London: An Edible Guide (Part II)Posted: September 17, 2011
Part II: An Edible Weekend
What are your plans for the weekend? In London it’s Open House weekend, where all sorts of private residences and institutions open their doors to the public. For free! I plan on seeing the London Library (whose miles of books have enticed past members like T.S. Eliot, Tennyson, Dickens and Thackeray), Mansion House and the Argentine Ambassador’s residence, a Thomas Cubitt “villa” from 1851.
Sometimes living in London overwhelms me a bit with the fear of missing out; you could be seeing an amazing West End show every night of the week or spending your entire salary eating at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, and it might not be a bad way to go. It feels a bit lazy to not be doing something spectacular every minute, but sometimes you need a break. Sometimes it’s best for me to do only what I’m really, really interested in and skip the rest. But one thing I’m always in the mood for is a good brunch.
I’m still looking for the perfect London brunch spot, preferably one with a queue out the door, mismatched china and a waffle maker in perpetual motion. (For those of you in Toronto, something like Aunties and Uncles.) I’ve heard that brunch at Modern Pantry and Providores is fab, or maybe I should head out of the centre a bit to hipster haunts like Railroad in Hackney. In any case, I’ve still done some nice weekend eating so far. My picks below:
Monmouth Coffee 27 Monmouth Street, plus others: Monmouth is very, very popular, and with good reason; roasted, freshly ground coffee, warm pain au chocolat, lemon tarts and truffles, and attractive staff that look like they stepped out of an American Apparel ad. I was once around Covent Garden early and there was a line of people outside, eager to get their coffee fix before 8 am. It’s that good.
The Wolseley 160 Piccadilly: This used to be the home of Wolseley Motors, a car showroom, before being acquired by Barclays bank in 1927. It was then restored and turned into a swanky restaurant in 2003. Much more useful than a bank, I say. It’s right next to the Ritz, and the interior really is opulent, but the prices are actually very reasonable. Despite the surroundings, there’s not much snobbery here, so you can certainly just come for coffee and a pastry if you like.
Lido Cafe Hyde Park: While the weather is still nice enough to sit outdoors, get a seat beside the Serpentine Lido and watch joggers, weekend meetingers, and boys and girls meet up for brunch dates. You might also get a rogue swan as a guest.
Royal China Club 40-42 Baker Street, plus others: More of a dim sum kind of gal or guy? This place gets super-busy on weekends, but that only heightens the anticipation for some of the best dim sum in London! Mm, prawn dumplings, scallion pancakes, and Singapore vermicelli. It’s done à la carte-style, which I actually prefer; it means you won’t get stuck with some mystery dish, only to find out it’s chicken feet! My warning comes from experience, of course.
One of my favourite weekend alternabrunches is to head to one of the markets around town, pick up free samples and some supplies for that evening’s feast. I like Borough Market, the most obvious choice, and the Marylebone farmer’s market near me for Sundays when Borough is closed. Also check out Cabbages and Frocks, which is great for pastries and scouting out new-to-you vintage clothing.
It’s just not summer (or fall, or winter…) without ice cream. It may be my favourite treat of all.
Gelupo 7 Archer Street. This has a cozy Italian gelateria feel, and is a welcome respite from the manic Piccadilly area. After opening the super-popular Boca di Lupo across the street, team Jacob Kennedy and Victor Hugo (great name) opened Gelupo with mad success. Their flavours change daily; today’s choices include Ricotta, Chocolate and Black Pepper; Saffron and Vanilla; Black Forest. Delicious and inventive.
Freggo, 27-29 Swallow Street. Reawaken your childhood fantasies in this purple-walled, space-agey Argentine ice cream shop. And since they’re often open till 2am, this place is great for a break after a midnight stroll along Regent street. Their hot chocolate is lovely on a cold day, but do try some dulce de leche—that marvelous boiled-down condensed milk beloved by Latin Americans everywhere—in your ice cream or alfajore. Bonus: Freggo will even deliver ice cream to your house. Amazing.
99 Flake, all over the city: You do yourself a disservice if you’re in London and haven’t gotten one of these yet. Essentially it’s vanilla soft-serve with a Cadbury flake bar stuck in the middle, but it’s so good! They definitely don’t cost 99p anymore, but they come out in full swing at midsummer festival time, or you can buy them pretty much all year from ice cream vendors.
What do you want to do tonight? Go to the cinema? To the theatre? Out to a club? A bar? The ballet? A poetry slam?! You can do all of that in London (though maybe not all in one night).
Cinema: I love, love, love the cinema, so London is a great place for me. You can see great films at BFI all year, but during the summer and early fall, you might like to head to one of the city’s outdoor cinemas; Rooftop Film Club at Queen of Hoxton is fantastic but sells out very early. Sign up for their e-mail list and book ASAP! Then you can drink your cider on their lovely rooftop in East London and watch classics like Ghostbustes, The Goonies or Trainspotting. During the summer, Somerset House also does about a week of films in their atrium area, which is totally beautiful. Then there’s Nomad pop-up cinemas all around the greater London area, which screens films indoors and out, all around London and as far as Canterbury.
Nightlife: Do note that ordinary old bars are required by law to close at 11, which seemed absurd the first time I heard it. What that actually means is that lots of places apply for permits which allow them to stay open longer–sometimes way longer–so you’ll have to check opening and closing times for each place you visit. One of the most interesting bars I’ve been to recently is Purl, on Blandford Street. It’s like an old-fashioned speakeasy with fancy cocktails, candles, and dark corners. If you fancy something more intense, just head out to Shoreditch on the weekend, right past Old St. tube station, and hit the bars. Tiger Tiger had been recommended to me, but honestly, there are people pouring out of all sorts of venues in that area. Take your pick. A final suggestion is The Church, a club which is only open on Sunday afternoons. Say what?! Apparently it’s like a show that runs from midday till 4ish. I’ve never been there, but my friend studied in London for quite a while and she loved it. There’s nothing better than a great party and the chance to dress up!
That’s it for now. Have a great weekend!