London Town

Not so long ago I was asked the question: ‘what are your favourite places for hanging out in London?’ My mind went blank because there are so many places that I love for different reasons. In the opening text for this section I wrote of London: ‘My love of that city remains unparalleled and any other will always be found wanting in comparison’. There is little more to say. It is a love affair unrivalled and everlasting ;-) . When I am tour guiding in Paris many American clients are en route to London. They frequently ask me for lists of restaurants and interesting places to visit, so here are a few of my favourites, old and new.

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FOR BREAKFAST

Chelsea Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, for the best Chelsea buns :-) . Nearest Tube: South Ken.

Kipferl, Islington - Thanks to TimmyKnights I’m a complete Kipferl Convert. It is charming but if you turn up after 10am on a weekend you will need to queue! Tip, their cakes are amazing so go for afternoon tea if you miss breakfast. Nearest Tube: Angel.

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FOR LUNCH ON THE RUN

  • Gaby’s Deli, Leicester Square – Described by the Guardian as ‘London’s best Kosher Cafe’ it was a staple of mine for four years while working at the National Portrait Gallery. Serving arguably the best falafel in London, Gabys is reasonably priced, serves an impressive range of salads and yummy latkes, makes the best fresh orange juice and beats nearby Pret-a-Manger hands down. On a sunny day I suggest taking away and sitting on the steps of Trafalgar Square, or on a bench behind St Martin in the Fields church. Takeaway Price: £5 -7 Eat in Price: 10 – 15.
  • The Crypt Cafe, St Martin in the Fields – If it’s raining, you don’t like hummus or you have a little more time to spend on lunch, skip Gabys for the Crypt. It’s under the church and the entrance is via a tardis-like lift. I remember it being converted and have loved escaping there on (England’s very few) hot summer days.  Try their cream teas in summer and soups in winter. Tip: Look beneath your feet when you get down there- creepy! Nearest Tube: Charing Cross

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FOR A MOVIE

  • Renoir Cinema, Brunswick Centre – Lovely cinema in the middle of the modernist Brunswick centre. It’s small, shows good film and the staff really know their stuff. In the summer look for a very tall blonde guy called Tim (Timmyknights, mentioned above). My very good friend, postgrad student at the national film school and very talented filmaker. Nearest Tube: Russel Sq

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FOR TEA WITH FRIENDS

  • V&A Café - Described by Glenn Adamson at the recent Postmodernism symposium as being ultimately postmodern along with the cast courts, this cafe combines an ornate 19th century ceramic and stained glass shell with functional contemporary seating; cavernous echoing acoustics and the tinkling of a barely audible piano. My favourite spot is the William Morris room. You will recognize it, it’s green ;-) Favourite thing: Their cinnamon scones! Nearest Tube: South Ken
  • Starbucks St Martins Lane - I know that Starbucks are everywhere and that coffee aficionados will scoff at this, but I am unashamed. I know what it is like to need your usual triple shot tall soy caramel latte in a strange city and for those moments in London, St Martins Lane is the best place. It has the largest number of comfy chairs and is never as busy as the coffee houses on the main. The people who come in are always interesting because of the myriad of cultural venues nearby. Drum up conversation if you are feeling brave. Nearest Tube: Leicester Sq.
  • Yumchaa loose leaf tea house - the more authentic option. It sells a quite astounding range of tea in a tiny but cute setting that at a squint could almost be in Paris’ Marais. Not the best place for cakes but very close to places that are. Go mid afternoon when it’s not so busy. Equidistant to Tottenham Ct Rd and Oxford Circus.
  • Orsini South Ken - Orsini is lovely, and it’s even lovlier if you speak Italian. Salvatore and his wife run the restaurant, and once when I was ill, they plied me with hot honey and lemon in addition to my hot chocolate, free of charge. This was accompanied by a waterfall of advice, kindly translated by my friend Carlo. I have never forgotten their open-hearted kindness (a rare thing in South Kensington) and so Orsini earns its place here.

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FOR EARLY EVENING DRINKS

  • Searcys National Portrait Gallery - I like this place for the view. On the 3rd floor of the gallery (up the escalator to the 2nd floor then up again the the lift), one whole wall is made of glass, offering a spectacular panoramic view of London. If you can time it, go either at sunset or in the rain. I’m not a big fan of the menu, but their drinks are good. Nearest Tube: Leicester Sq.

