1. Where to Stay
Spend the night at the Town Hall Hotel & Apartments (from $188), a luxuriously renovated former municipal building in the once-gritty, now-trendy neighborhood of Bethnal Green. Reopened in March 2010, the Edwardian façade houses 98 spacious rooms and suites with smart modern furnishings, like Rare Architects’ low-lying rocking chair. Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick curates the hotel’s art collection, which features East End artists.
Be among the first to stay at Trevor Gulliver and celebrity chef Fergus Henderson’s entry into the world of hospitality at St. John Hotel (from $379) just off Leicester Square. Opening in January 2011, its fifteen rooms feature painted-wood walls and the morning aroma of Henderson’s buttery breakfast bun, served only at the hotel’s restaurant.
Sleep in a reclaimed-floorboard-paneled bed in one of three new designer suites at the Hoxton Hotel (from $46) in East London’s Shoreditch neighborhood. The best of the three—a 150-square-meter bedroom by design collective Project Orange—features a glass-and-red-tile circular shower, a handmade quilt, and an upended trunk-cum-boudoir. The Hoxton operates like an airline: The earlier you book, the cheaper it is.
2. Where to Eat
Make small talk with not-quite starving artists over locally sourced dishes at Rochelle Canteen in Arnold Circus. Housed in a former bike shed near artists’ studios, the restaurant’s two long tables fill at lunchtime with locals who come for chef Margot (wife of Fergus) Henderson’s refined but not stuffy British cooking. Henderson takes a lighter approach than her husband, so expect options like a silky beetroot soup ($7) and oatcakes served with Wigmore ($7), a local cheese.
Discover delicious takes on molecular gastronomy at Viajante, located in the Town Hall Hotel. Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes’s menu includes a dish of surprisingly delicate venison and raw mushrooms with smoked yogurt. There are two seatings, at 6:30 and 8:30—both of which should be booked a month ahead—and three options for the prix fixe: six, nine, or twelve courses ($101–$133).
Abandon yourself to chance at the Dock Kitchen, where chef Stevie Parle cooks whimsically themed dinners ($54) that change nightly. (Past offerings include a Ligurian feast and a meal based on recipes from Robert Carrier’s sixties cookbooks.) By day, the sprawling restaurant offers farm-fresh lunches with regional ingredients like Cornish yellow chicken from Wales ($21) and John Dory from Cornwall ($17).
3. What to Do
Wander through Borough Market, one of London’s biggest and best farmers’ markets, at the base of the London Bridge. Start with a dozen West Mersea No. 2 oysters ($34.50) from Richard Haward, whose family has been in the oyster business since 1792. Then wait out the line for Kappacasein’s Swiss raclette, a filling plate of melted Ogleshield cheese scraped satisfyingly onto a bed of gherkins and new potatoes ($6.60). Finish with a tasty chorizo sandwich ($7.30) accompanied with a few sprigs of rucola and piquillo peppers from Brindisa.
Get a taste of London’s burgeoning coffee-geek scene at Nude Espresso, where you can order a flat white ($3.90)—a chimera of a cappuccino and a latte. The roasting plant, hidden away in the Cooperage yard of the Old Truman Brewery, offers the cult-favorite East blend (named after East London, not the beans, which are pure Arabica) in both brewed and bean form ($8.62/250g).
Go beyond Brick Lane curry houses with Monisha Bharadwaj’s walking tour ($19) of Southall, often called London’s Little India, where the street signs are in English and Punjabi. Bharadwaj, a Mumbai-born dancer and chef, offers monthly walking tours through the borough’s markets (with frequent stops to snack) as well as cooking classes. For palates more Anglo than Indian, take one of cookbook author Celia Brooks Brown’s Gastrotours ($125) through Marylebone Village, taking time to stop at the Ginger Pig, an award-winning butcher, and for a cheese tasting at La Fromagerie.
4. Insider’s Tip
After fried food and football, cocktails are the other British obsession. Stop by the newly reopened American Bar at the Savoy, the birthplace of the cocktail in Europe, for drinks straight out of barman’s Harry Craddock’s famous 1930 tome, The Savoy Cocktail Book. Then head to the hidden, out-of-the-way speakeasy Barts, located through the back of a residential building off Sloane Square, for bespoke cocktails like the American-inspired Kentucky Cobbler ($15)—Harvey’s Bristol Cream and Maker’s Mark served in a pewter tankard.
5. Oddball Day
Awake predawn to go to the Columbia Road Flower Market, in East London, where serious florists gather as early as 4 a.m. in the dark to haggle over blossoms. As the sun rises, grab an espresso ($1) from U.K. champion barista Gwilym Davies’s coffee cart at 78 Ezra Street and a free-range egg omelette ($8.30) from Jones Dairy. Then take your bouquet, jump on the tube to King’s Cross, and head to the Foundling Museum (open at 10 a.m. daily), a bizarre but touching memorial to abandoned children housed in the former hospital. If you need lifting up—and you might—visit the Churchill War Rooms, kept by the Imperial War Museum, where you’ll see the bed where the original English Bulldog slept and the onesie he liked to wear during the London Blitz. Stop for bangers and mash ($19) at nearby Tom’s Kitchen Chelsea, celebrity chef Tom Aiken’s casual bistro, then finish the afternoon strolling among literary giants. Cheyne Walk takes you past the houses of George Eliot (No. 4), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (No. 16), Hilaire Belloc (No. 104), Henry James at Carlyle Mansions, Mark Twain (23 Tedworth Square), and Bram Stoker (18 St. Leonard’s Terrace). Head back to the hotel for a much-needed nap, and in the evening venture to the Bethnal Green WorkingMen’s club, a union hangout during the day and a steamy burlesque club by night.
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