By: Kate Sekules
Anyone who's been there this century knows the London twofer syndrome. Beguiled by prices identical to those in New York, you return home to credit card statements in which palatable £100 dinners are transmuted into $200 splurges and a standard £180 hotel room turns out to have set you back a hefty 5-star rate. For me, a NY-Lon (Londoner in New York!), the sane response of switching destinations to, say, Belize is unavailable, so I have spent the past 17 years battling parsimony in my hometown. In the process, I've learned to stretch my dollars in the land of sterling, while at the same time partaking in the city's best new restaurants, fashionable boutique hotels, and unmatched markets and shops.
My prime stratagem has been simple: go local. Downtown, or the West End (in its various areas), houses nearly all of London's famous grand hotels and most of its fanciest restaurants, but by no means all its culture, shops, parks, and galleries. Partly because of the city's immense size (it takes an hour to get from, say, Notting Hill to Hampstead) but mostly because of partisanship, Londoners tend to favor their own postcode. This means riches in primarily residential areas tourists rarely find – interesting "one-off" boutiques, markets, cozy au-courant bistros and gastropubs, plus local museums and sights. And central London is always but a few tube stops away.
London presents a rare case. The touristy stuff is of course fantastic, but the real London, the everyday world of local hangouts, is exceptional. Journey a little off the beaten path and uncover London's coolest restaurants, hidden sites, and other secret pleasures.
Kensington & Chelsea
Gardens, museums, and shopping abound
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is not only pretty and green, with its white stucco mansions and garden squares, but it also contains some top sights: the trio of hulking Victorian museums – of Natural History, Science, and Decorative Arts (the V&A) – bucolic Kensington Gardens and its palace, and the Serpentine Gallery. The southern part, Chelsea – the original artists' ghetto by the river – is prettier still, with tree-lined lanes and river walks, London's second-best Wren building, the Chelsea Royal Hospital, and shopping along King's Road. But bear in mind that Kensington High Street is second only to Oxford Street for general non-designer shopping.
Chelsea may harbor some of the priciest real estate, but it hasn't a single tube stop south of Sloane Square. The most accessible part of Kensington, where you'll find two new hotels, Base 2 Stay (see Where to Stay) and the Rockwell, is where the perennially depressing Earls Court Road is bisected by the traffic-heavy Cromwell Road. However, follow Cromwell east and you get to the big museums, followed by the grandiose Brompton Oratory and, presently, those symbols of luxury commerce, Harrods and Harvey Nichols. If you score a room at the delightful Number Sixteen hotel, you'll have the best of all worlds: a tube stop, the museums, and a beautiful location.
While strolling south of the park and north of the museums look out for the various institutions that mount concerts, film screenings, and other events, often for free: the Royal College of Music (and its Museum of Instruments), the Goethe Institute, and the Royal Geographical Society. Also check out the Science Museum's Dana Centre café/bar holding free evening events, and, if you're there in late summer, don't miss the Promenade concerts (the Proms) at the Royal Albert Hall. Restaurants here are abundant, as are cheeky prices. Stick to chic stalwarts (Kensington Place, Wódka), gems (Yas, Chez Patrick), gastropubs (Kensington Arms, Pig's Ear), and the trendy Tom's Kitchen (see Where to Eat).
Theaters galore and an unmissable museum
The only one of these neighborhoods that is distinctly un-residential, Southwark (pronounced "suthuk") has a lot going on. The Tate Modern is arguably the star sight on the doorstep, but there's so much else, especially if you're of a theatrical bent. Here, for instance, is the only West End theater outside the West End, the Old Vic (artistic director: Kevin Spacey), plus the more experimental, just-renovated Young Vic, specializing in the work of younger actors and directors (with rock-bottom seat prices). Shakespeare's Globe, a recreation of the Bard's own theater, stages historically correct versions of his canon, and doubles as a museum by day. A little way downstream along the Thames, you find the most reliable of all the houses in London, the three auditoria of the National Theatre.
