Monday, October 16, 2017

Leslie Odom Jr. at the Kennedy Center

Like most people, I fell in love with Leslie Odom Jr. on the cast album for Hamilton.  He's so good as Aaron Burr that I literally can't imagine anyone else singing that particular part.  Unfortunately, when I finally saw Hamilton he'd already left the show, so I never had the chance to hear him sing live (though his replacement, Brand Victor Dixon was amazing!).  That's why I was ecstatic when it was announced he'd be touring and he'd be making a stop in Washington DC.  After months of waiting - I'm pretty sure we bought these tickets in April - it was finally time to see him.

And it was like falling in love with him all over again.  He was beyond phenomenal!  He has a beautiful voice, which most people already know.  But he's also a pretty lovely entertainer - lively, and fun.  He began with a Hamilton number - obviously - but promised there would be more later.  His reasoning for this was that if he had performed all of his Hamilton in the beginning there'd be a "mass exodus." Ha! After that he sang a few songs he'd written and then a few covers originally by Nat King Cole.  That's when I fell hard for him.

They were just beautiful.  He really has that jazz style down, and I could almost imagine hearing his voice in some underground jazz club a few decades ago.  After that, we were treated to a duet between him and his wife, Nicolette Robinson who also has a gorgeous voice.  But before the duet, there was a small break due to some technical difficulties.  Apparently the power wasn't working for the bass guitar, so while he could hear it fine, none of the audience could.  This allowed for some adorable, if not awkward stalling by Leslie that included, him singing the Nationwide jingle he's known for, chatting it up with the kids in the audience and very nearly singing "Free Bird" which was jokingly requested by the audience.  He's a natural entertainer, so even these minor hiccups didn't spoil the evening.

As the closing song, he performed "The Room where it Happens," one of my favorites from Hamilton, and this version was so quick and so awesome, that I'd just love for him to record it so I could listen to it all the time.  Just fabulous!  If that weren't enough to melt my musical theater loving heart, he encored to "Without You" from RENT. And because I always cry during RENT, I very nearly lost it during this version as well.

All in all, I came away from his show blown away by his talent.  I knew he could sing and entertain, but this type of show allowed his personality to really shine through.  You could see his love for entertaining and his kind manner just shine through.  It was a fabulous evening, and I'm ready and waiting for his next trip to DC!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Theatre in the Rocks: The Minack Theatre

The Minack Theatre is one of the most beautiful spaces I've ever seen.  I may seem to be exaggerating, but every piece of that theatre from the landscaping, to the overlook of the ocean to the theatre itself cut into the cliffs is just breathtaking. I can't even imagine what it's like to perform there, but it must be an absolute thrill. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to witness this first hand, but the next time I'm in England, it's on the top of my to-do list. 

So,  you may be wondering what makes this space so special? Well, the Minack Theatre, in Porthcurno Cornwall, is one of the world's leading outdoor theaters.  It was built over the course of two years in the early 1930s by Rowena Cade. She and her gardener, Billy Rawlings moved boulders and granite to build the stage and the terraces.  Their goal was to give theater troupes a place to perform Shakespeare's The Tempest.  Can you even imagine a more inspired place to perform this play than on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean? 

Over the years, what was only supposed to house The Tempest, has seen productions of hundreds of amateur, as well as professional shows.  Because the theatre is out in the elements, their season runs from about Spring to early Fall, with a few special one-off productions in the winter months - which I'm sure are quite chilly for audience goers and artists alike. Each show only runs for about a week, so in a season they run close to two dozen productions, which is a pretty impressive fete.

The day we toured the theatre, it was sunny and gorgeous.  This mean that every single seat was sitting directly in the sun.  I'm assuming anyone that had the pleasure of seeing a show that week left with a pretty good sunburn along with their playbills, to remember their visit. Though, in my opinion, it so would have been worth it. 

