Posting the best places to go to in London is a non-trivial task that could (and has), taken over an entire blog, but as I am writing this I am thinking where would I like to go if I was only visiting for a few days (after having lived there for 9 years).
What is nice about London is that, even though it is not that big, it has a lot of “centers” and neighborhoods so as you change areas it could feel a different country, it has bars and restaurants suited for every taste: alternative, posh, avant garde, casual/cool, gourmet, cheap, extravagant. I think one should try a little bit of everything, as this diversification is one of London’s fortes.
Where to Eat
Casual/Cheap/Cool & MUST
Pizza East (Notting Hill or Shoreditch) Amazing for pizza, but also for nibbles, and mostly for the cool atmosphere and great value/money. A must to catch the cooler London scene, but be prepared to queue (especially for Portbello one that is smaller and doesn’t take reservations) (£25 each with wine)
Barrafina Undoubtedly the best Spanish tapas in London, but also the smallest place. The quality is superb as it is cooked right there and then, the prices are reasonable and it is great for sharing. Open for lunch and dinner every day but be prepared to queue unless you go at 11:30, or 17:30. There is only a tiny bar and no tables, so not suitable for more than 3-4 people. 54 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SL, 02078138016 (£45 each with wine)
Polpo The most famous cichetti (Venetian tapas) in London. The choice is short but great for sharing and nibbling while drinking. One can spot its popularity from the fact that it is always full (and unfortunately it doesn’t take reservations for dinner). If you can’t get at table you can try its little sisters: Da Polpo, Spuntino, Polpetto, nearby and equally great. 41 Beak st, W1F 9SB, 020 7734 4479 (£35 each with wine)
José Latest opening for Spanish tapas. Despite its location (a bit far from the center) it is worth it, especially for a long lunch. 104 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3UB, 02074034902
For the gourmands (Michelin star, formal, expensive & once in a lifetime experiece)
Marcus Wareing My personal favorite of its type. After the departure of Gordon Ramsey, (it used to be called Petrus), the place has revamped, and if you would like to try one of its type (ie long tasting menu, Michelin star, gourmet, unique, expensive but fantastic) this is the one. Berkley Hotel, Wilton Place, SW1X 7RL, Knightsbridge, 02072356000 (£120 each with wine)
The Ledbury Two Michelin star restaurant that some say it could be the best in London. Similar to the others of its type, it is unique but with a more English touch. The atmosphere is quite formal even though it doesn’t feel pretentious. 127 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, W11 2AQ, 02077929090 (£140 each with wine)
Dinner by Heston One of the best new openings in 2011, as well as the latest Michelin star winner. Heston Blumenthal’s latest opening is a must (if you manage to get a table), he is afterall the owner of Fat Duck, and the first molecular cuisine chef of the UK. The English oriented menu, the unique presentation and the immaculate quality make it a winner. Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA, 02072013833 (£80 each with wine)
Others not to miss
Tinello Italian, ex Locanda Locatelli chef, great value/money, cool ambience, excellent food (for sharing too). 87 Pimlico Road – London, SW1W 8PH, 020 7730 3663, $$$ (around £40 each with wine)
Nopi From the infamous Ottoleghi chef, this new Middle East/Italian influenced, casual, great for those who like to try non standard dishes. The rabbit pastilla is a must. It is also great for shopping break (or dinner). Food sharing is not an option. 21-22 Warwick Street, 0207494 9584 (around £40 each with wine)
Santa Maria del Buen Ayre Best steaks in London but you have to travel to Hackney. It is on the same street as Broadway Market so one can combine the two. The platter to share is a good choice for a larger group and for those indecisive ones. 50 Broadway Market, London, E8 4QJ, 02072759900 (£45 each with wine)
Dinings One of the best Japanese in London, even though it is not as buzzy, hip and posh as Zuma/Nobu/Roka, the food is fantastic. It is extremely small (and lower ground), but it adds to the whole image of the place. 22 Harcout st, W1H 4HH, 020 7723 0666 (£50 each with wine)
St John For those who like to try something different (like bone marrow on toast), for those who like to drink and for those who appreciate English food St John is a must (was also the fastest rising restaurant in the St Pellegrino’s list in 2009). It is not for everyone, but if you do go pre-order madeleines and crumble, they are both to die for. 26 St John st, EC1M 4AY, 02072510848 (£50 each with wine)
Worth a visit despite the extravagance (even though old news)
Tom’s kitchen: in my opinion, the best burger and brunch in London. I don’t like it as much for dinner, even though it captures the South Ken scene. Make sure to book as it often gets full, even though the seats at the bar are usually available. 27 Cale Street, Chelsea, London, SW3 3QP, 02073490202 (£30 each)
The Providores: also at the top for brunch, even though the choice is smaller as it only has a brunch menu. The quality, the ambiance and the location are a winner. It doesn’t take reservations so be prepare to queue (brunch served only on weekends, it is a tapas place on weekdays and dinner). 109 Marylebone High Street, W1U 4RX, 02079356175
Automat American brasserie with fantastic English and American brunch on weekends (until 16:00). We especially like the pancakes and the burger with fried egg and bacon.
