Strawberries and cream

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 10.51.59 AMLast weekend Mr French and I ran away to London for what the British call a Dirty Weekend, which ended up being the perfect name for our trip. We were going for a cocktail of business with pleasure, as his presence had been requested for a match at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon! Even for a tennis newbie like myself, the name is simply mythic. Even before my google search I knew that Wimbledon means grass courts and white tennis outfits. What I found out doing more research was that it also means strawberries and cream, which seems to be a very important tradition at the matches. A sporting event with sugar and fat? I was very, very excited about the trip. Actually, since I am usually excited to travel, I was over the moon for this adventure.

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 11.33.49 AMGetting to Wimbledon couldn’t be easier. The town is a terminus, so its a direct trip on the District Line to Wimbledon, then you step out on to a enthusiastically decorated platform and follow the crowds. Formally clad “Honorary Stewards” guide you along the way while helmet topped Bobbies direct traffic. Ticket holders are directed to one sidewalk, non-ticket holders to the other. There are taxi that can be shared and I suppose we could have hired a driver, but why sit in traffic when one can be walking with the fans!

And there are lots of non-ticket holders because at Wimbledon they have the Queue, which is a long line of people waiting for Premium tickets that the tennis association does not sell in advance, reserving them for ardent fans who are willing to stand for hours for same day seats. When we arrived at the tube station they were announcing a 5 hour wait, with rain predicted later in the day. This didn’t seem to deter anyone!

Being a business event, we were in our most corporate casual, which meant I was trotting by the Queue, past several parking lots, up a hill and along the entire stadium in three inch heels. I was very pleased Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 11.35.10 AMwhen we arrived and were greeted by a polished waitress offering us a Pimm’s. I had first heard of a Pimm’s a week ago while reading a piece of British chick lit. In the novel, the heroine, a simple girl from the wrong side of the tracks (or in the case of this book, castle) had been invited to a society wedding and had gotten dangerously drunk because she hadn’t realized it was a cocktail, not a soda. Pimm’s is a gin inspired drink that is served with soda on ice, with a fresh fruit and herb garnish. It was a delicious welcome to the match.

We mingled in the marquee, meeting business people from across Europe before sitting down to a traditional British buffet, which included lamb with mint sauce and roast beef with horseradish and a curry. It was delightfully foreign, yet reassuringly familiar. And I needed the reassurance because I had no idea what to say to a team of complete strangers wearing suits for a tennis match. I jumped in, mentioning a recent article I’d read (not mentioning that it had been in a fashion trade paper!) about the blossoming African market. Were they seeing the same interest in their industry? What regions looked the most promising? What did they see as the greatest obstacles? Suddenly I was relaxed, enjoying myself, and learning a thing or two.

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 10.53.20 AMFinally, it was game time! We headed out on to the grounds where there is a center court, another large stadium and a dozen open courts with nothing more than a few park benched around them. The benches were swarmed with fans, sitting, leaning, climbing to see the games, as rackets arched into the air and the yellow streaks of balls cluttered our peripheral vision. Tennis was happening all around us!

The stadium itself is beautiful, which you don’t expect from a sporting venue. It has been painted green, frosted with ivy and iced with baskets of flowing purple flowers. Inside, the roof was open, allowing a halo of sunlight to focus on the French Alize Cornet and the Canadian (Québecoise!) Eugénie Bouchard.

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 10.52.49 AMWhen the French player lost, our English hosts cheered us with an invitation to return to the marquee for a consolation afternoon tea, and at last, strawberries and cream.

We had just started watching the English Murray trounce the S African Anderson when the heavens opened and it started to pour. The timing was perfect, as we had the opportunity to see the famous closing roof in action before grabbing our, uh, wait! We hadn’t brought along our coats. Or our umbrellas. So we ran out into the pouring rain, in a hurry to get back into London to catch the last Eurostar of the evening.

Fortunately, our hosts were used to foreign guest unfamiliar with local weather habits. They pushed an umbrella into our hand as we headed down the road, so that only my calves were covered in mud as we boarded our train home for Paris, the perfect souvenir of our  Dirty Weekend!

London Shopping

Looking back on the past year’s posts, its pretty clear that Mr French and I spend most of our holidays in fairly remote places. Places like the Magkadigkadi salt pans or the beaches of Hossegor, where we go for the adventure or the food, and sometimes the adventure AND the food. But this trip to London, we also did a bit of shopping, and while I can think of nothing tackier than doing a haul post of all our purchases, we visited some pretty exceptional shops.

The first was Liberty & Co, a department store founded in 1875, just 25 years after the the world’s first department store, the Bon Marché opened in Paris. Liberty is housed in a faux Tudor building, featuring timber from the very non-faux battleships HMS Hindustan and HMS Impregnable and it is world famous for the colorful


A leaded glass window, the panes dated 1570!

cotton indian print fabrics. Fabrics that I happen to love, so I was thrilled to visit the mothership. I was even more thrilled to discover their fabric department, as well as their Eastern bazaar furniture section full of all kinds of treasures, including Arts and Crafts antiques and hundreds of rolled oriental carpets overflowing into the wood framed gallery walkways and spilling over the rails, looking very much like Ali Baba’s cavern.
The next day, it was Mr French’s turn and I had booked him a gentleman’s shave at Truefitt & Hill, just blocks from St James Square and a short stroll from Buckingham Palace, which is convenient since they are the official barber for His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburg. Mr French was quite pleased with his shave, and while I’d like to believe it was because of the luxuriously warm face clothes, or the intensive triple shave with a straight edge razor, I suspect it was because of his charming barber and the way her pencil skirt clung seductively to her rear end (which he gallantly claims not to have noticed)!

