Indian cricketers have a special place for the Lord’s Cricket Ground and the city of London, in their heart. On July 13, 2002, when Sourav Ganguly took off his shirt at the Lord’s balcony after defeating England in the NatWest Final, a young Harbhajan Singh stood right behind Ganguly, wondering what to do. Fast-forward 16 years and 11 months later, the spinner is back in London for the Cricket World Cup but in a different role. In a free-flowing interview with OT from London, the spinner spoke everything but cricket. Having travelled to England for various tours and family trips, the Chennai Super Kings ace shares his favourite London hot-spots for sight-seeing, eating, shopping and much more.
“London is one city I love coming back to for various reasons. When I was travelling with the team I had different priorities and now that I am married and a father my preferences have changed. Late night visits to cafés and restaurants have been replaced with visits to zoos, museums and children’s parks,” Harbhajan said without any complains.
“When in London I ensure that I take my daughter (Hinaya Heer Plaha) to the ZSL London Park. The London Zoo is also oldest scientific menagerie in the world. The wildlife park has close to 17,000 animals and over 700 species. She loves admiring the mighty Asiatic lions in the ‘Lands of the Lions’ enclosure. She is also fascinated with Kumbuka, the male silverback and Mjukuu the female silverback in the ‘Gorilla Kingdom'. She looks at them through the glass wall and smiles all along,” said the 38-year-old.
“It is a task to get Hinaya out of the ‘Aquarium’ section. The aquarium is divided into three different halls filled with different species of fish and corals. As long as she looks into the tanks and keeps staring at the fishes, it’s alright. But when she looks backs and asks us for the names of the fish and corals, it gets tricky. Both Geeta (Basra) and I are caught on the wrong foot. We either look them up on Google or ask for assistance from the volunteers,” he confessed.
Favourite eating joints
Despite planning his travel and stay around Hinaya, the off-spinner makes it a point to visit Bayswater Café in the Bayswater Road, London. “The lamb kebabs with the special naan that they serve with sesame seeds, is out of the world. The kebabs are cooked using ancient Persian recipe and they taste heavenly. It is a ‘must visit’ for the fans while in London,” the self-proclaimed foodie said.
“I would recommend the travelling fans to also make a stop at the L’eto Caffe. With five branches—Brompton, Soho, King’s Road, Belgravia and Mayfair—spread across the city, the fans can cherish the best eggplant, salmon and turkey salads in the town. While at the cafe, forget your calorie count and dig into the desserts that they have to offer. My favourite dessert at the L’eto Caffe is the lemon cake. It's one of the best lemon cakes I have had,” Harbhajan added.
“If liquor is something you are into, the local bars and the cafés along the River Thames is something you should not give a skip as they serve out some of the best brews and food in the city. As they have strict quality measures in place, do not worry about the hygiene or the quality of food. Grab a drink or two, sit by the river side and enjoy the sunset along the London bridge,” he quipped.
Where to shop
Shopping in London is a must. For someone who is into shoes and sneakers, Oxford Street is a paradise for the Turbanator. “Every time I find myself in the Oxford Street, I keep an eye out for shoes. The street has both flagship stores and local shops. I am not a sucker for brands, so if a shoe catches my eye and fits me well, I buy it without a second thought. But the most affordable way to tap into London’s fashion is the Kensington High Street,” the spinner advised.
Best family getaway from London
If you are wondering what to do in and around London on days when India is not playing, Singh has a perfect getaway for you. “The Pegga Pig World at the Paultons Park is the best getaway near London. As you undertake the two-hour drive from London to Ower, a village in Hampshire, you get to see the countryside along the way. If I am not wrong, they offer stay at Paultons Park too. So you can explore Ower too,” he suggested.
PS: In case you were wondering about India's match at the ICC Cricket World Cup, they take on Australia at the Oval on June 9.