British hospitality and an event with Jamie Oliver

London Bridge in the fog. The view from the galleries of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Cheery Christmas markets. Mince pies from Harrods.

I pondered every little detail of my recent trip to London, as I tossed and turned, draped over two airplane seats. Flying over the ocean for hours on end, I finally summed it up in one word: hospitality.

The British have had a long-standing reputation for being polite, but everything my sister and I experienced went far and above common courtesy. It was enough to leave a lasting impression, and oddly enough, made me understand my dad’s preoccupation with good manners.

It started at the airport, receiving friendly assistance as we sorted out the public transportation to central London. (If you’re taking notes, buy the Oyster card and hop on the Piccadilly line.)

St James Park

Our friendly Airbnb host greeted us at the door still clad in Sunday morning pyjamas, which certainly set the tone for a relaxed and comfortable stay. The young family made us feel at home and freely offered up all sorts of useful information on getting around and locating specific shops and sites. It was lovely to be able to brew a cuppa and find a biscuit whether it be at midnight or 5 AM.

Westminster Collage

We set off with one minimal map and a few scattered ideas of where we wanted to go. Along the way at bus stops and corner shops we inquired about directions and were always met with kindness and helpful people. Most folks whipped out their iPhone and tapped out a quick search no one seemed ruffled or too busy to talk to us.

Miranda at Fortum & Masson

After sighing over the cake counter at Harrod’s food court, admiring the windows at Fortnum & Mason’s and sampling the best Stilton at England’s oldest cheese shop, we were ready to rest for a bit. Though we were the most casually dressed pair on the entire floor, the staff at The Wolseley treated us with such dignity and elegance it was easy to be swept away with the charms of afternoon tea. We feasted on delicate sandwiches prepared with smoked salmon and cucumber, buttery scones and exquisite teacakes, all washed down with two pots of tea. Talk about refuelling.

Afternoon tea Wolseley

Although our thrown-together plans had been a little vague, two editors from Jamie Oliver.com met us for coffee bright and early the following day. They insisted on a full tour of Jamie’s domain, which is tucked away in the most unobtrusive part of Hackney. We followed them up small staircases into one brightly lit loft after another, where a small army of dedicated staff moved about kitchens and worked behind computers.

Final test kitchen

I’m sure our friends Jonny and Merlin had better things to do on a Monday morning, but instead they answered my 101 questions while we peeked into prep spaces, prop rooms, test kitchens and television sets. A highlight with meeting the team from Jamie Magazine and getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a publication that is so trendsetting. All in all, it was surprisingly simple and modest.

Drinks Tube

My sister Miranda’s friend Zoe, a student at the Royal Veterinary College, showed us around Borough Market that afternoon, even though she was dealing with a kidney stone. It was so kind of her! We feasted on Steak & Ale pie with mashed peas and gravy, roasted chestnuts and hot mulled wine. Everything was well suited to keeping us warm on a brisk December day.

Borough Market Collage

Zoe also could have been studying for her exam the next day but instead she ushered us to see the London sites like Shakespeare’s Globe, the Tate Modern and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. Paul's Cathedral

To further convince us of the great lengths of British hospitality, popular UK food blogger, Izy Hossak of Top with Cinnamon invited us for dinner that night at her family’s home on the edge of Central London.

dinner with Izy

Despite being busy professionals, the Hossak family still took time on a weeknight to set an elegant table, pour wine and cook a three-course dinner good enough to rival Ottolenghi himself. As someone with a heart for family dinners, I was deeply touched by both the invitation and the warmth with which they received us. I don’t know where the time went, but we enjoyed ourselves so much it was nearly midnight when my sister and I left.

 

National Gallery

Liberty of London

On our third day’s explorations included the Impressionists collection at the National Gallery, a stroll through Soho and a stop at Liberty London for fabric. Then we zoomed off for lunch at Jamie’s Fifteen.

Jamie's Fifteen

Admittedly we had been flagged as VIPs by Jamie’s team but still, the service was incredibly professional and warm —  two qualities that seldom blend seamlessly on the restaurant floor. Our three course lunch will be fondly remembered for years to come for all the right reasons.

