Secret London – Food

I love to eat, in fact I am happier with a great cup of coffee and a little something to eat than I am shopping. Odd creature.  So here are a few of my fav places to indulge in.

Flat White, Soho
I am a coffee snob. Starbucks and Costa will do if I am dying for caffeine, but I’d rather walk halfway across London to get to this amazing coffee shop than simply make do with a Starbucks over ground burnt offering. Found on Berwick Street in Soho, just a short walk from Carnaby Street and Liberty or a quick sashay down from Oxford Street. Established by expat antipodeans’ desperate to get decent coffee they brought the flattie (Flat White) to London.

Leon – The Strand
One of the I believe eight restaurant across London. Great for a quick incredibly tasty bite. Admittedly it does cost more than a McDonalds, but who cares when you can tuck into Hummus and Flat Bread, Gobi, and the famous meatballs. I have been told that I am a creature of habit, and at Leon I am. I will order with out fail, a Slow Cooked Pork Wrap, with Hummus and Grilled Halumi with a cold freshly made Lemonade.

I am going to miss Leon.

Skylon, Southbank
For when you want something that is just a little special. Inside the Royal Festival Hall enjoying stunning views over the River and the Embankment.

Menu is pricey but worth it for that special occasion. The restaurant takes its name from “Vertical Feature” that was an abiding symbol of the Festival of Britain  which truly must have been a sight to behold.

I adore the Southbank Centre. I often just love to come and sit here and watch the people hustle and bustle past. I love the clash of cultures that it encourages, when they evenings entertainments are finished and the audience spills out. You get those dressed smartly for an evening classical recital and then the younger and funky who have been to some amazing urban poetry/hiphop event. Where else in London would these two groups of people brush shoulders so happily?

Top tip – even if you can’t quiet stomach the price of a full meal, you can take drinks at the bar or on the comfy seats by the windows and soak up the view.

Italiano Coffee Company
Cheap and Cheerful just off Tottenham Court Road popular with the local students. Easy to see why when you can get a freshly made 11″ Pizza for £3.50.

Great communal atmosphere where everyone bunches up next to each other on long tables and stools canteen style. Great place to grab a quick but great bite on the go.

Harpers Cafe, London Bridge
A complete gem in the London Bridge area, about 40 paces from Borough Market. Serves classic greasy spoon fry ups as well as a very good range of generous sandwiches which are made up on the spot. Fantastically cheap considering its proximity to Borough Market, a full English and a cup of tea will set you back about £3.80. One thing though – give the toilets a miss.

Carluccios, Garrick Street
Ok, ok, this one is very ‘high street’ but it is a great place to go pre theatre or to meet up with friends. It is central, nearly always able to squeeze you in and the stairway is to die for. All that bare plaster with each step home to a tiny rosemary plant in a terracotta pot, and frankly who doesn’t like pasta?

I’d recommend the affogato desert!

Rules, Maiden Lane
It is rather hard to say that Rules is ‘Secret’. They claim that it is the oldest reastraunt in London. I don’t know whether that is true, but it certainly feels terribly old and fabulously British when you enter it. Rules has a very special place in my heart as part of it’s empire is actually the Lartington Estate in County Durham, about 3 miles from where I grew up. The pride and joy of Rules is rather unusually a 1935 Rolls Royce called Bubbles. Bubbles was rebuilt by my Dad and gives me a little thrill each time I see her trundling around the streets.

Food is very traditional and really a no go for the vegetarians amongst you, but brilliant. Dining here is an experience.

And finally, the secretes top tip is…Top Table. The restaurant booking website which magically manages to find offers and deals at amazing places making it quiet possible to take High Tea at the Ritz with out being press ganged into doing the washing up afterwards.

Make sure you sign up, you don’t have to live in London to use this site, in fact it books in many other places across England and excitingly the world. Hunt around on it, be open minded and you will find yourself a brilliant deal.

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Secret London – Parks

These parks may all seem to be very obvious to you, but I do think that many visitors simply head to Hyde Park. It is central to town, its is pretty easy to hop over to and frankly it is HUGE. As you can see from this list I am a South East Girl. Even after four years in London I have never made it over to Hampstead Park or Highgate Cemetery. Best laid plans n’all!

This list is by no way complete, these parks are just my fav places to escape to when I want to curl my bare toes into the grass.

