'I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well-made'. James Bond, Casino Royale
Every so often the stars collide in a rather beautiful way, and last weekend’s adventures proved the perfect example; allowing me to indulge in not one but two of my favourite things alongside two of my favourite people. And that rare beast, the English spring sun, made a welcome appearance proving that it’s not just bad luck that comes in threes.
First up was a Sunday afternoon trip to visit one of the Southbank’s latest residents, and newly crowned Burger Bash champions, Bleecker St Burger. A lovely walk over the Hungerford Bridge to the south side of the river made even better by watching the last of the weary London Marathon runners pounding toward the finish, followed by watching the sun begin to set over the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. A view that, no matter how clichéd, invokes Samuel Johnson’s famous quote every time.
Dodging the surging Sunday crowds we propelled ourselves down to the Undercroft skate park, where the Bleecker van can be found. A spot had just opened up on one of their trio of of wooden picnic benches, and so we had time to bask in the last of the sun’s rays as we drank a cold Brooklyn Brewery EIPA (me) and a Flying Dog Atlantic Lager (the Ewing). Watch out if you’re thinking of making an afternoon of it on the EIPA, a very nice drop at a very potent 7.9%. Although, judging from the quote at the top, Bond would have been a fan.
The menu when we visited was a simple affair; cheeseburgers, double cheeseburgers, cheese and bacon burgers and fries (they have been known to sling the odd Black Burger, their award winning entry created for the London Burger Bash and the grease-spattered trophy can also be seen taking pride of place on the counter.)
The burgers are cooked on a flat top and are served medium rare, unless requested otherwise. Cooking them in this way keeps them ultra-juicy while still getting a good char, and although it may lead to a burger that’s little to sloppy for some, it’s probably my favourite way to cook a patty. Just make sure you’re armed with plenty of napkins for the inevitable drips.
Cheese, needless to say, is the imperious plastic American type and is properly melted so it glazes the top of each disc of meat, the buns are springy, crunchy onion and lettuce present and correct; a self-applied squirt of ketchup and mustard finish the masterpiece or add crispy bacon to really guild the lily. If the burgers are god the fries may be even better, crisp and squidgy in equal measure they shouldn’t be overlooked. A superlative spot, all round.
After our alternative Sunday beef feast we staggered over to Stealth’s, and past another classic Big Smoke skyscape, for a few cold Vietnamese beers and a (not very) early night in preparedness for our Monday trip to indulge the second great love of my life, Agent 007.
A few Christmases back my sister and her friends commented, pretty accurately, that my tastes pretty much mirrored that of an adolescent male. That year my presents had included a He-Man DVD, several books on baseball and a set of Bond playing cards. My long suffering ex, PaveMatt, even had to endure the film stills of Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Daniel Craig (in his trunks) that I hung in the hallway.
Fast forward and nothing’s really changed; I still stay up late to watch baseball, I still have my figures of Skeletor and Battlecat sitting on the back of the bookcase and I still love Bond. So when Stealth arrived at my house with a gift of a framed print of the Japanese promotional poster for Moonraker – a much maligned classic - and announced that the National Film Museum was hosting a Bond in Motion exhibition, I was as happy as James when the bar opens.
The National Film Museum, on Covent Garden’s Wellington Street, is a smallish and mostly subterranean space in which they have managed to carefully contain and display the largest collection of Bond vehicles, alongside a few props, storyboards and some previously unseen memorabilia.
It’s pure Bond heaven, a maze of unashamed geekery that starts when you first glimpse the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud from A View to A Kill as you descend the stairs and finishes with the Mustang Mach 1 that Bond drives sideways through a Las Vegas alley in Diamonds are Forever, that you pass on your way to the gift shop.
Almost every vehicle of note is here, from the iconic Aston Martin DB5; Goldfinger’s majestic Rolls-Royce Phantom III to the wondrous Lotus Esprit S1 submersible that emerged from the sea in The Spy Who Loved Me.
