Friday, May 31, 2013

Donostia Basque Kitchen

A few doors away from The Portman we discovered Donostia Restaurant, a Basque tapas spot. Clean contemporary lines with a rustic touch met us as we entered this teeny place on a rainy evening. We secured the last unreserved table. At times it is advantageous to be unfashionably early.

Donostia Entrance

Your Table is Ready

All of the offerings were small to medium-sized plates and, for a London restaurant of this caliber, prices were less than expected.

We chose a Spanish Rioja to start.


And then on to the food. We kept our menu with us throughout the evening until we were through and experienced quite a few dishes from the expected to the unusual (unusual stateside, at least).

First up were Boquerones - white anchovies with piquillo peppers. While traditional, a bit too fishy for me. I concentrated on enjoying the peppers.


And then Pisto with Quail Egg. The ratatouille-like veggies were tasty and the egg delightful.

Pisto with Quail Egg

The Tempura Prawns with Ham and Mango were most excellent. We could have ordered many more rounds of these shrimp.

Tempura Prawns with Bayonne Ham and Mangoes

On to Creamy Croquettes with Jamon. Crunchy, creamy, salty.

Croquettes with Jamon

Check out the Mini Wagyu Beef Burger with the Purple Potato Chips. Cute with great flavor.

Mini Wagyu Beef Burger with Purple Potato Chips

One of the meduim-sized plates was the Monkfish with Black Rice. The fish was not fishy-tasting and had a nice sear. The black rice was unusual and a treat.

Monkfish with Black Rice

We also enjoyed Pigeon Breast with Peas and Pancetta. Served medium-rare, the pigeon was a hearty fowl more akin to duck or even ostrich.

Pigeon Breast with Peas and Pancetta

Of course, we also had to try the Triple Cooked Potatoes with Brava Sauce. Yummy, indeed, with a slightly spicy sauce featuring pimenton.

Triple Cooked Potatoes with Brava Sauce

A great place with a wonderful vibe and lovely service. If you go, try to make reservations. We got lucky.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Buddha at Victoria and Albert

Buddha by pjpink

Buddha a photo by pjpink on Flickr.
We spent a morning at the Victoria and Albert Museum and indulged in the sculpture and the history of fashion exhibit. We may have covered 20% of the place. It's huge and contains all manner of art and design. The permanent collection is free. The David Bowie special exhibit (now though Aug 11) charged 14 pounds (we went the free route).

The photo of Buddha turned out particularly well and so I am sharing with you.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Orangery, and Min Jiang

We really enjoy walking in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The vast expanses of green with tall, tall trees. The little areas that burst with blooms. A sculpture that delights. The waterfowl and lakes. The horses being exercised every morning. And (as mentioned before), the dogs that are free to roam the park without a leash. It's all good.

And don't forget Kensington Palace which was home to Princess Diana. The gift shop has loads of princess accessories.

Swan Song 3


Heron 3

Tree Line

Pond View

Peter Pan

The canvas-backed chairs always look cute, but beware; you must rent them. One day when it was unusually sunny, many Londoners took advantage of the weather and picnicked in the park. Unfortunately, most of them did not pick up after themselves and there was trash everywhere. Very disappointing. A great green space deserves a bit more respect.


We had lunch at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens one afternoon. We had dined here on our last trip and was mightily impressed. This time, the food and tea were still very good, but our waiter was found lacking in the service department and while the desserts seemed tempting, we decided to skip the treat (and added expense) because of him.

Salad with Fennel and Mixed Lettuces
Rillette of Pork
Rillette of Roast Pork
On the other hand, we thoroughly enjoyed dinner at Min Jiang. A Chinese restaurant located on the 10th floor of the Royal Garden Hotel overlooking Kensington Gardens. Wow. Our main dishes were some of the best Chinese we have ever had. The other cool thing was a wonderful wine list. We enjoyed a lovely Alsatian Pinot Blanc with dinner. If you dine here, make reservations. The place is very popular, including the bar area.

Min Jiang
The View from Min Jiang
Spring Rolls
Vegetable Spring Rolls
Roasted Chicken with Ginger Sauce
Roasted Chicken with Ginger Sauce
Stir Fried Chicken with Broad Beans and Cashew Nuts
Gong Bao Chicken
Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens together is one of our favorite London places. Great to explore and people-watch and meet new furry and feathered friends.

Walking with the Dog

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Stompin' at the Savoy

Not really. Just drinkin' at the American Bar. And people watchin'.

