great to catch up with what they’d all been up to over the summer. We met in the morning at London Victoria – Nick, who was busy with his fancy jet-set number-crunching job (or so he’d have us believe…), joined us later in the evening. With so many scientists in the entourage, you’d think that the day would have gone ahead with logical precision, however apart from a request from Daryl to visit Chin Chin Labs in Camden, it was a relaxed freestyle day – which was more than ok with me, as you can tell from my previous posts, “magical mystery tours” of random discovery are just the way I like it.
We had a mosey around several different areas of London throughout the day – As the only girl, I found myself outnumbered by the boys, however used this newfound manly troupe as the perfect excuse to finally try out Five Guys burger restaurant. I had finally worked out where the building was and had a hunch that it would be a crowd-pleaser – from experience, messy burgers tend to be a hit with men. Of course, I have a secret weak spot for a good barbecue bacon cheeseburger (but shush, no-one must know!) and was really intrigued to see if Five Guys lived up to the hype.
I had decided to take my new shoes from Forever 21 for a test drive – they would come to be referred to throughout the day as the “disco shoes” by Caleb and Tom, who both seemed to have an affinity for their apparent 70s look (or more likely, the 70s in general). It took a while for everyone to get used to my new height, as at first glance it seemed as if I had grown about seven inches over the summer. It was a lie. Fashion can be deceiving, folks.
After traipsing around London Victoria for a while, looking for an “edgy café” for Caleb to get a coffee from, we decided to do a bit of sightseeing, starting with Buckingham Palace. We zipped from Victoria to Green Park on the tube and caught some action at the Palace gates. We were actually lucky enough to see some ornate carriages leaving the palace, which was quite exciting. I think one of the things that I love most about cities, is that even if you visit a landmark several times, you never have the same experience twice as there is always something different to observe or take part in. It was interesting to see the ceremonial dress of different dignitaries – I believe that the blue national costume pictured below is the attire worn by the Mongolian ambassador to the UK.
After witnessing some artistic Instagram photography attempts at the Canada gates by a certain member of the gang (who is in denial of his passion for Canada and subsequent status as aficionado of all things canadian), we headed to Covent Garden to catch a bit of street magic and busking. Whilst we were en route to Five Guys – we had decided that we were pretty ravenous by this point – we spotted the official Tintin Shop, which can be found at 34 Floral Street. The street name indicates Covent Garden’s early origins and roots as a flower market (the pun is unintentional this time, I swear). “Les Aventures de Tintin” is a comic book series which was created by Belgian cartoonist Hergé in 1929 and the shop on Floral Street was established in the early eighties. The Tintin comic series has since been adapted into a major feature film and still enjoys popularity today. I remember walking past Le Grand Rex in Paris whilst visiting a friend on my year abroad in 2011 and being awestruck that the façade of the cinema had been magically transformed into the exterior of the fantastical boat La Licorne.
Tintin is a classic character known all over the world – on one of my first ever trips to Germany, I stayed in a host family and instantly felt at ease when I spotted a Snowy poster on the wall of the lounge*- Tintin ended up forming the basis of one of my first German conversations. The comic books have in fact been published in over seventy languages, which just goes to show how international a character Tintin has become over the years. I have good memories of spending the christmas holidays (in particular the night of ‘Reveillon’ – Christmas Eve) as a little girl watching the animated Tintin series (from the early nineties) with my dad, uncle and grandfather – the series was often broadcast on French TV!
Once the boys spotted the Tintin Shop, we all thought that it would be rude to walk right past without taking a glimpse inside… just for the sake of nostalgia of course… 😉
These tourists walked into my photo with lightning speed – however I do like how these London ladies coincidentally match the colour scheme of the shop! Inside, Daryl and I got sidetracked by the fluffy Snowy toys, whilst Tom and Caleb checked out some of the books – I think that’s what they were up to at any rate, I was too busy being entranced by fluff.
