Fortunately, our SFO-LHR British Airways flight didn't divert to Amsterdam at the last minute due to wicked cross currents near Heathrow, as our steward feared. So, we met our hired greentomatocars (yes, it's all lowercase and run together) driver on schedule at Terminal 5 Arrivals. Friendly, efficient service (they prefer Priuses) and finally a cabbie who didn't feel it necessary to drive through perpetually clogged Piccadilly Circus en route to our apartment suite in Bloomsbury. "Black cabs feel they need to do that for tourists," he noted.
Andrea studiously iPhone'ing restaurants in Time Out London Eating & Drinking downstairs in the breakfast room of the Morgan Hotel, 24 Bloomsbury St., our go-to accommodations in Bloomsbury, around the corner from the British Museum, skipping distance from the YMCA and West End.
Full English brekkie.
My turn with Time Out.
Our apartment suite's living room.
Andrea notes our flat has the finest of mod cons, enabling us to prepare all that we need to sustain us, like wheatmeal toast and milky English tea.
View out front window looking toward Bedford Square.
View out rear window looking toward alleyway trundled by workmen at 4 a.m.
Rob and Di Bradford pay a visit.
Strolling from Bedford Square up to our apartment at the Morgan.
The dramatic Gower Street entrance to RADA, just up the road from the Morgan.
Semi-emergency dental work done opposite the British Museum to re-cement my wayward gold crown, which popped out after biting English granola. "You don't have much tooth for the crown, it might pop off again in two days," said my Greek dentist, who studied at NYU. (It took seven months, actually.)
Overwhelming to stand in Charles Dickens's study, 84 Doughty St., Bloomsbury, where he lived from 1837 to 1839 and wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. It's now the Charles Dickens Museum, preserved floor to ceiling as it was in the author's day.
Walking in the footsteps (12 Woburn Walk, Bloomsbury) of the great Richard E. Grant (as Gordon Comstock) and Helena Bonham-Carter (as Rosemary Waterlow) from the film adaptation of George Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1997) about a frustrated advertising copywriter-poet and the graphic designer who loves him thru thick and thin (and Lambeth).
"Sharply the menacing wind sweeps over the bending poplars, newly bare..."
If you kept to best independent coffee bars nearest London Tube stations, you'd drink like a prince every day in the Capital.
My small sampling of Northern Line picks followed a straight black shot from Nude Espresso (Tottenham Court Road) to Lantana (Goodge Street) to TAP (Warren Street). All good, all full of care, all rather pricey. Plus some good attitude: "Don't dare add sugar AFTER it's made, "advised a patron next to me at Nude, where I'd ordered a flat white. "Owner won't allow it—must be added DURING brewing."
London Marylebone, seen in Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night (1964) with The Beatles running for their lives and a year earlier in John Schlesinger's Billy Liar with Julie Christie and Tom Courtenay, also running down the platform. Alas, Billy never caught that train with Liz (JC) to London.
Central Line train to Tottenham Court Road.
Crossing Waterloo Bridge in a black cab to Southbank and National Theatre, London Eye in distance.
A grand gathering of friends at the Covent Garden branch of Masala Zone: Jim and Laura Nugent, Barry and Julia Gillam, Rob and Di Bradford. This kindly lot treated us to lunch.
Keen conversation, judging by everyone's body language.
For a culinary encore, Andrea and I dined at the Soho branch of Masala Zone the next night. The Chicken Madras Railway Curry—"as served on the Southern Indian railway"—turned out to be best thing I ate all trip. "I had some this morning," said our waitress, "because I needed a wake-up! It has like 25 spices in it."
Ever in search of the Lost Curry, I ventured via Tube to London's East End for fiery Pakistani lunch fare at Tayyabs (touted for years in Time Out), 83-89 Fieldgate St., neighbor to a local mosque and synagogue, side by side.
Seated near the kitchen, I ordered chicken tikka, tarka dahl (uber spicy, yet patron next to me asked waiter for a pile of extra chiles to sprinkle on his), juicy seek kebabs and naan—all sizzling great but not the equal of nearby Lahore Kebab House, my gold standard for East London kebaeries and the only Pakistani I've ever sampled that rivals and might top Shalimar in San Francisco.
Tayyabs clientele an uproarious mix of business suits, women in burkas, locals. Later, for the record, outside on Whitechapel Road, I saw a couple holding a Jack the Ripper Tour map, fitting, as the fiend did his infamous business in the area.
