With direct flights to London back in full swing from Tampa International Airport through British Airways (American Airlines) via Gatwick Airport, it’s almost a no-brainer to make it an easy hop for locals. What’s even more exciting is the fact that Virgin Atlantic has launched daily flights to London (via Heathrow) as soon as the end of November!
Getting there by way of American 787 service through Chicago and returning on a 777 via Charlotte and there’s no doubt that you feel more refreshed upon arrival on a Dreamliner.
It’s the city for all the good food.
As such, our experience of the Swinging City generally revolve around food and drinks outside of the usual touristy destinations like The London Eye, Big Ben, or Westminster. Figured those were given. With hundreds of good spots for good eats, it’s tough to narrow it down to just a few when you’re just visiting for about a week. So here’s our highly recommended eateries that’s sure to hit the spot.
But first, where to stay:
For the initial part of my visit to London, I looked for a good location that would be easy to navigate the city without having to get into public transportation until I get my bearings. Through hotels.com, I found a newly built boutique hotel in Covent Garden called Amano. It was the perfect spot. It was located along Drury Lane where you are within walking distance to most of the theaters and all the high end retail spots if either one is your favorite vacation activity. The rooms are very sleek and modern although it took a little getting used to having the shower and toilet divided by just frosted glass walls from the bed and the bathroom vanity right outside the shower and sat next to the TV on the wall. Modern and efficient use of square footage perhaps. Oh but the rooftop bar comes in clutch after long days of walking around the city. It is perfect for meeting friends and taking in the views of the city at night.
At the end of our stay, we stayed at the Crowne Plaza by the Albert Embankment. It was a mostly standard room with no frills as it is probably designed more for folks traveling to London for business. The great thing about it not being in the middle of hustle and bustle is that it was more affordable, more spacious yet still accessible by walking or taking the Tube once you are more comfortable with how they operate.
Brian’s stay at the Z Covent Garden was preempted by Hurricane Ian. They refused to consider an “act of god” refund or even partial. Thankfully, he was able to rebook and use two of the three days he paid for.
Where to drink and eat:
Bottle + Rye $$
This casual neighborhood French wine bar in Brixton was an excellent find. Trust us, it comes with the rave recommendation of a James Beard winning chef (Hi Alison) who took us there on our first night. It has the feel of a restaurant/bar in the Lower East Side of New York where you can have a seat at the table or belly up to the bar if you like getting up close with the bartenders and kitchen staff. Their menu is small, seasonal and ideal for sharing. Get a bottle of wine (or two) to go with that.
Of course you can’t London if you haven’t had high tea. Another friend and local (Hi Franny) took me for a lovely afternoon high tea at Swan at the Globe after a full day of walking around the city with her son. Our table had a nice view of the Thames that seemed most appropriate. We had Mr. Falstaff’s Afternoon Tea menu to go with our tea. And since we were on vacation mode, we had to do a glass of Champagne too. Definitely a great bang for your buck! Oh, and they have a vegetarian high tea menu to go along with vegan teas.
One of the things we could not leave without eating is a good Indian meal. Another local friend and his partner (Hi Adnan) took us to his favorite, Tayyabs, which served a Punjabi style Indian menu. Pro-tip: you can bring your own alcoholic bevvies like beer and wine. Just stop by a Tesco and you should be all set. Make sure you order the lamb chops, Tandoori chicken and all the flavorful rotis!
Lockes Bar $$
We probably would not have discovered this gem of a neighborhood bar if we had not accidentally met its owner on the rooftop bar of Hotel Amano in Covent Garden. Steve was friendly, dapper and left us with a good impression. So we decided to check out his place and as soon as we entered, we knew it was our spot. The vibe was sexy yet chill, the cocktails were strong and the service gracious. Just our speed.
In the mood for sushi? Check out Bisushima for their tasting menus and you will not be disappointed. The ambiance is sleek and classy without being fussy. The food and service is top-notch. With the tasting menus, you have the choice of a short (typically four courses) or a more elaborate signature menu or a la carte! Depends how hungry you are. Just make sure you leave room for dessert.
Lobos Tapas $$
One night, we were feeling a bit carnivorous but not extremely hungry so a steakhouse was out of the question. Decided on a Spanish tapas bar in Soho that was quaint and looked busy which is always a good sign. Got our chorizo, grilled ribeye steak and a black rice paella that were perfect for sharing for two. Of course, we had to split a bottle of Tempranillo to wash it all down. Muy delicioso!
