Thursday, October 11, 2012

Best of London (Part 1)

So, when we first started planning my trip here, David immediately informed me of all the places he wouldn't be taking me to- Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, etc etc (all tourist traps that I've already been to anyway). I was going to see the real London, from an actual Londoner. And I did just that, and more. Here are some of my favorite places I've discovered in the past two months:

Lattes and Sweet treats

1. Fix. This is a total hipster hangout, and I love it. Fix is an independent coffee shop with two locations, although the one I frequent is near the Barbican (an awesome performing arts space to check out- tons of free theatre performances, film screenings and art exhibits. And don't let the communist-style building fool you, it's actually lovely inside.) Anyway, Fix has low, comfy couches, indie music and serves one of the best chai lattes I've ever had. Come for the cool ambiance, stay for the chocolate croissants.

2. Konditor and Cook. Known for their scrumptious cakes, Konditor and Cook have an incredible selection of goodies (they do an amazing brownie, fyi) and the one I've been to is part of the Curzon, this really awesome movie theater. The Curzon has many locations, but I went to the one in Soho (coincidentally, one of my favorite neighborhoods in London). Basically, this Curzon has three levels. Konditor and Cook are on the main floor, but you can take your latte downstairs and chill in the lounge, with comfy couches, free wifi and a fully stocked bar. Go one level down, and you're in the movie theater. The Curzon plays lots of European and indie films, something that's sorely missing back home. An awesome place to hang out and people watch as well.

3. The Hummingbird Bakery. So David has quite the sweet tooth, and for his birthday I decided to do a double whammy of cupcakes at midnight and then cake and ice cream (plus presents) the following night. He loved it, and the whole thing was a big surprise, which made it even better. For cupcakes, I went to the Hummingbird Bakery, which happens to be on all the top 10 lists of best "American style" cupcakes in the city. Their Red Velvet is to die for.

4. BB Bakery- One rainy day in Covent Garden, David and I were running around, just trying to find somewhere dry and warm to rest in until the rain stopped, when we stumbled upon BB bakery, and fell in love. This adorable little cafe is the perfect place to stop for tea and cake. Their tea comes in beautiful, antique tea pots, and their pastries are to die for. A really nice place to spend an afternoon.

Good Eats

I'm not a foodie. Let's just get that out of the way right now. But I do like good food. And, despite its reputation, London is shock full of amazing cuisine, from all around the world. I'm telling you, it's true! I don't think I've had a typical 'British' meal since I've been here. It's such a melting pot, and the culinary culture reflects that. Here are some cool places I've been:

1. Abeno Too. This is a cozy little Japanese place where they cook the food in front of you (Benihana theatrics not included). Known for their delicious Okonomiyaki (pictured above), all the tables have little open top grills, and you end up smelling like your meal at the end, but that's besides the point. Authentic, reasonably priced food, good service, and the opportunity to try something new? Verdict: Awesome.

2. Bodeans. For the British, finding authentic American-style barbecue can be tough. Every BBQ restaurant in London claims to be 'just like the real thing' but they usually disappoint. Bodeans is the exception. Huge portions, enormous ribs (see pic above), plenty of fries, heck, they even serve American root beer (something you can't find here normally). Plus, it's cheap! Just make sure you're hungry.

3. Caravan. This place is the definition of cool. Located in Farringdon's Exmouth Market, Caravan is inviting and open from the get go, has a great selection of small appetizers (sort of like tapas), with really unique combos, like goat's curd with butternut squash, shaved fennel, pine nuts and pomegranate dressing: yummm. They also have a huge wine selection and for you coffee fiends out there- Caravan even boasts a roasterie in the basement, where they brew their own coffee. The place has a really fun, lively atmosphere, a diverse selection of dishes, and great service. It's a must-go.

4. Comptoir Gascon. Getting a little fancy now, this bistro (with food and wine from the South West of France, specifiquement, mes amis) appears to be a super pretentious joint, but it's actually really cute and unimposing. Little wooden tables, romantic lighting, Edith Piaf crooning in the background, it's a perfect first date restaurant. They have an impressive wine list, and you can do a sampler of three (just don't ask for a full glass of one- they only serve them by the bottle). Oh and vegetarians beware- there is not a single item on the menu that doesn't have meat or fish in it (impressive bread selection though! You can always count on the French for good bread.)

I'll leave you with that. Coming up next- Part 2, where we explore the best parks, neighborhoods and shopping in the city. Plus, a sneak peek at one of the funniest plays I've seen in years (spoiler alert- it wasn't on the West End.)

Cheers till then!

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