Heading back upstream (which is fun to do by riverboat), you quickly come to two of London's most iconic sights: Tower Bridge and the great Tower of London itself. If you haven't the stomach for crowds, stop instead at magnificent Southwark Cathedral, built between 1220 and 1420, and neglected by most tourists. Similarly under-loved are two peculiar and riveting museums. One commemorates really bad medical practices (the Old St. Thomas's Operating Theatre), and the other, appalling lodgings (the Clink Prison, in the dungeon that gave us the slang term). The latter is far spookier than that overrated (and overpriced) gore-fest, the London Dungeon.
Talking of lodgings, this area is not rich in rooms, but the businesslike London Bridge Hotel (see Where to Stay) looks spruce after renovation, and has three separate apartments with full kitchens. Foodies will appreciate those stoves when they discover the adjacent world-class haven of everything organic, homegrown, hand-raised, and artisanal known as Borough Market. Even if just for snacks, this testament to new English food-ism is a godsend. For sit-down dinners, try the nouvelle-Russian hotspot Baltic or the eateries at the Old Vic, Young Vic, and Tate.
Where trendy meets pricey but deals still dwell
For those willing to go truly residential, this is one of the most desired – and most changed – areas of the city. Located north and west of Kensington, it was placed in the general consciousness by Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant (who went to school in nearby Hammersmith) and priced way out of range of the bohemians who discovered it in the 1960s as well as the Jamaicans who made it hip – and donated the Notting Hill Carnival, which takes place in late-August in the area's only tourist hit, the famous Portobello Road. This market is a living entity – not just antiques and funky vintage clothes, but also fruits and vegetables, and household goods. Vestiges of the area's insalubrious recent past are oddly obvious here under the Westway (which has the best stalls on weekends) and north to Golborne Road. The surrounding streets south of Talbot Road, by contrast, are full of the kind of boutiques I daren't enter with dollars (except during sale time), especially Ledbury Road and Westbourne Grove east of Portobello (see the Yummy Mummies and Kate Mosses of London at Planet Organic).
Stay in the rockstar hideout, the Portobello Hotel (see Where to Stay), the eccentric home-like Miller's Residence, or – more serenely minimal – The Main House, and you can waft round the leafy local streets in your carefully thrown-together outfit, peering into pastel-painted Edwardian wedding-cake houses. Stop for a coffee – or a glass of champagne: just like a local trustafarian. Also, don't miss a stroll in adorable Holland Park – in summer get opera tickets for the open-air theater in its ruined Jacobean mansion, and have early supper at a table on the balcony at the Belvedere. Notting Hill's achingly fashionable restaurants can be too insidery and packed, but two new gastropubs (see Where to Eat), Bumpkin and the Fat Badger, and old favorite the Cow are hip but still welcoming. If you need the big buzz, try E&O, the Electric Brasserie, and cocktails at the fabulous Lonsdale.
Hoxton & Shoreditch
Post-industrial galleries and flea market finds
You need a youthful outlook to feel at home in this hodgepodge of warehouse conversions, rocking cocktail bars, urban blight, garment wholesalers, vintage clothes, and art galleries in what was, not long ago, the wrong side of the tracks. But this arty inner edge of the East End is utterly fascinating. Everything including The Monument, the Museum of London, and St. Paul's Cathedral (these are also equidistant from Clerkenwell), is an easy walk south. To the north is the fabulous, criminally unknown Geffrye Museum of domestic design, with its brilliant sets of interiors from Tudor living room to millennial converted luxury loft. The star of Hoxton's galleries is White Cube, domain of gallerist demigod Jay Jopling, but there are a dozen or two more, spreading all the way east to Bethnal Green – and not forgetting the estimable Whitechapel Art Gallery to the south.