*Snowy’s name in German is Struppi, in case you were wondering – his French name is Milou.
Once we had torn ourselves away from the fluffy Snowys, we were back on track on the hunt for food. Five Guys turned out to be not far from Floral Street and surprisingly there was no queue outside – there wasn’t even much time to enjoy the heaps of free monkey nuts that line the restaurant before we were served with our burgers and fries. Of course, I can’t complain because if we had indulged on the peanuts then we would not have had enough space for the main event! The menu at Five Guys is quite simplistic, however there are several different combinations that you can create from the ingredients on offer. I decided to go for a ‘little’ burger – which was a wise choice, as the portion sizes are massive! I would not have been able to cope with a normal sized burger and I hadn’t even eaten breakfast! Look at the cheesy barbecue bacon deliciousness below, pictured on the bottom right – if I could choose any adjective in the world to describe this burger, I would not go for little! Decadent, perhaps?
I naively ordered a “regular” diet coke, but soon discovered the novelty of the Five Guys refill ‘coke freestyle’ system – where you can choose from hundreds of different drinks options including combos such as Grape Sprite, Strawberry Fanta, and Raspberry Coke. It was mind-blowing for the first five minutes… until I found myself craving the normalcy of a plain diet coke! When it comes to being served your food, you have to present yourself to the counter to receive your order when the number on your receipt is called. The food is then handed over to you in a plain brown paper bag. The burger is wrapped tightly in foil; as soon as you unwrap it, the squishy bun expands (a bit like a slinky or a sponge) to reveal itself piled high with your chosen fillings.
I decided to try the cajun fries as well as getting a burger (naughty, naughty). Now, I have a confession to make – I am the kind of girl who likes to slather tabasco and jalopeños over everything. When I was living in halls of residence I even had a little spice selection that I would take to meals to douse my plate with – one of my friends ended up calling me Tabasco girl – not my finest moment. Although my taste buds must be slightly numb from all these years of chilli pepper abuse I actually found that the cajun fries tasted very spicy, so be warned! Again, a ‘little’ sized fries was a crazily generous serving – the cup you can see above was only half the portion, most of the fries were to be found at the bottom of the glorious brown paper bag. So many fries, so little space in my stomach – one portion ended up feeding three of us! We stayed in Five Guys for a while, tucked into an old fashioned 1950s style booth in the downstairs underbelly of the restaurant. The walls are plastered by endorsements from newspapers, bloggers and food critics – not really my taste of decor but the food was satisfying and great value for money. I guess the posters provide you with a bit of light reading if you find yourself on a solitary lunch break!
After leaving Five Guys, we had a look around Leicester Square and ended up venturing into M&Ms World. It was pointed out that it was a great marketing strategy to have such a large pick and mix of chocolates available next to one of London’s top cinema venues – the M&Ms building is vast – just about every kind of kitsch M&Ms memorabilia that you can imagine is spread out over four enormous floors. As you cross the doorway under a maquette of a London double-decker bus (given an M&Ms twist, of course) you are hit straight away with the cloying smell of chocolate. I think it’s probably a marmite experience, in that you either love the shop or hate it… maybe you even love to hate it, as evidenced by point number 3 on the buzzfeed link below …
I have to admit that I enjoyed looking around the shop – I definitely didn’t cave into temptation a few days later and return to buy a handful or three of peanut M&Ms….
