For years I've been wanting to share a fine dining meal with my favourite cousin. He's spent his life in restaurants and besides which, we're kindred spirits and don't get to spend much time together. I wanted to take him out last year for his 50th but couldn't make it happen, so this year I thought maybe we could do it for my 40th. Originally I was going to use my air miles to fly to NYC for a weekend, but after talking to him, we hatched the much better plan to use them to fly him to me in London. So last month I had the pleasure to show him around the city I love, a place he's never had the inclination to visit. My plan was simple: to eat really well, to show him a little of the London I adore, and to drink and talk about life. Tags: family
He landed Thursday evening and I took him to a pub nearby to try the award-winning Weird Beard ales, brewed less than a mile from my flat. Then off to bed to recover from the journey and be rested for our big lunch the next day.
Friday was the centrepiece for the visit. I'd booked the Ledbury for the two of us. Two Michelin stars, on the World's Best list, and constantly tops all the reader and journalist polls for London. More importantly, it's refined cooking but ultimately with respect for the ingredients. To start the journey into town we stopped for a coffee at my favourite local cafe where they source and roast their own beans. Then on to wander the streets of Notting Hill for our 1pm reservation. We enjoyed a Pimms cup whilst deciding on what to eat, both of us drawn to the same dishes. We negotiated what each of us would order and settled on a bottle of pinot gris from Alsace to accompany the meal. The amuse bouche arrived, and he was blown away: "How did they do that?!" As we enjoyed each course, we both thought the meal had peaked. But no, each plate managed to build on the previous. Everything up to mains was fancy, tricksy, and impressive. Then what I consider a very clever slight have hand by the restaurant, the mains were simply perfectly prepared protein and two veg (pork cheek for him, turbot for me); show me what you got, then feed me. We saw another table get a dessert we didn't see on the menu and it looked incredible. I tried to switch my order but the server wouldn't let me saying, "You ordered the burnt sugar tart and I think you should taste that because it's the best." So they brought the other dessert on the side for us both to share! Three and a half hours after starting we walked out, satisfied and totally blown away.
After lunch -- if you can call it that -- we walked off some of the meal by trekking from Notting Hill to Baker Street (of Sherlock Holmes fame) to catch the 453 Routemaster bus which goes through central London to catch the signs of Piccadilly Circus and down past 10 Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament. We hopped off for the requisite photo by Big Ben then walked off more of the lunch into Soho to meet a close friend and my girlfriend at the London Gin Club at the Star at Night - a must stop for any of my boozy guests. We had the best seat in the house, chatted to the owner and had one too many G&Ts, as always. Several hours and drinks after our lunch, the four of us fell into Meat Liquor for a very late burger. It hit the spot, the food and atmosphere getting much praise from my American cousin.
Saturday I took him to another food hotspot for those in the know, the Bermondsey rope walk. We stopped for a sherry at Jose and both enjoying it so much ended up staying for tapas and a few more, appreciating the fine produce and talking about our experiences with divorce. We enjoyed a little wander around the stalls afterwards, stopping for another drink on the street and a chat to some of the vendors. We continued our discussions as we walked along the Thames and crossed Tower Bridge on foot for another photo. On the other side we walked around St Paul's to appreciate it's scale then hopped in a Black Cab to Gordon's Wine Bar, another regular on my personal tour. I'm not sure, but I think he enjoyed that almost as much as the lunch. "You know, we might have a place that looks like this in NYC, but this is the real deal. I can imagine being here 100 years ago. Perfecto!" More chatting on the ups and downs of life over some decent red then home via the excellent fish & chip shop next to my flat, where he observed the method to see where the cooks at his restaurant go wrong. He was appreciative of trying proper fish & chips, but still concluded that even done right, he's just not into fried food. He was more appreciative of the Nytimber I opened, seeing how well it went with the meal and tasting English sparkling wine for the first time.
Sunday we relaxed. Lunch was at the local pizzaria, Santa Maria. Always mentioned in the Best Of lists for pizza in London, the owners are true Neapolitans. My cousin knows a lot about pizza and was quizzing the guys on the wood they use. He approved of the oven, the wood, and the pizza (which was a relief!) He likes to check out the local grocery stores when travelling, so we stopped in for something for dinner and made another stop at the Polish shop next to me to see the sausages before heading back to mine to watch the Wimbledon final. When the tennis was over, he started dinner while I made us Sazeracs. Once the meat was in the oven, we met my gf at my local pub (another must-do) for a quick pint. She came home to eat with us. He finished preparing the squash, cavalo nero and veal shoulder. Noting that he wanted a Nebbiolo with his pizza, I opened a 2006 Barolo from my cellar to enjoy with the dinner he'd prepared. To end the meal, my gf (who loves to bake) brought one of the most British of desserts, steamed sponge pudding. "I didn't know you could steam a sponge."
We stopped at my local caffe for a fryup before heading to the airport to see him off Monday afternoon. I could not have asked for a better weekend with him. We've never had a whole weekend just the two of us. He enjoyed the places I took him and as a result, he enjoyed London much more than he expected. I enjoyed his perspective on life. We both enjoyed our joint birthday lunch. It was a special weekend for me, a realisation of a long held dream, and I hope something he will also remember forever.