My goal in London was to see a majority of these neighborhoods and peoples on foot, while eating really good food. This is an account of my recommendations and thoughts based on personal research and experience. It is not intended to be comprehensive.
I was able to see several neighborhoods at the center of London.
Soho, Mayfair, and Saville Row
Mayfair exudes old money. It reminds me of the upper West Side in NY, with smaller buildings. I lunched at Fera inside the Claridge Hotel. That hotel is lavish. There are suited courtiers everywhere ensuring the satisfaction of the guests. Ornate molding and high ceilings give a royal feel.
I wandered Soho and Savile Row. Savile Row, London’s garment district, is speckled with haberdashers adorned in slim-cut suits and fine leather shoes. Soho is more relaxed. Avoid Leicester Square. It’s a tourist zoo. I spent one evening listening to pop/dance music at O’Neill’s in Soho. Londoners can get down like the rest of us over here on the left side of the pond. O’Neill’s was a fun place to dance and enjoy London’s nightlife without spending too much. Cover was $10 and I only had one drink, which my friend bought me. Thanks Keny 😉
I visited the campuses of LSE and Imperial College of London, both nestled quietly within a few city blocks of each other in Aldywch. I was excited to check off visits to the #25 and #8 universities in the world within a 5 minute walk of each other. Both host old stone architecture which speaks of a long gone era of holistic and virtuous pedagogy focused on cultivating the person and the intellect in a way that prepares students to first be, then do. Not vice-versa.
A beautiful area on the eponymous south shore of the Thames. This is home to a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Borough Market, and views of the Thames along a long walkway. It’s an area worth a stroll if just to see the choppy Thames course through London with surprising force. It filled its banks the day I was there like a muddy and tumultuous bathtub.
I was thoroughly disappointed. It’s a drab stone building in a park that needs powerwashing. This feels like a place tourists need to tick off the list. I wouldn’t skip it because of it’s historical importance. But, I would limit my time on the campus. I also saw Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. Both were neat to see in person. The scale is impressive. The crowds on a Saturday were unbearable.
A massive department store of the uber-wealthy in London. I was impressed with the selection of exotic foods. Foie gras, smoked fishes, cured meats, intricate pastries and chocolates. I never thought I’d see a place with vastly better quality fresh prepared foods than Whole Food and Wegmans.
City of London Walking Tour
I spent the day wandering with a fellow hostel mate, Keny, a Dominican living in Switzerland. We took the public & free “Strawberry” tour. This was a nice way to get a visual history of the city while chatting with travelers. This tour explored the “City of London”, an enclave within the larger London. The City of London houses much of the original architecture from London’s olden-day.
After the tour, my new friend Keny and I walked through Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, and Harrod’s. We put in 11 miles walking. We enjoyed the weather and the stately British architecture despite the massive crowds.
At the end of the day I met up with my old floormate at McGill, Graeme. It was excellent to see him. We caught up and swapped old stories over pints.
Southhampton Football Match
I wanted to see an English Premier League match. No games were going on in London during my stay. I made my way by train to Southampton to see the local squad take on West Ham. The match was phenomenal. The crowd was raucous. The pints were cheap. The home team triumphed in the 90th minute on a penalty kick. I couldn’t ask for a more fun sporting day.
The was the only great reasonably-priced meal I had in London, save perhaps for the Kebab I had during a late night drinking.
The beef is fresh, smoothly ground, and the toppings are generous and well-suited for the burger. The bun was chewy and soft, but did not dominate the dish. I chose the Honest Burger and I’d recommend you check out any of the burgers from this popular chain.
I was disappointed with the street food of London. All the top rated places I found were serving mediocre to good food. Nothing spectacular except this burger.
Imperial War Museum
Several friends recommended this museum. It is thorough, fun, hands-on, and easy to pass through at one’s own pace. The exhibits were informative without being dry. Multimedia elements made the wars of Britain come to life. I learned about WW1 (the section I went through) from a new perspective. Allot 90 minutes per war section, even if you’re going quickly. The exhibits are thorough.
Fera (food review)
I had lunch inside the Claridge hotel at Fera, which was my favorite meal of my trip. Fera is a Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant cooking refined tasting menus. I had the dining room to myself, which is a fanciful and ornate homage to London’s art deco era.
