A Proper Pub in London

So what does DonQui mean by a ‘proper pub’?

He would say it should be a place where you feel at home, where you can drink good beer (proper cask conditioned ales alongside decent continental imports) and wile away the hours chatting with friends.


The Ship and Shovel on Craven Passage near Charing Cross is just such a pub. In central London such places are sadly becoming a rarity. It does serve food and DonQui vaguely remembers having a decent lunch or two here in the past. But that is not the point. This is not where one goes to for a gastronomic experience, not that DonQui has the slightest problem with gastronomy as regular readers will certainly know.


Nor is this a place where one might be offered the latest trends in oddly mixed concoctions sold as over-priced ‘cocktails’. It is a place for companionship, good conversation and a decent draught or two.

The Ship and Shovel serves Badger beers, which come from Dorset and are not that widely available elsewhere. DonQui fondly remembers his first pint of Badger at the late lamented Angel in Paddington which the current landlords of the Ship and Shovel used to run. It was where he first met Duchess, but that is another story.

So back to the Ship and Shovel.


On one side of Craven Passage (on the north side) is the Ship…


…and opposite is the Shovel.

Smokers can puff away to their hearts’ content out of the weather in the connecting passage despite the best efforts of the Puritans who would like to ban such sinful pleasures.


On an early Thursday evening the place is heaving. The nearby Ministry of Defence generally supplies a good number of after work regulars but the crowd is eclectic. Groups of males predominate but it is not unfriendly to women nor are the men loud, boozy or unpleasant. For the most part they are catching up with friends over a pint or two and this is exactly what DonQui was doing.

Meeting up with an old friend he had not seen for a while, the Ship and Shovel was the perfect place to reminisce, discuss politics, the state of the universe, and generally catch up. After a pint or three, followed up with a whisky, DonQui and his friend had throughly put the world to rights.

This is the whole point of a proper pub.

Long may they survive!

The British Museum

Finding himself in London with a bit of spare time on his hands DonQui decides to wander over to the British Museum.

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Filled with the loot of Empire there is tons to see — so much so that DonQui finds it better to visit only a few favourite galleries, leaving others to another time.

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Whether it is the Elign Marbles, looted from the Acropolis of Athens; the huge Egyptian collection; or the Anglo-Saxon treasures of Sutton Hoo; anyone with the slightest interest in old stuff is bound to find something of interest. Best of all it is free!


DonQui is attracted to the special exhibition of Celtic artefacts which is on until the end of January. There is a charge to see the temporary exhibits but as Duchess is a member the charge is waived and she is able to bring in DonQui as a guest.

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There are some very impressive artefacts, well displayed with good explanations which give the historical and cultural context.
The exhibition covers the story of the Celts from their fist naming by the Greeks through to Victorian fantasy and modern revivals of Celtic culture.


DonQui had seen pictures of the Gundestrup cauldron before but seeing it up close was something else.

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Running concurrently with the Celts is a smaller exhibition on faith in Egypt after the pharaohs. As he very keen on late Roman history there was quite a lot to interest him.


After the two special exhibitions DonQui wanders upstairs to see the newly renovated early European gallery which houses the Sutton Hoo treasure. He has seen it before but the previous setting did not do it justice. The new gallery does.

On a cold January day, and if you do not want to spend much money, a visit to the British Museum makes for a good day out.

DonQui puts Gordon Ramsay to the test

DonQui is rather pleased to hear that Gordon Ramsay has recently opened a new hostelry in his old stomping ground of Battersea.


London House opened last year in Battersea Square. With Duchess joining him in London for a few days, DonQui thinks that they should try it out.

Various reviewers have complained that the decor is naff “a bit like Travelodge gone to heaven,” proclaims the Evening Standard, while Time Out says it is like “a trip back to the ’90s.”


Well, DonQui quite enjoyed the 90s. He appreciates the way the restaurant is laid out with comfy, distressed leather sofas at one end of the room for relaxing with a drink before or after dinner — or both. The decor may be a little fin de siècle but DonQui likes the spacious, open feel and the refined yet casual atmosphere.

The youngish, well-dressed staff are friendly, knowledgeable and the service is faultless. When DonQui does not need them they are nowhere to be seen. Then when he does want something they seem to magically appear just at the right moment.

