I first flew to London in 1997 on a charter flight with an airline called Monarch. I was 18, and I was wearing burgundy corduroy flares, an Acid Jazz T-shirt and a navy peacoat. My only knowledge about London was from the music I was listening to. I had won some concert tickets to watch Ocean Colour Scene with special guest Paul Weller (Brit Pop was at its height). I had no place to stay. I called up a friend who was studying in Colchester University (Essex for those unfamiliar and hometown to Blur) and asked him to sleep at his dorm, a place so small that you could not swing a cat in it as Britons like to say. I arrived at Victoria Station and London greeted me with the smell of McDonald fries. I used a public phone to call my friend over in Essex and his voice distant from the other side of the line directed me to take a train from Liverpool Street. I arrived quite late in the day. I vividly remember the trunks of birch trees glowing in the dusk like they were painted with phosphorus, and squirrels and foxes loitering around the campus grounds. During my short trip to London I managed to visit Soho where Mod gear shops were still a thing and bought a Who T-shirt. Bar Italia for a coffee (a reference from one of my favourite bands at the time, Pulp).
‘’That's what you get from clubbing it
You can't go home and go to bed
Because it hasn't worn off yet
And now it's morning
There's only one place we can go
It's around the corner in Soho
Where other broken people go
I also got to spend a day in Camden and bought a cropped brown suede jacket that me feel I was getting closer to looking like a mod version of Brett Anderson. Quite trivial, but on the day of the concert I managed to get a fine on the tube because I did not know what zones were at the time and bought the wrong ticket. Most of the money I had left for my trip vanished in the pockets of the train conductor. I remember missing the last train home and driving on the back seat of a mini van that smelled of curry and dust sitting on radiators for too long.
Twenty-four years have passed since, and the only thing that stays the same is my love for London and that Bar Italia still stands round the corner in Soho.
I love London in an almost existential level. Many tube stations still carry that tangy smell of fast food, a memory so familiar from that first visit that always makes me feel at home. London always makes me feel at home. Arriving at Paddington station last week and walking over the bridge in the blistering cold, I glimpsed at London’s skyline in the distance and thought ‘’alas I’m home’’ after two years. Two years during which the world witnessed Brexit and Covid.
Soho is always a good idea for a first night out. Fried chicken and cold udon with an Asahi (no Kirin anymore) at Koya. Red neon distorts the features on Martin’s face, some friends are having a drink wrapped up in their tweed coats outside Bar Italia. On the bus ride home the Christmas lights in Knightsbridge and Sloane square shine with the promise of happiness. A Fasianos painting says hi from a lit window just round the corner. Another one in the bathroom while im having a shower. A sip of Yamazaki and Adele singing ‘’A Little Love’’ on the bluetooth speaker. That was the soundtrack of London. At that moment this song sounded better than on my high end sound system upon my return to Athens.
In the morning the voices of kids from the nearby school were echoing like a familiar tune in the distance. Lunch at Rochelle with Aidan. Bacon in parsley sauce, a glass of Languedoc and Peter Saville looking cool with a cigarette in his melange cord suit. This place is effortless always shining in its simplicity and has been a personal favourite over the years. I decided to stay and meet Christophe and Sophia for a wine after lunch. The light quickly faded and the cold got sharp but our smiles and the sound of our glasses clinking warmed the evening.
Thursday morning coffee at Chiltern street. A copy of Lou Reed’s Coney Island on the floor. A pint in Notting Hill with Cedric, a Morgon from Huntsworth Wine and off to James’ for Thanksgiving dinner. The aioli was sharp and memorable. Ten cloves of garlic. The view from the 14th floor became a blur after four bottles of wine. Nacho barking nervously.
Friday strolling down to St James Park I stop at Snow Peak store, Noguchi lamps on the staircase remind me of tomorrow’s visit at the Barbican for the show. Friday dinner with La Luna rouge, pickles and sausage.
