Finally we sleep in, still massively jet-lagged, rousing at three in the afternoon to enjoy Covent Garden, Apple Market, Chinatown, Brick Lane and Banglitown. We take a taxi to Brick Lane, walking past a dozen Bangladeshi restaurants, then down a side street. A neon sign boasts “Chef of the Year.”
As we approach, we realize we took the bait. A Bangladeshi emerges, tells us the restaurant is not quite ready to open. He walks us three doors down to a nearby restaurant called Balti House, assures us it is the same chef. The meal is thankfully quite good and quite reasonable. The same tout walks in a half dozen other parties in the same manner while we dine.
The street outside is filled with art and murals. We head down a street that is clearly a number of hours shy of its peak, and enter a gallery celebrating the works of an art college’s graduating class. We stop for drinks in a bar that serves £52 fishbowls full of booze, syrup and ice, opting instead for wine and sparkling water.
The three of us walk through the financial district, south, then past the ancient Tower of London, over the extravagantly lit Tower Bridge, then west along the south shore of the Thames past City Hall and the permanently docked battleship, where we catch the last tube of the evening past midnight.
I awake the next day at noon, Ali Sun a few hours later. She and I head off alone, wandering through Camden Locks and Stables Market, filled with shopkeepers, food vendors, tourists, punks, goths, locals, teens. It is a remarkable, endless maze of commerce and community, reflecting the vibrancy and resonance of the largest of cities.
We walk south, stumble into Regents Park, laying on the grass near the zoo. We walk deeper into the park – there’s a Greenfair with vendors, music and Londoners. Through Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, to the Boating Lake, where we are kicked off rental deck-chairs, then over a snowy field of softly shedded duck and goose feathers.
We catch the tube at Regents Park, transfer twice, arrive at Bogayo, a Moroccan restaurant on Old Street in Shoreditch, meeting up with Leia and Neil.
We eat aubergine, scallops, pigeon, lamb, salmon. A fantastic dinner, even better company, then a short walk to bar called Prague where I enjoy a pint of Budvar dark. Again, the last train home.
I can’t sleep, fortunate to get a couple hours, before waking, showering and off to Heathrow for the short flight north to Aberdeen, Scotland.
Our visit is short, sweet, a tantalizing taste of a future full-course feast in the cosmopolitan capital.