Posts tagged “london

london loves from an old local

The bathroom at Jones' Wood Foundry on Manhattan's Upper East Side

One year ago today I came full circle: LHR to JFK.

It was the best decision I made since I undertook the opposite move nearly seven years before.

Now I get the best of both worlds – I feel equally at home in both cities. And while I might miss some of my old haunts, I take great pleasure in directing you to them. Here’s the list I keep sending to friends making the trip across the pond…

Top spot: Borough Market by London Bridge. It’s normally only open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays. Go there around 11am, graze, and just marvel at everything.  The Comte from Borough Cheese Company is well worth a nibble.  And if you need a perk, you can’t do better than a cup from Monmouth Coffee.

After Borough Market, wander down to the Thames River Path, then keep going west to Southbank. It’s a nice stretch along the river with restaurants, concert venues, and usually something colorful happening outdoors. You’ll also get a very romantic view of London as it gets dark.

If you’re in the mood for fish & chips, you’ll find it at most pubs; but for a special treat go to Geale’s in Notting Hill.

For a great British breakfast, check out my favorite cafe/free wifi place/concert space The Tabernacle, also in Notting Hill.

Two words: Indian food. Kahn’s in Bayswater is an institution.  I also love Rasa.

After Kahn’s, walk down to Artisan Du Chocolat for killer hot chocolate – thick and rich enough to spoil you for life. They also have a stall at Borough Market.

Get some museum action in South Kensington (V&A, Science Museum, Natural History). The Kensington Creperie is next door. Drool-worthy sweet and savory crepes.  Or head to The Abingdon for the most memorable sticky toffee pudding ever.

For a spot of history and solitude, stop in at St. Etheldreda in Farringdon, the tiny church where Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon.  If you’re lucky, the crypt will be open.  When you’re done appreciating the architecture and stained glass, head to Piada on St. John street for relatively inexpensive and delicious Italian filled flatbread.

After that, go right across the street to Vinoteca for a glass.  Speaking of vino, a must-see is Gordon’s, the oldest wine bar in London. But not if you’re claustrophobic – you’ll have to descend stairs into a cavernous space. This is near Embankment which also happens to be near…Covent Garden. You’ll want to take a peek around there and pause at Scoop for the best gelato outside Italy.

And if theatre’s your thing, the TKTS discount ticket booth is about a 10-minute walk away in Leicester Square.  Or find out why cinema is so much cooler than the movies at Curzon – the Soho branch has a perfectly-placed Konditor and Cook cafe for a sneaky slice of something sweet.

As for logistics, buy Oyster cards for the tube and bus when you arrive. For me, the best way to enjoy London is to see where the crooked and cobbled streets take you.

Bonus super-secret tip:  lunch at Books for Cooks off Portobello Road.  The test kitchen at the back serves London’s best three-course deal.  But you have to know the drill:  get there at least 20 minutes before noon to nab one of the few seats, and be prepared to charm the regulars so they don’t hate me too much for telling you about this.  I enjoyed them – and this special place – so much.


the british are coming (again and again)

After I wrote my guide to British expressions, friend and fellow ex-pat Nadya sent me this picture from London:

Behold, “proper” in standard use at sandwich shop Pret A Manger.  The cut-off word is “porridge”, which is a national obsession and cultural institution over there.

So I took this picture, of the Union Square Pret A Manger:

The cut-off word is “toasties”, also a national obsession and cultural institution…over there.

And now Pret a Manger plans to open 40 more shops here in the next two years.  When I first went to London as a college student back in 1996, I was completely wowed by Pret and resolved that I should bring it to the States.  Well, they were obviously already onto the idea.  Be careful what you wish for.


the queen’s head english

Coming back to New York after 6+ years in London, there are two things that are conspicuously absent:  a pub on every corner (often with some variation on “The Queen’s Head”), and certain vocabulary.

Proper:  Very useful, except when it’s not.  Ponder this tagline for Byron, a UK restaurant chain:  “Proper Hamburgers”.  Tell me, what is an improper hamburger?

Set off:  Head off, get going, go.  As in, “When do you plan to set off?”  Often receives perplexed looks Stateside.

GP:  General Practitioner, or exhausted primary-care physician you may never see again.

Would do, could do, should do:  My biggest pet peeve.  Frequently used in response to questions.  Such as, “You really should have a proper meal after all those pints you had last night.”  Answer: “Yes, I should do.”

Whereabouts:  Great one.  “Whereabouts in the city can I get proper fish and chips?”

Curry:  Insanely delicious and greasy Indian food.  “After all those pints we just had, why don’t we go for a curry.”

Knackered:  “I can barely keep my eyes open; I am so knackered.”

Sort it out:  Figure it out.  “We’ll leave it to you peeps to sort it out.”

A half: Half pint.  Pronounced “hawlf”.  “What, you’re only going to have a half cider?  Come on, this round’s on me.”

Fit:  Hot.  “James Franco is really fit!”  Wouldn’t you agree?

Hire:  Rent.  You hire a car in the UK, which made me a little nervous at first thinking I was going to have to shell out for a chauffeur.

Fancy:  Somewhere between like and lust lies fancy.  “Yes, he acted like a complete twat, but I still fancy the pants off him.”  Three for the price of one there.

Bits:  Parts of your body. This one really got me at first, and it still makes me cringe.  You’ll often see it in suncream (read: sunscreen) ads: “Cover up your most delicate bits.”  Hmm.

Cheeky:  Extremely useful and polite expression when referring to someone who is being either a little too clever or out of line.  “Russell Brand is such a cheeky &%^£!”

XXX:  Not what you think.  Sign off for texts and emails equivalent to the American XOXO.  The number of Xs is of supreme importance.  “Uh-oh, he only put one X at the end of his text.  Whatever do you think it means?”


triple take: london in new york

(Click on any image for fancy lightbox)


new york vs london: trains, lanes & displays

The city has changed a lot in the seven years I was away.  For starters, there are now bicycle lanes.  Strange, nonsensical separations that start and stop abruptly, just like in London where I rode everywhere.  But unlike the cycling culture on the other side of the pond, biking behavior here is, like everything else in this city, in a class of its own.  Hardly anyone wears helmets.  People brazenly ride on the sidewalk.  And controversy abounds.

Despite being an experienced cyclist, I don’t feel compelled to take to these streets on two wheels.  While I believe New York needs to stay competitive as a metropolis – nay, the metropolis – by the same token, the pace of the city and abundance of cheap transportation make bicycles almost unnecessary.  But human beings have never been known to do things purely out of necessity, and come Springtime I may change my mind.

Meanwhile, we now have those blazing LCD displays in Subway stations telling you when the trains are coming next.

London Underground has been doing this for years, so it was nice to see that MTA had caught up – sure beats standing on the edge of the platform looking into the abyss for the proverbial light.  Never a good idea.  Unfortunately, these displays don’t seem to be very reliable.  This particular screen kept upping the number of minutes every time I looked.  And do I really want to know the train is a quarter of an hour away?  It’s sort of like asking a fortune-teller for the bad news.  Still, I’ll take the MTA’s round-the-clock trains over the time-sensitive but spotty Underground any day.