Why London’s always a good idea

Five offbeat experiences that’ll make this city seem absolutely new  

brunch Updated: Feb 24, 2018 22:11 IST
Lubna Salim
Lubna Salim
Hindustan Times
London,King’s Cross,Heathrow
Hotel Cafe royal on London’s Regent Street is iconic in more ways than one

My first trip to London seemed disappointing at the start. It’s like any other world city, I thought, on my way from Heathrow to my accommodation around King’s Cross. It’s extremely well-mapped and the public transport system is excellent, but where are the cobbled streets, carriages and palaces from the fairy tale city that were the fulcrum of my imaginary universe during my three-year English honours graduation, I wondered.

Also, if I may add at the cost of sounding supremely racist, I missed seeing “fair-skinned” Brits. Asians outnumbered them everywhere from the parks to restaurants and the ‘tube’ (that’s what they call the metro there).

But as they say, London grows on you. So I decided to give it another shot to discover the new facets of the old city. A comfortable and hassle-free flight later, I was set to see another London. For those who’ve had their helping of quintessential tourist attractions (read The London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey), here are five uber cool ways to discover the Queen’s country.

Wilde ways

The Oscar Wilde Lounge in London’s Hotel Café Royal might not be known to many, but is surely a must-visit for the author’s fans

How about experiencing glamorous afternoon tea at a hotel where Oscar Wilde is said to have fallen in love with Lord Alfred Douglas?

Unlike the popularly-known Elephant House cafe in Edinburgh (the favourite haunt of JK Rowling fanatics), the Oscar Wilde Lounge tucked inside the cosy confines of Hotel Café Royal on London’s Regent Street might not be known to many, but is surely a must-visit for the author’s fans, for both its rich history and the experience it offers.

The Oscar Wilde Lounge is where the author is said to have fallen in love with Lord Alfred Douglas

The very idea of having traditional afternoon tea in a room that’s been famously frequented by everyone from high profile politicians to writers and rock stars of great reckoning – think Mick Jagger, Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde himself amongst others – is super exciting!

I was as delighted by the gilded interiors reminiscent of Chateau de Versailles as with the finger sandwiches, muffins, petite cakes and scones that came on tiered trays, interspersed with teas. I went with hibiscus, but there are 30 blends and infusions on the menu and you are even served palate cleansing tea between the sandwich and cake courses, with a backdrop of lilting tunes by a live pianist.

Whisk up some whisky

Learn the art of enjoying your tipple at Milroy’s of Soho whisky bar

This one’s a must, especially for those who drink just to get drunk. A tasting session at the hole-in-wall Milroy’s of Soho whisky bar exhibited a selection so vast, it reminded me of the never-ending drinks menu on Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class lounge, a bit too elaborate for an eight-hour flight.

Take your pick from five kinds of 60 to 90-minute-long tastings ranging from Regions of Scotland to Americas and Closed Distilleries in the company of a connoisseur.

What caught my fancy during the “Around the world” whisky tasting session was the Japanese Nikka whisky. This one could easily pass for a top-notch single malt at a blind tasting.

Best of Bicester

Bicester Village, which has over 160 international designer boutiques along with restaurants and cafés

Who doesn’t mind some serious retail therapy? And when designer brands come 60 per cent cheaper, there’s every excuse to spoil yourself. Plus, if you’re lucky you could even bump into familiar faces from Hollywood and Bollywood whilst boutique hopping!

Such a shopaholic’s paradise is about an hour’s drive from London. There, Armani rubs shoulder with Alexander McQueen and Longchamp sits cheek by jowl with Longines, all with price tags that scream pick me up.

The destination in question is Bicester Village, which has over 160 international designer boutiques along with restaurants and cafés for bites between shopping sessions. Think you’ve overspent? There’s a prayer room too!

Magic of micro-greens

Spend a morning learning how to grow micro greens at the Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire

Away from the madding crowd, spend a morning learning how to grow micro-greens at the Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. The 15th century honey-hued manor, where you can stop for tea and pastries before making your way to the vegetable and herb gardens, is nestled in Oxfordshire and is home to the acclaimed The Raymond Blanc Cookery School.

Our teacher, the head vegetable gardener, Jennifer Pryke gave us a tour of the lush gardens and mushroom valley as we took wild guesses at identifying the herb and vegetable micro-greens we were tasting straight from the plants, mistaking radish for mustard and parsley for celery!

Stop for refreshments at the Farmshop restaurant in Bicester Village

Our last stop, the glasshouse, doubled as our classroom and the venue for a delicious working lunch. Armed with compost, seeds and miniature gardening tools, we sowed mustard, Greek cress, pak choi and purple radish seeds in little porous black plastic trays.

A vegetarian lunch (creamy pumpkin soup, garden fresh salads, melt-in the-mouth spinach and ricotta pie and chocolate ganache) prepared in the Michelin star kitchen with organic produce is the perfect way to end a fruitful day.

Date with Tate

Tate Modern will offer a chic peek into international modern and contemporary art

There can be no better way to get up close and personal with a city’s culture than visiting a museum, and while the British Museum and The National Gallery occupy top spots on visitor itineraries, a visit to Tate Modern will offer a chic peek into international modern and contemporary art.

I enjoyed the walk to the museum by the river Thames, with the Tower Bridge of London forming an iconic backdrop, and felt overly patriotic and proud to spot Sheela Gowda’s massive installation Behold there.

Sheela Gowda’s massive installation Behold comprising four kilometres of knotted human hair and car bumpers at Tate Modern is hard to miss

Comprising four kilometres of hand-knotted rope extended around nearly 20 car bumpers suspended on gallery walls and piled on the floor, this is quite an eye catcher.

These ropes, we learnt, are made of braided human hair. Eureka! Now I know the reason for the strange smell around us!

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From HT Brunch, February 25, 2018

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First Published: Feb 24, 2018 21:02 IST