An expat’s guide to London’s best food + drink
There isn’t much Fiona McCarthy hasn’t seen working as a journalist in London for almost 20 years. Her job takes her all over the capital, meeting the city’s leading designers and creatives, architects and artists, chefs, bar tenders, shop keepers and musicians. And the Aussie expat has put this knowledge to good use, writing about the best places to eat, drink and play in a beautiful new book called London Precincts (Hardie Grant, $39.99). This useful guide covers the 18 precincts, including Covent Garden, King’s Cross, Soho and Piccadilly. These are five of her favourite places.
Claridge’s, Brook St, London W1K 4HR, +44 020 7629 8860
Even when I was still living in Perth, newly graduated from UWA and in my first job (I started out in marketing before I had the chance to pursue my dream of becoming a journalist), one of my best friends and I used to love to escape into one of the city’s hotel bars and dream of all the other lives we could be living, in far flung, exotic places. It’s something I still love to do now – and The Fumoir Bar at Claridge’s (pictured above) is my most favourite escape of all. Dark and sexy, with William Klein’s portrait of a smoking lady looking knowingly down at drinkers from above the bar, it’s easy to lose track of time over an expertly poured Cucumber Collins (Hendricks, lime juice, fresh cucumber, elderflower cordial and celery bitters) and an endless supply of moreish (complimentary) nibbles, pretending to be as glamorous as the long roll-call of royalty, film stars, movers and shakers who’ve made the hotel their second home for 160 years. Other favourite bars include the American Bar at The Beaumont, The Berekeley’s newly-revamped Blue Bar, the Artesian bar at the Langham and the Scarfes Bar at the Rosewood Hotel in Holborn.
For the quintessential British experience, there are lots of places inside Fortnums (as its colloquially known) to tantalise the tastebuds. Great coffee and light lunches in The Gallery, magnificent traditional ice cream sundaes in The Parlour, over a hundred interesting, intriguing wines by the glass (to help wash down oysters and caviar) in The Wine Bar and traditional afternoon tea in The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon. And don’t forget to leave without something from its famous Food Hall (the packaging alone is irresistible, the range of biscuits, teas, coffees, jams and chocolates some of the world’s very best).
3. HR Higgins
Knowing how hard it is to please an Aussie coffee connoisseur, this place won’t disappoint. Third-generation run, the Higgins family has been sourcing the best teas and coffees from around the world since the 1940s. Savour the scent of freshly roasted beans and fragrant teas, stored in beautiful copper tins, at street level before descending downstairs into a chic hidden oasis where you can rest weary feet over a cuppa and cake, having valiantly jostled with the crazy crowds at nearby Selfridges, a stone’s throw away on Oxford Street.
4. Ham Yard Bar
Ham Yard Hotel, 1 Ham Yard, London W1D 7DT, +44 20 3642 2000
This place hasn’t stopped buzzing since it opened in the summer of 2014. Tucked behind Piccadilly Circus, it’s the perfect central location to meet up with friends or pop by for a tasty pre or post-theatre drink and nibble. Come for breakfast, coffee or lunch during the day, and at night there are lots of delicious small plates to share, boasting the best of British ingredients, along with niche wines by the glass. It’s worth a visit just for the eclectic, vibrant and inspiring interiors by Kit Kemp, the hotel group’s award-winning design director (ask if you can take a sneak peek at the fourth floor rooftop garden and the quirky bowling alley, Dive Bar and Croc nightclub downstairs).
Mondrian at Sea Containers, 20 Upper Ground London, SE1 9PD, +44 20 3747 1000
It’s worth coming to Tom Dixon-designed Dandelyan bar in the recently opened Mondrian London hotel for the view alone. Take in the twinkling lights of the Embankment, Southbank and across to St Paul’s as you sip a crafty concoction by Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, one of the city’s leading mixologists who champions the wonders of brewing and fermenting his own botanicals. Dandelyan has won a slew of Best Bar awards since opening in 2014. There are non-alcoholic treats too and a tasty bar menu (truffle mac and cheese, oven-roasted lamb meatballs and ceviche).
London Precincts (Hardie Grant, $39.99) is available in good bookstores.