Market aficionados are in heaven here. There are four major examples: Petticoat Lane (chiefly clothing), Brick Lane (bric-a-brac; see Where to Shop), Columbia Road (flowers), and the indoor Spitalfields (antiques, fashion, books, crafts . . . ). On Sundays these all merge into one ginormous, frenetic street theater sprawl of stalls, attracting everyone from antique dealers to up-all-night clubbers.
The rest of the time, Brick Lane is an odd mix of vintage stores, leather apparel importers, design ateliers, and longstanding (good!) Bangladeshi curry houses. Heading upscale, there's plenty to eat among the dozens of cocktail-club-pub-lounges for twenteens: St. John Bread and Wine (see Where to Eat) for all-day "Nose to Tail Eating," the aptly named Real Greek and its next-door Mezedopolio, the newish Bacchus and Cru drawing raves from foodies and oenophiles respectively, and the Naked Chef Jamie Oliver's Fifteen. The sole viable hotel, the new Hoxton Urban Lodge(see Where to Stay), may be a glamour bellwether with its lobby bistro, Frette sheets, and flatscreen TVs, but it's also on the brash and funky side. If that suits you, so should the neighborhood.
A tourist-free neighborhood with charms only the locals know
This is advanced neighborhood London, for dedicated travelers. Chiswick is newly hip, owing entirely to house prices – young families moved west and west again, and much of the music industry did the same; plus, Sky TV and the BBC are neighbors. Also, Chiswick is the last glimpse of civilization before Heathrow. All this led Nick Jones, the tastemaker behind Soho House (here and NYC), to open High Road House (see Where to Stay) last July, a lovable operation with brasserie, screening room, and private club. This and the space age-looking Chiswick Moran Hotel remain the only places to stay, but for dinner the options are legion: Chiswick is full of restaurants and La Trompette (see Where to Eat), the pioneer, has been called the best restaurant in London.
What else can you do in Chiswick besides eat? Well, shop. Not a chain in sight, but human-scale stores like Zecca (homewares), the Green Trading Company (eco-gifts), the Old Cinema (mini antiques department store), Theobroma Cacao (handmade chocolates), (see Where to Shop) and Winnie Buswell ('50s textiles, vintage glass, and retro wares) form an absorbing line-up (see Where to Shop). Then there are two stately homes, Hogarth House, the deceptively modest country estate (in the 18th century) of satirical artist William Hogarth, and the bucolic Palladian Chiswick House. Walking along the riverfront is delightful, and a visit here, though it's a trek into town, allows travelers the chance to experience London as she is really lived.
Cultural outposts, historical oddities, and superb dining
A fine compromise between neighborhood London and the West End, this fascinating enclave is hip, historic, and only just off-center. The Royal Opera House or a West End theater is a 20-minute amble, but even closer is the Barbican. This gray elephant of a building – still, frankly, hideous despite its just-completed $76 million rehab – runs a close second to the South Bank Centre, with a concert hall, two theaters, three cinemas, the London Symphony Orchestra, and, all this year, 25 special events for its 25th birthday. A short hop west is Bloomsbury, famous for its eponymous Set and for the British Museum, and just slightly south is Holborn, where bewigged and berobed barristers (trial lawyers) keep chambers in the 14th-century Inns of Court – rare survivors of the Great Fire of 1666. Find here the mini-British-Museum-as-funhouse, Sir John Soane's Museum, where Bank of England architect Soane's (1753-1837) quirky, priceless collections (Roman marbles, over 40,000 architectural drawings, mummified cats, the 1279 B.C. Sarcophagus of Seti I and much more) are crammed ingeniously inside hinged walls, split-level floors, and secret pocket rooms.
