Destination Featurette: London, with Contributor Steph Johnston

Growing up I was never really taken with London.  New York?  Yes. Paris? Bien sûr.  But London?  It just seemed kind of dreary and depressing.  How wrong I was.  As Christopher Winn once said, “London is whatever you want it to be” so picture your wildest dreams.  I suggest you tick off the typical tourist sights first, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, but when you’re done with those, go searching for Aphrodite.  Let me show a few of the places that you can look…

Food

  • High Tea.  You’re in London.  You must have High Tea.  If you book well enough in advance (three months is the usual time span you need) get thee to Claridges for the ultimate girly high tea experience.  Failing that, any number of hotels will do a delightful afternoon spread.  I can highly recommend the Langham Hotel or the Orangery at Kensington Gardens.  Remember to check the dress code before you go.  This is High Tea in London ladies, not an afternoon at the footy with your boyf and his mates.
  • Hummingbird Bakery: If you don’t have time for High Tea then the next best thing is cupcakes. Where?  May I suggest you head to the Hummingbird Bakery. Gwyneth Paltrow is a big fan and you can find them scattered across town.  Enjoy a cappuccino and a red velvet cupcake and remind yourself that you are in London.
  • Daphne’s: An Italian restaurant in South Kensington, Daphne’s does wonderful seasonal food for a very reasonable price.   The gnocchi and side beans with chili and garlic are particularly delish.  As is the warm chocolate pot with caramel marscapone.  Mmm, chocolate pot…
  • Manna: Manna in Primrose Hill is the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the UK.  A pristine A La Carte restaurant, save this one for a special occasion. Great atmosphere and even better food, you can have a bite to eat and then wander the area keeping an eye for celebs such as Jamie Oliver, Kate Moss and Helena Bonham Carter who all have homes nearby.
  • Gordon’s Wine Bar: This is the oldest wine bar in London and some would say an institution.  Great traditional food and obviously wine to cater to all palettes.
  • The Gate: Another vegetarian restaurant, in South-West London with a very good reputation.  Aldo, the maitre-d has worked there for 10 years and knows many of the customers by name.  You can’t go wrong at The Gate.
  • Borough Market: Where I had the best fish and chips and mushy peas I’ve ever tasted in my life.  You can also buy lots of fresh fruit and veg, curries, juices, smoothies, sweets, fresh hummus, cheese and olives, and the mushroom pate de la divinous, but be prepared to battle the crowds on a weekend.  Go on a Friday if you can.
  • Ottolenghi: This place is a gastronomic delight, with a focus of familiar and fresh food.  There are four locations across London so you have no excuse not to go.
  • Chenye Walk Brasserie: Tucked away from the Chelsea crowds, this place does great food and has a wonderful atmosphere.  A cute place for a date night.
  • The Bar With No Name: This is where all you hipsters need to be.  Right near Angel tube station, the cocktails are fantastic and the people watching is even better.
  • Roman Tapas and Grill: Very cool tapas bar in North London.

Accommodation

  • The Goring: This place is as English as you can get.  Located just down the road from Buckingham Palace, it was also where Kate Middleton spent her last night as a commoner so if nothing else, stick your head in the foyer and imagine yourself in an Alexander McQueen frock preparing to become HRH Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
  • The Grange: A basic but nicely furnished hotel in close proximity to Knightsbridge, this hotel is the former residence of the Earl of Strathmore.
  • The Connaught: If luxury is what you’re after, then you must stay at The Connaught.  Rich in history and hosting a Michelin stared restaurant. Totally.
  • The Lanesborough London:This place will make you feel every bit Royalty.  Each room comes with its own butler service.  Enough said.
  • Browns in Mayfair: Another luxury hotel, this place has a great cocktail bar.