So what about the food?

Utterly superb.


As is the wine – after a pinot noir and a grey goose vodka cocktail as aperitifs DonQui orders a very tasty Chinon.


DonQui finds the light reds from the Loire, such as Chinon and Bourgueil, are the perfect accompaniment to a meal with a mix of dishes. In his view they go equally well with rich red meat as well as lighter foods. He wonders why they are not that well known outside France.


To start DonQui has wild mushroom scotch egg. The egg (probably a quail’s given the size) has a perfectly runny yolk and solid white — just as it should be. The outside is crispy and full of gorgeous mushroom flavour. It is served on a bed of finely shredded pickled Japanese artichoke, a root vegetable that DonQui has not encountered before. It reminds him slightly of sauerkraut but with a more delicate taste and it goes very well with the scotch egg.


Duchess has goat’s cheese curds with honey which is served with a bundle of thin homemade grissini. The waiter warns that it is just a small nibble but it is what Duchess wants. She is after something that has flavour without being too filling and it does the job very nicely indeed.

Then there is the bread. The most gorgeous crusty sourdough — so good that it is devoured before DonQui can think of taking any photographs. The waiter asks if he would like more and although he does, he thinks it best to pass as otherwise he will have no room for anything else.

The two main courses are wild fallow deer with a nutty herb crust served on a bed of pearl barley with caramelised swede and curly kale; and chicken breast with sweet potatoes and polenta.


Readers will probably guess that DonQui goes for the venison. It is tender, juicy and rich without being gamey.


The look on Duchess’s face tells him that he should try her chicken breast. Now chicken breast is not something DonQui normally would go for as he prefers his meat dark and juicy. However this is without a doubt the best chicken breast he has ever tasted. With crispy skin it is moist and full of flavour that DonQui would not normally expect to find in a relatively simply cooked piece of chicken.


Feeling slightly greedy extra polenta sticks and savoy cabbage are ordered to go along side. The savoy cabbage does not quite live up to DonQui’s expectations. Poached in milk with bits of bacon the taste is fine, however the two big lumps of cabbage cut in half do not really appeal to his senses.


For desert DonQui has passion fruit posset which is delectable. Duchess goes for the chocolate eclair which is a disappointment. The pastry is rock hard. The waiter is most apologetic and produces two glasses of the most glorious Muscat in compensation which more than makes up for it.

Mistakes can happen but if they are dealt with graciously then everyone remains happy.


After a little espresso and a fine calvados to finish off DonQui is feeling very happy indeed. This is dining as it should be, he thinks — unstuffy, cheerful and thoroughly enjoyable.

DonQui and Duchess opted to go a la carte which was not cheap, but neither was it outrageously expensive by London standards. However one does not have to spend a fortune to dine at London House. There is an excellent set menu offering two courses for £22.50 or three for £28.00. Given the quality of the food and ambiance of the restaurant this is very good value indeed.

A London Shopping Survival Guide

DonQui rather enjoys shopping for food and browsing around book shops but other than that he hates shopping. In this regard he is probably not too dissimilar from most males of various species. His idea of hell on earth is a shopping mall so you will never see him in Westfield nor any other such ghastly place.

What to do then when online shopping does not provide the easy answer and a London shopping trip becomes unavoidable?


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First of all DonQui will avoid Oxford Street at all costs. Heaving with tourists and shopaholics it makes an unpleasant experience positively unbearable. This is especially true this time of year when Christmas lights are already up in early November and all the shops are blaring out soppy, truly awful Christmas songs. Perhaps the muzak is supposed to encourage people to buy — but it only makes DonQui want to kick the speakers and gallop off to the nearest pub to calm his nerves.

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When a shopping expedition cannot be avoided he heads for Kings Road.

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Now it does sadden DonQui that the cool shops of the swinging sixties and punk seventies have been replaced by bland chain stores. The Sloanes took over in the eighties and seem never to have left.

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True, Vivienne Westwood’s World’s End is still at — well World’s End. Under various names, it dressed the Sex Pistols and unleashed punk, bondage and pirate fashions. But is no longer the epicentre of current fashion that it once was.

