City Focus London
Ryanair Magazine deputy editor Ed Chamberlin takes in the idiosyncratic shops, restaurants and bars of London’s Soho district.
CITY LENS LONDON
Even with the variety of shops, restaurants and other venues in Soho, Liberty stands out. A huge Tudor revival building decorated with artful and inventive window displays, it’s impossible to miss and sells a variety of high-end clothing and accessories.
Great Marlborough street, Tel: +44 (0)20 7573 9645, www.liberty.co.uk
CITY SOUL LONDON
Back in 2000, a plan was hatched to divide the pavements on either side of Oxford Street into two lanes: one for fast pedestrians and one for dawdlers. Although it never came to pass, the fact that this was even considered tells you something about the iconic shopping thoroughfare: yup, it’s packed every day with shoppers eagerly eyeing up the famous stores and chains such as Moss Bros, Selfridges, John Lewis, Debenhams and House of Fraser.
But slip off down one of the side streets and not only will you find yourself with enough room to swing a cat, but also surrounded by places that really show off the individuality and ingenuity that characterise London. Nowhere is this more so than on Carnaby Street. From the end of this year into 2010, Carnaby Street is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1960s, a decade when Brit fashion came into its own, showing a playful, creative and DIY side that captured the world’s imagination.
The DIY aspect is alive and well today, especially at Year Zero (37 Beak Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7734 7727, www.yearzerolondon.com), a neon, day-glo, cyberpunk fashion outlet selling everything from Lego jewellery to the most out-there clothing you’ve ever seen. It’s all designed and produced in-store by Rocky and Louise and seems to pile the fashion of every decade since the 1960s on top of one another to startling effect.
Customers are taking up DIY too. At Kingly Court, an extremely cute mall just off Carnaby Street, you can make your own jewellery at Claire Aristides (Level 2, Shop 2.11, Kingly Court, tel: +44 (0)20 7434 2161, www.clairearistidesjewelleryschool.co.uk). A one-day course costs £125 (€144), and guarantees that you leave with an impressive piece of handmade bling.
You can even apply the DIY theme to food. L’Atelier des Chefs (19 Wigmore Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7499 6580, www.atelierdeschefs.co.uk) has hit upon an ingenious way of feeding customers: instead of simply choosing from the menu, guests are ushered into the kitchen and taught to make the dish of the day themselves, before admiring their work together (i.e. eating it) over a glass of wine. We did the half-hour Cook, Eat & Run course and our dish was a tiger prawn stir-fry. After the gory business of ripping the prawns’ heads off and some fancy vegetable slicing, we sizzled up a lovely lunch for ourselves and smugly dined on our own work.
More personal creativity is on offer at So Restaurant (3–4 Warwick Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7292 0767, www.sorestaurant.com), one of London’s top sushi venues. For some reason, sushi is shrouded in mystery, seemingly appearing by magic in those tidy little boxes. To demystify the process, the two-hour sushi courses available at So take place on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 3.30pm, and cost from £60 (€69) – perfect for a date, combining getting your hands a little dirty with eating dainty food. After the course, you genuinely feel you have acquired a very special skill – just make sure you keep it up at home!
But enough DIY, get other people to do stuff for you! Start the day off with a hearty full English breakfast at Zilli Café (36-40 Brewer Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7287 9233, www.zillialdo.com), part of a series of venues curated by celebrity chef Aldo Zilli, who makes high-quality fish dishes using only sustainable fish. The fresh, crisp atmosphere is a perfect morning wake up call. Next door is Zilli Fish, a perfect lunch or dinner spot where you can enjoy the likes of seafood tapas and fish fresh from Billingsgate Market.
Your belly full, you are ready to tackle the bustle of Oxford Street. One famous venue also celebrating an anniversary is Selfridges (400 Oxford Street, www.selfridges.com). A staple of the London shopping scene, it’s 100 years old this year.
