In London, England tourists can never see everything. When thinking about London, we think of things past: colonialism, pubs and beer, rock & roll, literature and film, red brick buildings, the Thames River, and all the grandiose monuments scattered in the city. A good restaurant, a fascinating market, a subway system brilliantly constructed, thoroughly clean the street; a city where everything is top-notch, a thriving culture, a vision towards the future virtually unmatched…
But we also think of what London, England is today: a new international capital of gastronomy, an experience of immigration and multiculturalism, one of the cleanest and most efficient cities in the world, a European capital that doesn’t use the Euro.
Since it is so big and complex, this time, I decided to restrict my field of activities.
In London, England we constantly wonder if we should be better dressed – everyone is always perfectly outfitted – and passers-by in Spitalfields are no exception. This is a newly revitalized neighborhood. It’s got all the marks of a place too beautiful, too new and too expensive for the common man.
However, the first thing I do when I get off the plane, is to head to the St. John’s Bread and Wine. This restaurant is famous for its treatment of the products of the pig. The place is immaculate. Post-industrial theme, solid wood, exposed ceiling pipes, you can almost see your reflection in white tiles on the walls. The service is friendly and the prices are … Londonesque. Although I was disappointed with the braised pork belly, the poached egg sitting on top of a slab of black pudding, combined with a full-bodied red wine was the detour.
Still, Spitalfields feels like a neighborhood that’s too cool, too beautiful, too new, the office towers alongside the famous Spitalfields Market have a new car smell and I’m scared I might break the newly paved road with my loud steps.
A few minutes walk away from Spitalfields is Bethnal Green. Formerly a working-class and immigrant neighborhood, today Bethnal Green is a bastion of hipsters. Can you spell “gentrification”?
Brick Lane is a perfect example of stereotypical London, England: narrow, brown-bricked, old guard, and lined with small independent shops that deal vinyl records as an objects of art and cafes that treat baristas as maestros. Fika is a Scandinavian restaurant on Brick Lane, where fish is in the spotlight, and aquavit shocks your taste buds. Pickled herring and this northern eau-de-vie is truly a wonderful combination.
Camden in London, England
This is obviously a key area for tourists. Its famous market and surrounding shops are endless and allow shopping to a new level. Although prices are generally out of control, the most famous British brands are all there, and usually end up being the same price as at home. In addition to shopping, there are pubs of all kinds. As everywhere in London, there is a pub on every street corner. And in Camden, choices abound: pubs that have not changed in a hundred years, or tourist traps, or pubs that double as the nightclubs, or pubs that young people appreciate because of the nostalgia factor.
So for a fish & chips and a pint of John Smith’s, my choice in Camden is The Hawley Arms. This pub is not exceptional. That’s the reason why I like it. Thundering punk-rock, warm and ancient atmosphere, the staff must be 20 years old on average, and customers, as many foreign students as diehard Londoners – and all ages! – make this a must-visit on each of my visits to the English capital. After a day walking through the maze of stalls, I sit at the bar of The Hawley Arms, and inevitably forget what time it is.
The Borough Market
Impossible to stay in London, England without going through the Borough Market, a food market where you can eat everything, try everything, find everything. Game sausage? Iberico ham? Curried chicken? Fresh fish from all over the world? An oyster bar serving vodka and white wine? A giant paella? All forms of breads from around the world in the same bakery? Olives cultivated, pickled and sold by the same small company? Dried fish? Probably the most famous cheese shop of England, Neal’s Yard Dairy? And this list barely scratches the surface…
Is it raining? It always rains in London, England. More reason to sit at the bar with a pint and a book. If you have to visit a museum, however, let this be the Hunterian Museum. This museum of surgery is absolutely fascinating.