We savour the British capital — London’s two best restaurants, museums, hotels, and more that truly encompass what would define a sheer luxe life. By Siddharth Singh
In our student days in London, our hideouts were pubs and bookstores—both highs of different denominations. A return to the British capital, after two decades, was a comforting reminder of how, in a world of diminishing reading interest, bookstores foster civilisation. We stopped by Daunt on Marylebone High Street and further out to Notting Hill’s Lutyens & Rubinstein Bookstore: both radiated the solace of quiet places where literature resides. Oaken galleries, obscure and gorgeous books about the secret lives of ladybugs, large and light-loving windows overlooking rainy scenes of British city life—we were relieved to see independent bookstores restore a semblance of order in a crazed world. Daunt has signed books of some of the most important contemporary authors, while Lutyens & Rubinstein comes with its own reader’s concierge, where a book expert sits down with you at tea to talk about a list of books best suited for your tastes. Evolve, human, evolve!
WHAT TO SEE
We noticed order of a different office in the works of Azzedine Alaia’s great retrospective at the Design Museum. The Tunisian designer, who lived and worked out of Paris, fashioned his own singular sartorial language. He took handsome and sublime risks with form and material; no wonder his patrons included Naomi Campbell, Michelle Obama, and Madonna. Like any true artist, his collections were whimsical, definitive, and produced only when he had work to share. Alaia refused to do the usual industry cartwheels for fashion weeks or submit to the will of corporate fashion houses. This show, housed in a John Pawson building in Kensington, confirms how major museums now honour couture as art—some years ago, Alexander McQueen’s show, Savage Beauty, at the V & A was a dazzling visual treat that enjoyed a record number of visitors. Alaia’s designs, and his life, prove that it is possible to remain free-spirited and classic, and to articulate unpopular opinions fearlessly (Alaia was a ruthless critic of Anna Wintour), and to endure in spite of tart declamations. Situated in Forest Hill, the Horniman Museum is set over 16 acres, with a conservatory, a bandstand, and one of the finest collections of taxidermy animals—we kept hoping to encounter our mother-in-law among the exhibits but to no avail. The sound garden is ideal for playing a musical instrument (bring your own flute), and if the weather holds, a picnic (we suggest goodies from the Ottolenghi deli). A little tipsy on your picnic bubbly? Wander into the Horniman’s Butterfly House: it is a little like falling into a dream, with blue and black winged creatures drifting across your path like a Damien Hirst installation. Under the dynamic management of Nicholas Merriman, the museum has been revived with fine new programming that makes meaningful the landscape and its great archival material.
WHERE TO STAY
The Ritz—the word conjures to mind glamour, capacious dining rooms, vaulted ceilings, beautiful murals, and fine food. Right at check-in, where an observant member of reception recognised our Smythson passport case, we were impressed with superlative service. When we needed recommendations, the concierge obliged with a discernment that was both, delicate and rare. One evening, we meandered into the hotel’s cigar bar—it evokes a sepia world of Hemingway glamour, with patrons smoking away the hours in a haze of nostalgia and exquisite regret. When hunger struck, we didn’t go too far as The Ritz, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, has a stunning restaurant (the scallops, privileged with apples and marigold, were truly memorable—we tip our hat to executive chef John Williams). Make sure you observe the dress code; while it seems pedantic at first, it adds beautifully to the ambience. We spent long afternoon hours at high tea, served by penguin suited butlers, and marvelling at the Long Gallery and the Palm Court. For our evening stroll, we went to the nearby Green Park—an oasis in central London. On our return, we were welcomed by The Ritz’s doormen, all white gloves and facile charm—throughout our stay we felt so utterly welcome, it was difficult to leave.
Another member of The Leading Hotels of the World, The Landmark, has a magnificent atrium, which makes you forget you are in London. The strong tropical light erases any memory of dismal grey skies. The grand lobby, with its dramatic staircase, the enchanting use of duck egg blue and clotted cream whites in the decor, and the Mirror Bar with its Rajasthan-inspired use of refraction are all good reasons to hang your hat at The Landmark. We were impressed by the sheer size of our room—practically an apartment and thoughtfully embellished with a grand sofa and windows overlooking a serene street. There’s an enormous chlorine- free pool and a spa (with chakra stone massage—which sounded dubiously Californian to us). While the green solace of Regent’s Park is nearby, be warned that one side of this hotel faces a busy street. But once in your room, it is quiet as a cathedral. We encourage breakfast at The Landmark, as also the Sunday brunch, which is basically an endless and rapturous feast (team the bubbly with their salmon nigiri sushi).
WHERE TO EAT
Hotelier Samyukta Nair, whose grandfather, Captain Nair, founded The Leela Group of Hotels, wears many hats. She heads design at the Leela Hotels. Clove is a popular design store she founded. And Jamavar, her flagship London restaurant, won its first Michelin star. When Travel+Leisure India swung by, the restaurant was rippling over capacity, reminding us why celebrated food critic Fay Maschler has been raving about this inventive and dazzling new restaurant. Don’t forget to call in the pepper squid with tellicherry sauce— light, hot, marvellous. We didn’t expect to be delighted by sushi at Laurent, the restaurant at the sumptuous Hotel Café Royal.
We might even write a poem on their bread—a baked popover—which had swiftly shed its breadness and arrived in echoes of gouda, a scrapping of cheddar, and that pepper-infused crust of lusciousness. But we remain diehard fans of Laurent’s grilled octopus with lemon aioli. Coupled with the restaurant’s sleek decor, you can hide at lunch pretending you’re cutting million dollar deals while browsing Net-a-Porter!
LUNCH During daytime, the Michelin-star restaurant of Céleste at The Lanesborough, Oetker Collection, is awash with natural light, let in by its domed glass roof. The meals showcase the finest British heritage, thanks to Chef Patron, Éric Fréchon, who holds five Michelin stars and oversees the menu at this dazzling diner. You can also book a spot for their special festive dinners, wine tastings, or masterclasses.
AFTERNOON TEA Don’t go without the very English afternoon tea experience. And where better to have it than The English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel, London’s first hotel and the place that Queen Victoria often chose for her royal cuppa.
DINNER Awarded two AA Rosettes, the Winter Garden at The Landmark London offers a modern European dining experience with impeccable service in a setting that includes palms and an eight- storey glass atrium.
SPECIAL TREAT The Gilbert Scott enjoys a historic 19th-century setting at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel in Kings Cross. Go beyond the usual fare and book yourself a seat
at the crescent-shaped Chef’s Table, surrounded by a wall of exquisite wines. Overlooking
the restaurant’s engine room, the experience involves a surprise tasting menu whipped up in front of you.