I started travelling at the age of 7, when my father was posted to Bangkok. (In those not-so-VERY-far-off days we went by sea, from Southampton to Penang, and thence by train!) Since then, I have had the privilege of living on four continents, and visiting a great many countries.
I returned to London in 2001, after ten years in Chile and Croatia (and beyond). It was good to be able to enjoy all the museums and galleries, and especially the theatre. And at the beginning of 2008 I retired, to Rio, my first posting, where I enjoy long walks along the spectacular beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana (both around 500m from the flat), as well as further travels farther afield. See my Rio pages for restaurant tips here.
I enjoy exploring new areas of London, and amongst my more recent "discoveries" was lovely Holland Park, in Kensington, west London. Beautiful gardens, a gallery, a theatre hosting opera later in the summer, and - would you believe it - a Youth Hostel right in the middle, which must be one of the best located in the world!
Also nearby Leighton House, the (virtually unknown) 19th century home and studio of Frederic, Lord Leighton, the painter and sculptor, with a simply amazing Arab Hall with 17/18th century tiles brought from Damascus...
An excellent way of discovering lesser-known London is through the organised walks run by London Walks (www.walks.com). Each costs around GBP 5.50, and is conducted by an informative and entertaining guide.
For a helpful guide to the West End and South Bank, now linked by a spectacular pedestrian bridge, see http://www.southbanklondon.com/walk_this_way/golden_jubilee_bridges_walk.htm
"A Estrela", South Lambeth Road
This is an excellent, simple bistro-cum-bar serving first-rate, authentic Portuguese dishes at remarkably low prices. Try the rissois de camarao (prawn pasties) or caldeirada de peixe (rich fish stew), washed down with Portuguese beer or wine. It's on the 88 bus route from Trafalgar Square to Clapham Common. The service can be terrible (especially if there's Portuguese football on their cable TV!) Nevertheless, warmly recommended.
I've lived for 6 years in the sub-continent, and love Indian cuisine. This ex-imperial capital is one of its best exponents (ditto Chinese, in Chinatown). Try, for example, the dim sum at Chuen Cheng Ku, 17 Wardour St. or Joy King Lau in Leicester St (both just N. of Leicester Sq), which is unpretentious, inexpensive and delicious. Even better, though, is the dim sum at the much more up-market and stylish Yauatcha, also in Soho, on the corner of Broadwick and Berwick Streets.
For authentic, typical North Indian cooking, go to Gaylord in Mortimer St (just N. of Oxford Circus), a branch of the N. Indian chain, and a favourite of several of my Indian friends. These days, tho', I find this a little heavy, and prefer the lighter, modern take offered by the long-established Veeraswamy's, just off Regent St, by Austin Reed. Even better, tho', is Zaika, with a Michelin star, on Kensington High St. Extremely good-value lunchtime and early evening deals for both the latter are sometimes available thro' lastminute.com or top.table.co.uk. A newer arrival is Chowki, just off Piccadilly Circus, which offers a small selection of tasty regional dishes in a menu which changes every month, at very reasonable prices. And a more recent discovery is the opulently-decorated and authentic "Chor Bizarre", also near Piccadilly Circus, a branch of the Delhi original.
For "cheap and cheerful" Bangladeshi meals, Brick Lane in the East End is very popular. Or further afield, Madhu's in Southall is excellent. Or, for really authentic N. Indian/Pakistani dishes at dirt-cheap prices, Mirch Marsala in Tooting.
"The Lobster Pot", 3 Kennington Park Road, South London
This is a surprising, slightly eccentric French restaurant in a run-down part of S. London, close to Kennington tube. It specialises in seafood, and portholes around the walls look onto aquaria! The service (from all-French staff) was friendly and efficient, and the atmosphere informal. We ate lobster au gratin, followed by bouillabaisse, both excellent, with very fresh ingredients. With a glass of house white, mineral water and coffee the bill came to £36 per head (service included). Not exactly cheap, then, but not bad in London, for a very enjoyable meal.
