London Again!


I am, I really do recognise, extremely fortunate to live a life that can keep me in touch with folks in Europe as well as North America. I am well aware that but for a few very fortunate bounces of the ball my life could be significantly different. I am also aware that a couple of bad bounces will have my life spinning off on a completely different tangent.

For now, however, I live a rather pleasant life; made possible, I have to add, by my colleagues at home in Winnipeg who vacillate between wanting me there for “input” and wanting me gone for “peace”. We find a balance, and I am grateful for their forbearance; for their part, I think, they are grateful for my absence, but nevertheless, they are terrific, and allow me to take advantage of considerable freedom.

One of the benefits of regular travel is the ability to get to know restaurants; another in my case is to get to know a restaurant reviewer with whom I go exploring each time I get to London. This time we went to a small restaurant in Swiss Cottage, a well known area of inner North London. Well known, I think, because zillions of cars pass by every day; it is close to really nice places; close to some grubby but alive and fun places, but Swiss Cottage itself is pretty dire. 1970s communal apartments, land blocks raised for traffic extensions, dull little “villas” in a place that feels as if it is on a road to somewhere else.

However, The Chateaubriand was our target that night, and more disappointed we could not have been; it was, tired, disenfranchised, sad and really on its last legs. Not only was there no Chateaubriand, apparently too expensive for his crowd, there wasn’t even a steak.

Now I can understand not stocking a cut that costs £45 for two (although Joseph and I thought this reasonable) when you only sell four or five a year, which is what they apparently do. However, with such a name, it is not unreasonable to expect some meat; other than a Vienna Schnitzel. Never mind; the good news was that having finished dinner in a record seventy minutes, we headed to my New Favourite Pub Of All Time, the Holly Bush in Hampstead; it is truly special, convivial in a singular sort of way and old.

The Holly Bush is the sort of place that two or three times in its existence resisted modernisation. Firstly in the 1890s and then again, and with some fortitude, I think, in the 1970s. It remains a Victorian drinking place, with contemporary Aussie bar staff it has to be said. But then again, my Canadian daughter is in Australia serving alcohol to Australians at the moment, so the world is truly upside down.

Why do Australians head north to pour beer and Canadians head south? It is not exactly an exchange of skills; but then I digress. Beer is being poured equally enthusiastically everywhere.

But Tuesday night in the Holly Bush was marvellous. Why I have never been there before I can’t explain, but I hadn’t, and I will again. It is a marvellous place, full of the past conjured together perfectly with the refreshment requirements of the present. And no, we did not get over refreshed, simply content. And a gentle contentedness aligned with the company of a good friend, the evening passed. We only wondered why we didn’t meet there at seven instead of the barren wastes of Swiss Cottage.