What I loved most about this theatre were the small touches that make the Minack so much more than just a theatre carved into the rocks.  For starters, the names of most of the productions that have run there, are carved into the stone seats.  It creates a visual timeline of what these artists have created over the years.  Then of course, there's the unbelievably gorgeous gardens surrounding the theatre.  You don't often think of succulents and cacti residing in Cornwall, but they're everywhere at the Minack.  The colors of these plants, mixed with the reds and oranges of the flowers, added to the blues of the water, make for an absolutely stunning space. 

Lastly, there's the most important part of any theatre, the stage itself.  The small round stage contains doors leading out to the cliffs and ultimately the water below.  It's a beautiful detail, yet most likely terrifying for actors that are just learning the choreography for their shows. As a bit of a theatre nerd, I can only imagine the things these artists have accomplished on this stage over the years. 

As you can probably tell, I was a big fan of the Minack.  It's the perfect example of a new way to think about art.  The usual brick and mortar theatres are beautiful in their own right. However, having a theatre that also becomes a part of the show - like the Minack would have been for The Tempest - is an altogether exhilarating bonus for a night at the theatre.  And when that space is as beautiful as the Minack's space is, that experience would be pretty hard to resist. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

If They Had their Time Again

Groundhog Day Production Photo
I've never been a huge fan of movies or shows that are labeled as "boy" shows or movies.  I understand it's perfectly acceptable to be a fan even though I'm a girl, but I just don't enjoy them.  I do enjoy all the stereotypical girly things like love stories, romantic comedies, and the usual whodunnits.  This love of all things "girly" also applies to the theatre.  So it was a bit of a conundrum as to why I wanted to see Groundhog Day.  Because in the list of boy movies, that one falls pretty close to the top.  But Andy Karl's attitude toward the entire production in the wake of his injury was pretty uplifting.  After tearing his ACL 2 days before opening night, he could have left the production and no one would have faulted him.  But he stuck to his guns and his #ChampionsAdapt attitude, and blew audiences away.  

He was the sole reason I wanted to see this show.  Also, he's a Maryland guy - you have to support the hometown dudes.

After finally seeing it months after it premiered, I'd like to say that I loved it.  But I didn't.  I didn't hate it by any means, and Andy Karl & Barrett Doss are revelations who work their tails off the entire 2 hours - I still have no idea how Andy does what he does 8 shows a week, let alone how he did it on a torn ACL - but the show itself is a "boy" show, which as I said just doesn't thrill me. 

Here's my main issue.  The first act is hilariously funny.  Phil Connors is a bit of a jerk - played wonderfully by Andy Karl - and because he's a jerk, he gets sucked into a time loop which, as you can imagine, is a major drag for someone who wants to leave Punxsatauney so badly.  The entire act, is Phil living his day over and over to varying degrees of ridiculousness.  

Then things get weird.  Well, weirder than the song about Phil getting stranger and stranger advice from "medical professionals" which may entail someone referencing a particular body part of a rhinoceros...

The second act begins with a fairly sweet song sung by a minor character, that we've barely met.  It moves on to the murder of a groundhog (puppet, of course!) and Phil committing "suicide" multiple times in sequence.  To say things get dark is an understatement.  What was meant to be a lighthearted show based on a well-loved musical, devolved into something somber and violent before it went for straight up laughs again on it's way to the conclusion. The laughs were funny, don't get me wrong, but it's a little hard to laugh after witnessing about 10 different "suicides."  

Call me crazy, but I like my comedies funny, not depressing.

Now that's not to say that this show is entirely without its merits.  The entire cast is top notch.  I called out Andy Karl and Barrett Doss as the highlights, but every other actor was equally good.  The choreography in this show is incredibly intense.  Each actor should be applauded for the skill it takes to navigate that stage each night, while singing and acting.  It was definitely a sight to see.

