London: How to Spend $11,863.14 in Two Hours on Marylebone High Street; Fish Porcelain, Artisanal Cheese and a French Plane Oak Table
Fougeru from the Ile de France, a soft unpasturized cow's milk cheese wrapped in
ferns during the maturing process, is one of many enticing cheeses at La Fromagerie.
A couple of hours on Marylebone High Street is enough to do serious damage, especially if you’re a small town domestic diva in search of high style.
Serendipty and I left the boys to their cigars in St. James, meandered past Buckingham Palace and Big Ben (security cameras recording our every move), then dipped into the tube for the day’s real goal: a spot of shopping in this tranquil West End enclave just a whisper away from the hurly-burly of Marylebone Road.
3:04 PM: Cobwebs of jet lag…a cappuccino is required. We make a beeline for the bright pink awning of Patisserie Valerie, formerly Maison Sagne, a Swiss patisserie famed for its bon bons and 1920’s Palladian-style murals. The diaphanous murals are still there, and a table under the gleaming chandelier is a perfect spot for people watching: a tweedy couple, plump as pouter pigeons, munching buttered toast; a quartet of louche 20-somethings ordering champagne; yummy mummies in cashmere and tulle buying pink marzipan elephants.
Love the extra-strong cappuccino, tender raisin scones, divine clotted cream. But Serendipity’s hot chocolate is watery; my doughnut-sized macaroon could sink a rowboat. $36.02.
3:31 PM: Neal’s Yard Remedies, seven doors down, is an airy haven for jet-weary travelers. Remedies to Roll is a little tube of essential oils like lavender, rosemary and bergamot that, applied to the pulse points, refreshes a stale body and mind. While Serendipty checks out the coconut and jojoba shampoo, I scoop up organic French lavender and black pepper essential oils for the bath. Blissing out on the voluptuous scent of Turkish rose otto…but, alas, they’re sold out till Friday. No grapefruit oils either, so we move on. $35.79.
3: 48 PM Across the street at the cookware shop, Divertimenti, a Royal Blue Falcon Deluxe 1092 Cooker commands center stage in the front window. It’s quite smart---lots of brass trim and a matching hood—and with six burners and a heavy duty, four position, roll-out grill, I know it would make everyday recipe development a breeze. (Note to self: Falcon cookers are on sale right now. Just $4,859.51 for the 1092 model. Wonder what the shipping would be…)
Inside, shelves of All Clad and Le Creuset prove that the world really is a smaller place, but I’m falling head over heels for Richard Bramble’s brilliant white porcelain plates and bowls hand decorated with spiny blue lobsters, tentacle-waving squid and other denizens of the deep. A set of those would almost obviate the need to serve your guests any food. They could just enjoy a virtual meal, then dabble in the gorgeous scallop and mussel-decked finger bowls. $199.85 for a set of six.
The real find is a mortar and pestle, irregularly shaped, made from a single chunk of olive wood with beautiful swirling grain. It is deep and, at 17cm wide, easily able to hold all the ingredients for a curry paste or pesto. It is far too heavy to carry—we’re en route to the Baltic-- so I’ll order it when I get home. The bored clerk can barely manage to hand me a card with the store’s particulars. $68.34.
4:12 PM: “Let’s go to La Fromagerie,” says Serendipity as we peer down Moxon Street. This faux-rustic cheese shop is one of 500 reasons to think of moving to London. The vitrine looks straight into the temperature-controlled cheese room where scores of superb farmhouse cheeses from all over Europe and the UK are temptingly nestled in straw or perched on shelves. Even though we’re outside, I can smell the faintest whiff of a ripening epoisse affine.
The great thing is that you can march right into the cheese room and have one of the super knowledgable workers cut and wrap the ones you want. We’re getting tastes of three: From Spain a manchego, aged 18 months, sharp with fruity undertones, slightly gritty in texture, just right with a glass of red wine. A charcoal-dusted rouelle affine, luscious goaty tang, very rich and creamy. And from Switzerland, a fribourg d’estive, a classic gruyere with a grainy texture and nutty flavor. $26.12.
4:28: We backtrack to Paul, a branch of the Paris boulangerie, to pick up a fresh baguette. ($3.54) Then serious hunger strikes. But what luck—we’re practically next door to the Providores and Tapas Room. The two story restaurant--fine dining upstairs, breakfast, all day tapas and wine bar downstairs--is the creation of a trio of New Zealanders, among them TV personality and cookbook author Peter Gordon.
Nestled into a table downstairs, we have a good view of the long wine bar, a few bibulous customers with a rosy glow, anda n enormous tapa, or ceremonial cloth from the South Seas almost covering one wall. As for the haute fusion menu, what to choose? A grilled Scottish scallop with sweet chilli sauce and crème fraiche? Slow braised duck, Spanish black bean, feta and chipotle chilli spring rolls with tamarind aioli? Welsh Black beef rendang with steamed Basmati rice, roast peanuts and coconut-banana yoghurt?
Golly. At last, I settle upon the tataki of line-caught tuna. It is a stunning dish, three slices of seared rare tuna atop a tropical tangle of jicama, mango, papaya and coconut, with earthy dollops of toasted nori puree and a puddle of spicy green peppercorn and lime dressing. Serendipity orders a 2003 New Zealand Palliser Pinot Gris, but nearly falls asleep after her second sip. $41.23.
4:56: On our way back to the tube, we swoop into Skandium, a shop specializing in modern Scandanavian design. We’ll be stopping in Helsinki, so I delay buying the sleek Tonfisk teapot with its wraparound oak sleeve and rustic cork stopper. ($113.39) Ditto for all things Marimekko, but I’m almost seduced by a cast iron cook pot with a flat wooden lid. It’s gorgeous, but would reduce me to hiring a porter just to carry it. Besides, haven’t I seen it somewhere in New York?
5:02: There it is: the Ur Table, the one I’ve been longing for, without exactly knowing it. This rough hewn French oak trestle table, made by Eric van Lerberghe, would be perfect for any repast, mid-summer or mid-winter. We’ve got the cheese, but let’s go back for the fish porcelain and a bottle of that New Zealand 2004 Peregrine pinot noir. The table’s at the Conran shop, waiting for me. $6,479.35.
Two hour grand total: $11,863.14. I love London.
Go here to see all the shops and restaurants on Marylebone High Street.