03 September 2014

Downton Abbey and London Food

Way back in November, I had the opportunity to book a tour of the Downtown Abbey house.  The tours fill up early, and given that this was a nice packaged tour of the Downtown Abbey village, as well as the house, I decided to book it (via a tour company called BritMovieTours).  I had choose either a Sunday in April or Sunday in July.  I chose July.  So earlier this year, I booked a quick trip to London so I could go on the tour.  With my work schedule, I would leave on a Thursday night and return on the following Monday.

The evening departure on Thursday evening meant I put in a full day at work.  From there, I went directly to the airport, had a light supper in the First Class Lounge, and then I was off.  My flight time would put me on the ground Friday afternoon, getting me to my hotel in the late afternoon. This was my first time arriving at the new Terminal 2 at Heathrow.  It was a long (expected) walk to immigration and baggage claim, and then a bit of a walk to the train platform.  I had booked a reservation at one of me favorite places to eat (Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs) for the second seating at 7:30pm, which gave me just enough time to check in, get settled, and then leave for the restaurant.

Given how many times I have been to Kitchen table, I'm always surprised and pleased with the quality and creativity of the food presentations.  While some of the featured ingredients are the same as previous visits, how they are used was mostly different.

For the full write-up of my visit to Kitchen table, click here.

The next day would be Saturday and my only full free day in London.  I spent the time doing a little shopping and checking in at some of my favorite sites:  British Museum and British Library.  I also visited The London Silver Vaults, a collection of small silver vendors located in the former vaults where silver goods were stored.

Prior to arriving in London, I had not planned for any additional food adventures.  But at Kitchen table, the restaurant proprietors suggested I check out a place they had dined at recently and enjoyed called Hedone.  After dinner, I looked up the place online, found they were not only bookable via OpenTable, but they had a slot for one person available early Saturday evening.  I also determined that the location was in a suburb called Chiswick, but it would be an easy trip out via the Underground.

After about a 45-minute ride to Chiswick Park station, and a 5-minute walk to the main street, I easily found the restaurant and had a very nice experience.  The food was interesting and inventive, and I had a nice chat with some local diners who sat next to me at the counter.

For the full write-up on Hedone, click here.

The next day, I had to be at the meeting point, Gloucester Tube Station, by 9:00 am.  I was there a little early and gradually saw people gather.  Our tour guides arrived on time, checked us in and led us to our bus.

The plan for the day was to first travel out to the village used as "Downton Village".  It was a town called Brampton, located about 90 minutes west of London.  The town was picked specifically because it had the look they wanted and would be easy enough to adapt to look like an early 20th Century village in England.

The most interesting thing about the visit was that for the series, they only use a street and a small corner of the town.  On TV, the village looks like it extends out.  The buildings were very recognizable, even with the later 20th-Century modifications all around.  Our guide explained how they covered up or otherwise altered the appearances to be consistent with the show's timeline.

After spending about an hour in Brampton, we were off to Newbury, where Highclere Castle is located.  It would be about a one hour and forty-five minute ride.  During our drives, they played episodes of Downton Abbey on the bus.

It was interesting in that, like my visit to Castle Howard, the house seemed smaller inside and out than it appears on TV.  But even if the house was not famous because of the show, it is worth visiting the house and grounds.  The inside is amazing (no picture allowed) because of the restoration and because the family still lives in the house part time.  The residents are well -connected to the royal family (the father of the current Lord was the Queen's stable master, and the current lord is the Queen's godson).  In addition, the current lord's grandfather was Lord Carnarvon, the one who played a large role in the discovery and excavation of the tomb of King Tutankhamen (there is a small Egyptian Museum in the basement of the house).  We were given about 3 hours to explore the house, grounds, and to have lunch.  You are only allowed to walk through the house, following a set path, and our guides were not allowed in with us to provide any narration.  But they did give us a handy guide to follow to give us some description of the rooms we saw and how they related to the show.

After our visit, it was about a 90-minute ride back to London.

The next day, I returned home after a short but very worthwhile trip of sights and food.

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