J. Sheekey, 28-32 St. Martin's Court,
For a celebratory meal I strongly recommend J. Sheekey's, in an inconspicuous alley next to Leicester Square tube, which is every bit as good as this sister restaurant to the more famous Ivy is cracked up to be. A series of oak-panelled rooms in theatreland, bedecked with signed photographs of the many stage stars who have eaten there over the years. Excellent, attentive service, and no silly dress policy or sniffiness over our deciding on beer rather than wine, and sharing a dessert. It specialises in seafood, and so we enjoyed (between three of us) oysters, tiger prawns and linguine allla vongole, followed by grilled squid, seared tuna, and fish pie, and iced berries in a warm chocolate sauce. Apart from slightly rubbery squid, uniformly excellent, and - at GBP32 a head - really pretty good value, for one of the top five restaurants in London.
Rules, 35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7LB
London's oldest restaurant (founded 1798), specialising in game and other traditional English fare. We thoroughly recommend it. We enjoyed scallops with cheese/ cooked oysters with spinach/ potted shrimp, followed by roast grouse/ partridge/ pheasant casserole, and something chocolaty with banana. Three courses with (good) house claret and water cost GBP 46 per head - ok, not cheap, but this was a memorable meal. PS - after another recent visit, at lunchtime, I must tell you that the steak and kidney pie is to die for!
Sakura, 9 Hanover St, London W1
An authentic and unpretentious Japanese restaurant near Oxford Circus, offering very good food at moderate prices. Nothing to look at, and unknown to most guidebooks, but very popular with the Japanese community (when we ate lunch there on a Sunday it was crowded, and I think we were the only Western guests). The set menus offer a good-value assortment of small main dishes, eg sashimi, prawn and vegetable tempura, and beef teriaki. We were intoduced to it by a friend who was entertained to lunch there one day, and liked it so much that he returned on the same day for dinner!
Arbutus, 63-64 Frith St., Soho
Currently (July 2007) my top recommendation for modern European. The best meal we've eaten in quite a long time. We had an early dinner after watching the beginning of the Tour de France - just one main course each, plus one desert shared between four, one (good, Chilean) bottle of wine, iced tap water, and coffee. All delicious - "historic", as Michael Winner would say. Organic Welsh beef was melt-in-the mouth, chocolate desert orgasmic. Service very friendly and helpful. c. £30 per head. Thoroughly recommended - we'll be back.
12 St. George St.
London, United Kingdom W1
A newly-opened sister restaurant to Arbutus (above), where I reserved a table last week (Sept '07) when A. was fully booked. Excellent food, service and ambience, and exceptional value in the pre-theatre menu, which we all (five) enjoyed. Tete de veau and slow-cooked beef were both a delight, though the miniscule portion of (delicious) blue cheese was slightly disappointing. Strongly recommended - the first Michelin star must be on its way.
No visit to UK is complete without a visit to a typical pub, where you should try (at least once!) real ale (also called cask-conditioned bitter). This is not really served warm: it should be cool, at cellar temperature, but not chilled.
Pubs in central London are expensive. A good chain to look out for throughout Britain, though, is JD Wetherspoon's, whose pubs (often with the word "Moon" in their titles, after George Orwell's imaginary favourite) offer a good range of real ales at below-average prices, decent if unmemorable food, and no music. For example, in summer enjoy a lunchtime pint in the sunshine outside "The Moon Under Water" on Leicester Square, right by the half-price theatre ticket booth. Or there's another branch, formely a bank, at the top of Whitehall.
No visitor should leave London without having gone to the theatre (of which the city may claim to be the world capital). Tickets are expensive (over GBP50 for the best seats), but you can buy unsold seats for that day's matinee or evening performances from the official half-price outlet (now called TKTS) in Leicester Square, just behind the National Gallery. Don't normally expect to find "Phantom" or "Mamma Mia!", but tickets for most shows are usually available, particularly between Monday and Thursday. Expect to queue. You can now check out half-price availabilty for today's shows at http://www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/tkts/today.
Personal Pages (2)
Written May 30, 2006
Written May 30, 2006
Chelsea Flower Show, May 2006
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