As I emerge into the warm sunlight from Embankment tube station and begin to walk towards the Strand, the sheer volume of people up ahead makes the likelihood of finding an outside spot at Gordon’s Wine Bar an impossibility. The summer sunshine has lifted spirits and you can feel the crowd hum with relaxed energy as the Thursday work day comes to an end.
The large, old trees of Victoria Embankment Gardens move gently in the warm breeze and the dappled shade they provide plays host to small groups of people. A black van carefully and slowly makes it’s way through the dense crowd walking along Villiers Street, people parting reluctantly then moving back in behind the van, quickly rendering it invisible.
I’m exhausted and a little deflated after speaking at a retail conference that did not quite live up to expectations. My companion and I are not in the mood for large crowds, but we are in the mood for a cool refreshing drink and a much needed bite to eat. We realise we may be on a futile search for somewhere quiet to enjoy the sunshine and to dissect the experience of the day.
We turn away from the direction of the Strand and walk back towards Embankment tube, but instead carry on past there, down to the end of Villers Street towards Northumberland Avenue. We cross the wide road, avoiding buses, motorbikes and luxurious cavalcades of black Mercedes, towards the inviting Whitehall Gardens.
My companion remembers a terrace bar here, so we decide to look for it, my feet are aching and I hope it delivers on the expected promise. Whitehall Gardens are beautiful, far quieter than their counterpart next to Embankment tube, people on their own or in small groups are scattered on the grass and benches enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. We are so close, but a million miles from the vast crowds and as I feel the warm sun on my face I start to relax.
We find the terrace bar, tucked in on the right hand side, behind some tall hedges, however the gates are locked from this side, but it looks invitingly quiet and serene. I remember that the building is actually the Horseguards Hotel, so suggest we go around to the front of the hotel and access it from there. We continue through Whitehall Gardens, onto Horseguards Avenue and turn right towards the hotel, which is located in Whitehall Court.
The buildings here are beautifully dramatic, the light stone glowing magnificently in the warm sun, the building we’re heading towards is enormous, a wonderful example of Victorian architecture based on French Chateaus. Ornate balconies and stonemasonry that flank a wide, quiet street offer a sense of regal serenity.
We make our way into the hotel, and are immediately enveloped in peaceful luxury. Only a small number of people are around, and we navigate to the terrace bar we’d spotted from the gardens. A friendly member of staff informs us that unfortunately the bar is closed for a private event, but guides us to another bar with an outside terrace slightly further up.We step out onto the deck and immediately know we’re in exactly the right place.
The bar is sheltered and discreetly hidden by hedges that line the wrought iron fence separating it from the gardens. Strings of lights with old fashioned lightbulbs line the fence, creating a warm, cosy glow. The garden furniture is arranged in small sections, with chairs and high backed sofas with soft cushions, each paired with a table. Large, black umbrellas guard over each section, creating a sense of privacy.
There were only one or two other people there, and the noise of central London felt like a lifetime away. While sheltered, we could still feel the sun and the warm breeze, and the presence of the tall trees in the gardens made it feel even more as if we were in a secret garden.
The staff were attentive and we soon had a delicious bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in an ice bucket next to us. We ordered some food from an interesting range of smaller dishes; a bruschetta with avocado and tomato which was refreshing and tasty, and with perfectly cooked ham and cheese croquettes. This was followed by tasty Italian meats with a light, fluffy bread, and possibly a little more wine.
I felt myself relax into the evening, and when we reluctantly left this quiet, central London haven, we knew that we’d found the perfect antidote to a hectic, stressful day.