Fera exhibited excellent execution and flavor combinations in exquisite beauty. The service was phenomenal. I’m not sure how Fera was empty when I went for lunch.
I ordered the Lunch tasting menu.
The first treat from the chef was a delicate chickpea crisp with a light herb créme. The flavors were light and complex, cooling and herbal. What began with a petal, continued with the smooth creaminess accompanied by a soft touch of goat’s cheese, and ended with the light crisp of a cracker. Excellent start.
For the first course, the cured trout was pickly, but not overpowering. Peach and dill balanced the fish.
Their take on pea soup was excellent. It cleansed the palate. The soup was light and foamy and yet powerful in it’s flavor.
Definitely order the snack supplement.
The rabbit fritter was insane. Perfectly executed rabbit, fatty and well seasoned encased inside a light panko crust.
The calamari bite was delightful. Acidic flavors brought my palate back in balance with soft squid and a light dust of seasonings.
The bread service here was outstanding. The crumb was chewy and soft while maintaining a formidable structure.
The main course, herb fed chicken, was good. But it didn’t wow me at the same level as the other dishes. It was still impressively sous vided to perfect execution and plated with fresh green onions and black garlic. None of the flavors took me away to gourmand’s heaven, however.
The desserts were complexly flavored with sour and sweet elements. They were a coup de gras of a phenomenal lunch at Fera.
At £52 with the supplement, this is an excellent value. From a value perspective, this was a better choice than Hedone.
I stayed in WhiteChapel, which was close enough to the metro to be acceptable. Though, it may have been more fun to stay in a more central location like Soho.
The rooms were quiet and clean. As other hostels, personal space is limited and I always seem to be assigned the top bunk.
The Wombats London hostel was vivacious. Their basement catacombs bar was lively every evening, filled with travelers from everywhere. I met a lot of people who quickly became friends.
I had a deep conversation on choosing a working path on a young Melbourne guy was was down on himself for being underpaid at his garage job. I talked Williamsburg burgers (can’t wait to try Peter Luger) with an Indonesian girl living in Brooklyn. I shared my thoughts on Austin’s Rainey and Sixth streets with a guy from there.
Andy Hayler (the fine dining expert I met up with earlier) recommended that, if I only visit one restaurant in London, it be Hedone. It’s a contemporary French, open-kitchen place is one Michelin star about 45 minutes outside London in Chiswick. It’s run by a former lawyer with vengeance. He paces around the place with a scowl. I’m fine with that. You can do whatever you like when you run the world’s 98th best restaurant.
The food was perfectly executed. The flavors were incredible. Light acids, deep fatty flavors. Most fun was the open kitchen. Seeing everything ordered, prepared , and plated directly in front of me at the bar was awesome. The intensity of the chef’s espirit de corps engrossed me.
Despite the awesome food and ambiance, at $175 I can’t help but feel that the meal was overpriced. None of the food items were made with ultra-expensive ingredients. I believe the $65 spent at Fera was much more on par with the experience, and was likely a greater quality meal.
London: Things that would help
- They drive on the left. But crosswalking is easy because there are helpful arrows on the street telling you where to look.
- Fish & Chips are not a London thing. Don’t expect them to be that great.
- Leadenhall market isn’t an open-air market, but a fancy indoor bar/restaurant area.
- Camden market seems awesome and I missed it. I went to Borough Market and I’d give it a 3/5 on the traveler enjoyability scale. There is some good food, but long lines, lots of tourists, and lack of selection make it only moderately attractive as a destination.
- I also missed Hyde Park, but I would have enjoyed seeing London’s most iconic park.
- Stansted Airport (the Ryanair hub) is cheap, but it’s an hour from the city. The train ride is pleasantly bucolic, but note that it is mildly inconvenient.
- The Tower bridge has a really nice view of the London skyline and the Thames.
London is a diverse place. Every corner brings a new famous sight. Every turn is teeming with life. The city is crowded, and fast, and yet less chaotic than New York. There is an air of civility to London. I was delighted to see how Londoners live and move throughout their city. It is a happy place. The people of London seem to be in a place they are proud of. I am proud I could visit.