The shop where Mary Quant first brought miniskirts and hot pants the world (thereby earning DonQui’s eternal gratitude) is now a café. Although there is a Mary Quant shop around the corner in York Square the company is now owned by Japanese businessmen.


The infamous Chelsea Drugstore featured in Clockwork Orange and the Rolling Stones lyrics in You Can’t Always Get What You Want, is now a McDonalds.

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Leaving nostalgia aside for more practical matters, the usual place DonQui starts a canter down Kings Road is at Sloane Square. Not much to hold him there as the various cafés are on the expensive side and not particularly cosy. However the Christmas lights are relatively tasteful and there is no horrid Christmas music. If you fancy a bit of theatre later on the Royal Court has a reputation for putting on new and innovative plays. It brought us the original Rocky Horror Picture Show back in 1973.

On the corner of Sloane Square, Peter Jones department store sells pretty much everything except food (for that there is a Waitrose further down the road). Now DonQui is not a great fan of department stores but this one has nice stuff and is not too crowded. It is part of the John Lewis group, retaining the old name of the original store which was bought up by Mr John Lewis himself back in 1905.


Opposite Peter Jones is Duke of York Square which has a goodly collection of upmarket chain shops, a large Zara and, more importantly quite a few rather good eateries. The former Duke of York’s Barracks is now home to the Saatchi Gallery for contemporary art.

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On Saturday morning there is a very good food market on the square where DonQui has often gone to pick up various delectables. Sometimes in summer he has combined this with a coffee and croissant sitting outside for breakfast at Partridges. The family run Partridges is a venerable institution reminding DonQui a little of Fortnum and Masons.

From Duke of York Square to the Chelsea Old Town hall there are a wide range of shops ranging from upmarket designers to Marks and Spencer’s.

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If in need of a quick lunch Al Dar is an excellent Lebanese restaurant and/or take-away. DonQui is particularly fond of their lamb shawarma which is made with proper whole pieces of lamb, beautifully spiced.


Alternatively the Amorino has some really very good all-natural Italian style ice cream just across the road.


Those with too much money burning a hole in their pocket could drop into Ghost to buy their girlfriend the dress worn by Bond Girl Léa Sedoux in SPECTRE.

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Or, you could sneak down Blacklands Terrace for some respite at John Sandoe’s wonderful independent bookshop, leaving any accompanying Generation X, Y or Z’ers in Jack Wills on the corner.


Most of the women in DonQui’s life seem rather taken with American import Anthropologie opposite the Trafalgar pub. Left to their own devices they could happily spend hours in there.


A good tactic is to let them do this and repair to the pub while they try stuff on. One can always join them later to give a verdict on things they are thinking about buying but have not yet made a decision on. Be careful when doing this, a glance at their facial expression will give a clue whether you are supposed to give positive re-assurance or if the female is genuinely unsure and it is safe not to like something she is considering.

The trick to surviving a shopping trip in DonQui’s view, is to intersperse buying stuff in shops with plentiful stop offs at pubs or cafés

IMG_5904.jpgA little bit off Kings Road, down Smith Street, is one of DonQui’s favourite watering holes in the area.  Part of the Geronimo Inns group, the Phoenix is a great drinking pub with comfortable bar area and a few seats outside. It also has pretty good food.

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Once, a few months back, when enjoying a drink outside, DonQui was entertained by a filming going on in the street.


Further down Kings Road and tucked away on a back street (Britten Street) is The Builders Arms. Another Geronimo outlet it is more of a gastro pub with food being the main attraction. Another very good gastro pub with a descent bar area is the Pigs Ear down Old Church Street past the Red Cross charity shop for the price conscious shopper and Manolo Blahnik for anything but.


If you want an unfussy old fashioned boozer you will need to go the Chelsea Potter.


Kings Road is especially blessed with good cafés from the excellent French imports like Pauls and Le Pain Quotidien to home grown ones.


Recently DonQui stopped off for a coffee and croissant at the Chelsea Quarter and found it very good indeed.


A good place for a lunch stop is the Chelsea Farmers Market just around the corner on Sidney Street — but don’t expect to find any Chelsea farmers there. They became extinct many years ago. Instead you will find a couple of good eateries — especially an excellent pizzeria. The restaurants are mostly geared to alfresco dining so it is much better in summer.

