Where to Stay
Claridge’s is unquestionably one of the finest (Art Deco) hotels in London and with the Connaught, Globalista’s favourite. This 203-room landmark hotel in Mayfair is steeped in over 200 years of history: in the first half of the 20th century, Claridge’s played refuge to European heads of state deposed by revolution or war and in 1945, an exhausted Winston Churchill made it home. For the second half of the century, Claridge’s became the must-stay hotel for Hollywood stars and musical legends. Choose one of the 25 Linley Suites which were completed in 2012 – the bathrooms will transport you to the 30s but with 21st century plumbing and there is a butler on call to tend to your every need. Claridge’s is famed for its Afternoon Tea (make sure to book well in advance) served in silver teapots and gold-rimmed bone china from its iconic cream and soft green foyer, between 3 Art Deco arches, under an incredibly ornate Chihuly Medusa’s Head chandelier, which hangs from the 19ft ceiling. Simon Rogan’s (Michelin starred) Fera is also very popular, serving creative, modern British cuisine. Many hotels may compete in opulence but few can challenge Claridge’s timeless elegance, attention to detail and prime location, which is probably why 80% of guests are repeat business.
Around the corner, The Connaught is the sister hotel to Claridge’s and another blend of traditional and contemporary, having reopened in 2007 after a comprehensive £70 million refurbishment. The following year, Helene Darroze took charge of The Connaught Restaurant and subsequently won a second Michelin star (make sure to get one of the window tables). The 121 rooms and suites vary in design – any of the Guy Oliver or David Collins suites will be perfect and ‘The Apartment’ is Globalista’s favourite penthouse in London. Like Claridge’s, The Connaught features excellent round-the-clock butler service. He starts by meticulously unpacking your suitcase, followed by polishing your shoes – the sole purpose is to ensure that you are happy and would come again and invariably they never disappoint. Whilst if we had to choose one hotel, Claridge’s would be our favourite, we prefer the bars at The Connaught (the David Collins’ designed Connaught Bar and the more modern Coburg Bar styled by Parisian designer India Mahdavi) not to mention the fantastic Aman Spa.
Although The Berkeley started life some 300 years ago, it has only enjoyed its Knightsbridge location for less than 50 of those years. The 3rd of the Maybourne siblings features 214 rooms – request one of the newer suites as some of the rooms are starting to look a bit tired. The elegant Blue Bar opened at the turn of the Century, beautifully designed in a melange of blues by David Collins. In terms of restaurants, the Berkeley houses both Pierre Koffman and Marcus Wareing, not to mention every fashionista’s favourite: its couture-inspired take on traditional afternoon tea – ‘Pret-a-Portea’. The highlight of the Berkeley though is the Bamford-Haybarn Spa, with its unique rooftop open-air swimming pool (the only one in London) and scented garden making it the perfect oasis in Knightsbridge. The Berkeley is also a great option if you are travelling with kids in tow.
Also worth a look
The Savoy is another London classic, steeped in history. In 2007, the interiors were so decrepit that a 17-month refurbishment soon dragged out to over 3 years with the estimated budget soaring to £220 million making it one of the most expensive refurbishments in hotel history. Most of the colossal price tag was sunk into the plumbing and electrics of the building; more noticeably though, the carpet in the front area was replaced with black and white marble and the colour scheme (now white and pale green) makes the hotel seem much brighter. The 264 rooms are roughly a third Art Deco in design and the rest are Edwardian with arguably the best river views in London. The American Bar is still going strong, the same cannot be said of the River Room with its leopard print carpet and bland food.
In the 1800s, The Lanesborough was a hospital falling into disrepair, fast–forward nearly two centuries and The Lanesborough opened as a hotel: imposingly located opposite Hyde Park and Apsley House, the former residence of the Duke of Wellington. After a 19 month refurbishment by Albert Pinto (executed after his death by his team and sister Linda), the hotel now looks and feels lighter than before but still feels very old fashioned. Now part of the Oetker Collection, The Lanesborough claims the title of the most expensive hotel in London. The 93 rooms are roughly half suites, and are lavishly decorated with over-the-top ornamentation, with every room boasting a personal butler service. Apsleys has been replaced by Celèste, which is too formal for a casual meal. Aside from the fantastic Cigar Bar downstairs, the main highlight of this hotel is being walking distance from Mayfair, Belgravia, Knightsbridge and Buckingham Palace.
Brown’s is a quintessentially English hotel with a contemporary twist, located amid the galleries of Mayfair. The hotel has a fascinating history, from Alexander Graham Bell making the first UK phone call from the hotel in 1876, to Rudyard Kipling who wrote ‘The Jungle Book’ whilst staying there and Agatha Christie even based one of her novels on the hotel. The 117 rooms were designed by Olga Polizzi and vary in décor but are all contemporary whilst retaining an English charm. Brown’s restaurant – HIX Mayfair is coloured by its impressive contemporary art collection including works by Tracey Emin and Michael Landy but the hotel is better known for its breakfast and award-winning afternoon tea served in The English Tea Room. Stay here if you want a luxury Mayfair hotel, without the grandeur of one of the ‘Modern Classics’.
Once past the Victorian façade and the rather soulless 2-tier entrance – the Mandarin Oriental, in Knightsbridge, is the only true ‘park hotel’ in Central London, extending wonderful views over Hyde Park. The 177 rooms are modern with state of the art gadgets and are supremely comfortable with even a ‘Pillow Menu’ to choose from. The two restaurants are sublime with 2 Michelin star Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant ‘Dinner’ and Daniel Boulud’s NYC outpost, the eponymously named, Bar Boulud to choose from (see London Restaurant Guide). The Molon Spa is one of the best in London, in addition a new swimming pool and gym have just been unveiled. Stay here if you are in search of pampering and indulgence.
Also worth a look
Rosewood London, sister hotel to the Carlyle in New York, is the first truly grand hotel to arrive on the scene since The Lanesborough opened in the early 90s. Occupying a prominent neoclassical building on High Holborn, the hotel has been transformed by designer Tony Chi, who also managed to keep the building’s Edwardian heritage in tact. The aesthetic of the hotel is elegant, sophisticated and monochrome, which is reflected in the gorgeous common parts and the 306 no-expense-spared rooms and suites. The main downside to the hotel is its location in a strange part of town, which isn’t the West End, nor the City but isn’t far from Covent Garden.
Formerly requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence, for most of the last century, The Corinthia is positioned in White Hall, around the corner from Charing Cross and walking distance from a number of attractions. The public spaces are palatial with a fantastic Modern Art collection, there is also a mini-Harrods and a magnificent ESPA Spa split over 4 floors. The 251 rooms, some overlooking an inner courtyard, are lovely in beige and earth tones, with a further 43 suites and 7 penthouses mostly enjoying fabulous riverside views. The restaurants aren’t of note but the grand, windowless, Bassoon Bar draws in a lively crowd. Initially we wouldn’t have recommended the hotel as its not in an area where tourists normally stay albeit it’s two minutes from Trafalgar Square but recent reports from Globalista members have commented on what a pleasure it’s been to wake up in the morning and walk/jog along the river and be so close to major attractions such as the National Gallery.
