London: Everything Fancy (and a boat)
We started off Day 4 of our London trip by heading to Knightsbridge, a very swanky part of town home to the world's most expensive apartment, for some breakfast at Caffe Concerto. I had the full English breakfast (of course) with tea (of course) with milk (of c-- well actually this was a new and welcome development I picked up across the pond). Tashia had the Croque Madame with orange juice.
The food was all very good and the decor was so fancy we felt like we needed to drink with our pinkies out.
After that we went across the street to Harrod's department store. Of course, calling this place a "department store" is an understatement, to say the least. This place was so humongous that we actually got lost at one point. Not "oh man we are in housewares and I don't know where men's clothing is" lost, I mean "I legitimately wouldn't be able to find my way out in the event of a fire" lost. The place has a million square feet of selling space. One. Million. Just to hammer the point home, that's 50% larger than the next largest department store in all of Europe.
And it's not just filled with junk and knickknacks, oh no. There's a dress code and they routinely turn customers away for not abiding by it. Oh and they sell laundry baskets for ONE THOUSAND POUNDS.
We headed to the bakery to buy some cookies and candies that were surprisingly reasonably-priced (especially compared to the trash can), then made sure to check out the world's first escalator on our way out.
Prince Albert is Not In A Can
We left Harrod's to head to our guided tour of Royal Albert Hall, a huge concert hall completed in 1871. We learned lots of little facts... and I've since forgotten most of them. Guess I need to go back! The place is gorgeous, though, and our little tour group had the place mostly to itself.
After our tour of the hall we had planned to go visit Kensington Gardens, which hold, among other things, Kensignton Palace, the official London residence of both Prince William and Kate Middleton and Prince Harry and Megan Markle (though they wouldn't be married for another 5 days at that point). Alas, we were running short on time so we just walked by it instead.
I didn't realize it when I was doing our planning, but the area around the palace is surrounded by foreign embassies. We saw the embassies of Nepal, France, and Russia, and lots, and lots of unmarked security. And, umm, I didn't take any pictures because I was pretty sure when we entered the street I saw a sign that said don't take any pictures, but I couldn't remember for sure and I didn't want to risk getting arrested by Russians so I played it safe.
As for that boat...
I generally knew where our next destination was (though I had planned on there being more road signs -- I really don't know how anyone in Europe ever finds anything), but I vastly underestimated how far away it was. So... we hustled for a good 15 minutes straight, with periodic pauses to check the GPS. The journey was fraught with me looking at my watch exclaiming things like "we're going to make it!", "I don't think we're going to make it", "this is the way", "I don't think that was the way", and so on.
Anyway, with not but 1 minute to spare, we made it to our next destination, a canal boat tour of Regent's canal.
After the sprint there, it was nice to sit down and relax a bit while we took in the sites and learned the history of the canal, London's canals in general, and the intricacies of life on a canal boat. That's right, people live right there on the canal, in narrowboats like the one we were on. I can definitely see the appeal (if you are fine with the obvious downsides): our trip took us several miles through London but instead of hot tube stations and traffic and noisy streets, we saw bicyclists and ducks while being guided through the water by the gentle tug tug tug tug of the diesel engine.
The tour ended at Camden Lock, and the obvious next place to go was... Camden Market!
This place is pretty crazy. It used to house horse stables back before the canal boats were motorized, and now it's home to dozens and dozens of market stalls selling clothes, food, art, and all sorts of random things.
We were a little hungry, so we snacked from a variety of different places. First we tried haloumi fries, which were topped with pomegranate molasses, mint, chili flakes, yogurt sauce, and pomegranate seeds. Next was a "real" Cornish Pasty filled with chicken, bacon, and chorizo. Probably not the same recipe someone's British grandma used to make, but it was darned good nonetheless. After that we wanted something sweet so we found a very interesting fellow selling raw vegan cookie dough fruit mixup things. After reminding him we needed to pay -- he was having so much fun making it and talking about things that I think he forgot he was running a business -- we sat down to enjoy a surprisingly good treat. Turns out vegan food can be good if it's not pretending to be meat.
Oh yeah! Somewhere along the way we also had a fruit smoothie and a Mexican lemonade made with brown sugar. I guess we were hungrier than I thought. Appetite satiated for the time being, we headed back to the flat to clean up for dinner.
Did I mention it was our second wedding anniversary? I wanted something special (not that I could top planning a whole friggen international trip) so after getting ourselves all dolled up we headed back to Knightsbridge...
... for our reservations at Gordon Ramsay's two-Michelin-starred Petrus. This place was fine dining to the core, but without being snooty at all. The staff was personable and friendly -- by the end of the night we had inside jokes with our servers and the Maitre D'. And of course, the food was exquisite.
For the first course, we had a selection of canapés.
The second course was the most tender and flavorful scallop I've ever had. It was accompanied by kombu and bacon, and presented on a bed of luscious egg sabayon.
Course number three was spring asparagus with a rye bread crisp.
Course four was my favorite savory course, a beef tartare with gherkins (pickles) and a crispy tendon. Tashia, who can almost-but-not-quite tolerate medium steak, liked it so much she finished before I was even half way through mine. (Granted, I might have been savoring it a bit). If you're going to do raw meat, this is the way to do it for sure.
Course five was a first for me -- sweetbreads! My stomach liked it but my brain had a hard time getting around the idea of "I'm eating a thyroid gland". I would definitely try it again, but it's not something I'll be seeking out either.
The sixth course was Tashia's favorite: roasted pigeon.
Onto the desserts! Our first dessert (or maybe it was just a palate cleanser?) was a basil sorbet. It was so good that I tried to make it again when we got home (I didn't do it justice).
Course eight was a raspberry soufflé with lavender ice cream. It was the first time I've ever had a soufflé at a restaurant, and it didn't disappoint. The only thing that would have made it better would be serving it with the sorbet from the previous course. The little melted thing was a white chocolate stamp with the restaurant's logo.
After that was the bonus course! After talking with the staff throughout the night they figured out it was our anniversary (I'm sure we were very subtle about it, of course), so they all got together and signed a card for us. Oh and it came with a scrumptious chocolate torte.
Our tenth and final course were a sampling of petits fours. I don't know how, but we found room for them in our stuffed stomachs. There were black and white sugar cookies with an almond filling, an homemade gumdrops.
All in all it was clear why Petrus is so highly rated. The food, service, and atmosphere were perfect, and we couldn't have asked for a nicer way to top of our anniversary.