So many new places are open that it is impossible to try everything in one trip. I have recently been to Duck Soup a casual New York style bar/restaurant in the heart of Soho, very creative dishes but would prefer it for bar food. MeatLiquor is the best new places for burgers (only) with the longest queue I have ever seen (no reservations policy). Burger & Lobster (sister of Goodmans), also new that serves only (guess what), burgers and lobster for £20 each, even though MeatLiquor is far better. Again no reservations policy, hence long wait expected. Finally, Roganic, Dabbous, Pizzaro all new and very very popular (Dabbous reservation queue is something like 3 months) so book early!
Where to Drink
Experimental Bar: 3 floor bar in the center of China Town, through a door that looks like the back entrance of a Chinese restaurant. Fantastic cocktails (indeed experimental), and great chilled out but elegant atmosphere. It takes reservations on weekdays, and gets packed every day so go early as they refuse entrance when it gets crowded. Leicester Square, London
Lounge Lover: Lovely bar on the east side of London, part of the Trois Garcons group, elegant and cool, definitely worth it if you are near. Extremely close to Pizza East, The Boundary and Trois Garcons and BBB, so a combination with dinner in one of the places is good. Shoreditch, London
Purl: Relatively new bar near Baker street, good for a sit down drink with friends rather than a lively night out, but definitely worth a try, even a pre-dinner drink. It takes reservations so make sure to reserve if you go late. Off Baker street, London
The Oak: One of my personal favourites not only for drinks, but dinner as well. The bar upstairs is great for a sit down or a drink at the bar with a vintage/retro kind of décor and cool crowd. It serves nibbles, but it closes at 11:00. The restaurant downstairs is great for wood oven pizzas in a loud and casual room with a few tables outside (if you are lucky to get one). They don’t take reservations but it is a perfect opportunity to try the bar upstairs while waiting. Notting Hill, London.
Montgomery Place: Small bar in the center of Notting Hill serving fantastic cocktails. One of the few in the area that stay open until 1am.
Bart’s: Small bar in the center of South Kensington, located in a residential building inside a flat. There is no sign whatsoever and one has to ring a bell to enter. Don’t be intimidated as it is not difficult to get in if in a small group. It gets extremely packed on weekends so go early to avoid any problems at the door. Sloane Avenue, South Kensingon
Hotel bars: Sanderson’s, Asia di Cuba, Town Hall, Bistrot Bob Loubet, Charlotte St Hotel, Soho hotel
Where to Stay
We love Firmdale hotels, especially Charlotte Street Hotel and Soho Hotel for their cool crowd, the non-stop buzz and the central locations.
If you don’t mind going a bit to the east Zetter Townhouse is also hip and trendy with a lovely bar whereas Town Hall (even further east) is not far behind, home to the lovely Viajante from the molecular cuisine chef and Ferran Adriá protégé, Nuno Mendes.
Cheaper and more central places to stay are Mandeville, Westbury and Cumberland hotels if you don’t mind sacrificing a bit of style to save some dosh.
Tour bus: I remember the first time I went to London I couldn’t wait to get in a taxi and look around while he was driving us to our destination. 15 years later, it is still one of my favorite things. For this reason for the ones who go for the first time the tour bus is a nice way to get the gist, but Only the one that drives around for a couple of hours, and NOT a proper one day tour that takes you to all the museums and sites…not everything is worth it
Madame Tussaud’s: No matter how old you are, it is still fun
Tate Modern: If you like art this is the place to go to, not only for the fantastic building that used to be a factory, but for the upcoming area as well
Leicester sq & Covent Garden: Very touristic but worth a visit as they are the center of Theaterland, Trafalgar Square, Opera House and Cinema Land. W hotel and St John Hotel are great for a drink if you are there.
Borough Market (only on Saturday’s): if you like food markets this is the place to go to. Wrights Brothers is great for lunch you are there (unless you want to eat ostrich burgers and paellas from the market)
Portobello Market (only on Saturdays): mostly clothes and antiques (unlike Borough Market). It is more touristic but still worth a visit at least once. Electric Brasserie, Pizza East or the Italians on Kensington Park Road are also a good choice for lunch
Columbia Flower Market (Sunday) & Broadway market (Saturday): for the ones who are looking for something different from the ordinary center, both of these are fantastic to get a gist for the upcoming areas of London (Brawn, Bistroteque and Santa Maria del Buen Ayre are fantastic and MUST if you are in the area).
Make sure to
Go to a pub in the afternoon, some of my favourites were Pig’s Ear, Builder’s Arms and Wesbourne Tavern
Stay out all day and spend it in Soho, have lunch at Nopi, walk around Oxford/Regend street, go for early drinks at French House followed by dinner at Barrafina, Polpo (or its little sisters Polpetto, Da Polpo and Spuntino) and stay end the night at Experimental Bar in China Town (ask around if you can’t find it as the door has no signs)
Have brunch on Saturday and Sunday Roast on Sunday
If you are really in the foodie scene check out pop-up places or secret dinners (Young Turks, The Clove Club, The Loft, Patrón Club are one of the most popular)
Go to a theater, get Time Out or use my best friend, Google, to get the latest plays. If you are into musicals you could try one, even though quite cliché
Make sure not to
Go to restaurants without reservations. If they have a walk-in policy go very early or very late
Underestimate the prices, everything is more expensive than what websites say
Spend your days in museums, the real life is the diversified people, the avant garde restaurants, the different neighborhoods (or “centers” as I call them)
This it neither Athens, nor Paris…people eat early and drink early. Due to the need to adapt I used to ALWAYS have drinks before dinner, rather than after so by 12 o’clock I was done, and had all day the next day
click here for the latest London update as of March 2012