It was definitely turning into a “foodie” day by this point in our reunion – our next stop was Camden Market to visit the place where dessert meets science – the mysterious Chin Chin Labs. Place your order at the small counter, and you can watch as ‘test-tube ice cream’ is created before your very eyes using liquid nitrogen, being frozen into a delicious triangular slab just for you. This was definitely up the boys street – I, however, have not been near a pipette or beaker for years and tend to be scared that scientific equipment will break if I touch it, so it was a slightly surreal experience. There was a choice of four flavours – Tom and I went for Pondicherry Vanilla whilst Caleb went for a slightly more adventurous “limited edition seasonal” flavour, Szechuan Peppered Pineapple (which was actually the nicest in my opinion and turned out to be dairy free). Daryl chose a dark chocolate flavour which was around 80% cocoa and tasted extremely bittersweet. You can choose one sauce or topping from the pyrex beakers displayed on the lab shelves – I was a little bit greedy and went for grilled white chocolate bits AND salted caramel sauce. Caramel pretzels looked like an intriguing topping, but will have to wait for another visit. The tasting was an unusual experience – I find it hard to describe its exact consistency but it definitely felt a lot smoother than ‘normal’ ice cream.
We walked off all our ice cream on the Camden cobbles – it was an interesting experience to navigate around over the said cobbles wearing the “disco shoes”, but I managed it, just about. Thanks for the patience, guys… the sun was setting over the Lock and the view was breathtakingly beautiful, so we stopped for a while to soak up the scenery. Camden is a very quirky open air market and residential area, which serves as a haven for all sorts of alternative fashion shops, one off street stalls, tattoo parlours, piercing studios and bars. It’s a good place to look for cds, a vintage look dress or if you’re feeling particularly daring, a steampunk-esque corset!
It was here Daryl left us, as he had to be up early the next day to drive up to Durham to visit the Lumière light festival. And so, the remaining trio retreated to The Lockside Lounge to wait for Nick, who had text us to confirm that he was finally deigning to join us.
The Lockside Lounge is a cool haunt – and definitely has a boathouse vibe with its nautical beams. As you may have guessed from previous posts, I love buildings with character and this bar was no exception. I ordered a glass of Burlesque rosé and was informed by the bartender that the label of the wine was chosen because the lounge often pays host to burlesque evenings. Camden nightlife seemed to be pretty vibrant, and I reckon that The Lockside Lounge would be a great place to spend an evening as it had an awesome atmosphere. It also endorses up and coming indie, funk, blues and jazz performers.
The peace was shattered when Nick arrived – he was enthused after a day at work and obviously hadn’t had to go through the tiresome trials of tasting various foodstuffs all day… We stayed in the bar for a little longer, being updated on his recent exploits in Lithuania and Latvia, before we found ourselves being frogmarched out of the bar and taken to Fire and Stone, a pizzeria on Maiden Lane near Covent Garden. I can’t personally vouch for the pizzas as I was still feeling pretty full from Five Guys and Chin Chin Labs so picked at a salad, but the boys seemed satisfied with their meal choices. Nick claims that it was “better than Nando’s” – high praise indeed.
I took the opportunity to take a few snaps of the guys looking relatively refined, taking on the role of slightly overenthusiastic paparazzi photographer/a grandmother. Nick helped me accessorise my Mai Tai with aplomb.
We ended the night sat in a Canadian sports bar called The Maple Leaf just a few paces away from Fire and Stone. We stepped off the street and found ourselves in a forest green canadian log cabin themed interior. Canadian flags and maple leaves were draped all over the bar and I felt as if we’d somehow managed to warp into The Hoser Hut from the popular TV series How I met your Mother. Caleb was in his element. It wasn’t long before he discovered the tempting array of Canadian beers on offer behind the bar…
I guess you can say that we all had quite a diverse day of café, bar and restaurant hopping! After returning to Victoria via Covent Garden tube station (with its surreal lifts that transport you from the street into the bowels of the underground) it was time for me to head back to Croydon, reunite with Ellie and to begin planning another day indulging in pleasures of a different nature – the theatre! Thanks go to Caleb, Daryl, Nick and Tom for an unusual culinary themed day of sightseeing in the capital.
P.S. Forget the riddle “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”. We had an incident on the tube where Caleb tried to persuade us all that lemon strepsils are as effective at cleansing the palate as chewing gum, much to the amusement of our fellow tube passengers. “Why is chewing gum like a lemon flavoured strepsil?” – the new riddle of our time.