I recently spent a week visiting my son in London, which between you and me, was not nearly enough time to get to everything on my to-do list. I did make sure to at least walk past most of the iconic spots like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the British Museum, and the London Eye, for example, but I had to be very selective when it came to the places that I actually visited. The same went for restaurants…who knew London was such a foodie town? Luckily, my son will be there for a while, so that I’ll hit any spots that I missed on the next trip. Here are the highlights of what I did manage to do.
After taking a short nap at my son’s flat (those red-eye flights are a b#$%&) we set out for The National Portrait Gallery. I was an art history major in college and portraits were always my favorite so I didn’t want to miss this museum. I particularly enjoyed seeing the richly colored and incredibly ornate paintings of the British monarchy and court from Elizabethan times like the famous Ditchley Portrait of the Queen herself.
Next, we walked through the hoards in neighboring Trafalgar Square, and on to the lovely St. James’s Park in order to reach Buckingham Palace. We stopped only to take the requisite photo in front of its iconic golden gates, then walked on to the very exclusive Mayfair neighborhood which led to some serious retail envy.
Our final destination that day was Sketch, a super hip restaurant in the area, for afternoon tea. I loved the petal pink tea room, or “gallery,” adorned with framed sketches (surprise, surprise) by artist David Shrigley. Another amusing decorative touch is that the “loos” (as toilets are called in the UK) are housed in individual pods resembling eggs instead of stalls. The food was delicious and “all-you-can-eat” so needless to say, we did, and skipped dinner that night.
On Sunday, we headed to the flower market on Columbia Road, and after that, we visited The Wallace Collection, which I loved mostly because of the Marie Antoinette room and getting to see one of my favorite 18th C. paintings, “The Swing” by Fragonard. After that we had a delicious late brunch at Providores and Tapas Room with the hip crowd in Marylebone, and then made a quick stop at Selfridges (a mad house). Next we went to Hyde Park, where I spent my days as a child when I lived in London with my parents. We ended the day at Balthazar London as a nod to my son’s time in college in New York City, since many of our most memorable meals during that time were spent at the (twin) sister restaurant in SoHo.
I was on my own on Monday, so I decided to hit The Victoria and Albert Museum. I love the museum’s focus on decorative arts, and they also have an impressive collection of fashion pieces from Victorian times to the present. After the museum, I did some window shopping along Brompton Road, Sloane Square and Elizabeth Street. I made it back to my son’s apartment just in time for dinner. We headed to Ottolenghi, basically because I wanted to actually taste the food (which was outstanding btw) in that recipe book that has been sitting on my kitchen counter for over a year (I may or may not have overestimated my cooking skills when I ordered it).
It rained on Tuesday, which was the perfect excuse to give in to my shopping whims. I merrily store hopped in Knightsbridge. stopping for afternoon tea at Harrod’s. This was when I scored, among other things, “that Zara coat” aka @thatcoat (yes, it has it’s own instagram account) that sold out by the end of the day (supposedly because it was seen on Pippa Middleton’s assistant). We had a low-key dinner at the Ace Hotel’s restaurant Hoi Polloi in funky Shoreditch that night.
Wednesday was pretty much devoted to my photo shoot, which I set up on Westminster Bridge. It took a lot longer than expected, and I hadn’t eaten anything all day, so I was really happy to get to dinner at the Chiltern Firehouse. Not only was the food delicious, but the decor – and crowd – was fabulous!
I really wanted to get to the Tate Modern before leaving, and I’m glad that I did. There happened to be a really interesting exhibit of Georgia O’Keefe works, and I enjoyed the well-curated permanent collection as well. Dinner that night was at the beautiful Berners Tavern in Soho which, contrary to what the name would suggest, is anything but tavern-like. It is in fact one of the most glamorous dining rooms I have ever eaten in.
With only one full day left, I had to hit Notting Hill to check out those famous streets with the lovely colored houses. I also wanted to see famed Portobello Road which was bustling with antique dealers, even on a Friday. I ended the day with a walk through neighboring Holland Park and a visit to the lovely Kyoto Garden – a real Japanese Garden, complete with peacocks wandering freely in the enclosure. My son and I had my send-off dinner at Restaurant Ours, a very posh spot with a nightclub feel whose clientele were clearly barely getting started when we left at 10 pm.
The following morning I only had time for a quick brunch at The Ivy Chelsea Garden before heading to the airport. Unfortunately, it was raining that morning so we did not get to enjoy the garden, but it was warm and charming – the perfect end to a perfect trip.
Photos: Rajesh Taylor for Flytographer (and some by me)