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London Insider Secrets

May 8, 2011 By: Mary Winston Nicklin Luxury Travel Advisor
 


 

 

London
London is known for its history and culture, but it’s reinventing itself as a foodie and shopper paradise.

London, the gastronomic capital of the world? The recent comment by Joël Robuchon, one of the world’s most decorated chefs, caused an outcry across the Channel. “Scandaleux!” responded Parisian chefs and their devoted foodie disciples. But there’s truth behind the French chef’s button-pushing antics. With diverse populations from every corner of the globe, London offers every type of cuisine, from innovative street food to multi-course feasts.

It’s not just the dynamic restaurant scene that has transformed this historical city into a cool, contemporary capital. With swank hotels, choice shopping and a wealth of museums and art galleries, London is tough to top. And with the countdown to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Olympic Games in 2012, London has become Europe’s destination du jour. Be part of the buzz with some insider tips from our little black book.

Beyond Bangers ‘n’ Mash

One of the most exciting restaurant openings of the year was Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. The Fat Duck chef swept into the city from his dominion in the Berkshire countryside, where his Michelin three-starred eatery champions molecular gastronomy. In a departure from the Fat Duck, Dinner serves simple, contemporary dishes inspired by Britain’s culinary past (think slow-cooked short rib of beef). London’s best critics agree that the new resto at the Mandarin Oriental lives up to the hype. Note: As the hottest ticket in town, Dinner is fully booked three months in advance. Tip: Forgo dinner at “Dinner” in favor of lunch when tables are easier to come by.

Also at the Mandarin: An outpost of Bar Boulud attracts a chic crowd to nosh on homemade pâtés and gourmet burgers. Since it opened in summer last year, Bar Boulud has remained a tried-and-true hot spot for flirty cocktails. Speaking of burgers, the new Opera Tavern in Covent Garden is making waves for its mini pork-and-foie gras burgers. The husband-and-wife duo behind Salt Yard and Dehesa, two successful tapas restaurants, fixed up a pub in Theatre Land, where aged jamón ibérico is the star of the show.

A short walk away, Dishoom recreates the old Bombay café in London. The restaurant dishes out delicious Bombay eats (think biryani, desi fish fingers and masala prawns). Generally, Dishoom only takes reservations for six or more, but contact Manager Brian Trollip (011-44-20-7420-9320) with special requests.

 

Advisor Insight:

Maria Caruso of Frosch Travel knows whom to contact when she sends her clients to London. “Andrew Stevens of Luxury Vacations UK,” she says. “He can arrange a tour of London’s Museum of Natural History with a real-life Indiana Jones.” (Also known as Dr. Lawrence Owens.)

Shopping and dining are also tops on her lists. “When I’m looking to purchase diamonds, the place to go is Seventy Seven Diamonds,” she says. “For clothing, I like the unique Asian designs of Tamerlane’s Daughters.

Hawksmoor is the new foodie hotspot,” Caruso says. “They have the best steaks in town. I also enjoy Jean-GeorgesSpice Market London in the new W London. For quirky and different, I go to The Folly in the financial district. And it’s surrounded by London’s newest craze, pop-up shops.

For a gourmet meal to remember, head to The Langham Hotel London. The Grande Dame’s always dazzled diners, but last November, kicked it up a notch with the opening of Roux at the Landau. Consider breakfast: The classic British plate—a mess of eggs, bacon, and black pudding—transcends the everyday with a touch of culinary artistry. Perfectly poached eggs, a baked tomato perched on a Portobello mushroom, and premium-quality meat make for some heaven-sent grub. Even before you order, a pot of coffee (painted Langham’s signature pink) arrives at your table with a basket of steaming croissants. With this new venture, culinary stars Albert and Michel Roux Jr. are working together for the first time in 19 years. The Roux brothers (Albert and Michel) started Le Gavroche, Britain’s first-ever Michelin-starred restaurant, in 1967. Albert later handed over the reins to son Michel Roux Jr., and Le Gavroche is still at the forefront of the London dining scene. To book your VIPs at Roux at the Landau, contact Restaurant Manager Franco Becci (franco.becci@langhamhotels.com; 011-44-20-7965-0165).

