Travel Advent 3+ – Help! The Holiday Hangover

Kew Christmas lights

It is a sign of the Yule times that this post covers off advent days 3 through 8, most of which is ex post facto. And there’s only one excuse for this: the manic, boozy days of early December.

London is one of the best places on Earth to gear up for the holiday season, but it’s madness. Absolute madness. It’s dark by 4 p.m. Pubs are cozy. Most are also decorated with splendid holiday cheer. Every day, there’s another excuse to go out, whether that’s an official Christmas party or just the old “might be the last time we catch up before the holidays” drink(s). It is the classic death march on cocktails.

But it’s far too early to have a permanent holiday hangover. So, here are a few fresh air opportunities to restore your equilibrium and perhaps give your liver some breathing room.

 

Kew Gardens¬† –¬†¬†Kew is a restorative place no matter the season, but at Christmas, you can have a bracing winter walk to clear the head by day, or in a far more festive fashion, by night. The illuminations in the evening hours are a great way to get some fresh air and avoid the pub for a few hours. If only they didn’t have stalls serving mulled wine…

 

Hammersmith to Kew Thames Walk – If you have a bit more spring in your step, you can walk to Kew from Hammersmith along the banks of the mighty Thames. Do not walk on the Chiswick side if you are trying to avoid pubs. The Chiswick side of the river starts with the excellent Blue Anchor and continues onward with a series of fine pubs– The Dove, The Black Lion, City Barge to name just three– from there to Kew Bridge. Abandon hope all ye who walk there.

Hammersmith sunset
You are not taking in this view at Hammersmith because you are not walking on the side of the river where there are a lot of pubs

To avoid the pub temptation, walk along the Barnes side. Oh wait, there are two pretty decent pubs on that side of the river….

Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace Walk – One of the things that makes London such a great city is that you can cover quite a few miles without ever leaving a park. A stroll through the Royal Parks is always good for the obvious royal attractions, people watching, and cute dog viewing. Start at Kensington Palace (grab a bacon sandwich at the stall right by one of the main gates off Ken High Street if you’re in need of sustenance), then cross into Hyde Park and walk along the Serpentine towards Hyde Park corner. (Do not get tempted by the siren’s song of the oompahpah band in the German beer halls of Winter Wonderland.) Cross the junction at the Wellington Arch into Green Park and then, you’ll arrive at Buckingham Palace. If the junction is frighteningly crowded, you might be tempted to steer clear of Green Park and head into the quiet backstreets of Knightsbridge where the excellent Nag’s Head and The Grenadier are nestled. But as you are trying to avoid pubs, you will not do this. On the other hand, if you are truly hungover, The Grenadier makes a fine Bloody Mary….

Richmond Park Deer Viewing – It feels festive to go check out the deer of Richmond; if you are bleary-eyed, the big ones almost look like reindeer. As long as you avoid the Park’s limited cafe options, you should be able to avoid drinks for a while. However, if you

DSC00673
The Thames near Petersham, where you are walking to avoid visiting a pub

enter from the Richmond side of things, beware: the Roebuck lies in wait. Having a drink outside on the terrace with a stunning view over the Thames is one of life’s great pleasures. BUT WE ARE NOT DRINKING, ARE WE?

 

Hampstead Heath – While Hampstead does not have the deer population draw, ambling around the miles of paths is always a joy: fresh air and amazing views of London. Kenwood House is also interesting here– the stately home of one of Britain’s abolitionist judges, and his niece, Dido Elizabeth Belle. (On weekends, there are often classical music performances that can definitely soothe the savage hangover.) But if you walk out to the main road from Kenwood House you will have to steel yourself to avoid going into the Spaniard’s

Hops Growing at the Spaniard's Inn
You would not know that this is a hop arbor at the Spaniard’s Inn because you are not in a pub again, are you?

Inn– a lovely historic pub with a teeny little snug in front. The Spaniard’s is where Keats purportedly wrote “Ode to a Nightingale.” Well, if there’s history involved, why not go in….

