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Last Minute Long Weekend in London

My husband and I are planning a long weekend in London, in mid-Oct. The problem is that we are flying standby, so there's a chance we won't know which weekend until a couple of days prior to leaving. I assume we will be staying somewhere pretty central in a more touristy area, but won’t book a hotel until we know when we’re flying. I've been searching this board diligently and trying to do my homework, but the amount of information (and the geographical scale of London itself) is slightly overwhelming. My other concern is whether we will be shut out of most of the restaurants that appeal to me because we might only be able to reserve a few days in advance.

We will have 3 lunches and 3 dinners. We would also like to have tea and scones (I could survive on clotted cleam if I had to). We probably don't want to spend much more than 50-60£ p.p. for a meal but will do a splurge meal for at least one of our meals.

We live in South Florida and are used to pretty awful examples of both Chinese and Indian cuisine, so we would be interested in both, but don't consider ourselves knowledgeable/adventurous in either since our exposure has been limited (though we are not at all picky eaters by nature and love spicy food). I found Quilon and Moti Mahal interesting. I’m kind of clueless when it comes to Chinese and need a lot of help.

We would also love to try a prix fixe or tasting menu. The Square and The Ledbury both look amazing to me. I’m also intrigued by Texture.

We would like to spend a couple of hours at the Borough Market – preferably when it’s not at its most crowded – is Thurs. our best bet?

We would also like to try one of the gastropubs referred to on this site – looking for something centrally located (we plan on doing some sightseeing, not just eating), and we don’t eat a lot of offal.

Other restaurants I find intriguing from the Board include Launceston Place, HIX and Moro.

Thanks for any help you can provide!

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  1. Sorry I can't be of more use, its getting late and I'm tired. I'll come back with some extra tips. One thing I wanted to warn you about is the really upmarket places you mentioned (Ledbury, The Square, Launceston Place, Texture), which will almost certainly be fully booked a few days in advance, and usually more than a week. No harm in trying, but I do fear for you. I might even suggest being a little shameless and booking, say, one really special restaurant for every potential weekend you're here, and cancelling in due course the ones that are of no use to you. Most restaurants now do online bookings, so it won't be quite as uncomfortable as doing it in person.

    1. My favourite time at the Borough Market is about 11 or 12 on a Friday. Some stalls are not open on Thursday, but I'm not sure if you would miss a lot by going that day as I have never done that. An early lunch (they get crowded) at the Brindisi restaurant is very nice if you like Spanish tapas, or just stroll around and try something else - lots to choose from.

      Haozhan in Chinatown has very good food and I never find it crowded at lunchtime. Min Jiang is another favorite on this board... excellent dim sum and good atmosphere near Kensington Gardens (not far from the South Kensington museums).

      1. If you go to Borough Market during the week(s) that there is half term break from schools it will be crowded. I have made that mistake before. Half terms are middle to end of October and it depends on the school - private or public.

        4 Replies
        1. re: cathodetube

          Thank you for the information. I did think about making a reservation now and then if I have to cancel it, I'll know at least 4 days in advance and can cancel it then.

          It looks like we will most likely end up coming in the middle of October, so the day issue at Borough is a moot point - it will be crowded! Oh well...we will push through.

          I will look up both Haozhan and Min Jiang. Any suggestions for Indian? Tea?

          1. re: tlubow

            The Anchor and Hope (on The Cut) is the obvious choice for a centrally located gastropub. And excellent it is too. It also doesn't do bookings, which is a gift and a curse for you. No need to worry about booking problems, but equally no guarantee of a table, at least without a wait.

            Afternoon tea? I've never heard a bad word about Claridges. £30-35 all in.

            Chinese? Royal China on Baker Street is a common favourite for dim sum. I'd also say dim sum may be the easiest Chinese food to a newcomer to enjoy. My favourite cuisine, along with many, is Sichuanese. However I'd reserve some enthusiasm for over-recommending Sichuanese restaurants as the best stuff is often hidden away amongst compltetely unauthentic pap, and there's generally a danger of offal or something weird arriving. One place I think you could have a safe and enjoyable time is Bar Shu. It opened with a frenzy of hype, which seems to have subsided. To be honest though, its only because of stiff, cheaper competition. I think the food there is excellent, and its done in a more Western friendly way than most comparable restaurants. Might well be worth a shout.

            Seeing as you said you've struggled to find good Indian/Chinese food, I don't know if Japanese would interest you. If so, a new place, Koya, has opened with whollly justified hype. They specialize in udon noodles (you'd be mad to get anything else), and it really is outstanding.

            High-end? I'm not best qualified to judge this, but reading around the subject my top 3 destination restaurants in London are Hibiscus, The Greenhouse, and The Ledbury. Not been to any of them, although I'm putting 1/3rd of that right with a Hibiscus trip this Friday.

