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New Yorker going to London: Help me plan my trip!


Will be in London for a brief (4 day/4night) stay in two weeks. Not my first trip, but I've spent a lot of time on previous visits exhausting the touristy side of the city. I'd like to focus on more "far-flung" areas this time, places outside of the Big Ben-Tower of London axis. Now, forgive my relative ignorance of London geography and what constitutes far-flung, but some areas I'm particularly interested in exploring are Hoxton, Shoreditch and Spitalfields (not sure if this is a neighborhood or a market). I live in the East Village in New York and have heard that these areas are rough approximations of that hood. Again, correct me if I'm wrong and if there are other neighborhoods I should focus on--I'm sure my information is outdated.

Anyway, would like to try some young, fun but unpretentious places. Definitely have no desire to do the haute palaces as I can find facsimilies of them in New York and not suffer the exchange rate. I hesitate to use the word, but perhaps "sceney" is what I'm looking for, but sceney in a "gritty" way if that makes a bit of sense.

Would like to try some updated versions of English classics (have heard of a place called, I think, Tom's that does this) as well as enjoy an authentic, non-touristy pub with decent food to go around. Obviously, Indian food is something I'd like to try over in London despite not being a huge fan of it over here. My sister went to a place called St. John recently and said I'd love it so I suppose that is a good gauge of what I'm looking for.

Also, despite wanting to explore the East End, I will be staying in Covent Garden (no choice) at One Aldwych, so recs in that area would also be much appreciated. Thanks!

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  1. re Hoxton/Shoreditch/Spitalfields..ignore the very trendy Trois Garcons and its very expensive bar, Lounge Lover..if you want to try a 'sceney place' try Bistrotheque which is a bit off the beaten track but the food is excellent. It's quite fashion crowd (mario testino was in there the day I went, and girls in minature bowler hats and beehives) and set in a converted warehouse. Don't let you put that off - we really enjoyed our meal and its a very london vibe.
    Hoxton is great for vietnamese food - do a search on this thread and you'll get loads of names...think the Cay Tree in Old St comes out well; Ditto indian food as well...Tayyabs and Mai'da are the top recs on here and they are well documented,
    hoxton square is worth checking out on a friday/sat evening - has loads of bars and eating places

    Good luck

    1 Reply
    1. re: DietStartsTomorrow

      Check the Bistrotheque Web site for their entertainment schedule as well as their menu. If you time it right, you can dine during one of their drag shows. http://www.bistrotheque.com/entertain...

    2. I don't know NYC well, but the East Village and Chelsea are probably comparable to areas like Shoreditch and Hoxton, all areas being magnets from artists and trendies and the like - it's what I would call 'gritty' in a seedy, urban way.

      I love Jamie Olivers 'Fifteen' restaurant in the Trattoria. It's buzzy and fun, but quite expensive. It's near Old street tube station.
      Try the Cay Tree for good Vietnamese as mentioned below. I also like 'Miso' which is a Japanese noodle bar situated next door for cheap, tasty grub. There's also a Mediterranean tapas place on the same street, i've forgotten it's name but it's relatively inexpensive and the atmospheres good at the weekends. Nearby bars I would hit are Electricity Showrooms, Cru, Macbeth or Jaguar Shoes on the Kingsland road. There's also a great takeaway place called Bang! They do all sorts of goodies, try the steak ciabatta wrap.
      Make sure you visit the Spitalfields market area on a Saturday or Sunday, the market and the nearby Upmarket is a haven for food, clothes, antiques and general bargains. While you're there you may as well check out Brick Lane. There are loads of cool bars around the Truman Brewery which is nearby - Vibe, Big chill.

      Definitely try Bistrotheque as mentioned above..

      I'm don't eat out much in Covent Garden, but I like The Covent Garden Kittchen - it's not sceney, but the foods good. Wahaca is good - quite cheap Mexican food with a buzzy young crowd, especially after work hours.

      6 Replies
        1. re: cswim06

          I'm not sure if you're looking for bars as well as restaurants but I prefer Covent Garden for drinks and then nearby Bloomsbury or Soho for dinner. Have a look at these if you fancy a few cocktails:

          Jewel Bar - http://www.jewelbarlondon.co.uk/flash...
          Dirty Martini - http://www.dirtymartini.uk.com/london...
          Detroit - http://www.detroit-bar.com/

          Also near to Covent Garden are these two restaurants - one serving up pan-Asian cuisine and dim sum, and the other doing creative top quality Indian food. Both are a little pricey but have excellent value lunch options and set menus.

