Breakfast at the Wolseley

This is something DonQui has wanted to try out for some time.

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The Wolseley on Piccadilly in London, is a self-proclaimed ‘café-restaurant in the grand European tradition’. It is famous for its breakfasts.  Although the magnificent art-deco building dates back to 1921 it has not been a restaurant all that long. In previous lives it has been both a car showroom and a bank.

Elegant and with formally dressed waiters the Wolseley not cheap. Nor is it easy to get a table without a reservation. Finding himself at a loose end in London on a cold February Sunday morning, DonQui decides to take his chances. He is slightly disconcerted to find the place absolutely buzzing at 10am. Fortunately the friendly lady at the door is able to find him a spot. He is very glad she did.

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The breakfast menu is extensive offering almost anything one might want from the piles of delicious looking croissants strategically placed around the rooms, to classic egg dishes, müslis, and yoghurt.

DonQui orders french toast with bacon. This is one of his favourite breakfast dishes and it is surprisingly hard to find on European menus.

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It is just about perfect. Nice thick slices of bread, properly soaked in egg mixture with no dry bread bits in the middle. It is smothered with proper crispy bacon and served with a generous jug of real maple syrup on the side. DonQui thinks he would be hard pressed to cook better himself.

The elegant setting, filled with a mix of tourists and Londoners, makes breakfast here feel like a real treat. The coffee is great too.

 

The bill at the end did not break the bank as DonQui suspects a dinner bill might.

Bah Humbug

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Mid November is far to early for Christmas decorations in DonQui’s opinion.

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At least the, far too early, London decorations are reasonable tasteful.

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None-the-less, if he hears a Christmas carol playing any where before December he will trot sharply away.

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DonQui enjoys Christmas but he does so on the 24th-26th of December, not on the 16th of November.

London’s Airports

Many visitors to the UK don’t realise that London is served by 6 Airports. Depending on destination or point of origin there may be no choice but if there is, where you land or take off from can make a huge difference to your comfort as well as the length and cost of your overland journey.

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DonQui Oaty has previously extolled the virtues of tiny Southend Airport which is the furthest to the east of London.

Now he is flying to Dublin from London City Airport which is DonQui’s favourite London airport. Amongst its advantages is that it is actually in London and easy to get to or from on the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) and Underground, without needing to resort to the long and expensive train journeys all the other airports require. Unlike the often chaotic, hectic larger airports, London City (LCY) is quite civilised and comfortable. As a creature who likes his comfort, this is rather important for DonQui.

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As it is actually in London, LCY is, necessarily, a very small airport with a short runway suitable only for quick hops to nearby European cities. Therefore there are no transcontinental flights but there are good connections to other international hubs such as Amsterdam and Paris. As LCY tends to cater to business passengers the flights can be on the pricy side compared to the budget fights out of Stansted, Luton, Gatwick and Southend.

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There are no lounges but the whole departure area feels a bit like a business lounge so there is no need. There are plenty of seats, good food and drink options and no hordes of package holiday-makers.

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It has been pointed out to DonQui that there are no opportunities to to stock up on toiletries or cosmetics in the departure area to get around the 100ml security limit for liquids and gels. Therefore if you wish to cary such things you will need to check a bag. DonQui has a pre-packed plastic bag with small sized amounts of such things for his travels so this does not bother him.

So what of London’s other airports? Here is DonQui’s biased guide, moving around London in a clockwise direction from the west:

Heathrow: Often hard to avoid if you have a transcontinental flight, Europe’s busiest airport can be hectic and daunting although it is well organised. With 5 huge terminals you need to know which one your airline will be using as although T1-3 are within walking distance of each other T4 and T5 will require bus or train transfers. Heathrow is convenient for the west but the Heathrow express into Paddington station is expensive. If you are short on cash you can take the regular commuter train at a fraction of the price or the Tube (Subway for North Americans). Both of the cheaper options take much longer — 45 minutes on the Tube vs 20 minutes on the Heathrow express.

