The last time I walked the streets of Central London had been Monday 16th March 2020.
Six months after going on lockdown, and with the imminent risk of another one, we faced our fears, packed our masks and sanitising gel, got on the Tube, and went back to the heart of London.
We planned our trip to avoid interchanges and multiple tube stations, so we took our wide and fully air-conditioned District line all the way to Monument station.
There, we crossed London Bridge and headed to food Mecca: Borough Market. It was Sunday, therefore only the restaurants around the market were open.
Bao Borough in Stoney St was one of them. And for the first time ever, it didn’t have a long queue.
We ordered a beef short rib and a classic Bao, which we enjoyed on the curbside and at a safe distance from others.
My beef short rib Bao was juicy and spicy. The pickle inside adds an acidic touch that cuts through the fat and heat of the mayo. The fried shallots bring a bit of crispy-ness, of which I think my Bao could have used a bit more.
Maik’s classic Bao was sweet and nutty. Slow roasted pork belly with pulverised peanuts that balance the familiar sweetness of the pork belly sauce. The sour notes come from the fermented greens, and the coriander leaves deliver hints of freshness.
We then followed our usual river-side walk by Bankside and stopped at the Founders Arms. With two draft Camden Hells lagers from the small stall outside the pub, we sat at a bench facing the river and glorious St. Paul’s Cathedral, keeping our distance from others.
The beers were gloriously cold and comfortingly bitter. It was a hot day, one of the last of the summer. Therefore it’s not surprising that we found ourselves thinking.
We reflected on the good-old life in Central London: old offices, team members and friends we would like to see again soon. The places we would go to for drinks or dinner if we could. We even thought of safe plans we could arrange.
This was only possible because we felt safe at both Bao Borough and the Founders Arms. They have measures in place and the government guidelines are observed.
Yet, the further we walked Bankside, the more I realised why the infection rates are doubling every seven days, and why it will be a while before I make the journey from the suburbs again.
At times, it felt like there were just too many people along the path. Especially when crossing Westminster bridge, where the two-way system that is clearly marked, is also heavily ignored.
In fairness, small clusters of people with flags taking part in a demonstration didn’t help either.
Upon consideration, I can only assume that we were all seeking some sense of pre-pandemic normalcy. Because the truth is, we were also there and therefore belonged to the small crowd, though briefly.
Maikel and I respected the measures, wore masks and abused the hand sanitiser. But we were still out there and it is difficult not to feel a bit guilty.
As I watched Sir Patrick Wallace and Prof. Charles Witty this morning delivering the latest on numbers, along with a clear warning on what we can still prevent from happening next; I could only think of that good-old life in Central London, and when we will be able to experience it in full bloom again.
But to get there, we must first take care of ourselves and of each other. It all depends on us.
Please socialise responsibly. For latest guidelines, please visit https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus