A London Miscellany: In The City

When you finally emerge from Bank underground station, possibly from the exit you intended, you become part of a human stream. I suspect the shoes worn by the gent on my right cost more than I earn in a month. I also suspect the stocking tops of the woman to my left were either a not-too-subliminal advert for the nearby Agent Provocateur or that she gets her kicks by raising the blood pressure of fat bankers on a Monday morning.

The flow was broken at Gracechurch Street. The majority had hedges to fund. I had a Spoons breakfast on my mind. I wasn't in The City for the fun of it - the pubs open early here and I was ready to cram in a few choicer establishments early doors. Albeit not as early as I'd hoped for. I could have sworn the Crosse Keys opened at 8am; the website says 9am, it opened at some point between the two. No matter. It's the grandest breakfast venue I've been to. A island bar surrounded by marble pillars, more marble on the walls, the occasional Oriental sculpture to remind you this was once the headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. In one corner, a smattering of suits with lattes & sausage cobs. Keen, attentive staff. And the best Spoons breakfast I've ever eaten.

So what happens if you take the best features of the Crosse Keys and slim them down somewhat? You get The Knights Templar on Chancery Lane. Slimmer marble columns (black, not green), seemingly more space even though it's much smaller (the large windows / high ceiling combo helps), more relaxing and personal than the Crosse Keys. Just the clatter of forks and spoons from the three other breakfasters. Some may find the near-silence off-putting. After four days in London, I found it preciously attractive. A large orange juice and half a crossword later, I was relaxed and refreshed. Not something I usually experience after a morning of two Spoons.

The next stop was a fortuitous indulgence. I've always wanted to visit a Fleet Street pub and the Punch Tavern happened to be open. Plenty of tourists gawping through the door, no-one at the bar. There was an air of gloomy late-Victoriana about the place, dark oak stained over more than a century, low light from the vaulted ceiling, large mirrors reflecting back little but occasional echoes of when the place was more charivari. After the morning's grandeur Punch felt subdued, slightly shabby, tired and emotional. I loved it. I wanted not to; I wanted the colours to be vibrant and the dining tables to be cleared away and the bar area to be thick with smoke and pissed old hacks baffled by new technology. But the first beer of the day - Sharp's Doom Bar - was perfect, service was courteous and if you closed your eyes you could still smell the nicotine and hear the invective.

As so many of my London ramblings begin at the Betjamin Sculpture, it was fitting for this one to end at a pub with eclectic sculptures that the Poet Laureate was instrumental in saving. The Blackfriar is a wedge-shaped riot of Art Nouveau excess; mosaic and sculpture in alabaster and marble, onyx and lapis lazuli, copper and gilt. I could write a book about the interior, although this one has it pretty much covered. I'd have taken some photos but, frankly, photos cannot do justice to the place. You need to be there early doors, buy a pint (more Doom Bar for me), and poke your nose around. If the barman can be persuaded to turn the music down, even better. Then go and sit in the Small Saloon Bar at the back and marvel at work by Henry Poole, one of England's finest sculptors; sup your pint and revel in the ceiling reliefs that read "Silence Is Golden. Wisdom Is Rare. Seize Occasion. Industry Is All. Haste Is Slow. Finery Is Foolery".

Then go and see London through rejuvenated eyes. Start looking up towards corbels and pediments. See the detail, the craftsmanship, the moments in history fixed into great buildings.

In half a day, it's possible to gain a valuable insight into London's economic and social history through its architecture. And buy a pint or four along the way. I'll drink to that.

A plaque on the wall outside the Blackfriar. Couldn't resist...