By Anita Draycott | Dec. 21, 2017
Along with the iconic red double-decker buses and architectural landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the Tower of London you’ll find sleek skyscrapers with names such as the Gherkin and Shard puncturing the skyline. Once the capital of fish and chips and pub grub, London is now arguably the gastronomic capital of the world. “Fashionistas,” theatre aficionados, history and culture buffs will all find their just rewards in Great Britain’s remarkable capital.
The Langham, London Perfects the Art of the Stay
The Langham London was opened in 1865 by HRH The Prince of Wales as Europe’s first “Grand Hotel.” The Grand Dame has since welcomed such illustrious guests as Emperor Louis Napoleon during his exile from France, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who used it as a setting for several Sherlock Holmes stories and Princess Diana who was a frequent visitor.
Today the landmark on Regent Street offers guests unparalleled and refined luxury. The Langham is the only five-star property in London to offer a Club Concept. I recently stayed there and had the opportunity to enjoy its Club Privileges. Hassle-free check-in began with being offered a flute of Champagne in the Lounge before being escorted to my room where fresh flowers, ripe figs, and petite macarons awaited. More Club Privileges included breakfast, afternoon tea and evening canapés, fine Champagne and a selection of wines and cocktails. A team of butlers and concierges will serve your favorite tipple and make all sorts of reservations and arrangements.
The Langham’s Roux restaurant offers a five-course tasting menu with wine pairing for £135. For more casual fare the new Wigmore offers modern twists on pub classics, such as masala spiced Scotch egg and ox cheek and ale pie. Should you feel the need to exercise after all these temptations, the Langham’s Chuan Body & Soul Health Club awaits. Take a dip in the pool, have a steam and consider a holistic massage.
Bird’s Eye Views with Bubbles
You could spend about £19 to enjoy the stellar view from the Skydeck of the 95-story Shard, but here’s a better idea. Book a table at Hutong on the 33rd floor and enjoy four-course dim sum lunch with a glass of bubbles for £39.
Another major addition to the city’s skyline is the Coca-Cola London Eye. Climb aboard the world’s tallest “Ferris wheel” and you’ll have 360-degree views of famous landmarks such as Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and River Thames. For £36 you can add a glass of Pommery Brut Royal Champagne to your 30-minute ride.
Borough Market, beside London Bridge, has been around since 1014. Join food writer Celia Brooks for a three-hour Gastro Tour of the market (£75). You will sample an array of treats, including rare breed meats, fine cheeses, super food juices, fresh scallops, olives and antipasti, homemade Turkish meze and more. Two tutored wine tastings are also included.
Eating London’s Twilight Soho Food Tour is a moveable feast that proves that Londoners know how to party. Back in the 1600s, this West End area of London was a green woodland where the wealthy came to hunt. In fact, Bethany, our enthusiastic guide, informed us that “Soho” was a hunting cry—perhaps the equivalent of “Tally ho, I’ve shot a hare!” The Soho area has reincarnated itself many times over the centuries from home to jazz, theatre and rock and roll’s legends, including the Rolling Stones, to gin palaces and brothels. Today it’s home to some outstanding international foodie finds as discovered during our small group’s cocktail crawl. We met a 4:00 p.m. at the Palace Theatre. First stop was Bodega Negra for tacos and margaritas. At the London Gin Club, we enjoyed a G&T and beef pie. Cured Spanish hams and cheese was on offer at Enrique Tomas, At Pix Bar we tried Basque tapas called pintxos with sweet white wine. Up many flights of stairs at Opium we drank a Champagne cocktail out of a teapot and tucked into dim sum dumplings. Our final stop was Basement Sate where we had yet another nightcap and a decadent hazelnut praline pastry. Eating London offers other food tours including a pub walk in the docklands and a curry crawl in Brick Lane.
With her marriage to Prince William in 2011, Kate Middleton became Duchess of Cambridge and one of the most famous women in the world with a style that many “fashionistas” try to emulate.
The Duchess’s wardrobe staples tend to come from British brands. Kings Road is one of her favorite haunts. Before she married, Kate worked as an accessories buyer at Jigsaw.
Head up Sloane Street from the Kings Road and you’ll reach Harvey Nichols. This department store stocks many of the labels that the Duchess wears, including Issa, the London-based label behind the midnight blue dress that she wore when her engagement was announced.
For important occasions, Kate shops at Alexander McQueen where the head designer, Sarah Burton created her wedding dress as well as many other of her red carpet outfits. The flagship store is on Bond Street.
A Spot of Tea
What’s more civilized or British than afternoon tea? It is said that tea breaks increased productivity during the industrial revolution. You can indulge in Britain’s national drink all over London.
Traditional afternoon tea (£60) in the Savoy Hotel’s Thames Foyer is not to be missed. You’ll be served a selection of finger sandwiches, scones with Cornish clotted cream, lemon curd and strawberry preserves followed by some exquisite pastries. Choose from the Savoy’s own blend of breakfast or afternoon tea.
The Sanctum Soho on Warwick Street has created tea just for the boys. Gent’s Afternoon Tea (£50), the ultimate indulgence for the peckish man, includes oyster and Champagne foam, meaty savories, scones and clotted cream, brownie, Chantilly cream and strawberries, a tankard of Jack Daniels Gentleman’s Jack and a cigar on the rooftop.
Twinings Tea Shop has been family-run for 300 years on the same site (210 Strand Street) making it the oldest in London. The combination retail outlet and museum welcomes visitors and offers a free cuppa. The serious tea drinker will enjoy a Twinings two-hour Masterclass (£30) where you will learn all about the history of tea and some tea trivia and sniff and slurp your way through six different brews.
Many of London’s art galleries are free, including the National Gallery, Tate Modern, Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. The theatre scene in London’s West End is second to none. Head to the official TKTS booth in Leicester Square where you’ll find great seats at half the normal price. Another way to bag some bargain tickets is at The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, offering standing tickets every night for ten pence. You have to be quick, as these are first-come-first-served and there are only eight available each night.
The World is Your Oyster
The Visitor Oyster card is a pay-as-you-go smartcard that can be used to pay for all public transport in London. You save 50 percent. For example, a Tube ride in central London costs £2.40 with Oyster or £4.90 with cash. There is also a price cap so you can travel as much as you like and never spend more than £6.60 of credit per day in central London. Buy the Oyster Card at any Tube station.
Let it Rain
Yes, it’s been known to rain on occasion in London. But don’t let a bit of precipitation pre-empt your plans. Established in 1830, James Smith & Sons (53 New Oxford Street) is “where a gentleman buys his umbrella.” In addition to a mind-boggling selection of “brollies,” they also make walking sticks outfitted with corkscrews and flasks. The perfect London souvenir—for both gentlemen and gentlewomen.