Saturday at the most democratic space in the world for the Noguchi exhibition after a Raclette breakfast at Monocle’s Christmas market with Apostolos. Gravity ‘’What is the point of soft without hard, or weight without lightness? The wind is picking up and we are warming our bones at the cafeteria with a tea. Off to 40 Maltby Street for one of the most memorable nights of the trip. Shard tower’s edge is hovering above the clouds like the eye of Mordor.
40 Maltby Street
I'm by no means a wine or food expert or even pretending to be one. And if you know me even the slightest bit you probably know I'm rarely taking the time to talk about restaurants at all in either a favourable or negative manner. I have written many times over at my blog how I find the whole food/wine scene is just blown out of proportion, and everyone seems to be jumping on the trend as a cultural phenomenon more than anything else really. Now for the discerning palate, the evening pint is replaced by wines from Jura that hit the nose hard with hints of petroleum and naphtha before settling down and would call from a strong Comte from the region. Next step is buying Ganevat from Tesco? I would not judge the phenomenon as positive or negative, but I find at times the hype is excessive and the dedication and attention a good meal and wine deserves is just not there. It all feels curated and fabricated to the extent that the word natural carries overtones of the words sustainable or organic to my ears. Both words that are considered vulgar in my dictionary. Among the noise of mediocre bottle shops and bars that replaced the weekend office crew night out with the word natural last night at 40 Maltby Street came as a reminder that some places shine in a way that doesn’t wear off no matter how unforgivingly fast the years pass and the fleeting fashions change. It was another hearty night, where the wine was flowing the plates were disappearing fast from the table with our faces glowing in excitement. Nothing was shouting, everything was subtle and inviting. And dare I say original? Is that word even valid these days? It can be. I won’t say more I was just happy, sometimes its not the small details you care about much but the whole experience and this was surely gratifying as ever. Im grateful that places like that are still around catering with love and without pretension to basic human needs as eating drinking and interacting.
We spent the weekend watching ‘’Get Back’’ with David. I text Michael Lindsay Hogge that I see him on the screen with a cigar. He writes back with one of the wittiest lines ‘’was a big cigar smoker then, Christos. Nobody seemed to mind in 1969 or 1979...or 1989. That says a lot about today’s culture for me. I could put that line on a T-shirt. I can’t even believe I'm chatting with the person that actually directed the original documentary ‘’Let it Be’’. I was honoured to include Michael in the latest issue of Kennedy dedicated to New York with some experts from his new book.
On my every day walk to Lancaster Gate Station I would run into this crashed Jaguar with it’s front grill resembling a sarcastic grin on a man’s face. Books piling up on the back seat. I loved this car. I was thinking about its owner and his mannerisms. What would his face look like? If he resembled the forlorn state of this car, what does he like reading before sleeping? The colour of the curtains in his flat, his smoked stained wallpaper.
The days were passing. I had really long walks sometimes up to 20km a day. Monday was the coldest day of all. I was slightly depressed. I walked as far as Westminster and Big Ben aimlessly as the dusk was settling in. My legs were cold, I could barely feel them except a sharp pain in my hip. The headlights of cars, almost sleepy in the distance. I ended up in Fitzrovia staring at the Christmas lights until my eyes got tired. A pint of Guinness under the gaze of Francis Bacon at the French House.
I was waiting for Cedric outside Tate Britain. Two men in beige Burberry raincoats were smoking nervously on the steps before they disappeared in a back cab. The sky was pink with purple flashes. The silence in the Rothko was otherworldly, almost deathlike. We moved to the Turner room and wandered around for hours. The painting that caught my eye was called Gleaners Coming Home from Sir George Clausen. An hour later it was already dark. We were staring at the M16 building from the window of a pub having a pint. I finished my trip to London with Martin and Enrico drinking another bottle Le Petit Domain de Gimios alongside a chicken pie.
On the flight back I could not wait to get back home and put Adele’s record on. I realised, sadly, that moments are not recreated, they just exist in an imaginary world where they can’t fade. Till the next one London.