Eating Out in London
London visitor surveys have shown that food, surprisingly, only gets a 46% satisfaction rate. This, despite the fact that London has some of the best cuisine in the world, certainly the most diverse.
Many London visitors choose a vacation rental so they can self-cater for some of their meals. But whether you eat out only one or twice, or you go out for every meal, some prior planning will make for a much more enjoyable experience.
London has over 7,000 restaurants covering all styles, cuisines and price ranges. Invariably some will disappoint, some will be over-priced, some will have poor service, some will be over-crowded.
So, rather than take pot-luck and dive into the nearest establishment to where you happen to be at the time, plan ahead, look for the hidden (or not so hidden) gems that will give you a memorable experience rather than just provide fuel. These places need not be expensive, just good.
How to find them? Use a good restaurant guide, here are a few:
Hardens – The Gastronome’s Bible! Generally very reliable, you can search by location, price, type of cuisine facilities, number of reviews.
Square Meal – also searchable by price and cuisine.
You will of course sometimes get good fare from a fast food operator, but you’re more likely not to be disappointed if you do some prior research remembering the old axiom: “Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted.”
ROYAL BRITAIN – CHANGING OF THE GUARD
The sentries that look after Buckingham Palace are called The Queen’s Guard and are made up of soldiers from the Household Division’s five regiments of Foot Guards. The guards are dressed in traditional red tunics and bearskin hats. Although undertaking such ceremonial duties, these are regular soldiers in the British Army, who serve normal tours of duty in parts of the world such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the minds of the majority of people, the ceremony of Changing the Guard is associated solely with Buckingham Palace but it actually takes place between three locations – Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace and Wellington Barracks.
Also known as Guard Mounting the ceremony takes place outside Buckingham Palace from 10.45am and lasts around 45 minutes, with the actual handover taking place at 11am. The Buckingham Palace Old Guard forms up in the palace’s forecourt from 10.30am and is joined by the St James’s Palace Old Guard at around 10.45am. The New Guard then arrives from Wellington Barracks and takes over the responsibilities of the Old Guard in a formal ceremony accompanied by music. The Old and New Guards ‘Present Arms’ before the Captains of the Guard ceremoniously hand over the Palace keys. This symbolic gesture represents the transfer of responsibility for the security of the Palace’s from the Old to the New Guard who will then be The Queen’s Guard until relieved.
The ceremony is free to watch and currently takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, weather permitting. There is no ceremony on days when large events are held in the city centre. The ceremony schedule should be checked on the Household Division’s website before planning a visit. Being a very popular event, it is also necessary to arrive early to secure a spot with a good view.
To check the schedule go to www.householddivision.org.uk/changing-the-guard-calendar
For your London Vacation Rental go to www.chsrentals.com/london
London for Free (part 1 of 2)
Unlike the museums and art galleries of most capital cities, in London, among other attractions, they are free!
Well known among these gems are The National Gallery, The Natural History Museum, The British Museum and Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens.
Here are some lesser known, but just as interesting, free attractions:
The Bank of England Museum
It may not explain how the banking profession got into the mess it’s in now, but the museum dedicated to the profession is still worth a visit. Vintage bank notes, art work and antique furniture from the bank make for a small but dense collection. Current exhibitions include one on Gold – and the opportunity to lift up a solid gold bar!
Visiting a foreign city is always fun but so much more enjoyable if you have people to stay with, who will look after you well, give you advice on anything you are interested in doing or seeing, but leave you alone to do your own thing. But finding a good and friendly bed and breakfast with a kitchen in London can be a nightmare – you can easily end up in a cheap and nasty down-market hotel, or find yourself living embarrassingly close to the owners of a private house and your fellow guests.
The Coach House, which is in a quiet, safe, fashionable part of town is a bed and breakfast with a difference.
There’s still some summer availability at The Coach House, but you’ll need to be quick.
LONDON FOR FREE – TATE BRITAIN
Tate Britain is the national gallery of British art from 1500 until the present day. Some of the Gallery’s more modern works from the start of the twentieth century were transferred in 2000 to the new Tate Modern Gallery, which was established in the converted power Bankside Power Station.
