Whether your London stay lasts a weekend or a week, a lack of options will be the least of your concerns. The British capital offers a plethora of stuff to see and do, even for the most selective vacationer – hotels you will not want to leave, restaurants with dishes like nothing you’ve ever tasted, and hidden-away markets ideal for foodies, fashionistas and antique-lovers.
First quest: find a place to spend the night. Mr & Mrs Smith’s definitive hotel collection of 14 London boutique hotels presents something for every preference and personality.
Anouska Hempel-designed Blakes boasts a secluded setting on South Ken’s Roland Gardens. The hotel’s 50 rooms, inspired by the renowned designer’s travels through Asia and Europe, are known to attract the rich and famous. My choice, the luxurious Corfu Suite, features exceptionally tall ceilings, wonderful pearl furniture, a romantic four-poster king-sized bed and Provençal influences. The courtyard garden outside makes a perfect spot to catch up on some reading before dinner in the hotel’s restaurant downstairs. Don’t miss the seductive Chinese Room, also called the Opium Den. Blakes oozes style, sophistication and decadence; it’s no surprise its guests return year after year.
Miller’s Residence, also proud of its regular guests, is located off Westbourne Grove in trendy Notting Hill. Look for the red door on Hereford Road. With only seven rooms including two suites, Miller’s almost feels like a home – a very antique-filled home. Owner Martin Miller (who wrote Miller’s Antiques Guide for nearby Portobello Market) designed his guesthouse with a bohemian atmosphere in mind. All rooms are named after English romantic poets and offer a calm ambiance – especially the Browning
Before bedtime, enjoy free drinks and friendly conversation in the candle-lit Drawing Room.
Want to stay longer in Notting Hill? Book a Terrace Room at Guesthouse West , an unconventional 20-room bed and breakfast with the most welcoming staff in town. Rooms have a “less is more” style with modern amenities such as WiFi and broadband, DVD player, air-con, and LCD TV. Although I only met other business travellers during my visit, Guesthouse West is a great pick for leisure travellers as well. Until October, the Terrace restaurant serves a summer menu of dishes such as salad Nicoise and seared fresh tuna, salmon fillet with new potatoes and baby fennel, and goats’ cheese and sun-dried tomato sandwich. Bad weather? Drop into one of the comfy low sofas in the Parlour Bar or head into the nearest clothing shop to update your wardrobe.
If you are more into culture and museums than shopping in chic Notting Hill boutiques, opt for The Gore on Queens Gate – a stone’s throw from the Royal Albert Hall and London’s museum-land. Apart from an excellent location, spacious individually decorated bedrooms and the grand Green Room’s complimentary tea, coffee and newspapers, the hotel boasts the world famous Bar 190 and highly reputed Bistro 190. You can’t go wrong with a forest mushrooms and tarragon risotto with crispy rocket and basil pesto and, for dessert, an apple strudel with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon custard. In the morning, the restaurant’s super tasty spinach and goats’ cheese omelette will make your day.
For Peruvian Japanese cuisine, reserve a table at Nobu at the Metropolitan on Mayfair’s Park Lane. End your night in the sophisticated Met Bar, where members and hotel guests enjoy comfortable seating in leather booths, some of the best cocktails in town, and live music by guest DJs. The hotel’s 150 rooms and suites won’t disappoint either. A stylistically pure design, large windows with Hyde Park or Mayfair views and all amenities you need – I was particularly pleased to find a yoga mat in my King Park. Finish your stay with a relaxing Thai massage in the Como Shambhala Urban Escape spa.
Even though many boutique hotels offer guests both lunch and dinner, let’s not overlook London’s latest hotspots in the restaurant scene.
Open for breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, Tom’s Kitchen ‘s high quality food attracts Chelsea people in Ralph Lauren outfits, ladies with expensive handbags, serious foodies like me, and people who like the open and relaxed atmosphere in this 75-seat brasserie. Located on 27 Cale Street near King’s Road, Tom’s Kitchen offers various meat and fish dishes, soups and salads, veggie pasta such as pappardelle, roasted pumpkin, parmesan and pine nuts and yummy desserts.
Tom’s Place by the same chef is a fish ‘n’ chips eat-in and takeaway restaurant that supports sustainable fishing. They offer a variety of grilled, pan-fried and deep-fried dishes, salads, bowl food, a children’s menu and freshly made ice creams. Having opened in February 2008, Tom’s Place is already a well-known spot among lunchers and diners in the city. For in-depth information on the fishing industry and sustainable issues, keep your eyes out for Tom’s second book.
An evening of exciting European food with top class avant-garde performances is best spent at The Brickhouse Restaurant on Brick Lane – a fine restaurant and performance supperclub. Experience a unique way of eating in a three level restaurant where the entertainment keeps you up till the wee hours. Upcoming artists include ‘neo-burlesque’ starlet Empress Stah and Brickhouse favourites Ta Mere who plays jazz cabaret, Balkan traditionals, bluegrass, gipsy swing. the list goes on. As for the food, you can select from the a la carte or a six course grazing menu.
I’m sure most of you have heard of the markets at Portobello Road, Camden Lock and Brick Lane, but what about Alfie’s Antiques, Spitalfields Traders’ Market or Borough Food Market?
With around 300 stands and three floors Alfie’s Antiques, is a real treasure for antique enthusiasts, collectors, interior decorators and celebrities in the know. Located at 13-25 Church Street in Marylebone, Alfie’s has a huge selection of genuine items for bargain prices. Art Decorative & Design, Duncan Clarke, Tycho Andrews and Zeitgeist are a few dealers they recently welcomed into their world of antiques.
For vintage clothing, jewellery and accessories, visit Spitalfields Traders Market in Crispin Place not far from Bishopsgate and Liverpool Street. Surrounded by plenty of independent fashion boutiques, restaurants and food shops, the market appeals to people of all ages with the busiest time on Sundays. While you’re there, check out the options at Spitalfields Food Market. The energy smoothies from Jumpin’ Juice are highly recommended.
You can also find refreshing smoothies in Borough Market, a terrific gourmet food market at Southwark Street a few minutes walk from London Bridge. Open Friday 12.00-18.00 and Saturday 09.00-16.00, Borough Market certainly captures the charm of how a real market should be – loud, busy, and (often) crowded. Try Total Organics’ Spanish omelettes for £1.50 per slice, organic take-away falafels from Arabica or delicious pastries, tarts and cakes by Artisan Foods. View a Borough Market map for a full list of traders and locations.
For more tips on what to see and do in London, check out these London blogs:
London Daily Photo – A simple yet interesting blog that showcases a new London photo every day.
The London Review of Breakfasts – From The Bagel Factory and Bar Italia to Carluccio’s, Rivington Grill and Queen’s Wood Café in Highgate, this blog features reviews of the most important meal of the day. A great read for breakfast lovers and those in search of the best breakfast in town.
London Underground – An irreverent and informative blog on everything related to the world of London’s tube system. Featured in the Times, Time Out and Metro.
by Erica Johansson – Blissful Travel