Vacation to LondonLondon - Brit Fever
Good For: Couples, solos, families and business travelers whose company picks up the tab. This is a year-round destination, with some of the best offerings in culture, food, sights, private clubs, and pubs. This August, London is prime for those brave enough to navigate the Olympics.
- Tea at Claridge’s, with its optimal people-watching. Look closely; that may be Marc Jacobs sketching next season’s line or Sarah Jessica Parker descending the staircase like she owns the place.
- Shopping at the Queen’s grocer – the specialty food purveyor Fortnum and Mason.
- A stirred martini at the Connaught, followed by their signature Bloody Mary with celery foam.
- Late-night drinks at Blakes Hotel, where that girl in the corner who looks like Kate Middleton, actually is.
- Shopping on Mount Street in Mayfair, which besides the better-known Bond Street, is the real insider’s place to hit the stores.
- Taking in the scene at Scott’s, a classically civilized English dining experience.
- Getting chauffeured around in the Four Seasons Park Lane house Rolls Royce, a gratis service for clients of the hotel.
- Culture – the Tate Modern, the Tate Britain, and the art galleries on our Sights List.
What to Know: London is outrageously expensive; the budgetary challenged (sorry, Greece, Spain, and Portugal) need not apply. The expense extends to taxis, clothing, bribes to doormen to get you into the Box, and pretty much everything in between. Almost everyone will recommend Zuma sushi in Knightsbridge; we say skip it. This is an outdated recommendation and there are far better restaurants.
A Quiz: Why is London the hottest destination in 2012?
- The Queen’s Jubilee
- An intimate sporting event called the Olympics
- A royal spotting of Kate and Wills
- Pippa’s derrière
For the record, #4 is so 2011, and we personally thought London was hot because of Beatrice’s fascinator. Yes, we know, also 2011. But in a word, timeless.
For the billions watching around the world, this August is all about Olympic fever. And in a way that only people who have mastered the art of the dinner party, London is rolling out the red carpet. Discounting the extracurricular activities of foreign athletes (what do you think goes on in the Olympic Village after-hours?), London is a study in civility at its best. The hotels, restaurants, private clubs, and good old English pubs will have you yearning for the imperial days.
Go Big or Go Home
Unless you play in the $600-plus range, London hotels are shoeboxes and bleak by most well-traveled standards. The exceptions for value are the Belgraves, a Thompson hotel with thoughtful touches like a Coco de Mer intimacy kit in each room; and the Athenaeum Hotel and Apartments, a corporate travelers’ favorite, with generous rooms and Mr. Clean interiors.
Our advice is go big or go home. High-end hotels in London have distinct personalities; choose your hotel based on your interests. If those interests include drinking martinis shaken, not stirred, personal butlers with Dan Loeb shoeshines, and classic dark-wood paneling reminiscent of a private men’s club, there is no other choice but the Connaught.The service is impeccable, and your company is Gwyneth Paltrow, love her or or not. Gwynnie and her family rented the hotel’s Blue Apartment room for months while their London home was being renovated.
Haute couture fashionistas flock to Claridge’s, the iconic Art Deco hotel in posh Mayfair, where sitting in the lobby for a day will garner you at least one, if not more, celeb sightings. The trendy set hang up their vintage Chanel at the Berkeley in Knightsbridge. Book the Berkeley suite for gratis access to a trunk of accessories, which includes a mink stole, Dior necklace, and priceless retro clutches and other treats. After all, a girl and guy have to look good for a night out in London.
At the Four Seasons Park Lane, recently renovated from top to bottom, it’s hard to get a bad room, even if you book just a standard chambre. This makes it unique among the luxury hotels: It’s classic Four Seasons service and quality, but with a modern, sexy décor. The lobby is a palate of deep reds and dark marble, with an Asian-inspired feel. The lead concierge, George, is known as one of the best in the city, and those Clefs d’Or keys on his lapel will get you access to private clubs from Morton’s to Annabel’s. It extends to personal emergencies as well. A little too much red wine on your white dinner coat? No problem; George and his team work magic.
Fine Wine, Fine Dine
No longer fish and chips, London is a force to be reckoned with on the cuisine scene. Our recommendation list is the curated best of London. Some, like the newer Novikov, will serve you surprisingly good, even for London, Italian food, but it makes our list for the scene, pre- and post-dinner.
London is a mecca for international food; you’ll find better Indian, Lebanese, and Afghani fare than you would if you traveled to those countries. Our top Indian spots are the newish Cinnamon Soho, which is the more casual and gentler-on-the-pocket sibling of the famed Cinnamon, known for its Tandoori king prawns. Trishna in Marleybone is one of the prettiest Indian restaurants, which could, at first glance, be mistaken for a locals’ café except for the generous portions of fish tikka and other traditional dishes.
Other notables include Nopi in Soho, part of the Ottolenghi empire, which is one of the most sought-after tables for small plates of simple gourmet food, like their signature burrata with coriander and white peach. Viajante in East London is a fine-dining experience in a trendy and sometimes dicey neighborhood, where they feed you canapés to be eaten with your hands for the first 20 minutes or so of your meal. With creations like Jerusalem artichokes chocolate soil and blood orange, it’s a meal you will not forget. For classicists, the Ledbury has recovered from the London riots and is back to serving its 2-star Michelin fare to a high-brow clientele. Agree or not, it’s said to be the finest restaurant in England.
The surprising dark horse of our Galavante list is Amaranto in the Four Seasons Park Lane. These guys are serious about their Italian food; all primary ingredients are sourced from Italy. Standouts included the smoked eggplant in burrata, and halibut with a vanilla reduction. With over 200-plus bottles of wine by the glass, you too can partake in that normally unattainable bottle of wine.
It’s Bond, James Bond
The martini is a form of art in London, where several classic establishments still wheel out the cart for the grand presentation. The Dukes Hotel, tucked away near Green Park, is an old-school favorite, and packed on any given weeknight. The Blakes Hotel in Chelsea has a subterranean lounge, where it’s discreet enough that the former Ms. Middleton can be seen with her closest confidants indulging in just a normal night out. Normal, of course, being relative. The most artful of London martinis is served at the Connaught in Mayfair, where the beautiful people congregate. Make sure to reserve a table ahead of time for a proper lesson in the stirred, not shaken, martini. And unlike Daniel Craig, you will give a damn.
Private Clubs is How London Rolls
But civility doesn’t come cheap, so be prepared to drop some major coin. You’ll never overhear, “I wish the drinks were more expensive.” The private club is an integral part of London culture. It’s worth it to pull your connections to gain entry, especially if it’s to the Mayfair Arts Club. The restaurant menu is the creation of the masterminds behind La Petite Maison, but there’s even better people-watching. Whereas museums curate art, here they curate people. This is a full-service club, with restaurant, outdoor garden, lounge, and downstairs club, where late night it’s a dance-a-thon. Mayfair Arts is London’s most elite club, but even they don’t take themselves too seriously.
Whether your scene is hanging with the heir at the new Loulou’s, or the spare at the Box, a den of unspeakable debauchery, you’ll be Olympic-inspired to go for gold. By the athletics, not the extracurricular activities, of course.