London, like New York City, always has a plethora of theater choices. On this trip, we saw 2 plays:
1984. We both loved the George Orwell book (which Tom reread in anticipation of seeing the play) and were anxious to see the play. The good news is that the short (1:40) play was quite true to the book. The bad news is that despite wanting to like it, neither of us could get particularly engaged. Joyce particularly disliked the O’Brien character, who Tom found to be somewhat accurately portrayed but it was hard to see how the protagonist, Winston Smith, could have placed so much trust into him. The most annoying thing about the play, however, was the way in continually used bright, flashing lights and loud sirens to highlight Big Brother’s power.
We also hoped to see the Jesse Eisenberg play, “The Spoils”. But with standing room being the only tickets available (yes, London West End theaters do offer standing room tickets), we decided to pass.
The Deep Blue Sea
A wonderful play in which we were engaged from opening to closing curtain. The play opens with a woman being discovered and revived from an attempted suicide attempt. It progresses through the sorry story of how she arrived at this point of desperation (from being married to a successful man she didn’t love, to running off to live with, and then being left by another that did not love her) and how, with the help of her still husband and new friends, she may—or may not—begin to adapt to a new life. Although not all of the characters are either believable or likable, Helen McCrory, playing the victimized Hester, holds the play together and the audience rapt.
Although we only saw 2 plays, we did get to eat at a number of London restaurants.
Milos. A Greek seafood restaurant with a huge selection of whole fresh fish that remains on ice, allowing patrons to select the individual fish that meets their fancy. We choose a roughly 1 kg Milokopi (otherwise known as Branzino) that we had grilled with olive oil, parsley and lemon. While waiting for our delicious fish to be cooked, we began with equally fresh, equally good, lightly fried calamari. We decided to experiment with Greek white wines, selecting one glass apiece for each of our courses. With the help of the sommelier who made initial recommendations, we selected four wines, each a different varietal, from a different region and a different producer. Although we did not enjoy each of the wines we tasted, we did enjoy each of those we ended up selecting. While we won’t go into the details of each, three of the varietals were indigenous and one was an international grape that was grown in Greece. They were Sidertis, Malagousia, Assriko and Chardonnay.
Heston Blumenthal, a relatively new restaurant by the chef of the famed Fat Duck opened his first in-city restaurant with a special mission—to recreate and modernize classic traditional London dishes. While a few of these dishes are relatively modern (dating back to the mid-20th century), some go as far back as the 14th century. We had only two relatively modern dishes: Roast Sea Bass with mussel ands seaweed ketchup, salmon roe and sea rosemary (circa 1830); and Roast Iberico Pork Chop with cabbage, onions and Robert Sauce (from 1820). While both were okay, we expected much more for about $55 per dish. This being said, the wine list (from which we had a Chianti Classico Riserva) was quite reasonable given the price of the food and the service was excellent.
Massimo, a lovely Northern Italian restaurant at we had two very good dishes: almond-crusted hake with pearl barley and pear and basil salad; and pan-fried, parmesan-crusted veal chop with truffle mashed potato. These with a light, 2014 Langhe Nebbiolo.
Orient. Tom had a craving for Peking duck. Orient filled the bill with a good duck along with an appetizer of wok-fried clams with black bean sauce and a bottle of Chianti Classico Riserva.
Chotto Matte, whose Japanese/Peruvian food is one of our favorite combinations. A couple of our dishes fully lived up to their potential: The Peruvian tortillas with tuna sashimi, wasabi sauce, jalapeno, coriander and red onions and the hot shrimp spring roll with shitake, yuzo, shiso and ponzu salsa were both wonderful. We were much less impressed by the overly citrusy seabass ceviche with sweet potato, and especially by the doughy and not very tasty pork/prawn/cassava gyoza with sweet potato puree. While the sake was good, the service, or the very little of it that we had, was some of the worst we have recently experienced.
Yauatcha, a dim sum restaurant at which we had a very good meal that consisted of four dishes. We were especially impressed with the pork soup dumpling, prawn shumai with chicken and jasmine-smoked, honey-roasted pork ribs. The lobster dumpling with tobiko fell just slightly below this top rank. The wild mushroom dumplings, while okay, weren’t in the same league as the other dishes. We had Kirin beer with the meal (surprisingly, Chinese beer was not available.)
Balthazar, a French brasserie where we enjoyed moules frite and duck Shepard’s pie with glasses of Chablis and Cote de Rhone, respectively.
The Anchor, a very popular classic pub in which we ordered at the bar, brought our drinks (pinot grigio and 1730 Special Pale Ale) to the table and had our food (cod and chips and chicken and mushroom pie—both pretty good, but both with far more carbs than protein) delivered to the table.
We stayed at the W London – Leicester Square. This is a place you will either like a lot or not. First, the location is great. Right near Piccadilly and Leicester Square. Short walk to Charing Station. And quite walkable to many tourist spots. However, the room layout could be a total turnoff as it was to us. The sink is on a long counter in the middle of the bedroom. The counter also has a chair and plugs so you could work on it if you wanted to. The toilet and shower are in separate “closets” with mirrored fronts. When you use the toilet, a light automatically goes on in both the toilet and shower area. And since the shower’s exterior wall allows light through, getting up in the middle of the night could disturb the entire room. The closet is behind a sliding door…which seems to be about 1/2” too large for the space so opening drawers in the closet means you have to push the sliding door a little for clearance. All toiletries, hair dryer etc are on open shelves below the sink area. And, very surprisingly, only one side of the bed has a plug. The other person had better bring an extension cord. We booked months in advance and requested a room on a higher floor away from the elevator. When we checked in, the only room available in our category was right in front of the elevator on the 3rd floor. Fortunately, the next day they switched us to the 6th floor away from the elevator. The new room was an upgrade which meant we now had a tea pot in the room (the rooms seem to be similar, only the “extras” vary based on the level of room you choose). All rooms have bathrobes and slippers. Wifi was good. Like all Ws, WiFi is not password protected. You have to simply say you agree to the terms periodically and you are in. Concierge is only on duty certain hours. Yes, they do reach out in advance to help you via email, but sometimes you want help in making dinner reservations after 8 at night. They do have a great fairly large touchable computer screen by the concierge that you can use to plot your course on a map, or look up things like restaurants yourself. Or, the concierge can use to show you a route. Very nice. Bottom line, however, the room layout is too much of a negative for us to return to this hotel.