Lonely Planet describes the Engineer as one of London’s first gastropubs. It is in North London and not far from where I am now, in Kilburn, so I decide to go for a late lunch. Ugo has gone to work and left me in her gorgeous, renovated flat. When I made it to her place this morning, she was entertaining a pair of guys who had just delivered a rug sample. They stood around it debating the size it should be cut and where it would be positioned. This was no ordinary rug. It was definitely a floor covering and eye-catching one at that. I could see why Ugo would want it as the centerpiece of her living area which was already stunning, featuring a beautiful bay window, honey hardwood floors and an original stained glass window. The rug, a cream, caramel and chocolate patterned piece, already looked at home. This is kind of Ugo’s thing. Her side gig is working as an interior designer (Check out Ugo’s work here: http://arinzehinteriors.com) and she says she’s setting up her place in London as her calling card. I wish I’d seen her place in DC.
Once the delivery men have been given their proper instructions, Ugo heads off to work and we make plans to meet later for dinner. But now I need lunch, so I visit one of London’s transportation sites and get directions by tube and by bus. I found myself in Camden Town in no time. The only problem was finding Gloucester Avenue where the pub was supposed to be located. No one I asked had heard of it or knew where it was. The walking map wasn’t the clearest, when I looked it up, but I thought it would be easy to ask around when I got close. So, I just wander around for a bit, past a couple a vintage stores, past a salon where a stylist was braiding another woman’s hair, past apartments that looked like public housing, Chinese restaurants, falafel shops. Gloucester Avenue unfound, I finally give in or maybe it’s my stomach telling me to give in. I go back to where I started near the Chalk Farm tube station and look at the menu at a bar and restaurant called Made in Camden. It’s next to what appears to be a concert hall that is hosting an iTunes festival with artists like Adele, Moby, Coldplay, Bruno Mars and Raphael Saadiq. It’s a nice place, but it looks like it’s even better later in the evening, especially filled with concert-goers. I pick up a leaflet about the event next door and read that I am practically dining in the birthplace of the British Punk Rock and Pop scene, the Roundhouse. Bands like the Ramones, the Clash and Patti Smith played here. The 90’s group Soul II Soul is from here and most recently the talented and tragic Amy Winehouse. So, I feel like I am where I supposed to be and settle in. An eclectic mix of music plays as I dine on a tasty leek soup, an Asian chicken tapa with gingered grapes with a side salad and sip a cider. It’s the perfect place to people watch. I see a group of teens gather for the evening’s concert and the sidewalk becomes a catwalk of London fashion.
The must have items if you are a teenage girl or a woman in your 20s are black tights worn under cutoff blue jean shorts or a miniskirt. These are likely to be paired with a tank top, cardigan and scarf or a cropped jacket. The tights may also be substituted for leggings so that you can wear sandals or open-toed shoes. I see the more fanciful and fearless side of London fashion down at the Camden Stables Market, a maze of vintage, punk, art and jewelry stores a few blocks away from the Roundhouse. There’s a guy with at least 20 face piercings and folks with hair dyed neon pink and green, all mixing in with the fashion forward and fashion challenged. The best find of the day for me is an accessories shop called Taloola owned by a lovely South African and Namibian woman named Rachel. She’s been in the market for a couple of years selling beautiful bead necklaces and jewelry from Kenya, South Africa and Namibia as well as leather bags and wallets from Morocco. She sources the items she sells directly from the people who make them in those countries including women’s cooperatives. Rachel is delightful, dressed in a blue patterned maxi dress and a matching blue wrap. She almost seems too elegant for the market. Her daughters are her models and show off her jewelry on placards in her shop. She tells me how she hated London at first when her husband first brought her to the city from South Africa, but her daughters fell in love with the place. We talked about traveling in Africa and I told her that I wanted to replace a necklace that I got in Senegal that broke recently. She helped me try on a few pieces and I ended up walking away with two necklaces and a new friend, hugging as we parted.
After more wandering through the market, it’s time to meet Ugo. We’d decided to meet at Covent Gardens, known as the place of the original flower market from “My Fair Lady.” Now, it is filled with street performers, tourists and Londoners on their way to the pubs. Ugo tells me of her path to London as we walk. She is in finance by trade and took a job as CFO of an architecture and design firm in London so that she could be closer to her creative passion for interior design. She seems to be happy with her move so far settling into the African community and finding the local tennis club. In Leicester Square, we are surrounded by London’s theater and arts scene, passing by marquees trumpeting “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Lion King,” as well as high-heeled women and dress-suited men outside art gallery events. I mention Gordon’s Wine Bar, a spot recommended by another friend that once lived in London. In the process of navigating our way there, we see that the National Portrait Gallery is open for late hours and we step in to hear a DJ spinning funky tunes. We have to stop in the Tudor room to see portraits of Henry VIII and the doomed Anne Boleyn. A portrait of a stately-looking African man catches our attention amidst the sea of portraits of white men in powdered wigs. His name is Ayuba Suleiman Diallo and his portrait is Britain’s first of a slave turned freed man.
Happy to have stumbled upon such a cool event, we move on to have a quick sushi dinner and then head to Gordon’s Wine Bar, which is down a narrow street lined with pubs and restaurants leading to the Charring Cross tube station. Its garden is packed with ruddy-faced Brits and we step inside the bar dating back to the 1800s, London’s oldest wine bar and once a Rudyard Kipling haunt. A wood paneled bar area proceeds a cave-like space, where even I have to duck a bit to enter. Tapered candles are its only light and people huddle together in intimate conversation. Ugo and I toast a lovely day with our glasses of wine.