Written by Jon Clarke
There’s perhaps no city (other than Rome maybe) romanticised through its iconic history as our very own capital. London is a living love affair of cobble streets and modern beats - a multi-cultural medley to lose yourself in. And nobody knows the place as well as Goodwin Smith ambassador, Carl Thompson.
So let him take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London (if you don’t get this musical reference, you disappoint us)...
“London, whichever way you slice it is one of the best cities in the world. It is an endless opus of historical virtue populated by rampant-hungry minds that questingly seek the latest fashion, the newest pop-up, the most instagrammable, yet unmolested touchstones of the city.”
People who visit London for a weekend often come away with similar comments - “amazing sightseeing, too touristy, great but exhausting”. Well we are here to take you beyond the tourist hotspots, show you the unseen, and slap you in the face if you whine about being exhausted again. Tell ‘em Carl…
The top three offbeat London bars
Saying ‘undiscovered gems’ and ‘London’ in the same sentence is ironic and frankly a lie. But the point we are making here is to try out some lesser known places. Everybody does the Mayflower, GONG @ Shangri-La Shard, or the Whistling Shop - and for good reason. BUT, why not go off the grid?
1. The Viaduct Tavern, Newgate Street
If you’d like to sample an authentic and traditional taste of London, the Viaduct Tavern on Newgate Street is a great place to start. A Victorian era, one-time jail, the Viaduct is a former gin palace with original gin booth and grand wall frescoes.
2. The Magic Roundabout, Shoreditch
Magic Roundabout, which is accessed via a secret staircase in Old St tube station, is one of the quirkiest spots in London. Pop down and treat yourself to something delicious at any time of the day. At 7am, coffee kings, Relax It's Only Coffee, will be there to greet you with a hot cup of Joe on your way to work; during the day, visit The Shack for a plate of premium street food - sticky ribs, crispy waffles, jerk chicken and more; and of an evening, grab yourself some killer cocktails designed by the renowned White Lyan.
The Magic Roundabout is more an expansive idea than a bar. An incredible idea at that.
3. Trailer Happiness, Portobellow Road
Find Trailer Happiness in a basement on Portobello Road. Boasting quirky off-beat decor, some of the finest cocktails that you'll find in West London and a straightforward feel-good vibe, this intimate venue is perfect for those looking for an alternative cocktail bar in London. Plus, with regular DJ nights, it's a great place to dance the night away too!
Bonus bar: Nightjar, Shoreditch
With chilled vibes, quality cocktails and attentive bar staff, Nightjar is the answer to the over-crowded cocktails bars of West London. Described as the ultimate speakeasy bar in London, descend down into this bar to find candlelit tables, glass jar cocktails and swing bar soundtracks. Without a shadow of doubt, this is one of the best cocktail bars in Shoreditch.
The Nightjar is moody, brooding and unique. Pass the whiskey and put the Jazz on, Frank.
Where to eat in London
Ivy Gardens, Kings Road
Accessible via a five-minute walk from Sloane Square tube station, this place is (as Carl puts it) a perfect treat for the missus. “In terms of pricing, I’d say it’s mid-level for London standards (£15 for fish and chips). The food is wonderful, there's enough on the plate (unlike the outrageously overpriced Cinnamon Kitchen down the road) and the underpinning romanticism that you feel within the floral surrounding is inescapable.”
Get lost in the soothingly natural vibes of the Ivy Garden on Kings Road.
Carl concludes that the Ivy Gardens is “like dining in a theatre production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream without the drugs.” We’re sold.
Social Eating House, Soho
Social Eating Houses’ dark, low-slung dining room, with its mirrored ceiling and modern artworks, feels cool and informal, while chef Paul Hood’s menu delivers dishes that are at once highly sophisticated, accessible and above all delicious – often throwing in a welcome touch of theatricality when you least expect it. Efficient, attentive staff keep this star-studded show on the road.
Quite honestly, the list of restaurants and eateries in London goes way beyond the capabilities of this blog post. We advise checking out this awesome Time Out article which covers 100 of the greatest places to eat in London.
What to see in London
A virgin tourist to London will come with their own, long list of places to see. And that list will be fabulous but predictable. Buckingham Palace, Harrods, Tower Bridge, The Eye, and so on. We absolutely recommend doing all of these, as they are the essence of London and provide the most instagrammable of photo opportunities. But if you’re after less trodden places to try out, Carl recommends the following:
The Camden Passage
Tucked behind Upper Street in Islington, Camden Passage is a real treasure trove of cute cafes, independent boutiques, vintage shops – where you'll find everything from exquisite one-offs to fun party outfits – as well as an antiques market selling furniture, curios, war memorabilia and various bric-a-brac.
If there's a single image to sell you the beauty of Little Venice, this is probably it.
Just as its name suggests, Little Venice is London's answer to the famous Italian city. Home to a plethora of waterside cafes and pubs, the area comes alive in the summer months, as Londoners jump on canal boats or walk their doggos along the riverside to nearby Camden or Regent's Park.
Kyoto Gardens, Holland Park
The Kyoto Japanese Garden is a hidden gem wrapped in another hidden gem: Holland Park. The beautiful park is tucked away in smart Kensington and has plenty of its own hidden corners, with winding paths, statues, peacocks, an opera house and an orangery, alongside the tranquil Kyoto Gardens. Take a good book on a sunny afternoon and lose yourself in a tranquility not often associated with London.
Escape the hustle and Bustle in Holland Park's Kyoto Japanese Gardens.
The final word on London
If you’ve not already, you should check out Carl Thompson’s blog. It’s here that he proclaims that “there is no final word about this city. No finite conclusion, no completed script. London is an open ticket, difficult to chapterise, impossible to cover in a single blog. If you're coming to London, then you'll want a plan. Getting lost is ok, but it's not like getting lost in Venice. Venice is a fairyland City straight out of a Spielberg movie. London has more serious edges. But that's what I love about it.”
We don’t know about you, but this has got us itching for a visit to the capital again soon!