            I'll just throw in my favourite London restaurant (along with many people) - St John Bread and Wine. Whilst they've made a name for offal etc., you can easily have a fantastic meal there without getting near the stuff.

            1. re: chief1284

              I second St John Bread and Wine - so relaxed. I spent a lovely solo lunchtime there with a quail and a crossword. Go after the financiers have had their lunch and before the dinner rush. Bliss!

              1. re: chief1284

                would agree with everything chief1284 has suggested. I've also had some great food at Ba Shan (opposite Bar Shu) but has had some less than great reviews more recently. I love Hibiscus and Moro - both very different propositions but great in their own ways.

          2. Re tea... I recently had tea at the Mandeville Hotel (very close to Bond St. Tube), and it was very good and somewhat of a London bargain at £23 a person. My niece and I didn't need dinner after that. But Brown's (more posh) has better food and is buzzier. The Sotheby Auction House has a very nice room for tea - a little oasis off the bustle of New Bond St., but I've never had their afternoon tea. I think it's fairly inexpensive.

            4 Replies
            1. re: zuriga1

              Mandeville looks good. Is Brown's 14£ better than Mandeville? What is the dress code? We will be sightseeing so I'm not sure my husband wants to wear a jacket mid-afternoon. Are reservations a necessity?

              I'm still trying to figure out:
              The Ledbury vs. Hibiscus
              HIX vs. Moro
              Chinese/Indian - I looked at Bar Shu and I think it will appeal to my husband who lives for spicy food, though we also like dim sum, and just went to Hakkasan in Miami last weekend. Hmm... I couldn't see a menu for Ba Shan. What about Indian? Is Quilon a good choice?

              Thanks!

              1. re: tlubow

                I think Brown's probably has more to offer, but this business of men wearing a jacket is tiresome for tourists. I'd book anywhere you go... although the Mandeville was very quiet the day we went, but it was very late afternoon.

                I can't help much with The Ledbury or Hibiscus - haven't yet gotten to either but definitely will.

                1. re: tlubow

                  I've long been a fan of tea at the Mandeville (I've been three times) and had tea at Browns two weeks ago and won't be going again.

                  It wasn't that there was anything wrong with it (aside from awkward seating and a very noisy atmosphere and waiting ages for the cheque), but that it simply didn't feel special enough to justify the price. I didn't feel like we received the same quality of attention that the Mandeville gives, nor was the food that much more spectacular, if at all. I felt like just another diner, and at £37, I want a bit more than that.

                  I remain a fan of the Mandeville and think it is the best tea in London in terms of QPR.

                  1. re: nanette

                    nanettte, I remembered your mentioning the Mandeville awhile back and was so happy to hear my niiece was staying right there and working close by. I think we would have enjoyed any tea or meal as we rarely see each other now that I live over here. Now you have me very glad we didn't splash for Brown's (my only experience there was about 20 years ago). The food at The Mandeville is very tasty, and I had the niece take a lot of the goodies back to her room!

              2. As an out of towner I'm not best to confirm all of the details of local knowledge however I can answer a few of your questions based on my several visits to London this year.

                Agree totally that for evening meals - in particular at the top end places - you will struggle to get a weekend reservation only a few days before so you may be better pre-booking a few dates. I ate at the Ledbury a few weeks ago and it was stunning. I never thought as a devout meat eater I'd get so excited over a plate of nothing but tomato! The staff were so obliging with any questions as well.

                Borough Market is best on a Friday. Thursday doesn't have all of the producers and Saturday is packed but with even more food stands. The busiest time tends to be 11-2.

                For Dim Sum look at Yauatcha. More expensive than most chinese but still cheap and has the bonus of the tea bar section being open all afternoon so you should be able to stroll in at 3pm and get food with no reservation.

                You may get better advice for Indain elsewhere and I may be shouted down but Brick Lane is the notorious Curry Street. It's not gourmet but there's plenty of decent Indian food.

                Moro didn't blow me away but the flavours of the starter and main course were really good if some what pricey with a desert that was nothing to write home about. It was packed on a Thursday and they were a bit arsey with me when I rocked up at 9.30 without a reservation inspite of the fact that I had been advised by them in the afternoon when I phoned to do exactly that.

                Enjoy!

                17 Replies
                1. re: AWaiting

                  Progress report for my planning so far:
                  Arrive very early Thursday morning
                  Lunch at Anchor and Hope
                  Dinner at Moti Mahal - but I have a question; Howler mentions a place called Gaylord that looks good and seems much more reasonable than some of the other placed mentioned on the board. But no one else talks about it. Is it good? I know it's not as fancy as Moti Mahal or Quilon, but I don't need fancy Indian food.