The London EDITION is a fabulous new design hotel from Ian Schrager in partnership with Marriott. Don’t be put off by Marriott being involved as this hotel is not like any Marriott we have ever seen before. From the moment you walk into the lobby-cum-bar, which is very much the centrepiece of the hotel, it is hard not to swoon over the lofty stuccoed ceilings, the roaring fire, the billiard table and the young, fashionable crowd sipping cocktails. Next door, Berner’s Tavern (Jason Atherton) is one of the most fantastic restaurant spaces in London with lofty ceilings and nearly 200 artworks adorning the walls. There is also the Punch Room, a more intimate, reservation-only bar and a (soundproofed) nightclub in the basement. Upstairs, the 173 bedrooms look like ski-chalets with wood panelled walls and faux furs. We recommend a one bedroom suite on the 7th floor, with an incredible wraparound balcony extending views over Soho and beyond. Stay here if you are a young at heart couple who enjoy being part of a scene.
Across the road from the Edition, behind the rather austere façade, is a dreamlike lobby designed by the famous pairing of Ian Schrager and Philippe Starck. The Sanderson, in Fitzrovia, is the sister hotel to The Delano in Miami so expect an eclectic hotel with billowing curtains, big statement pieces of furniture and an Alice in Wonderland theme, which is particularly present in their “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party”, another quirky twist on traditional English tea. The 150 rooms feature sleigh beds and over the top furnishings. We can’t say much for Suka the in-house restaurant, which is usually packed but the Long Bar and the Purple Bar are great pre and post dinner, as is their magical courtyard. The Sanderson is an older, slightly more grownup version of the Edition.
The Metropolitan, sandwiched between the Four Seasons and The Hilton on Park Lane, is a stylish hotel by COMO, popular with fashionistas. The 114 rooms are all very minimalist in white, cream and wood but choose one of the Park Suites with floor-to-ceiling windows for spectacular views. Nobu, the in-house restaurant, serving its signature new-style Japanese cuisine is hard to beat and they even cater the Room Service. The Met Bar has been popular for over a decade but we prefer to have a drink at 5 Hertford Street, the members club on the same street. Guests can then recover at the fantastic COMO Shambhala Urban Escape day spa offering a wide variety of treatments.
Globalista are a big fan of the Firmdale Hotels, which are owned and designed by husband and wife team Tim and Kit Kemp. Each of the 7 properties in London are characterised by Kit’s award-winning eclectic, English design, which is instantly recognisable from the bold prints to the oversized headboards with each room, slightly different to the next:
The jewel in the Firmdale crown is the Ham Yard, a ’boutique’ offering in the heart of Soho. There are 90 bedrooms and suites, with floor-to-ceiling windows, designed in Kit Kemp’s signature prints. The highlights of the hotel include the gorgeous rooftop garden, the 176-seat state of the art theatre and an original 1950s bowling alley imported from Texas. The hotel puts all of the restaurants, bars and shops of Mayfair and Soho at your fingertips and is perfectly suitable for all ages and occasions. Alternatively, The Soho Hotel, which was formerly a car park, is popular with media and film execs thanks to the two screening rooms downstairs (one is decorated in red leather sofas and cowhides). Don’t be fooled by the oversized furniture and quirky interiors, all 91 rooms in this hotel have been built with comfort in mind (choose one of the corner suites). The Refuel bar is also very popular pre and post dinner.
Haymarket Hotel is centrally positioned right in the heart of theatreland with the National Gallery on one side and Her Majesty’s Theatre on the other. There are 50 rooms and 17 suites but choose one of the larger corner rooms for views over Haymarket; or one of the smaller ones facing the courtyard, which are charming. The highlight of the hotel is the amazing 18 metre lower ground swimming pool / bar but be warned the treatment rooms unfortunately share the same corridor with tradesmen who at times are coming in and out of the hotel.
Also worth a look
Covent Garden Hotel has 58 rooms and is more low-key than The Soho Hotel, located amongst the pretty boutiques of Seven Dials and within easy access of the theatres of Shaftesbury Avenue. There is real warmth to the hotel, particularly the Tiffany blue library and drawing room, not to mention the stunning, sprawling Loft Suite set over two floors. Charlotte Street Hotel is another great option, located around the corner from the Soho Hotel in neighbouring Bloomsbury. There are 52 rooms, a screening room and a small gym. For a change from the West End, consider The Knightsbridge, which puts Harrods and the boutiques of Sloane street at your fingertips or alternatively Number 16 in South Kensington, which is a very smart townhouse with a lovely garden, which is a great base for a cultural trip with the V&A, National History Museum and Science Museum all nearby.
Dukes is an elegant, classic English hotel set in a secretive, tranquil courtyard, just off St James’s Street close to the boutiques and galleries of Mayfair. The 90 rooms range from Regency to Edwardian in design – the hotel may look old fashioned but it is in tune with modern needs and far less ostentatious than its neighbours. The Dukes Bar is where author Ian Fleming, who was partial to a Martini, coined the phrase: ‘A Martini. Shaken. Not Stirred.’ It is a fantastic reminder of how things used to be.
Alternatively, the family-owned Goring, across the road from Buckingham Palace, is another quintessentially British hotel to choose from, which has recently been refurbished. The hotel was never known for its style but it oozes charm and the staff are only too eager to please. Choose one of the ‘Splendid’ rooms, with silk walls and marble bathrooms, which look out over the gorgeous garden.
The Zetter Townhouse, is a wonderfully old-fashioned, eccentric 13-room bolthole in a pair of former Georgian buildings over in Clerkenwell – full to the rafters with antiques and trinkets, procured under the guidance of antique expert owner Martin Miller. There is no reception, just a laptop on a table so instead guests can check-in at the beautiful, homely bar – the highlight of the hotel – where you will find Tony Conigliaro mixing excellent cocktails with homemade ingredients concocted in a nearby laboratory. The rooms are compact but very comfortable and there is no restaurant but the bar menu is great for a quick bite with excellent dishes such as the steak and kidney pie. Sister hotel, The Zetter, serving classic French fare is just across the courtyard.
Also worth a look
In Soho, Hazlitt’s is another distinctive, classic British, antique-stuffed hideaway with creaking floorboards and open fires. The 20 rooms and 3 suites have a mixture of antiques, portraits, free-standing claw feet Victorian baths and four poster beds; the rooms at the back are much quieter but they are all getting rather old now. Traditionally, authors leave signed copies of their work in the library when they depart, which guests are welcome to borrow. There are no modern amenities, no lift, no restaurant but Hazlitt’s more than makes up for it in character and there are a wealth of restaurants to choose from within seconds of the hotel.
The Rookery is discreetly located in a row of historic houses in gastronomic Clerkenwell. The eccentric hotel decked in dark woods, with slanted floors, bulging bookcases and open fires feels like the set of a charming period drama. Inspired by Georgian London, expect to find in some of the 33 rooms, portraits of its former notorious residents. Like Hazlitt’s the rooms are getting rather tired though. Sensibly, there is no in-house restaurant, given the range of options nearby but there is an honesty bar and even a tiny garden.
Blakes, designed by Anoushka Hempel is one of the original London boutique hotels and 30 years later, albeit a little frayed, is still one of the most romantic. The location, just off the Fulham Road in South Kensington, may not suit some but the richly decorated interiors drawing inspiration from the Orient will invariably please many. The lobby, which looks like an opium den (as does the bar), opens onto a rabbit warren of corridors, which lead onto the 47 rooms, which draw inspiration from places such as China, India and Japan. If you can drag yourself from the room then the restaurant downstairs, serving a mix of Modern European and Asian cuisine can be quite agreeable.
Over in buzzing Soho, the fashionable Dean Street Townhouse, part of the Soho House Group, is a modern yet timeless hotel, which is still a very sharp place to stay. The all day dining, serving classic British comfort food, draws in a lively crowd from breakfast throughout the day. There are 39 individually designed rooms, all with Georgian features, which come in: tiny, small, medium and bigger – if you value your sleep then request a bigger room on the 4th floor at the back; Globalista favours the medium rooms; younger members may prefer one of the rooms at the front with fantastic views over Soho. The ‘tiny’ rooms are… tiny but they are cleverly equipped and can go for as little as £110 a night. Service can be distant at times during peak hours but we forgive them.
