It is perhaps a signifier of my great age and boring nature that I headed to London primarily to visit the British Library for an exhibition of its treasures.
Manuscripts by Shakespeare and other literary giants (though, oddly, none of mine), maps, beautifully illustrated sacred texts, letters from famous intellectuals bitching about cleverer intellectuals, the Magna Carta, some stuff from The Beatles, Karl Marx, bits and pieces from royals and aristocrats… its range and depth was breathtaking.
It really was fascinating stuff and had I had more time, I would have lingered longer.
But the lure of bodily pleasures outweighed that of cerebral stimulation and I headed to Covent Garden where I’d booked a table at a tiny seafood restaurant Parsons.
This is a place that has caused London-based food critics to get into a bit of a tizzy.
It is, apparently, food that can’t be forgotten.
I shall deliver a judgment on that in, say, a year. But I doubt the food will be at the forefront of my noggin by then.
Which isn’t to say that the dishes I ate were anything other than enjoyable and, in some cases, very enjoyable indeed.
Rather that this wasn’t the temple of seafood brilliance that I’d been led to anticipate – more a restaurant to please during a day out in London more than a destination in its own right.
But on to specifics.
It’s a small, light, airy space with tiled walls in a buzzy side street not far from that ghastly tourist trap that is Covent Garden.
Tables are far too close together, but there’s a great atmosphere and service was relaxed, efficient, informed and friendly.
There’s a whole range of snacks and starters and sides, with main courses specific to what seafood is best that day.
Brown crab pissaladière was, like me, a pleasant thin thing. Its base was good and crisp, the topping punchy. Fried tarragon leaves added refreshing aniseed notes. But vivid green mayo made with the same herb lacked power.
Potted shrimp croquettes, too, hit the target – light inside, crisp outside, with an audacious whack of nutmeg.
A razor clam was precisely cooked but a very small portion served in its shell.
Octopus likewise was accurately cooked and came with beautiful spuds roasted in duck fat and an aromatic paprika and parsley oil.
Next for me came turbot – a generous slab of fish that had that rich, slightly fatty flavour and texture that suggests it was of the highest quality and in peak condition.
It had been cooked with great skill and respect and was served simply with courgettes and a slice of lemon.
A side order of chips was the highlight of the lunch – crisp outside, fluffy inside and utterly superb.
A mixed salad with a tangy roasted onion dressing was also enjoyed.
Opposite a whole plaice, cooked on the bone, proved to be equally popular.
There’s an excellent range wines – mostly white – available by the glass and carafe and I explored it enthusiastically during a lunch that was over in less than 90 minutes.
The quality of each of the three that I drank was high and the prices fair.
And so, fed and watered, came a stroll through the sunny London streets to Euston and the train home.
Was Parsons worth the half-hour walk across town? Yeah, probably.
Rush back? Likely not.
Seems to me a great neighbourhood restaurant that happens to be in London.
Need to know
Lunch cost £113 for food, drinks and service.
There are one or two non-fishy options on the menu.
It’s closed on Sundays.
39 Endell Street, London WC2H 9BA. 020 3422 0211.