What to see
One of the best things about London is that so many of the city’s important galleries and museums are totally free. So head to the Medieval wing of The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, leave time for the entire contents of The Wallace Collection in Marylebone – a hugely underrated townhouse museum with incredible sculpture – and don’t forget the British Museum, with its excellent new Islamic Gallery and, of course, the Rosetta Stone. London is also wonderful for people watching, and I think Kensington Gardens on a fine afternoon is heaven for this.
Where to eat
It can be easy to get swept up in central London’s expensive restaurants but the most creative and interesting cooking is happening east. Head to Shoreditch and make a reservation for lunch at British restaurant Lyle’s: order everything on the menu, you seriously can’t go wrong (it’s currently ranked number 33 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants). Then, if you’re not too full, go to The Clove Club for dinner (also in Shoreditch and number 27 on the list) and order the sublimely creative tasting menu. These two places would give you a very accurate snapshot of the best cooking in London right now.
Where to drink
I don’t drink any more, but Bar Termini in Soho should be experienced for the ambience alone. I usually get a coffee there, but its negronis are renowned for being the best in London. Then order a Guinness in the bar of St John restaurant, a London institution, or pick one of the rare wines from the cellar of the estimable Noble Rot in Lamb’s Conduit Street. If you’re a wine-lover there’s really no better place in the city.
Where to shop
Well, Borough Market went through a bit of a rough patch, but is pretty good again. I would suggest starting here for excellent produce – chefs from all the top restaurants get in here early on a weekday and know the market traders by name. Cheese is one of the few things that the British are indisputably very good at, and I’d highly recommend a visit to Neal’s Yard Dairy in an almost-hidden courtyard in Covent Garden. I also love Fortnum & Mason – it really is excellent and one of the few great shopping institutions worthy of its reputation. Whatever time of year you visit London, you should order one of Fortnum’s Christmas hampers, packed with goodies and the ideal gift (even if it’s just to yourself).
My favourite gallery is…
I love where I live in South London, however if I was to relocate, perhaps when my children have grown up, it would be to the Barbican, that strikingly bold and beautiful Brutalist construction in the heart of the City. It has an art gallery, a cinema, a huge concert hall and a conservatory (open on Sundays), filled with plants draped over concrete balconies. I love the vision of living in a community with an incredible arts centre at its heart and consistently amazing programming. At the moment it has a brilliant artificial intelligence exhibition, but you should check the website for classical music, theatre and gigs.
When it gets dark…
Do things you’d prefer no one else to see. For me this involves meeting other chefs after work at Old Town 97 on Wardour Street, for unholy amounts of very good late-night Cantonese food, served until 4am. Tell them I sent you for some of the off-menu specials: salted egg yolk chicken wings, and fried beef tendon noodles.
My advice for a first-timer…
Sometimes, the best plan is to have no plan. London is heaven for simply wandering about. It has some of the most charming parks, beautiful centuries-old Christopher Wren churches, and among the finest publicly displayed art in the world. These are the things that make the grind of living here worthwhile.
My dream day out in London…
I’d start the day with breakfast at The Wolseley, for the bustle and the excellent service. It’s a bit of a special occasion place, so my children love it. Then, just outside, I’d go for a walk around St James’s Park, which is very pretty and often surprisingly sparsely peopled given its central location. Next, it’s a 10-minute walk over to Trafalgar Square for a look at the Rembrandts in The National Gallery, followed by a big lunch of dumplings in nearby Chinatown – Orient on Wardour Street is a family favourite. Then I’d go to Embankment Pier and hop on the Thames Clipper to Greenwich (you can use your Oyster card) to wander about the Royal Observatory and see the Old Naval College, which has my favourite view of London at the top. I’d end the day with an early-evening picnic of a stuffed hamper sent from Fortnum’s.