A city of 8.9 million people can seem overwhelming, but London is really just an aggregation of many small villages. I’ve lived in quite a few of them over the 17+ years I’ve been here, and I’m going to give you all of my favourite gems. You don’t need me to tell you to go to Harrod’s and Selfridges, so I’m leaving out all the big tourist mecca places. Plus, let’s be honest, there is almost nothing in Harrods or Selfridges that you can’t find in every other big city in the world. I’m giving you a curated list of things I truly love that you can ONLY find in London. Over time I’ll add to this list as things pop into my head (I’m sure I left a few out) and as new places pop up.
Yashin– Yashin is my favourite restaurant in London. My husband doesn’t bother to ask where I want to go, because the answer is always the same. I would happily eat here 7 days a week. Each piece of sushi is creatively seasoned with whatever the chef feels suits the fish and the season– a miniscule slice of jalapeno, a tiny sliver of truffle, or a fleck of yuzu jelly. You don’t dare to ruin the subtle perfection with soy sauce. Ask for a seat at the counter and order The Yashin Omakase and a flight of sake. I always order extra homemade ginger on the side– it is addictive.
The Shed– The Shed is equal parts simple and creative. British seasonal food with plenty of wild and foraged ingredients means the menu changes frequently. I describe The Shed to friends as British tapas– the plates are small and meant to be shared. You can taste the love in the food at this family owned restaurant (they even own a farm and a vineyard which supply the restaurant).
Moro– Moro is where London chefs eat on their night off, and it is easy to see why. The food is out of this world. The menu changes weekly, but if you leave without trying the regular dessert items of yogurt cake or the cardamom ice cream, you’re truly missing out. The vegetarian mezze platter is a thing of wonder, as is any seafood item. I don’t eat meat, but my guests (I take EVERYONE here) say the meat dishes are superb too. Also, read this amazing review of Moro from Nigel Slater and you’ll see why I love it so much.
Amaya– There are scores of fantastic Indian restaurants in London; Amaya is by far my favourite. It is modern Indian, not the conventional heavy sauces over rice scenario. The dishes are meant for sharing, so order several small plates. Definitely order the char grilled aubergine– I always order a few extra so that I won’t have to share! Vegetarians are well catered for here, as are meat-eaters.
The Harwood Arms– This is a classic English gastro pub, but beats them all at that game. Speaking of game, there is a LOT of it on the menu here. I don’t eat it myself, but I appreciate that intensively farmed animals don’t feature on the menu. There are always excellent local fish and vegetable options. The desserts are great, and the Irish soda bread with butter is the best I’ve had anywhere. Their excellent wine list is thanks to Brett Graham’s involvement. He is the award winning chef at The Ledbury, a restaurant that everyone except for me loves. I’ve been many times and just don’t like the food— it’s too complicated and derivative for me. At Harwood Arms, they let the simple authentic ingredients work their own magic.
The River Cafe– I almost didn’t put The River Cafe on here because it is SUCH an iconic London restaurant. I also almost didn’t include it because there is nothing interesting in the area where the restaurant is; you go, eat, and leave. Still, it is situated right on the river Thames, the food is incredible, it has been going for decades and it spawned celeb chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. If the weather is good, go here for lunch and soak in the celebs and the view.
Bocca di Lupo– This is my favourite Italian restaurant in London, no contest. I’ve been going here for years, and every single time I swear in delight at the perfection of the food. Just look at this menu (updated weekly with the seasons). Along with Moro (where Jacob Kennedy, the chef here used to work) Bocca di Lupo is a must in my opinion. If you can, save room for ice cream and go across the street to…
Gelupo– Owned by the same people as Bocca di Lupo, this is the best ice cream and sorbet in London, without exception. The menu changes daily, but my to-die-for flavours are: pistachio, bitter chocolate (so dark you can’t even imagine it), salted caramel, ricotta with sour cherry (made with cherries from the owner’s neighbour’s tree), and blood orange granita.
Rovi– Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest restaurant is my favourite, although I will admit to loving them all. The food is perfect. It is also fun– creative seasoning, simple ingredients, meticulous sourcing, and fabulous decor. It is not a vegetarian restaurant, but it is a vegetable eaters paradise.
Patisserie Sainte Anne– This patisserie is even better than the ones around us in the Marais in Paris. In fact, Patisserie Sainte Anne used to be in the 13th arrondissement in Paris and moved to London in 2014. The flour is organic, the butter is French, and the chocolate is Belgian. I’ve never had a better eclair, millefeuille, or galette des rois anywhere. Their baguette, pain au chocolate, and croissants are to die for. The owners are third generation bakers, and you’ll find them up at all hours of the morning, preparing the dough. We went here weekly for bread and croissants until we realised my son was gluten intolerant.
