However much you think you’ve travelled there are always certain ‘ones’ to hit.
My 25 years have been fortunate to see quite a few places but the holy grail of the stars and stripes had not been crossed off the list.
There are countless reasons to visit NYC – coffee, the possibility of punching Justin Bieber in the face and super-sized food EVERYWHERE – but my best reason was to see my friend and eat enough burrata to drown a calf.
A long weekend in a city 3465.23 miles away didn’t seem worth the jet-hangover that would ensue; so I had a greedy full week with a base in Hell’s Kitchen, north of Chelsea and the Meat Packing District.
The scale of the To-Do plan was bewildering even for me so I passed the torch to my friend, the honorary New Yorker – a girl of hearty appetite and superior taste. Her schedule was largely based around food and drink which was sat well with me.
I’m not much of a touristy tourist so as much as Sex and the City has nursed my wide-eyed twenties, I couldn’t bring myself to be on a bus with 40 sitcom-tourists screaming at a Brown Stone or buying 12 cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery and weeping with joy into the icing. I did that alone like a self-respecting human.
The first two days I had to entertain myself so I did what I never do in London and got lost on the subway for an hour and a half, stared at people without fear of eye contact and saw a naked cowboy playing a guitar. People (the cowboy in particular) were very approachable. I tried not to walk around with my face pressed between map pages, which meant a fair amount of misdirection. Plus trying to find a skyscraper when you’re standing in front of it? Tricky.
I visited most districts through purpose or accident; East Village, Greenwich and West Village were an oasis compared to the hub of madness at Broadway and Penn Station. Williamsburg was a miniature East London, without the wealthy children dressed like hobos and other scary sorts. Our Chinatown beats New York’s and the Financial District was as you’d expect, all clinical buildings and suits.
The High Line is a pathway on top of the old rail road that winds from the bottom of Hell’s Kitchen straight into Meat Packing. Elevated above the road, cabs and people, it gives a fresh perspective of the City. The street art lodged in unexpected corners was far better than some of the so-called landmarks.
Shopping wise I spent most of my time in Sephora, Duane Reade, Zara (predictable) and J.Crew (just as expensive that side of the pond) but those were the main ‘chains’. Boutiques in Williamsburg were quirky and Aritzia was a good Fifth Avenue haunt for Whistles-y basics. Meat Packing was pure window shopping.
We did the obligatory Staten Island ferry crossing to point like chimps at Lady Liberty, felt overwhelmed at the magnitude of Ground Zero and took the 42 second shuttle to the Top of the Rock. Central Park, Bergdorf’s and the Standard Hotel (amazing view of the City through the glass-walled toilets) all had a good seeing to, but swiftly moving from the sightseeing to the eating. And lots of it.
Tiny’s and the Bar Upstairs: An appropriately small French bistro which seduces with a cavernous setting, dim lighting and exquisite plates. Sophisticated dishes of burrata with date puree, honey glaze and pistachios; or hake with Fingerling potatoes in a brown butter and capers were light but rich in flavour and finely cooked but comforting at the same time. Plus they make a mean Kamikaze shot.
Delicatessan: Visited by two of my colleagues who cried thanks for the cheeseburger spring rolls so I had to go and pay homage. Slightly groggy from the night before this was the ideal place to order the aforementioned rolls, guava mimosas and half the menu. The Four mac ‘n cheese? Pulled pork eggs Benedict? Truffle spinach & artichoke dip? Delicatessan delivered the goods.
Gemma: On the corner of the Bowery Hotel in the East Village, Gemma is a tightly-packed Italian, with wax-splattered candelabras, thickset oak tables and plates such as white truffle and robiola pizza, fish stews and a cheese board that chortles at your gastro pub’s offerings. We supped on linguini Frutti di Mare, every twirled fork-full was supreme.
Peacefood Cafe: I couldn’t come to New York without checking out the left side of the foodie spectrum. After a stroll around Greenwich, this clean modern ‘cafe’ stood out from the more student digs around the University campus. A green lemonade (apple, mixed greens, lemon and ginger root) and roasted Japanese pumpkin sandwich refueled my day’s working. Plus Alec Baldwin came in so that made the whole thing just peachy.
Grimaldi’s: Hailed as Brooklyn’s best pizza (hence the justifiably massive picture), this self-entitled institution has kept their line outside constant. A holyfuck concoction of sweet plum tomato sauce and globules of burrata.
Chelsea Market: the only place that I expected to love and didn’t. It had some cool Spitalfields’-type stalls selling overpriced jewellery but overall felt a bit gimmicky. Liked this however.
La Esquina: a burrito stand on street level this dungeon-style restaurant offers the best contemporary Mexican I’ve eaten to date. We ordered tapas style tostadas piled with tender octopus, chipotle-flecked chicken and taquitos with Mayan shrimp and slow-pulled pork. Washed down with blood orange margaritas. Incredible – however the smell of wet mop spoiled the overall effect.
Pure Thai: an ‘off-schedule’ destination in Hell’s Kitchen that nursed a hangover with taste bud-meltingly hot calamari and basil, chicken curry puffs and nourishing duck noodles soup.
Verb Cafe: Found my coffee Mecca in Williamsburg, where the tattooed purveyors of caffeinated-silk serve up Spanish lattes (like a liquid toasted marshmallow) and ginormous sticky-bread muffins. I had thirds.
The Spotted Pig: my first meal and one of the best burgers. Mammoth, greedily dripping with Roquefort cheese and a haystack of shoestring fries by its side. A New York institution that’s definitely worth a visit.
New York had to wait a quarter of a century to be done this well.