The Tate Britain collection was first opened to the public in 1897 in a specially constructed gallery, which is situated on the banks of the River Thames at Millbank and which is about ten minutes walk from the Houses of Parliament. The Gallery was originally named the National Gallery of British Art but from the start it was commonly known as the Tate Gallery after its founder Sir Henry Tate.
Housing a substantial collection of the art of the United Kingdom from Tudor times, it is the most comprehensive collection of its kind in the world Works in the permanent Tate collection, which are usually on display in the Gallery, include works by Constable, William Blake, Millais and Whistler. In particular there is a large holdings of the works of J. M.W. Turner, who bequeathed to the nation all his own paintings, which were still in his possession at the time of his death. More recent artists include David Hockney, Peter Blake and Francis Bacon.
The Gallery also stages many specialist exhibitions, for which entrance fees are charged. It is recommended that any special exhibition is pre-booked. Currently there is an exhibition devoted to the works of David Hockney, which ends on 29th May.
Another exhibition entitled Queer British Art 1861 – 1967 will run until 1st October. It features works relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans identities. On display are paintings, drawings, personal photographs and film from artists such as John Singer Sargent, Dora Carrington, Duncan Grant and David Hockney. These works celebrate the diversity of ‘queer’ British art as never before.
For further information go to www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain
For your London Vacation Rental go to www.chsrentals.com/london
Famous London Restaurants
With some 8,000 restaurants and over 70 different world cuisines, London has the most diverse choice of dining in the world. Use the Hardens Guide to explore what’s on offer.
But this post is just about the most famous.
In the year Napoleon opened his campaign in Egypt (1798), Thomas Rule promised his despairing family that he would say goodbye to his wayward past and settle down. No sooner said than he opened an oyster bar in Covent Garden. To the surprise and disbelief of his family, his enterprise proved to be not only successful but lasting. Rules still flourishes and is one of the oldest and most celebrated restaurants in London, serving the traditional food of this country at its best – and at affordable prices. It specialises in classic game cookery, oysters, pies and puddings.
Since 1742 Wiltons has been synonymous for the finest oysters, wild fish and game and traditional, courteous, hospitality. The British menu aims to offer the freshest fish, game and meats from the very best fleets and farms the United Kingdom has to offer. Wiltons still very much recognises and respects its origins, serving the finest oysters from the British Isles since gaining their first Royal Warrant for supplying oysters to the Royal Household in 1836.
For a true taste of all that is best in British cuisine there is no finer dining establishment than Simpson’s-in-the-Strand. Only the finest seasonal ingredients are used by Master Cook Gerry Rae in a Bill of Fare that offers a wide range of classical dishes, including the best Roast Beef and Lamb in the country, and game in season. Roasts are carved at guests’ tables, from antique silver-domed trolleys, by Simpson’s Master Carvers in a perfect example of restaurant theatre. Simpson’s-in-the-Strand is one of London’s most historic landmark restaurants and has been offering classic British dishes to its delighted patrons for over 185 years.
During World War II, meat rationing interrupted the generous servings of beef at Simpson’s, and regulars overcame the dwindling portions by tipping the Carver to ensure they received their usual sized portions! The tradition of tipping the Carver is still observed to this day, although the portions have returned to their generous pre-war proportions
Bentley’s has been serving its fish and chips and feeding the hungry shopping masses for over 100 years, a haven for fresh oysters, grilled fish and steaks from around the British & Irish Isles and has been under the watchful eye of Michelin starred Chef Richard Corrigan for the past 10 years.
For over 100 years the foremost and the fashionable have been dropping in for a light lunch of langoustines or a dozen oysters and a flute of fizz with friends before the theatre.
Home to hundreds of years of history, the Savoy Grill restaurant has seen some of the world’s most famous faces pass through its gilded doors at the world famous Savoy Hotel.
For lunch, try the daily special from the traditional trolley: featuring the Salt-baked Leg of Lamb on Mondays through to the Rib of Beef with Yorkshire pudding on Sundays. Dishes on weekly rotation include roast Suckling Pig, the restaurant’s iconic Beef Wellington and Salmon Coulibac. On Sundays, be sure to try something from the traditional trolley gliding between tables: the braised Berkshire Pork Belly, confit Herdwick Lamb Shoulder or stuffed Rabbit Loin.