Neal’s Yard Dairy– (Covent Garden, Borough Market, Bermondsey) You won’t find better, or a better selection, of British and Irish farmhouse cheeses. Even Michelin-starred Frenchie in Paris bravely serves only Neal’s Yard Dairy cheeses. Go, sample to your heart’s content, and be expertly guided on your choices. Even our French visitors are impressed with this cheese shop.
Artisan– (Putney, Stamford Brook, Ealing, East Sheen) Artisan’s Stamford Brook location is one of my favourite coffee spots, not just for coffee but for people watching and atmosphere as well.
Kaffeine– (Fitzrovia)- Kaffeine is my favourite coffee shop in London. I always try to schedule appointments around here! This is the only coffee place where I’d highly recommend the food as well. Kaffeine has homemade, healthy lunch options rather than just pastries to go with coffee.
Black Sheep– (21 locations, my usual is Great Portland Street) Black Sheep and Sacred are tied for the honour of best cappuccino made with coconut milk; not everyone gets that right, but they do. Their coffee and their business ethos are top notch.
Monmouth Coffee– (Covent Garden, Borough Market) The single-origin coffees here are incredible, and they’ll make fresh samples for you to try before you buy. I could spend a day doing that! We often buy our coffee beans for home from here.
Sacred– (Islington, Westfield, The Strand, Soho) This place makes incredible coffee; as mentioned above, their coconut cappuccino is fantastic. I wouldn’t recommend the food, but the coffee is top notch.
Hide Below– Hide Ground is a great restaurant, but I’ve only been once, so I can’t add it to my favourites list just yet. However, I can say that the bar leapt onto my favourites list immediately. The daily cocktail menu is extraordinarily elegant and creative. The bartenders will ask you which ingredients you like and don’t like, and will concoct something magical just for you.
The Blind Pig– Upstairs in Jason Atherton’s fantastic Social Eating House is his bar, The Blind Pig. It is one of the best cocktail bars I’ve ever been to. The current spring menu is different from last time I went, so I need to investigate the new additions.
Coburg Bar– This little bar nestled in the Connaught Hotel is reliable and sophisticated. It isn’t as creative as my other two choices, but it is a very civilised place to meet for grownup drinks. I generally avoid hotel bars, but I make an exception for this one.
Wolf and Badger– Their new King’s Cross store is enormous compared to the tiny shop they used to have in Notting Hill. They curate a superb collection of up and coming European designers, with a focus on sustainable fashion. Their jewellery and accessories are incredible as well. There is a new-ish store in New York, but the merchandise is quite different since they try to keep the focus on local talent.
Ridley London– Camilla Ridley makes luxurious bespoke dresses, jumpsuits, skirts, and tops. There are ready to buy options, or you can choose a style that suits you and have it custom made in one of her lush fabrics. Liberty floral silks feature heavily, as do bright leopard prints, foliate patterns and (my personal fave) a psychedelic tree print.
Winser London– While Winser London is mostly an online business, there are brick and mortar shops in Marlow and Gerrards Cross to the west of London (in case you’re visiting and exploring the UK in that direction). Winser often has pop-up shops in London as well, so check their website. Local department stores like John Lewis and House of Fraser stock Winser London, so it is worth having a look there too. I love and wear this brand so much that it would be crazy not to have them on my curated list.
Amanda Thompson– Amanda is an old-school couturier. She is passionate about fabrics, and works with the most luxurious French and Italian materials. Every item is made by her and her team, by hand, in her atelier on All Saints Road. You have to see and touch the fabrics (even the linings!) to appreciate them. There are ready to wear clothes, or she can make you something bespoke. Hers is couture level clothing but not at couture level pricing. For an investment suit, or a special occasion dress, Amanda is the one to go to. Her winter coats, capes and silk separates are what dreams are made of.
Lime Green Bow– This is my favourite vintage store, and one where you will almost always find something swoon-worthy. Clemmie Myers is a genius at sourcing vintage pieces that club kids and grande dames want to wear! I’m still kicking myself for taking a few days to think about a vintage Dior coat, which was snapped up by someone else (even though it was meant for me). She has frequent pop-ups on Portobello Road, and a by appointment studio on All Saints Road.
The Exchange– For designer second-hand investment pieces, The Exchange in Kensington is the place to go. Chanel jackets, Miu Miu sunglasses, Dior bags, and even some lovely jewellery can be found here. It isn’t cheap, but everything is in pristine condition. The best pieces never make it to their website, they’re in the store, so don’t judge the stock by the website.