Luton: Relatively small and dominated by Ryanair — DonQui’s least favourite airline. As a result this is the only London airport he has not flown from so cannot give a view. The journey into London tends to take about 30-40 minutes to St Pancras

Stansted: London’s third largest airport to the north is not one of DonQui’s favourites. It serves mostly budget airlines so there are good bargains to many European cities but it is overcrowded and chaotic. The journey into London can take an hour and the so-called Stansted Express which goes to Liverpool Street Station is not very express-like.

Southend: A great little airport well to the east of London serving only a small number of destinations with budget airlines. The trip into London Liverpool St station will take almost an hour.

Gatwick: With two terminals Gatwick is a sort of budget version of Heathrow with some major airlines using it and with some intercontinental flights. Although smaller it seems more overcrowded and more unpleasant than Heathrow. One plus for Gatwick is the Bloc Hotel inside the South Terminal which is great for an overnight if you have a ghastly o’clock start. There are good (approx 30min) connections by train to Victoria and London Bridge stations as well as Brighton to the south.

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If by some unfortunate circumstance you are transiting through London and have to change airports then DonQui pities you. DonQui would rather walk over hot coals than attempt it himself. Only London City airport is actually in Greater London. All the others are many miles away.

 

Pre-Theatre Feast

On a recent visit to London Don Qui decided to try out a restaurant he has not been to before. Looking for a place that offered an early supper so he could go to a play, he settled on Blanchette on the Regent Street side of Soho.

It was a very good choice. Offering ‘French style sharing plates’ Blanchette was perfect for a relatively light meal with lots of interesting and tasty morsels on offer.

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Blanchette is a relatively small establishment and at 5pm the place was already heaving, helped by the warm spring day. Several diners sat at the bar by the wide open window or outside, enjoying both the food and the far too infrequent English sun.

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Between him and Duchess, DonQui sampled crispy frogs legs, goat’s cheese, chicken breast in a morel sauce with asparagus and peas, crispy squid, and probably the best pommes frites he has ever tasted along with béarnaise sauce for dipping. This was all washed down with an excellent Beaujolais and finished off with a near perfect creme brûlée and a calvados.

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The crispy frogs legs and crispy squid were both battered and fried with herby batter being the dominant taste. It was probably a mistake to order both but when DonQui explained that this was why he had not eaten all the squid the kindly waitress offered to take it off the final bill.

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Service was friendly and knowledgeable and the place had a relaxed vibe. As DonQui likes to take his time over a meal he felt that the dishes perhaps came a bit too quickly in succession for his taste. If one was in a bit of a hurry to make it to the theatre on time then this would not necessarily be a bad thing.

The Frontline Club

On an otherwise unremarkable street near Paddington Station lies DonQui’s home away from home in London…

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…this is the Frontline Club.

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On the ground floor at 13 Norfolk Place, London, W2 1QJ, is the excellent Frontline Restaurant which is open to non-members. While most of this part of London is given over to quick eats and the occasional good Middle Eastern or Malaysian establishment, Frontline offers excellent modern British cuisine. Fresh ingredients are often sourced from the Suffolk/Norfolk borderlands not far from DonQui’s home paddock of Southwold.

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The menu is relatively small with a few standard classic dishes and an ever-changing array of more interesting choices. Tonight DonQui opts for a deliciously simple dish of gnocchi with wild mushrooms and pecorino cheese. It is utterly delicious and quite satisfying, the cheese adding a lovely tang to the velvety mushroom sauce.

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Upstairs is the cosy members’ clubroom and bar. It is a perfect place to sit back, relax, have a drink or three and do a bit of work at the same time. DonQui is not the only one with his lap top open and a pint of Adnams beer (brewed in Southwold) by his side. There are also a number of rooms and it is in one of these where DonQui will rest his head tonight.

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William H. Russel’s boots and gloves from the Crimean War

The club was founded by war correspondents and caters particularly to journalists who have worked on the ‘frontline’. The restaurant and club are decorated with iconic photographs of war and  conflict while the members clubroom housed bric a brac brought back by journalists from the Crimean War in the 1850s to modern Afghanistan and Syria.

