My commute to and from my last office took almost an hour and a half, each way, and I was only going from one end of London to the other. I used to tell people that it wasn’t so bad, but now that my commute is shorter (just under an hour), I can confidently say, it was that bad. And now that I think of it, in that time you can get a lot further, and to a lot more interesting places from London if you play your cards right. We’ve already covered the well-worn day trip routes from London like Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge, so on an unusual plan-free weekend, we decided to get a little more creative and somehow ended up in Winchester for the day.
I didn’t think that this quaint, posh little town would be high on the tourist radar but it’s actually got a lot going for it if you’re content with quiet riverside walks, interested in Jane Austen history, and easily smitten by the grandeur of a classic cathedral. We noticed that many busloads of tourists were, and as it transpires… so was I. Particularly when it comes with sunshine, one of England’s most well traded farmers’ markets, and the lure of good food! Some of our most memorable meals have been found in restaurants outside of London, where their neighbours are their suppliers, and they champion this local produce… we were hoping this day out in Winchester would bring more of the same!
I have a certain someone and Ireland to thank for my continuing ability to legally live, work, and eat on this side of the world. Without my main dining companion, his allegiance to the land of the shamrock, and about 500 pages of proof that we aren’t cohabitating out of convenience, I would almost certainly be on some Home Office black list. I’ve sat in the little holding pens by passport control at the airports, they’re not pleasant places to be so I’m eternally grateful to the man and the country.
At the time of the torturously long visa process, I had never even set foot in Ireland so I vowed that if the visa-gods let me stay, I would of course venture across and pay it a visit! As you know, the luck of the Irish was on my side (for the time-being as who knows what will happen after Brexit) so we kept our promise and jetted off to Ireland for a small road trip from Galway to Dublin… the former was filled with breathtaking landscape and delicious food, and the latter was filled with a bit of history and more delicious food and drink, here are my suggestions for where to eat and drink in Dublin…
I envy each and every one of you who have work offices in Zone 1. While you’re topping up your caffeine levels at one of your five local Prets or grabbing a fancy schmanchy sandwich or salad, I’m lining up for something far less appetising at a school dinners style canteen in Zone 4. You may roll your eyes at having to dart past people on your lunch break, but spare a thought for me… I look out the window and see a dire combination of carparks, grassy knolls, and geese… barely a soul in sight as there’s nothing to dart out for in this neck of the woods.
I miss the high street chains and the independent cafes, but most tragically, I miss having a decent pub round the corner from the office. For months I have stoically told myself that I didn’t care about the cheeky half pint at lunch time every now and then, that well deserved wine at the end of the day, or the customary Friday pub lunch, but then I was reminded of their restorative powers all over again when I visited The Square Pig. My envy and loathing increased, particularly towards those of you who work in or around Holborn.
As we were nearing the end of a 45 minute taxi ride which probably should’ve taken 30, had it not been for the road closure, backtracking, and detour, I thought, ‘jeez, we go to great lengths for dinner’. The taxi was the final piece of the puzzle too; months before that there was the restaurant reservation, hotel and train bookings, and the actual journey from London to Bristol the day before. When we eventually arrived at the restaurant, the driver was in a state of disbelief because our destination looked like any other country pub, and not the Michelin star restaurant we were describing.
However we know that not all pubs are created equal, and we assured our driver that The Pony and Trap was one of the exceptional ones. It first came onto our radar during last year’s Great British Menu – one of the few tv shows we actually watch and one of my favourites for providing dining out inspiration across the UK. As soon as I saw Josh Eggleton plate up a pie that wasn’t really a pie and a dessert that paid homage to the Calendar Girls, I decided his restaurant was one I wanted to visit. The chef himself was confident (maybe even portrayed as a little cocky through crafty editing?) and his food equally so, which was enough to convince us.
The other day, a friend and I were talking about London pubs. There’s no shortage of them and getting a decent drink is hardly ever an issue, but if you’re after some decent pub grub, there are pubs and then there are pubs. When it comes to the food they serve, not all are created equal and the difference between great, pretty good, and god-awful is very noticeable.
The god-awful ones will usually have signs out the front claiming to serve the best ever burger or Sunday roast and proudly display photoshopped, too good to be true pictures of said burger or roast. The great ones are equally easy to find, they’ll be the ones geo-tagged on Instagram of where the best burgers or Sunday roasts actually are. So what about the pretty good ones?
Apparently when one is tired of London, they are tired of life. So I’m told by the people who believe that London is the centre of the universe and nowhere else matters. They do have a point; London is wonderful, millions of people love it, I love it, I really do, but one can definitely tire of it. With London’s best bits comes its worst… the pace can be frenetic, the people can be unfriendly, and the place can be overwhelming. For me, this is all rather tiresome.
If you’ve reached this point, the only thing for it is to escape the city to breathe in some fresh country air, hear nothing but the birds and the bees, and just marvel at the peace. At the end of a typically busy London week filled with birthday celebrations, babysitting duties, and a whole lot of booze, (not all together) we did just that… jumped on a train, whizzed past all sorts of obscure stations and finally reached our destination less than an hour later.
We’ve all heard and shared our own gripes about National Rail, the usual ones being lateness, overcrowded carriages and just how bloody expensive tickets can be, so I thought I would go against the tide and share a National Rail win! When we first arrived in the UK, we decided to visit friends in Scotland, at the time of agreement, we didn’t quite realise it would involve a train from London to Edinburgh, a tight change from Edinburgh to Pitlochry, then finally another change to Dunkeld and Birnam. The first leg ran late, which meant we missed the second leg, which meant the third leg was a total write off.
We were going to put it down to bad luck but a staff member suggested we apply for compensation, so we did it and next thing we knew we had over £300 worth of train travel at our disposal. With time running out to use them, we settled on a weekend in York: a dose of culture at the stunning York Minster, a walk on the city walls with stops at any other attractions we stumbled across, and dinner at The Star Inn. That was the original plan, but as you know my greedy Michelin star hunger got in the way and the weekend was extended…