With 8.78 million residents and even more tourists visiting every year, London is a bustling city. My husband and I had 6 days to spend in London and it still felt like so little time. I was the only one in the group who had never been to London, so I had to squeeze in visits to tourist sights + museums. I won't go into every little detail as I like to keep these posts relatively short, but here are the highlights from our trip broken down into food, bars, and everything else:
We knew our trip was going to be food heavy and restaurant focused, so we did copious amounts of research. When going to a city that's known for having amazing restaurants make reservations well in advance. Eater.com, NY Times 36 hours, and Thrillist are great resources for restaurants + bars. Of the restaurants we ate at, three of them were Michelin starred. THREE!!! To put that in perspective, any guesses on how many Michelin star restaurants there are in San Diego? Zero. London is one of the most international cities on the planet, so there is a wide variety of cuisines. That said, Indian and/or traditional British fare should be your focus. We dined at a lot of great places, but here are the highlights should you ever visit this refined city:
1. St. John Bread & Wine (Michelin Star): British
I love pâté, so when I came across a duck liver and foie gras pâté with toast dish, I had to have it. We devoured it. No exaggeration here, it was probably the most wonderful thing I've ever tasted. Not surprisingly, it was my favorite dish on the trip. Another notable mention: blood cake. Yes, it's made with actual blood. If that makes you uneasy... I still say try it. The English use a lot of animal blood in their traditional dishes featuring meat.
2. Bao: Taiwanese
I think this was the first time I had Taiwanese food. They don't take reservations at the Soho location, so if you go, try to visit on an off day. My favorites were the bao sandwiches: classic/pork, confit/pork belly, and fried chicken (pictured).
3. Berners Tavern: Contemporary British
Located in the Edition Hotel, it's truly one of the most elegant dining rooms I've seen. The vaulted ceilings, ornate chandeliers, and artwork created a posh setting. We brunched here and I tried several dishes. Everything was great, but the defining dish was the confit ham hock hash brown with poached Burford brown eggs.
4. The Clove Club (Michelin Star): Modern British
The restaurant was intimate. We chose the five course tasting menu which came with snacks (OMG small buttermilk fried chicken bites!) and what seemed like four desserts.
Side note: when you make a reservation, you'll need to select how many courses you want, and pay at your booking. You can always add more when you arrive. Also, they don't tell you what's on the menu (let them know any dietary restrictions), so don't go if you're not willing to be surprised.
5. The Ritz: Traditional Afternoon Tea
The British are know for their tea and you won't find a better afternoon tea experience than at The Ritz. Just being in the room will make you feel like royalty. Plan ahead: they have a strict dress code.
6. Neal's Yard Dairy: Cheese Shop
It's cheese. What's better than that? The location is near Neal's Yard, a storybook courtyard filled with coffee shops, a wine bar, some salons, and boutique shops.
7. The Wolseley: European Cafe
This restaurant reminds me of New York City. We were there on a weekday, so it was swarming with business men and women in their power suits. The "yoghurt pot" (granola and lemon compote) was a delightful surprise, but you can't go wrong with "The English" which consists of your choice of fried, poached or scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, grilled tomato, black pudding and mushroom. In other words, the breakfast of champions.
Again, too many places to mention, but here are a few that I wish were also in San Diego:
1. Gordon's Wine Bar:
This hidden gem is London's oldest wine bar. It was established in 1890 and it's one of those places where you can really feel the history. Walk downstairs and in the back you'll find a low coved ceiling, complete with candles, and a catacomb/wine cellar-like sitting area. The ambiance is the perfect setting for memorable conversations/moments.
2. The Vault at Milroy's:
It's a cool speakeasy hidden behind a bookcase in Milroy's Whisky Shop. Upon entering the bar, you greeted by exposed brick walls and dim lighting and live music. They serve unique craft cocktails, and there's a separate menu for daily specials. On the night we were there the special cocktails all included Nikka whiskey. Tip: Make a reservation beforehand.
3. The Coral Room at the Bloomsbury Hotel:
The Bloomsbury was our hotel for the last night, and I'll be honest, we I booked this hotel based on the pictures of The Coral Room. It lived up to the hype. Dress-up and and order a glass of bubbly. It's worth going to for the decor alone.
The catalyst for getting us across the pond was due to my sister-in-law, Sarah, snagging the most amazing 5th row seats to Hamilton (Victoria Palace Theatre) via a lottery. The talent level in the production is overwhelming. Even if you're not into musicals, I'd highly recommend seeing it, in London or elsewhere. On our last night, my husband and I were walking in Soho and came across a lottery drawing for The Book of Mormon. While didn't win those tickets, we were able to purchase front row seats just an hour before showtime.
2. Bus Tour:
Since it was my first time in London and there are so many sights spread out around the city, I hopped on a bus tour and found a seat on the top (open). This is an efficient way to see many of the tourist attractions in a short time. Another positive was that we could hop on and off at any time, and the pass was good for 48 hours. Things to see and not spend too much time at: Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Parliament, London Eye.
One of the best things about London are the multiple notable museums with free admission. I visited The Victoria & Albert Museum to see a special Balenciaga exhibit, the Tate Modern, and the National Portrait Gallery. I also visited the Tower of London to take a peek at the Crown Jewels. The line was long, so unless you are very intrigued by the enchanting crowns and jewels, seeing them in person is not a must do.
4. The Tube:
Also known as the London Underground transportation system. It's extremely easy to use. We bought a seven day pass (Oyster card) which saved us a lot of money. The black cabs might be iconic, but they're quite expensive. Uber does operate in London, but again, the Tube is the way to go. You can end up in any neighborhood you'd like within a short amount of time, and using it almost feels like playing a game. The Tube reminds me how car dependent us Southern Californians are. Our cars are so overrated.
During the first part of our trip we stayed in Kensington, an upscale neighborhood best known for Victorian architecture. I suggest staying at The Kensington Hotel. While it wasn't our hotel, my sister and mother-in-law stayed there and after walking into the lobby we wished we had. Covent Garden and Mayfair are a couple of other neighborhoods that are fairly central to everything. London is a spectacular city brimming with so much history and culture. I'm not sure when I'll return, but I'm hoping it's sooner than later.