Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hampstead Fairies and Asian Restaurants

It was frizzling in London. My daughter and I coined that term to describe what English weather does to curly hair. It was not heavy rain but more persistent than drizzle. The last frost seemed a dream. Perfect time to enjoy the January sales! At half price, British goods are almost affordable for Americans.

The train to London on a family rail card off peak was under £40 ($80) for the four of us, including the underground (subway) for the day. Our train was late; that happens 20% of the time. The countryside between Oxford and London, along the Thames, is lovely. One hour later, we arrived in Paddington and split up.

Henry and our teenaged son headed to the recently reopened London Transport Museum. I blame my son’s interest in transportation on The Big Dig in Boston, as my son lived his first 3 formative years in its shadow. He also collects maps and spent a chunk of his Christmas money at Standfords Map Store, established in 1853. They had a tasty lunch at Lido in London’s China Town and then went to the British Museum, home of the Rosetta Stone (my mouse pad!)

My daughter and I went shopping in Hampstead Village, North London. Four years ago we lived nearby in Swiss Cottage and fell in love with the little village. Hampstead is full of alleys, quiet back streets and rose covered townhouses. At this time of year, nothing was blooming except for the sales.

My daughter and I both love the high street clothing store Jigsaw. Hampstead has its own Jigsaw Junior with the best tween clothing, stylish but not too grown up. There’s no Value Added Tax on kids’ clothing too. The adult Jigsaw is conveniently across the street but is less affordable. Hampstead has plenty of upmarket chainstores and boutiques.

Had the weather been nicer we might have taken a stroll in Hampstead Heath or gone for a snack at La Crêperie de Hampstead. Can you believe a stand that small has its own website? Then again, usually the line is very long.

Best place for lunch is Dim-T. They have a kid’s menu that is £4.50 ($9) with a choice of dim sum dumplings or a box lunch and ice cream. It didn’t include a drink. They make a really good fresh mint lemonade. The restaurant was full of families but has a hip atmosphere. I always order my favorite of dim sum which comes in stacked bamboo baskets. The best ones are prawn or vegetable. Don’t dip them in soy sauce – they create their own delicious broth inside as they steam.

After lunch we headed to the Hampstead equivalent (first photo) of Diagon Alley. Mystical Fairies is truly out of Harry Potter or a little girl’s fantasy. Words cannot describe the pink splendor.

We found the perfect gift for my niece’s seventh birthday. We chose the only item that wasn’t pink, lavender or baby blue, but still fit for a princess. The vaulted ceiling was painted blue with stars, twinkling with soft light. It’s a girly girl store, but tastefully done. No Disney in sight. My ten-year-old daughter is beyond the fairy princess stage, but it was fun to reminisce.

For dinner we met the guys at the best Japanese restaurant in London. Jinkichi is really, really good, even by Tokyo standards. It’s nothing fancy, just a simple yakatori restaurant that also serves good sushi and noodles. It’s tiny, like a sushi bar, with a few more tables in the basement. Best to book a table ahead as it’s always crowded.

If you’re not familiar with yakatori (meat and vegetable skewers cooked on an open grill in special sauce) you can order the first set menu designed for gaijin (foreigners.) The second set menu is for the more adventurous or for native Japanese and features delicacies such as chicken gizzard and liver. We started with the special eggplant appetizer (best I’ve ever had) and Agadashi Tofu (fried tofu in a broth like sauce) then ordered the first menu and some more a la carte later.

Everything was delicious, including the few bits of sushi. Henry ordered in Japanese although the waiter spoke English well. All the staff was Japanese as were half of the customers. Jinkichi is prepared for children – they fashion easy pincher chopsticks out of a rubber band and the chopstick wrapper.

Best of all, the meal was excellent value by London standards, about £70 ($140) for the four of us. Dinner was worth the trip in itself. We were back home in time for bed, dreaming of sugar fairies and a better exchange rate.


Norman Burns said...

I just caught up with all your Dec. blogs and am forwarding them to several friends. You get better and better! Our love of Oxford for the last 14 springs comes back to me as I enjoy so much what you write. And your photos are so good and add so much. Our neighbors left yesterday for our SUNY Binghamton English Dept. spring semester and they'll love your time and tips in London and Hampstead. Thanks so much, Dorothy Burns

Sarah Laurence said...

Dear Dorothy,

Thank you! It was such a delight to wake up this morning and find your comment, a real motivator for writing. I’m sure your neighbors will have a great adventure in London.

My husband ran Colby-Bates-Bowdoin study abroad program there last time we lived in England. It was so much fun, we had to return to the U.K. for another year on his sabbatical.

Alicia said...

I'm french and i used to live in London for a while, i fell in love with Hampstead and the "Mystical Fairies" shop, i'm making fairies myself that's probably why. Anyway, thank you for bringing up memories back to me!

TBM said...

Jinkichi sounds wonderful! We'll have to try it sometime this summer.

Sarah Laurence said...

Merci, Alicia! Such lovely fairies on your blog too.

JAPRA, welcome! I’m sure you’ll enjoy Jinkichi.

Blu-Ray DVD Rentals said...

I have been addicted to Japanese food since I went on holiday to Japan in March 2008. I ate Sushi fresh from the Tokyo fish market dockside. It was like eating steak and nowhere near as bland as the sushi Tesco attempt to box and sell to unsuspecting health aware business folk. I like to walk on the wild side so am looking forward to going to this restaurant very soon

Arby :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Welcome to my blog, Arby! The sushi was very good at Jinkichi, but their specialty is the yakatori so be sure to order some.