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FOR EARLY EVENING EATS

  • Anchor and Hope, Southwark - Introduced to me by the wonderful Sarah Teasley and in my opinion London’s best gastropub. Pretty famous too. Its menu is experimental and ever-changing, love it. Price £15 – 20 per head. Nearest Tube: You guessed it… Southwark.
  • Tito’s Peruvian - I haven’t actually eaten here yet! It was recommended to me by a tiny Peruvian lady with whom I shared a train journey at the beginning of the year. Her advice to me was, “marry a Peruvian man, allow your sister to teach you Spanish and try the food at Titos! It is not elegant but the food is top quality.” I have promised to take her up on one of the three suggestions before this year is out and the restaurant seems the most viable! Nearest Tube: London Bridge.
  • Vantra, Soho StreetOne of my favourite places for a happy tummy. Go when it’s dark, it has a lovely chilled atmosphere. It serves vegan cuisine, nothing is cooked above 45degrees, their fresh lassis are amazing. Nothing more to say – healthy, fab tasting goodness. Price: approx £15 per head. Nearest Tube: Tottenham Ct Rd.
  • Fire and Stone, Covent Garden - best place for SATC style girly-chats-with-food. They have pizzas inspired by every continent and their cocktails are great. It’s my girlfriends’ favourite hangout for emergency gossip in the early evening. Favourite Pizza: The Canberra. Price: approx £20 per head for two courses excluding cocktails. Nearest Tube: Leicester Sq.
  • Gourmet San, Bethnal Green - I love this place. This was introduced to me by my good friends Sheng Fang and Nicolas. The best Chinese food I’ve had in Britain. Price: approx £15 per head. Nearest Tube: Bethnal Green
  • Mango Tree, Belgravia - London’s best Thai in my opinion. It is pricey at approx £50 per head, but it it hasn’t been beaten and I love Thai food. It is also beautiful. Nearest Tube: Victoria.
  • Rose, Kingsbury - This is lovely, vegetarian Indian food at is best. It’s far out of the way in Kingsbury and it’s not a tourist’s restaurant at all, but the food is wonderful. My best friend Deepa introduced it to me years ago and it remains a firm favourite of ours. Like Tito’s, not elegant but lovely food! approx £7 -10 per head. Nearest Tube: Kingsbury.

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FOR STROLLS AND CHATS

  • Shad Thames and the Design Museum. An icon of 1990s urban regeneration, Shad Thames with it’s cobbled walkways and Butler’s Wharf, the design Museum & Hayes Galleria is lovely for winter walks if you have things to discuss. It’s sort of ghostly in the evenings when the business people have gone home, so probably not the best for walks alone. Nearest Tube: Tower Hill.
  • West India Quay, Docklands – Similar to above. Sort of bleak but in the best way and very quiet in the evenings. I like to walk and think here sometimes. Its history is grim, but perhaps because of its history I feel connected to it somehow. The museum, cinema and restaurants are along the river to lift you out of a reverie if need be.
  • St James’ Park – Smaller and cuter than Hyde Park, I love St James’ Park in autumn. In the summer one has to stumble over too many kissing couples for it to be worthwhile, but in autumn it is perfect. If you have patience, feed the squirrels. If you have things to discuss then bring a blanket, set yourself up on a bench and stay there till the sun goes down. Nearest tube: Charing Cross.

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FOR THE EVENING (late dinner/drinks/dates)

  • Sketch, Conduit Street - Owned and designed by Turner Prize winning artist Martin Creed, Sketch is unique. I love places that make me feel as if I’ve stepped into a fantasy world and Sketch certainly provides an otherworldly experience – it’s like hanging out in an installation. It is one of my favourite places for cocktails but the food is great too. Favourite dish: Gorgonzola and pear rizzotto. Favourite cocktail: Let’s Talk about Passion. Tip: do not leave before visiting the bathrooms, they are an experience in themselves! Price: approx £45 per head for two courses and a cocktail. Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus.
  • St Martins Lane Hotel (Light Bar & Asia de Cuba Restaurant) – Designed by Philippe Starck it is a crazy, Alice in Wonderland fantasy world and I’ve loved it for years. Asia de Cuba serves fusion Southeast Asian and Cuban cuisine, yum. The light bar can feel pretentious and overcrowded on weekend nights, but for early evening drinks it’s nice. Asia de cuba price: approx £45 – 55 per head. Nearest Tube: Leicester Sq.
  • The Players’ Bar, Embankment – I fell in love with this place when visiting with my friends from the Portrait Gallery years ago. I’ve not been there for a while, but I used to love the relaxed atmosphere and live piano music. Hmm, worth another visit soon methinks. Nearest Tube: Embankment.
  • Ronnie Scotts – I should possibly have created a separate section for music venues, but I promised myself half-way through this that I would stick to food. Nevertheless, I could not leave Ronnies out. I would go elsewhere for food but for music and atmosphere it is one of my favourite places in London. Tip: one word… upstairs. Nearest Tube: Covent Garden.

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IF VISITING WITH CHILDREN

  • Museum of London Docklands (W.India Quay)
  • The V&A’s dress collection and dressing up box (South Kensington)
  • V&A museum of childhood (Bethnal Green)
  • The Cutty Sark (Greenwich)

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