For more historical frisson, visit the medieval Priory and Norman Crypt at St. John's Gate, the heart of Clerkenwell – you'll probably have it to yourself. Then have a pint of St. Peter's Cream Stout at the atmospheric 1720 Jerusalem Tavern. To Londoners, Clerkenwell is synonymous not with history, but with warehouse conversions, photographers, designers, architects, and cocktails. And chefs: among the perennially hottest restaurants in town are raucous minimalist St. John; Moro (see Where to Eat), for the Spanish Moorish cooking of husband and wife chefs Sam and Sam Clark; the Eagle, gastropub pioneer; and Michelin-starred (for Club Gascon) Pascal Aussignac's bistro Le Comptoir, aptly perched on Charterhouse's Smithfield, the capital's meat market (no, literally). Also try the open-since-1746-yet-modern Bleeding Heart Tavern, before pursuing the old-new theme into Hatton Garden – the traditional diamond quarter, which finds contemporary expression at the ateliers around Clerkenwell Green.
In the Rookery and the Zetter (see Where to Stay), Clerkenwell has a pair of hotels that match its essence precisely – the former referencing history, the latter expressing the hipster designer side of the neighborhood.
Even seasoned travelers are not immune to the charms of the city's best known (i.e. touristy) sights. Four are worth the punishing crowds and long lines.
Buckingham Palace: Say what you will about declining relevance, nobody understands pomp quite like the British royal family.
Trafalgar Square: Commemorating Nelson's 1805 victory in Spain, this landmark intersection has been cleaned up and is now more pedestrian-friendly.
Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens: This pinnacle of English landscaping and horticulture is also a supremely relaxing place to spend an afternoon.
Millennium Bridge: Norman Foster's infamous span offers unbeatable views of St. Paul's and the Thames.
Classy hotels abound in the West End, from smart splurges to clear values. A sampling of eight 5-star West End hotels showed an average nightly rate of $815 for a double. For that price, you get proximity to sights like the theatre district, Buckingham Palace, and the National Gallery, plus a staff-to-guest room ratio of 2 to 1 (see our favorite four fancy hotels below). But if you base yourself slightly outside the center, you can painlessly divert funds into fun, choose from a rash of new, well-designed, residential-feeling hotels, and discover the London of Londoners.
The Dorchester (Park Lane; 011-44-20-7629-8888; rooms from $765; www.dorchesterhotel.com) Park Lane's grandest shrugged off her 80-year-old dowager image with a 2002 renovation. Get that billionaire feeling in the palatial Promenade lounge or at any of the four ace restaurants.
One Aldwych (1 Aldwych; 011-44-20-7300-1000; rooms from $580; www.onealdwych.com) Next to Covent garden, find pared-down decor, a phenomenal contemporary art collection, and service both sweet and efficient. There's a private cinema, super spa, gym, and pool (with underwater Bach) plus top restaurants.
The Soho Hotel (4 Richmond Mews; 011-44-20-7559-3000; rooms from $500; www.firmdalehotels.com) The former parking garage (big rooms!) with its Botero sculpture-dominated lobby, has all the Firmdale signatures – sleek and witty design, living room-like lounges, and ultra-friendly service – plus a fabulous location behind Oxford Street in hip Soho.
Dukes Hotel (35 St. James's Pl.; 011-44-20-7491-4840; rooms from $323) Just off Piccadilly, bordering Green Park, Dukes could hardly be more central. After a spring 2007 renovation, it's now the very expression of traditional-with-style – at affordable (for this neighborhood) rates. Rooms feature all the standard luxuries, and the classic martini bar, in navy velvet and brocades, is a new glamour spot.
Kensington & Chelsea
Base 2 Stay (25 Courtfield Gardens; rooms from $215; www.base-2-stayhotel.co.uk) This year-old hotel cuts the frills, but still looks good. There are no public areas and, instead of room service, there are kitchenettes, a delivery directory, and a Waitrose supermarket nearby. There is also free broadband, 2-head showers, and flatscreen TVs.
The Rockwell (181 Cromwell Rd.; 011-44-20-7244-2000; rooms from $295; www.therockwellhotel.com) You can tell trendy architects own this sexy townhouse hotel: the lobby has Victorian tile floors, an open fire, mod couches, and cool wallpaper. Rooms have thoughtful layouts, free Internet, Egyptian cotton sheets, flatscreen TVs, oak closets, and sleek bathrooms with robes. Achic bistro, bar, and courtyard, plus 24-hour room service are nice bonuses. It's a short hop to the earl's Court tube station.