          Tamarai - http://www.tamarai.co.uk/geo.html?pag...
          Moti Mahal - http://www.motimahal-uk.com/

          Enjoy your trip!

          1. re: DollyDagger

            My wife ate at Moti Mahal with business colleagues a few weeks back. She rated it as "fab" - which is almost as good as it gets with her.


            1. re: Harters

              I'm really glad to hear that. I've read good reviews but have heard it's rarely very busy. I'm there for lunch tomorrow so I shall report back!

              1. re: DollyDagger

                Looks like an excellent £10 two course set lunch menu. Sounds cracking value.

                1. re: DollyDagger

                  Did you go for lunch? I walked by today, planning to have lunch there. But, I was too intimidated to go in -- the menu was posted outside, with no mention of a set lunch, and the dinner prices are just not in the budget for lunch today. The restaurant was pretty much empty, but looked beautiful.

        2. These tips are very helpful to me as well. I'll be staying in the same place soon and am planning my eating adventure. Thanks so much.

          1 Reply
          1. re: milklady

            there's some fantastic old pubs in covent garden - some a bit touristy but still worth checking out. The most famous is the princess Louise - worth a visit for the interior alone..I also like the Seven Stars at the back of the royal courts of justice which is also within walking distance. The cheshire cheese on fleet st is also famous but I haven't been there for years...

          2. You have two options for St. John - the full restaurant in Smithfield/Clerkenwell (which is basically between Covent Garden and Shoreditch, and St. John Bread and Wine which is out the back of Spitalfields Market between that and Brick Lane. If you want to do a dinner I'd suggest the former, but my husband and I love Bread and Wine for Sunday brunch/lunch - they have a "rolling" menu so depending on how early/late you go you might get brunch-y type foods or a more lunch/roast menu. Both restaurants are some of our favorite places in London (try the Eccles Cake for dessert).

            Some other East London suggestions: Bacchus (molecular gastronomy "in jeans and trainers") gets a lot of love on this board - we liked but did not LOVE it. Cool experience, though. Second the recommendation for Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes (bar) on Kingsland Road. Loungelover is DEFINITELY sceney (you need to reserve) but we've always liked it and I admit to craving their cocktails from time to time.

            Sunday is your best bet for roaming the neighborhood. As a poster mentions above, strolling Brick Lane, the Sunday UpMarket, then over to Spitalfields is wonderful. You could also add the Columbia Road Flower Market to that walk. Canteen (in Spitalfields) is good, solid British fare, but will be overflowing on a Sunday unless you can reserve.

            On Saturdays, we like to head over to Broadway market further up in Hackney (you can take a bus easily from Old Street) - do a little shopping and then lunch at the Cat and Mutton. Much more of a neighborhood feel than Borough Market (don't get me wrong, I love Borough Market, but Broadway is more local) with lots of the same produce and goods. Don't miss the cupcakes from Violet (especially the salted caramel).

            Also, local (gastro)pubs are a good choice - we like the Princess off of Great Eastern Street, the aforementioned Cat and Mutton, and the Northgate in Islington which is in the middle of absolutely nowhere you'd want to be tourist-wise but which we love for Sunday roast.

            1 Reply
            1. re: KaCHing

              lounge lover IS sceney, granted....I went there only once, about five years ago. Didn't like paying £10 for a vodka and tonic, I guess. (Yes, even back then). All the drinks were a minimum of £10 a go, I recall - which is the reason I haven't been back!

            2. Some more places I think you should try that I also like.

              Oriental city - Colindale NW9 - It's closing in May, but a good place for Asian foods, with stalls and restuarants and food stands. You could jump on the Northern line tube and head for Made in Brasil in Camden afterwards - good brasilian fare with great cocktails and a real local, lively crowd. It gets really busy on weekend evenings.

