Our ‘my city’ series puts a new perspective on some of our favourite places, as we catch up with creative residents, asking them to divulge their best-kept secrets. From their recommended cheap eats, to their go-to coffee spot, there are plenty of hints and tips on how to stay like a local.
For our second London instalment in the series, we pick the brains of our Managing Editor, Eleanor Cording-Booth.
It’s a cliché to say, but Monmouth really is worth the queue! My only bugbear is they don’t open on Sundays. I’d also recommend Ozone Coffee Roasters in Shoreditch: they have a cool converted warehouse space and the food is as good as the coffee (I always order the eggs royale). Another favourite is Caravan – they have a house blend called ‘special bru’, which I love.
As a side note, I get a bit obsessed with hot chocolate in winter, and Ottolenghi make one of the best.
How about something stronger – do you have a favourite bar or pub?
I’m not really a big drinker, so I’d always go for a cocktail over a few beers. The Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell serves concoctions that you won’t find anywhere else, and the staff are always happy to make suggestions. It’s quite a small place with an open fire and it (intentionally) feels a bit like someone’s posh, eccentric living room. I’m such a fan that we even popped in on Christmas Day!
My favourite place for cocktails with live music is The Nightjar in Shoreditch – it’s a basement speakeasy with low-lit interiors and a band playing jazz and blues music. For a special occasion or a date, it’s really glam and feels like stepping back in time.
If a friend’s visiting and you want to impress them, which restaurant would you choose?
My current obsession is Padella in Borough for amazing fresh pasta. You can’t book, so you might have to wait an hour, but you’ll be rewarded with the pasta of your dreams! The dishes are designed to share, so order two per person. Their pici cacio e pepe won the 2016 award for London’s best dish!
For steak, you can’t beat Flat Iron in Covent Garden for steak and chips, followed by free (yes, really) salted caramel ice cream. The steak is a bargain at £10 and it’s perfectly cooked, plus the cocktails are affordable.
If I was meeting someone for brunch, I’d go to Granger & Co. in Clerkenwell for the chic Scandi interiors and insanely delicious Aussie breakfast menu. The ricotta hotcakes and avocado frappé are my favourites. Alternatively I’d go to Duck and Waffle to watch the sunrise. I always order the ‘Full Elvis’, which is the best sweet waffle dish that I’ve ever eaten.
And your favourite cheap eat?
I love Franco Manca for the best sourdough pizza when I can’t be bothered to cook. They can be found all over London and you can get dinner for less than £10. If I was meeting a friend for breakfast, I’d choose Dishoom. I love the airy converted warehouse space at the King’s Cross branch and their egg and bacon naan is legendary. Pre-book though, or arrive an hour before breakfast finishes, just in case there’s a queue.
Can you reveal your best-kept London secret?
It’s so frequently Instagrammed that it’s hardly a secret, but go to Borough Market and buy the best doughnuts in London from Bread Ahead, then just enjoy being alive while you find somewhere to scoff them. I head for the north bank of the River Thames, as it’s much quieter than the South Bank and there are plenty of benches where I can sit and eat my week’s worth of calories in peace.
Another food market tip is Maltby Street Market in Bermondsey – this is smaller than Borough Market but less touristy and has food and drink stalls tucked amongst railway arches. There are plenty of places to sit and people-watch here and there’s a really cool salvage and interiors shop called Lassco – spot it from the colourful ‘aloha’ lighting outside.
I go to the cinema pretty often and we have loads of great ones to choose from. Regent Street Cinema is beautiful inside and plays one-off screenings of independent films and interesting double bills. It’s in dead-central London, but not many people seem to know about it. My favourite cinema for a treat is the Electric Cinema in Shoreditch. It’s owned by the Soho House group, so the interiors are pretty jazzy (as is the price). It’s really small and has velvet armchairs and sofas, cashmere blankets, footstools and side tables with lamps. Such a cosy date spot!
Tell us something that only a resident of the city would know?