In 1925 the megastore hosted the first ever public demonstration of the television. Today though, it’s hosting cutting-edge treats from the subversive punks of the ice cream world: the Icecreamists. From 10 September until 1 November in the Ultralounge on the lowerground floor, the brand will be offering its “subzero delights” in a pop-up boutique, along with an in-house band, dancing girls, and a menu with items such as The Sex Pistol (Viagra and absinthe ice cream cocktail served in a pink water pistol) and the Prince Harry (ice cream sandwich with ginger nuts)!
More subdued (and British) is a nice cup of tea. Yumchaa (45 Berwisk Street, www.yumchaa.co.uk) is a newly opened tea shop with a vendetta against the teabag. Loose-leaf tea is the order of the day in this gorgeously laid-back little joint. As you order you are presented with a series of open jugs but, trust me, it is very hard to choose since they all smell like heaven. Eventually plumping for a raspberry, vanilla and ginseng blend, tasting it saw the rest of the world melt away for a few blissful moments.
Finished with your pause, head back into the fray by rolling down to Dean Street and Frith Street, home to all sorts of excitement. If you fancy giving your taste buds a bit of a rude awakening, Garlic & Shots (14 Frith Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7734 9505, www.garlicandshots.com) is one of the stranger venues you’ll find in London. Established by the Swedish Olsson brothers, everything on the menu here contains garlic, and shots are the primary tipple. The Bloodshot (vodka, tomato, garlic and chilli) ought to jolt you awake pretty quickly, after which you can relieve your tongue with a cold beer. With rock and heavy metal blasting out of the sound system, and everyone smelling garlicky, there is something delightfully seedy about this dark little bar.
Right across the street is its diametric opposite, the organised sophistication of newly opened Barrafina (54 Frith Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7813 8016, www.barrafina.co.uk), which is equal parts 1950s American diner and refined tapas bar. With all the seats hugging the bar and kitchen, it has an electric atmosphere of high activity from the staff and animated conversation from the wine-quaffing clientele.
If you want to crank it up a notch, just round the corner is the 2009 Tatler Restaurant of the Year, Quo Vadis (26-29 Dean Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7437 9585, www.quovadissoho.co.uk), which takes its inspiration from the former grill rooms of the Connaught and Savoy hotels. Here you are surrounded by people of impeccable taste, most notably the staff, who seemed to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the wine list, perfectly matching each dish, including the eye-opening calf’s brain!
This is the side of British cuisine you rarely see – obscure and hard-to-come-by cuts such as ox cheek, razor clams and roast squab (domestic pigeon), cooked and served with the subtlety and sophistication normally associated with French gastronomy.
Heading east to west along Oxford Street you pass a number of the West End’s more notable clubs, such as the edgy Punk (14 Soho Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7734 4004, www.punksoho.co.uk), and legendary gig venue 100 Club (100 Oxford Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7636 0933, www.the100club.co.uk). Nearby, behind Carnaby Street, Ain’t Nothin’ But… the Blues Bar (20 Kingly Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7287 0514, www.aintnothinbut.co.uk) has some of London’s most raucous live music.
At the west end – where Marble Arch attracts camera-toting tourists and Speakers’ Corner (north-east corner of Hyde Park, www.speakerscorner.net) attracts, well, nutters, frankly, from religious preachers to conspiracy theorists – two venues epitomise London’s relentless creativity and energy.
The first is Texture (34 Portman Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7224 0028, www.texture-restaurant.co.uk), a place that really lives up to its name by offering some unique food sensations. The project of Icelandic chef Aggi Sverrisson and sommelier Xavier Rousset, the food is pitched somewhere between North Sea crispness, modern French class and mind-bending molecular masterpieces. Before reaching your table, sip Champagne with ginger and Crème de Cassis, with a side order of bacon popcorn (genius!) in the bar area. Then take your seats and prepare for some unique textures. The ice-cold pea soup, Faroese organic salmon and Fisherman’s Friend meringue give you some idea of the innovation and specificity of the ingredients, but the only way to really get it is to try it.