Number Sixteen (16 Sumner Pl.; 011-44-20-7589-5232; rooms from $313; www.firmdalehotels.com) This adorable Georgian townhouse is nearly on top of the South Ken. tube stop, on a quiet garden street. Like all Firmdale Hotels, fabulous decor meets sweet service – plus a special surprise: the exquisite internal garden and conservatory. No restaurant, but it has 24-hour room service.
London Bridge Hotel (8-18 London Bridge St.; 011-44-20-7855-2200; rooms from $295; www.londonbridgehotel.com) This just-redone business-centric hotel has a cheery lobby with a fireplace and comfy sofas. Small rooms decorated in oatmeal and chocolate have bathtubs, 24-hour room service, and flatscreen TVs. Best are the apartments, sleeping up to six.
Guesthouse West (163-165 Westbourne Grove; 011-44-20-7792-9800; rooms from $294; www.guesthousewest.com) This Edwardian house sports plenty of dark wood and also Wi-Fi, flatscreens, and Molton Brown bath goodies. Notting Hill Gate is a 7-minute-walk away.
The Main House (6 Colville Rd.; 011-44-20-7221-9691; rooms from $196; www.themainhouse.co.uk) The full-floor rooms in Caroline Main's Victorian by Portobello Road have wood floors, white walls, and antiques from Portobello.
Miller's Residence (111a WestbourneGrove; 011-44-20-7243-1024; rooms from $294; www.millersuk.com) This eccentric mansion is really like a home. And, belonging to the former publisher of Miller's Antiques Guide, it is crammed with gorgeous objects.
Portobello Hotel (22 Stanley Gardens; 011-44-20-7727-2777; rooms from $353; www.portobello-hotel.co.uk) A rockstar-friendly hotel since 1971, this mansion mates a Moroccan vibe with furniture and a lot of crimson velvet. 24-hour room service.
Hoxton & Shoreditch
Hoxton Urban Lodge (81 Great Eastern St.; 011-44-20-7550-1000; rooms from $117; www.hoxtonhotels.com) This haven is cheeky chic with an exposed-brick and polished-concrete lobby, and tiny rooms. Creature comforts and wit make up for size: duck-down duvets, big towels, and breakfast delivery.
High Road House (162 Chiswick High Rd.; 011-44-20-8742-1717; rooms from $275; www.highroadhouse.co.uk) A world of cool, with sweet, sexy rooms and details like Cowshed bath products, Wi-Fi, and flatscreen TVs.
Chiswick Moran Hotel (626 Chiswick High Rd.; 011-44-20-8996-5200; rooms from $194; www.chiswickmoranhotel.com) You can't get nearer to Heathrow than this and expect any style. It's designer-by-numbers, but also nicely near the river.
The Zetter (86-88 Clerkenwell Rd.; 011-44-20-7324-4444; rooms from $250; www.thezetter.com) In this converted warehouse with wacky interiors by Precious McBane, details include Hansgrohe rainshowers, flatscreen TVs, and weathered volumes of Penguin Classics on the nightstands.
The Rookery (12 Peter's Lane, Cowcross St.; 011-44-20-7336-0931; rooms from $400; www.rookeryhotel.com) A quaint hideaway near great restaurants and two tube stops, with ecclesiastical antiques, salvaged paneling, claw foot tubs – and tons more style than the standard ye-olde-history place.
Lunch with the locals and hobnob with the natives at these neighborhood joints. Kensington & Chelsea
Chez Patrick (7 Stratford Rd.; 011-44-20-7937-6388; entrées from $30) Patrick Tako, front-of-house for 18 years at the cherished fish place Lou Pescadou, offers homey-Gallic menus and maritime murals in a nicer neighborhood.