The design choices were also a highlight for me.  Between a super-creative car chase sequence, to the use of Phil's hotel room, the set was not only beautiful but also functioned perfectly to move the story along.  I'm still marveling at two specific instances of Andy Karl apparently being in two places at once.  He sauntered off stage left, and was in bed centerstage 2 seconds later.  I have no idea how in the world they did it, which I secretly kinda love.

In the end, I loved the show in theory and I'm glad I had the chance to see it before it sadly closes next month.  The actors, and the choreography and the gorgeous design make this show into something special.  I only wish they would have spent a little more time on refining the story and the songs.  With that cast, and that creative team and a slightly less disjointed story - they would have been unstoppable.   

Thursday, August 10, 2017

But What Does it Mean?!

This was posted on all of Hamilton's social media feeds on Tuesday August 8th.  I'm fairly certain that the folks behind Hamilton knew exactly what they were doing when the posted it - basically working the entire fandom up into a frenzy.  What does it mean?!  How is Friday going to be, in Lin's own words, a #BitofaDay?  It's all so puzzling.  

As a member of this particular fandom, I have been pondering this very idea for the last few days.  And while I may be completely off base, I do have a few ideas.  I'm pretty sure, that whatever it is, will be something I never even thought of because if there's one thing the Hamilton-crew can do, it's definitely surprising their fan-base.

So, my thoughts, in no particular order but in increasing levels of ridiculousness...

~ Lin's making his return to Broadway playing the lead.  Javier Munoz is rocking the part, but maybe, just maybe Lin is missing his long locks so much that he's willing to step back in as Alexander.

~ The powers that be are finally allowing the fans to see the recorded version - either on television or BroadwayHD.  They've recouped their investment, dozens of times over I'm sure.  It's about time they give us the pleasure of seeing the original phenomenal cast.

~ They're making a Hamilton movie.  I'm not ready for this to happen, so I'm hoping this isn't the case.

~ Lastly, and most ridiculous of all - they're taking over the soon to be vacated Great Comet theatre (when they close next week) and are mounting a second Broadway production so more people can see it.  It would be a first but if anyone can sell out two theaters, it's Hamilton.  

Whatever the news, I'm sure it will be amazing, and surprising, and I'm positive that we fans, myself included, are willing to wait for it (see what I did there? : ) with baited breath, until tomorrow.  I can't wait to have my own #BitofaDay along with everyone else!

Taming the Dragon at Tintagel

I'm not what you would call outdoorsy.  I like being outdoors - but when I am, I prefer to be sitting on a patio and eating, or watching a show on an outdoor stage.  I am definitely not a fan of traipsing through any wooded areas or hiking up large hills.  I've never been camping but I'm pretty sure I'd just hate that too.  Though, somehow I found myself at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall doing most of these things that I've just claimed to hate.

Now, I'd like the record to reflect that before visiting Tintagel, I didn't know these things would be required of me.  I assumed it was a castle that I would look at, take some pictures of and then move on. That's what I get for not doing the proper research beforehand. However, if I had done the research, I would never have gone, and would not have had the awesome experience I had.  There's something to be said for being completely in the dark.

Tintagel Castle is said to be the birthplace of King Arthur, and as a fan of the legends of King Arthur and his knights, I was super excited to see the ruins.  When we arrived, it quickly became evident that my thoughts on the castle were slightly underestimated.  For starters, we walked about a half mile from the entrance point, just to get a peak of the castle grounds. The walk was downhill mostly and a piece of cake.

Then came the hard part - the treacherous trek up a mountain (a very large hill at least), then down some terrifying! steps that had been there since the dawn of time (not really, but you get the drift) and then a not badly constructed but still horrifying bridge over the sea. All of this was done in flip-flops. Don't judge me - I told you I wasn't outdoorsy.

We're doing it...
While I'm not particularly fearful of heights, when confronted with all of this, it's a little overwhelming.  But we did it - laughing (nervously) and snapping photos that were more and more beautiful the higher we climbed the whole time.  It's funny how empowered you feel after completing a task you never thought you would.  I was pretty ready to climb Ben Nevis by the time I got to the top of that castle.  Though, I wouldn't recommend the flip flops - they get really annoying on steep inclines.

