The recent marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle has given us royal fever. But forget the Changing of the Guard; to experience majestic London, one must eat, drink and shop where the heirs do. Vanity Fair’s royal correspondent, Katie Nicholl, reveals their (commoner-friendly) haunts.
It’s close to midnight at Mahiki nightclub in Mayfair and the retro hits are pounding while a throng of dancers wave their arms appreciatively at the DJ. Letting loose on the dance floor is a familiar figure in a baseball cap; the only giveaway this VIP visitor is sixth in line to the British throne is the two protection officers sitting at a nearby table, discreetly sipping soft drinks.
Such is Mahiki’s popularity as a party haunt for Britain’s elite that an outpost recently opened in swanky Kensington, complete with a secret subterranean doorway that leads onto the private road adjacent to Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace, which club regulars Prince Harry and Meghan Markle call home. “The fire exit that leads onto the drive of Kensington Palace is very handy,” says owner Piers Adam, who opened the first club, in Mayfair, in 2005. But you don’t have to be of blue blood to party at Mahiki – it has no costly membership, no door policy and no dress code, instead touting “the more the merrier” philosophy.
Inspired by Tiki culture, the signature Treasure Chest cocktail – a tropical combination of rum, champagne, brandy and peach liqueur – that serves eight comes in a giant wooden chest with straws sticking out at every angle. Food-wise, the place to see and be seen is Pufferfish, the pan-Asian restaurant at Mahiki Kensington. It’s open from 5.30pm so you can have your fill of fresh sushi (seared by blowtorch at your table) before the party kicks off at 11pm. But for those who want the true Mahiki experience, visit Friday or Saturday, when the club stays open until 3am.
Not so long ago, over a chilled bottle of rosé in a private booth on the upper floor of Soho House 76 Dean Street, a royal romance blossomed. Harry and Meghan enjoyed one of their early dates at the private members’ club run by entrepreneur Nick Jones.
While you have to know a member to get into the club, anyone can re-create the couple’s tête-à-tête at newly opened hotel The Ned, also owned by the Soho House & Co group. Park yourself on a velvet stool at Italian brasserie Cecconi’s – one of nine restaurants and bars within the hotel – for an aperitivo with a side of people-watching. You can’t go wrong with the Classic Negroni.
Princes William and Harry and their cousins, princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, are fans of Albert’s, a private members’ club in South Kensington. Named after Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, it’s situated in the Royal Borough in the area once known as Albertopolis because of its proximity to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The venue has touches of Balmoral tartan and pays homage to Prince Albert with two fine house whiskies from the years of his birth and death (1819 and 1861).
Discretion is the buzzword here. “What goes on at Albert’s stays at Albert’s,” says co-owner Carlo Carello. To get in, you need to know one of the club’s 2000 members or be especially friendly to Steve the doorman. You’ll spot him in his signature tweeds, sporting a twirled moustache and a top hat (the club’s emblem). The food by Alessio Piras (ex-Cecconi’s) is delicious – the steak tartare is a must-try. At midnight, 40,000 LED lights hidden in the ceiling are turned on and the restaurant becomes a nightclub.
This tiny trattoria tucked away in Kensington is not to be missed. A tiara’s throw from the palace, family-run Locanda Ottoemezzo makes the best spaghetti alle vongole in town – William and his wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, have been enjoying it for years. Ask for a table downstairs, which is a merry maze of stone-walled corridors and dimly lit romantic coves – perfect for discreet dining à deux.
According to former royal chef Darren McGrady, William and Harry loved traditional nursery food when they were children. So it’s no surprise that one of their favourite restaurants is Bumpkin, on Old Brompton Road, where comfort food such as pie of the day and roast chicken are on the menu. It bills itself as a “Great British brasserie” serving seasonal dishes that are neither fussy nor pretentious. A life-size portrait of Queen Elizabeth hangs above the mantelpiece in the private dining room, where the princes often host their staff Christmas lunch.
The Brown Cow
Both William and Harry enjoy a pint of ale so you might see them sitting in a corner of The Brown Cow, in Fulham, where there has been many a private late-night lock-in for the royals and their chums. (Until recently, the gastropub was owned by former royal equerry and Harry’s friend Mark Dyer.) Both princes love the beer- battered fish and chips and the sticky toffee pudding is said to be William’s favourite dessert.
London-based facialist Nichola Joss has been tending to Meghan’s skin for years – and even more regularly now that the American actress lives in the UK. Meghan’s skincare go-to for important events (including the wedding reception of Kate’s sister, Pippa Middleton, last year) is Joss’s Bespoke Sculpting Inner Facial, which involves massaging not only the face but also the inside of the mouth. The technique is said to “improve the tone and firmness of the facial muscles”. With no fixed address but regular pop-ups in swanky London salons, check Joss’s site for bookings.
For hair fit for a (future) queen, book a blow-dry with Richard Ward – the man who’s been in charge of Kate’s glossy tresses for a decade – at his salon in Chelsea. “Our signature Chelsea Blow-Dry is all about bounce, shine and lots of volume and movement,” he says. “It’s frizz-free, glossy, aspirational hair.” You’re unlikely to spot Kate (Ward goes to her at the palace) but there’s always someone famous coming into the salon. Arrive early to enjoy a glass of bubbles at the fully licensed bar before your appointment.
South Kensington Club
A new-school breed of members’ club, SKC is more about health and wellness than networking and debauchery. Pippa’s fitness club of choice also has an incredible bathhouse open to members-only. Unwind in the steam-shrouded Turkish hammam before visiting the traditional banya for the Russian venik (brush) treatment where birch, oak or eucalyptus branches are dipped into cold water and firmly stroked over your body so the skin absorbs essential oils from the leaves.
When Meghan wore a cream sweater by Victoria Beckham for one of her engagement photographs, it sold out in minutes – such is the “Meghan effect”. She’s said to be a huge fan of Victoria’s label (in particular, the signature zip-up dresses) and has already tapped the former Spice Girl for help with her work wardrobe. The Victoria Beckham flagship store on Dover Street has oversized changing rooms, plenty of seating (for tired partners) and an excellent personal shopping service.
Fortnum & Mason
The holder of royal warrants to the Queen and Prince Charles, Fortnum & Mason has been the royal grocer for more than 150 years. The elegant Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon on the fourth floor (book at least a day in advance for afternoon tea) was opened by the Queen, while Charles’s wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, is a regular shopper here. Keep an eye out for the Prince’s organic tea blend produced exclusively for his Highgrove estate and Fortnum & Mason.
With Kate and William expected to welcome their third child at the time of going to print, this adorable high-end baby boutique in South Kensington is set to do a roaring trade. The Duchess was seen purchasing a Moses basket here ahead of the birth of Prince George and often buys gifts for friends from the store, which offers worldwide delivery.
Kate loves to dress George and his sister, Princess Charlotte, in sweet but durable clothing by Rachel Riley. When the young Prince wore a pair of the label’s smocked dungarees for his first official outing during a tour of New Zealand in 2014, they were an instant sellout. “George always looks gorgeous,” says the designer. “His clothing is very classic.” ￼
Top image: The Ned