The Halkin by COMO, located in a quiet cul-de-sac just off Belgrave Square, is the boutique sister hotel to The Metropolitan (see Fashionably Stylish). Popular with Americans, Europeans and businessmen; reportedly 60% of guests are repeat visitors. The style is warm Asian minimalist with curved black-wood corridors. Given its location and that there are virtually no common areas, the hotel is supremely quiet so don’t expect much of an ambience. No expense though was spared on the 41 rooms, decorated in a timeless Milanese design of rich leathers and muted colours. The marble bathrooms are palatial with great power showers. The in-house restaurant, Ametsa with Arzak instruction is rather disappointing but the hotel is perfectly located to a number of fantastic restaurants nearby (see London Restaurant Guide), as well as the boutiques of Motcomb Street, Sloane Street and of course Harrods.
Also worth a look
The HARI (formerly the Belgraves) is Thompson Hotels’ first foray outside of Continental America and is a hip American improvement to its ugly 1950’s predecessor. This 46 room boutique was gutted and now features celebrity chef Mark Hix’s Belgravia restaurant, which is slightly disappointing as well as the mezzanine Hix Bar, which is an eclectically designed bar, fantastic for drinks and even a snack. The rooms are small and feel like a cleverly designed Manhattan loft. Make sure to get one on the 8th floor or above for skyline views. For the area though, the hotel is very good value and is conveniently located within walking distance of the boutiques on Sloane Street.
Shoreditch Rooms forms part of Shoreditch House, a modern, glamorous member’s club located in vibrant Shoreditch. The 26 rooms in this cool crash-pad range from tiny to small + but with a good use of space throughout. The highlights though are the stunning communal areas, a place to see and be seen (every guest may invite one person into the club). There is a gorgeous garden, incredible roof terrace complete with stunning pool, a fantastic Cowshed spa and uber-trendy bars. There are a number of dining options both on-site and around the area. It is a popular option with younger members.
The award-winning Hoxton is a modern, urban hotel, which was started by Pret co-founder Sinclair Beecham. Famous for its periodic £1 room sales, which sell-out in minutes, the hotel is ideally located in trendy Shoreditch a short stroll from Colombia Road, Brick Lane and Bethnal Green. Once past the fluorescent corridors, the 205 rooms are compact but comfortable. The Hoxton Grill can be a bit stodgy but there are plenty of dining options nearby.
San Domenico House is a pair of privately-owned, red brick Chelsea townhouses, moments from Sloane Street. There are only 15 rooms, some are split-level suites with opulent furnishings, four poster-beds and antiques scattered around, making it hard to believe you are in a B&B. There is no restaurant but there is a lovely roof terrace to enjoy breakfast on.
Also worth a look
The Nadler Soho is a modern, minimalist boutique hotel with 3 star prices in the heart of Soho. This no frills hotel has no in–house restaurant nor a bar but the front desk “ambassadors” are at hand 24 hours a day to advise on the best restaurants, bars, galleries and night life nearby. Instead The Nadler have focused on what counts – 78 incredibly comfortable and functional rooms (including a penthouse), which extend all the modern amenities one could need including free WiFi. The Nadler is excellent value for its Central London address and a great base from which to explore the city.
Reviewed but not included
Most guides and luxury travel sites will invariably feature: The Dorchester, another grande dame, dating back to 1931. There are 195 rooms and 49 suites (few have park views), a wonderful spa and four restaurants including China Tang and Alain Ducasse, which aren’t short of plaudits. The service is impeccable and if you are staying in a suite, there isn’t much the concierge can’t do. Similarly, The Ritz, another glorious survivor from the belle époque, is a London icon and remains incredibly popular especially for its iconic afternoon tea served in the Palm Court, which is an institution in itself. The 133 rooms are decorated in an opulent Louis XVI style with restored antiques. Both hotels attract a very particular clientele. Some members may like The Dorchester or The Ritz but Globalista finds them to be too overwrought and favours instead the understated elegance of Claridge’s, The Connaught and The Berkeley.
The Four Seasons on Park Lane recently reopened after a complete renovation, which saw the 133 rooms and suites refreshed, with updated technology. We like the Art Deco style rooms, which offer all the usual Four Season comforts and luxuries and a balcony, with views over Green Park. The spa on the 10th floor is the best thing about the hotel and is tied with the Mandarin Oriental for best Spa in London. Amaranto the in-house restaurant is usually empty but there is a lovely terrace to enjoy breakfast on. Our main criticism is that the hotel is soulless.
45 Park Lane is the younger sister, boutique hotel to The Dorchester (across the road), which forms part of The Dorchester Collection owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Behind the beautiful Art Deco exterior, is a gaudy entrance with wood panelled walls and marble floors. The heart of the hotel is the infamous CUT steakhouse by LA’s Wolfgang Puck, serving arguably London’s finest steak; the dining room though feels like an extension of the lobby but with Damien Hirst’s on the wall. The 45 rooms and suites are mildly Art Deco and supremely comfortable; some having wraparound balconies extending incredible views over Hyde Park and beyond. Like The Four Seasons – the hotel lacks charm.
Chiltern Firehouse, is an Andre Balazs property (Chateau Marmont), which is most famous for its eponymously named restaurant (see London Restaurant Guide), which is nigh impossible to get into. The 20 rooms and six suites are bright and airy but compared to the stunning common parts feel rather disappointing. Aside from the hit or miss service, the main drawback is the hotel’s location in Marylebone. Best just to try the restaurant and stay somewhere else.
Where to Eat
For a more extensive list of recommendations, please consult our London Restaurant Report
The Hottest Reservations
Scott’s is the most fashionable fish restaurant in London (part of the stable of Richard Caring owned restaurants). Apart from the main restaurant, which is split into two sections, there is a marble-topped seafood bar. The fish and seafood dishes are simple and excellent. There are a few meat options. If, which is exceedingly rare, it’s sunny then try to sit on one of the Mount Street pavement tables. Scott’s is perfectly suitable for lunch and dinner.
For some Nicoisian cooking, it is very easy to get carried away when ordering the tapas-style dishes at La Petite Maison, where the tables are adorned with edible decorations. The restaurant is as close as you get to Provence in London and is undoubtedly the best of its kind. Globalista recommends pre-ordering the roast chicken stuffed with truffles. Otherwise the Salad Nicoise is superb as is the veal chop. A must try for lunch or dinner.
The Wolseley, located next to the Ritz on Piccadilly, is an open-all-day brasserie, in the style of the great European cafes, majestically designed by David Collins in black, gold and cream. From the moment it opens at 7am it is teeming. The varied menu is excellent, in particular the wiener schnitzel or the eggs benedict at Brunch. The weekend is more of a family affair. It’s also the best place for a power breakfast with one obligation to order anything other than an espresso.
Chiltern Firehouse is an incredibly popular, star-studded restaurant in André Balazs’ new boutique hotel, who’s other properties include NYC favourites The Standard and The Mercer. Head Chef Nuño Mendes has devised a modern American menu with a twist, which has been lauded by critics and members alike.
Berners Tavern, in the sensational London Edition, has proved to be an excellent addition to the London scene. It looks and feels like a new Wolseley, with dramatic decor. Jason Atherton serves modern British fare, which is not spectacular but definitely worth trying.
