My second trip to Europe. Definitely not my last. We flew into London, then took a train over to Amsterdam, then took another train down to Paris, and finally rode a third train back up to London. This was my first time visiting each location, and this trip was extra exciting since William planned several surprises for me throughout it. And, let me tell you, he’s getting really good at this.
I completely fell in love with London. It’s filled with so much character and life. There’s so much interesting diversity in the people, the food, and the architecture. I loved seeing the contrast of the old and the new buildings. The incredible street art and the adorable snickelways winding through the city mesmerized me. If we ever have to move and leave our beloved San Francisco, I’m moving to London (sorry mom).
We landed super early Monday morning and went straight to breakfast at The Good Life Eatery. Super Cute. Super Tiny. They have BYO-AVO Toast (build your own avo toast). Need I say more?
After dropping luggage off at our Airbnb, which was a cute little place in Camden, we started walking around and slowly made our way to our lunch spot, Leggero. This place caught our eye because they are 100% gluten free and have fresh homemade bread AND pasta. We started our carb game off strong with a trio of their breads for an appetizer followed by a dish of pasta for each of us. I’ll be honest, their sauces were not that great. BUT, the pasta was very good and I’m kicking myself for not getting a few boxes to take home and pair with my own sauce. Anyone going to London soon and want to get me some?
The first surprise William planned was a champagne experience on the London Eye ferris wheel. I had initially thought the whole London Eye thing was a bit cheesy, but the views of the city were wonderful. Also, it was air conditioned, which was a treat because it was insanely HOT out. We are so spoiled in San Francisco, it never gets too hot, it’s never really that cold… granted, we don’t really have seasons, but at least the weather is never trying to kill you.
Another thing I love about London is that many buildings are covered in flowers. Everywhere you turn there are flowers practically spilling out of window boxes and hanging pots. It’s the most delightful thing to see, and you just can’t help but smile.
I rode on the tube for the first time and it was fantastic. London has wonderful public transit – it’s so easy to get around. We took the tube, bus, or walked everywhere – it was so easy.
For dinner we went to a place called Mommi. It piqued our interest since it was described as a spot where Japan meets Latin America. We were especially surprised to discover that they were 100% gluten free. The food was absolutely delightful. It had so much flavor! And the sweet potato fries… those were a real winner.
I read about a few secret gardens within the city. One of these was The Ruins of St. Dunstan in the East. It’s overgrown with vines, surrounded by trees, and has been turned into a beautiful public garden. It’s meticulously kept and it feels like walking through a hidden sanctuary within the city.
The next surprise was a cruise on the Thames. While a very touristy thing to do, it was a great way to see lots of sights. It also helped that our tour guide had a fantastic sense of good British humor and was brilliant to listen to.
The next activity was one of my favorites. Afternoon Tea. We simply couldn’t go to London and not partake in this centuries-old tradition. There are many places that offer a gluten-free version of high tea, but our one criteria when selecting? The scones. We did a lot of research and finally settled on The Library. It’s in a beautiful old library with gloriously tall windows letting tons of natural light stream through.
Our server greeted us with a glass of champagne as we sat down. I also loved that she let me smell the different teas before ordering. I ended up getting their “County Hall Blend” – a blend of Indian Assam, Sri Lankan and Chinese Keemun. William got their “Chocolate Cinnamon Chai”. A few minutes later, she brought out a 3-tier tray laden with food. There were little sandwiches in five different flavors on the bottom, four warm raisin scones wrapped in a napkin were nestled on the second level, and the top had an assortment of desserts.
Now the moment I’d been patiently waiting for… the scones. They were glorious! Soft, flavorful, with great texture. I would go back just for the scones. They of course had clotted cream and jam to go with them. I know there’s some controversy around whether the jam or the clotted cream goes on top, so I tried it both ways. Ya’ll, it’s the same… but the jam looks prettier on top. We then tasted the desserts on the top tier. They were good, but just couldn’t compare to the scones. I decided to return my full attention to the scones and tea and let the rest be. It was perfect.
One of my favorite things in cities is the street art. I’m not a huge fan of museums, but walking the streets is like a gallery to me as I see so many unique expressions. The Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel in London is such a unique place. There were some mind blowing pieces on the ceiling, and we even got to see a few artists in action.
I had read about an interesting street, called “Goodwin’s Court”, that was built in 1690. We decided to try to find it. The address took us to a very busy street that we walked up and down multiple times trying to find where to turn. At one point I was convinced it didn’t exist. I felt like I was in the episode of Doctor Who (“Face the Raven”) where they were trying to discover the entrance to a hidden street in the middle of London, and they were walking up and down and back and forth all over the place. Don’t know what I’m talking about? That’s cool. We’ll just say it’s like trying to find Diagon Alley. We did finally find it. A little opening the size of a doorway led to an alley sized street that, unlike the busy street we had just come from, was completely deserted. The row of shops with curved glass windows felt like a nostalgic piece of history. It was even complete with gaslight lamps. It’s a short street, but finding it is half the fun.