              Sheperds Bush market- cheap and no frills, but has pretty vast good selection of African/West Indian fruits and vegs with a few West Indian takeway joints nearby. It's not Borough market, but it's got character and it's real London. Try Oche nearby for Jamaican Jerk or Abu Zhad for cheap Syrian. I haven't been to Abu but I've heard good things about it. The whole area is really cosmopolitan with a large Black British population as well as having a sizeable Antipodeon crowd. Try the Bushranger (opposite the market) for drinks which is a haunt for the Antips and locals.

              Brixton - Possibly my favorite place in London. The market is great, with a great variety of meats, vegs and fruit and the like. A number of places to eat - Ghanaian, Nigerian, Spanish, British cafes etc. There's a lovely deli near to the tube station which features a good selEction of Eastern European fare, cheese, cured meats, bread, preserves etc.

              Some places to try - Bamboula - great West Indian food - I love the guava lamb with rice n peas.

              Satay Bar - Indonesian/ Malaysian fare. Great in the evenings - good cocktails and the place is a hive for all the bohemains and fashionistas with a DJ playing soul, funk, hip hop.

              Dogstar pub - Coldharbour Lane - A basic pub but great crowd for a local flavour - has various nights for specialist music tastes.

              Plan B - Brixton high street- Great bar.

              Mango Landing (Jamaican)- St Matthews road.

              Negril (Modern Jamaican) and The Telegraph - Brixton hill

              If you venture up Stockwell road which is left when you exit Brixton tube and then second right you'll find the Portuguese area - a few nice Madeiran/Portuguese cafes along the road. I like Cafe Madeira.

              Have fun!

              1. You guys are great! I'm taking all of these into consideration. A Sunday stroll through Brick Lane and Spitalfields sounds particularly lovely and I'd read about Canteen, Cay Tree, Fifteen and...Jaguar Shoes and was intrigued. Clearly, the main problem with this trip will be the limited time--I'll have to leave a lot off on the list, but as they say, it's always good to leave something for the next trip!

                On another note, I did some research on my own and have a few "VERSUS" questions I'd love your opinions on. Here goes:

                J. Sheeky vs Bentley's-- for fish and traditional Enligsh food

                Roast vs St. John-- for more spiffed up English cooking (note: my travel companions have already been to St. John. I get the impression the food at Roast is not quite up to par but have heard raves for its ambience and the views of St. Paul's. Is it enough to make up for the food or is it really that bad?)

                The Wolseley vs. The Ivy-- for "the scene."

                Locanda Locatelli vs. Theo Randall-- for Italian

                Hakkasan vs. Yuatcha-- for Chinese (have the feeling these might be quite different in atmosphere though)

                Lastly, general thoughts on the following : Maze, Great Queen Street, Eyre Brothers, Quality Chop House, Raoul's, The Belvedere, Tom Aiken's/Tom's Place, Tom's Kitchen (which, if any of the three, is a "must"?). Let me know what to check out and what is fine to avoid! Thanks in advance.

                2 Replies
                1. re: cswim06

                  For your versus list, I'd go.

                  J Sheekey - Although this is sometimes frequented by celebs, but not as much as it was a few years ago.

                  The Ivy - A real London stalwart, always delivers, good British comfort food.

                  Hakkasan - Love this place. Phenomenal cocktails and food - uber trendy! More a destination place then Yauatcha. The dim sum is simply the best!

                  1. re: cswim06

                    Hello! You're going to have a great time in London! The Wolseley and Yauatcha are two of my four favourite restaurants in London...you must try them. Wolseley because it has an impressive interior, excellent food and charming service and Yauatcha because it serves the best dim sum I've ever had world-wide.

                    Helen Yuet Ling Pang

                  2. Lots to comment on here...

                    I would do St. John over Roast. Roast isn't bad, per se. It's just nothing special. To me, it's a restaurant to take your parents or grandparents to.

                    Hakkasan vs. Yauatcha: Hakkasan is more formal.

                    Great Queen Street: I like it here a lot. Good "British" food.

                    Eyre Brothers: I go here a lot for bar snacks and drinks. They don't seem to be packing them in for dinner much anymore. I would skip this.

                    Quality Chop House: No. It's atmospheric. But I thought the food was pretty average. I would not go out of your way.

