On March 13, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:There are at least 300 languages spoken on the streets of London, and probably not far off that many different types of cuisine available, if you look around. And not just the big ones like Chinese, French, Turkish, Thai, Italian, and the like. If you search hard enough, you can also eat like a Georgian, a Peruvian, an Ecuadorian, a Nepali, an Eritrean, and many more
One trend that doesn't seem to be going away, however, is the Londoner's love of Americana. It's nigh-impossible to get a short-notice table at Balthazar, the latest Franco-New York sensation to hit Covent Garden. There are no advanced reservations at tiny Pitt Cue, in Soho. The vibe is southern-rustic; pair a simple meat and side combo (say, beef ribs and green chilli slaw) with something from the bourbon list.
Further east, Dukes Brew and Que is another southern-style rib joint. The meat in the sliders is slow-cooked til it melts; the pork ribs look like they've been pulled from a dinosaur. It also has its own microbrewery (Beavertown)—one of the most innovative in the city—and a wide range of tap and bottled beers sourced from London and the USA. The menu is even simpler at stripped-brick, Brooklyn-style Burger & Lobster, a branch of the mini-chain next to Smithfield meat market. Pick a burger, or a lobster, or burger and lobster... and throw back a cocktail or two on the side. It's loud and informal and bags of fun.
On March 12, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:To do high tea in style, you really need to be in a top Mayfair hotel, and there’s nowhere in London with the cachet of Claridge's. Tea in this Art Deco hotel is taken in the Foyer and Reading Room, with a pianist for company, masses of black and herbal teas to choose between, and a never-ending supply of finger sandwiches and freshly-baked pastries and scones. There are four of sittings, but tea guests are never rushed or made to feel like they have outstayed their welcome. Claridge's classic tea costs £45 including service.
The phrase ‘tea at the Ritz’ just trips off the tongue, and this is another regal West End hotel that should definitely be on the shortlist. High tea in the gilded rococo surrounds of the Palm Court a lavish affair, with teapots and cutlery all in fine silver, replenished plates of sandwiches, petits fours and scones—if you book one of the early slots (11.30am and 1.30pm), you can certainly skip lunch. You almost expect to bump into Hercule Poirot at any moment. Tea at the Ritz also costs £45 per person.
These are London's marquee tea venues, so you will need to book way ahead—months in advance for popular periods like high summer or Christmas. Dress up for either—a jacket and tie is required at the Ritz.
On March 11, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:London is an incredibly green city—there are roughly 7 million trees within the city limits, and both the centre and its outer boroughs have a fine crop of parks.
Among the central parks, Hyde Park is the marquee name. Follow Rotten Row, the first London "street" (actualy a bridleway) to have gas lighting installed—it was where King William III used to ride out in the late 1600s. Kids will love to boat on the Serpentine or to play on the pirate ship in the Diana Memorial Playground, in neighbouring Kensington Gardens. The playground was named in honour of the late Princess Di.
If you want a view of nearby Buckingham Palace, however, take your camera to the bridge over the lake in nearby St. James's Park. The weeping willows and other lakeside trees frame the palace perfectly.
For a view over the entire centre of London, climb Primrose Hill, a public park in Camden, and just north of Regents Park. The entire city is laid out below like a postcard.
There's another great view from the top of Greenwich Park, in the southeast of the city. The park was used as a venue for the 2012 Olympic equestrian events, and a decent snowfall even brings out the odd snowboarder. The top of its hill is crowned by the Greenwich Observatory, where the Prime Meridian lies. There's always a long line of visitors waiting in line for the classic shot, with one foot in the eastern hemisphere and the other in the west.
On March 8, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:Kids love a boat ride, and with so much of London historically built to “face” the River Thames, taking to the water gives you the view of the Tower of London, Somerset House, and even the Houses of Parliament that their builders’ originally intended.
The Thames Clipper service connects Westminster with Greenwich and beyond, all day, every day. The service is even used by some London commuters. There are stops en route at Tate Modern and the Tower of London, but alight at Greenwich to explore one of London’s original “clippers”, the masted Cutty Sark, which reopened to visitors in 2012 after a calamitous fire almost destroyed it. A hop-on, hop-off day ticket on the Thames Clipper—known as a "River Roamer"— costs £13.80 for adults, £6.80 for kids. You get a 10 percent discount if you flash your Oyster Card.