Sticks & Sushi $$$
Mixing sushi and yakitori dishes with delicious cocktails. Starting out with the Yuzu Seltzer featuring Haku Japanese vodka, passion fruit liqueur and rosemary “charged with co2,” whatever that means, not sure. Rather than filling up on rice and sushi this round, I decided to stick to a selection of yakitori sticks including cheese, duck, pork and beef. All so good, wish I had an appetite for more. This place is busy so make a reservation or get there early.
Cora Pearl $$
Making a bold statement, the menu claims to have the best “chips in all of London.” Of course by chips they mean fries to us yanks and they were pretty damn good. Starting with a delicious rum based mule featuring ginger, mint, lime and bitters, we enjoyed the crispy exterior of the thick cut “chips,” with a ham and cheese toastie for a not so light yet not overly filling lunch.
See a show. Immerse yourself in a museum.
What’s a trip to London if you’re not seeing at least one show on the West End. Decided to see the fun musical & Juliet. The show was written by David West Read, producer and writer of Schitt’s Creek, one of our all-time favorite comedy series. How can you go wrong with that? It’s basically a sing along musical of some of our favorite pop music anthems from the likes of Katy Perry, Ariana Grande and Robyn which told the hypothetical story of Juliet (from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) had she decided not to end her life tragically with Romeo. The entire show from cast to music to set design was pure energy!
At the suggestion of a dear anglophile friend (Hi Diane!), we visited the Victoria and Albert Museum (or simply the V&A) to see a current exhibition on men’s fashion, its history and how it defined ‘masculinity’ through the generations. If you’re into the art of fashion and its sociological implications, this is a must see. If not, the museum offers plenty of content to satisfy your artsy side of the brain including the grounds itself and its architecture. Oh, and don’t miss the cafe. It’s deliciously stunning.
If we’re not eating, we’re discovering.
We thought it would be hard to fit in any other excursions with everything there is to see in London. But if you had a day to kill or wanted to get away from the hustle, take the day trip to Bath.
After much research to figure out the best way to get to and from Bath and, at the same time, see the iconic Stonehenge, we highly recommend getting a bus tour package. It takes care of your transportation which would normally include a train and a bus transfer and takes you there in pretty much the same time. At least you can just sit back and maybe even doze off for a bit without worrying about anything else. It includes your ticket to Stonehenge so you don’t have to queue up as well. Fair deal for the price.
One other good thing about it, you get a tour guide to tell you not just about the history of Stonehenge and Bath but even the landmarks and small towns that you drive past through your entire drive. Worth it.
Stonehenge is pretty magical.
We arrived at Stonehenge early enough in the morning and had a perfectly bright and sunny weather to enjoy our day trip. The prehistoric monuments were a sight to behold. It gave us a sense of awe and wonder at how this perfectly set up gigantic rocks came to be. The walk around the ring gave us the history, assumptions and theories about Stonehenge through the easily accessible audio tour narration through your own phone.
After about an hour or so which was all you needed, we headed to Bath which was less than an hour away. It’s a beautiful small town which has been known for its thermal spas that are unique to the area. It’s always been a popular destination for many locals and tourists alike but in more recent years, Bath has gained even more notoriety for being one of the location spots for the period Netflix series, Bridgerton. Enjoy it for the baths, the historic architecture or simply just walking around, eating, drinking or shopping. A great way to spend an entire day outside of London.
Edinburgh is the other burg we love.
If Bath wasn’t enough to satisfy your traveler’s curiosity, take the train to Edinburgh, Scotland. This one won’t be enough for a day trip. With a 4.5 hour high speed train ride, you’re going to have to book a night or two in Edinburgh. But with the history of the town and all the places you’ll want to visit, it will be time well spent.
With one full day allocated for exploring the city, it was best that we did our own self-guided tour which you can do on foot. This excellent guide that we found online came in clutch as it started right near where the Apex City of Edinburgh Hotel is, where we’re staying. It took us through all the landmarks in perfect order so that no time was wasted. From the Balmoral Hotel, the Edinburgh Castle, Grayfriars Kirkyard, The Royal Mile, Calton Hill and many more attractions. The great thing about this is that you can breeze through stops or take your time learning about the spot as you see fit. No pressure.
This may be the not so common itinerary most tourists visiting London would have but it sure was one of the most satisfying gastronomical journeys we have taken in a foreign country. Suffice it to say, our fond memories have always been around excellent food and great company. Hope yours is too.
Brian Bailey contributed to this article.