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Her Majesty’s Not-So-Secret Services

Maybe it’s because I’m slightly fatigued by the outbreak of Gordon Ramsey fever here in NYC, or maybe it’s because my husband took me to London to celebrate the fact that I am now a year older. Whatever the impetus, I am suddenly finding inspiration in all things with patina, character, and moreover, age. On this recent trip, we eschewed the new and shiny in search of ye goode olde services and products with the distinction being awarded royal warrants–even if we are just hoi polloi.

Since we arrived on the red-eye (thank you for not striking, BA!), I was antsy to drop off our bags, make ourselves presentable, and refuel with a spot of smoky Earl Grey tea and gingered scones with clotted cream at Fortnum & Mason, est. 1707. This purveyor of fine caffeinated brews and appointed grocer to HRH strikes a delicate balance between being progressive (they recently completed a $45 million renovation), and traditional (don’t miss their Camilla-inspired hats upstairs).

While in St. James’s, we popped into the beguiling Paxton & Whitfield, cheesemonger to the royal family. For a relative pittance, we left with a wedge of artisanal farmhouse cheddar and oat biscuits—perfect for a late night snack back at Claridge’s.

In keeping with our appreciation of the old, we skipped the Tate and spent a morning in the Sir John Soane, the eponymous house museum of a wonderfully eccentric 18th-century architect. Soane’s whimsical displays and comprehensive collection of ancient sculpture and architectural fragments could convert even the staunchest modernist. Later that afternoon, we rambled through the galleries of the British Museum, taking in the Elgin Marbles, the Portland Vase, and the Anglo-Saxon treasures from Sutton Hoo.

Next stop: Seville Row, where London’s most acclaimed tailors dress Prince Charles, Lords of Parliament, and preposterously, a dandy I refer to as my husband, who had a bespoke suit, shoes, tie, and shirt made for our wedding. I don’t need to tell you that he was better dressed than I. That night, the extravagance persisted at Wilton’s (c. 1742), the epitome of fine English dining. Jackets required. Like everything in London, the prices here are staggering. That is to say, you literally stagger down the street in shock at how dinner can cost more than a flight across the Atlantic. I’d like to think all those Spartan backpacking adventures through Asia and Africa absolve us of such gluttony.

Thankfully, nearly all museums in London are free, and few pursuits could be more rewarding than a winter’s sunset amble through Hyde Park.

jennifer_catto

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