The best money can buy
If you still think that the English don’t care about what they eat (or don’t eat anything unless it is bacon with grilled tomatoes and something white and strange they call mushroom) it is high time for you to come to London and check the long way this city, and its inhabitants, have taken to change their culinary habits.
For me, even after all those years I have spent in the UK, it’s still difficult to define something called English (British?) cuisine and to be honest I don’t complain much about this.
Do you want to know where I have eaten the best croissants? In London of course (and I am telling you this – a girl madly in love with Paris!). The best spaghetti? London (and I have lived in Italy). The best sausages? Well, I still think there is nothing better than my sausage stand in Kraków but London is close behind!
The best ingredients money can buy, best selections of wine from all over the world, best chefs and choices of restaurants that spoil the most demanding customers.
My area of expertise in London covers parts of its centre moving a little bit towards west and north. The place where I spend most of my time is Marylebone (I am lucky to work there) and this is also where I would advise you to spend most of your time in London if you are not, of course, here for the first time in order to tick boxes of all the main attractions.
Marylebone feels like an independent little village but I guess having London attached to it helps a lot. Almost no tourists (so far), lovely local restaurants, independent shops, markets and fairs (one at Christmas and one some time during June to start the summer season).
Come here and check the Sunday local market at Cramer Street Car Park and you will notice there is not that much difference in quality in what they offer here or in a random street marche in France.
I usually start my weekend with a small breakfast at Villandry (Great Portland Street 170) close to Regent Park Station. It is Marta’s favourite place in London as well and I am sure she will write her own story about it one day.
I come here for good (and not too expensive for London standards) food, free internet and very friendly staff who let me spend hours writing articles for this blog. Actually, I am writing this one at Villandry as well ;)
The place offers something for every part of your day: charcuterie bar for breakfasts, Sunday brunches and afternoon teas, posher and more expensive restaurant for business lunches or family dinners, a bar for the evenings and a deli for when you actually want to eat something at home.
At the weekend you can buy picnic hampers in Villandry so if you are lucky to be in London during one of the 5 warm days we have here over summer, get one and take itwith you to Regent Park. Only 5 minutes away and probably the nicest park in the town.
Not far from Villandry, on the other side of Great Portland street at number 195, there is my favourite Spanish tapas place in London, Iberica. Fantastic food, incredible staff and if you have a bit too much wine and try hard you can actually feel almost like in Spain. They have a very good selection of the finest iberica ham which you can also buy to take away. Their bar is nice just for a quick drink and tapa and unfortunately sometimes the only option if you haven’t booked. The place gets quite busy in the evenings and during weekends.
Take a walk through the lovely Marylebone high street. This is a place where I come to search for my lunch food almost every week day. So if you want something quick try Divertimenti (33/34 Marylebone High Street). From the street it looks like a cookware shop but trust me this is a place where you can buy something to eat as well.
It’s always full of locals, a bit eccentric but very nice, who pop up almost every day for soup or a slice of one of their nice cakes. If you would like to improve your cooking skills while you are in London you may want to check their cookery school offers as well.
Another lunch place I can recommend is called Natural Kitchen (77-78 Marylebone Hight Street) with its deli (again wonderful cakes! I can never stay very long on my low sugar diet in London), café, restaurant and butcher.
It’s my second favourite butcher (before I came to England I didn’t know that you can actually have your favourite butcher) and the very favourite one, The Ginger Pig, is just a stones away at 8-10 Moxon Street. Try there their giant sausage roll (finally something truly British!). You can enjoy it in a little Public Park at the end of Moxon street where girls from posh schools nearby and office workers from Marylebone mix together to eat their lunches outside if the British weather allows them to.
Those who like chocolate (I bet you all do!) should check Rococo Chocolates (45 Marylebone High Street), a very nice little shop with their own products. This is theBritish approach to chocolate and they are quite different from what you can find in Europe. Tastes are not typical or traditional like pralines with vanilla or black current. But it’s definitely worth trying.
Next to Ginger Pig, on Moxon Street, there is probably the best cheese shop in London if not in the entire England – La Fromagerie. Their café offers nice lunches (with cheese tasting options of course) which menu changes almost every day. I have to warn you that this is not the cheapest option but I am sure you will be tempted as soon as you put your head inside.
