I think it’s the buildings that draw me to London. Not the modern architecture – although they certainly claim their own beauty, reflecting back sky-high ambitions, saying ‘maybe you can’. It’s the romance of the past that calls me back. My eyes linger on tiny details; from the smooth columns to the uniform nature of delicate embellishments. Walking along Piccadilly Street, my feet slow to a stroll as my eyes greedily take in the classic buildings. They are sleek and ornate, making it impossible to move at the fast city pace when the beautiful past whispers to you.
St. James’ Church, a short walk from Piccadilly Circus, is a quiet corner in the middle of the fast-paced city. Even with the road being just outside the gates to the church, the outside world seems to vanish when you step into the courtyard. The church, with its clock tower atop the entrance, is the highest point in the courtyard. To the left, a sturdy tree blossoms with young buds in mixing shades of white and baby pink. Two park benches sit under the shade of the blooming tree, always occupied. Tucked to the right of the church entrance is a Caffé Nero, filled with lunch goers. St. James Gardens is located just beside the Café, a few tasteful statues decorating the space. And right alongside the church courtyard is Maison Assouline, my destination.
A doorman, smartly dressed in a red jacket and cordial smile, sweeps you into the elegant world-unto-itself of Maison Assouline. Once inside, you’re encapsulated by the poise and sophistication that radiates throughout the luxury shop. Art books, containing histories of celebrated peoples and companies, imbue the fine décor with a sense of importance. The high ceiling is a pristine white, embellished with consistent floral wreaths. Originally a bank in 1922, the staff maintain a perfect courtesy that is in keeping with the building’s vintage charm. The waiters don smart white jackets, other members of staff dressed in all black.
Ordering from the Savory menu, I requested a Tolstoy Salmon Filet – partly because I love salmon, and partly because of the odd magnetism imbued in the name Tolstoy. Pairing it with a pot of tea, I requested Star Elixir. Coming from the range by Damman Freres, Star Elixir is a tea comprised of deep, earthy tones. A balanced blend of green tea, blackcurrant leaves, meadow sweet, grape leaves, elderflower, peppermint, and fennel, just half of these ingredients would’ve caught my interest. When the food arrived, I was amazed beyond words. Placing the linen napkin over my lap, the cloth, perfectly pressed and ivory pristine heralded the start of my meal. Squeezing the lemon slices over the smoked salmon, the citrus scent overwhelmed my senses. Mini slices of toasted bread lay on the side of the plate. With a crunchy exterior and slightly softened interior, they were easy to slice through and had an evenly salted top. It paired marvelously with the main event. The salmon, full of flavor, was well seasoned with a hint of pepper and salt. Small rolls of cucumber and the few greens garnishing the salmon harmonized well with their delicate flavor.
My table, located beside a wall decorated with the front covers of neatly lined art books, allowed me the double advantage of being kept at peace and able to view the experiences of others. Jovial conversation was had in all occupied tables, spoken through muted tones to not contest the upbeat music playing in the background. After I paid for the lovely meal, I wandered through the store, admiring its meticulously crafted aesthetic. Heading out, a shelf of books boldly declared the names of cities and countries I have dreamed of, lightly teasing me.