We did it!
After exploring the ruins and the views, we were then tasked with traveling back down that treacherous path we had just climbed.  It didn't seem so bad though, this time around.  Ok, the steps seemed a bit steeper but we managed.  When we reached the bottom, the Jeep ride back up to our car was a luxury we owed to ourselves. How often do you get to go 4-wheeling through castle grounds with a small terrier and his family as your fellow passengers?  After all of that climbing, we deserved some fun!

In the end, Tintagel Castle was one of my very favorite experiences in England but it definitely didn't start out that way.  Had we not paid the fee to get on to the castle grounds, I would have turned around immediately upon gazing at that bridge.  But sometimes, the things that are the hardest and the scariest are the most meaningful.  And this was definitely one of those times.  The Arthurian legend seems to hang all over those castle ruins so maybe it was King Arthur or Merlin himself that helped me to tame that particular dragon. Whatever it was, I'm so happy it did!  Because the view from the top was something I'll never forget.

Tintagel Castle
Castle Road Tintagel PL34 0HE, UK

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Hamlet: To See or not To See?

Hamlet - Almeida Theatre
In 2015, I visited London.  In addition to all of the fun things we had planned for that trip, the main reason we chose to go during that summer was to see Benedict Cumberbatch play the role every actor wants to play: Hamlet.  I was fairly excited, as I loved his work on Sherlock, and couldn't imagine an actor more well-suited to the role.  To this day, I'm not quite sure what happened, but that version of Hamlet was the worst I've ever seen.  The production was too big, and too loud.  My main annoyance, at the top of a long list, was the production team's decision to move the "To be or not to be..." soliloquy to the very beginning of the show.  

The first words spoken on that stage were "To be or not to be...".  They changed the entire flow of the play, for what I can only assume was the desire to get Benedict on stage as quickly as possible.  I later heard that, after many complaints, they decided to move the speech back to its original spot in the text.  But, even without that major change, there were just too many issues with that particular production to allow me to enjoy it. 

So during this trip, when it was announced that Andrew Scott (Benedict's nemesis Moriarty on Sherlock) would be playing the role in London, we thought we should definitely give the bard another shot.  Andrew is a fabulous actor, just like Benedict, so we were sure that this production would be good.  And this time around, I'm happy to report that we were right. Andrew Scott's Hamlet was so much better than  Benedict's.  Not that Benedict was particularly bad as the Dane, but the production on a whole was just not something I enjoyed.

This current production is positively gorgeous! They realized that Shakespeare is better in more intimate settings.  The design team didn't go too big or too crazy with the staging, which really helped set the mood.  The stage itself was minimalist and just beautiful.  There are many allusions in Hamlet to glass and mirrors.  So as a nod to this, there was a plate glass wall separating the front half of the stage from the back.  And while dialogue was being spoken, action was taking place behind the glass wall, such as dancing or covert conversations between characters.  That design choice, added to the use of video cameras and hidden transmitters, really gave the audience a sense of voyeurism.  We were being treated to a reality show rather than a centuries old tragedy.

Andrew Scott who was breathtaking as Hamlet - I honestly couldn't take my eyes off of him the entire 3 hours & 45 minutes (Hamlet's a long one, folks!) - played into this idea of distorted reality as well with some of his smaller acting choices. There were pointed looks to the audience, and a bit of "overacting" during Hamlet's acting scene.  Anyone who has seen him as Moriarty knows he can do comedy well, and he used this strength as Hamlet fully. This Dane was a bit lighter and bit more sarcastic than any I've seen, which makes this classic character that much more watchable.