Kensington Arms (41 Abingdon Rd.; 011-44-20-7938-3841; entrées from $16) Gastropub sister of Cornwall's Mariner's Rock pairs sea air (cream-painted wood, maps, Cornish ales) with sports on plasma screens. Order fish-and-chips or a Cornish pasty (meat and vegetable pie) with a Rock ale.
Yas (7 Hammersmith Rd.; 011-44-20-7603-9148; entrées from $31) This small Iranian place serves large portions and is open late. The cone-shaped clay oven is constantly baking hot, chewy flatbread to pair with cheese, dips, and chargrilled meats.
Kensington Place (201 Kensington Church St.; 011-44-20-7727-3184; entrées from $30) Rowley Leigh's noisy, see-and-be-seen glass box near Notting Hill Gate was a pioneer in fresh, seasonal new-Brit cooking, and it still doesn't disappoint.
Wódka (12b St Albans Grove; 011-44-20-7937-6513; entrées from $14) Enjoy artisanal vodkas and amazing modern Polish food, all in a minimalist former dairy hung with contemporary art.
Tom's Kitchen Superchef (27 Cale St.; 011-44-20-7823-3652; entrées from $32) Tom Aikens makes this new 3-floor place a white-hot reservation. chef de cuisine, Ollie Couillard, a La Trompette alum (see Chiswick), serves bistro classics made with painstakingly sourced local ingredients.
FishWorks (212 Fulham Rd.; 011-44-20-7823-3033; entrées from $29) One of six new branches of Mitchell Tonks's casual, reasonably priced restaurant chain-ette. Quality is high, with the freshest of catches simply prepared. Also in Chiswick (6 Turnham Green Terrace; 011-44-20-8994-0086) and Notting Hill (188 Westbourne Grove; 011-44-20-7229-3366).
Pig's Ear (35 Old Church St.; 011-44-20-7352-2908; entrées from $30) A gastropub with a rollicking atmosphere and prices lower than the neighborhood norm – for dishes like Barbary duck breast with kale and figs or (gulp) cut off deep-fried pigs' ears.
Baltic (74 Blackfriars Rd.; 011-44-20-7928-1111; entrées from $26) This converted carriage house opens from a sexy cocktail bar into a vast, angular dining room. Menus update hearty dishes like kulebiak (salmon in pastry) or buckwheat blini with herring.
The Real Greek Souvlaki & Bar Southbank (1 & 2 Riverside House, 2a Southwark Bridge Rd.; 011-44-20-7620-0162; entrées from $10) Kebabs are the official drunken 2am London snack, but the Real Greek does incredibly good, authentic ones.
Old Vic Brasserie (Mercury House, Waterloo Rd.) Provençal food for patrons of the theater. Opened after press time, but likely to be good, as it's the sister of Chelsea's excellent Cheyne Walk Brasserie & Salon.
The Cut Bar & Restaurant (The Young Vic, 66 The Cut; 011-44-20-7928-4400; entrées from $23) This newly renovated theater added a handy bi-level, all-day, glass-walled bar/café with an outdoor deck (rare around here) overlooking the busy street.
Tate Modern Restaurant (Bankside; 011-44-20-7401-5018; entrées from $21) Offering floor-to-ceiling views of the Thames, this place does excellent food, like gnocchi with Tuscan sausage and porcini ragu. It's open all day, with a $26 prix-fixe, 2-course supper – the perfect end to a gallery visit.
Bumpkin (209 Westbourne Park Rd.; 011-44-20-7243-9818; entrées from $27) Notting Hillbillies instantly took to the farmhouse tables and country-ish vibe here. Open kitchen does retro pies and grills, hearty soups, and salads; upstairs has seasonal English dishes.
The Fat Badger (310 Portobello Rd.; 011-44-20-8969-4500; entrées from $20) Wallpaper depicting muggings and alcoholics proclaims this the wrong end of Portobello – though (very good) dishes ruin the subversive effect.