London also has an extensive canal network, dating to the days when many of the suburbs were industrialized. You can sail from Camden Lock through Regent's Park to Little Venice with the London Waterbus Company. A round trip costs £10.30 for adults and £8.40 for kids.
On February 28, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:Chances are you are considering a night out in Theatreland, at one of the shows running in the theaters around Covent Garden. But the food offering at most theatres is limited, and you don’t want to sit in the auditorium for three hours feeling hungry.
L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon has the West End’s best fine-dining pre-theater deal. It is a Michelin-rated two star venue close to Cambridge Circus. The inside is arranged around an open kitchen and counter, Japanese-style. The food is French in heritage, but modern and precise in its presentation and concentration of flavour. At £28 for two courses, £33 for three it offers outstanding value for the quality of the cuisine.
Nearby Dishoom is a designer take on the Irani cafes of colonial-era Mumbai. You can’t book a table, but there is a cocktail bar downstairs where you can have a drink and bar snacks while you wait. Staff is very efficient at seating you. The menu offers classic Indian grills, but you will usually find the real gems on the specials board.
For something more traditional, J. Sheekey plays to its strengths: fish and shellfish, including halibut, sole, a fruits de mer platter, and daily-changing market specials. Or just drop into the Oyster Bar for a platter and something sparkling to wash it down. The place is a Theatreland institution.
On February 27, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:Religion may not be the force in London society that it once was, but the city’s history has bequeathed a fine crop of churches that are well worth a visit.
St. Paul’s Cathedral famously survived the World War II bombs during the Blitz, when all around it was destroyed. Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece of “English baroque” architecture replaced an earlier cathedral on the site that perished in the Great Fire of London, in 1666. If you have a head for heights, climb up to the dome for an earful of the unique acoustics of the Whispering Gallery.
Westminster Abbey has an equally noble heritage. It was inaugurated—in what was then the separate city of “West Minster”—for the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066. Substantially rebuilt in the 1200s, it is considered one of the iconic examples of English Gothic architecture. You could write a textbook on the façade alone.
But Westminster Abbey isn’t the city’s oldest church. Not even close. That honor falls (probably—many City churches are so old that it’s tricky to be certain) to All Hallows by the Tower. The church of William Penn’s baptism and John Quincy Adams’ marriage has a still-standing Saxon arch that dates to the 7th century. Catch it at a quiet time and it’s especially atmospheric to wander in the undercroft and crypt.
If you want to attend a service in one of the City's any historic churches, the Friends of the City Churches keeps an online diary.
On February 27, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:Charles De Gaulle famously declared France to be ungovernable… thanks to it having over 300 different types of cheese. If anyone is counting, Great Britain has a similar number, and London has some outstanding cheesemongers that stock the best of it.
Neals Yard Dairy has a couple of branches, one close to foodie Borough Market and the other near Covent Garden. Each sells carefully selected cheeses from the British Isles. The exact selection (and hiow each tastes) varies with the season, but always includes the best West Country cheddars, washed-rind cheeses, goats, blues, and more. It is the best place to buy Brit cheeses in London. You are encouraged to taste and talk to get a sense of what exactly you want before buying.
La Fromagerie casts a wider net for its supplies. The selection is really strong on cheeses from France and Italy: Castelmagno, Gorgonzola, goat’s cheeses from the Loire, and much more all sold from a specially chilled cheese room. La Fromagerie is an excellent source of advice on cheese and wine matches: with their help, you could plan yourself a perfect picnic.
Androuet, in Old Spitalfields Market, has a narrower selection, but it’s also impeccably sourced. The last aged Comté I bought from there was the best I've ever tasted.
Wherever you buy, remember to let the cheesemonger know if you are planning to take it home; they will wrap it properly for the journey.
On February 26, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:The best way to see the city is from street level, and under your own steam. Of course, London is too big for you to walk everywhere. But there are reputable, locally-run walking tours that will lead you around the rapidly-changing eastern part of the centre.