The second, nearby Balinese-themed Taman Gang (141 Park Lane, tel: +44 (0)20 7518 31600, www.tamangang.com), simply oozes exclusivity – from the enormous doorway to the elaborate, tasteful decoration in the underground venue itself. On weekends, this place is your one-stop shop for a proper night out. Serving pan-Asian food in the early evening, once the clock strikes 11pm the tables are pulled away and replaced with futons, the DJ sets up the decks, and the whole venue goes from 0–60 in a matter of moments. From there, you are in their care until late into the night.
SLEEP IN STYLE
Aside from everything else, the Oxford Street/Soho area of London is liberally sprinkled with an abundance of ludicrously chic hotels, many of which are internationally famous to the point of going by a single name.
Claridge’s (49 Brook Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7629 8860, www.claridges.co.uk), has had so many royal visitors and connections that it is sometimes referred to as “the extension to Buckingham Palace”. What the Queen would make of the language emanating from the kitchen is anyone’s guess, as the main restaurant is run by Gordon “f**kin” Ramsay. Now that’s style!
At the other end of the aesthetic scale is the Sanderson (50 Berners Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7300 1400, www.sandersonlondon.com), which will break anyone’s trendy-ometer. Refurbished in 2000 by Philippe Starck, the rooms feature eye-poppingly inventive furniture, the famous Long Bar (25m long) and a Dali-esque lips sofa.
The Connaught (Carlos Place, tel: +44 (0)20 7499 7070, www.the-connaught.co.uk) has long been a player on the luxury London pad scene, and went into hibernation in 2007 for a refurbishment before reopening the very same year. It now boasts the ultra-stylish Coburg Bar and French super-chef Hélène Darroze.
With a selection like this, you really begin to understand why Mayfair is the most expensive square on the (British) Monopoly board!
CITY CENTS LONDON
London is simply too big a city to cover in one go, and many guidebooks present only a fraction of the big picture in the Big Smoke. Taschen’s new tome doesn’t try to be comprehensive, but instead goes for lavish style, great photography and cute hand-drawn maps. As much an art book as a guidebook.
I LOVE LONDON T-SHIRT
For some reason, the I love London T-shirt has simply never acquired the cult status of the I love NY version. It doesn’t need to be that way! Put an end to this horrid injustice by buying one of your own from any of a number of souvenir shops that line Oxford Street. Wear it with pride!
It’s exactly 30 years on and this punk classic still resonates with first-generation punks and new listeners alike. The iconic Pennie Smith cover and the call to arms of the title track make this one of the most famous London albums ever. But be sure to get a copy on vinyl, not CD!
Prices vary, £10 (€11.60)
The mysterious Banksy is famed for his original and often provocative pieces of graffiti art, which he produces so quickly and discreetly that no one really knows who he is. We bought this mini-replica at a souvenir shop on Oxford Street, which was much easier than hacking off a chunk of wall.
ROAD KILL TOY
You may have outgrown your cuddly teddy bear, but the more mature, worldly part of you will appreciate these road kill toys. When the designers presented their idea on BBC show Dragons’ Den, the panel were disgusted. We, on the other hand, were delighted! Pick one up from Playlounge (19 Beak Street, tel: +44 (0)20 7287 7073, www.playlounge.co.uk).
FEVER TREE TONIC WATER
Gin and Tonic was originally devised by the British East India Company in order to combat malaria. Now a quintessentially British cocktail, the G&T needs decent ingredients to really shine. Try this proper tonic water, which you can pick up at most supermarkets.
500ml, £1.69 (€2)
Selfridges is one of London’s biggest department stores, and is celebrating its centenary this year with a host of goodies, such as this tin of shortbread biscuits. Shortbread’s reputation for being bland is completely unjustified, especially if you dip it in Chelsea Chai.
Take the hassle out of travelling around the UK capital by getting yourself an Oyster card. Replacing fiddly paper tickets, it works like a swipe card on most forms of public transport and is much cheaper, too. Simply pay a refundable £3 deposit at the booth, then keep it for whenever you come back.
