Kensington Palace, The Ledbury & the West End

Kensington Palace and gardens

Kensington Palace and gardens

Enjoyed a bit of a lie in before our scrummy breakfast of avocado, lime, olive oil and coriander on toasted sour dough, with some perfectly grilled tomatoes on the side – our version of breakfast bliss! We have only visited the hotel restaurant, Apero, for our morning meal, but they have yet to disappoint – yesterday’s start to the day included coconut and banana porridge – delish.

We took the tube to Kensington Palace; having slept in a tad, we didn’t have the luxury of walking! This palace had been built up in my mind in anticipation, and it wasn’t quite what we expected – it’s an interactive museum (ideal for kids), rather than the palace ‘as it was’ in the times of the people who have lived there – Victoria, William & Mary and Diana. That made it a little disappointing, but easier to leave. Still gorgeous and ‘all that’, but a little different to my imaginings…

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From Kensington Palace we walked to Notting Hill to the Ledbury for lunch, owned by Australian chef, Brett Graham. It currently has two Michelin stars and is number 13 in the top 50 restaurants in the world. It’s an open, airy space, with tall windows, white walls, high ceilings with recessed lighting, and rich chocolate and gold accents. In the centre of the dining room there is a modern central lighting feature, round and layered in fringes of bone, undulating in colour from marbled chocolate to a dark golden cream. This piece hints at an art deco influence, which is echoed by the wooden panelled columns, wide and flat with rounded edges.

Sam, the maître d’, showed us to our table, and deftly replaced the menus with exclusively vegetarian ones when we mentioned our tastes (also quickly checking that there were no other dietary requirements). We sipped on some Bérèche et fils brut reserve bubbles while making our decisions on our meals, and what a rare and lovely event that was – actually being able to have a choice in a restaurant, rather than simply having the one and only veggie option available for each course. And we had ample choice. In fact, of the 6 dishes on offer, we were told that we could have any of them in any course size. So, naturally, we ditched dessert and had 2 starters and a main each, swapping half way through each dish to give us our own little degustation of 6 exquisite and exciting culinary creations. Starters were: heritage tomatoes with goat cheese, dried olives and green tomato juice; curd of Hampshire buffalo milk with truffle toast and a broth of roasted cepes; new season’s beetroots with salted cherry blossom and red leaves; broccoli stem with natural yoghurt and Indian spices in brown butter. The two mains were: steamed green asparagus with cauliflower and seaweed butter; ‘risotto’ of celeriac with wild mushrooms and parsley. A bottle of Savennières L’Enclos, Eric Morgats 2010 from the Loire saw us through this truly wonderful gastronomic experience.

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After our meal, Darren McHugh (the restaurant manager), asked if we would like to have a tour of the kitchen. We tried to act all uber cool, like we are asked to inspect kitchens in world-renowned restaurants every day, but I don’t think he was fooled, and our delight was obvious, and he was kind. The visit to the pulsating room downstairs was thrilling enough on its own, but it scored off the charts in excitement when we were introduced to the chef and owner, Brett Graham. He was so incredibly generous with his time and knowledge, even commenting on the change in dietary trends with vegetarianism becoming much more popular. He told us that four other diners requested the asparagus after seeing it being served to us, when there had been no veggo requests for a week – interesting. This guy was just so laid back and friendly in his manner, both with us and his team. There is no ‘bunged on airs and graces’ here, yet even though they call him ‘Brett’, he still runs a completely professional and meticulous kitchen.

Brett asked if we’d ever had fresh almonds before, we hadn’t, so he called Raymond over and got him to peel us a couple. I’d not even seen one in its ‘natural state’ before, and they are about 4cm in diameter, hard, green and slightly fuzzy. The small box Raymond was sourcing these from contained about £30-£40 worth of almonds… His generosity didn’t stop there, when I mentioned how much I loved his celeriac ‘risotto’, he promptly printed off a copy of the recipe for me. Too lovely! The whole time that Brett was chatting to us like old friends who have popped around for a BBQ and are hanging in the kitchen, he was also casting a discerning eye over each plate before it went through the door to the dining room.

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Brett displays a boyish pleasure in creating with food. There is not a whiff of pretention in the entire place – just style and class. His fastidious attention to detail is contrasted with the sense of hanging about with mates – he was SOOOO relaxed, yet his standards were pole-vault-high. He is a complete juxtaposition to most famous chefs in the way his kitchen is run – a true leader, not a tyrant. I think it’s quite telling that the website has photos of the team, as well as the chef.

The Ledbury Restaurant, Notting Hill, London

The Ledbury Restaurant, Notting Hill, London

It is no surprise that this restaurant has received its many accolades, because everything about our experience here was perfect and simple, yet deceptive in that simplicity! We left The Ledbury with a very strong desire to return, and some ‘petits fours’ boxed up to go.

Our walk back through Notting Hill to the tube was delightfully nostalgic – our first overseas trip together was to London, and we stayed in Notting Hill for a week, where we made this same trip to the tube stop every morning for our schlep around the city and its wonderful tourist spots. We even stayed in a flat with a blue door!

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In an effort to do and see and experience things we haven’t done on previous visits to London, we headed to Tottenham Court Road. Surprisingly, this was our first visit to the British Museum, which was just as overwhelming in scale and content as the Louvre. However, we only managed an hour in its cavernous rooms, as the push and shove to see the ‘biggies’ (the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon frieze or Elgin Marbles, Easter Island Statue, Lewis chess set, etc.) was reminiscent of the Mona Lisa shove. The intensity was just too much. (And, of course, we won’t mention the controversy surrounding the debate on whether the UK should return these relics from whence they came!)

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Next target in our sights was Choccywoccydoodah in Carnaby – cake was a callin’! Now, for those of you who know me, the choice of cappuccino for cake flavour might seem odd, but friends had insisted that I would love it. It was quite amazing, and served with ice cream and dark and milk chocolate drizzle sauce. We had been hoping to have a slice of their triple layered ginger, coconut and cappuccino cake, but there wasn’t any. Settled for the cap – delish! Had to wait about 15 minutes for a table though, but there was plenty of prettiness on display in the store for us to feast our eyes upon, before satisfying the stomach.

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By the time we had stopped the sugar shovelling at ‘Choccy’ it had started to rain, so we walked to the nearest tube stop with the plans of popping down to the Savoy for bubbles and a look at the new renovations. However, with Matilda starting at 7pm, we realised it would be a tight turn around. Instead we walked through the drizzle down to Leicester Square to The Cork and Bottle, a below ground wine bar that also served snacks. We had a vegetarian plate of couscous, hummus, babaganoush, vegetables, dolmades and bread to accompany our wine (didn’t need the food though, we were still full from the slice of doodah cake!). Forced it down, and waddled through the drizzle up to the five roads junction where the Cambridge Theatre beckoned with its big colourful Matilda signs. It really was a great show. The chorus were such talented little singers and dancers – they really sold that choreography! The lead was Chloe Hawthorne – very charming and smart. Bruce (the boy sent to ‘chokey’) was funny and belted out a very impressive number, and David Leonard, who plays Miss Trunchbowl, was brilliant!.

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We enjoyed walking in the cool air after the show, through the hubbub of the capital, people everywhere, like it was a Saturday night, not a Tuesday. We delighted in the lights and atmosphere before taking a tube back to the hotel. Made us quite nostalgic wandering through the lively theatre district, wishing we could stay longer, see more shows…wishing we lived closer!

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About bontaks

Nic is the the 'Bon' part of 'Bontaks.' Together we are Nic and John - two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

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