London is a complete and utter pain in the arse. Fortunately, it’s also one of the greatest cities in the world, so you just have to forgive it and get over the fact that mostly everything was built a million years ago, or built into the space of something that was built a million years ago – ie. tiny little Victorian people sized buildings and roads and trains. So there are daily challenges negotiating the city, but every frustrating bus ride or sardine tube journey will always be rewarded by the wealth of opportunity to immerse yourself in anything you could possibly imagine or desire. Food: check! Culture: check! Architecture: check! Royal parks and gardens: check! A limitless supply of wild and imaginative nightlife the likes of which will sometimes overwhelm you: check, check, check! You have to know where to look in a metropolis like London because with such a high density of people, you could easily breeze right by so many discreet doorways, but once you begin to discover how and where London keeps its gems, you’ll be completely spoilt by the quality and vastness of its offerings. It’s my pleasure to share a few with you.
Culture: Sir John Soane’s Museum
Sir John Soane was one of Britain most prolific architects, and a collector to boot. His home has been a public museum since the earth 19th Century because it’s really the most beautiful and inspiring place – MTV Cribs wouldn’t know what hit it! I don’t want to tell you too much, but I will say the following about it: 1. If it’s raining, the staff will come out and provide you with an umbrella while you wait, because you do sometimes have to queue a little to allow for an easy flow for guests through the small rooms and stairwells. 2. If you go on certain evenings, there is a candlelight tour. 3. It’s free. 4. It’s right across the square from the Royal College of Surgeons museum – a great double excursion for an afternoon.
Food: Dalston Pond
As London has probably the biggest (and most integrated) global population of any city in the world, it’s hard to pick just one place to suggest for a meal, or even a nation or genre to go with on any given night. But, since I have to name names, I would say to go treat yourself at Dalston Pond. Tucked away in the yard of the old Stamford Works factory this restaurant is beautifully designed, has an extensive and imaginative cocktail list, and serves “New Hawaiian Cuisine” ie no ham and pineapple! Everything’s delicious…Really. Everything.
Sights: The Rose Garden in Regent’s Park
Regent’s Park is one of London’s many fine royal parks. Having been there a million times in the past, I had never come across the rose garden until a friend told me where to find it, stating that it was a perfectly beautiful and peaceful place to be alone when one needed to indulge in a little “self-loathing”. And sure enough, if you look at a map, it’s there - a quiet, rose scented nook where one can really think things over.
Drinks: P. Franco
There are tons and tons of new businesses to discover and enjoy all over Hackney, and as much as people like to complain (rightly so) about gentrification, the upside is the appearance of great little spots like P. Franco. You can use it as a bottle shop and take out any of the delicious, thoughtfully selected wines, or you can pull up a stool and hang out at the enormous wooden bar. Dan – the least annoying perky Australian you’ll ever meet – has an authoritative knowledge of all their wines (glug glug!) and whenever I’m in need of a quiet place to do some afternoon thinking/writing/reading whilst supping a glass or two, this is my first choice. Bonus point: there is also cheese.
Drinks: Bar Américain at Brasserie Zédel
While we’re talking tipples, we should also address the after work variety. And, as much as it pains me to share this, Bar Américain is the best the best the best! Right in the middle of town, attended by a friendly doorman who is fit for the Ritz, and down a flight of stairs you will find one of the most luxurious American style 1930s art deco bars I have ever had the pleasure to sink a martini or three in. The staff are beyond kindness, and each round of drinks is served with a small portion of salted popcorn. Sit at the bar for the best view of all the gold, marble and dark polished wood panels; or take a booth in the back and enjoy the snugness / smugness!
Text and Photos by Ruth Bartlett