Around the corner, Cipriani or C London (as it is legally known), is where oligarchs and Formula One bosses and their babes queue three deep at the bar for Bellinis and Kauffman Vodka. Its signature ‘Venetian’ inspired cuisine is good but overpriced and it’s not a Globalista recommendation but included as many of our members enjoy the atmosphere at dinner.
Over in Knightsbridge, the ultra-chic Zuma, is another London Japanese favourite, bubbling with energy. The sushi is excellent, as are the dishes cooked on the Robata grill like the spicy beef tenderloin. Zuma is always mobbed so make sure to book but you can always take your chances at the sushi counter, which doesn’t take reservations. Avoid sitting at the side by the Robata grill as it can get very hot and uncomfortable whilst cooking. Alternatively, Nobu is a perennial favourite serving delicious ‘new style’ Japanese cuisine and if you get to dessert, try the delicious Chocolate Bento Box. It’s not the best Japanese restaurant but along with Zuma, it’s the most fun. There are two locations around the corner from each other: Park Lane is best for lunch with its fantastic views over Hyde Park. Berkeley Street is very trendy in the evenings, with the bar on the ground floor drawing a young, fashionable crowd.
Power Breakfasts / Lunch
If you’re going to have a breakfast meeting, The Wolseley is the place to hold it. Booking is highly recommended as are the Eggs Benedict. Across the road, Rocco Forte’s Brown’s breakfast room combines a clever mix of the original wood paneling, Jacobean detailed plaster ceiling with fashionable fabrics and original artworks. Cecconi’s with its Venetian inspired food, velvet banquettes and green leather chairs is a classic scene for breakfast and is incredibly popular throughout the day. The service however can be quite hit or miss.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in the Mandarin Oriental, has been deservedly ranked at the 7th best restaurant in the world and must be experienced. Dinner features historic British-influenced dishes. We won’t spoil the surprise but be sure to order a ‘Meat Fruit’ for the table and a ‘Tipsy Cake’ for dessert. Tables by the window enjoy direct views over Hyde Park.
Chef Brett Graham’s The Ledbury is a London classic. Since opening in 2005, it has not been short of plaudits and has steadily risen the ranks to become one of the world’s best restaurants. In 2010, the restaurant was raided during the London riots but brave staff sprung to the rescue to defend diners from the masked mob. Whilst there isn’t much ambience, this isn’t your usual stuffy two Michelin starred dining experience, as guests are encouraged not to dress formally. The tasting menu (which incidentally takes as long as the a la carte menu) is sublime with excellent wine pairings to accompany.
The Araki is lauded by critics (and members) as the best sushi this side of Japan. Chef Araki, who closed his three Michelin star restaurant in Tokyo so that he could be closer to his daughter in London, has finally opened on New Burlington Street. Almost every component of the Omakase meal is sourced from Europe bar the rice, which is shipped in from his brother-in-law’s farm north of Tokyo. Whilst we rarely mention price, the menu-less Omakase is priced at £300 a head without drinks. That being said the edomae sushi, which is infused with European flavours is truly sublime – expect dishes like steamed abalone with caviar and tuna with a truffle vinaigrette and fresh white truffle. There is no lunch service as the day is spent preparing from the two dinner services. Be sure to book well in advance as there are only 9 seats at the counter (recommended to see the master in action) and a 6 seat private room.
If steak is what you are craving then head to Wolfgang Puck’s ’Steak Palace’ CUT, which could be described as London’s most glorified lobby, only redeemed slightly by its views over Hyde Park. More importantly though their steaks are sensational and so are their sides but be prepared to spend a small fortune when the bill arrives.
For the younger at heart, try the incredibly popular (and noisy!) subterranean Hawksmoor, located discreetly in Seven Dials. The steaks are arguably the best in London, in particular the sharing ones on the board. If you aren’t in the mood for steak, there is little else but the Kimchi Burger has been described as ’pop art in a bun’. Dessert is disappointing so stick to the extensive cocktail menu instead.
For those who don’t want to wait, Bar Boulud in the Mandarin is the New York outpost of three Michelin star Chef Daniel Boulud. This brasserie-style restaurant is situated in the same hotel as ‘Dinner’ by Heston and is very popular with neighbouring residents. Aside from their excellent selection of sausages and charcuterie, try the fantastic ‘Piggie Burger’ or the excellent Rib-Eye.
Dim Sum and other Chinese fun
For some of the best dim sum in London try the vibrant Yauatcha in Soho, serving authentic (reasonably priced) dim sum akin to what one would get in Hong Kong. The ground floor is also an excellent teahouse with petit gateaux and teas and a bar mixing innovative cocktails and small bites. The downstairs restaurant is very popular for dinner.
A cobalt-blue back-lit bar and staff dressed in Christian Liaigre are only half the story at Hakkasan, still London’s most trendy and celebrated Chinese restaurant (it was the first to be awarded a Michelin star, which it still has). The food is excellent and ladies will love their signature Hakka cocktail, we prefer going for dinner.
Hunan is arguably the best Chinese in London, this pared down, no frills, no menu restuarant will keep serving you delicious dishes until you tell them to stop. For more rarefied dining, look no further than Min Jiang, on the 10th floor of the Royal Garden Hotel extending sweeping views over Kensington Gardens and beyond. The food is excellent too, in particular the legendary Beijing duck served over 3 courses. The service however can be very hit or miss.
Dinings is a tiny hole in the wall in Marylebone by ex-Nobu chef Tomonari Chiba. No one comes to this bunker for its airy spaces so request to sit at the sushi counter on the ground floor, where you will be served creative, modern Japanese tapas – arguably some of the best sushi in London. We recommend ordering as many of the specials on the board as possible.
Yashin, tucked away in Kensington is a smart Japanese serving excellent sushi, particularly the Yashin Omakase (chef’s special). Upon walking in, there is a neon sign above the sushi bar, which reads ‘without soy sauce’, which is exactly how the sushi is served.
The aforementioned, Zuma and Nobu (The Hottest Reservations) are fantastic for great food, a wide selection of cocktails and a buzzing atmosphere. You can’t really separate them but Zuma slightly pips it for us. Alternatively, Roka in Soho is Zuma’s younger sibling, and has recently opened a trendy new location in Mayfair. Novikov is where Globalistas go for the scene. The Asian restaurant is always buzzing with a fashionable clientele but don’t be tempted to stray to the nearby Italian (the food is average), nor the bar downstairs, which attracts an unsavoury crowd.
Coya is the hottest Peruvian restaurant to hit London from the owners of Zuma and La Petite Maison. Upstairs is a private member’s lounge centred around a densely wooded bar; this is dwarfed however by the dimly lit main restaurant downstairs which is open to the public. Think of Coya as a Peruvian Zuma, expect some of the best: Ceviche, Tiraditos and Antichuchos in town, with a sharp cocktail list and a very elegant clientele. Alternatively, Peyote (Mexican), from the same owners is worth trying if you can’t get in.
Amaya is a Michelin star Indian restaurant in Knightsbridge, which uses traditional Indian grills to cook some of the most delicious food in London like the giant Madagascan prawns or the moreish lamb chops. Beautifully designed, with a sophisticated crowd, Amaya is arguably the best Indian restaurant in London. Alternatively, Gymkhana, which was lauded by critics is incredibly popular and is a worthy alternative.