From the Chelsea Old town hall to World’s End the big chains gradually give way to some more independents as well as some very ordinary places such as Tesco, a post office and several charity shops. The charity shops along and just off King’s Road are very good places to pick up brand new stuff at knock down prices. The many more money than sense inhabitants of Chelsea will often offload their unwanted purchases here and the charity shops have cottoned onto it — shipping in their best stuff from elsewhere to stock the Kings Road outlets. Red Cross and Oxfam are particularly good.

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Vivianne Westwood’s wonky World’s End shop with its backwards running clock, the World’s End pub and World’s End nurseries mark what is surely the end of Kings Road. The road does apparently carry on a bit further but DonQui is fairly certain that if you go beyond the World’s End pub nothing much good will come from it. It may be that you will fall off the edge of the world, or possibly end up in Fulham — which is more or less the same thing.

A favourite neighbourhood restaurant

DonQui likes this unpretentious, family run, neighbourhood restaurant.

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Antipasto has been serving up traditional Italian food in Battersea for over 25 years and DonQui has been eating it for nearly a decade. Whenever he finds himself in SW11 he likes to try to manage at least one visit, and that is what he does this evening. Arriving at around 7pm the restaurant is still fairly empty but it fills up fast and by 8pm most tables are full.

The specials on the blackboard look very good and DonQui is tempted. However, he has a favourite staple which he is glad to see still on the menu since he has been looking forward to it for quite some time. Every so often he will order something else but he usually keeps coming back to his favourite — calf’s liver with butter and sage.

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It is simply prepared— the liver slightly pink as DonQui likes it, with the lovely rich tastes of butter and sage permeating the dish. The accompanying vegetables are also unfussy but perfectly cooked, still retaining come crunch. The roast potatoes are crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, just as they should be.

DonQui is quite hungry so before getting to the liver he decides to order the mackerel fillet starter from the specials board.

Antipasto 3.jpgThree lovely fresh tasting grilled filets are served with a balsamic glaze, lemon and small green salad. It is a pretty substantial portion for a starter and DonQui thinks it would have been enough to share between 2 or 3 people. He has frequently shared starters at Antipasto in the past as they do tend to be on the generous size. He once made the mistake of ordering garlic bread as well and by the time his main course arrived he was pretty well full up.

DonQui glances over to a nearby table where a man is being presented with the ‘Italian charcuterie’ starter which is a long wooden board filled with various cold cuts and bread — practically a meal in itself.

Antipasto 4.jpgHowever he still has room for a desert and is in the mood for some ice-cream — in this case a tartufo with zabaione centre, gianduia outer and sprinkled with cocoa and chopped hazelnuts. Just the ticket, DonQui thinks as he tucks in.

Rounding off with a proper Italian-strength espresso at the end, DonQui leaves feeling quite satisfied.

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His wallet is not lightened too much thanks to Antipasto’s rather odd pricing system. Not so long ago they used to offer 50% off all food three days a week. This made it a real bargain on those days and tended to leave the place relatively empty on the others. Now they offer 40% off food (excepting deserts) every day of the week. This does make DonQui wonder why they don’t just reduce the base prices by 40%. Presumably the prospect of 40% off draws in more people than if the prices were lower. Whatever the logic, the end result is that a meal here is very good value for money indeed.

The understated service is friendly and efficient and the courses come quite quickly. Sometimes if he wants to linger over a meal here DonQui will order one course and wait to order a second once he has finished it. This is something he learned to do in Italy where it seems quite common to order your meal as you go along.

A Corner of Italy in London

By now readers will be well aware of the large role breakfast plays in DonQui’s life. When he is in London, his breakfast of choice is often a croissant with fresh pressed orange juice and a large milky coffee at Il Molino on Battersea Park Rd.

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With the world being colonised by identikit coffee shops DonQui is very happy whenever he finds a good independent. The furnishings are a delightful mishmash of distressed wood tables (none of them matching) with a bar under the window covered with newspapers and a few seats outside. Various Italian food stuffs are stacked on shelves around the walls both for decoration and purchase.
The staff are young, friendly, and mostly Italian. They approach their work and customer service with that typical southern European insouciance which DonQui rather likes. There is none of this ghastly American: ‘how may I help you’ or ‘have a nice day’ — or worst of all when the servers tell DonQui their name in hope of getting a better tip. Not likely – it only makes him more curmudgeonly!