London’s last remaining family-owned luxury hotel. Crafted over a century by one family, this is the genuine article – a grand hotel with impeccable manners and a subtle streak of wit and wonder. With its Michelin star, the food at The Dining Room at The Goring is a really pleasing mix of British classics and lighter, more modern dishes, all prepared with great skill and understanding.
“London’s most beautiful dining room” (decorated in the style of Louis XVI) never fails to work its magic (you can also eat out on the terrace overlooking Green Park for a lovely treat). Historically the exemplary service has tended to outshine the traditional British cuisine, but current reports say that it is “exceptionally good in every way”. Top Tip – the dinner-dance on Friday and Saturday is a great experience.
If you stay in one of our rentals you don’t have to eat out every meal, and it will make the pleasure of dining in one of these great restaurants even better. And you’ll be better able to afford it as you won’t have wasted your money on an expensive hotel!
And if you’re looking for a truly English experience and a chance to meet and get to know some locals – try The Coach House.
LONDON FOR FREE – THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
The Natural History Museum is recognised as the pre-eminent centre for studying natural history and for research in related fields. It is home to some 80 million specimens, which are divided between five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. The museum is particularly famous for its exhibition of dinosaur skeletons. The most famous is a large Diplodocus cast. This used to dominate the vaulted central hall but it has been moved to another large hall and has been replaced by a Blue Whale.
The museum is a world-renowned centre of research specialising in taxonomy, identification and conservation. Given the age of the institution, many of the collections have great historical as well as scientific value, such as specimens collected by Charles Darwin. The museum library contains extensive books, journals, manuscripts, and artwork collections linked to the work and research of the scientific departments.
The foundation collection belonged to Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), who allowed his significant collection to be purchased by the British Government at a price well below their market value at the time. Sloane’s collection, which included dried plants, and animal and human skeletons, was initially housed within the British Museum. The museum was moved to a new building in South Kensington near the V&A and the Science Museums. Due to its ornate architecture it is sometimes dubbed a ‘cathedral of nature’. It was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and construction of the new museum building began in 1873. It was completed in 1880 and opened in 1881. However the move from the old museum was not fully completed until 1883. Both the interior and exterior of the Waterhouse building make extensive use of terracotta tiles to resist the sooty atmosphere of Victorian London. The tiles and bricks feature many relief sculptures of flora and fauna, with living and extinct species featured within the west and east wings respectively. The Darwin Centre is a more recent addition, partly designed as a modern facility for storing the valuable collections.
For further information go to http://www.nhm.ac.uk/
For your London Vacation Rental go to https://www.chsrentals.com/london
LONDON FOR FREE – THE NATIONAL GALLERY
The National Gallery is located in Trafalgar Square in Central London. It houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900.
Unlike comparable museums in Europe, the National Gallery was not formed by nationalising an existing royal or princely art collection. The British Royal Collection remains in the sovereign’s possession to this day. However, dating from the second half of the 18th Century there were a number of proposals for the creation of a national collection with the purchase of private collections, which had come onto the market. A number of such opportunities were lost. It was not until 1824 that the National Gallery collection came into being when the British Government bought 38 paintings from the heirs of John Julius Angerstein for £57,000.
Angerstein was a Russian-born émigré banker and patron of the arts based in London. His collection numbered 38 paintings, including works by Raphael and Hogarth’s Marriage à-la-mode series. After that initial purchase the Gallery was shaped mainly by its early directors and by private donations, which comprise two-thirds of the collection. The resulting collection is small in size compared with many European national galleries but it is encyclopaedic in scope.
With important works most major developments in Western painting from Giotto to Cézanne are represented. Its collection belongs to the public of the United Kingdom and entry to the main collection is free of charge. However specialist exhibitions are staged regularly where an entry fee is charged. When a specific artist is the subject of a exhibition, examples of his work are loaned by other galleries around the world.
The Gallery is among the most visited art museums in the world, after the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is a must for many overseas visitors to London.