On our final evening in London we were hosted by Jamie Oliver himself. Above his Notting Hill shop Recipease, he welcomed a group of food bloggers, food writers, vloggers and food personalities to collectively celebrate the launch of his new book Comfort Food.

Drinks tube party

We were greeted with hot mulled wine to warm us as we came in from the cold, and moved on to cocktails mixed by the oh-so-entertaining Simone of Drinks Tube.  A large central island workspace hosted folks from Jamie’s food team, who prepared dish after dish in front of us from Jamie’s Comfort Food cookbook.

We sampled plates such as tender raviolis made by Gennaro himself, beef & barley buns with horseradish cream (divine!!) and irresistible loaded pork buns. A host of cakes from Jamie’s brilliant pastry chef Ed Loftus awaited us and did not disappoint.

pork buns

Jamie mingled with guests the entire evening, posing for photos, signing books and chatting with everyone. The event was all so very friendly and unpretentious, yet still extremely proper and well run – everything a great party should be.

Jamie's Comfort Food event
Jamie was usually surrounded by people about three deep, but when he stops to speak to you, you get his full attention. He admitted he doesn’t do many of these events because he would go completely mad talking about himself for hours on end!  He thanked me for coming and for the work I do, and insisted we meet for dinner at Maison Publique when he is in Montreal next summer. I guess it’s a date!

Jamie Oliver and Aimee Wimbush Bourque

It’s no surprise that Jamie is leading the way to show hospitality; it seems to be a common theme all over London. Let’s hope, like many trends begun in the UK, it becomes just as popular in North America too.

The event with Jamie Oliver in Notting Hill felt like the perfect kickoff to the holiday season, so on our way home Miranda and I stopped off on Oxford Street to see the Christmas lights.

Oxford Street

Londoners sure go all out for holiday decor and keep it absolutely class act. I didn’t see a single plastic Santa or tacky reindeer in the entire city. Say, can we follow suit with that, too?

** All images by Aimee and an iPhone6**

Any questions about my trip, what I ate, saw or did? Ask away in the comments!

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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Comments

  1. I’d describe your trip as absolutely dreamy. Wow! I am so happy for you and it looks like you hit up all the great spots and got to meet up with some lovely people too 🙂

  2. oh and of course, the whole Jamie Oliver part…. don’t even get me started on that!
    I want to live in the kitchen, and work there too 😉

  3. What an incredible trip, Aimée! I am absolutely green with envy. Well done to have made such a magical start to December. More big things to come in the New Year for you, and I’m excited to read along…
    Amy

    • It certainly was one for the books – it almost feels like Christmas is over. Haha. Which is silly, but it was a whole lot of happy rolled into one trip.

  4. Yay! I’ve been waiting to hear about your trip! How wonderful! Now after reading this and following Tsh’s trip I’m sooooo craving some travel. Hm, maybe I will start in Montreal? I haven’t been for 14 years!

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. What a wonderful trip Aimée – London is magical at Christmas time and you certainly experienced the best of British hospitality. So pleased you met Jamie and yes, he does give his full attention to you even if there are hundreds of other people around clamouring for some time with him. He’s just as genuine and down to earth as you expect, right? I’m hoping a future trip of mine to London will also include a tour of the JO HQ – that kitchen is positively envy-inducing!

  6. SO fun!! Loved following on Instagram too!

  7. Rebekka Miller-Finley says:

    Looks like a beautiful trip! What a wonderful way to start the Christmas season. What were some of your favorite foods? They all looked so good.

    • Rebekka, I loved the really traditional fare – scones from our afternoon tea, with a dazzling clotted cream, that steak and ale pie, mulled wine – everything seemed so well suited to the cold weather. They know how to do comfort food!

  8. Wow, wasn’t that just the most splendid way to get in the Christmas spirit! My favorite photo is (of course) you with Jamie but second best is that soo pretty Christmas window display! It’s like a fairytale!