Our final activity of the day was a gin tasting at Mr Fogg’s Society of Exploration. This was an impeccably decorated gin bar filled with thoughtful, funny, and beautiful details. Our guide led us through the history of gin while we sipped on a gin cocktail.
We then tasted four different types of gin to see the differences they can have. They were all fantastic. We started off with Hayman’s of London, then had Star of Bombay. While they had subtle differences, both were what I would expect a classic gin to taste like. The third one we tried was Roku Gin. This one had an interesting Japanese influence with additional botanicals such as yuzu peel, sencha tea, and sakura leaf. The last one was Whitley Neill’s Quince Gin. It was different from any gin I’ve had. It had a sweet quality, yet strong flavor, and was very pleasant to sip.
At the end, we selected one of the gins to make a gin and tonic. William tried Hayman’s, I tried the Roku. Both were great, but definitely different. It was interesting to see how the different gins changed the taste of a classic drink. His was more light and fresh tasting, and mine had a deeper undertone of flavor notes. Fun fact: we learned that when ordering a gin and tonic, it’s best to ask for a “light tonic”, as that helps to bring out the flavor of the gin better.
We had breakfast at The Bach (pronounced “batch”). It was a lovely open space with lots of fresh air and light coming in. The food was wonderful. We both had English-style breakfasts and William said the baked beans were the best he’d ever had.
It was finally a cool enough day for hot chocolate, so we took the tube over to Dark Sugars. William’s been looking forward to this place ever since his sister went and told him how amazing it was. We decided to try their “Pitch Black” flavor, which to our surprise was essentially just melted and steamed chocolate with no added milk.
William loves James Bond movies, so we found ourselves at the Bond In Motion museum next. It was fun to see a lot of the cars, costumes, and props that have been used in the movies. There were screens playing near each piece to show where it had appeared in the film. I especially enjoyed the car sketches that had been done for the films showing either how the cars would break apart during crash scenes or what style they’d be.
For lunch we went to The Chipping Forecast. We couldn’t go to London and not have fish and chips, especially when it’s one of my favorite things. Their gluten-free beer battered cod tasted incredible and was cooked perfectly. I would love to go back.
The next surprise William planned took up the rest of the day. He had tickets for us to see both parts of the Harry Potter play. It was a fantastic thing to experience in London! No spoilers here, but I have to say that while the plays were a lot of fun and some of the “magic” tricks they did were quite stunning, it didn’t compare to the movies or books (obviously). It was a fun story, but I missed the details, emotions, and character development that would have been in a book. I’m also just a little book obsessed though… I still recommend it.
Between showings we went to Honest Burgers for dinner. I have a favorite burger spot in San Francisco, and while that spot still reigns supreme for their fries…. Honest Burgers has dethroned them for their burgers and the fact that they have gluten-free onion rings! That’s something I can never say no to, and these were amazing. I also just need to take a moment and talk about how perfect their gluten-free buns are. Not only do they not crumble and fall apart, they actually taste good and have an incredible soft, yet chewy texture. Quite literally the perfect hamburger.
Thursday was our last full day in London. We went to Apres for breakfast, which is hands down my new favorite restaurant. It’s so adorable and the food is incredibly tasty yet so good for you. William had another English breakfast and I got avocado toast with smoked salmon. We also ordered porridge since we saw a few bowls of it go by and it looked so delicious. It was. Since childhood I’ve always imagined porridge to be a certain way – creamy, yet slightly nutty, a bit sweet – but I’ve never found anything like that, even when I tried to make it. This was everything that I had always imagined porridge to be. Their matcha latte was also exceptional. I really can’t rave enough about this place.
Apres is one of the few places I’ve ever gone to and both thoroughly enjoyed the food and still felt completely good afterwards. The cofounders Danny and Catherine have put so much thought into this restaurant. We found out that Catherine is not only an incredible chef, but also a nutritional therapist and designs all the menu items to support the body without compromising on taste. This is literally my dream restaurant.
We planned a walking route for Thursday that would take us to a few interesting spots along the way. We started out at Hyde Park. We only walked through a small part of it, since it’s really quite large, but I was impressed with the gardens and other thoughtful areas designed within it.
Our route took us to Selfridge’s next. A few years ago I watched the show, Mr. Selfridge. At the time, I didn’t realize that it was actually based on a true story. My mind was slightly blown when I realized it was a real store in London. Since William hadn’t seen it before, we started watching it together in preparation for the trip, so we were both excited to see what was now in our eyes, a famous store. It was exactly what I expected – thoughtful, curated, modern and unique.