For a bigger lunch or actually even dinner I would advise you to try L’Entrecôte, Le Relais de Venise (Marylebone Lane 120). Originally French, and still run by the same family, L’Entrecore specialises in the filet cut of sirloin and serves it in the typical French bistrot style of steak-frites. I will come back to this concept in one of my Parisian posts later.
Vegetarians, no need for you to come as the only question you will be asked there is how well you want you steak to be done.
Keep your bill as it will offer you 20% off if you come back for another lunch (or dinner in their City branch) – the discount usually pays for your wine ;)
Please note that they don’t take bookings so you will either need to join the queue outside or come quite early. I have recently noticed, sitting in Café Caldesi on the opposite site of the street, that the place is becoming more and more popular and you need to arrive not later than 18:30 to be sure to have a place without waiting too long.
Well, what other evidence would we need to prove that the financial crisis if finally over!
Café Caldesi, mentioned above, is my choice when I need something truly Italian. This is real Tuscan cuisine with real Tuscan chef (author of books and TV programmes on cooking) and real Italian stuff. Number one on my espresso places in London.
Apart from very good coffee (which you can also drink like Italians do, at the bar) they have nice simple options for lunch or early dinner in their café downstairs and more refined food for elegant dining upstairs.
I love their tomato and chilli sauce with linguine which happens to be Giancarlo Caldesi’s favourite as well. (I promise to share with you my way of making it, which I think tastes almost like the original version!)
By the way, Marylebone Lane where Café Caldesi is stuated, is an amazing place itself. Good restaurants, shops which specialise in ribbons (or anything else you need to make your own hat), buttons or ballerinas for children, bars, old-school style English style butcher (Biggles, 66 Marylebone Lane), a food shop (Paul Roth and Son, 35 Marylebone Lane), a place where they claim to find you tickets to any event you can possibly think of and a Japanese hair dresser.
Check especially French Sole store – they have the biggest selection of lovely flat shoes (for adults!) which I, the greatest fan of ballerinas ever (maybe apart from Marta), can’t miss!
And if you like Asian food then try Tomoe (62 Marylebone Lane). My Japanese colleagues say this is almost like eating at home in Tokyo (but prices are much more friendly) so you may like it as well.
I am not a fan of Asian food in general but even I have to say it wasn’t bad at all!
For a drink I often go to 108 or Coach Makers– none of them is cheap but a pleasure of having a nice glass of wine there is worth it! 108 has a very nice toilet whose drying facilities saved me few times when English rains caught me in the town.
Golden Hind (73 Marylebone Lane, opposite the steak place), fish and chips restaurant, is not where I would often go but if you want to try something British in a British place (owned by Greeks though ;)) this should be your choice.
All the above in a relatively small street – check it, you will love it!
Fish, by the way, is much better at Fishworks (89 Marylebone High Street) and they also do fish and chips to take away. You can always take it with you to Paddington Street public gardens.
While in Marylebone take a walk in little streets east of Marylebone High Street, somewhere between Devonshire street and Wigmore Street – famous Harley Street with offices of London most expensive private doctors and especially Devonshire and Wimpole Mews with their colourful little houses (this is where I go to take photos if my friends want to have nice portraits).
Check as well St Christoper Place – it’s best when you enter it through a narrow secret street off Oxford Street (check on our city maps). Everyone misses it and it feels like giving you an exclusive entrance to something not every tourist would know about.
I don’t recommend any place there to eat or even drink but it’s nice to have a walk there and enjoy its lively atmosphere.
And to finish your visit with style I will recommend a quick trip to Selfridges on Oxford Street just next to St Christopher Place – the best department store on earth. You will be pleased to know that it’s not only a place where you can get rid of some money and make a good usage of your credit card but also find pleasant restaurants and bars.
Obika, Mozzarella Bar (2nd floor) is third on my list of best espressos in London. They, as the name suggest, serve different kinds of mozzarella and other light lunch options. Plus it is situated somewhere between Gucci and Cavalli if you want to check fashion while eating ;)
I often go to Frankie’s (on level -1) for the best burgers and possibly also pizza in London.
And of course to Pierre Herme in the food hall – I will definitely write more about him in our Paris section soon. Here in London you can only buy his famous macaroons but these are definitely the best macaroons you have ever had!
By the way, Marylebone is a great place if you are looking for a good hairdresser as well. This is where I go – Michael Van Clarke
London Part II
London Part III