Michelin-starred Amaya in Halkin Arcade, Belgravia, London is simply my fave Indian restaurant anywhere, tipped to us by Andrea's dad years ago after he read about it and sent me a clipping. This night, we toasted Paul Ullman and my dad, Joaquin Ogarrio, who tried in vain to get our family to try Indian when I was a teenager.
Customer relationship management: Amaya reservations recognized my mobile number when I made our booking "because you ate with us last in September 2009... Now, is your email address still firstname.lastname@example.org?"
And the food? Well, the tastes (rose-scented chicken tikka, anyone?) match the magical presentation in the images below. Funny, a nervous server spilled a dish of potatoes on our table and the manager immediately mentioned (cheekily) that the poor lad would be sacked that evening.
The Carnabetian Army marches on at Sherry's, recently relocated from its original hole-in-the-wall on Ganton Street to 63 Broadwick St., both addresses just off Carnaby Street. For what it's worth, the first time I ever heard the name Broadwick was in the film Quadrophenia, when office boy Jimmy was asked to make a delivery there.
By request, we acquired a replacement Small Faces t-shirt for friend and ace San Francisco Bay Area traffic reporter Kim Wonderley. "No one else sells this design!" advised owner.
What are the odds our first visit to a Mary Quant boutique (King's Road, Chelsea, naturally) would coincide with the birthday of the fashion icon who dressed Swinging London in the 1960s? Andrea came away with a wee Quant purse.
Andrea says this Harrod's window display features millinery by Philip Treacy. I prefer "hattage".
You're never alone with The Rapiers—champions of British rock 'n' roll and "the best '60s band since the '60s"—at the sold out Lonsdale Sports and Social Club, aka Preston Rock 'n' Roll Club, Preston, Lancashire, near Blackpool. Our first gig in five years!
From left: Grey Meanies Colin Pryce-Jones, Neil Ainsby, Nathan J. Hulse and John Tuck.
Yep, another absolutely fabulous Rapiers gig.
With Nathan before the show.
Neil shoots for the stars.
Teen Scene, Move It Baby, Saturday Nite at the Duckpond, Doctor Feelgood, Brand New Cadillac, FBI,Go Back to Daddy.
Left: Lager. Right: Our heat-challenged room at the Whitburn House Hotel, Preston. On our arrival, landlord was out and advised via phone to use the key under the mat to let ourselves in.
The next morning found us on the road from Preston to Liverpool by coach via Wigan, where I disembarked for a quick minute to use the loo, escorted by a station agent, who wanted to make sure I didn't get left behind.
Going down to Mathew Street, Liverpool to remember old friends. And hear The Shakers, hard-working house band at the Cavern Club, who pulled out all the Merseybeat stops and chops for us.
Daytripping with John and George.
The sights and sounds of Mathew Street, Liverpool.
Yes, it's true: The Flamin' Groovies played the Cavern.
It's gonna be alright, let's go in!
The Shakers channel The Searchers on Love Potion No. 9 and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas on I'll Keep You Satisfied. They also did fabulous takes of I'll Never Get Over You and I'm a Hog for You Baby.
Backstage with The Shakers, flanking our drummer pal Tony O'Keeffe.
The vaunted Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens, 2500+ years old. Saved by the British from desecration, war, neglect, pollution. Or stolen. You decide.
In the matter, the British Museum posts this short justification:
The Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum were brought to England by Lord Elgin and bought for the museum in 1816. Elgin’s removal of the sculptures from the ruins of the building has always been a matter for discussion, but one thing is certain—his actions spared them further damage by vandalism, weathering and pollution. It is also thanks to Elgin that generations of visitors have been able to see the sculptures at eye level rather than high up on the building.
The Rosetta Stone looked much larger than the first time I laid eyes on it.
Hakkasan is my No. 1 dim sum experience. Period. From food (exquisite, delicate dumplings and puffs), bespoke tea (Jasmine, Oolong), service (black-clad Italians) and atmosphere (English Oak latticing, purples and blacks evoking "traditional Chinoiserie decadence") to mystical surroundings (subterranean). Literary bonus: Hanway doubles as the magical street portal to author Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere fantasy.
Management frowns on fotos but when you boast a Michelin Star you can be haughty all you please, I suppose.
Behold the fire inside the tandoor at Alounak, "finest Persian cuisine" at 44 Westbourne Grove, Bayswater.
Their taftoon bread is simply ethereal, almost crepe-like. Trick is to order one at a time, as the bread goes cold quickly if not eaten immediately. That may mean asking the waitress to locate and rouse the baker a few times a meal.
Trekking upstairs to the loo is a colourful experience.