London tours and royal weddings

So Saturday was a big day in the UK, what with Prince Harry getting married to his American actress bride Meghan Markle. It was also a sunny day, hooray, as we embarked on our morning walking tour of Westminster in London. Destination, a pub in Whitehall to watch THE wedding. What a perfect London day lay in store.

We signed up for a Strawberry Tours free walking tour which was given a bit of extra royal and wedding flavour to celebrate the day. Starting off in blue-skied Leicester Square we met our guide Alex. He entertained us with stories of London’s Westminster and regaled us with Royal tales through history. Like how King James I invented the Union flag by combining the three flags of England, Scotland and Ireland – as I’m helping to demonstrate here.

Strawberry tours: Union Flag

Learning all about the Union Flag

Strawberry tours: regent street

The reds and blues of beautiful Regent Street

The grandeur of Buckingham Palace

We meandered down the Mall towards majestic Buckingham Palace. On the golden-topped statue in front Queen Victoria sits proudly like she’s guarding her domain. Which she is really as she was the first Monarch to really live in the Palace. When she and Prince Albert got married they renovated the building and turned it into a place for entertaining friends and even the general public. More about Victoria later and her contribution to today’s wedding traditions.

Strawberry tours: Buckingham Palace

Welcome to the grandeur of Buckingham Palace

Strawberry tours: Union flags

Draped Union Flags with Hyde Park behind

From Buckingham Palace we strolled through beautiful St James Park with its magnificent trees and sparkling lake.

Strawberry tours: St James Park

Looking back over the lake in St James Park to Buckingham Palace

Strawberry tours: pelicans

Pelicans in the park – who’d have thought?

And then it was on, past Westminster and Trafalgar Square to Whitehall. We settled in the pub to celebrate their wedding day with them while sipping on Prosecco. Any excuse to celebrate…and any excuse to share some fascinating facts…here goes.

My fascinating royal wedding facts

Queen Victoria is credited for starting the tradition of the bride wearing a white dress. She did so in a time when colors were much more usual.

Queen Victoria was also the first bride to place figures of the bride and groom on top of the cake. Her cake is said to have had a diameter of nine meters – now that’s a giant cake!

In 1840 Queen Victoria’s bouquet included a sprig of myrtle, picked from her garden, symbolising love and fertility. Since then every royal bride has had a sprig included in her bouquet – still picked from her garden at Osborn House on the Isle of Wight.

Meghan’s bouquet included forget-me-nots (Diana’s favorite flowers), sweet peas, lily of the valley, astute,  jasmine and astantia as well as those sprigs of myrtle and some blooms picked from the gardens of Kensington Place by Harry himself. Aah, how lovely.

The wedding bouquet at royal weddings doesn’t get thrown to the single ladies attending as I’ve experienced at not-royal weddings. It is laid on the Grave of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey. This follows a royal tradition that dates back nearly a century, starting with the Queen’s mother in 1923.

Meghan had 10 bridesmaids and pageboys. Four-year-old Ivy Mulroney didn’t have a bouquet like the others as she had the honour of holding Meghan’s bouquet. Meghan didn’t have a Maid of Honor. It’s British royal tradition to have children as bridesmaids and pageboys, not adults. Kate did break with this when her sister Pippa walked down the aisle with her.

Meghan walked herself halfway down the aisle before being met by Prince Charles. If her mother had taken on the role, because her father couldn’t, she wouldn’t have been the first woman to fulfill the role. Queen Victoria walked two of her daughters down the aisle after the death of Prince Albert.

Harry and Meghan broke with the traditional wedding fruit cake, opting instead for a lemon and elderflower sponge cake with buttercream frosting made by Claire Ptak of London’s Violet Bakery. Yummy!

And finally, here’s a picture of the happy couple…may they always be this happy. Gotta love a fairytale story.

Strawberry tours: Harry and Meghan

Congratulations to the happy couple

Strawberry Tours offers a range of interesting London tours. All tours operate on a pay-what-you-feel basis which means that you will definitely get the best out of your guide! There’s a Jack the Ripper tour that I have my eye on next – I am somewhat obsessed with that tale, so watch this space.

Happy 50th birthday Benihana

So Benihana is 50 years old and we went along to their swish Chelsea establishment to celebrate.

Things have seriously boomed since Benihana founder Hirokai “Rocky” Aoki opened his first restaurant  in NYC in 1964. Then he had four tables, now there are 120 global locations. Rocky’s ethos was to create a fun eating experience, and Benihana certainly gives you that that. He was the pioneer of teppan-yaki where your dinner is cooked in front of you on a hot, hot plate while your chef performs all sorts of dazzling tricks.

Ours made volcanoes and spelled I love you with onions; set [controlled] fire to various vegetables, flipped eggs into his chef’s hat with his spatula and cut all manner of ingredients up with impressive speed and dexterity, all while juggling with the sharpest of cleavers and knifes. He swore he had never injured himself in the name of Teppan!

As well as a fun night out, the food’s certainly up to scratch. The restaurant uses quality ingredients and as it’s all cooked quickly in front of your eyes, you’re sure to have crunchy veg, hot pancakes and tender steak done just the way you like it. They are famous for their ginger and mustard sauces, made to secret recipes and totally delicious. Of course, no Japanese restaurant would be complete without a comprehensive sushi range and Benihana doesn’t disappoint.

The good news is that for the 50th birthday year, there are special offers to tempt you in. The Keiko menu is named after CEO Keiko Ono Aoki (Rocky’s widow who took over when he died). You’ll get nine courses for £30 including a plum wine cocktail and a glass of wine.

You can also tuck into a tasty Beni platter lunch for a mere £5 or a £50 eight course dinner for two.

Here’s a selection of what’s on offer.

The beautiful starter on the Keiko menu

The beautiful starter on the Keiko men

Tuck into crunchy spider rolls

Tuck into crunchy spider rolls

Benihana's famous onion soup

Benihana’s famous onion soup

Delicious Hibachi salmon with noodles and asparagus

Delicious Hibachi salmon with noodles and asparagus

Wonderfully flavoursome steak cooked to perfection in front of you

Wonderfully flavoursome steak cooked to perfection in front of you

Plenty of fire and smoke to entertain

Plenty of fire and smoke to entertain

Say it with onions and feel the love

Say it with onions and feel the love

Benihana Chelsea is a class act. It’s stylishly decorated, offers great entertainment and tasty food. Oh, and it’s supposedly frequented by Prince Harry, David Beckham and Brad Pitt when they are in town. Brad’s happy to make an entrance like everyone else but Harry and DB get smuggled down the back stairs! Well, if it’s good enough for them…and gives me a reason to put a picture of DB on my blog, too…enjoy!

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Yummy!

You’ll find Benihana at 77 Kings Road, Chelsea and 37 Sackville Street, Piccadilly
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