Catching up over Chinese food and cocktails in Covent Garden.

I didn’t take the picture above. It’s a royalty free image from Shutterstock that I downloaded the other day after I realised I didn’t have a decent image to use as the header for this post. I don’t normally use other people’s pictures; I’ve taken pretty much every photo on AlwaysCarryOn.com, for the most part on my mobile phone (aided by a few photo editing apps). But when I met up with my friend Greg in London last week, taking pictures for the blog was the last thing on my mind.

It’s been six years since Greg and I were last together. And really, if I hadn’t been so excited at seeing him and had actually stopped to think about it, I’d have booked a hotel in Covent Garden (or somewhere nearby), so I wouldn’t have had to rush off to get the last train back to Reading and could have stayed chatting for long. Because cramming six years of news and stories and anecdotes into just a few hours was never going to be enough. We had so much to talk about, and no time to spend taking pictures.

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A decade of friendship.

Greg and I have been friends for just over 10 years. We met in the summer of 2008; I’d just started my first full-time job as a journalist, and had made the move to London. But as a 21-year-old singleton with only a handful of friends in the city, it was quite a lonely place. So I joined a dating site – I don’t recall which one, but it was a website, not an app, as there were no dating apps back in 2008 (well, if there were, they weren’t on my little pay-as-you-go Nokia).

After chatting online for a couple of weeks, Greg asked me out on date. We’d agreed to meet outside Bounds Green tube station on a Saturday afternoon, with the intention of heading into central London and having a few drinks in Covent Garden. However, when Greg eventually showed up (two hours later than arranged), he’d evidently already had a few drinks. Our first (and only) date was a disaster.

By way of an apology, the next day Greg asked if he could take me out for lunch. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed – though made it clear that it wasn’t a “date”. During the meal I began to thaw, and the friendship we’d built online transferred into a real life friendship. That friendship that has now spanned a decade.

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Over those 10 years Greg and I have done so much together: we’ve wined and dined at some seriously posh places like Skylon and Hix, as well as some of the best kebab houses Green Lanes has to offer. We’ve had cocktails in the clouds at Vertigo42, and tried garlic-flavoured beer at the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm. When not eating out, we’d take turns to cook for each other. I’ve never had a tastier lasagne than Greg’s chicken liver version, and let’s not forget his infamous spinach soup and the blender incident.

Our friendship didn’t just just revolve around food and drink though: we spent a day at Thorpe Park, went to Arsenal home games at the Emirates, went bowling in Finsbury Park and to bingo in Camden. We tried our hand at climbing, bouldering and abseiling at The Castle climbing centre in Manor House once. We even venture out of London and went on a £9.50 holiday after collecting tokens from The Sun.

Some of my happiest and fondest memories of my brief stint living in the capital are times I spent with Greg. So when he announced his company was relocating to Dubai, and he’d be moving with them, I was gutted.

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We stayed in touch over Facebook, and would occasionally check in with one another, but it’s just not the same. The last time I saw Greg was in 2012, when he sadly had to come back to the UK for a funeral. A fortnight ago though, I got a message to say he’d be in London soon (this time for a much happier occasion: a wedding) and asked if I wanted to meet up. Of course I did.

When we were both Londoners, one of our favourite haunts was La Tasca in Covent Garden. Quick, easy, well-located, and (most importantly, for a girl who at the time was saving to buy a house) cheap. Armed with 50% off vouchers or 2-for-1 discount codes, we always left the tapas restaurant with full tummies and a tiny bill, even after copious cocktails. So now that he’s living in a Muslim country void of pork products, Greg jumped at the chance of a feast of “chorizo cooked in red wine” when I suggested we meet in Covent Garden for old times sake.

After the biggest hug hello and then spending about an hour in a pub (managing just one drink each, because of the sheer amount of chatter), we walked up Maiden Lane, fondly reminiscing. Stopping in front of where our beloved La Tasca once stood, we realised that it had been replaced by a Chinese restaurant…

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As nowhere else in the area took our fancy, we decided to give the Chinese restaurant, Ping Pong, a try. Stepping inside, it looked familiar but yet different. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it or not – it seemed eerily quiet, unlike La Tasca, which was always a hive of activity, backed by the upbeat tempo of Spanish salsa music.

