Usually at the end of a day in London I feel like a wet cat: soggy and slightly combative. So when my Couchsurfing host, Dinesh, offered to take me and my fiancé out to dinner, I wanted to say no; I longed to say no. However, considering how welcoming and hospitable he had been, this would not be appropriate behavior.
Plus, part of being a nomad and a traveler is learning to be more open, more accepting of the world and what it has to offer despite how badly your wool coat smells when it’s been beaten by London’s drizzle every day for the last three weeks straight and you just want to sleep until May.
So, we said yes.
We met outside the Marble Arch tube station and walked over to a nondescript brick building with a sign reading La Porte des Indes in gold lettering. A hostess led us down plush, red-carpeted stairs and into . . . French India! The ceilings were covered in bamboo and palm trees grew to enormous heights near our richly appointed table. A white-robed waiter immediately materialized and within moments, a pomegranate martini appeared in my hand. I started to feel better.
From a novel-length menu, we chose Beignets d’ Aubergines, Saag Paneer, Le Pain Créole (the most beautiful, thin, lacy pancakes you will ever see), and a gorgeous variety of rices and fillings, all specialties from Pondichéry. With every bite, I relaxed a bit further into my seat until I had practically melted away from the table and formed a little puddle of joy on the floor.
Dessert was a crème brulee with caramelised petals of jackfruit, which I am sure had divine origins. My dear fiancé allowed me at least three spoonfuls of his Madagascan vanilla bourbon ice cream, and that too was heavenly. The check, however, was distinctly grounded in the real world, and so I would recommend this as a special treat when you’re in London.
The three of us strolled out of the restaurant with full bellies and rosy cheeks. It suddenly didn’t matter that it had rained all day, was raining now, and was probably going to rain tomorrow – we had (literally) tasted happiness and the party was going to continue!
Dinesh remembered that a hotel nearby had a great lounge and bar, so we merrily made our way over as he imparted historical facts and trivia about the neighborhood. When we passed Marble Arch, he told us how this famous monument gave rise to the saying “One for the road . . .” Prisoners going to be executed here or at nearby Tyburn Gallows were accompanied by guards who would stop at pubs on the way for beer and gruel. Often, the barkeep would offer a beer for the prisoner to drink on the way to his death, hence the saying. A little macabre, but fascinating.
We walked into the Cumberland Hotel and were greeted by three massive sculptures in the lobby. They were bronzes by artist Sean Henry, entitled “Man With Potential Selves” and I recommend seeing them if you’re in the area, especially as the lobby has a very modern, art gallery vibe.
Sitting in the Rhodes Patrón Bar (just one of their three – oh la la!), Dan and I shared our travel plans with Dinesh: next week we’d be in Berlin, and three weeks later, Prague. I confessed that while I think London is clearly very chic and cosmopolitan, I would never be able to live in the city. People seem rather chilly towards one another and despite our reputation, New Yorkers like myself are a decidedly friendly bunch – though greatly opinionated, to be sure.
Dinesh shared some of his own travel experiences in Germany and other countries he’d been to: Sri Lanka, India. I thought how glad I was to be out in the world, and how I hope that my journey doesn’t end in Europe. What I wouldn’t give to make it to the places he spoke of, to Thailand, to Vietnam, to Japan. I finished the last sips of my martini and we walked back out, into London’s cold winter night, to go back to a house that wasn’t ours, but was home nonetheless.
La Porte des Indes is located at 32 Bryanston Street, London W1H 7EG. Be sure to arrive before 19:00 if you haven’t made a reservation – despite its size, it fills up quickly!
The Cumberland Hotel is located at Great Cumberland Place, London W1H 7DL.
Our guest blogger Jessica, originally from New York City, is currently spending a year traveling across Europe, photographing and blogging about her adventures. Read more about Jessica here