I’ve been looking forward to the British Museum’s Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greek art exhibition since first reading about it some months ago. It was watching Alastair Sooke’s brilliant Treasures of Ancient Greece on BBC4 last night that reminded me that the exhibition must have opened. With another of my ‘days off between freelance jobs’ I decided to head into central London. I was slightly uncertain whether it was a good idea. With the current school holidays, perhaps the British Museum would be heaving. But setting off early, I could be there soon after the museum opened and so avoid the worst of the crowds.
Of course the Single Gourmet Traveller cannot venture too far into a new day without a good coffee, so on the Tube into central London from Richmond, I contemplated whether to get off at Embankment or Temple, thinking first coffee houses rather than museum. I decided on Embankment and to try coffee at Villiers (in Villiers Street), which I’ve passed many times and thought looked good, but had never been near at the right time for coffee. It seemed like the kind of place I’d like – artisan coffee house; later in the day a wine bar. The cakes in the window had always looked fantastic. It’s run by the younger generation of the famous Gordon’s Wine Bar further down Villiers Street so comes with a good pedigree. It was quite busy and I found a table at the back and ordered a small flat white and plain croissant.
As my order was taken, I asked about wifi and was given a password. It didn’t work. I was told to try all caps. That didn’t work. A woman at the next table was having the same problem. The waitress wasn’t helpful and neither I nor my neighbour did get to sign in. The coffee was OK, though not up to the standard of other coffee houses I frequent and I wished I stuck to my original idea of going to Monmouth Coffee. The croissant was soggy on the bottom and oily. I was given no paper napkin and there were none on the table which meant that once I’d finished, I had to go to the toilets to wash my hands. The bill was a rather outrageous £6.08 (including a 12½% service charge for a not great service). At my usual haunts I’d pay only somewhere between £3.55 to £4 for the same – and I do mean sitting down and not takeaway.
Still, one can’t be too down over a disappointing coffee on such a gloriously sunny day, so I headed back outside and onwards, walking through a still quite empty Covent Garden, cutting up Neal Street and into Bloomsbury and to the British Museum.
I wondered if I’d find large crowds but although it was busy, I was able to go in straight away. Just entering the British Museum is something of a wonder. The Great Court is magnificent.
So too was the exhibition, although I couldn’t take photos of that, of course. There were some wonderful Greek sculptures and exquisite pots dating from around 500BC, plus some Roman copies of missing Greek originals. And inevitably, the exhibition included some of the controversial Elgin marbles. I won’t involve myself in that argument, but I will say that one of the ‘Elgin’ sculptures, of the river god Illissos by Pheidias (480-430BC), was incredible; so beautiful, and it was wonderful to see it.
In Greek mode it seemed a Greek lunch was a good plan before going home. I had a quick search on the internet to find Greek restaurants in the Bloomsbury area and thought Konaki in Coptic Street sounded just the place to go. I went in quite early – at about 12.30 – and there were only a handful of people. It was a very friendly welcome and I was asked where I wanted to sit – near the front, further back or in the garden. I thought it probably wasn’t warm enough for me in the garden (though others went out there later) but liked the idea of being close to the door and looking out.
They had a good lunchtime set menu for £10.95 for 2 courses with a wide choice, but I opted for just a main course from the à la carte: Kolokythakia – courgettes stuffed with minced lamb, rice and spices, served with an egg and lemon sauce. While I waited for that, the waiter brought a small glass of house white wine (pleasant and a good price at £3.90) with a dish of very good olives.
Nearby another waiter was talking in Greek to a couple sitting at another table. With the sun shining through from the garden, the ambience like a Greek taverna, I could almost be in Greece and it enhanced my ‘day’s holiday’ mood. My main course came with ‘Greek pasta’ – which was much like Italian orzo – and some pitta bread I’d ordered.
The food was OK but nothing outstanding. The courgettes were overcooked; the mince stuffing tightly packed so a bit solid. The avgolemono – egg and lemon – sauce was very delicious though. I finished with just an espresso. It was the kind of restaurant that’s handy to know about if you’re in the area and fancy Greek food; it’s not somewhere to make a special trip for.
I made my way back through Covent Garden, this time to Waterloo station for a fast mainline train home. It was still fairly early but I’d done a lot and wanted to miss the rush hour. Home and a lie in the sun in the garden beckoned me. Tomorrow work arrives …