Shopping

  • Portobello Road: Portobello Road is home to the world’s largest antique’s market.  Stop by to pick up some unique jewelry and enjoy the unique locals at the same time, but it’s only open on Saturdays.  Fortunately if you go any other day you can still wander the street and visit all the gorgeous vintage shops in addition to finding the house with the little blue door.
  • Penhaglions: This perfumery offers the most gorgeous perfume, scented body lotions, candles and accessories, including crystal perfume bottles and men’s grooming products.  Stop by just to sample the various scents on offer, but I guarantee you won’t leave empty handed.
  • Liz Earle Shop: Liz Earle, a former beauty journalist, created her line of botanical based beauty products over 15 years ago.  The most popular product, Liz  Earle Cleanse and Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser has won and continues to win multiple awards.  Stop by for a massage or a facial or just a travel kit for the flight home.  A particular weakness of mine, I love that they give you a gift of your choice every time you purchase something.
  • Neal’s Yard Remedies: For organic skincare as well as homeopathy and vitamins, you can’t go past this English treasure.  If you have time you can also get some pretty great treatments here including acupuncture and massage.
  • The Shop at Bluebird: At the top of the Kings Road near Sloane Square tube station you will find the beautiful people of Chelsea spendin their weekends wandering into Whistles, L.K. Bennett, Reiss and Zara, but if you make the effort to walk down the end, not only will you find one of my weaknesses, Anthropologie, but you will also come across Bluebird.  Designer clothes, a great restaurant, deli and across the road is Love Bakery, home to more amazing cupcakes.
  • Department Stores: Although I don’t usually think of London as being home to major department stores (it’s more about the High Street), there are some amazing ones.  Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges among them.  If designer threads are your bag, then you must make the effort to hit up one of the department stores.  Harrods for the Food Hall, Selfridges for some Repetto ballet flats and Harvey Nichols for just about everything else.
  • Brick Lane: Home to many a cool kid, some incredible vintage finds and if you go on the weekend, some of the cheapest and best currys you will find in London.

Sights

  • Holland Park: Not just the name of a freaky film, it is also home to a gorgeous park where you can wander around with wild peacocks, visit the Japanese gardens or have a hit of tennis.
  • Hampton Court Palace: I had possibly one of the best days in London at Hampton Court.  It’s a bit of a trek to the outskirts of the city, but I promise you won’t be disappointed.  You can see exactly where Henry VIII lived, slept, ate and um, defecated.  There are shows, galleries and my favourite part, a maze.  If you don’t want to pay to see the inside of the Palace (although I recommend you do) you can just visit the gardens with a picnic lunch.  Watch out for the ibises though.  And don’t forget to get your audio guide to take you through the Palace – you will find yourself developing a keen interest in The Tudors and this will help you piece it all together.
  • The West End. You must catch a show while you’re in London.  Whether it’s a musical or theatre, there are always big name performances on.
  • Hampstead Heath.  The Heath is a wonderful place to take some exercise and spend a bit of time in nature.  Go for a stroll and then head to any one of the nearby cafes for a cup of tea.  Very British.  Don’t forget your Wellies though!
  • Sanctuary Spa Covent Garden: For a bit of pampering in the heart of London don’t forget Sanctuary Spa.
  • The Globe:  This is a modern reconstruction of Shakespeare’s old Globe, but you still get the idea.  You can catch or show or take a tour, but only in the summer months (May-September).
  • Victoria & Albert Museum:  Ok I’ll admit the weather in London is sometimes often pretty miserable.  Fortunately the museums and art galleries in this country are amazing and for the most part free. The V&A is one such museum.  Some exhibitions require you to have a ticket to get in, so head to the information desk when you first arrive to find out what the deal is. I saw the Raphael Tapestries here for the first time.  Pretty spectacular and didn’t cost me a penny.
  • British museum: The British Museum is another great way to spend a rainy day in London.
  • Tate British and Tate Modern: These two are pretty much the best of the best in art galleries in London. Go to both if you have the time.


An Aphrodite Bonus:

Ok, I know this one is not in London, but I can’t resist telling you about it.  If you covet a Mulberry Bayswater, which after spending time in London and seeing all those stylish girls carrying them – you will, but the thought of spending £700 plus on a bag makes you sick to your stomach, then you must head south to Shepton Mallet.  A charming English country town, just past Bath, also known as the home to the Mulberry Outlet.  Make a weekend of it – you can catch the train down, check into the Charlton House Spa Hotel , enjoy Devonshire Tea before walking ten minutes down the road to the outlet.  Then head back to Charlton for some spa treatments, dinner at the restaurant (I recommend the chocolate pudding) and collapse into the very comfortable beds.  You will return to London many pounds poorer, but rested and happy.

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