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One of the iconic war photos adorning the walls – this from the Vietnam War

As DonQui has a bit of a history trotting around various war zones with the media he feels quite at home here. You do not have to have had such experiences to become a member. If images of war and conflict put you off your dinner, however, you may not feel quite as at ease here as DonQui does.

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The Frontline hosts an interesting series of talks, screenings and workshops which are also open to non-members.

In 2010 Vaughan Smith, the Frontline’s founder, offered refuge to Julian Assange of Wikileaks. This caused quite some consternation amongst many members, DonQui included. Fortunately the Club distanced itself from Vaughan’s personal support for Assange. This did not prevent the American journalist James Kirchick from slagging off the club in The Spectator, as place “where members preen like latter-day Hemingways amid lovingly curated war-reporting memorabilia.”

Maybe DonQui fancies himself as a latter-day Hemmingway. Whether true or not he rather likes the place.

Good eating in London

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It is easy to eat well in London if one has lots of dosh.

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It is even easier to come away from an eating establishment feeling either ripped off or having had to make do with sub-standard food of dubious origins and even more dubious cooking techniques.

If you know where to go, this wonderful cosmopolitan city offers an incredible variety of fantastic foods influenced by every country around the globe.

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DonQui is a bit of a francophile and if push comes to shove, he has to admit that French food and style are almost always his first choices. There are plenty of good French restaurants in London, partly down to the hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen and women who have made London their home in recent times. This is not a new phenomenon. French exiles came to London in their hundreds of thousands at the time of the Huguenot exodus in the 17th century. Kettners in Soho (which sadly closed earlier this year after 149 years) was founded by Napoleon III’s chef in the 1800s while the French House, just around the corner, was the unofficial headquarters of de Gaulle and the French resistance during the Second World War.

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For a simple, high quality, meal in the west end of London, Prix Fixe is DonQui’s first choice. On Dean Street in the heart of Soho it offers French brasserie style food and ambiance at very reasonable prices. The pre-7pm menu has 2 courses for just over £10 while the later fixed menu has 3 courses for £25. DonQui has eaten here many times in the past and tonight he is delighted to find that the quality and ambiance remains as good as ever.

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Being a notorious gourmand, DonQui opts to shell out the £3 supplement for the foie gras terrine starter and he feels that it is worth every extra penny.

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Another supplement (£6 this time) lands him with a main course of entrecôte steak frites. Ordered medium rare the steak is beautifully seared on the outside while remaining pink and juicy in the middle. The frites are proper French fries — thin and wonderfully crisp while still soft on the inside. DonQui’s only complaint (and this is his finicky taste buds rather than a mistake in the kitchen) is the mustard dressing on the lovely green salad. Unfortunately DonQui has a near allergic reaction to mustard.

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Washed down with an excellent glass of Côtes du Rhône and finished off with an adffogato (an Italian classic rather than a French one) DonQui once again enjoys a wonderful meal in a relaxing atmosphere while watching the streets of Soho come to life as night falls.

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When it comes time to pay the bill, DonQui feels that he has had great value for money. He will come again.

Around the World in Chelsea

If you were to ask DonQui, he would tell you that one of the (many) great things about London is how cosmopolitan it is. People from every corner of the globe live and work here, and that means you can get just about every type of food imaginable.

 

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It is a Saturday late morning/early afternoon and DonQui finds himself in one of his favourite places to be at that time, especially on a nice sunny day – the fine food market at the Duke of York Square in Chelsea.

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Helping himself to various free samples DonQui wanders around the stalls salivating.

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From fine French cheeses and proper baguette (made with French flour)…

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To chicken, rice, beans and quinoa  from Peru.

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Japanese sushi…

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to Mexican burritos…

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With so much delicious food on offer DonQui finds it very hard to settle on what to eat for lunch, let along what to take back home with him.

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There are even fresh oysters and prosecco on offer.

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In the end DonQui decides to keep it simple. He goes for a Jamaican patty and a couple of Indian samosas for a small lunchtime snack.

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… oh yes and a jam doughnut too. He cannot resist!

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He also packs his bag with all sorts of goodies for later on when he gets home.