For a new ilk of Private Member’s Clubs, nestled in a tiny village in Mayfair, 5 Hertford Street is Globalista’s favourite. Robin Birley’ triumphal return, on which he has lavished over £30 million, features: several bars, dining rooms, a very popular candlelit courtyard for smokers and a basement nightclub called Loulou’s. Alternatively, The Arts Club on Dover Street oozes grandeur. This recently reopened club is by the same restauranteur as Zuma and La Petite Maison (The Hottest Reservations). The name is a bit of a misdemeanour as the club is more of a who’s who of city high-flyers. The setting is the perfect blend of old and new; first floor bar is nice for a drink and the Cigar Garden is great for a club sandwich. There is an underground nightclub, popular with younger members and they have also opened a new sushi restaurant called Kyubi.
From the triumvirate established by the late Mark Birley and now in Richard Caring’s Caprice Holdings stable is George, the hipper relation to Harry’s Bar serving what might be termed ‘Cipriani’ cuisine. Annabels, also in Caring’s stable, is a very elegant club with a Moorish ceiling and a starlit dance floor. This tiny venue is quite popular with the younger at heart Globalistas; the food is ok but we go for the scene.
These dining clubs are of course very different to London’s 18th and 19th century gentlemen’s clubs, which once proliferated in St. James’s. Many of these clubs are still going strong – White’s and Brooks’s for instance. The Beefsteak and The Garrick both have strong ties to the theatre and are somewhat less rigid, though still displaying a marvellous kind of English snobbery about who gets in who doesn’t. The rights to A. A. Milne’s Pooh books were left to the Garrick. The Chelsea Arts’ Club is popular with artists, bohemians and reprobates and is just as snooty about its membership, though there is nothing very stuffy about it – in fact, once inside the door, bad behaviour is almost positively encouraged. The food isn’t bad – trad English favourites in properly sized portions.
The Ivy is still the toughest table to get post-theatre although sometimes a last minute cancellation does come through (and if it doesn’t you can always take a seat at the bar). The menu is comfort food – dressed crab, Shepherd’s pie, sticky toffee pudding – and the setting, a social club of elegant diners where no one table looks better than another. J Sheekey in Covent Garden, is another post-theatre classic and an excellent alternative comprising an atmospheric warren of panelled rooms. Great fish and great wine.
Restaurant/tapas-bar Barrafina, seats only 23 people around a three-sided counter, but the integrity of the ingredients, the authenticity of the dishes (the cooking is inspired by the Barcelona restaurant, Cal Pep) and the simple, contemporary design make this place a winner. There is a no booking policy, so be prepared to wait.
Bocca di Lupo is a fantastic Soho Italian, where long-time Moro chef Jacob Kennedy (see below) offers fabulous Italian regional cuisine, either in the wood and terrazzo dining room or at the long, white, marble bar where 18 diners can watch the master at work. Get a table at the front as the back of the restaurant has very bad acoustics.
Moro in Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell, where Jacob Kennedy used to chef, is still going strong 15 years on. Moro is a very noisy, deceptively simple, pared-down restaurant with open kitchen, where owners Sam(uel) and Sam(antha) Clark offer broadly ‘Moorish’ cuisine, that encompasses Iberia and North Africa, all of it extremely good, in particular the charcoal grilled lamb with garlic puree and in a recent tasting the wood-fired Chicken.
The River Café continues to be London’s iconic riverside Italian restaurant with a menu that changes twice daily. One word – incredible, with interiors by Richard Rogers – too bad about the inconvenient Hammersmith location. When the weather is nice, the tables outside are fantastic for lunch with views over the river. Over in Richmond, Petersham Nurseries’ Café (which was awarded a Michelin star) is a bucolic, part-open-air restaurant in a ravishing setting near the Thames at Richmond with sublime food. The ‘modern Middle Eastern’ menu is seasonally inspired with all the edible flowers and herbs grown in house. Wear sensible shoes as rain can make the approach to the restaurant quite muddy.
The Punch Bowl in Mayfair, started by film director Guy Ritchie, is a dark wood paneled pub with Georgian heritage just off Berkeley Square. The food is rather good with trad English dishes like “1750” ale battered cod or crispy belly of pork. It’s very popular with the money managers of Berkeley Square. For more refined cooking, over in Fulham The Harwood Arms is a collaboration between Mike Robinson and Brett Graham (Head Chef of The Ledbury – Foodies) and is the only pub to be awarded a Michelin star. The atmosphere is lively (don’t go on a Tuesday which is Quiz Night) and the food is excellent, particularly the game and venison dishes, which are shot by Mike himself on various estates.
For afternoon tea, which surpasses your expectations, look no further than Claridge’s. The genteel refinement in this art deco foyer is so popular that you need to book months in advance. The experience is flawless and the scones with jam and clotted cream are simply unmissable. With two Tea Sommeliers on hand in the English Tea Room, Brown’s in Mayfair is a sophisticated experience. The finger sandwiches and pastries are continuously replenished so book a late dinner. For the health conscious, Brown’s even offer a sugar-free, low-fat, low-carb version called ‘Tea Tox’. The Berkeley has craftily targeted its afternoon tea at fashionistas, with its beautifully rendered Prêt-à-Portea offering traditional afternoon tea with a twist. It is the perfect place to take a female companion. The Ritz serves one of the grandest afternoon tea’s in town in an iconic Louis XVI setting. Arguably one of London’s most beautiful dining rooms, tea at The Ritz is a fantastic one-off experience.
Often quite eccentric, British fashion designers produce some of the most distinctive labels of all. Paul Smith is known for his brightly coloured stripe pattern which can be found on everything from men’s socks to groovy chairs; Vivienne Westwood, a massive influence on Punk style in the Seventies, flies the ‘Anglomania’ flag, and the late Alexander McQueen, once the bad boy of British fashion, is going strong with some seriously grown-up tailoring. Matthew Williamson is known for his pretty, feminine evening dresses just as Stella McCartney is known for sticking to her principles – she never uses leather.
Alice Temperley is a quintessentially British label, with a beautiful brand of boho-chic located in a quiet mews in Notting Hill. Preen (open 10am-6pm Thurs-Sat) makes fabulous dresses found on all London’s new It girls, while Christopher Bailey turned Burberry into one of the UK’s leading labels with his high-end Burberry Prorsum line. Browns features all the latest fashions from Christopher Kane to Balenciaga.
When it comes to accessories, there’s Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, Charlotte Olympia and Nicholas Kirkwood bestriding the world; Anya Hindmarch who has recently expanded to Madison Avenue; and Philip Treacy, a milliner who designs one-off, brilliantly creative head pieces – they are so amazing, it seems banal and inadequate to call them ‘hats’.
Each of London’s department stores has a definite, different identity. Selfridges is hip and arguably the best all round store; the Wonder Room is a dedicated space for jewellery, watches and luxury gifts, and the Ultra Lounge, a gallery space on the lower ground floor; not to mention the incredible food halls. Liberty feels more like a stately home rather than a department store, with smaller intimate shopping halls; it is known for its exquisite textiles and print fabrics. Harvey Nichols has all the latest designer labels, as well as Burger & Lobster on the 5th floor to refuel. Fortnum & Mason is a quirky British store, known for its rare teas and wonderful Christmas food hampers and John Lewis sells everything from furnishings to bed linen and kitchenware. Finally, there’s the iconic Harrods, which is always full of tourists, but if you don’t mind, it is an incredible / ridiculous one-stop shop. If you can’t find what you need there, it probably doesn’t exist.
For a mother/daughter shopping day
Don’t be snotty about the British high street. It’s now so popular that Vogue and Elle magazines showcase its best finds and you’re just as likely, if not more likely, to find fashion editors here than in the classier designer stores. Many high street shops cater perfectly to both the older and younger generations – because it’s not a question of budget, it’s a question of style. No visit to London is complete without a trip to Topshop, the frenzied epicentre of cheap chic at Oxford Circus. Three floors are packed with fashion, footwear and accessories updated virtually on a daily basis. The music is loud, the changing rooms packed and the vibe hectic – go early in the morning when it’s less crowded and much quieter. The aforementioned Liberty‘s is also an excellent choice. For more refined style, head west to Sloane Street. Bamford & Sons in Chelsea do wonderful cosy cashmeres.