The Cow (89 Westbourne Park Rd.; 011-44-20-7221-0021; entrées from $25) This tiny Irish restaurant is perennially packed because the simple menu always entices: smoked eel with potato salad and bacon; rabbit with black pudding; strawberry trifle.
The Belvedere (Holland Park, Abbotsbury Rd.; 011-44-20-7602-1238; entrées from $27) 17th-century former summer ballroom in the middle of a gorgeous park…who cares what the food's like? Actually it's perfectly good Anglo-French, with an early evening $35, 3-course prix fixe.
Hoxton & Shoreditch
St. John Bread and Wine (94-96 Commercial St.; 011-44-20-7251-0848; entrées from $15) The sister of the Clerkenwell original centers on baked goods and small plates for all times of day: seed cake and a glass of Madeira early on, crispy pig skin and salad later.
Cru (2-4 Rufus St.; 011-44-20-7729-5252; entrées from $20) The notable wine list is big on odd varietals and boutique producers. The ambience is as comforting as the pan-Euro food – share chorizo and home-cured salmon or the full venison stew.
Fifteen (15 Westland Pl.; 011-44-20-1330-1515; entrées from $20) Jamie Oliver opened this experiment in 2002 to turn underprivileged urban youth into chefs of the first order. The casual all-day trattoria is best.
The Real Greek Mezedopolio (14-15 Hoxton Market; 011-44-20-7739-8212; entrées from $10) This small-plate specialist next door to the original is actually more fun – and at better rates.
TeaSmith (6 Lamb St.; 011-44-20-7247-1333; teas from $4) This place is contemporary from its LED-spotlit shelves to its rarefied Eastern infusions.
La Trompette (5-7 Devonshire Rd.; 011-44-20-8747-1836; prix-fixe $69) The place that started the Chiswick culinary boom still rules. Its three-course prix-fixe menu is a bargain compared to the West End.
Le Vacherin (76-77 S. Parade; 011-44-20-8742-2121; entrées from $29) Named after a creamy French cheese – here baked with an almond and truffle crust – feels like a Left Bank bistro.
Fish Hook (6/8 Elliot Rd.; 011-44-20-8742-0766; entrées from $28) Chef Michael Nadra, known and loved for his La Trompette stint, reopened this fish place late last year.
Garni (472 Chiswick High Rd.; 011-44-20-8995-5129; entrées from $16) Fresh and tasty Armenian – the eponymous dish of baked eggplant stuffed with herbed veal and bulgur being a good example.
Sam's Brasserie (11 Barley Mow Passage; 011-44-20-8987-0555; prix-fixe $27) Buzz worthy of any Notting Hill boîte and cooking better than most behind the High Road. Try trendy dishes like buffalo mozzarella with roasted beets and candied lemon.
The Roebuck (122 Chiswick High Rd.; 011-44-20-8995-4392; entrées from $14 ) This new gastropub does the formula very well, from comfy leather sofas to pea-and-ham soup, fries (chips!), and toffee pudding.
St. John (26 St John St.; 011-44-20-7251-0848; entrées from $27) Chef/owner Fergus Henderson calls this "nose to tail eating" – a reference to his fondness for the more obscure parts of animals. Though this, and the sparse decor, alarms some people, St. John remains one of London's most beloved and hip restaurants.
Moro (34-36 Exmouth Mkt.; 011-44-20-7833-8336; entrées from $33) This welcoming wood-floored room features an open kitchen and a unique Spanish-Moorish menu. Labneh (yogurt dip) with salted anchovies and spiced cucumber salad and wood-roasted pork with quince aioli are typical.
The Eagle (159 Farringdon Rd.; 011-44-20-7837-1353; entrées from $28) This, the original gastropub (est. 1991), is still among the best in town. Its decor and Euro-Brit bistro food set the standard for many imitations.