In this particular version, Hamlet and Ophelia's affair was explored a bit more than in others I've seen.  Most productions gloss over any real relationship the two characters may have had.  However, in this instance, you see the two interact and feel the love and fondness they have for each other.  Andrew and Jessica Brown Findlay, as Ophelia had believable chemistry, and you could see the warmth both felt for the other, which made the audience feel for Ophelia that much more.  

I could continue to go on and on about this masterful production, but I'm pretty sure you can see where I'm going to end up.  When Hamlet is embodied with such talented actors, and designed with such thought and attention to detail, you realize why it's the most well-known play in the world.  The tragedy of the Prince of Denmark has pretty much everything you want in a story - tragedy, comedy, love, loss, friendship, family.  And this team of actors and creatives shared every piece of this story beautifully.  And after that, in the words of Hamlet, "the rest is silence."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Quick Tour of Broadchurch

A few years ago, a show premiered in England that had everyone talking.  It was a fairly simple concept - over the course of 8 episodes, the detectives would solve the murder of an 11 year old boy in a small, sleepy town on the coast.  The show of course was Broadchurch.  And I'm not sure why it took off the way it did, but it was probably the combination of a superbly talented cast, a compelling mystery, and stunning cinematography.  I, like everyone else, was hooked on the show from the very first moment.  

This year, after 3 successful series, it's coming to an end, which is unfortunate.  However, the gorgeous filming locations still exist in West Bay Dorset, UK.  This means that any time you find yourself in the UK - as I did last month - you can visit this gorgeous area of the country, and relive the television magic.  To say this part of the country is beautiful, is an understatement.  And luckily for the residents, they're seeing a boom in their tourist economy in large part because of Broadchurch.  Tourists are finally seeing what the residents have known all of their lives, this area of the country is stunning and the people are lovely.  Quite honestly, after just spending a day there, I could have easily stayed much longer. Between the market shops, the great restaurants, the beautiful beach, and the hustle and bustle of kind people - tourists and residents alike - I was in heaven!

The stores really bought into the show...
Of course, the whole reason for visiting Bridport was because of the Broadchurch connection, but I did discover so much more to love while I was there.  The day started out with a snack - as most of my days do... - from the Waffle Box.  The Waffle Box is a fabulous food truck, owned by a delightful gentleman that was more than happy to treat us to a few tastes of his many different flavors of ice cream, and help us decide which particular flavor was best.  It wasn't too hard of a sell for me.  As soon as I saw Banoffee on the menu, that was going to happen.  And since the truck was called the Waffle Box, it was quite necessary to have my scoop of Banoffee on top of a waffle with hot fudge on top of that.  How could I possibly resist? 


After we ate, we headed down to get some shopping done.  Now my friend had been trying to find a rain coat all week because it had been pouring in London.  After no luck anywhere, she finally gave up hope. However, in the first store we visited - on a sunny 75 degree day - she found the perfect rain coat.  It was fate!  In that same store I found 2 dresses that I just love.  After that, we wandered over to a small market, where we found even more goodies. This time the goodies were handmade, which are my favorite type of goodies.

After a trip to the car to off-load our purchases, we then started our very own personal Broadchurch tour. I had found a small map on line, which told me where the locations were. But the truth is, the town center is so contained and I've been so hooked on the show, that I would have been able to recognize them without the map. 

First up was the hut that housed Jack Marshall's Sea Brigades.  Ordinarily, this is the town's Methodist church.

Right around the corner from there, was Jack Marshall's Newsagents.

Then there was the harbor, which was directly in the center of the bustling city center.  The small harbor played into Series one - which is where Hardy and Miller found blood in Mark Latimer's boat. And you realize that Hardy isn't a fan of the water - for some mysterious reason, that you won't learn until Series 2. (Have I peaked your interest yet?)

Across the harbor, is the small blue hut that Hardy lives in throughout Series 2.  The hut is adorable, and I'd be happier living there, than Hardy was.  As it turns out, someone must own the hut, as they were out front sun bathing the day we were there. How cool would it be to loan your home to David Tennant for a few months?

