Ah, London. According to some things I read, there’s nothing but high rise buildings, reams of cement and formulaic, biscuit-cutter hotel rooms, unless you happen to be connected to royalty.
Well, step into the immaculate Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where a square patch of grass that’s seen more attention than Kate Middleton’s wardrobe wins the accolade of London’s largest public square. It’s flanked by prestigious buildings, like the Royal College of Surgeons and the London School of Economics and its own history stretches back for nearly 400 years to 1630.
It’s the hallmark of established, respectable city life…until you spot the painted cow that leads to the Fleet River Bakery and find a nugget of country life right in the heart of the capital.
Fleet River bakes its goods fresh on the premises. Its decor is simple and it’s the kind of place that dishes out milk in jugs instead of pocketing it into poky plastic sachets.
It serves sugar-dusted almond cake and slabs of chocolate brownies. Butter-licked croissants and cream-topped carrot sponges.
And it also rents out rooms that are only just upstairs – which is, let’s face it, rather cool.
Rooms at the Fleet River are spacious by London standards. They come with a shower, a washing machine and a homely collection of Earl Grey tea and sugar cubes, plus Bramley toiletries with extracts of grapefruit, lavender, lemongrass and clary sage. There’s a self-catering section, a breakfast table with chairs and a wide screen TV with a sofa for moments when laziness overcomes you. There’s even a bookshelf stocked with useful reading about London.
Breakfast takes place in the bakery itself, allowing you to experience firsthand the stares of the city public as you swan in without a coat but with wet hair into a central London coffee room.
The food, from the brownies to the bacon, is good, in a hearty, wholesome, country way. Imagine hunks of homemade bread, jars of hard-boiled sweets, wedges of fruit cake and Fleet’s own version of the oreo cookie.
The only downside was that I needed to insist that the rooms actually did exist. Not once, not twice but three times I had a taste of “can’t help you” London sass before I managed to convince the staff that they really did have rooms upstairs.
Still, at the end of the day (well, at the start, to be precise) you do get to eat a home-cooked breakfast while staring at a painted cow. Only a scone’s throw from the Royal College of Surgeons.
You’ve got to love London for that – and the Fleet River Bakery.
*Yes, I switched the term cookie-cutter into British English. Sometimes I just can’t help myself…
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com