My friend V, stylish mother of two gorgeous girls, announced that she’d be heading to London soon, keen on spending a romantic weekend sans bébés in our beloved capital. ‘Where to stay? What to do? Where to eat?’ she asked eagerly. Knowing V’s usual stomping grounds in Munich, I realised that anything too close to Shoreditch would go amiss. It had to be glamorous yet cool, luxurious yet understated. Here are my answers:
One of my favourite hotels in London is the Sanderson. It’s equal measures modern design and fluffy baroque; the rooms are styled throughout but not over-styled, and the breakfast in bed is unbeatable. Take a front row seat for a spot of people watching at the white and airy Long Bar on the ground floor, or have dinner at SUKA restaurant in the Japanese inspired courtyard garden. Whatever you do, don’t forget to check the hotel’s offers, and if at all possible, try to get upgraded to a Deluxe King room.
If you are ready to face the crowds and rummage your way through heaps and heaps of vintage jewellery, old silver spoons and pre-loved handbags, have a stroll down Portobello Market on a Saturday morning. At the top end underneath the Westway, you might find a few little gems by so far unknown designers, and for sure a little something to bring back home for the girls. On your way back, stop at the Electric Brasserie for some lunch and more people watching.
For a high-class shopping experience, head to Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge. The world’s most famous brands find themselves united under one roof. Harvey Nicks (as the locals call it) is less maze-like than Harrods and more exclusive than Selfridges. Definitely something you won’t find in Munich.
If the weather is nice, do like the Brits and worship the sun, eating your lunch in the fresh air. Ottolenghi in Kensington offers all (and more) you could possibly want for a picnic. Hyde Park is close by, and so is Holland Park. I prefer the latter, which is slightly smaller and much calmer than its tourist-infested bigger brother.
For an artsy quick-fix, dash into the Victoria & Albert museum (my personal all time favourite) or head to the Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly. If you make it to the V&A (maybe on your way from the park to Harvey Nicks?), you can refuel al fresco in the Garden Café.
Not really a hidden gem but nevertheless one of the best restaurants in London: Hakkasan. Go a bit before your reservation and have a Lychee Martini at the bar that stretches along the length of the restaurant.
For afternoon tea, I recommend Prêt-à-Portea at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge. Miniature savoury skewers, taster spoons, elegant canapés and tea sandwiches are joined by cakes and fancies in the shape of designer goodies, inspired by the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Jason Wu and Valentino. Book well in advance and try to get a table close to lunch time. You won’t need anything else.
Another institution you shouldn’t miss is The Wolseley. This opulent brasserie on Piccadilly is serving breakfast, lunch and dinner – I only have words of praise for their Wiener Schnitzel, their Fois Gras Parfait or just a baguette with a bowl of steaming hot chocolate.
For a truly British pub experience, head west to The Cow. Go early to conquer a table at the back of the pub and choose your food from the extensive bar menu. Mingle with the locals and have a pint (and a fag, if you wish) on the pavement. Alternatively, book a table at the upstairs dining room and enjoy your dinner a bit further afar from the crowds.
This is where it gets a little trickier. Every city has the equivalent of a Klaus G (Munich’s own local party hero) who reigns over who gets in and who doesn’t. Especially in London, it pays off to know the owners of the clipboards holding the list. If you don’t, you risk queuing endlessly without the guarantee of ever making it into the venue of choice. Being early is the only way around that problem; booking a table is an even better way to claim your spot.
For a bit of house party meets living room meets Moroccan souk, reserve a table for mezze at Momo’s Kemia Bar. Eat your mezze, order a Momo Special (a drink with vodka, fresh mint and some secret ingredient) and watch on as the space fills up with an eclectic crowd. It’s a small and intimate venue, it’s been around for what seems forever, and the atmosphere is one of the best I have ever encountered in a club.
Excellent food, great drinks and another generous helping of people watching await you at Disco Sushi, also known as Nobu Berkeley. Book a table downstairs and witness the rich and beautiful taking over the space, gathering around the long, half-moon shaped bar. Don’t forget to order Black Cod Den Miso, you will never want to eat anything else. The bar is open till late, no need for a nightclub after this one.
Speakeasies are all the range at the moment, and although not a secret anymore, the Experimental Cocktail Club is one you shouldn’t miss. The bouncer in front of its rather rugged looking door is the only hint at a hidden treasure behind it. And a treasure it is, with its perfectly balanced cocktails and extremely dedicated bartenders (they are quite easy on the eye, too). Make sure you reserve per email to be on the guest list – there is no getting past that bouncer otherwise.