Taxi Noir: A Brief Perambulation around Fleet Street
People think that because I drive my taxi around London all day I know all the best places to go, or know all the history. I don’t. I haven’t lived in London for over twenty years. I just work there. On the occasions I have a day out in London I’m tourist like anyone else. I have my favourite areas to visit: Chinatown for an inexpensive plate of crispy pork; Mayfair for an upmarket dinner; or Covent Garden for all manner of drink and food requirements, preferably before lunchtime before the proper tourists take over. Quieter districts of Central London I frequent include Bloomsbury, Fitzrovia and Clerkenwell. I also love the City of London; London’s bustling financial centre. On my last visit my wife and I spent most of our time in a small area between the West End and the City, starting on the edge of Covent Garden. This is just a brief look around the Aldwych and Fleet Street area, just before Christmas.
We caught a bus from Euston to the fabulous India Club on the Aldwych. This was our 3rd visit. This basic curry house – and separate bar – was established in the 1940s to service staff and visitors to the Indian High Commission opposite. I don’t think it’s been changed since then. It’s quaintly old-fashioned and basic, but the curries are first class and you actually feel you are in India. We were last here about a year ago. The place was under threat then, but it’s clearly still there; though how long can it bang out curries at nine-quid a pop in WC2?
We chose three curry dishes from the short menu: bhuna, Madras and butter chicken. There’s no tandoor, so no naan bread. We had rice and chappatis. As usual we had their wonderful mango lassi.
The India Club looks out across The Aldwych – the start of trendy Covent Garden. You can see The Lyceum Theatre where The Lion King musical is showing. Many years before the Lyceum became a theatre, it was a medium-sized music venue. It’s seen all the greats in its time: Bob Marley played the famous gig there when he was just gaining popularity in England. The celebrated live version of No Woman No Cry was recorded there in 1975. I saw The Clash there back in the day.
We enjoyed a glass at El Vino a few years’ ago, and this was our next destination. It’s a wine bar, but not a trendy one. It’s all dark wood, and pure establishment. You won’t find footballers or models in here, but you might find the judges who threaten to take the footballers’ licences off them for drinking and driving in their baby Bentleys. It was mostly middle aged blokes in upmarket business suits. I felt out of place in my bright new Christmas jumper (£14.40 from Peacocks). The wine’s not cheap, of course. We both had a glass of wine running at over nine quid a pop. Red for me, white for m’lady. Nice.
“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
A slight detour to smart Gough Square to look at Dr Johnson’s House. We saw no memorial to Dr J, apart from the house which is open to visit; but there was a bronze statue of his pet cat. Hodge is described by his keeper as “a very fine cat indeed.”
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese always feels great at Christmas. They don’t put decorations up, but it’s an authentic slice of Dickensian London – frequented by Dickens himself. It’s a winter pub, for sure. The front room contains two tables and a real log fire. That’s all you need. Warning notices are everywhere informing you that the pub operates a strict Digital Detox, so no phones or laptops to spoil the ambiance. Mo can feel if there any ghostly spirits around. She didn’t detect any spirits, but we both agreed that the other rooms are pretty creepy. The pub were advertising for live-in bar staff, but I’m damned if I’d spend the night in an almost empty pub like that!