A word to the wise: An afternoon massage at The Langham’s brand-new Chuan Spa is the ultimate pick-me-up after a day of sightseeing or business meetings. Spa Manager Katie Henry (katie.henry@chuanspa.com; 011-44-20-7973-7550) can arrange a pre-treatment consultation with the Traditional Chinese Medicine specialist on staff.)

Les Deux Salons has also been making headlines. Will Smith and Anthony Demetre, the dream team behind Arbutus in SoHo and Wild Honey in Mayfair, launched the handsome French-style brasserie in October last year to rave reviews. The duo has a penchant for sourcing noble ingredients for affordable meals, and remains true to this credo in the stellar new Covent Garden resto. A glance at the wine list provides a glimpse into the philosophy—almost all the wines are available by the carafe.

Another noteworthy newcomer: the restaurant at the just-opened St. John Hotel. Chef Fergus Henderson, the King of Offal, has a cult following for his “nose-to-tail eating” at the popular St. John Restaurant in the city’s Smithfield neighborhood. Londoners have been drooling over the thought of a new gourmet experience, and on April 2, the boutique hotel-cum-eatery opened on the site of Manzi’s “famous seafood restaurant.” The motto: From “table to bed”—with breakfast as important as the other sittings. The new restaurant even serves Elevenses and Little Bun Moments—to sustain guests through late-morning and mid-afternoon.

Cocktail Culture

London is famous for its after-dark venues, and your clients may want a piece of the action. Start things off right with evening aperitifs at some hot new bars. The ruby-red Amaranto at the new Four Seasons Hotel at Park Lane has a killer cocktail list featuring botanical ingredients inspired by nearby Hyde Park (think lavender bitters, homemade rosemary syrup and freshly picked herbs). Contact Bar Manager Davide Guidi (davide.guidi@fourseasons.com; 011-44-20-7319-5206) with questions.

The libations are equally as impressive at The Savoy. Die-hard fans of the American Bar were concerned that the hotel’s recent renovation—a staggering head-to-toe overhaul that’s the most expensive in British hotel history—would change the famous watering hole. But rest assured—all the décor is the same. So are the lines. Reservations aren’t accepted and would-be imbibers are steered to the adjacent Savoy Museum to kill time. A sexy alternative is the decadent Beaufort Bar, overseen by Manager Shannon McCoy. For an over-the-top indulgence, order the Gilded Cage, a vodka-based drink for two that’s served in an actual bird cage.

We also recommend the Experimental Cocktail Club, hidden behind a nondescript door in Chinatown, and the lounge at the new Zetter Townhouse Hotel, a collaboration with 69 Colebrooke Row. Behind an “apothecary style counter,” mixologists create potent concoctions with old recipes for bitters and herbal remedies.

Shoes, Shaves, and Shops

Mandarin Oriental
Dinner By Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park.

If London is a new culinary destination, it’s long been feted for superlative shopping— from tailored shirts on Mayfair’s Jermyn Street to tins of tea at Fortnum and Mason. The go-to spot for fashion is Selfridges department store, the icon on Oxford Street that boasts the biggest shoe department in the world. Behind a dramatic Tudor facade, Liberty also offers a sublime shopping experience. What started as a fabric shop in 1875 has become a temple to luxury goods and cutting-edge design.

The newest shopping mecca is One New Change, on Cheapside in the heart of the city. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the contemporary building has extraordinary views of St. Paul’s Cathedral through walls of glass. Even the elevator—which whisks visitors to the outdoor roof terrace and restaurant—frames London’s architectural landmark. One New Change has 60 stores spanning three floors; Gordon Ramsay will open a restaurant there in summer this year.

 

Bombay Cafés
Dishoom draws heavily from the heritage and tradition of the old Bombay Cafés.

Barbershop loyalists shouldn’t miss the new Covent Garden flagship for Murdock London, the traditional English brand devoted to high-end male grooming. Pick up some grooming accessories or take a seat in one of the 1930s-style barber chairs for a haircut, wet shave, or beard trim by barbers Emmett and David.

For a peek inside the farm-to-table movement that’s redefining British cuisine, take a stroll through Borough Market on the south side of the Thames. Sprawling under the railway viaducts near Southwark Cathedral, the city’s largest outdoor market is mobbed by foodies. It is open every morning, but the general public stocks up on fresh produce on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Note: After 11 a.m. on Saturday, the market is jam-packed.


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About the Author: Mary Winston Nicklin