For Designer Labels
If you’re buying designer, Bond Street (and New Bond Street the continuation) in Mayfair, which runs between Piccadilly and Oxford Street, is home to: every conceivable luxury fashion designer, fine jewellery & watch company; a number of galleries and auction houses including: Sotheby’s, Bonhams and the Royal Academy of Arts; not to mention the highest concentration of Royal Warrant holders (purveyors to the Royal Family) than anywhere else in London. All the big names are here including: Smythson which sells chic cards, notebooks, writing paper etcetera, while Mulberry has added an art gallery feel to its flagship store by collaborating with a series of contemporary artists. Sloane Street in Knightsbridge, is a carbon copy of Bond Street and is usually a less frenetic alternative.
Jermyn Street in St James’s has an unparalleled collection of men’s clothing shops (especially for handmade shirts), but for the pinnacle of gents’ tailoring you must go to Savile Row, on the other side of Piccadilly in Mayfair. Gieves & Hawkes is over 200 years old and offers a personal tailoring service as a bridge between their bespoke and ready-to-wear lines; Norton & Sons create less than 350 suits a year making their designs some of the most exclusive in the City; Henry Poole & Co, was the first Savile Row tailor and widely accredited with inventing the tuxedo. Having received a royal warrent in 1869, 150 years later they are still making state liveries. Globalista’s favourite is Huntsman who can’t be matched for their cut and fabrics. All suits are made in the basement (which you can see from the street) and are usually delivered to their new London homes by way of a traditional Huntsman bicycle. For slightly more daring designs, opt for one of the newer generation of tailors. David Beckham and Tom Jones are fans of natty William Hunt, while Ozwald Boateng and Richard James use bold colours for their beautiful bespoke suits.
For smart shoes, John Lobb the bespoke bootmaker can’t be matched; have a look at GJ Cleverely as well in the Royal Arcade. Alternatively, there is always Tod’s or Car Shoe. James Purdey & Son sells a range of shooting accessories, shotguns and rifles. Geo F Trumper is the quintessential gentleman’s barber and perfumer – a traditional wet shave is a must.
For Cool Concepts
The brainchild of Rei Kawakubo, one half of fashion label Comme des Garçons, Dover Street Market has some of the hippest collections around. There’s jewellery by stylist Judy Blame, fashion by the likes of Martin Margiela, Hussein Chalayan and Gareth Pugh, and sweet treats at the Rose bakery on the fourth floor. The Shop at Bluebird, which is part of the Bluebird Café, stocks British designer names as well as coffee-table fashion tomes in its magazine lounge. Wolf & Badger features the best independent, new generation: fashion, jewellery and design brands.
There are branches of Matches all over London and the style of each store reflects its local customers. Find fashion by Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Issa and Chloé. Owned by the legendary Joan Burnstein, Browns is a fashion destination in its own right. Each season her talented team handpick the best pieces from the collections. Across the street, Browns Focus is more cutting edge.
For heavenly scents Penhaligons, which makes its own range of 22 fragrances, and Jo Malone are the best. Try the new white mint and basil cologne or the more traditional lime, basil and mandarin scent, which both smell gorgeous. The Conran Shop sells all manner of items, from vases and clocks to furniture and kitchenware, while Cath Kidston does sweet floral prints. Pickett is excellent for traditional board games, leather goods and pashminas.
There are several rather brilliant specialist book shops in Notting Hill: The Notting Hill Bookshop has a vast store of travel fiction, lesser-known travel guides and classics from centuries past, and Books for Cooks tests tasty recipes from the cookbooks in the café at the back of the shop. Also on Blenheim Crescent is The Spice Shop, which has over 2,500 freshly ground herbs and spices.
Serious collectors of vintage should visit Rellik. Set up by three Portobello market stallholders nearly 10 years ago, Rellik stocks pieces by Vivienne Westwood, Pierre Cardin, Ossie Clark and Chanel, among others. At One of a Kind stylist Jeff Ihenacho’s Aladdin’s cave is bursting with second-hand delights. And for cut-off Levi’s, sportswear and retro clothes from the 1920s onwards, Rokit is always a good bet, as is Virginia (98 Portland Road, W11; +44 20 7727 9908). Expensive, inspirational and unique, Virginia is a treasure trove for high-end vintage fans.
For Beauty Products
Big department stores aside, the best selection of beauty products can be found at Space NK, which stocks everything from Tom Ford’s new fragrance to Shu Uemura eyeshadow. For organic skincare and other organic remedies, visit one of the many Neal’s Yard shops around town. Daniel Hersheson is the hottest hair salon – visit the Harvey Nichols branch.
After a hard day’s shopping, London has many spas perfect for a soothing massage or treatment. Try a pedicure at the Urban Retreat at Harrods; relax in the crystal steam room or zen colour therapy relaxation room at the Spa at Mandarin Oriental; or have a Musclease aroma spa ocean wrap designed for aching muscles at the Elemis day spa. And when it comes to waxing, the beauty therapists at Claridge’s are truly excellent. Finally, The Refinery for Men is a one-stop grooming emporium offering skincare, spa treatments, a barber and a traditional wet shave.
Best Shopping Street
Mayfair’s Mount Street is one of London’s best shopping enclaves. It is home to the renowned Scott’s restaurant (see best restaurants), George Club (see best bars), The Connaught hotel and to society hairdressers Jo Hansford and Nicky Clarke. Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga and Christian Louboutin have all opened stores on Mount Street. Other fashionable residents include Céline, Goyard, Lanvin, Nicholas Kirkwood and Vivienne Westwood nestled among jewellers like Stephen Webster and a few galleries. The Dunhillstore/club around the corner has 2 spas, a barber, a private cinema, a members’ club, four rooms and a shop floor. There is also Jenny Packham; and French beauty brand Annick Goutal.
Borough Market on a Friday and Saturday is London’s premier food market, selling everything from organic vegetables to venison burgers and gigantic slabs of delicious chocolate brownies. It gets crowded at lunchtimes so either follow in Jamie Oliver’s footsteps and come early, or take your purchases down to the river to eat. Spitalfields Market (Friday-Sunday) in the east and Portobello Market in the west are good for fashion – at both you’ll find quirky one-offs and stylish gems. Portobello is also world-famous for antiques on a Saturday. The Columbia Road Flower Market on Sundays is increasingly fashionable – stalls line the quaint street and a mix of shops also sell fashion, garden tools, art and interiors. Get there at around 1pm when flowers are often reduced and you can pick up bunches of beautiful blooms at bargain prices.
Best Night Out
Classic Cocktail Bars
The Artesian Bar in The Langham Hotel in Marylebone, is arguably London’s prettiest bar, beautifully designed by David Collins in a quirky, oriental style. There is a superb sweep of cocktails on offer (including the largest rum collection in the City), which are masterfully overseen by International Bartender of the Year, Alex Kratena. Closely rivalling The Artesian, the gloriously extravagant Connaught Bar is another sleek and stylish bar designed by David Collins. The traditionalist’s favourite – there is perhaps nowhere better to order a classic cocktail in London. First opened in 1878, The American Bar at The Savoy, proudly advertises its status as London’s original cocktail bar. Lovingly restored to its 1920s Art Deco heyday, The American Bar recreates its glamorous past with aplomb through outstanding historical cocktails. Rules, on the 1st floor of London’s oldest restaurant (1798), has been recently renovated and now once again stands among the best classic bars in London. Centred upon a breath-taking 19th century style wooden bar, Upstairs at Rules excels in its attention to detail, including sodas spritzed from antique siphons. We recommend their signature Sazerac.
