The Jack Horner Pub, Fitzrovia, London

I’ll admit it up front, I’m a sucker for Fuller’s beers. This is especially fortunate because London has a lot of Fuller’s pubs. They have become quite a large brewer but they have not lost the knack for making very tasty brews. However, a visit to a pub is certainly more than just an excuse to drink beer and a good pub has to have a bit more going for it than a line of beer engines on the bar. I like a pub that makes me want to have a seat and relax. The Jack Horner in Tottenham Court Road is one such place. When we were in London over Christmas, we stayed in a flat in Fitzrovia and the Jack Horner was right on our most common walking route.

A feast for a weary traveler

Staying in a flat was great but it was not without a downside. Whenever we have stayed in hotels in London (or elsewhere in the U.K.) they have almost always included a full English breakfast. Renting a flat meant we were on our own. So when we spotted an item on the menu posted outside one of the doors as we walked past the Jack Horner one morning touting a full English breakfast starting at 8:00 am (9:00 am on Mondays), we decided we needed to investigate further. The barmaid handed us a menu with a number of tasty options but there was really only one choice for me—the Full English.

Cozy

I have to say that one item on the bill of fare gave me a moment’s pause. I had never eaten black pudding and it’s not something that struck me as particularly appetizing. But I have spent a lot of time in the U.K. and I love pub food, so I reasoned that this represented a gap in my education that needed filling. For those unfamiliar with the finer points of English culinary practice, black pudding is an English form of blood sausage, typically made from oatmeal, pig’s blood, fat, spices, and sometimes barley or oat groats. In a breakfast context, it’s usually sliced and fried. I’ll try (almost) anything once.

If you’ve never eaten a full English breakfast, you should try it at least once in your life. In this case, it consisted of eggs, bacon, toast, baked beans, half a grilled tomato, a large grilled portobello mushroom, sausage, and black pudding. Not surprisingly, this will probably fuel you through a whole day, even if you walk all day long. It was all very nicely prepared and I must admit, the black pudding was good. I don’t think I would go out of my way to find it but I’ll eat it if it turns up with my breakfast rations again. A pot of tea to wash it all down and we were set for a full day’s exploration.

A proper pub

We liked the Jack Horner and decided to have dinner there later in the week, an easy choice as it was only a few minutes’ walk from our flat. It is certainly a comfortable and inviting establishment. A long and attractive mahogany bar greets you as you enter. I counted a total of twelve beer engines, although some selections (notably London Pride and ESB) were offered on multiple pumps. Still, there was a good variety of Fuller’s ales on offer, and that is never a bad thing. Lots of mahogany wainscoting and comfortable seating made for a warm feeling and there were snug little spaces throughout the interior. We settled down to a table, got comfortable, and started perusing the menu.

Where to start?

The Jack Horner is one of Fuller’s Ale & Pie Houses, so there was an emphasis on pies in the menu. I ordered the Ale & Pie Tasting Board while Mary settled on chicken and chorizo pie (sadly no longer offered) and a cider. I really like pub food and to me, pies are the most eloquent expression of the genre. They are typically served with mash (mashed potato in American), and a small pitcher of gravy. Many people would think that this is a bit too much starch, but it works. I actually got two varieties of gravy with my sampler and both were delicious. I was a bit leery of the vegetarian pie but it was excellent. The steak and ale pie was quite tasty, as I have come to expect in Fuller’s pubs. The chicken and chorizo was probably my least favorite of the three in the sampler, but still quite enjoyable. The three ales were ESB, London Pride, and Seafarer’s (in a Frontier lager glass for some reason) and all three were delicious, though I have to say the London Pride would be my choice with a meal.

Come on in

I intend to include write-ups on other pubs we have visited, but the Jack Horner was a good choice to start with. It’s a good, friendly pub in a great location. The Fuller’s ales are well kept and the food is delicious and filling. I admit to a bias here. I love well-prepared meal and I’ve enjoyed some memorable dining experiences in restaurants from Portland to Paris. But sometimes you just want comfort food and few things fill that bill for me better than a good steak or chicken pie and a glass of well-brewed ale. Cheers!

London for the Holidays

It’s no secret that I’m absolutely crazy about Christmas lights. Actually, I love Christmas in general but light displays are a particular favorite of mine. We normally don’t travel at that time of year, since both Bill and I prefer to tour during the off seasons to avoid crowds and the inevitable price hikes. We enjoy spending the holidays at home surrounded by decorations, trees, and of course lights!  This last Christmas was a departure for us. We decided to spend the holiday in London—land of roast goose, plum pudding, and Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” It is also known for pulling out all the stops where Christmas light displays are concerned and we had to see it for ourselves.