    • I agree. It was so utterly festive! Far more so than anything we get up to here in Canada. Now I’m a little impatient for the holidays to be on us. 🙂

  9. Wow looks like an incredible trip! I was just in London for the first time this summer, so a lot of your pictures look familiar to me. 🙂 We even had lunch at Recipease in Notting Hill one day – although sadly Jamie was not there. I would kill to meet him someday though!

  10. Aimee, all I can say is, “sensational!” What a dream to meet Jamie Oliver himself. Yes, great things for you, Aimee! I can’t wait to see what comes your way in the new year.

  11. I love Jamie Oliver so much! I love the work he does with food and the community (and tried to do in American schools!). He’s so fantastic. I’m so envious! 😀

  12. What an amazing account of all the sights and sounds and warm hospitality you encountered in the UK! Love every part of your post. Can’t wait to return to London myself!

  13. OMG. It’s like a dream. Just when I was drooling over London at this time of year, then comes Izy who I adore (from afar!) and then of course, the cherry on the sundae has to be hanging out with Jamie Oliver and tasting his beautiful food. What a wonderful trip Aimee!

  14. Totally Brilliant! So happy for you!

  15. Paula Hunter says:

    What a perfect trip! Christmas is my favorite time in London and you hit my favorites. Which AirBnb did you stay in? I tried the link but it wouldn’t work.
    Thanks.

  16. Thank you for such a wonderful travelog of your visit to the UK and your experience with the amazing and generous Jamie Oliver. It was a holiday treat for me to see and read–many thanks!

  17. How awesome! That trip sounds great and inspiring. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  18. What a great trip! I love London and all of England the people, the food, it’s all great. Now I’m definitely going to have to get my hands on that book.

  19. That does sound like quite the amazing trip to London!
    Thank you for sharing in writing and pictures. So happy (and yes, a little jealous of course) that you met Jamie Oliver, one of my favourite people for all the work he does in educating people and kids to eat better food. That picture of the two of you talking got me intrigued, you both seemed so serious, what were you talking about? 🙂

    • Haha! Oh let me see, just probably that – his work with kids, family dinner, teaching kids to cook, that sort of thing. Subjects we’re both passionate about.

  20. Sarah DiGloria says:

    Just so amazingly happy for you! Thank you for your beautiful wrap-up. Well done.

  21. I’m impressed with all that you packed in a short visit. It sounds like an absolute dream trip, so glad for you!

  22. Your pics are gorgeous. Make me want to go to London – right now please.

  23. Wow. Just, wow. This looks like an amazing trip, and what a dream come true to meet JO in the flesh! He is SUCH a food genius, which I am reminded of every time I crack one of his books. Thanks for sharing your story and photos! So fun to read…

  24. It looks like you had a fabulous trip! You took some great shots with you iPhone too, I love the one with the shop window.

  25. Sounds like such a lovely event and a wonderful trip!

  26. Looks like a fabulous trip! I have to admit I do love a plastic Santa and Reindeer. Must be my inner child still coming out 🙂

  27. Aimee!!! Wow, love this London recap. Jamie’s books & mags are a favorite of mine. The photography & recipes ~ this is a dream trip for sure! Thanks for sharing all the joy & fun with us! xx

  28. What an amazing trip Aimee!! Love all of your pictures! 🙂

  29. Fantastic to meet you at Recipease! Jamie really knows how to throw a party!

  30. Thanks for letting us all tag along on a lovely adventure! I am swooning over so many things. Makes me wish for a “London at Christmas” vacation in our future. I love that you are working with Jamie Oliver – we have loved his cookbooks from the start and it’s great that he has built such a (joyful, lovely, delightful, inspiring) army for food!

  31. This sounds just in line with my British experience studying for my M.A. in London. So warm and hospitable, and don’t you just love Jamie Oliver? I didn’t meet him, but his restaurants do exude that and I’ve become enamored with Food Tube. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience.

  32. Wow! I’m so jealous of your with Jamie Oliver. He’s so inspiring and dedicated to help people with food. It’s my dream to meet him. Maybe one day 😀

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