Also worth a look
If you happen to be in the City – come for the view, stay for the bar seems to be the proposition at Aqua, the restaurant and bar elevated to the 31st level of the famous Shard building. The distances, both horizontal and vertical, are well worth undertaking to enjoy an expertly stirred Martini, while gazing over the city from half a mile up.
What’s hot and what’s not can change in the blink of an eye. It’s interesting to note that many of our favourite bars are less than a year old.
Infused with a distinctive and delightful Victorian eccentricity, Mayfair’s Mr Fogg’s is always packed by an eclectic crowd – a bar with true character. The beautifully mixed and artfully presented cocktails deserve a warm mention too. Nearby, Coya, a new Peruvian restaurant and bar (see Best Restaurants), expertly blends the exotic with the familiar. A veritable shrine to Pisco, Peru’s delicious, crystalline brandy, of which the bar features a number of delectable, homemade infusions. Try and get a table upstairs in the members barx. The streets of Hoxton now abound with dozens of forgettable cocktail bars each boasting their own ‘concept’, but Happiness Forgets is one of the few that we hope will stick around. Dedicated to great drinks served without pretension, Happiness Forgets is self-effacingly hip and cheerily inclusive, with an atmosphere of frivolity. NOLA, in contrast to the current fashion for cramped basement bars, is a refreshingly expansive, New Orleans inspired, first floor space, serving excellent cocktails and with a 3AM closing time, NOLA delivers one of the best late nights in London.
Also worth a look
With an almost infuriatingly clever premise, BYOC, where you bring your own bottle to the bartenders and rent time at the tables, is a compelling prospect for the prepared or the particular. Needless to say, reservations are a must.
Modern Members Bars
The diversity and quality of members-only bars across the city has never been higher, with a private club to cater to every taste.
For a luxuriously traditional club experience, look no further than Robin Birley’s 5 Hertford Street. Altho relatively new on the London nightlife scene, this club radiates the quiet confidence of a much more venerable establishment, while still possessing the flair and energy of a modern bar. Created by Birley as a labour of love and an homage to his father’s own prolific club career, Hertford Street really is the encapsulation of what a club should be, with the ultra-exclusive Loulou’s nightclub in the basement, which can be accessed via a separate entrance. If you don’t know a member, start befriending one now… Alternatively, The Arts Club on Dover Street has long been the home for writers, musicians, actors and artists of all kinds. Counting Dickens, Monet and Turgenev among former members (and Gwyneth Paltrow among the current), this progressive club has been flouting convention since 1863. Electric House, in Notting Hill, newly refurbished after last year’s fire, offers the perfect respite from the bustle of Portobello Road, with three floors of comfort crowned by a beautiful rooftop terrace. With unmatched access to the gorgeous cinema below, the Electric is the ideal sanctuary for the fashionable urbanite.
Classic Members Bars
George, also based in Mayfair, excels in its commitment to understated refinement. Intimacy and discretion are the watchwords here, a graceful urban oasis in the heart of Mayfair. Small dogs are welcome too. With the eighties firmly back in fashion, the decade’s most famous club, Berkeley Square’s Annabel’s has never been so enticing. At once a nightclub, a cocktail bar, a restaurant and one of the most exclusive members’ clubs in London, Annabel’s now part of Caprice Holdings is still going strong five decades later. Thursdays are particularly good for younger members.
Best Drinks with a View
The Paramount, perched on top of London’s iconic Centre Point tower is where you can enjoy spectacular 360 degree views across London, from the champagne bar at the very top, which has floor to ceiling windows. The Oxo Tower Brasserie is best enjoyed in summer, al fresco. This Modern European landmark enjoys river traffic by day and glittering City views by night. The restaurant is run by Harvey Nichols isn’t bad, with a seasonal brasserie menu and a few inspired dishes.
Over in the City, in the recently completed Heron Tower are 2 American imports: Duck & Waffle (40th floor), which is broadly European with British influences, open 24/7, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking a number of notable London landmarks; and Sushi Samba (top 3 floors), delivers a unique blend of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine. Enjoy one of the signature cocktail on the highest outdoor terrace in London and inside some inventive cuisine cooked in an open kitchen and fiery Robata grill.
For younger members, sometimes Unleash and Boneca hold some of the best parties in London from various exclusive locations (usually revealed on the evening). The parties, which are often themed and always feature a host of popular DJs, are incredibly popular with in-the-know locals. For the lucky few whose nights out start in the morning, Love Brunch put on some wonderful brunches with lashings of champagne. For eccentric excess with a hint of the macabre, Viktor Wynd’s Last Tuesday Society presents a number of highly select events every year. The Halloween Masked Ball is a particular draw for the adventurous.
For a more soigné crowd, Boujis is a tiny, South Kensington club with an infamous royal pedigree, courtesy of Princes William and Henry. Once downstairs, try one of the signature ‘Crack Baby’ shots. It draws a fun, young local crowd. A reservation or guest-list is strongly advised. Cuckoo, set over 2 floors just off Regent Street is a remarkably popular option on Friday nights attracting a glamorous West End audience. A slightly more relaxed atmosphere upstairs is a welcome respite from the intense scene on the ground floor. Tramp is a private members club, which has been going strong since the 70s. Saturday is the only night to go, with a diverse crowd spanning all ages.
Finally, for something completely different, Cirque le Soir is a decadent, extravagant club which features some extraordinary circus acts alongside world famous DJs. For those looking for a great deal more edge, The Box, seductively nestled in Soho’s red light district, offers a stimulatingly risqué experience for the world-weary sophisticate – not for the feint-hearted.
Best Recovery Plan
There’s nothing like a full English breakfast after a heavy night out: bacon, eggs, beans, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast works a treat. Try for a table at Tom’s Kitchen, where you can read the papers and recover properly.
Everyone should see where the Queen lives at least once. To make the most of the experience, time your visit to Buckingham Palace with the changing of the guard, which takes place every other day. The Palace of Westminster, the Tower of London and Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral are all landmarks that shouldn’t be missed. Climb up the 259 steps to the Whispering Gallery within the cathedral’s dome, where any quiet chatter can be heard on the other side of the wall. Further along the river, a far more modern addition to the skyline is the London Eye. Book tickets for a slow ride in one of the glass pods and get a spectacular view of the whole city, particularly at sunset.
Many Londoners to their shame never journey down the Thames as far as Greenwich, but few trips offer so much. England’s greatest architects, Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones, created in Greenwich a collection of buildings equalled in Europe only by Versailles and rightly designated a World Heritage Site. Gaze at these magnificent buildings – the Royal Observatory, the Royal Naval College, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House – and stroll in the 183-acre Royal Park, laid out in the 17th century. Here on the banks of the Thames, with splendid views up-river to the city, is living history, the past captured in brick and dome, and the geographical source of Greenwich Mean Time. Even children for whom history is of passing interest are delighted to stand straddling the line on the ground that marks the Prime Meridian, one of their feet in the western hemisphere and the other in the eastern. Greenwich is easy to reach by train or boat, the town itself is charming, and there are plenty of fine pubs and restaurants. Go and wonder.