Savoy Entrance

There were the gathering of serious business men with shiny shoes who were knocking back scotch and waters like no tomorrow. During our brief stint, they had downed four each. Those Brits, no matter the upbringing, can drink.

Shiny Shoe

A couple of ladies were enjoying a glass of wine after a day of shopping.

A Glass of Wine After a Day of Shopping

A negroni was the poison at our table accompanied by an olive assortment.


Prices were dear, but the experience memorable.

Topiary and Top Hat

Greenwich and The Mitre Free House

There's just something about Greenwich. Although close to London, it portrays a different vibe. It's easy to get there; just hop on the Tube or take a ferry. If you have never been before I recommend the ferry in order to see the revitalization of the Thames, the Tower Bridge, and how the tides affect this famous ribbon of water.

The View from Greenwich

Greenwich offers many choices for the tourist, most containing a nautical theme (Cutty Sark, Old Royal Naval College, Maritime Museum). And then there is the park with the Royal Observatory at the apex. On this visit we concentrated on three things: The Cutty Sark, Old Royal Naval College, and The Queen's House Museum. The last two were free (the Observatory is free, too).

We began with the Cutty Sark. That way-fast tea clipper whose life span was shortened (at least as a tea caddy) by the steam ship and the Suez Canal. The last time we were across the pond, the Cutty Sark had suffered a restoration setback via a fire. Hubby was devastated. He was much happier this time. The Cutty Sark is a full-blown museum. Although admission is a bit steep at 14 pounds, for us, it was well worth it and afforded a lot of photo opportunities. Particularly impressive was how they have suspended the ship off of the ground to relieve undue pressure on the hull.

Clipper Ship



Cutty Sark and Figurehead

Upon disembarking we were hungry (the Cutty Sark cafe did not appeal to us) and happened upon The Mitre Hotel and Free House. It looked and acted like a pub. Upon a tiny bit of research I discovered that a Free House was a pub that was not tied to a particular brewery.

The Mitre Hotel Free House

We chose a cozy spot, perused the menu, and ordered from the bar. One thing to note. Our menu listed beers, but all of these beers were by the bottle. We had to ask (or recognize the tap) about anything on draft. Hubby had a decent ale with an unrememberable name. I ordered a Bulmers Pear Cider. I like pear cider and most places carried some version of the stuff.

The Mitre Interior

Bulmers Pear Cider

We both had very traditional lunches. Me with a Steak and Ale Pie; hubby with Bangers and Mash. Both were tasty and mirrors our versions of comfort food. The pastry for my pie was a bit thick and heavy for my tastes, but the beef inside was fork tender and satisfying. And who can turn down a lovely plate of mild sausages, mashed potatoes, and gravy? And topped with sauteed onions? A right proper lunch.

Steak and Ale Pie

Bangers and Mash

After lunch we headed to the twin domes that Wren built at the Old Royal Naval College. The building was originally used as a royal hospital for seamen and then converted to a naval college. Now it's a museum. Underneath one dome is a chapel and beneath the other is the Painted Hall - the most lofty and elaborately decorated dining hall I've ever seen. Once the hall was painted it was also deemed too fancy to dine in.

These buildings are HUGE and a bit surreal. Just walking around can be fascinating.


As previously mentioned, the Painted Hall is over-the-top elaborate with soaring arched windows. The ceilings and non-window spaces are painted in the curlicue-baroque style. I thought it was interesting that the list of benefactors were also painted on the wall with the amounts contributed. These days, benefactors are just named on the museum or hospital wall.

A Mighty Fine Dining Hall

Painted Hall Vestibule

Rule Britannia

Painted Hall Benefactors

The Chapel is just as ornate, but much brighter in hue. The carved ceiling intrigues and was difficult to capture.

Royal Naval College Chapel

Chapel Ceiling

Chapel Pipes

While it is not overtly apparent, there is an underground passage that connects both domes. In the middle the  Royal Naval College motto appears: By Wisdom As Much As War.

By Wisdom As Much As War

We then headed to The Queen's House, a small art museum portraying naval treasures and a spectacular spiral staircase. The naval paintings were okay.

The Queen's House

Edward Cooke - Hay Barge Off Greenwich

J.M.W. Turner - The Battle of Trafalgar

The tulip staircase, however was awesomely brilliant. And a contemporary textile installation entitled Flower Helix by Alice Kettle hung from the center. The mix of vintage and contemporary kept me happy for quite a while.

Ascent with Alice Kettle

Flower Helix Detail 1

Towards the Light

We had a great day in Greenwich. Even though the place contains many attractions, it still has a small-town feel.

Neon Green Scooter