                  Friday
                  Borough Market exploration
                  Afternoon Tea (not sure yet)
                  Dinner at HIX

                  Saturday - no plans yet except for dinner at The Ledbury.

                  Looking for some other pub food that is central to sightseeing.

                  Thanks everyone for your help so far.

                  1. re: tlubow

                    the best value for money north indian(ish) meal is probably the weekend buffet at the bombay brasserie.

                    1. re: howler

                      I looked at that, but I can't see eating so much food in the middle of the day - a buffet is an invitation to overeat and we don't need an invitation, unfortunately. Also, we have The Ledbury at 8:30 that night. So are you no longer a fan of The Gaylord? Should we stick with our dinner at Moti Mahal?

                      1. re: tlubow

                        no, gaylord is fine. but i haven't been there for a few months at least. shouldn't matter as the quality has remained constant for a very long time.

                        the trick with getting the best out of gaylord - or for that matter, any indian restaurant - is in the ordering. if you know how to order at an indian place, great; if not, ask if you want some help.

                        1. re: howler

                          Of course we'd like some help. What I'd really like is for you to sit down at the table with us and order the meal, but I'll also be happy with some written help!

                          1. re: tlubow

                            ok, how many of you will be there? i'll suggest a sample dinner.

                              1. re: tlubow

                                think of eating from a thali (if you're familiar with that) as opposed to eating in courses: the idea is to use different flavours to mix and match. its eating with flavour combinations, not in courses. so build your meal around the vegetables, not the meats. and by the way, that is the true test of skill in the indian kitchen - how well the vegetables are handled.

                                so here's a sample selection for two: start with golgappa shots and bombay bhel puri. then ask for murg makhanwalla (butter chicken), galouti kebabs (all the range about a few years back in india and still very popular), paneer aur mutter ka salan (cottage cheese and peas), gobhi aloo (cauliflower and potatoes) and yellow dal tadka. tandoori roti for accompaniment.

                                thats PLENTY of food with all the classics. if you had to scale back, i'd ditch the golgappa and bhel puri. kulfi for dessert if you've got the space.

                                1. re: howler

                                  I never think of paneer as cottage cheese - at least what they call cottage cheese in the states. It's more like farmer's cheese, what my grandmother used to make her crepes with cheese inside... aka blintzes.

                                  I've never had paneer here that was like cottage cheese, but maybe it varies from place to place? Cottage cheese with peas sounds awful! :-)

                                  1. re: zuriga1

                                    indians call paneer cottage cheese, but you are right: it is pressed cottage cheese (farmers cheese).

                                    1. re: howler

                                      I love them both! We make our own paneer fairly often... never realized how simple that is to do.

                                  2. re: howler

                                    I looked it all up on the menu and it sounds great. I'll report back after the trip and let you know.

                      2. re: tlubow

                        Try Sketch for afternoon tea. I hesitated to recommend it before because I recall the service being a bit snotty, but I went again today and it was fabulous. We turned up at about 3pm on a Saturday and they managed to seat us straight away. There are plenty of shop windows to look in if you have to wait for a table. The room is fantastic, the cakes were delicious and the cocktails were very potent! It's traditional tea but a very modern and trendy room. I don't think there's a dress code.

                        1. re: gembellina

                          Sketch looks perfect. It's also in a good location for us. Thank you for suggesting it.

                        2. re: tlubow

                          For Saturday afternoon, why not go for dim sum at Pearl Liang or Yauatcha? Yauatcha's food and environment is more hip and trendy than the more traditional yet modern Pearl Liang. Both offer excellent dim sum. Both are much better than Royal China. Yauatcha's dim sum is slightly more avant garde than Pearl Liang's. Quality-wise they're both equally good, although I suspect most dim sum purists might prefer Pearl Liang. It really depends on whether you prefer eating dim sum in a more traditional or hip environment.

                          If I were you, I'd choose the Ledbury for Saturday lunch (cheaper than dinner), and go to Yauatcha for a dim sum dinner. Yes, it's unconventional to have dim sum at night, since traditionally it's more of a brunch food for the Cantonese people, but Yauatcha's vibe is quite fun at night. Although if you prefer a bit more elegant of a dining environment, then Ledbury would be the better choice. All depends on what you're looking for.

                          1. re: Noodle fanatic

                            Out of curiosity, which branch of Royal China? Most people that I've talked to seem to say that the Bayswater branch is the best of the lot. I haven't been to any of them, except the more pricey Royal China Club, which while good for some items, seemed expensive for the quality.

                            1. re: limster

                              Only been to the Bayswater one when we used to live near there, but was not impressed.