It’s the world’s greatest melting pot; a city where more than 300 languages are spoken.
a bastion of tradition forever hungry for the latest fads and fashions; a city that’s both gritty and glamorous, where red double-decker buses and black cabs trundle past centuries-old pubs, zesty curry houses, regal palaces, department stores, leafy parks and neon-adorned theatres. Samuel Johnson’s quip, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” is as apt today (for women, too) as it was in the 18th century.
For the classic full English breakfast and earthy cockney banter, head to E. Pellicci in Bethnal Green, at the heart of the increasingly hipster East End. Although it dates back to 1900, this is a cut above your typical greasy spoon, as the timber-and-tile-clad Art Deco interior is heritage-listed and the coffee packs a punch (the Pelliccis have Italian roots). They’ve welcomed the famous and the infamous through the years, including the Kray twins, Tom Hardy, the cast of TV soap EastEnders and Robbie Williams.
Hail a taxi to Spitalfields, where the East End meets the polished City of London. There’s been a market here since the 1600s and it’s as vibrant as ever, with stalls selling the wares of London’s coolest designers, vintage clothes, bric-a- brac and artisan food and drinks. Fringing the restored Victorian market hall are high-end shops, bars and eateries.
London’s culinary scene is ever evolving but there’s always an appetite for afternoon tea. Enjoy a modern European twist on this great British institution at David Shrigley’s Gallery at Sketch in Mayfair. A string ensemble performs while waiters in pink suits and white gloves serve finger sandwiches filled with the likes of Scottish smoked salmon and quail egg, as well as petits gateaux, macarons, Victoria sponge, scones with Cornish clotted cream and exotic teas in dainty porcelain crockery.
For spine-tingling city views, dodge ultra-crowded South Bank and stroll along Victoria Embankment on the opposite side of the Thames. You’ll see the London Eye and the Palace of Westminster but don’t expect to hear Big Ben, as repairs mean it won’t bong until 2021. Another riverside walk takes you across the Millennium Bridge between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern, London’s jewel of contemporary art, which has new exhibition spaces in its swish 10-storey extension.
Dine at Simpson’s in the Strand. Established near Covent Garden in 1828, it was a favourite haunt of Sherlock Holmes (and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and has just reopened after its first refurbishment in more than a century. A “reimagined” menu offers artfully presented British fare such as beef Wellington with rainbow chard, Wye Valley asparagus, hasselback potatoes and red-wine jus.
For a postprandial drink, pop in to Dukes Bar at Dukes Hotel in Mayfair. It’s Ian Fleming’s refined old local and apparently where he conjured James Bond’s immortal “shaken, not stirred” line. Head barman Alessandro Palazzi concocts a raft of 007-themed tipples, with the Vesper Martini the mind-blowing pick.
You could retire to a room at Dukes Hotel but you’ll find London never really turns out the lights. Within walking distance are other late-night temptations: Jazz Age-inspired clubs, a Tube-themed speakeasy and even a bar decked out like the home of fictional Victorian explorer Phileas Fogg from Around the World in Eighty Days.
Image: Dukes Hotel