Amanda showing me her creations
Tarra Rosenbaum– Jewellery designer Tarra Rosenbaum (who I blogged about here) has an online presence, but also has several stockists in London. The majority of her work is bespoke, so if you are in town, make an appointment with her and she’ll re-work an unworn heirloom that’s sitting in your jewellery box into something modern that you’ll wear every day.
Rupert Sanderson– In the heart of Mayfair on a cobblestone street is my favourite English shoe brand. Rupert Sanderson’s shoes are comfortable, stylish, and manage to never look like anyone else’s. There is always something fabulous on sale too. His shoes aren’t cheap, but they last forever even with lots of wear. My favourite pointed toe flats have been going strong for 4 years now. I blogged about this brand four years ago, and I still recommend it just as highly.
Lock & Co Hatters– My favourite London hat maker is Lock & Co. A family owned business since 1676, they make both mens and women’s hats at all price points. For the best service, book a free appointment with them, and get expert advice while you try on various styles to your heart’s content. All of the materials in their hats are ethically sourced. I guarantee you you’ll have a hard time choosing just one.
Vaishaly– London’s Superfacialist and her team takes care of my skin. I’ve had a LOT of facials in a LOT of salons, and this one is the best. There is no hocus pocus and no unnecessary faffing. The 55 minute Signature Facial includes a relaxing facial massage and aromatherapeutic treatment oils chosen specifically for your skin’s issues. They even send you home with some extras to try. My skin glows for days after a facial here.
Red Leopard– If you are interested in having your colours and your style assessed by the best of the best, make an appointment to go see Annie and Manina. They are so life-changingly good I gushed a whole blog post about them.
Total Wardrobe Care– Julia of Total Wardrobe Care is a one-woman dynamo. I’ve written about her organic moth repellent, which I swear by, here. She also does impeccable alterations work, and can expertly design and sew anything you need, from bridesmaids dresses to re-making a beloved dress that has seen better days. I wouldn’t recommend anyone else.
Les Senteurs– Just around the corner from my old flat is a perfume lovers paradise. This beautiful quiet shop with knowledgeable staff is stocked with niche brands (Grossmith), classics (Caron) and modern perfumers (By Kilian). Once you buy perfume here, you’ll vow to never be assaulted by department store perfume-wielders again.
In front of Les Senteurs
LONDON FOR CHILDREN
Hamleys– My son thinks there is no better place in London than this shrine to childhood on Regent Street. Toy demonstrations, Lego, Brio, candied insects, glitter tattoos, ice cream, what’s not to love?
Oliveto (Belgravia) and Franco Manca (many locations) are the best pizza places in London, and both are very child friendly. Oliveto makes a thin Sardinian crust and uses a wood fired oven. Franco Manca makes a soft pillowy sourdough crust and also uses a wood fired oven. Both use delicious well-sourced ingredients. Franco Manca even makes a gluten free pizza crust and has dairy free cheese, if your child (like mine) needs that. A couple of years ago, Franco Manca was bought by a private equity firm. I’ve expected the quality to suffer as they’ve gone from 2 to more than 30 pizzerias. So far, it hasn’t.
The Natural History Museum, SeaLife London Aquarium, The London Eye, London Transport Museum, and the excellent children’s hands-on activities at the Science Museum are all been very popular in our house.
London Parks– From Regents Park to Hyde Park to Holland Park to Richmond Park, I don’t know how I’d cope with a super active child without London’s brilliant wild spaces. London’s parks are truly the best in the world.
Shopping in Notting Hill with Michelle Tyler
I mostly avoid the big shopping parades like Oxford Street. Since I don’t shop at Primark, Zara, Topshop and all of the fast fashion stores, there is little point in me being needlessly battered by the crowds. I brave Oxford Street to go to Selfridges a few times a year, but otherwise I much prefer smaller and quieter streets with more interesting stores. For instance:
Marylebone High Street– Fresh skincare, Le Labo fragrances, By Malene Birger, Matches, Agnes B., Maje, The Conran Shop, Trilogy, Daylesford Organic, Space NK.
Notting Hill– starting at Ledbury Road and Westbourne Grove, there is Diptyque, Ottolenghi, Brissi, Goop, Matches, Daylesford Organic, Sub Couture, Farm Girl, Pearl and Groove bakery (gluten free), Melissa Odabash, Aesop, Space NK, Emma Hope shoes, Joseph, Smythson, and Melt.
Elizabeth Street- Les Senteurs, Beulah, Thomas Cubitt gastro pub, Oliveto, Stivaleria Cavallin, Vicki Sarge, Dominique Ansel bakery, Me + Em.
As retail and restaurants are ever-evolving features of London, I’m sure I’ll update and add to this list every few months, so check back if you’re visiting, and send to any friends who might be visiting London.