Alex and I love birthdays. We always plan something special, usually featuring excellent food, cocktails and a little something else. This year was no different.
A spent the morning of his 24th birthday rehearsing an opera and having an interview (which he nailed, by the way - big proud face!) In the afternoon I hightailed it to the City to meet him for a birthday lunch.
We stopped by Pixxa, a fantastic little joint in Farringdon that sells absolutely delicious pizza al taglio, at very reasonable prices. We picked up two slices of truffle and potato and two slices of scamorza with a ricotta and spinach calzoncini, and meandered through the City to find a spot to sit and nibble at our leisure.
We passed through Charterhouse Square, an absolutely gorgeous private square that is home to two notable buildings. The first is the institution for which the square is named - a sixteenth-century courtyard house built on the site of a Carthusian monastery, now an almshouse called Sutton's Hospital.
The other is Whitehaven Mansions, a.k.a. Hercule Poirot's pad. Also known as Florin Court in real life.
Al and I are big Poirot fans (so nearly at the end of the final season now!) so we had a little fangirl/fanboy over the building, wishing that the Belgian detective himself would mince out of the foyer in his patent leather shoes and use his cane to hail a cab to Scotland Yard.
We wandered a little bit further on to the Barbican highwalk, a walk I used to do twice a day every day when I went to school up here. We found a bench in the sun and polished off our pizza slices while I reminisced about my school days. It had been 4 years since I'd last been in the Barbican and all the memories came flooding back...Time really does fly!
Me in silhouette form with my old school. Brutalist architecture has been with me every step of the way as far as my academic career has been concerned - the architect who designed the Barbican also designed Murray Edwards. Lucky me?
The Barbican is named after the Latin word for a fortified gateway, the significance of which becomes evident once you've walked around the complex a little bit. Dotted among the Brutalist concrete are fairly substantial Roman speculae, the remnants of watchtowers that were continually fortified up to the 13th century, and which used to form part of the London Wall. I'm pleased that they haven't been completely demolished - it's much nicer to be able to interact with visual links to London's illustrious past. Intrigued by these crumbling bastions, we headed over to the Museum of London a few steps away to delve a little bit more into our city's fascinating history.
I adore the Museum of London. I went a couple of times in my childhood and twice during my time at secondary school, and I find it enthralling. London has such a rich history, and the Museum takes us from the Palaeolithic era, showing us facial reconstructions from early human skulls found in the area, right up to the present day. Above is one of my favourite exhibits - a preserved 18th century wooden jail cell featuring engraved graffiti from bored inmates which include names, poems and crude drawings of houses. The latter are particularly fascinating as they provide an insight into the domestic architecture of the day!
Alex and I also particularly enjoyed the Museum's reconstruction of Victorian London, complete with a milliner's, a bank, a pawn shop, a toy shop and...
...a penny farthing casually parked next to a beautiful Victorian lamp post. Alex was pretty taken with both of these. What I'd like to know is how people got up on the saddle to ride around - and where they locked their bicycles!
Next we caught a Tube to the West End for an early dinner at Hawksmoor Air Street. They have incredibly affordable express menus if you order before 6, at £24 for two courses (or £26 for three courses). Which means you can go crazy on the cocktails, which are fantastic. I went for the Air Street, Cocktail, a beautiful blend of Chamberyzette (wild alpine strawberries) with Vermouth, lemon, cucumber and champagne. Alex chose the pre-prandial Sinking Spritz, made up with Aperol, Vermouth, Picon Bier and elderflower cordial, topped with Sauvignon Blanc. Probably the strongest apéritif either of us has ever tasted!
Aren't their menus just the cutest? I'm pretty sure I'd buy these if they were prints...
For starters we broke apart slightly from the set menus to order fried queenies with tartare sauce, which I'd read rave reviews about. They lived up to the hype - tiny scallops cooked in the lightest batter that melted on the tongue, made perfect with the creaminess and slight tang of the capers in the sauce.
Also shrimps on toast, which were delicious but couldn't quite hold a candle to the queenies.
For my main I chose the fish and chips. Don't be fooled by my boring photo - though this plate may look unassuming, it was without a doubt the best fish and chips I've ever ordered! The haddock was fried in dripping; again, beautifully light batter and gorgeous tasting fish that flaked away effortlessly at the touch of a fork. It came with a little bowl of pickles and soft-boiled eggs that complemented the fish beautifully. And then the chips...oh, the chips. Triple-fried and quite simply amazing. I could write an ode to those chips.
Alex chose the famous Hawksmoor rib-eye steak which never disappoints. We ordered these last time we visited the Seven Dials branch and I nearly swooned. This time A ordered his rare with bone-marrow gravy and spring greens. If only I could eat meat this beautifully cooked every week!
Hawksmoor Air Street's plush interior with green leather banquettes and stained glass windows was the perfect Thirties touch after visiting Poirot's crib earlier in the day.
We ordered sticky toffee pudding to share for dessert. When it turned up, there was a little birthday surprise with it - a berry cheesecake complete with swirly chocolate writing, on the house! Proof that the service at Hawksmoor is first class.
Somebody was a very happy bunny, because someone is a real pudding aficionado. We demolished both puddings. The sticky toffee, complete with an expertly sculpted quenelle of clotted cream, was heavenly.
I was jittery with excitement at my last big surprise of the day. I'd been planning it for a while as I knew A really wanted to see it...The Book of Mormon!
Our seats were up in the gods, our usual choice for seeing shows on the cheap! A and I know the score really well after listening to it for two years, but it was great to hear the songs with a little bit of plot context. The musical was hilarious. Completely crude, but so funny. I heard a man actually crying with laughter behind me at one point. I urge anyone who hasn't yet seen it to buy tickets and go along!
During the interval I gave A his card and present - a book of urban sketches, chosen to inspire wanderlust and get him to start sketching, something he's wanted to try for ages! I think the next stage of the process will be a trip to Cass Art...
We sat on the steps of Eros at Piccadilly Circus for a little while after the show pondering what to do next, but as it was already quite late we decided to go home...
...for the boy to dip into his new book...
...and for more (surprise) cake!
I'd baked a banana and coconut cake with cream cheese and honey frosting earlier that day, inspired by Melina's cake. I'll share the recipe soon!
Make a wish!
Happy 24th Alex! Here's to many more lovely birthdays spent together.