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Il Molino, therefore, is not a place to come if you are in a rush — there are plenty other places for those who prefer cold efficiency or saccharine over-exaggerated friendliness. Il Molino is a place to come and have something to eat and drink, read the paper, watch the world go by or maybe get the laptop or pad out to do a little work. Just like in France or Italy, for the price of a single coffee you can stay all day.
The coffee is excellent as are the various pastries. They also have a deli counter with items more suitable for a light lunch. These look good but as DonQui has not yet sampled any, he cannot vouch for them. There is music in the background but not too loud. With the likes of the Who, Pink Floyd, and Rolling Stones on the play list last time he was there, it is the kind of music DonQui approves of.
Although it has a youngish, slightly trendy vibe the customer base is as eclectic as the furniture. They may be an old man sitting in the corner with a paper, a couple of yummy mummies with tots in tow, an urban professional playing with his iphone, and workers dropping in from a nearby building site. No bearded hipsters, however — after all, this is Battersea not Shoreditch.

The Most Beautiful Bridge in London

In DonQui’s opinion it is not Tower Bridge – although it is pretty impressive.

It is certainly not London Bridge, which is in Arizona.

Waterloo Bridge

Neither is it Waterloo Bridge, despite the Kinks’ eulogy and the rather magnificent views.

Albert Bridge

In DonQui’s view it is Albert Bridge which has to take top spot

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He always feels inspired whenever he sees it or crosses between Battersea and Chelsea

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And if he is trotting along with others he is always careful to break step – after all he would not want to cause it to fall down.

A Stroll Through Soho

Avid readers of his blog will not be surprised to find DonQui in Soho. After all he made a promise to himself yesterday while wandering around Piccadilly.

DonQui likes Soho. Full of eating, drinking and entertainment establishments there are plenty of possibilities for a decent lunch or a good night on the town. There are still even a few naughty places left over from its 1950s-70s heyday as London’s capital of sleaze, not that DonQui knows anything about such matters. Although rather gentrified now, there is just enough grit left for DonQui to feel that that the area has not become too sanitised.

Bypassing the tourist hell of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, DonQui heads straight for the back streets to the north of Shaftesbury Avenue.

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A stroll up Berwick Street reveals plenty of options for good  food. From the fruit and vegetable sellers…

Soho2 to pseudo street-food stalls offering everything from burritos…


to salads…


and even fish and chips; there is plenty on offer if you don’t have the time for a sit-down lunch.

Before too long, DonQui finds himself on Dean Street. This is where he usually finds himself when he is in Soho as it houses some of his favourite stopping off places.

Prix Fixe

Prix Fixe is an excellent lunch or dinner spot in the manner of a French brasserie. They have a set menu offering incredibly good value in a relaxed atmosphere. Inevitably DonQui ends up having a steak-frites as his main course. The frites are proper thin french style — crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.

French House

The French House, a bit further down Dean St, is one of DonQui’s favourite watering holes. During the second world war it was the unofficial headquarters of de Gaulle’s Free French and this is the root of the name. The French House still retains its character and is a perfect place to meet for a drink before going to dinner or for turning a lunch into an all afternoon affair. French and Belgian beers are on tap, served in half pint glasses only, and they also have some excellent Breton cider.


Favoured by actors, writers, bohemians and all sorts or reprobates it is about as far as one can get from a blonde wood and chrome chain pub. There is no music, no slot machines, no sports on television and woe betide anyone who uses a mobile phone.

Just the sort of place DonQui likes.

Coach and Horses

The Coach and Horses around the corner on Greek Street used to be another haunt. It was a ‘proper boozer’ and one of the few remaining Soho stalwarts. Sadly, since the departure of Norman in 2006, it has begun to tidy itself up. Norman, who ran the pub for 62 years was the self-proclaimed ‘rudest pub landlord in Britain’ and would not tolerate boring people nor anything that might get in the way of lively conversation or proper drinking.

