I have settled into my new status as a ‘lady of leisure’ with the enthusiasm of a child starting school holidays and the breeziness of a trust fund baby. It took me a couple of days to get into the swing of things but my days of sweaty tube scrums and clock-watching in the office are now distant memories. Instead, I am luxuriating in this sudden abundance of spare time. I can sleep in, I can stay up late, I have time to read the books I’ve been hoarding from the library and do the exercise I never got round to. Or… I can just do absolutely nothing and not feel one single iota of guilt. In short, my time is mine to do as I choose and it is all strangely liberating and deliciously luxurious.
So with all this freedom, what do I actually choose to do?! It turns out that being a lady of leisure can, at times, be not very leisurely at all… despite having no office to go to and no deadlines to meet, I am still very busy. But the fun kind of busy that involves indulging in all the things I love and embracing the lady of leisure stereotype by also transforming into a lady who lunches. I never understood nor had I truly experienced the joy of long, lazy midweek lunches until now, and for extra status points, I now occasionally do long, lazy Michelin star lunches.
Did I really think I could escape the UK without setting foot into a British chippy? Quite naively, yes. Some locals say it is a rite of passage if you choose to set up home here, while many tourists have it firmly on their British bucket-list, but me? I would happily trade that spot on my bucket-list for more time at that other British institution, the pub. With less than two months left in the country, I was smugly certain I had dodged a greasy bullet, but some of my darling blogger friends had other ideas. The Brit half of our bunch had a couple of points to prove to the Kiwis, and they chose the charming Mayfair Chippy as the place to do it!
All the die hard chippy fans out there will probably be tutting in despair and wagging their fingers with distain, adamant that the Mayfair Chippy is too posh to be considered a real chippy. However, as someone who doesn’t want to leave the shop smelling like they’ve just been dunked in the fryer themselves, a bit of posh suits me just fine. And besides, we had bigger fish to fry… (that terrible pun was most definitely intended). The challenge was to convince one Kiwi that chips were worth the calories and the other that British fish and chips were not only good, but perhaps even better than their New Zealand counterparts. Tall order indeed.
When people ask me what I miss most from Wellington, I dutifully rattle off a list which ranges from the sentimental to the purely practical. This includes: my family, seeing the sea on a regular basis, walking from my central city apartment to my office in under thirty minutes, being on the waterfront with a drink in hand on one of those notoriously good Wellington days, and a hot chocolate from Mojo. All fairly simple and probably in common with other Wellingtonians who have left our windy city… but recently, I realised there was one more thing I would add to that list – the upstairs yakitori bar on Courtenay Place. Your eyes do not deceive you, yakitori in Wellington, even I surprise myself sometimes.
It is a wild card but I often find myself reminiscing about those umami-rich skewers; tended to lovingly by the chefs and devoured hungrily by the diners in that hazy den of a restaurant. It was one of our favourite haunts, the place we went when we wanted some soothing for the soul. I thought it was good back then, but it feels even better now that every attempt to find something to fill this yakitori-sized hole in my life has so far been a flop. However, being a glass-half-full sort, I picked myself up from the last disappointment and dragged us to Sakagura, a stylish izakaya tucked in that unassuming lane behind Regent Street which happens to be laden with eateries.
There are very few places in the City where I find myself wanting to linger a little longer, it’s just not the done thing in this part of town. People are more likely to be strutting from meeting to meeting, sweet-talking themselves into networks and closing deals, and the spaces are equally sharp and business-like. In a world where time is money, no one can afford to linger around too long… which is what makes Bar20 at Birleys even more of an anomaly. Sitting pretty in the shadow of the Walkie Talkie building, the location couldn’t be more City if it tried… but inside, it feels more like Mayfair.
Bar20 at Birleys is part of the Robin Birley portfolio which explains the private members club atmosphere; it’s plush and refined but still very relaxed. I get the feeling that the breakfast and lunch rush does have a certain City spirit and speediness to it, but in the evenings the bar descends to a pace which is perfect for those of us who have the luxury of time. We settled into a table by the window but I would have just as happily cosied into any of the corners under the eye-catching and conversation-evoking artwork (which is courtesy of Mr Birley’s private collection) or lounged on one of the large sofas in the centre of the room.
London’s afternoon tea trade never ceases to amaze me with its reinvention and gimmicks, but recently I was reminded of the joy that a classic, properly put together afternoon tea can bring. Not a speck of novelty in sight, no quirky crockery, our afternoon tea at Flemings Mayfair Hotel with its menu crafted by Shaun Rankin of Ormer Mayfair was all about the fundamentals; fresh sandwiches, light scones, delicious cakes, and well-brewed tea. Pinkies out, ladies and gents, it was time to play make-believe and whisk ourselves back to those bygone eras where teas were always a commonplace and classy affair.
The decor of the Drawing Room in Flemings Mayfair is one worthy of a wide-eyed gaze, and I’m not even ashamed to admit that I may have let out a teeny tiny little gasp we as we stepped in. The walls of the Indian-inspired tea room are beautifully hand painted with scenes from ‘early India’ which contrasted nicely with striking teal seats which just envelope you as you sink into them. We settled snugly into our corner table, one of the best in the house in my opinion, with a glass of champagne and the extensive tea menu.
This will come as a surprise to absolutely no one but dining alone in a fairly well to do establishment like Ormer Mayfair will elicit some cursory side glances from almost everyone in the dining room. All the neighbouring tables thought they were subtle with their pitiful looks or curious nods in my direction, but I saw them, oh yes I did. As they duly noted, I was dining alone so what else did I have to do but to glance right back? Their mistake was not in getting caught, their mistake was in thinking I was sad, lonely, or stood up; quite the contrary actually. A weekend flying solo is a rare luxury, so it deserved to be kicked off with a luxurious dinner with just me, myself, and I.
When faced with the prospect of a dinner for one, people like my dining neighbours might have settled for a takeaway or a quick bite somewhere they could slip in and out of unnoticed, but nope, not me. I wanted my three courses and the bread basket all to myself. No need to fight a certain someone for the last slice of warm crusty bread, or more accurately, the last smear of the butter. With the help of the sommelier, I opted for a crisp English sparkling wine to start and raised a glass to myself; dinner for one definitely isn’t dreary when you’re dining like this!
On my way to dinner, I managed to window shop at Victoria Beckham’s flagship store, narrowly avoid being clipped by a Bentley whilst crossing the road, and almost stumbled into a private members’ club. All part and parcel of walking through Mayfair, perhaps? How the other half live. If the tables were turned, I could actually be stocking up on VB gears, have my driver ferry me around in the Bentley, and be darting from one club to another. But no, this Kiwi lass is unlikely to be joining the Mayfair set… the closest I’ll get is to frequent the restaurants in their hood.
On this occasion, it was QP LDN. This swish Italian comes to Mayfair via the Amalfi coast where its sister restaurant, Michelin starred Quattro Passi resides. QP LDN aims to bring a taste of this authentic Amalfi coast inspired cooking, something I was very much looking forward to after the eventful journey to the restaurant. I was also more than happy to accept a gigantic Aperol spritz whilst waiting for my dinner date Vicky.