Then of course was the beach with those beautiful and terrifying cliffs, where Danny's body was found in Series 1.  They are stunning to look at, however, they had just experienced a cliff fall, which mean tons of rocks were piled up on the beach.  And yet, people were still sitting under the cliffs, like nothing had happened. I'm not sure I would have been that calm.

Heading away from the city center is a circular luxury condo building, that stood in for the local police station where Hardy, Miller and the rest of the force worked to solve the case. It's a beautiful building, but I'm not sure it would be a great place to live.  

A bit past the police station, is the caravan park that Susan Wright lived in.  Not nearly as foreboding as it looks on the show - though it's probably because Susan Wright, in all her evilness wasn't there to scowl at us.

Past the harbor there are 2 piers.  On the first, you can find the shack where Hardy met with a doctor friend in Series 1 about some mysterious illness he has.  I have to say, I was more than happy to sit where David Tennant sat.  On the second pier, you'll find the benches where Hardy and Miller sat at the very end of Series 1 during Danny's memorial.  Also again, I sat where David Tennant sat!

Lastly, from the pier you can see a beautiful house up on a hill which is the house where Jocelyn, the Latimer's solicitor lived.  This house is gorgeous and yet, I can't for the live of me figure out how to reach it without climbing that scary hill to the left of it. 

So there you have it, a lovely tour of one of the prettiest - in my opinion - towns in England.  The only Broadchurch locations we didn't get to see were the church and the High street - which were filmed about 50 miles away in Exeter.  As much as I wanted to see them, I was more terrified of driving through the small towns.  So those areas will need to wait until next time. But if ever you're in England, and feel the need for a quick field trip out of the major cities, I highly recommend Bridport Dorset, even if you're not a Broadchurch fan.  Bridport is a really a beautiful town, and you'll find some great food, shopping and fun around every corner. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Assassins at City Center: Weird in the Best Way Possible

I've always thought that in musical theatre, there were two camps.  In the first camp, you have the Sondheim fans; the lovers of all things Into the Woods or A Little Night Music. And in the other, you have the Andrew Lloyd Webber fans; those that gravitate to "Jesus Christ Superstar" or Phantom of the Opera.  I have always been in the Andrew Lloyd Webber camp.  Jesus Christ Superstar was the first musical I ever saw, and Phantom was the first I saw live.  So you can say Lord Lloyd Webber has a special place in my heart.

Sondheim, on the other hand, not so much.  Until recently (we're talking just last month) I'd never seen a single Sondheim show.  In my mind, he was too classic for me.  I like new and different, and I'm not such a fan of the high soprano.  However, as I wrote about here, I saw the marvelous production of Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street, and just fell head over heels for it.  So I decided that it might be time to give Sondheim another shot, which is how I found myself seeing Assassins at City Center (oh, and it must be said, NY City Center is beautiful! If you're a fan of great architecture and design, I'd definitely recommend seeing a show there.) Encores this past weekend.

On paper, this show is so not a me show.  It's about people who kill presidents or try to kill presidents, as the case may be, and it's written by Sondheim.  However, the piece you're missing is Steven Pasquale was playing John Wilkes Booth.  After seeing him in The Robber Bridegroom, I've been dying to see him in something else.  And let me tell you, he did not disappoint. 

But let's start at the beginning.  Did I like the show?  Surprisingly, yep!  I sort of loved it.  It was weird and sarcastic in the best way possible.  It's meant to be a satire, which worked really well for the strange concept - assassins and would be assassins all meeting in some strange cafe.  I'm not sure the music tells the story as well as Sondheim hoped, but the songs themselves are pretty fantastic.  A few of them have been playing in my head since last weekend.  