Greenwich Park

Home to the wondrous Royal Observatory and the Maritime Museums. Greenwich park is a haven and an utterly delightful place for a stroll. Climb to the farthest corner away from Greenwich and you will find yourself in the Wilderness area. Hunker down in the grass and wait and you may be luck to see the deer. Come with some spare change as the ice creams sold at the pavilion are pretty darn terrific.

Battersea Park

Just over the river from Chelsea is the fantastic Battersea Park. You will find a lot of joggers here. You know the type, the tall, thin blond and beautiful. Ignore them and go and enjoy the peace pagoda and stroll over to the fantastic fountains and watch the wonderful water display. Take some spare change and take a spin on the boating pond. It isn’t that big and half an hour is more than enough time to lap it, but it is great fun! The Tea Terrace Kiosk does a grand cuppa and a sandwich for not too much. Wrap up warm is heading over in autumn or winter, you’d be surprise at how chilly the wind can whip through. We spent what is probably one of the best days we have had in London here, so I am super fond of the park!

Mudchute Park & Farm

Perhaps the most ‘secretive’ on my list is the fantastic Mudchute Park and Farm. Down in the docklands it is very possible to have lunch amongst the grass with the friendly cows and look up to Canary Wharf.
The park itself was created when the Millwall Inner Dock was excavated in the 1860s. Soil and slit from the engineering process was dumped on land near by. The farm has developed into a riding school and petting zoo whilst in the corner of the farm yard is perhaps one of the very best places to eat in all of East London The Mudchute Kitchens.

Blackheath

Famed as being the location of one of London’s mass burial sites for plague victims in the 14th Century and for holding one of the best free Guy Faulks night Firework displays in London. The Heath is probably one of the best places to Go Fly a Kite or for a Sunday kick around . With great views out over the City it slopes up gentle from Blackheath village, and then rolls away to meet Greenwich Park and Coombs Hill. Great Sunday stroll after breakfast is up over the Heath, down through Greenwich park and down into one of the many pubs in Greenwich itself.

Secret London – Museums

Visiting London can utterly bamboozle people. There is simply so much to do and see. Where on earth do you start?

That is what I felt like four years ago when we very first moved to London. To try to make my life easier I worked up a 100 places to see list. Unfortunately the list seems to have been lost in the midst of flat/house moves.

So thought I’d pull together my top tips of places to visit with four years worth of living in London under my belt. I’m also going to speak to friends to get some of their thoughts and perhaps by the end of the week we’ll have a great Secret London List!

Over the next four days I plan to list some of the best places to visit which perhaps you wouldn’t think  of out right.

So, to the Museums!

The Museum of Gardening.

A secret garden in central London, just over Lambeth Bridge from the Palace of Westminster. Interesting exhibits, wonderful history (the tomb of the fated Captain Blythe) and possibly the best vegetarian lunch in London!

The Fan Museum, Greenwich

Allegedly the only museum dedicated to Fans in the world. An amazing place. I found it utterly enchanting, peaceful and amazingly educational. From the language of fans, to fan construction. At the time of my last visit there was an exhibition entitle War and Peace which as the website states :

This exhibition encompasses a history of the World seen through objects too long regarded as frivolous accessories to dress. As such it presents many rare, fascinating and resonant items whose design, imagery and provenance will provide visitors with important new insights into the depiction of warfare throughout the ages.

I found it startling and extremely interesting.

Tickets were sold by a very British gentleman who was utterly charming and fitted so well with the environment.

Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms

Unfortunately this is on the tourist route, but well worth it. Try and visit towards late afternoon and you will find it to be quieter. Make sure you take a quick stroll around St. James’ Park while you are there.

Dennis Severs House, 18 Folgate Street, Spitalfield

A strange eerie and frankly rather scary house. Curated by Dennis Severs as a bubble in time. You enter and almost feel like the Huganaught family of weavers who live there have just left through the back door. Half eaten food is on the table, candles flicker on the mantle. It is an experience which is hard to describe. It isn’t art, nor is it history. I also don’t think it is really for the feint hearted or the unimaginative. Open every Monday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

Firepower: The Royal Artillery Museum

Down in Woolwich on the old Royal Arsenal site. An amazing museum looking at the history of the Royal Artillery from founding in 1716 to date. As you can imagine there are some terrifying weapons but it is fascinating and hugely educational. Different from the Imperial War Museum and worth the adventure down the Thames. You can get an excellent view of the Thames Barrier from the River wall, and the cafe has good coffee and sinfully comfy sofas!