There are also less predictable 007 modes of transport such as one of the Parahawks that attacked Bond and Electra King in The World is Not Enough; the Citroën 2CV that Bond drove through the olive groves in For Your Eyes Only; the Glastron GT-150 jump boat that set a world distance record when jumping over a Louisiana levy in Live and Let Die; and the auto rickshaw, the Bede Acrostar Jet, with folding wings that was hidden in a horsebox, and the Crocodile Submarine that all featured in the the Ewing’s favourite, Octopussy . (Octopussy Octopuss in your face! - TE)
Little Nellie, the memorable autogyro from You Only Live Twice (the only film bond doesn’t drive in), is here; as is the Parisian Renualt 11 Taxi, sans roof from A View to a Kill; the BMW R1200 motorbike that James Bond and Wai Lin are handcuffed together to whist riding through the street of Ho Chi Minh City in Tomorrow Never Dies; and The 1969 Mercury Cougar XR7 428 convertible that Contessa Teresa de Vicenzo drove in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, helping Bond escape Blofeld's henchmen.
There are also some of the later cars cars in the form of the remote controlled BMW 750 from Tomorrow Never Dies; an Aston Martin DBS used in the chase at the beginning of the Quantum of Solace, complete with missing door; and the ‘adaptive camouflaged” Jaguar XKR from Die Another Day.
There's even my favourite Bond mobile, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante complete with extending side outriggers, spike-producing tires, missiles, lasers signal-intercepting smart radio, head-up display and rocket propulsion. It could also self-destruct when primed. James and Kara use it to outwit the Bratislavian police, before ditching it to ride through the snow to the Austrian border on Kara's cello case. The case is here too, just in the left corner of the picture.
While there were no surprises that I was in my element here, Stealth and the Ewing were also pretty enamoured by the exhibition, too. In fact, as is usual when visiting a museum or gallery, the Ewing had to be forcibly found and coerced to leave with promises of looking around shop on the way out.
After the requisite tat had been bought all the morning's excitement called for some sustenance, and we made the short walk across the piazza to Peter Gordon's all day cafe, Kopapa, in Seven Dials. A stylish all day spot with outdoor tables that are perfect for a bit of people watching and a charming interior complete with wonderfully hypnotic Turkish floor tiles.
The Evening Standard describes the cooking as 'a bungee jump of flavours and textures', and the Kiwi/fusion menu, rather like Clerkenwell's Modern Pantry, features a variety of weird and wonderful combinations. These include the famed Turkish breakfast eggs, from Changa restaurant in Istanbul, served with whipped yoghurt and hot chilli butter, offered alongside New Zealand venison with ponzu, crispy shimeji mushrooms; deep-fried urfa chilli & sesame salted squid, sumac aïoli; and lime-cured salmon, hijiki, and braised endive.
There's also wide range of drinks and bar snacks, including a large smoothie and shake menu from which I sampled a mixed berry, yoghurt and banana number. We also had a wicked salted caramel and vanilla milkshake, and the Monteiths crushed apple cider, an almost crystal clear drop that lacked the tart edge to raise it above alcoholic apple juice. Very easy afternoon drinking, though.
Although they have a the standard West Country beef burger, with Emmenthal and crispy bacon, we all plumped for the piscine version in the form of a whole crispy soft shell crab with spicy peanut mayo, Asian salad and avocado.
Perfectly portioned for a light, late lunch, the springy, seeded buns contained a cargo of greaseless, crisp crustacean that swam very nicely alongside the poky sauce and zingy pickled carrot shards.
Extra vitamins came in the form of the smoothies, and very tasty side dish of grilled broccolini with a tamarind glaze and crispy shallots. We also shared some decent enough fries, sprinkled with rosemary and garlic salt.
We finished with another round of drinks; a chocolate milkshake to help with my late afternoon sugar slump and bottles of Monteith's Original Ale all round. As Bond said in Thunderball - and who am I to argue - 'it's just that I'd rather die of drink than of thirst'