Best London Lights Photo Ever (Blog)
Regent Street at night

This city is not exactly an economical place to stay, particularly in the high season. But with a little advance preparation and homework, we were able to enjoy the delights of the metropolis without breaking the bank. First, we made our plane and lodging reservations months ahead of time. We secured a great one-bedroom flat in the Fitzrovia neighborhood on Airbnb.com. We were familiar with the area, and the Goodge Street tube station and bus stops were a short walk from the flat. With a pair of comfortable shoes, a scarf, and a jacket there were many areas we could just walk to and not have to rely on public transport at all. London is best seen on foot so you don’t miss anything. There’s something about strolling through the city and really getting a chance to stop and look up. We both love to spot architectural details and this is problematic when riding the Tube. Buses are better but the scenery whizzes by. Walking is also a great way to discover an interesting pub and duck in for a pint.

London 15 (blog)
Covent Garden was only about 20 minutes’ walk

It was nice to have a full-sized one-bedroom flat—well, full-sized for London anyway. On our last trip we waited too long to make room reservations and ended up in a private hotel on Gower Street. The room consisted of a small bathroom and no real closets, just some pegs to hang your coat or purse. There was a bed with two small end tables and a TV mounted to the wall. You had to sidestep and hug the wall to get in the bed. That room ran us approximately $160 a night. It did include an outstanding full English breakfast though.

The Fitzrovia flat on the other hand, was great for us. It had a full kitchen, complete with large refrigerator/freezer, range, and washing machine. The living room came complete with sofa, TV (with about a million satellite channels), and a table with two chairs for dining. The bedroom held a comfortable queen-sized bed and plenty of closet space. No sidestepping here! The neighborhood was perfect for us and close to lots of pubs, grocery stores, shops, and our favorite fish and chips place. The bathroom, with its nice shower/tub, completed the very comfortable arrangements. The whole thing cost less than $70 a night when all was said and done, which is ridiculously cheap in London. Be aware though, that recent changes to the law will have an effect on Airbnb.com, and it’s not clear yet what that effect will be.

We’ve been to London many times so we’ve seen most of the “big ticket” attractions. We wanted to indulge in a few of the lesser known gems. One of these was Charles Dickens’ home and museum (48 Doughty Street, WC1) where it was all decked out for a Victorian Christmas. You can pay extra for an audio tour, but we opted for the small booklet that described each room and its significance. It was a delightful experience. We are both fans of Dickens’ works and it was wonderful to see the desk where he wrote and the dining table set with custom china plates adorned with characters from The Pickwick Papers. If you are a literary fan visiting London it’s worth a visit.

Winter Wonderland (Blog)
Haven’t I seen this movie?

One annual attraction during the holiday season is the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. It was actually a bit disappointing, although that’s mostly owing to the fact that we live in Germany and in the words of that famous Carly Simon song, “nobody does it better.” It was mostly an amusement park with many rides that looked like they were from Oktoberfest. In fact, we found out that several of the rides were from Oktoberfest. They had a Bavarian village selling bratwursts, and dry pretzels at London prices. If you read my last post about the Christmas season in Germany, you’ll know that we’ve gotten a little spoiled by the Christmas markets of Germany (and France). But we soon ventured out into Hyde Park, clutching some pretzels that we intended to feed to the birds. Bill spent some quality time feeding some very greedy swans, several of which ate right out of his hands. We had more fun spending time with the swans than at the faux German Christmas park.

Bill and the Swans 4 (Blog)
Sorry guys, I’m all out…

One thing that most definitely did not disappoint was the city of London all dressed up in Christmas finery. As seems to be usual for us, the weather was lovely for nearly our entire stay, so we did a lot of wandering. We spent several evenings strolling down the streets where the light displays were the most spectacular. Our vote for the most magnificent presentation was Regent Street. Glorious angels spanned the width of the thoroughfare with wings that shimmered and twinkled. It was splendid and a sight that I will always cherish.

A window at Fortnum's
A window at Fortnum’s

The retailers all seemed to be in competition with their lights and window displays as well as their interior decorations that were occasionally breathtaking. Everyone hails “Harrod’s” as THE store to go to. I say it should be “Fortnum and Mason.” F & M is the epitome of everything that is wonderful in a store. High quality goods, lush decorations, and personnel all dressed in black and looking like they just stepped out of the pages of Vogue Magazine. I always feel slightly underdressed when I cross the threshold. Of course, high quality means high prices but we always leave with a little something such as rose and violet chocolates, or the queen’s favorite ginger biscuits in a decorative tin.

Cheese Glorious Cheese (Blog)
Happy Christmas, Lloyd!