£5.10 (€6) daily
YUMCHAA CHELSEA CHAI
Brits love their tea, but aside from your standard builder’s cuppa, there are more distinctive flavours available, as we found in trendy tea shop Yumchaa. Pick up a bag of aromatic tea leaves, such as Chelsea Chai, which not only tastes great, but smells incredible!
CITY LIVES LONDON
We meet Louise Michielsens and Rocky Mazzilli from cult fashion store Year Zero
LM: “We started two years ago and chose the Carnaby Street area because of its beautiful history and fame from the 1960s to the 1980s.
RM: “It used to be big with the punk movement, and now it has become a lot more cult – limited-edition jeans, stuff like that, which is fantastic. So we want to be a step forward too and give something that tourists can come and ‘view’. We make all the items ourselves and have people coming in from all over the world – Japan, China, Korea, Europe. They come to Carnaby Street to see something different, and they find it here.”
LM: “A lot of young people come in and get so excited, because for them we do something that is so new, and something magic!”
RM: “The Legos (large jewellery made of Lego) have been selling like crazy, but everything in the store sells well. It depends on your price range. There are people who buy T-shirts because of the stories behind them, and we have bespoke bracelets we make with your name or any kind of word. The people with a slightly bigger budget go for the Italian things, the jackets. But it’s people who are very ‘cult’, who like cult toys, cult images and cult music, who really go for Year Zero. We are lucky to get lots of celebrity buyers who are really cutting-edge, like Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Pharrell and Mika – we did his latest video. Yoko Ono also bought all this stuff from our first collection.
“Our clients have had an evolution in style since we opened two years ago. It was a very young movement, starting with skinny jeans and eyeliner, and it evolved into a complete outfit. The girls were feeling a bit left out between the flowers, the prints and the romantic thing, so we gave them an edge. A Year Zero girl has a shaved head and piercings.”
LM: “The girls are boyish, and the boys are feminine. We are the new punk, we use the past but modernise it because kids want a change.”
RM: “In Japan, there aren’t clothes for girls and clothes for guys any more. So that’s what we do. It’s unisex. Kids are style-conscious and our collection gives you an image. If you like to be different, special or unique, it’s all about Year Zero.”
37 Beak Street, Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 7727, www.yearzerolondon.com
CITY MAP LONDON
Find what you need around the West End with our handy map
1 / SANDERSON HOTEL
50 Berners Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7300 1400,
2 / COURTHOUSE HOTEL
2 / COURTHOUSE HOTEL
tel: +44 (0)20 7297 5555,
3 / THE CONNAUGHT
tel: +44 (0)20 7499 7070,
4 / CLARIDGE’S
49 Brook Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7629 8860,
5 / THE LANGHAM LONDON
1c Portland Place, Regent Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7636 1000,
6 / PLAYLOUNGE
19 Beak Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7287 7073,
7 / YEAR ZERO
37 Beak Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7734 7727,
8 / SPEAKERS’ CORNER
North-east corner of Hyde Park,
9 / SISTER RAY
34–35 Berwick Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3297,
10 / YUMCHAA
45 Berwick Street,
11 / ZILLI CAFE / ZILLI FISH
36–40 Brewer Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7287 9233,
12 / BARRAFINA
54 Frith Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7813 8016,
13 / L’ATELIER DES CHEFS
19 Wigmore Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7499 6580,
14 / TEXTURE
34 Portman Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7224 0028,
15 / QUO VADIS
26–29 Dean Street,
tel: +44 (0)207 437 9585,
16 / TAMAN GANG
141 Park Lane,
tel: +44 (0)20 7518 3160,
17 / GARLIC & SHOTS
14 Frith Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7734 9505,
18 / AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT… THE BLUES BAR
20 Kingly Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7287 0514,
19 / PUNK
14 Soho Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7734 4004,
20 / 100 CLUB
100 Oxford Street,
tel: +44 (0)20 7636 0933,