Back in the day – the 80s to be exact – I worked on Woman’s Own magazine in London. It was a frightening experience for a Manc girl and not the happiest since I realised very quickly that I preferred newspapers to magazines.
My dissatisfaction may have coloured my judgment of our capital because I had an idea that it was dirty, over-crowded and pretty ‘meh’. I’ve returned for a couple of flying visits since, but never for a staycation.
But I went with an open heart and mind to visit my daughter and son-in-law who live in a trendy one-bed flat in Stockwell. We decided, as an alternative to kipping on their sofa, I should stay in a hotel nearby.
I chose the Park Plaza London Riverbank which overlooks the Thames and has a view of the Houses of Parliament. It was also ideally situated – 15 minutes walk – for a visit to Tate Britain.
Now, having recently forked out £480 to send my mum and her friend to a mediocre B&B in the Lake District for a couple of nights, I was pleasantly surprised to see two nights with breakfast at this four-star hotel was a mere £292.80. The breakfast was as you’d expect of a good hotel and there was a pool, although, thanks to Covid, you had to book your slot.
The hotel is a stunner. Very high tech, with great views. But the high tech defeated me as it took me a while to realise that a panel at the side of the bed, outside the bathroom and other strategic areas, was the key to everything – lights, curtains opening and closing etc.
For the first night I had to negotiate the loo in the dark as I was looking for a switch. Neither could I close my curtains as I’d managed to unhook them which meant the sliding mechanism didn’t work. So I spent two nights diving on the floor to avoid an old man in the flats opposite who was persistently cleaning his balcony.
When it dawned on me that everything was digital life became a lot easier.
After a pleasant two-hour train journey from Stockport we headed for Stockwell on the Tube. I was delighted to see that there was no longer that confusion over buying tickets to your destination, you simply present your debit card at the barrier when you enter and again when you leave. What a revelation!
After checking in to the hotel, we headed off to Tate Britain, which is free entry, unless you’re viewing a special exhibition. But there’s enough to see without having to pay a penny.
I loved an exhibition by Heather Phillipson which was a multi-sensory experience of colour, sound and motion. The artist says she was attempting to ‘cultivate strangeness’ and she certainly achieved that aim. With salvaged machines, papier mache sculptures, digital video and sound, the experience was pretty strange, but utterly compelling.
After that it was pre-drinks on a boat at Tamesis Dock, directly opposite the hotel, then on to Soho and Chotto Matte, a restaurant specialising in Japanese/Peruvian Nikkei-style cuisine.
Apparently, the two cultures share a deep appreciation for fresh fish and seasonal ingredients, with Japanese sushi and sashimi, and Peruvian ceviche central to their gastronomy.
My Peruvian son-in-law Rodrigo works as a chef at this popular eaterie, so we were treated like royalty by gorgeous George, our waiter, and Head Chef Chris Woodford. But, from what I observed, everyone is treated like a VIP at this restaurant. In fact, the whole Chotto Matte dining experience is an unforgettable one.
Set over three floors with an outdoor seating area perfect for people watching, Chotto Matte’s funky soundtrack makes for a party atmosphere. We were on the ground floor where we could admire the vast, UV-illuminated mural created by Tokyo-based graffiti artist Houxo Qu.
Coming from a family of chefs and having run my own Spanish restaurant, I know good food when I see/taste it. But I’d never tried Nikkei before. All I can say is ‘Wow and wow!’. My tastebuds came alive, did a triple somersault and were knocking on the pearly gates. Such an explosion of flavours.
I was already a sushi fan, but the fusion with Peruvian spices and cooking style, was well and truly overwhelming. We had an array of dishes which included a melt-in-the-mouth Yellowtail Sashimi with Yuzu Truffle Soy, Gyozas filled with Wagyu beef, tuna belly sushi and Chicken Anticucho – marinated chicken which came with a delicious mashed potato filling. The Peruvians love their spuds!
I’d heard Rodrigo talk about Pisco Sour, but I’d never tried one. For the uninitiated, it’s a typical Peruvian cocktail made from the liquor Pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, egg white, ice and Angostura bitters.
We had three each and I don’t remember much more than that, apart from a platter of desserts, which was surely intended for 10 diners, but devoured by three. If I hadn’t had the third Pisco Sour I could have described them in detail, but sorry, it’s gone. Suffice to say, they were truly amazing. And here’s a picture of them below.
We could have hailed a neon-lit Tuk Tuk complete with disco music for the ride home from Soho, but I doubt after all that food the driver could have lifted us. Thank you to everyone at Chotto Matte for creating a truly wonderful dining experience.
The following day we took an Uber boat along the Thames to Greenwich and the market, where we stuffed our faces once more, with a Wonton Noodle Soup from a street food vendor. Delicious!
Then we staggered up the hill to the famous Royal Observatory. But we’d missed the last show, so we trotted around a delightful flower garden and took selfies against the impressive backdrop of a London that I hardly recognised from my early experience.
On the way back we alighted from the boat at Tower Bridge for a tour of this bustling quay area with its trendy bars and restaurants. We stopped off for yet more food at Bravas Tapas, a cute tapas bar at St Katharine Dock, which served succulent octopus and a delicious morcilla burger, which delighted our resident chef.
The following morning we breakfasted at the cutest eaterie in Stockwell – Cafe Van Gogh which had a painted starry starry night ceiling and a delicious vegan menu. It’s a not-for-profit social enterprise, which means that their social purpose is stronger than their drive to make tonnes of cash. What’s not to love!
I finally left London tired, happy and several pounds heavier, but with a sense of pride that our capital is a fitting showcase for our post-Brexit country and, even better, this little staycation didn’t cost the earth either.
Chotto Matte: 11-13 Frith Street, Soho, London, W1D 4RB www.chotto-matte.com
Café Van Gogh: 88 Brixton Rd, Vassal, London SW9 6BE.
Park Plaza London Riverbank: 18 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TJ.
Bravas Tapas: Saint Katherine Docks, East Smithfield, London E1W 1AT.