Monday, July 8, 2013

London Loves

Two friends recently contacted me for tips and recommendations for trips they are making to London this summer.  I spent a good 2 hours remembering, writing, editing, Googling, etc. and thought a modified version of that email would be good to post as a blog entry.  To this day, a big piece of my heart is still in London, so I'm calling these my London Loves.

Brunch...Providores on Marylebone High Street (near my old flat).  I insist that every London visitor go here for brunch on Saturday/Sunday because it is absolutely the best brunch I found in London.  Famous chef Peter Gordon (I have his cookbooks if you want to borrow).  It's a small unassuming place but everything on the menu is great.  I always got the Turkish eggs from changa for brunch (darn delicious!).  Great dinner menu and wines too.  Never had anything on the menu that I didn’t like.

Indian...the Brits aren't known for traditional English food, but they are known for their Indian food.  My faves were Masala Zone (chain with great Indian street food), Dishoom (one of the hottest new spots), Mint Leaf (Michelin star restaurant), and Quilon (top 5 meal of my life at the restaurant in the Taj hotel on Buckingham Palace Road).  Roti Chai is another great new restaurant, and I took my parents there whenever they visited.
·     Borough Market is amazing!!  You should definitely go for lunch one day and wander around.  Think of it as an outdoor Whole Foods + Austin SoCo food truck park x 10.   The raclettes (Swiss cheese sandwiches or potatoes) are very famous.  You will smell them.   So many artisanal foods to try/buy too.  Closest tube stop is London Bridge on Jubilee (gray) line.

Mediterranean/Middle East...Yalla Yalla (fab Lebanese), NOPI (another top 5 meal of my life at famous chef Yotam Ottolenghi's newest place…also have his cookbooks if you want to borrow)

Burgers...Gourmet Burger Kitchen (chain but good) or Hache (fave for London)

Other...Duke of Wellington (fantastic gastropub!) and Blue Elephant (best Thai place in London and looks/feels like a jungle inside).  I also frequented La Fromagerie for a cozy brunch or dinner.  Walking into the impressive cheese room at La Fromagerie and inhaling deeply is other worldly.  There’s a chain called EAT, and they have these amazing honey chilli peanuts (~2 gbp/container) that I inhaled.

DRINK...Europeans love to drink outside anytime anyday.  Especially when there's a football game on.  Have a Pimm's or Magner's cider for me (traditional British drinks). Some of my fave drinkeries were:

The Windsor Castle Pub...My absolute fave for sentimental reasons because I lived across the street from this pub that was attached to school.  I was there at least 5 days a week, and if you happen to be in Marylebone or near Regents Park, you should head there.  Ask if Mick (the owner), Jackie (other owner), or Eliza (bar maid) are there.  Tell them you know me or rather "Pi", and they will treat you well!

Afternoon tea…I thought high tea would be totally lame, but actually I found it to be a lovely experience to get dressed up and go for tea in fancy hotels.  So relaxing.  I went to have tea at Le Meridien and another boutique which I now forget.  Famous places to have tea are the Wolseley and the Dorchester.  It’s about 30 -40 gbp (kinda steep), but totally worth doing in my opinion.  Also go with someone b/c it would be awkward to go solo. 

Borough Barista.  This place has really good coffee and is really close to Marble Arch and Oxford Street.  I’m not a coffee aficionado, but all my European coffee snob friends introduced me to this small place.  It’s a hidden gem, and those that love coffee know about this place.  They have good sandwiches / small pastries too.  The other coffee chains in London are Costa, Café Nerro, and Pret (all OK). 

Experimental Cocktail Club  Call ahead to get a reservation b/c this place is tough to get into.

LAB (London Academy of Bartending)  LOVE this place!!  I had one of my deportation going away do’s here.

Hilton Park on top floor of hotel with good view of Hyde Park 

Go to Olympic Park in East London (a bit of a hike).  Take Jubilee (gray) line all the way to Stratford.  You can pay 10 quid (slang for gbp) or so and ride elevator to top of Orbit and get a good view of London and stadiums.  Also, they built a giant Westfields shopping center next to Olympic Park with mall, bars, restaurants, cinema, etc.

Lord's Cricket Ground...most famous cricket stadium that you can tour and watch a match if lucky.  On Park Road in St. John's Wood.

Regents Park...this was my park and had a 3 mile running loop.

Golf...The best courses are in Scotland but there are a few good ones on the outskirts of London too. football stadium.  If you're lucky, there may be an exhibition match going on.

Covent fave neighborhood in London for Friday/Saturday night out.  Kind of like Rice Village in Houston but better and British.  Good bars.  Good shopping.  Home of the largest Apple store in the world.

Liberty of London...super famous department store known for their fabrics (on 3rd/4th floor).  J.Crew does partnerships with Liberty in the US and Target used to have a small selection, but that's about it here.  Besides fabrics and high end fashion, the store just has cool stuff and is in a beautiful iconic building.

Selfridges...forget Harrods, go here.  The food hall is really good and somewhere where you can find American products not sold in Tesco.

Fortnum & Mason...another famous department store.  Known for teas and other artisanal things found in -1 floor.  Good place to pick up souvenirs.

London Transport Museum...sounds cheesy but they have cool merchandise.  Another good place for souvenirs. In Covent Garden.

Wimbledon!  (If you’ll be there).  I stood in The Queue (the Brits love queuing), ate yummy strawberries & cream, drank some Pimm's, watched the tennis, bought really pricey merchandise at the gift shop, and wandered the storied All England Tennis Club grounds.  Perfect summer days.  

London Eye.  Very touristy but great views of London on a clear day.  Book your London Eye tix in advance to avoid hoards of tourists & the long queue.  Go for the mid-tier priced ticket that lets you book a half hour time slot.  

Museums - they are free.  My faves were National Gallery, Tate Modern, Saatchi Gallery, and British Museum.

Greenwich - easy half day trip from London where you can straddle the Prime Meridian

Musicals/theater - like NYC, shows are a big deal in London.  There's a TKTS booth in Leicester Square (pronounced Lester Square)

Walk along southbank of Thames from London Eye to Tate on a nice day...good people watching, sights to see, pubs along the way, street performers, etc.

What bank do you have in the US?  If it's Bank of America, you can use your BofA debit card at any Barclays ATM in the UK and won't pay any transactions fees (and get a good exchange rate) up to $500 / day.

If you've got luggage and don't want to deal with a long Underground ride or Heathrow Express to/from airport, you can pre-book a cab for ~35 gbp (don't tip more than 10% in London for food or cabs).  I used this cheap good cab service whenever I needed a ride anywhere in London b/c their fares seemed to be cheaper than most.  I don't know the company's's in my phone as "Cheap Good Cabs".  +44 (0)2074331000

Do you curl or straighten your hair?  Do you have appropriate adapters?  If you travel internationally from the US fairly regularly, consider getting a 220V or dual voltage straightener.  Best. Decision. Ever.  I prefer Sedu and GHD brands.

Photo: clever, cheeky sign found at Borough Barista