DonQui drops in for a quick pint and is horrified to learn that it has now become a vegetarian pub. He shakes his head in disbelief and thinks that Peter O’Toole and Francis Bacon (who were once regulars) must be turning in their graves.

DonQui also Recommends
Andrew Edmunds 46 Lexington St for a cosy, intimate atmosphere, high quality food and a great wine list — a good place to take a date.
Ronnie Scott’s 47 Frith St, for a night of top end jazz with big names often playing there. A Soho institution since 1959
Bar Italia 22 Frith Street for a proper Italian espresso in a proper Italian atmosphere. Across the street from Ronnie Scott’s it has been running since 1949
Pizza Express 10 Dean Street for both good pizza and good jazz. Although DonQui generally avoids chains he makes an exception for this one. There is nothing chain-like about the Jazz Club downstairs.
La Boheme 13 Old Compton St for a lively atmosphere from breakfast through to dinner and then late drinks. The public face of the original Soho House (once a fine members club and now an industry) it is a good place to go for the buzz rather than an expectation of exceptional or good value food.
Ain’t Nothing But the Blues Bar, 20 Kingly St for a lively buzzing atmosphere and great live blues until the wee hours of the morning.

Passing the Time in Piccadilly

DonQui finds himself in London and at a loose end for about an hour. Now an hour is rather an annoying amount of time to have free. It is not enough to do something really interesting like having a proper lunch but it is too much to simply kick ones hooves and do nothing.

In his view, time wasting is an art form which should be cultivated. The more he observes humans rushing around in a constant state of busy-ness, the more he thinks they could learn from donkeys — most of whom are perfectly happy to laze around in a field all day.


So with this in mind DonQui heads for Piccadilly where there are lots of places to waste time in a pleasurable and productive manner.

Fortum & Mason’s is always worth a nose around.


Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason have sorts of delectable delights very attractively arranged,  and DonQui rather approves of their old fashioned formality. Although tempted — he doesn’t buy anything as the prices are a bit on the steep side.


He wasn’t even tempted by Japanese Wagyu beef at a mere £195 a kilo!


The tea selection is pretty impressive and they even have tastings. DonQui had no idea that there could be so many different varieties


— even a blend to celebrate the Battle of Waterloo.


Next door to Fortum & Mason, and boasting one more Royal Warrant, is Hatchard’s — Britain’s oldest bookshop which was established in 1797 and is now owned by Waterstones. Packed full of great books, and not just the latest bestsellers, Hatchard’s is a great place to browse as well as picking up a good book or two.


A little further on, the five floors of books at the Waterstones’ flagship store could absorb DonQui for ages. There is a café upstairs and there are worse ways to pass the time than picking up an interesting book or two from the shelves and then retiring to the café to leaf through them.

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There are plenty of good places to stop for a bite to eat although some may require taking out a second mortgage on the stable in order to pay the bill.

DonQui simply goes for a coffee and croissant at Paul — one of an increasing number or rather welcome French boulangeries and pâtisseries  that have crossed the channel in recent years.


Then he takes a stroll through the Piccadilly Arcade with its impossibly quirky and expensive shops. These range from bespoke tailors to Maille mustard; militaria to Russian icons.


If he had more time DonQui might have considered dropping into the Royal Academy across the road for a bit of artistic culture. On the other hand it is probably more likely that he would have made his way over to Soho for something to eat and drink.

In fact that sounds like such a good idea that he resolves to go to Soho tomorrow,

Across London

So many people! Where are they all going? It’s exhausting!


At least DonQui is crossing London by bus — better than the crowded Tube. It might take a bit longer but at least he can look out the window and see the city go by. If he is not sure which bus to take, the handy Citimapper App gives him all the options, shows him the nearest stop and tells him when the next bus is coming.


Early next morning it is time to set off for Paris. When his is feeling flush, travelling with others or taking lots of baggage DonQui does like taking a black cab. There is lots of space for luggage, and the humans who drive them seem to know everything. They also know every road in London and where all the shortcuts are. DonQui hopes that satnavs and Uber will not seal their doom.

DonQui uses his Hailo App to call up a Black Cab any time or any place and takes credit cards as well.

DonQui Recommends:

Citimapper for getting around Town. He uses it to find the best routes around London but it is available for other cities too.

Hailo for calling a black cab in London