For further information go to www.nationalgallery.org.uk/
For your London Vacation Rental go to www.chsrentals.com/london
LONDON FOR FREE – THE BRITISH MUSEUM
Dedicated to human history, art, and culture, The British Museum is located in the Bloomsbury area of London. It has a permanent collection numbering some 8 million works and is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence. Exhibits originate from all continents and illustrate and document the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present.
Largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane, The British Museum was established in 1753. The museum first opened to the public on 15 January 1759 in Montagu House in Bloomsbury, which was on the site of the current museum building. Its growth over the following two and a half centuries was largely a result of British colonial expansion. There are many galleries dedicated to specific topics such as Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Assyria, Mesopotamia etc. Some objects in the collection, most notably the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, are the objects of controversy and there are calls for their restitution to their countries of origin.
One of the most interesting exhibits is the Rosetta Stone, which is inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The decree appears in three scripts: the upper text uses Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion Demotic script, and the lowest Ancient Greek. Presenting essentially the same text in all three scripts, the stone provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. It was discovered by a French soldier in 1799 during Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign but fell into English hands in 1801 and has been exhibited at the British Museum since 1802.
The Greek Revival façade facing Great Russell Street is a characteristic building of Sir Robert Smirke, with 44 Ionic columns 45 ft (14 m) high, closely based on those of the temple of Athena Polias at Priene in Asia Minor. The construction commenced around the courtyard with the East Wing (The King’s Library) in 1823–1828, followed by the North Wing in 1833–1838. The pediment over the main entrance is decorated by sculptures by Sir Richard Westmacott depicting The Progress of Civilisation and consisting of fifteen allegorical figures, which were installed in 1852.
Until 1997, when the British Library previously centred on the Round Reading Room moved to a new site, the British Museum housed both the national museum of antiquities and the national library in the same building. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and as with all other national museums in the United Kingdom it charges no admission fee, except for loan exhibitions.
For further details go to www.britishmuseum.org/
For your London Vacation Rental go to www.chsrentals.com/london
Four old (and famous) London pubs.
Pubs (short for “public houses”) are a British institution, there are over 7,000 of them in London. Here are details of four of the oldest and most famous.
Ye Ode Mitre
Built in 1546 for the servants of the Bishops of Ely, The Ye Olde Mitre is famous for having a cherry tree, (now supporting the front) that Queen Elizabeth I once danced around. Set in a part of London steeped in history, it’s near where William Wallace was hung, drawn and quartered at Smithfield, along with martyrs and traitors who were also killed nearby. More details and here.
The Lamb and Flag
When the building now known as The Lamb and Flag was built, in the mid-17th Century, Covent Garden was a relatively new urban area – a smart and desirable address. But a century later, the gentry had moved away and the area had become a red-light district. Records from 1772 show that The Lamb and Flag – or Coopers Arms as it was known then – was trading successfully, but the clientele was drawn from the lower levels of society.
A century later, and the venue was a popular location for unlicensed bare-knuckle fights. Great London pubs don’t get more historic than this! More details.
The Prospect of Whitby
The Prospect Of Whitby in Wapping is London’s oldest riverside pub dating back to 1520. The pub has an illustrious history. Regular visitors included the writers Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys and Samuel Johnson – and the venue was known for its bare-knuckle and cock fights. It’s thought the pub’s strange name derives from the fact that a collier – a ship carrying coal – from Whitby in North Yorkshire used to moor regularly beside the pub. More details.
The pub’s name – The Flask – comes from the tradition of selling flasks from the pub, which were then used to collect water from the springs around Highgate and nearby Hampstead heath. A natural spring to the rear of the pub may also have been used for this purpose.
Every good historic pub should have a haunting or two, and The Flask is no exception. You might run into the ghost of a Spanish barmaid who hanged herself in the pub’s cellar (now a seating area), over an unrequited love for the publican. Look out also for a chap in Cavalier uniform occasionally seen crossing the room in the main bar and vanishing into a pillar. And while he doesn’t haunt the pub (as far as we know) Dick Turpin is reputed to have spent some time in our wine store while on the run from the authorities. More details
If you’re looking for a truly English experience and a chance to meet and get to know some locals – try The Coach House.