Another exciting part of Selfridge’s is their food hall. So many options! And the most exciting one: Beyond Bread, a gluten-free bakery. After some heavy debating, we left with a regular croissant, almond croissant, and a cinnamon bun.
Next stop – Postcard Teas. This was another highlight for me and an amazing gem that William found. They have a lovely display of teas from all over the world with samples of each that you can open up to smell (very important!). Aside from their adorable labels and packaging, they also give a great description of where each tea comes from and why they like it. They’ve hand selected everything and best of all, it all comes from small producers (<15 acre farms). You can taste any tea for £3 or it’s free if you end up buying the tea (like I usually do). We ended up tasting three and buying four. You can also send a “postcard” of tea to someone. They have small boxes with a postcard “front” on one side and a “back” on the other side for the message and address. We couldn’t resist sending one to our friends at our favorite tea shop in SF. I can’t wait to come back here and try more tea.
While waiting for the bus, we snacked on our croissant, which was fantastic. I love the double decker buses in London by the way. I so wish that SF had those, it would help tremendously with our overcrowded bus problems, not to mention that they’re just super posh.
Our last non-food activity of the day was to visit the London Transport Museum. For those of you who know William, this stop should not be a surprise at all. He absolutely loves anything to do with transportation. It’s a beautiful museum filled with restored pieces, and they do a great job showing the history of public transportation in London. I had no idea they used to have horse drawn double-decker carriages!
We ended the day at Station 26 for dinner. It took a little while to find – there were some circles and backtracking involved – but we eventually found it inside a covered, traditional street market. Station 26 is a 100% gluten-free restaurant and like everything else in London, quite adorable. The food and service were good. The sauces were a bit sweet for my liking, which kind of ruined it for me. But the yuca fries… they were the best I’ve ever had. Perfectly crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. Ahhhh it was worth it just for that.
I was also pleased to discover gluten-free beer options at a lot of restaurants in London. Having been diagnosed with celiac before I could start drinking, I never got into beer, especially after having a few terrible gluten-free beers when breweries first started trying. I’ve been slowly discovering good beers and realizing that I do in fact enjoy it very much.
We spent a few days in Amsterdam and Paris before we returned to London for the final day of our trip.
Fast forward to Tuesday…
We arrived back in London by train Tuesday morning. Since we enjoyed Apres so much last time, we went back for lunch. We enjoyed it just as much. This is really my dream restaurant. Danny even remembered us. When William ordered a spritzer, he came back with it split into two wine glasses saying he figured we’d want to share. How thoughtful is that?!
This time around we had a burger with a homemade bun, baked sweet potato fries, and a delightful salmon salad. Everything was incredible. Catherine even came out to chat with us for a little bit about the food and ideas that she had for new menu items. Seriously, dream restaurant.
We took the tube over to Spitalfields to go back to Dark Sugars for more hot chocolate. On the way, we discovered Old Spitalfields Market and explored for a little bit. William immediately found a chai place and started tasting. I don’t usually care for chai, and when he got a cup of iced chai, I begrudgingly tried it. I probably shouldn’t have because then I almost drank it all. It was delicious. It tasted more like a gingersnap to me.
We did eventually make it back to Dark Sugars for one of their signature drinks – normal hot chocolate this time, but with loads of shaved chocolate on top. It’s crazy, yummy, and hard to drink, but it’s definitely worth trying.
We couldn’t leave without getting chocolate truffles. We brought a few home with us to try. My favorites were the Coffee and the Gin & Lime.
That neighborhood is a treasure trove for street art. I was having so much fun walking around and discovering all the unique pieces.
While researching for London we discovered Dukes. The writer for James Bond frequented this bar often and it’s where the classic Bond Martini was born. We had to go. We splurged on two martinis at £21 each. The experience was worth it, and the drinks were quite good. They have a two-page menu of just martinis. When you order a drink, they bring a rolling cart to your table and make each drink in front of you as they explain what they are creating.
Our final stop in London was another trip to Honest Burgers. We couldn’t get enough of that place – the burgers and those onion rings! It’s not everyday you find incredible onion rings you can eat. I also decided to try their gluten-free beer Daura Damm. I think I have a new obsession with beer. I had no idea how good it could be. Why do I always fall in love with things that we don’t have in the US?
I’ve never traveled somewhere and didn’t want to leave. Every trip that we’ve gone on, I was ready to go home by the end of it or even before. But not London. There’s something magical about the city. London just has so much to offer – there is so much diversity in the people, places, food, and activities. It’s an exciting place to be. I’m already trying to figure out when I’ll be going back. Soon I imagine, quite soon.