Don’t be tempted to think that you’ve seen it all when it comes to capital cities like London. I’ve only ever spent short stays there, but each time I fall a little bit more in love with this city of Cockneys, cabbies, bagels, drizzle and best friends. Whether it’s cocktails or culture you’re after, here’s a top 5 that will guarantee a memorable time spent in London town.
For New Years, I visited my friend Robbie who did a grand job showing me around for my stay and rustling up amazing breakfasts for us each day to keep us fortified while out gallavanting. One of our first stops was Beyond Retro vintage clothing shop in Dalston, which now also has it’s own café next door. Our attention here was more on floral eighties jumpsuits than tea this time, and I left with one such new piece for my wardrobe. Prices are pretty reasonable and the selection is great. You can certainly wile away the hours here and find plenty to take home with you, and if the clothes won’t keep you there the music will. Or the staff’s excellent haircuts – “90’s Curtains” making a comeback? Excellent curation of vintage clothing, and bonus – guitar seats in the dressing rooms!
After popping daaaan the pub for a quick half pint while we waited for Ruby’s Dalston Bar to open, we arrived just as the sign was being fixed up on the super cool old fashioned marquee outside. “Erm are you open yet?” we asked, with cocktail glasses for eyes. The first punters into the place, we nimbly took the steep stairs down to the basement “drinking den” and nabbed a table. Perusing the menu, it was a hard decision to make – I went for a “winter warmer”, a boozy, creamy nutmeg concoction that left me with a warm buzz and rosy cheeks. You can really relax at Ruby’s, the table service is fast and friendly, our waiter was exactly that. Drinks are served in vintage milk glass bottles, the seasonal cocktails expertly made – Ruby’s is not to be missed, highly recommended.
It was New Years Eve, babe – and we wanted pizza and craft beer. Another of Robbie’s tips – we headed to Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick, located by the canal in a former print factory, and within instagramming distance of the Olympic site. Not only do they brew their own beer on site, but you can order stone baked pizza too. The place was bustling, swanning in quite late on New Year’s Eve without any reservations, we were more than lucky to grab a table and get our orders in before the kitchen closed. We ordered the Moroccan Lamb, and Red Onion and Feta pizzas, the combinations were delectable, especially when washed down with a pint of fruity India Pale Ale . Suddenly the music was turned up, the fireworks started outside and a group of bedraggled students in fancy dress tinfoil outfits arrived to annoy everyone and we had ourselves an unforgettable countdown to 2013.
New Year’s Day I started as I meant to go on with a brisk jog down by the canal and beautiful houseboats, one day…Our plan for the day was to visit “19 Princelet street”, and so had several hundred other people. This historical house rarely opens to the public – perhaps once a year, so the announcement that they would open on New Year’s Day brought out the best of the British pastime – queueing. We waited over an hour, and it was well worth it. This crumbling 1700’s house was a former home of a French silk weaving family who had escaped from persecution in France at the time. Over the centuries the house has become a school, a church, lodgings for Irish, then Polish emigrants, and now houses an exhibition lovingly created by primary school students, with beautiful artifacts and heartwrenching storytelling about the history of emigration in London. See their website for opening details, you might be surprised what you learn about London. Unfortunately photos are not allowed, I can only advise you wholeheartedly to pay a visit, entry is free and donations are encouraged.
And now for a little bit of Paris, in the heart of London! Brasserie Zedel is a new very French, very Art Deco establishment, which has it all: cabaret venue, cocktail bar, a café bar and a grand Parisian brasserie all under one roof. It’s overwhelming and would take several visits to take it all in – thankfully. We popped in to the street level café for a light lunch and enjoyed sumptuous plates of quiche, followed by further sumptuous chocolate cake and coffees. Prices were (surprisingly?) reasonable as all that for under a tenner seemed like a good deal to me, not to mention very friendly service. We had arrived during the lunch rush and our waitress was on her own and still managed to look after everyone. While we were there, many French patrons came and went- a good sign, ne c’est pas?
Travelette’s tip: buy an Oyster card as soon as you can and top it up with 20 cuid, this lasted me 3 full days of gadding about, including the long jaunt from Heathrow airport.