Shoreditch and the East End streets around Brick lane are the hub of London's street art scene. The walls of the neighbourhood are decorated with an ever-changing set of works, including by major names like Roa, Thierry Noir, and Banksy – you just need to know where to look for it. There are insider, two-hour walking tours led by Alternative London and Street Art London.
The classic East End bone-chiller is a Jack the Ripper walk on the streets around Christ Church Spitalfields, where "Jack" murdered his way into world infamy in the 1880s. There are tacky versions, but the nightly London Walks version is tastefully and respectfully guided, and led by a genuinely expert Ripper historian on two or three nights of each week.
For a completely different angle on the Shoreditch streets, Unseen Tours runs walks led by homeless and formerly homeless guides around the streets where they once lived (or still do). Opinions are forthright and personal, but the local "alt-history" is impeccably researched. And this is no stunt: the tours won the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Award in 2011.
On February 16, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:London has a great crop of museums for science-minded visitors.
The Science Museum itself is one of the headline grabbers, part of the museum complex built in South Kensington during Victorian times. The collection is vast (too much to see in one visit), and definitely up-to-date: at Google’s Chrome Web Lab exhibits run simultaneously in a futuristic lab and online. The museum shop is one of London's best spots for buying an affordable, science-related gift.
The Hunterian Museum, based inside London's Royal College of Surgeons, has been collecting medical and anatomical curios for 200 years – 2013 is bicentenary year, with a bunch of events and free lectures planned for later in the year. The collection is occasionally grisly (lots of specimens in glass jars), but always fascinating and well curated, and includes the skeleton of Jonathan Wild, a “thief-taker” turned organized criminal who was hanged for his crimes in 1725.
At the Wellcome Collection, exhibits focus around medicine and its role in shaping the way we live. Its eclectic temporary exhibitions are usually top-quality, too; until Febraury 24, 2013, “Death: a self-portrait” uses a variety of media to examine public attitudes to dying.
On February 12, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:Many of London’s museums are well geared up for a family visit.
Sunday is the day to visit the National Gallery, Britain’s repository of paintings and sculpture from the Medieval period to the Impressionists. Under-5s can join in an imaginative Magic Carpet Storytelling session in front of a different painting each week. There’s hands-on painting and drawing sessions aimed at 5- to 11-year-olds. It’s all free, and there’s no need to book, but a donation when you leave is always appreciated.
At Tate Britain, there’s an ever-changing weekend and school-holiday program of interactive activities aimed at kids and families. Most of it involves getting up-close with the exhibits, which center on British art over the ages—its Turner and Pre-Raphaelite painting collections are the best in the world. Tate Britain even has a dedicated kids website where little ones can download coloring books and upload their own art.
Children are also encouraged to get creative at the Geffrye Museum, a series of re-staged domestic interiors from the 17th century to the present day set inside a Hoxton alms-house terrace. Their free family programs run weekend afternoons and during school holidays.
On February 11, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:The attraction of Islington as an antiques shopping destination is pretty much evergreen, but the borough's interest as an after-dark hangout waxes and wanes. The recent opening of a handful of craft beer bars have given it a real shot.
Craft Beer Co. probably has the most skilful beer sourcing operation in London—you will find 30 or so on tap at any one time at any of its three London bars. Brews from the likes of Danish cult brewers Mikkeller and Evil Twin are never cheap, but Craft’s comfy fireside chairs are just the spot to sample them. Decadent.
The Earl of Essex is a traditional neighbourhood pub with a Cheers-style central bar that got a refit and a small brewery installed in 2012. It gets busy on weekends, but during the week is a great place to sample some of Britain’s best traditional beers, alongside rye and wheat beers and occasional intriguing oddballs like ginger ale.
It's a little out of the way, at the northern reaches of Islington, but the meticulously sourced bottle fridge at the Hops and Glory makes for a worthwhile journey. Some of London’s most exciting new microbreweries such as Partizan are well represented. The bar only reopened just before Christmas 2012, and you will usually find a spot on one of its clubby, leather sofas if you arrive early.