(it is hard to see but this is loads of bugs and butterflies in the window)
There’s a saying here (at least I hadn’t heard it till I moved here): A change is as good as a rest. Indeed.
Returned late yesterday from three-day trip up to London (appointment and belated ‘significant’ birthday celebrations). A truly lovely time – bar the fact that it was freezing all three days (after being beautiful and spring-like till the day before we left). Really unpleasant waiting 15 minutes in the cold and wind before being let into building for appointment.
This is long, so bear with me.
Beyond wanting a bit of luxury and no cooking (all of which was organised), the Wednesday before we left, I was sitting thinking that I wanted to get something I knew would be associated with this birthday (particularly since it occurred in the middle of two storms – which somehow seemed of significance) and this trip. I pondered and pondered (I really don’t ‘need’ stuff) until an ‘a ha’ moment: after much faffing I was able to buy an ounce of Guerlain Shalimar parfum and have it delivered to the hotel. More on that later.
Post the appointment Thursday mid-afternoon we made our way to the hotel and once in the room proceeded to spend a couple of hours warming up and marvelling before braving the cold again on the way to celebratory dinner.
Hotel. If you ever stay in London, want some place very central, want to splash out a bit but not go completely mad, and appreciate a bit of quirky this might be a place for you – even if you only stay for a couple of days and go some place cheaper afterwards. Treehouse. I know that sounds naff but it’s not. It inhabits the top eight floors of a former office block tucked into the northern end of Oxford Street across from the BBC building. All of the rooms have stupendous views and weird things like tree trunks in the bathroom. I picked our room because it also had a room with padded window seat where I spent rest periods and late evening reading and looking out at the London skyline.
Food. I think London food can be hit or miss but we mostly hit home runs.
On evening 1, after we’d warmed up, off we went to Liberty and Selfridges on the way to the restaurant. We did with Liberty what we did with Harrods on January one-day flying trip: started at the top and worked our way down. Fabrics, furniture, incredible housewares (I got to smell the atelier de Balthus candle [artist studio] I’ve been watching – it is different vs my atelier de Cezanne but will be a fine replacement once the Cezanne is finished), clothing, and then perfume and makeup. Didn’t end up buying anything but I highly recommend doing a full sweep if you have an hour to kill. Then Selfridges, where we wandered a bit and ended up in the food hall. Came away with Pierre Hermé macarons. Very nice but I’m not sure they are as nice as Laduree and the presentation isn’t as good.
Then off to tea. Nopi. We have been here before (it’s an Ottolenghi [https://ottolenghi.co.uk/]small plates place – check out the website). Upmarket but not pretentious and the food is pretty wonderful. The whole vibe is great for a celebration. Great staff and just a really nice place to linger. If you want to treat yourself to one outstanding meal in London you could do a lot worse than this.
Friday. Another great thing about the hotel (beyond the window seat) is the bathrooms: wet room with large rain showerhead – lots of hot water. We started the day with breakfast at the Wolseley. This is a media/politicians hangout (there’s a great scene set there in the third book of Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy). No photography inside and if you’re a pleb, reservations are a must (we stood behind a very angry flash couple trying to get a table without a booking – thought the guy would explode). Afraid no inside pics (see above) but really pleasant experience (we didn’t see anyone we recognised but the people watching is fantastic – some with that really weird dress sense singular to well off professional English people) but probably the best porridge (with passion fruit coulis) I’ve ever had. I would return simply to eat that again.
(really poor pic of the entrance of the Wolseley)
Then we went (still effing freezing out – like snow flurries – but it was April Fools Day…) to Borough Market in south London.
This place. If I lived nearby, this is where I would do my food shopping – forget about stepping into a supermarket for meat, fish, fruit, bread and veg. Plus, there are food stalls offering all kinds of lovely things to eat. After a good wander, we came away with bagels (can’t get good ones here in the back of beyond), cannoli (oh my goodness, I adore cannoli) and a huge German pretzel. My son got a ‘snack’ of chicken shawarma in a pita. According to him, among the best he’s ever had. Then, it was back to the hotel to warm up again before going to lunch.
And when we returned, my Guerlain parcel had arrived (again, more on that below) and they’d put it in the room — ah, service.
A late lunch at a really good Mexican place (in fact, the best Mexican I’ve had in England, a country not known for its ‘authentic’ Mexican). Not a burrito in sight: had a great spicy chicken soup (Caldo Xochitl) and chicken with soft corn tortillas. Then back to hotel in the freezing wind and flurries again. The evening was a bit of a non-starter. I hadn’t booked anywhere because … well, I couldn’t settle on anywhere. We tried to get into a few places but no dice. So, back to the hotel and we ate the giant pretzel. Given we’d been very full from the very late lunch, that actually worked quite well, and central London on a Friday night was a bit much for us yokels.
Saturday. Breakfast at a forgettable Australian small chain place (there seem to be a number of these in London and they are all healthy and forgettable). Then we made our way to Notting Hill in West London so my son could look at at fancy houses painted in beautiful colours. We made our way towards Portobello Road via a stop at Melt Chocolate (fancy chocs – I have decided I prefer William Curley) and cinnamon, walnut and cardamon buns from Fabrique, a really good Swedish bakery, and lunch at the Electric Diner, which was good but is really a shadow of ubiquitous American diners. Finally, a stop at the Ottolenghi takeaway place so my son could get food for dinner (at this point I thought I wouldn’t want to eat again till Sunday morning and I was right) and back to Paddington for train home. A small digression here about UK train stations: when I first visited London decades ago, I commented to my then-husband about the majesty and beauty of train stations. He commented that they were the cathedrals of the industrial revolution, a description so apt I think it every time I take a train here.
A small observation. London has a dryer climate than where I live which I discovered had an effect even for the short number of days we visited. I needed to slather on the cream and oil.
And then there was Guerlain. Which turned into a bit of a saga. Once I had set my heart on the Shalimar parfum, I discovered that the website is crap and that no one at the Guerlain concession at Harrods could bother to answer the phone. In a last ditch attempt to scratch the itch I called the Guerlain pop-up (established late in 2021) in Covent Garden. Long long story short I was able to purchase my Shalimar and the SA agreed to drop it at the hotel (I don’t know why she didn’t just use a courier). But I got my perfume. Presentation is top notch. I will blog about the fragrance in detail after I’ve had a chance to experience it several more times. Straight off though it is not like my 10-year-old EdT which introduced me to Shalimar. That is the best, most glorious lemon floor wax in the world. This, on one sampling, is spicy (nutmeg or allspice – something a bit woody and weird) otherworldly vanilla with a really unsettling grungy undercurrent that pops up and then disappears and then reappears, leaving you wondering ‘did I really smell that?’ It has that rough liquid feel of silk velvet. Sublime.
If this is what the perfume is like now, after reformulation and silly tinkering, what was it like at release?
So, all in, a wonderful visit. If you travel to London, I would highly recommend breakfast at the Wolseley, a visit to Borough market (with lunch), a wander through Liberty and dinner at Nopi. A seriously perfect day.