By DAPHNE DUNPHY
While once, I wasn’t a staunch fan of this city, I’ve lived here so long and done so much here that I really have grown to love the place, and I must, by now, have gained honorary-Londoner status. So when my old university friends and I decided that a reunion was in order, we decided that a staycation here in the big smoke would be as good as one in any city abroad, and with my flat barely big enough for me, let alone seven fully-grown women and all their garb, I duly looked online for some suitable (luxury!) city based apartments in London. I’ve also been to Liverpool apartments which were no where near as nice and central as they were for this city.
The girls were coming on Friday night, so I opted to bring them to Charing Cross’ hotly-tipped Gordon’s Wine Bar (London’s oldest wine bar). Happily plonked just outside the Charing Cross tube station entrance, Gordon’s proved to be a winner with everyone. It’s quirky, friendly, serves an ample range of British delicacies and cheeses, and offers (as you’d imagine) an incredibly extensive wine list.
In anticipation of our catch-up, I booked the group a ‘cage’ downstairs – something which the Gordon’s site highly recommends. When we descended into the belly of this magnificent wine bar, we found it to be dimly lit by candlelight and full of atmosphere, with ancient, discoloured newspapers decorating the walls and couples petting in the privacy of the bar’s shadowy corners.
Next, the size of the wine list was bewildering – I asked our friendly barkeep to recommend something to begin with – he more than knew his stuff, and bid us to try his Echeverria Merlot Reserva which was, as we knew it would be, divine. After a long night slowly sipping good wine and interspersing it with nibbles on bread and cheese, we embarked upon our short and rather unsteady stroll from Charing Cross to our wonderful Covent Garden apartment.
Knowing that we might well be a little worse for wear after whiling away an evening in a wine bar, I offered up a few different options for the Saturday. The first involved lunch followed by a visit to the V&A and the Natural History Museum (South Kensington tube, on the Piccadilly, Circle and District lines). The second was brunch on Portobello Road (Notting Hill Gate tube, on the Central line), followed by the Saturday market there. Considering that we class ourselves more as ladies who lunch than as history enthusiasts (I did try to be grown up!), we went with the latter.
I’d heard great things about the Electric Brasserie on Portobello road, and had provisionally booked us a table earlier in the week. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting after having seen the website – it was very busy, with tables spilling onto the pavement outside, and staff scurrying around with plates of food and trays of glasses. We were apprehensive as we entered this cramped-looking, corridor-like establishment. Had I made a mistake? Perhaps.
We waited patiently by the hostess stand to be seated, after which our hostess promptly took us down to the back of the restaurant where, thankfully, it opened up into a bigger, wider, and much less busy part of the restaurant – we were saved! We settled in and ordered our drinks (which took longer than you’d expect to arrive), and marvelled at the menu before us.
While the staff seemed a little disorganised and impersonal (often a characteristic of London restaurant staff, I’ve found), the food, thankfully, was beautiful. There’s a great range on offer on the Electric Brasserie brunch menu – and clearly, brunch was something this place did very well indeed.
The menu boasts a wide range of vegetarian breakfast fare, including veggie sausages, blue cheese scrambled eggs on toast, and giant Portobello mushrooms. The sumptuous lunch and dinner options include a sublime French onion soup, butternut squash lasagne, spinach and ricotta cannelloni and a number of vegetarian sandwiches made with homemade black olive focaccia bread. There’s plenty more (including non-veggie dishes) that I can’t even recall, but I do remember I had a particularly spicy bean burger with homemade tomato salsa, which was absolutely perfect – just what my belly was calling out for!
A couple of hours of more chatting, reminiscing and coffee-drinking, we moved on outside to revel in the delights and sparky atmosphere of Portobello Road market, a veritable shopper’s paradise. Stallholders here love nothing more than to talk to you about their quirky vintage and antique wares, and we loved the good spirited haggling some of them engaged us in (beware of the pushy ones, though – they are around). You could literally spend the whole day wandering around this place, in and out of the tiny, crammed Aladdin’s-cave-style shops and market stalls – if you had the stamina, that is. But however long you decide to stay for, it’s the perfect next-day refuge for a group of hungover vintage-loving thirty-somethings on a bright, summery Saturday afternoon.
As a graduate of English and History, Daphne Dunphy combines her creative streak and passion for the English language with her love for all things travel.