For fellow fans of greenery and flowers (cut me and I bleed cheese plant), Columbia Road Flower Market is held every Sunday morning in East London. It’s maddeningly crowded but really atmospheric and buzzy, plus there are some lovely independent shops lining the street, a couple of decent pubs and a cosy Italian restaurant called Campania. Go towards the end of the day (3pm) to get tonnes of flowers for £5. Don’t arrive after 4pm though, or you’ll be too late. Prepare for the stallholders to be a unique combination of charismatic and abrupt (definitely the latter if you try to negotiate).
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done in London, and why?
I’m far too safety-conscious and boring to do anything weird. A few out-of-the-ordinary things I’ve done in London include watching a film under the stars in the courtyard at Somerset House, taking a guided tour of the amazing Highgate Cemetery and going to a photo shoot with live wolves and vultures at Hornsey Town Hall in North London – they often hold unusual events there.
Are there any tourist traps that should be avoided?
If you hate crowds, Oxford Circus on a weekend can be stressful. Marylebone, Spitalfields, Upper Street in Islington and King’s Road in Chelsea are much more manageable for shopping.
What’s the best thing to do in London for free?
I love to walk miles around the city at the weekend. Nothing beats strolling around the handsome streets of Mayfair or Notting Hill and feeling like there’s nowhere else you’d rather be. We also have so many beautiful Royal Parks to enjoy when the weather’s dry.
If the weather’s rubbish, we’re lucky that most of our museums and art galleries have free entrance. Head to South Kensington and make a rainy day of it in the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the V&A, which are all next door to one another. For something more low-key, check out the Hunterian Museum in Holborn.
Are there any local customs or traditions that visitors to the city should be aware of?
Stand on the right of all tube escalators – this is taken very seriously. On the subject of London transport, don’t waste time queueing to buy a travel card or an Oyster card. If you have a contactless bank card, you can just use that instead and the journey costs the same. It’s worth noting that if the journey you’re about to make is only one tube stop, it’s probably just as quick to walk. Citymapper and Tube Map apps are both really useful when planning how to get around.
Where’s a good place for a date?
I once had the perfect day in Richmond. You start at the top of Richmond Hill to take in the amazing views and end with early dinner at the ridiculously romantic Petersham Nurseries. Sandwich a long walk around Richmond Park in the middle and no matter what the time of year, that would be hard to beat.
If you don’t have a chance to leave central London, I hear Clos Maggiore in Covent Garden is about as gorgeous as it gets for a romantic setting – think canopies of branches overhead and a roaring fire. Though, it’s essential to book well in advance and you have to specifically request a table in the conservatory.
Where would you go to get your fix of London’s cultural and creative scene?
I live next to the Barbican Centre, which is a Brutalist icon that people either love or loathe. It has a really interesting arts programme – everything from classical music to photography exhibitions. If you’re there on a Sunday, make sure to check out its huge conservatory, which is free to visit. You can even have afternoon tea there now.
Where do you go when you need to get away from it all?
North Wales is my favourite place to go in the UK. It’s incredibly beautiful with dramatic mountains, lakes and deserted beaches. I’ll probably retire there when I’m old and build a cool glass cabin by the water.
Closer to London, Brighton is perfect for a day of shopping and eating by the sea. It’s one of the few seaside destinations near London that’s cheap to reach by train (it’s about £10 return from London Bridge). If I want calm and green space, I don’t stray too far: I’d go to Regent’s Park for an hour or two and then have a potter around Marylebone, which is very upscale and idyllic, especially as it’s in central London.
In your opinion, what’s the best time of year to visit?
Definitely autumn! It’s that magical time of year when London looks all colourful and leafy but isn’t too cold. The summer crowds have left by then, the Christmas ones haven’t arrived yet and it’s totally acceptable to hunker down in a cosy pub and eat pies and crumbles.
If you didn’t live in London, where else would you live and why?
I’ve always wanted to move to Downtown New York for a year or two. I love the buildings and the energy, it really is just like the movies and it’s the one place I return to over and over. If I didn’t make it across the pond, I’d choose Amsterdam for its laid-back vibe, friendly locals, great shopping and charming streets lined with picture-perfect canal houses.
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