Now I may have mixed reviews on the show itself, but the cast was 100% fabulous in every way.  Steven Pasquale as John Wilkes Booth, was a perfect fit.  This Booth is sarcastic, and droll, and he plays that so well.  Booth was given all the best lines, in my opinion, and he nailed them all.  The rest of the assassins were also quite good in their parts.  The 2 women - Squeaky Fromme and Sarah Jane Moore were meant to be the comic relief of the show, which they did flawlessly.  I can't help but giggle at Sarah Jane.  She was not the greatest with her particular gun - often pointing it at people to emphasize a point -, and when the bullets fell out while she was attempting to kill the President, she threw them at Gerald Ford instead - something, that apparently really happened.  At least in this instance, being truly terrible at your job is an asset.

The most uplifting part of the show, was something I'm sure Sondheim never imagined it would be.  In one of the first songs, the Balladeer sings - "Every now and then the country goes a little wrong.  Every now and then a madman's bound to come along, Doesn't stop the story, story's pretty strong. Doesn't change the song."  The first 2 sentences of that lyric got extended applause.  I'm sure you can guess who the audience was equating that description to.  However, the idea that, our "story's pretty strong" is a happy thought to get us through. 

Like I said, I've always been a Webber girl, and I'm pretty sure I'll stay that way.  But for now, I must admit, there are some definite positives to the Sondheim camp.  I mean, obviously, since he's the biggest name in musical theatre, but also, he's growing on me.  So what I'm now asking is for Broadway to get in on the act and start reviving A Little Night Music and Into the Woods, for all the Sondheim lovers out there, and for me because I may be on the verge of being a fan!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Eating My Way Around London

I’ve never been a huge fan of tours.  I like exploring things on my own and happening upon new sites and restaurants.  Or I do what every other crafty person does; I search Pinterest for fun things in whatever city I’m traveling to, and then note them in my phone so I can find them (or get lost trying to find them) when I arrive.  However, in 2015 when I went to England and Belgium, my travel partner in crime booked 2 tours for us.  The first was a Secret Garden Tour of the Cotswolds and the second was a Chocolate tour of Brussels.  Well, to say that these tours were awesome would be a huge understatement. They were phenomenal, and I had so much fun – and I ate so much food – and they totally converted me to being a tour person.
When left to my own devices, I chose Pancetta Ciabatta - Yum!
That’s why, when this year’s England trip rolled around, I actually mentioned a food tour of London as being something I’d like to do.  Of course, the travel partner in crime, already aware of how cool tours can be, was more than happy with this idea.  After a few Google searches we happened upon the Secret Food Tour of London. Secret Food Tours operates tours in cities all over the world.  In London, they have 3 choices for this type of tour.  We chose the Traditional British Food Tour, which takes place in the London Bridge area of town, and includes Borough Market, and traditional pub fare.

Unfortunately, the day we chose for the tour could have been a bit better – often torrential downpours on a walking tour are never fun.  However, our guide Mat was delightful.  He never let the weather get in the way of our fun.  He was so adept at giving the tour, and managing the weather that he would change the order of things, just so we’d be under cover for a lot of the heavier rain.  While he was young – a university student, we learned – he knew a great deal about the area and the food.  He was also a big fan of London in general, so he had great tips for touristy and non-touristy things to do while we were staying in the city.  But to me, the avid scrapbooker, the best thing he did was take our emails so he could send us a listing of the food and the vendors we tried on the tour.  That saved me from having to remember all of the vendor names, while shoveling in all of the delicious food. Mat really was a fabulous host, and I’m so happy we had him as our guide.

Now on to the really good part – the food!  And oh my goodness was there lots of it.  I’m pretty sure I ate my weight in deliciousness in those 3 hours, and I’m not even sorry about it. It was the best 3 hours I’ve ever spent in London!

