There’s no denying that London is one of the most dynamic cities in the world, where cutting-edge trends meet centuries-old tradition; a place where there’s always something new to discover. Of course, it’s also home to the original Linda Meredith salon, tucked away in the prestigious suburb of Knightsbridge, a stone’s throw from luxury department store Harrods and San Lorenzo, the restaurant famous in its own right for being one of Princess Diana’s favourites.
To compile our guide to the best London restaurants, hottest bars, and much more, we consulted local celebrity journalist and presenter Ashley Pearson. She might technically be a New York native, but Ashley has thrown herself into her adopted city of London - her home for the past 13 years - with gusto. A frequent entertainer and host to a regular stream of international visitors, she has an insider’s eye for the must-visit places in town. “London is constantly changing and evolving and you’d never feel like you’re standing still,” she says. “There are always new bars, restaurants and things happening in fashion and film. But the great thing about London is that it’s also mired in English tradition. So even when you have a new hotel, it’s also quintessentially British.”
These are Ashley’s picks for where to stay and what to do while visiting the English capital.
Where to stay
“There are some famous trendy hotels, like the Ham Yard Hotel, which is very cool and stylish,” Ashley says. “But personally I like hotels that are a bit more discrete, like 11 Cadogan Gardens.” Located in Chelsea, the hotel has 56 rooms, each one decorated to a different theme. “My favourite is the Red Room, it’s really sexy, it’s a great place to go with my husband for a night away,” Ashley says. The hotel’s Chelsea neighbourhood isn’t as touristy as some other areas in the city, “but you have a lot of great shopping, restaurants and bars.”
And while it might be discrete, there’s also a strong possibility of a celebrity sighting: “Julia Roberts moved into 11 Cadogan Gardens when she was making Notting Hill, and Gwyneth Paltrow moved in when she was making Shakespeare In Love,” Ashley points out.
Where to eat
Ashley doesn’t hesitate on the hottest place to make a reservation: “Bob Bob Ricard, it is achingly chic.” The restaurant’s famous Press for Champagne buttons are favourite of visiting Instagram users, but Ashley also loves that it’s one of the few places in London that still serves Beef Wellington. “You have to order it for two people.”
For more social-media fodder - and one of the city’s best high teas - Ashley likes the “absolutely charming, very cute” The Gallery at Sketch in Mayfair. Its all-pink room claims to be the most Instagrammed location in London so it’s little wonder Ashley calls it, “a great place to take out-of-town guests”.For a proper English breakfast, she recommends The World’s End Market on the King’s Road, near 11 Cadogan Gardens. “It’s been recently renovated and it was an old brewery that they turned it into this really cool restaurant. It’s fabulous, with a French feel.” All the produce is locally sourced so a lot of the menu changes seasonally, but the full English is a year-round staple and a great way to kick off a day of exploring.
Where to drink
London’s nightlife scene is legendary and with a wide range of clubs, pubs and music venues to explore, there’s something for every taste. For cocktails, Ashley heads to the Old Fashioned Bar, upstairs at the World’s End Market on the Kings Road. “All of their cocktails have a myth or legend associated with them.” Needless to say, even reading the menu is a bit of an adventure!
But for the views alone, she recommends Radio Rooftop at the ME London Hotel. “It’s on the 10th floor so it’s not too high, and everything is right there in front of you - the Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and The Shard. It has fantastic views of London with a glamourous vibe.”
What to do on a rainy day
The famous British weather means always being prepared for an inevitable downpour but fortunately, there are plenty of indoor activities to enjoy. If you’re visiting any tourist attractions, Ashley recommends arriving as early as possible, for your best chance at beating the queues. “The original Madame Tussaud’s is really fun, I always do it when I have family and friends visiting from New York. I never get tired of The Tower of London and it’s worth paying the money to get a real guide, not the recorded version. Go when it first opens or just before they close and then go and have dinner afterwards. The National Gallery is a fabulous place to be on a rainy day, and the British Museum is quintessentially English. The Victoria & Albert Museum has an exhibition on now called You Say You Want A Revolution, which is all about music and design in the late 1960s.”
Where to go, to feel like a local
To experience London like a true local, pay a visit to the renowned foodie paradise, the Borough Market in Southwark. It’s been around for more than 1000 years but continues to set the pace in the food and drink scene; in fact, the Kappacasein stand at the market has been recently been named maker of the best a grilled-cheese sandwich in the world. “It’s the best thing I’ve eaten in my life,” Ashley confirms. “People queue for it.”
Finally, shopping the great British high street is a legendary London experience but traversing Oxford Street isn’t for the faint of heart. Ashley recommends going mid-week and only ever in the morning: “it’s only tourists around then, no locals, so it’s not as chaotic.”