I often get asked by readers where they should go when they visit the ‘big smoke’. Having just spent a few cold but beautiful days in London town – the city I was born in, love and more than sometimes miss – I feel in a good position to make this the first in my series of Lobang* City Guides.
It’s a whistle stop tour, so hang on tight…
Marylebone High Street is a great place to start. I used to work around the corner from here and it was my regular lunchtime stomping ground. I am pleased to report that nothing has changed much and it still has lots of character as well as some brilliantly British brands. There’s Brora, (who put the ‘cash’ in cashmere – i.e. pricey; if you want bargain woolies and cashmere head to Uniqlo) The White Company, (serene things for the home and for you), Whistles, (my top stop for high end high street) Cath Kidson and Emma Bridgewater (both homeware and a bit predictably expat, but I do love EB’s small mugs which are just the right size for a cuppa).
Then there’s also a phenomenal charity shop here, about half way down (Cancer Research) which receives fabulous designer donations due to the types of folk that live around here (God bless ’em), so always worth a look. If that’s not enough Marylebone (that’s Marl-le-bone, by the way) High Street is also home to my favourite bookshop Daunt Books, housed in an original Edwardian bookshop and puts Kino to shame. Pop in to Waitrose for the Brit grocery experience and lots of lovely food costing much less than we are used to in Sing. I always come here to stock up before heading home (or try Tesco’s at about half the price).
Veer off down Marylebone Lane for VV Rouleaux, a landmark shop selling ribbons, hats, tassels and trimmings.
For lunch I’d head to cheap and cheerful Carluccios in St Christopher’s place – a hidden away haven just off Oxford Street and not very far away. Or I’d walk to Selfridges and opt for the ‘Brass Rail’ within their food hall which serves New York worthy salt beef sarnies on rye. In fact, they are better than New York’s as they are just the right size vs ridiculously massive.
Selfridges is my favorite department store. It’s a stone’s throw away and reminds me of Bloomingdales; it has the same sort of vibe. I love the beauty hall (make a beeline for Brit make-up-artist-turned-makeup-creator Charlotte Tilbury’s concession – her products are incredible). The Denim Department here is also worth popping in to.
Any men out there? Not wanting to neglect you, I have two words for you. Jermyn Street. For everything manly and more.
That’s probably enough shopping for one day (oh, after leaving Self’s there’s a massive Zara just across the road in case you still need more).
Now, on to grub.
I always go to Hix on Brewer Street for a fix of British-and-proud-of-it fare. Soho vibe with delicious, inspirational and unpretentious food. Hear, hear. Hix also has a joint in Selfridges but I think his standalone resto is exceptional as well as great fun.
The Ivy is not worth visiting as the cool people all now go upstairs to The Ivy Club – so unless you know someone who’s a member there, I wouldn’t bother. Instead – and owned by the same group – I choose J Sheekey, just around the corner. It always represented somewhere I couldn’t really afford (probably still does) and so going here is a treat. In the heart of theatreland, it’s full of actors – especially after the nearby theaters have emptied – but I come for the food and the traditional atmos. Go on for Saturday lunch when there’s a great value set menu at around £26. Their fish pie is legendary as is their dressed crab. Have both!
Good dim sum always used to be at one of Royal China’s many branches (Royal China began life in London before moving to Singapore – love that it is West to East and not the other way around!) but I have been told that they’ve gone down hill recently and that Peal Liang in Paddington Basin is where it’s at now. I’m yet to try it but my sources are good, so it’s where I’ll be going to for my next London dim sum fix.
If you are missing noodles, head for mind-blowingly delicious lobster noodles at Mandarin Kitchen. Always packed, so make sure you book and ignore the decidedly dodgy decor.
Duck and rice (siew ngap fan) is at Four Seasons. No, not the hotel, but a poky little joint just down the road from Mandarin Kitch on Bayswater. It’s brilliant and the duck is succulent and meaty and somehow utterly different from what’s served up in Singapore. Some say the nearby Goldmine restaurant is better, but they are wrong!
Cultural sites not to be missed? All the usual suspects as well as Somerset House if you’re here in Winter.
Art Galleries: Both Tates: Tate Modern and Tate Britain.
Best centre of town hang out with kids: The London Transport Museum in Covent Garden complete with retro buses and trains from as far back as the 1920s.
*Lobang (pronounced lobung) is a Malay word meaning a tip, opening or contacts. A hidden place.