Taking our seats, we ordered some drinks (Greg a pint, me a smoked chili Bloody Mary, which was amazing, I must say), and began perusing the menu. There was so much choice – in fact, too much choice. We couldn’t decide on just a few things, so plumped for the set menu for two people. It included an assortment of buns, dumplings, rice dishes and spring rolls. Oh, and the obligatory prawn crackers. There was so much food, I wondered how we were going to eat it all…

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But eat it all we did. Then, even after all the food, we still managed to make some room for a dessert, and ordered some hazelnut mochi. If you’ve never had mochi before, you have to try it – it’s hard to describe the texture and taste, but it’s kind of like a profiterole, but with cookie dough instead of pastry, and ice cream instead of cream. It was so good, I was tempted to order another.

I resisted, however, and paid the bill. The night was still young as we exited the restaurant, and there was still so much to talk about, so we decided to go for a few more drinks. Another one of our favourite hang outs used to be Maxwells on James Street, just by Covent Garden tube station. But that too had shut up shop, and literally become a shop (a Boots, a Karen Millen and an Accessorize store). So instead I took Greg to one of my other favourite cocktail bars in Covent Garden: Be At One.

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This little gem has been a go-to bar for me since Laura G and I stumbled upon it back in 2009. Hidden down behind the Transport Museum and the back of the Lyceum theatre, it’s small and cosy, and never normally too busy – unless you’re there during happy hour on a Thursday or Friday. When we rocked up on a Tuesday, it was still happy hour, and Greg came back to our table with four cocktails.

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Happy hour literally took us an hour, as we sat there chatting endlessly about everything that had happened over the last six years. But it was soon time to part ways and bid Greg a slightly emotional farewell (made even more dramatic by him not having any credit on his Oyster card and having to hug over the ticket barrier before I made a dash for Paddington station. We had such a lovely evening catching up; damn not having the foresight to book a hotel in Covent Garden – because it probably would have been quite cheap on a Tuesday night, too.

I hope we’ll not leave it so long to see each other again – and I definitely think I should visit Greg in Dubai next. After all, the city is on my bucket list – and Greg has promised me cocktails up the Burj Khalifa, when I do eventually make it over to see him…

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*****

Disclaimer: This post was done in collaboration with Hotels.com. All opinions and words are my own, however.

89 thoughts on “Catching up over Chinese food and cocktails in Covent Garden.

  1. Lovely post. Though I went to London for only a couple of days, I totally loved the beautiful flowers around the White Lion Pubs and everywhere. Your photos took me back to those days and I hope I get to be back soon. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like you guys had a great catch up! Your story really made me miss living in London though… One of my favourite things was having kebabs on Green Lanes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this post. A little different from the usual travel posts I always read but still makes a definitive point. I have always loved Covent Garden and its one of my best spots in London. But I realized that even I don’t have any pictures of it even though I have been there so many times. Sometimes you just don’t have the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post reminded us of our strolls in Covent garden, we love the quirkiness and the charm of that place. Can’t wait to be in London next month, will definitely visit Covent Garden!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yeah for reuniting with old friends! I love it when I travel and meet up with an old friend over great food, cocktails, and good conversation! It is truly wonderful when you can pick up like no time happened between you both! Going to have to add Convent garden when Darcee & I return to London! What a cool looking area of town and I LOVE Chinese food!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a lovely tale of friendship, and from an unlikely start! I know Ping Pong, and there are a few chains around London now. Covent Garden always has a good buzz to it, it looks like you had a fun night!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think it is very important to stay up to date with friends wherever they may be. I seem to be the friend that is always moving now and hard to stay in touch with. I’ve realized how important it is for me to stay in touch with my friends from home.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The Chinese food in Ping Pong look amazing delicious. I love how cracker was served before the meal. I was about to ask the bun like thingi and didnt know it is a mochi. I love mochi and not sure how this one tasted like.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ahhh the beautiful vibey Covent Gardens. How I miss it but I bet it’s changed so much since I was there back in 1995. So cool that you git to see an old friend again, but damn girl your really need to book that hotel room next time. It’s no fun when you have to cut things short like that

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love the story of how you and Greg met almost a decade ago and he landed up drunk for the first date haha! Nevertheless, you ended up becoming fantastic friends and that’s a great story to tell. And also, I think it’s a great idea that you visit him in Dubai Becca, maybe you and I could also meet up then, over drinks! Getting back to the topic of the lovely Chinese restaurant you guys dined at, those cocktails look pretty awesome and I don’t think I’ve ever tried a mochi or even know what that is! Sounds like something I’m going to love, though, given my sweet tooth 😉 Hope you’re gonna make it to my home town soon 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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