We started the tour in Borough Market, home of a green market, handmade delicacies and a fish/meat market.  The market is full of so many things to try, that I’m quite happy we were touring it first with an experienced guide.  That way we didn’t waste our time and were introduced to the best items first.  As an appetizer for the day, we were treated to a Scotch Egg from Scotch Tails.  Now Scotch Eggs often get a bad rap for being stale, unhealthy, and tasteless.  However, this Scotch Egg – a deep fried sausage ball, filled with a medium-boiled duck egg – was unbelievably tasty.  It wasn’t tasteless or dry at all, and I’m a sucker for a perfectly cooked egg, so even though it was the first thing I tried, it was my favorite of the whole tour.  

We then learned a bit more about the market and took a few minutes to ourselves to wander. After wandering, it was on to the main attraction of Fish & Chips from Fish!Kitchen, which was our biggest meal of the day. Instead of the usual English Cod, this fish and chips was made with Haddock.  As a non-fish person, fish and chips are not usually my thing, but these were also delicious.  The fish wasn’t too fishy (my super scientific scale for rating fish), and the chips were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, just how they’re supposed to be.  It’s no wonder this particular vendor won Best Fish and Chips this year in the British Fish and Chips awards (and as an aside - how does one get on the judging committee of these awards, because that sounds like a pretty great job...?)

To accompany our fish and chips, we were treated to some Honey Mead courtesy of Mat.  I don’t do carbonation, so it really wasn’t my thing.  But others seemed to like the sweet treat. Continuing on, we then enjoyed an “Exceedingly Tasty Sausage Roll” from Ginger Pig.  Now, you’d think after I went gaga for the Scotch Egg, that more sausage would be my thing, but not in this case.  It was good, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite (also it made for a really ugly photo, which is why you see a photo of potato merchants below...)  It was a little bland, and honestly, if I was eating sausage, I’d really have preferred it contain a perfectly cooked egg…

Then it was time for the Secret part of the Secret Food Tour.  The gimmick of these tours is that there’s always one food that’s kept secret as a surprise for those on the tour.  Of course, this made more sense before Yelp and TripAdvisor.  I was unwittingly spoiled by checking out what others had said about the tour (and I'm apparently spoiling it for you too - a point I just realized).  But even being spoiled by what the secret food was, didn’t stop me from enjoying the giant Vanilla Cream filled, Sugar-Cinnamon Dusted donut from Breadahead. Oh My Goodness!  If I could have one of those every morning for breakfast, I’d be as big as a house, but I’d also be a very happy girl!  It was definitely a highlight – after the Scotch Egg of course.
Donut of Deliciousness (DoD)
Happy Girls enjoying the DoDs
After all of that deliciousness, we left Borough Market to see a bit of London Bridge, then traveled to the Mug House – a pub in Victorian London Bridge for a few cheeses and some ale.  It was here that Mat stepped up again, and really showed what a great guide he was. He remembered me saying that I wasn’t a drinker, so he ordered me an Elderflower Soda instead of the ale that everyone else drank.  Such a thoughtful tour-guide!  The cheeses were not my favorite, but I did enjoy the grapes and crackers served with them.

After a bit more walking, we ended the day at Horniman’s for dessert.  You may wonder how we could have enjoyed dessert after eating all of that food, but when it’s put in front of you, you really do have a hard time resisting.  In this case it was pots of tea and a Lemon tart. I went 50 – 50 on this – not a lemon fan, so I didn’t love the tart, but the tea was the perfect ending for a chilly and gray day.

All in all, I can’t say enough about just how much I enjoyed this tour of London.  The weather could have been better, but I’m not sure we would have had the same experience if it had.  We spent a lot of the time on the tour joking about the climate in London and dodging other’s umbrellas.  Mat was a superb tour-guide and he has a perfect personality for this type of work.  I learned so much about London from him and enjoyed all sorts of foods I'd probably never have tried if I were there on my own.  So, if you’re ever in London, I highly recommend trying out the Secret Food Tour of London.  But be warned: skip breakfast that morning.  You’ll thank me later!

Ruins seen walking from Borough Market to the Thames

3 hours
Cost: 59 pounds (not sure what the current exchange rate is)
All food and beverages are included in the price.