                    Bacchus: If you're looking for something different, I would go here. I think it's inventive and friendly. Check TopTable.co.uk to see if there are any deals available. (Through Jan 6th, they're doing 6 courses + Glass of Champagne for £30.)

                    Cay Tre: I like the food, but it's a bit dirty and the service is gruff. Just to warn you. (I particularly like the beef packets as a starter...beef wrapped in a leaf of some sort. Pretty tasty.)

                    Miso: I keep trying to like this place (it's close to my office) but every time I've eaten here, I've been VERY underwhelmed. Definitely not a destination.

                    Random: On the corner of Great Eastern and Shoreditch High Street, there's a bar called Drunken Monkey. They serve dim sum all day--it's not super stellar dim sum, but fine for taking the edge off. £4.50 cocktails between 5 and 7 Monday through Friday. A little gritty. DJs usually playing. Check web site.

                    I could have written Kaching's post--we're on the same wavelength except for feelings re: Bacchus...I would second The Princess if you'd like a gastropub. If you want to take it up a notch, book upstairs. But ground floor is perfectly acceptable.

                    One last one--if you make it to Camden Market, by Camden Lock Market (north side of the footbridge over the canal) there's a Venezuelan stand that serves arepas. They weren't there when I dropped in last weekend--but no one really was because of the New Year. But if they are there...they are delicious and cheap!

                    One last tip...if you are staying in Covent Garden, make sure you get a bus map. You can take the 55 pretty much directly to Hoxton Square/Shoreditch in 30 minutes or less. More direct than taking the tube.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: kristainlondon

                      Definitely St John over Roast.

                      Sheekey's is one of my favourite places and has never once let me down. They also do a really good value set menu at lunchtimes.

                      I've never eaten at Hakkasan, but their cocktails are great (if eye-wateringly expensive) - if you like a bloody mary then you should try the sushi bartender's breakfast, it's genius.

                      As for Italian, I've never been to Locatelli, but I know a few people who have been disappointed. I can highly recommend the River Cafe if you haven't been to it before. It's very expensive but I had a truly memorable meal there, and having grown up in Italy I'm very fussy about Italian food - this is the real deal though.

                      I was unimpressed by Great Queen St, but it has had great reviews, so I might have caught them on a bad day. I think there are better gastros out there.

                      I can also recommend Arbutus (spectacular value lunch set menu), and Bistro Galvin for good value (still not cheap, mind you) high-quality "modern british" food.

                      1. re: londonfrenchie

                        I seem to be somewhere between Kristain and Londonf

                        I have had great meals at Locatelli and hugely ordinary ones at River Cafe but agree about Sheekey's the set lunch is very good value. I went when Theo Randall opened and it was excellent. I hear more mixed things now

                        I would go for Hakkasan but, at a slightly lower level, Pearl Liang in Paddington Basin is good too

                        Avoid Roast and Eyre Brothers ( the last time there the food was close to disgusting) and God forgive them for what they did to the Jamon.

                        Again, I disagree with Londonf. I found Arbutus very unimpressive but liked Great Queen St a lot. Galvin Bistro delux is the best of the three, I think for that price point.

                        The Princess is perfectly agreeable but the food at The Fox ( about a block or so away)is much better.

                        Vinoteca on St John St is well worth a try and more so because I believe that Carol Craddock is heading up North soon to open her own place. So, I heard.

                        If you want good cocktails in that part of London, then Hawksmoor and PinXito (on Featherstone St) still have the best mixing.

                        I have had two of my worst meals ever in London at restaurant Tom Aitken and Tom's Kitchen. In fact, an experience at Tom's kitchen about three weeks ago was easily the worst meal of last year ( and I ate rat in China)

                        If you really want to go to "far flung" take the DLR out to El Faro in docklands. Easily the best Spanish food in London and, they at least in this city, know how to cut Jamon properly

                        Here are a few links to help ( some from a bit of a while ago)

                        TOM'S KITCHEN

                        EYRE BROTHERS


                        EL FARO

                        PEARL LIANG


                        GREAT QUEEN ST

                        GALVIN BISTRO DELUXE


                        THEO RANDALL

                        THE PRINCESS

                        THE FOX

                        Hope any of this helps


                      2. re: kristainlondon

                        re cay tre...walked past there yesterday and they have closed for a revamp - looks like its having a complete overhaul