We then ran directly across the street to Lock & Co, a hatter that started covering the heads of Londoners in 1676, exactly 100 years before the United States of America even existed. Nearly two centuries later, in 1849, a disgruntled hat wearer who was tired of constantly loosing his top hats to low hung branches, commissioned the hatter to build a better hat. They came up with the iconic bowler which they call a coke hat. Today, the 8th generation of the family still runs the business, selling tweed caps, beaver fur top hats, and the original bowler, as well as more modern designs with their Lock & Roll collection. Upstairs there is a lady’s milliner, where, oh yeah, they sell bowlers for us girls, too.

That afternoon we headed off for Mr French’s final treat, which is kind of hypocritical for me to say, as I was having the time of my life. But, we really were going for Monsieur who had lost his umbrella a few months earlier, and desperately needed a replacement. I guided

A golden horseshoe ensures you can open the brollies, without tempting fate

him slightly north, to New Oxford Street, where James Smith & Sons was established in 1830. Set in Hazelwood House, this family run, Victorian boutique is yet another treasure trove of history and finer living. The men’s umbrellas are custom cut to match each purchaser’s height, so that the entirely wooden shafts double as walking sticks. Mr French chose one made from hazelwood, like the name of the house and our salesman was so honored he let me take a few photos, although they are generally forbidden. The ladies’ umbrellas come with leather handles and dainty silk wrist bands so that you have a better grip. There were also canes with fantastical handles and a display of antique walking sticks with secret dice cups, drinking vials, and other illicit goodies…

The gentleman’s shops we visited all enjoy a royal warrant, which does not mean they are under arrest, but rather, they are official suppliers to the Queen’s household. While writing this article I stumbled upon the official website of the Royal Warrant and discovered a page that lets you see who is supplying what to the Queen’s household. I think its hysterical knowing that Charles’ toothpaste comes from Glaxo Kline Smith, or the Queen wears Clarins face cream. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the cleaning supplies, but I did notice from their list of hobby supplies that, be it photos or wild animals, the royals like to shoot. And since today was all about Mr French maybe next time I’ll download the address to the Queen’s jeweler.

Liberty & Co / Regent Street
Truefitt & Hill and Lock & Co / St James St
James Smith & Sons / New Oxford St

Rock the Casbah

Hakkasan photo from their website (no lighting!!!)

Actually, its London Calling, but that was just obvious, I couldn’t, simply could not do that to you. Last Friday Mr French and I headed to Londontown, which explains why there was no Friday@Flore. It was Friday@LaGare for me. The freezing cold gare, that I was very happy to leave as we stepped into the train.

Taking the Eurostar usually makes me feel like Alice in Wonderland, as I fall into the iconic, diesel infused Paris metro, and resurface to bustling streets with black cabs, red buses and traffic going the WRONG way. Yes, all my British friends, if you have to post signage at every single street corner in your city, telling pedestrians which way to look before crossing, well, its safe to say, your way is slightly twisted.

This trip was even more surreal, as we stayed in the station, taking the glass elevator directly to the lobby of the monumental St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. A Victorian fantasy, this hotel is a gothic jewel, with stunning public spaces and exceptional service, unfortunately the rooms are your standard international business travel fare and I did not fall in love with the neighborhood, although, to be perfectly fair, I didn’t give it much of a chance as we checked-in and immediately hopped a cab for the familiar (to me) Mayfair district.

It was 21h and we had reservations at Chinese restaurant Hakkasan, which I had found rather by accident. I had really wanted to go to the Indian restaurant, Amaya, my favorite restaurant in London, and one of my all time top ten on planet earth, but Mr French had pleaded for something different, and I complied, because really, it is bizarre that a chick who dedicates her life to exploring the planet is obsessed with returning to the same addresses time after time!

Before getting in the cab, though, we had a problem. The lock on Mr French’s suitcase, the one that is integrated into the luggage, had jammed. We’d had to call security and get a rather large, knowledgeable gentleman to break it open for us. Over the weekend we also had problems accessing the gym and I left a rather large package behind. The hotel staff know us rather better than they should and really earned their tips! While helping me postpone our reservations (because of the locked lock) the concierge assured me I’d made the right choice in trying Hakkasan, it was the best Chinese in the city.

I had wanted a restaurant that served very spicy cuisine, like I can not get in Paris, and attracted the super cool London crowd. You know, the places with dramatic lighting and intriguing spaces that you see in movies with stars like Hugh Grant and Rene Zellweger. Hakkasan fit the bill. The food was spicy and elegant, and perfectly prepared. So well prepared, in fact, that they’ve earned a Michelin star. We had dishes with lily bulbs and morning glory greens, and whole chilis and all kinds of favorites I can not get at home. The pièce de resistance was the beautifully presented dessert of a dozen different exotic fresh fruits which satisfied my relentless sweet tooth without giving my any guilt.

The crowd was worth watching, too. Young folk covered in studs, men who were better coiffed than I have ever managed, girls with heels so high they teetered and had to grab the railing for support, co-workers getting smashingly drunk over an extravagant TGIF and nervous mid-life couples out on a first date. It was dinner and a show!

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