Birthday with Dad

National Portrait Gallery and restaurant

Last December I had an afternoon unexpectedly free up, so I decided to spend it at my favourite big art gallery near Trafalgar Square. Not the grand one with the pillars, the National Gallery, but the one around the corner on Charing Cross Road, across the street from Pret, the National Portrait Gallery.

Both arrange their collections by chronology, so you go forward in time as you move through them. But while the National Gallery’s halls are just by century – “16th: Leonardo, Cranach, Michelangelo, Raphael, Holbein”, you can practically hear the curator yawning – the National Portrait Gallery, which has to fit into smaller rooms, has also grouped each era into themes.

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Birthday with Dad

being rich

At 4pm on Friday, the last day in the office for most people before Christmas, the fire alarm went off. Without having to say so out loud, everyone knew that most of us wouldn’t bother returning for half an hour’s worth of work, so we shut down our computers properly before walking down the three flights of stairs to the ground floor. Outside we stood in the cold for half a minute, looking up at the Shard, then as one mass moved to the pub and ordered twenty cups of mulled wine.

We got to talking about the best food in London. My company has small offices across the world, and a lot of British employees use their annual plane ticket back to come home for Christmas. What they were most looking forward to was eating. A Berlin-based editor was planning a pile of ‘proper’ dim sum on the weekend. A Johannesburg-based writer lovingly described the pho he’d had for lunch. Someone mentions crispy aromatic duck, and it lodged in my mind, mentally crackling.

At around 4:30 someone from another department stuck their head in the pub and gave us the all-clear, and the poor souls who still had work to do finished their drinks and pulled on scarves and coats. The rest of us pointedly waited a few minutes, luxuriating in the pre-emptive weekend atmosphere of not having to do anything, then said our goodbyes and merry Christmases and peeled away.

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Dishoom, King’s Cross

NOTE: IF YOU ARE READING THIS BEFORE 19 NOVEMBER AT 5PM, SKIP TO THE FOOD PICTURES AND SOFT LAUNCH INFORMATION AND THEN GO IMMEDIATELY.

I work half my shifts from home, and while our little study is a great space for Getting Things Done, I try to leave the house to do creative writing. Partially because a change of place helps you think in new ways, partially so that when I’m famous and dead, London tour guides will have somewhere to take people and go ‘and here’s the very place where she wrote Bard For Life: No Seriously The Globe Won’t Let Me Back In, in fact just at this table here’ and everyone will go ooh and imagine me sitting there thoughtfully crafting sentences about boners in Coriolanus.

This has mostly been Yumchaa in Camden, an excellent tea shop with a lot of light that is just not-busy enough that I don’t feel bad about parking it with my laptop for four hours, but they don’t do savoury hot food and I get grumpy when I’m hungry. I tried making regular writing visits to Dishoom in Shoreditch, where we had an amazing Christmas lunch last year, but the ten-minute walk from Old Street tube is a bit annoying especially now that it’s November and rainy.

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Dishoom, Shoreditch: A ‘Bombay’-style Christmas lunch

Why are Christmas lunches an office tradition when big lunches out with friends are so plainly better? A "1960s Bombay-style feast" at Dishoom Shoreditch was the best Christmas lunch I've ever had. And I hate Shoreditch.

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Eating London: food and history in London’s East End, and a kitty drinking a pint of lager

I was really surprised a few weeks ago when I received a PR email about something that actually sounded good: it came from the social media manager of Eating London's East End history and food tours, who offered to comp my tour and give a discount to Ewan if we came along and I wrote about it here. I had already heard of the tour and I've been to a few of the restaurants included on it and regard them very highly. So I said yes, and very cheekily set it up for Ewan's & my wedding anniversary, so I could fulfill the mitzvah of planning a treat for us without actually having to do anything. NAILED IT.

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La Gitana manzanilla sherry at Brindisa

Tapas and gelato at Borough Market: when we were served by a Spanish ex-pirate

So I might not have mentioned this before, but my family is pretty spread out across the world. And when we get together, we like to do three things: talk, eat, and have ice cream.

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