Greenwich to Blackheath – You can take a boat to Greenwich, but there’s a bar on board, so the Tube/DLR are safer options. Walk right past the Gipsy Moth– you know you shouldn’t be in a pub again– and head to the park. The Maritime Museum is over here, the Queen’s House, the Royal Observatory– there are plenty of cultural places without pubs to visit in Greenwich if it gets too rainy to be outside. If weather permits, continue out of the park on to Blackheath. It always seems gusty here, so the bracing winds can help knock the hangover right out of you. But wait…what’s that over there off to the side of Blackheath. Is that a pub? Does the sign say “Hare & Billet?” What’s a billet? I cannot live in this ignorance any longer! I’ll just step inside and…

 

Top Choices in Chinatown

In case you can’t get enough of New Year celebrations or if you just hate New Year’s as a concept altogether, the vastly superior celebration is just around the corner. That’s the Lunar New Year, of course, which is celebrated by the Chinese and many other Asian cultures. Illuminated lanterns. Excellent food. Snappy fireworks. Far fewer hang-ups about what to do on New Year’s Eve. The Lunar New Year is the New Year we should all really get behind.

London's Chinatown gets ready for the Year of the Horse
Festive New Year lanterns in London’s Chinatown

While you may find yourself in or around London’s Chinatown to ring in the Year of the Horse next week, Chinatown’s always a good place to visit for some great food. In fact, unlike other Chinatowns, London’s almost solely features food– nearly every shopfront is a restaurant or some type of food supply emporium. However, the sheer number and variety of choices can overwhelm– particularly if you go with hungry, tired guests from out of town. Don’t give up! Here are three really delicious options that are guaranteed to please picky and adventurous palates alike.

Manchurian Legends is the most exotic of the three, and purportedly, one of the only restaurants in London to specialize in Dongbei cuisine (the type of food common in Northeastern China). Think: amazing handmade dumplings, flavorful grilled meats, hearty stews and some real spice or even weird offal offerings for the adventurous. There’s truly something for everyone. The vegetable dumplings are soft bundles of perfectly cooked and lightly seasoned veggies; little tasty lamb skewers were succulent and savory; the house chicken specialty was a delight with some extra kick in the form of complex layers of real chile heat. (NB: I, like some, like it hot. While Manchurian Legends has many dishes that are not spicy, like the aforementioned dumplings, a man sitting near us was clearly on a first date and began pouring with sweat when he requested something to be “extra spicy.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you if you try and be similarly macho. Sadly, I don’t think our fellow diner had a second date after having to ask for towels from the kitchen to mop himself off with. Lots of towels.) If you’re a culinary adventurer or one of those people who likes to pretend they’re on a reality show, you can also order a few special offal dishes, which is apparently quite the done thing in Manchuria. As for me, I’ll stick with the veggie dumplings, lovingly handmade by chefs in the front window of Manchurian Legends as you walk in.

Yummy scallops at Haozhan
Scallops do the wave at Haozhan

 

Another favorite is Haozhan, right on Chinatown’s main drag, Gerrard Street. Haozhan does a lot of the cross-cultural classics very respectably. Think: crispy duck, sweet and sour chicken and all those Anglicized or Americanized Chinese dishes that we all love because they’re so amazingly good and comforting. However, as you can see from the picture, Haozhan also pushes the Pan-Asian and modern cuisine boundaries on a few dishes, like this one– a tasty creation of seared scallops and asparagus nestled in a dramatic noodle wave. Haozhan’s menu is fairly vast, so this is a good place to visit when you need to please a group of people with disparate dining interests. And unlike a lot of places that do noodle art and vegetable sculpting, dinner here is really affordable.

Last, but certainly not least, is Mr. Kong, a Chinatown staple for over two decades. With really friendly service and excellent food, it’s easy to see why Mr. Kong seems to have a lot of regular customers. Mr Kong does a lot of the classics really well, but it’s the specials that really shine. On one visit, my husband and I had a crab hot pot that was really amazing, like a Chinese cioppino. Utterly delicious! Mr. Kong is also fairly quiet for a restaurant in Chinatown, which is nice if you’d like to have a conversation with your dining companion(s).

Taste:
Manchurian Legends, 16 Lisle Street WC2H 7BE

Haozhan, 8 Gerrard Street W1D 5PT

Mr. Kong, 21 Lisle Street WC2H 7BA