Speaking of some of the best places, if you’re looking for cheese, you must stop at Paxton & Whitfield (93 Jermyn Street, SW1). This wonderful cheesemonger has been in business since the mid-1700s and at the same storefront since 1835. They received the Royal Warrant of Appointment to HM Queen Victoria in 1850 and they still hold several royal warrants to this day. Winston Churchill once observed “a gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield” so of course we had to as well. They are known for having the best quality English Stilton in the country along with some of the finest artisan cheeses anywhere. We ventured into the packed shop a couple of days before Christmas where we stood in a long line that snaked around throughout the back of the store to make it to the cheese counter. It’s normally much more sedate. Everyone took the craziness in good humor (or more properly good humour) because they knew that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without some cheese from Paxton and

Fortnum and Mason 7 (Blog)
Fortnum’s again

Whitfield. Our patience was rewarded with a lovely porcelain crock filled with their finest Stilton for us to take home to the flat and enjoy with water crackers. If it was good enough for Queen Victoria, it was certainly good enough for us!

I could go on about our Christmas holiday in London, but I will save some for later posts. I haven’t even started on Bill’s quest for the best ale and pies at some wonderful traditional pubs. So until then we’ll just say, “Cheers!”

Another Great London Market


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London Borough Market 2 (Compressed)
Treasures await inside…

Borough Market is London’s oldest fruit and vegetable market. But it is so much more. It houses approximately 100 food and produce vendors in an open air covered arcade environment. We were surrounded by a plethora of vendors—fruit and vegetable stalls, artisan bakers selling tasty breads and cakes, exotic tea sellers with a variety of teas from Sri Lanka, and lots more. Just across the street, we found the most exquisite coffee, made in small batches and brewed through hand-poured drip filters. Then there are the food vendors cooking up tasty treats from every imaginable local and ethnic cuisine you could dream of.

London Borough Market 10 Compressed
The best coffee in London

Clever travelers that we are, we planned our visit to coincide with lunchtime. We chose typically British fare that day. Bill got a steak and mushroom pie and I picked sausage rolls—lovely plump British sausages wrapped in flaky pastry. While we ate our lunch, we experienced sunshine, rain, and hail within the span of about an hour. That old saying that goes “if you don’t like the weather, wait a bit and it will change,” must have been coined in London.

Borough Market is most definitely a must see when in London, especially if you are feeling just a bit peckish. And even if you’re not, you soon will be as you wander past all the tempting treats that await you. For more information including opening times, events taking place at the market, and maps/lists of all the vendors, be sure to check out their website: http://boroughmarket.org.uk/

London Borough Market 7 Compressed 2
Cheese, glorious cheese!

Two London Markets

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Apple Market in Covent Garden

Hello treasure hunters! We were recently in London and I wanted to share a little info on a couple of the markets we encountered. First is the Apple Market at Covent Garden. Vendors are there in the arcade all week and they sell lots of fun stuff for just about every budget. Local artists sell handmade jewelry and greeting cards; others are loaded with vintage phones, antique typewriters and military memorabilia. But every Monday a collection of additional booths is set up and they peddle lots of nifty stuff. Dealers sell everything from cigarette cards to vintage china and so much more. Items and prices run the gamut from dirt  2016-03 LondonAntiquesAppleMkt_02  cheap to take-out-a-second-mortgage expensive.

It’s close to the Covent Garden tube station. Then it’s just a very short stroll from the Market Building at the end of James Street. Covent Garden is on the Piccadilly Line. If you want to check out some of the vendors and get more information, here’s the link for the Apple Market: https://www.coventgarden.london/markets/apple-market

Next it’s the famous (and super crowded) Portobello Market in Notting Hill. I don’t like crowds as a rule, but at the Portobello Road market, I don’t seem to mind the crush. I think it’s because I get lost in the thrill of the hunt. Be sure to wear your most comfy shoes, because this is really

2016-04 LondonAntiquesPortobelloMkt_01
Great shop!

huge. They have vendors selling a wide variety of antiques and collectibles. The street is lined with quirky shops and some outdoor vendors throughout the week but Saturday is the BIG day. You (along with a few thousand other people) squeeze your way through the maze of antique shops, multi-vendor antique arcades, clothing stores, and

2016-04 LondonAntiquesPortobelloMkt_02
What a salmon feels like…

outdoor booths on both sides of the street. You feel a bit like a salmon swimming upstream. The market opens officially at 8:00 a.m., but you might find some nice deals while they are setting up. In my experience, it’s best to go early—not only to possibly get a great price on that vintage cricket bat, but also to avoid some of the crowds. It’s fun, exciting, and colorful, and you just might find a lovely treasure. My hope was to come home with an English toast rack. This is a staple at any English breakfast table. I was happy to find not one but two! One was a nicely detailed example from the Victorian era and the other looked like a swan from the early 20th Century.

 

You can get to the market via Tube or bus. We took the 390 bus from our hotel in Bloomsbury but most people probably arrive via the Notting Hill Gate underground station (Central Line). It’s a 5-10 minute walk to the near end of the street market. Unless you arrive really early, you will probably be able to follow the crowd. Check out the Market’s online site (http://shopportobello.co.uk/) under the “Where and When” pull-down menu for all the choices.

Cheers!