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.

176 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. 😊

  2. Now I want to visit London more than ever before. I’ve been once, but only to hit the high touristy spots, not to soak in the culture. That restaurant looks delicious.

  3. 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.

  4. I love Convent Gardens. I can walk around there for endless hours. Now, I have a couple of dinner/drinks places to go to next time I’m there. You should definitely go to Dubai! You will have a wonderful time.

  5. 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.

  6. It sounds like you had the most amazing time in London with your friend. It is great when you get to see someone after so much time apart and get to make some new memories with each other.

  7. It looks like you’ve had a great time out in Covent Garden. The Chinese restaurants sounds good and the cocktail bar a great way to end the evening. Great choices!

  8. It is lovely catching up with old friends isn’t it and looks like you made the most of it. I hope you get your cocktails in Dubai soon

  9. 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!

  10. What a great visit it sounds like it was! I can’t imagine trying to catch up 6 years worth in a single day!! Hope you can make it to Dubai soon!

  11. I haven’t been to Covent Garden in years. Love the pics and now I have some places to check out when I go back to London next year.

  12. 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!

    1. I can’t believe you’ve not been to Covent Garden before Eric – it’s such a lovely part of London, you can sit for hours watching the street performers and then mooch around the market, enjoy a coffee or even a cocktail or three 😉 x

  13. I haven’t been to London before but I think it’s a great place to hang out with your favorite buddy. You and Greg certainly had a great time I see.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

    1. I totally agree Christina – I was that friend a couple of years ago too, though now I am back in Reading and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, as I’m doing up a new house. So I’m hoping to combine my travels with seeing my friends that have moved further afield x

  16. Cocktails and chinese food? This sounds like my kind of night! What a fun outing this was! And that food looks divine!

  17. Covent Garden sounds like a perfect place to catch up with old friends. Thanks for sharing about some lesser known places in London.

  18. 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.

  19. 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

  20. Looks like a great time. Some awesome pictures as well. Thanks for sharing a part of your life with the world.

  21. I’ve never been over there, but it was fun to experience your trip virtually through your photos and descriptions. It sounds like you both had fun! I would enjoy having authentic Chinese food!

  22. Such a great story of true friends. Though it started off rocky, you two were still able to stay friends for so long! All of these locations look amazing.

  23. I love Covent Garden – such cool place with a nice vibe, and I love Chinese food too so this sounds perfect to me! Those drinks look good too!

  24. 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 😉

  25. Glad to hear you value the friendships you made so strongly, also going to steal a few of those places just to put them in my little notebook for when I visit London, Can’t wait to hear from your other travels, and especially Dubai 😉

  26. Sounds like a fun night! I’m glad you got to catch up with an old friend, and I hope you get to visit him in Dubai sometime! It’s been just over 20 years since I was in Covent Garden (I saw Cats there in the round), but your pictures of the charming street views really brought me back. Looks like it’s still a fun area to meet friends.

    Also, my daughter and I just tried making hazelnut (Nutella) mochis about a month ago. The recipe went very wrong, but they were still pretty tasty! I bet your correctly made ones were delicious.

    1. This made me chuckle Kristie – I’ve never tried making mochi, and I don’t think I’d even attempt it LOL! But well done on you guys for giving it a go 🙂 I also saw Cats back about 20 years ago in Covent Garden – it was the last show before they closed in the West End, so they did a performance in the middle of Covent Garden, which was free for everyone – not all the affects of the stage performance, but it was still great to watch nevertheless x

  27. I have yet to visit Europe. I have a friend who lives in London so eventually I need to travel there it will be fun!

  28. I’m totally obsessed with Covent Garden! It was one of my favorite spots in London! We also went to Ping Pong while we were there and it was so good! This just makes me reminisce!

  29. London has always been on my bucket list. Looks like it would be such a fabulous place to explore and learn!

  30. The food looks so delicious and making me hugry….I never been to London but I wanna visit it someday. It’s on my bucket list!

  31. Wow crazy to think you guys had been friends that long! I personally have never been to London but the place that you talk about sound very fun and nice, I might have to tell my husband to take some vacation time.

  32. I love Chinese food and totally loved the photos of Ping Pong, going to bookmark this page for when we head to London next.

  33. I do love going to Covent Garden from time to time and watch the street performers. The restaurants around there are very good as well. I actually planned to explore more of Covent Garden last time I was in London but I ended up in Little Venice instead.

  34. I was in Covent Garden years ago. I’d love to go back one day. There was so much to see and do. Your photos are lovely.

  35. It’s such a wonderful feeling when you meet up with friends you haven’t seen in ages. It sounds like you had such a wonderful time and that’s truly all that matters.

  36. Looks like a nice place to spend a good weekend. I super love the activities you can do here. Food is pretty awesome as well.

  37. I love visiting London!! Was a lot easier when we lived in Dublin and not Australia like we do now. Looks like you had lots of fun

  38. Convent garden is just so beautiful! And yeah, I’ve never tried some Chinese food although I wouldn;t mind eating some here. It looks delicious from what’s on your plate.

  39. I really love those kinds of friendships that last for many years. It is so amazing that your relationship started off so terribly and the recovery was amazing thanks to Greg and you agreeing to lunch.

  40. This place is so amazing. Looks like a little peaceful village! Loved your story of friendship. It’s rare to find. Amazing photos too!!

  41. I loved reading about you and Greg. I hope you guys get to spend a lot of time together soon. In terms of a bucket list, London is at the top of my list. I am sure I would be traveling there pretty soon. And I am going to Dubai next month 😀 So, I am pretty excited about that. Your pictures are really beautiful.

  42. London is on top of my bucket list. Such a very beautiful city and it looks like the Covenant Garden is a place that me and my husband would enjoy. One thing i like when i travel is trying the local cuisine.

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