October 08, 2012

A Culinary Journey Around Europe's Greatest Cities: London 2012: Day1

This year's true food discovery trip has started in one of the most authentic capitals of the world, London. Attending the Food Bloggers Convention from the 28th until the 30th of September, I decided to make my visit to London a complete culinary experience.

We reached the capital at 11:10am but checked-in at the hotel at 2pm as we experienced the worst traffic jam London has witnessed in a while. The traffic lights were not working that day putting the capital on halt and a cab ride costing us £80! That's why we decided to just put our things at the hotel, the minute we arrived, and walk around the neighborhood.

The Sofitel St. James Hotel, was our choice this time. It is one of the most renowned hotels around the city offering luxury service at a reasonable price. The stunning Sofitel London St James is located in the former home of Cox’s and King’s bank in the very heart of London. This sympathetically renovated building is English heritage grade II listed and now houses one of London's most unique five-star hotels - combining traditional British design with a contemporary style that is unmistakably French. It was very easy. Pass through the hotel's door and here you are in the heart of the city. The Sofitel London St James has one of the finest addresses in London, right on the corner of Pall Mall and Waterloo Place. The hotel lies in the heart of St. James’s, a prestigious and lively district of London, within walking distance of St. James’s Park, Buckingham Palace and the renowned gentlemen's clubs. The hotel is also less than a five minute stroll from Trafalgar Square, city center theaters and the fabulous shopping on Regent, Piccadilly, Oxford and Bond streets. The hotel has the ideal location from which to discover and enjoy central London.

After a long trip both on the plane and in the cab, the hunger feeling was so strong that we had to gulp in anything we see first. Retrying the Picadilly's McDonald's, after my last trip in 2009 was not a bad choice. The McDonald's in this country is different than the one we have back in Lebanon. The food is fresher, warmer and tastier. We enjoyed their world renowned Big Mac and the local Bacon Big Tasty before moving on to the surrounding streets discovering this years's main event "The Jubile" and its related decorations and shops.

Regent street is the high-end shopping address for fashion aficionados. Discover the trends, the international fashion designers and walk along the beautiful window displays combining all the colours of the world. The street is one of the locations on the standard UK version of the Monopoly board game. It was lovely afternoon jumping from a shop to the other while taking pictures of this beautiful avenue. The main shops I stopped by and urge you to visit are the huge Apple store where the new iPhone 5 is displayed, the very big Levi's jeans store, the amazing Burberry world and the 5-storey extravagant unique Hamleys experience.

The best thing I got from this street is tasting the Godiva Chocolate covered strawberries.

A dream: "Juicy strawberries, picked at the peak of ripeness, coated with a generous layer of our chocolate".

Forget yourself and jump into Hamleys' fairytale. Hamleys is Britain's most famous and greatest loved toy store, based on Regent Street. A brilliant place for adults and children alike, Hamleys is bursting to the brim with games, plush toys, dolls and old favorites that guarantee to take you back to your own childhood. Explore the expanse of Hamleys Regent Street and try out the gadgets - half the fun is in finding your way through all the toys. Be it old school, traditional marbles or the latest in lego, Hamleys has a toy for everyone. Its a place that embraces children's right to have fun. Welcoming a series of childrens' favorite characters, Hamleys entertains the kids with fun activities and meet and greets. Paddington Bear and Father Christmas amongst many others have graced Hamleys on Regent Street, bringing with them fun and excitement for all the family. An unforgettable experience indeed. I was amazed!

On the way we passed by two food shops the city is used to: Marks and Spenser Food and Tesco Metro. At those two addresses you can find a complete range of freshly prepared cold and hot sandwiches, muffins, donuts, chips, salads, exotic fruits cut in cubes and much much more. If you want to enjoy a quick lunch on the go or even have friends for dinner, they have it all. So we passed by to buy couple of water bottles, the Starbucks cold coffees sold for take away. I prefer M&S as the choice is bigger and the preparations are classier although more expensive. They have cookies and dark chocolate to die for as well as Pain-Demi sandwiches with smoked ham or salmon or even duck that are exquisite. Coke light, normal or cherry, Dr.Pepper or any other need are couple of meters away... endless.

Wow. What a long day and the trip is only at its start.

This afternoon, on the quest for more food, we landed at the Covent Garden Real Food market. The roll call of traders reads like a who’s who from a top chef’s suppliers list. Bring a big shopping bag because you’ll need it, with the likes of (deep breath) loose leaf tea specialist Ceylon, cupcake aficionados Crumbs and Doilies and fat olives from the Fresh Olive Company on offer. Meanwhile, meat lovers should make a beeline for the bratwursts from the German Deli, the delicately spiced salami of Healthy Parmesan and the rare-breed beef from Woodwards Farm. Elsewhere, you’ll find pastries and sausages from the Polish Deli, specialty artisan breads from the nationally renowned Flour Station bakery and fine coffee from the Ethiopian Coffee Company. Those with a sweeter tooth are also well catered for. Laveli Bakery is the last word in just-baked French bread and pastries and L’Orchidee Specials will fulfill all your macaroon and cheesecake needs. And, if you’re looking for something special to end your dinner party, then there’s The Dessert Deli (great on sorbets) or Toffee Nose or the hand-made chocolate of Taste Buds Chocolate will send your guests home on a wave of gastronomic bliss. Super-fresh produce in the historic heart of London. To paraphrase those Masterchef fellas – eating doesn’t get any better than this.

At night:

Walking along SOHO, Coventry street, Haymarket and Leicester Square was an additional chance to see more of the capital but this time by night passing in front of the oldest restaurant in the city (Rules 1798) then we entered the M&M's huge shop (It is the world's largest candy store, at 3,250 sq metres. The retail space was built as part of Westminster City Council's regeneration of the local area. Its aim was to make Leicester Square a "world class destination", based on the similar remodeling of Times Square New York) and the Cool Britania shop for souvenirs and cool trinkets.

A lovely day, meeting lovely people. The Journey continues in Day 2

Categories: Travel



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