Best for Children
London Zoo, in Regent’s Park, is not just for children but fun for adults too. See fiery Komodo dragons, meet the newest recruit to the gorilla kingdom, Mjukuu, and watch blackfooted and crested rock-hopper penguins at feeding time. For more water-based wildlife, visit the London Aquarium, which has 400 species of fish, including sharks, stingrays and moray eels. Back on dry land, catch a glimpse of famous faces such as David Beckham, Prince Harry and Margaret Thatcher, not in the flesh but immortalised in wax at Madame Tussaud’s in Marylebone.
Children of all ages will love a ride in one of London’s open-top tour buses; hop off at Covent Garden to see jugglers, conjurers and other entertainers in the main piazza. Heading east, the V&A Museum of Childhood has a fine collection of child-related objects. Learn about the history of toy cars, dolls’ houses and the traditional jigsaw puzzle. In South Kensington, The Science Museum has an IMAX 3D cinema, and The Natural History Museum is full of deadly dinosaurs.
Best Open Spaces
Green spaces are a haven in any city and London has plenty of them. A hop away from hectic Oxford Circus is Regents Park, with an open-air theatre, secret rose garden, musical bandstands and space for playing all manner of sports games. At the northern side of the park, walk up Primrose Hill for a charming view across London. In the heart of the city, bordered by three fashionable districts (Mayfair, Kensington and Bayswater), Hyde Park is the best-known of all and popular with roller bladers, horse riders, sun bathers and picnickers. Hire a pedalo or row around the Serpentine lake in the centre, not forgetting to look in at the excellent Serpentine Gallery. By contrast, the Chelsea Physic Garden is a walled secret garden founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. Take a historical walk round the western side where the plants are named after some of the people whose work is most associated with the gardens, before tasting the homemade cakes at the Tangerine Dream Café.
In north London, wild Hampstead Heath is perfect for long Sunday walks and you can visit the superb Kenwood House, a gift to London from the Guinness family; the open-air concerts in summer are delightful. Heading out of the centre of town, choose between Wimbledon Common, Kew Gardens and Richmond Park in which you can hire bicycles and spot the deer as you cycle around its 2.5 miles of track. All of these take you out of the city’s hustle and bustle and into peaceful havens, but Kew Gardens must take pride of place: it is an extraordinarily beautiful and enchanting place, by the side of the Thames, and one of the most famous botanical gardens in the world.
As well as a plethora of musicals, plays and shows in the West End and established theatres such as the Old Vic and the National Theatre, smaller fringe venues often stage fine performances too. Check what’s on at the Trafalgar Studios, the Menier Chocolate Factory, the Soho theatre and the Tricycle Theatre. See Shakespeare at the open-air Globe theatre in the summer.
Museums & Galleries
London has enough art galleries and museums to keep the most demanding aficionado happy. The V&A, the British Museum and the Design Museum are all must-sees, with everything from ancient textiles to exhibitions on architecture and product design. Those interested in 18th and 19th century art, medieval and renaissance objects and armour should visit the Wallace Collection – don’t leave without eating at The Wallace Restaurant, a modern French brasserie with a stunning courtyard.
The John Soane Museum shows this great architect and collector’s life and work displayed in his own amazing house. Similarly, when it comes to art the National Portrait Gallery and its bigger sister the National Gallery are hard to beat. The National Gallery’s collection is small by international standards, just over 2,000 paintings, but it is astonishingly representative: every important European period is represented, and always by quite superb examples. Tate Modern and Tate Britain are another winning double act.
There are other memorable galleries dotted all over town, from the Victoria Miro Gallery in the City to the James Hyman Gallery in Mayfair and the Royal Academy of Art in Piccadilly. The Photographer’s Gallery and Proud Galleries specialise in photographic exhibitions.
Of course the National Gallery and the Tate are the five-star attractions, but many would say that if you could visit only one art gallery in London it should be the Dulwich Picture Gallery. This gallery is a huge favourite with Londoners. It is an early 19th-century neoclassical masterpiece, designed by Sir John Soane and the first ever building in the western world specifically intended as a public art gallery. Its setting in Dulwich Village and beside Dulwich Park is surprisingly rural, though it is only 15 minutes from central London (by train from Victoria or London Bridge stations).
Leafy and prettily suburban though Dulwich may be, there is nothing suburban about the gallery. It houses the greatest European masters (Raphael, Tiepolo, Rembrandt, Poussin, Veronese), and one painting of a child by Murillo remains for ever in the mind’s eye. The collection is small but special, and the gallery stages unusual international exhibitions – it recently displayed a selection of self-portraits from the secretive Vasari Corridor in Florence, a rare art coup. In short, a little trip out of central London to Dulwich will reward you beyond expectation. A lovely and historic building, in a lovely place, with beautiful art and a fine café… who could wish for more?
It’s the most famous comedy club in London, and with good reason. The Comedy Store has the best in stand-up and weekly performances by the Comedy Store Players. The midnight show on a Saturday is always the most raucous, but be warned: if you sit in the front row you’ll be mercilessly heckled by those on stage. For a more off-beat but equally funny night out, try the Jongleurs in Battersea.
Whatever your musical taste, you’re bound to find a genre to suit. Classical music lovers have the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, the Festival Hall on the South Bank and the Wigmore Hall in Marylebone. The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and the London Coliseum are home to the ballet and breathtaking opera classics, and the best contemporary dance is at Sadler’s Wells.
Jazz fans can choose from Ronnie Scott’s in Soho, the 606 club in Fulham and the Jazz Café in Camden, which has a mix of acts performing old-school soul, reggae and hip-hop sounds. The best pop and big name bands play at the O2 centre. Avoid the tube and travel there in style by taking a water taxi along the river. At the Roundhouse and The Barbican Centre they offer world music as well as contemporary and classical concerts.
Best of the Rest
The English are famous for their love of gardens and gardening, and a major event in both the gardening and social calendar is the annual Chelsea Flower Show. This is a weeklong exhibition with stands (mini gardens) created by some of the greenest fingers around, and marks the start of the summer season. One of the most sought-after social tickets of the summer is for the glittering Serpentine Summer Party held at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park; the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition is another popular event. Opera fans love Proms in the Park – take a picnic and listen to beautiful music in the open air. Ultra-fashionable Holland Park also stages open-air opera and, out of town, trips to Glyndebourne in East Sussex or Grange Park in Hampshire in the summer are both magical experiences, not to be missed.
For sports fans the prime venues are Lord’s for international cricket, the Queen’s Club and Wimbledon for tennis, and Twickenham for rugby . A short distance from London gives you racing at Epsom Downs (for the Derby) and Royal Ascot, and the Cartier International Polo at Windsor Great Park. Party lovers throng to the annual Notting Hill Carnival, held every year over the three-day August bank holiday weekend and billed as the biggest street party in the world. Loud, crowded and frenetic, it’s great fun if you are in the mood, a nightmare if not. If you like skating, it’s available in winter at Somerset House or Hampton Court Palace. Both historic venues are decorated with twinkling fairy lights, and after a few rounds on the ice you can warm up with a mug of hot chocolate and marshmallows or a glass of mulled wine.
Intellectual life in London
Part of a wider trend for intelli-dating, cerebral entertainment has become something of a social mecca in London. For those who would rather spend an evening listening to a debate, at poetry readings or discussing relevant world events, there’s nothing more satisfying than a good cultural date. Top of the lot are: the fortnightly debates held by Intelligence Squared at locations across London. The current programme includes subjects as diverse as ‘Britain has become indifferent to Beauty’ and ‘Afghanistan: the future.’ 5×15 brings together five outstanding individuals to tell of their lives, passions and inspirations. Finally, the How To Academy provides a range of compact courses from how to make a movie in a weekend to how to master James Joyce.
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