Le Comptoir (61-63 Charterhouse St.; 011-44-20-7608-0851; entrées from $23) Chef Pascal Aussignac delights diners at Club Gascon. This 35-seat bistro spin-off has hearty, country-French versions of the Club's more refined foie-gras-centric dishes.
Bleeding Heart Tavern (Bleeding Heart Yard, Greville St.; 011-44-20-7242-2056; entrées from $17) Spit-roasted naturally raised British meats and Adnams ales are the order of the day in this jolly, historic, but thoroughly up-to-date below-ground space.
The dollar-to-pound ration heavily favors the local currency, but it's hard to pass up London't top-notch shopping. Big sales happen twice yearly, in January and June. The best for fashion are at: Selfridges (400 Oxford St.), Liberty (214-220 Regent St.), Harvey Nichols (109-125 Knightsbridge), Dover Street Market (17-18 Dover St.), Browns (23-27 South Molton St.), Matches (60-64 Ledbury Rd.), Koh Samui (65-67 Monmouth St.), and B-Store (24a Saville Row).
Borough Market (Thur 11am–5pm; Fri noon–6pm; Sat 9am–4pm. Between Southwark, Stoney, Bedale, and Park Sts. ) One of the best greenmarket/artisanal produce/ butcher/ baked goods centers in the world.
Portobello Road Antiques from Chepstow Villas to Eelgin Crescent; fruit and veg to Lancaster Rd; vintage clothes, jewelry, antiques under the Westway; bric-a-brac to Ggolborne Rd.
Hoxton & Shoreditch
Brick Lane (Sun dawn-2pm; merging with Petticoat Lane, centered on Wentworth St.) Antiques, pickles, you name it. Nearby Columbia Rd. sells flowers.
Spitalfields Market (Sun–Fri 10am–4pm. West of Commercial St., between Lamb and Brushfield ) Best Thursdays (antiques), Fridays (fashion), and Sundays (everything).
Rokit and Beyond Retro (101 Brick Lane; 011-44-20-7375-3864; 110-112 Cheshire St.; 011-44-20-7613-3636) Vintage clothes.
Theobroma Cacao (43 Turnham Green Terrace; 011-44-20-8996-0431) Beautiful, tasty handmade chocolates.
Winnie Buswell (199 Acton Rd.; 011-44-20-8996- 9011) Fifties textiles, vintage glass, and retro wares and gifts – think Cath Kidston.
The Old Cinema (160 Chiswick High Rd.; 011-44-20-8995-4166) Mini-mall antiques – from fine art to fashion.
Lesley Craze Gallery (33-35a Clerkenwell Green; 011-44-20-7608-0393) An edited selection of investment pieces by local modern jewelers.
Unlike the States, chain fashion stores here are beloved by well-dressed women. Still best is Top Shop, for instant runway looks and youthful stylings (36-38 Great Castle St.). Also good are New Look, Miss Selfridge, Oasis, Mango, River Island, and Primark (1 Kings Mall, King St., Hammersmith). Office is good for funky shoes. Best for underwear: Marks & Spencer (458 Oxford St.).
London's immense size means getting around may take awhile, but the city's excellent public transportation system ensures an easy trip that won't break the bank.
At any station, pick up a free tube map and buy a T.f.L. (Transport for London) Oyster. This pre-loaded card automatically calculates the cheapest fare. You must "touch in" and also out (fail that and you pay the maximum fare). Buy one ahead of time at tfl.gov.uk/oyster.
With an Oyster, bus journeys cost a flat rate, even if you're crossing the entire city (you "touch in" but not out). The top deck on the Routemaster buses, on Heritage Routes 9 and 15, is the best – and cheapest – tourist trail in town.
Taxi These are exorbitant and elusive, but also quite luxurious and reliable – drivers have "the Knowledge": the London street exam that's been the standard since 1851 and is said to be the most rigorous navigation test in the world; it often takes dozens of attempts to pass.