Saturday, 13 April 2013

City Spotlight: London

It's very easy to read a guide book or surf the web for inspiration as to what to do in London, and I would wager that a large number of you (my UK readers, at least) have been several times, have friends or family there, or have even lived in the Big Smoke yourselves at one time or another. With that in mind, this is by no means a travel guide to London; it won't tell you anything about St Paul's or Buckingham Palace. This post simply consists of a few magpie recommendations for what to do and where to eat if you fancy a relaxed, fun and food-filled day trip in our fabulous capital.

Can you spy the London Eye..?


Wherever you go in London, there are places to eat on or around every corner. Whilst the reliability of a good chain may be convenient, one the whole I prefer one-offs, for a little culinary magic...

Breakfast: Le Pain Quotidien (various London locations, but I like the one on the South Bank, near Waterloo) - OK, so I've started with a chain, but you won't find one outside of London within the UK. Delicious continental offerings, not only for breakfast, but for my money, their breads and pastries are what they do best. Served with delicious praline spreads and fruit conserves. Personal favourite: the organic hazelnut flute, spread with Brunette.

Lunch: Mildreds (Soho) - I mentioned this little vegetarian restaurant early on in my blogging days, when I had just discovered it. I'm not a vegetarian, but I am a fan of vegetarian food. The atmosphere in Mildreds is great, and the food fresh and delicious. Obviously no good if you have a confirmed carnivore (i.e. most men!) in toe, but great for a healthy, organic lunch or dinner from a restaurant that supports local independent suppliers.

Tea & Cake: Paul (Another chain, but again, exclusive to London within the UK. We usually visit the branch in Covent Garden) - Order the Café Surprise. Order it every time, without hesitation or deliberation.

Don't mind if I do...

Dinner: The Cookbook Café @ The Intercontinental (Hyde Park) - 'Cookbook Cafe offers upscale market table fare that champions British seasonal and sustainable ingredients in an interactive culinary experience...' [Source: restaurant's own website] The food here is just delicious, and the staff are warm and attentive without making a nuisance of themselves. Worth looking out for on toptable, as their set menus and discount offers are often very generous.


My favourite things to do in any city are shopping (obviously!), visiting museums and going to the theatre (all interspersed with eating, of course - as above!). All three in one day makes for a perfect, if potentially expensive excursion, however, most exhibits within the big museums are free, you can haggle for a bargain at the markets and look out for last minute deals on theatre tickets.

Spot of shopping: Portobello Market (Notting Hill) - For clothes, I invariably head to Regent Street, but for fun, it has to be one of London's many markets. Covent Garden, Spitalfields, Camden, Greenwich, Portobello. To do these wonderful treasure troves justice, you need at least a couple of hours and some cash in your pocket. Just my cup of tea: wandering the streets of Notting Hill, scouring the stalls and windows for I know not what.

An abundance of vintage treasures.

A riot of glorious technicolour.

Culture vulture: The V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum) (South Kensington) - Any of the big four museums (British, Science, Natural History, V&A) is a great place to spend a day in London, and I love them all, but we have most recently visited the V&A. The building itself is astonishingly beautiful, inside and out. Take the weight off your feet after all that walking and soak up the atmosphere in the stunning café, and no museum trip would be complete without the obligatory visit to the gift shop! On our most recent visit, we saw a stunning exhibition of contemporary photography, Light from the Middle East, which you can find details and a video of here, even though it's no longer running. Well worth a look, along with the current David Bowie exhibition.

Troika's clockwork V&A sign.

A few highlights... Chihuly's Rotunda chandelier in the entrance hall; Fashion through the ages; Stained glass.

Catch a show: The National Theatre (South Bank) - I have yet to see an even mildly disappointing production at The National. You can guarantee that, irrespective of your taste in drama, you will always be impressed by the quality of the acting and the production. The auditorium is a great space, and you can often spot a famous face or two amongst the audience. I must acknowledge though, that much as I love drama, I also love the West End for musicals. Having said that, there are musicals and there are musicals... Musical of choice currently running (go and see it ASAP!): Book of Mormon. Avoid at all costs: Spamalot (truly dreadful; a heinous crime against Monty Python in my humble opinion).

Oh, and if you find yourself anywhere around the Leicester Square/Charing Cross/Covent Garden area, look out for this little fella... You know how I love a good rabbit.

"Find me in the window of Alice Through the Looking Glass."

pp x

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