It’s our expectation as travelers to be treated like royalty when we’re shelling out time, cash, and effort to plan vacations, business trips, and weekend getaways, especially in Europe where hospitality is held to the same standards I find here in New York. And while I may be a different type of queen in my everyday life, it’s always my goal to be treated like Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second during my travels. Just whisk me away from Buckingham Palace and let me enjoy the best in food, drink, and lodging London has to offer.
London, home of the world’s most-famous monarchy, happens to boast an impressive array of restaurants, bars, and hotels itself, many of which frequently land coveted spots on world’s best lists. I recently took a trip to England’s capital to round up the places that impressed me most, guaranteeing that I’d never leave the country with my knickers in a twist. So if you want to feel red carpet and trumpet sounding-levels of special, these are the spots to hit up during your next visit.
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Where to Grab a Morning Pastry: Ottolenghi
The restaurant group bearing Israeli-English Chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s name may be renowned for its innovative, healthy-ish approach to Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, but it’s the rotating pastry and cake offerings that shine brightest. From chocolate biscotti and oversized meringues to homemade marshmallows and nut-covered brittles, nearly every type of sweet tooth can be satisfied in a dangerously short period of time. You’d be remiss to not also try anything with their signature pistachio spread, but if you’re running late to royal duties and the clock is ticking, be sure to nab a jar before leaving and beg your chauffeur to keep it under lock and key until you’re home.
Where to Grab Lunch: Dishoom
Whether coming from your tenth shopping spree in Covent Garden or strolling through the familiar cobblestone streets of Carnaby, a queen may randomly crave some extra spice in her life. And that best kind of London spice is inarguably found in its many Indian restaurants. But if your royal highness is not willing to make the trek to East London’s famed Brick Lane for some curry, opt for one of Dishoom’s many locations for a menu that is equal parts approachable and adventurous (and absolutely worth the hype). Start with the chili chicken as an app, order the pomegranate-heavy lamb chops for your main, and be sure to request a side of garlic naan to dip exclusively in their chilli chutney with coriander seeds and garlic (perhaps my favorite sauce in its famous trio). It’s a menu that initially overwhelms a hungry palate (because you want to order everything), but lucky for us, Dishoom’s rolled out a cookbook so you can make a majority of what you can’t order within the comfort of your own kitchen.
Where to Plan Afternoon Tea: The Wolseley
Water for hydration and other life-saving bodily functions is nice, but tea is the most important beverage of the day. And there is no better place to enjoy a spot or two of jasmine green or traditional English breakfast than the historical and breathtaking Wolesley. The stunning Mayfair space is draped in an unparalleled regality and sophistication with oversized ceilings and grandiose columns, all while maintaining an air of unstuffiness (unlike nearby competitors that require men to wear jackets, ties, and other uncomfortable things). I’m also convinced you’ll find no better currant scones in the city, topped with homemade jam and clotted cream, of course, for an afternoon bite worthy of replacing an entire meal. Be sure to also indulge in the variety of savory pastries with cured meat and cheese-stuffed quiches, tarts, and amuse bouches that you’ll be sneaking into your coin purse for later.
Where to Grab Dinner: Sketch
You may be a queen, but Sketch is a safe-haven for London socialites who go to dinner strictly to see and be seen. The still-ultra-trendy spot, whose Gallery dining room is appropriately drenched in Millennial pink, actually boasts a creative menu that is streamlined to feature seasonal dishes with purely farm-to-table ingredients. There’s even a vegetarian menu for those who have cut meat out of their diets, but ironically still rock a mink coat during wintertime. (I mean, what else is going to pair with that Chanel Boyfriend bag and Cartier Love bracelet? Nothing, that’s what.) But if you’re not there for the food or the scene or the possibility of finding a (cough, wealthy) Prince Charming, the Instagrammable pod toilets are worth a trip alone.
Where to Grab a Nightcap: Lyaness
After a long day of chatting Brexit (and believe me, that will come up at least a time or seven during your stay), you’re going to need a moment to unwind and disconnect with rounds of delicious libations. Lyaness (formerly Dandelyan, which was crowned the World’s Best Bar in 2018) at the Sea Containers London hotel has been completely refurbished and reimagined to offer a new, exciting, and innovative menu that highlights seven signature ingredients: Infinite Banana, Lyaness Tea-mooth, Peach Emoji, Vegan Honey, ONYX, Golden Levain, and Purple Pineapple. It will be your instinct to try them all as you look out on the unobstructed and gorgeous, albeit crane-heavy views of the Thames…and you absolutely should. How else will you pick a favorite? Those who overdo it will be relieved to find that its bar bites are just as tasty, with crunchy shishito peppers, buttermilk fried chicken sliders, and a sea bass fish taco that rivals what I noshed on daily in Puerto Vallarta. Needless to say, it’s all worth the trip down to South Bank.
Where to Stay If You’re Feeling Posh: The Milestone Hotel & Residences
Dripping in traditional opulence and luxury with fresh-cut roses, deep wood panels, an accommodating and dapper staff, and rooms fit for anyone wearing the crown jewels, The Milestone Hotel & Residences was the best hotel experience I’ve ever had in Europe, punctuated by an impressive fireplace-side meal at its on-site restaurant Chenestons (get the Dover sole!). No detail is too small for this establishment, as made evident by the in-house butler (who gave a fabulously thorough tour of the property upon arrival), and no amount of personalization is too over-the-top (they wrote me a welcome letter that referenced Beyoncé, who is the queen I personally worship on a daily basis). The interior design, which varies by room, is so ornate and special that I audibly gasped as I entered. This made leaving the room a dreaded chore, which the staff embraces wholeheartedly by offering an in-suite cocktail mixing program to make sipping, entertaining, and sleeping as convenient as possible. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the place was its throne in a black and gold marble-entombed bathroom that demanded nothing less than a royal flush. Unsurprisingly, this Kensington-based, five-star gem with unrivaled elegance and panache is just a stone’s throw away from William and Kate’s permanent residence. My only question: When can I move in?
Where to Stay If You’re Feeling Hip: The London Edition
Sometimes a queen must remove her crown and let her hair down for a bit. Enter The London Edition, a trendy hotel that offers minimalist vibes in an upbeat atmosphere that always bustles with lively (and beautiful) people. It also helps that the bar is immediately to the left of its lobby entrance, making it a seemingly 24-hour social spot for guests to sip, schmooze, and surrender to the spontaneity of a night in Soho. The rooms themselves are bright and chic with leather furniture accents, oversized fixtures, and stark white, modern bathrooms. And if you’re craving a late-night meal, I highly suggest a trip to Berners Tavern where you can relish in the richness of a meat-forward menu that highlights the best of contemporary British fare in a breathtaking expanse filled with artwork.
Editor’s Note: Some of the aforementioned businesses invited me to experience their menu items and rooms in exchange for writing about my thoughts.
Header image courtesy of Howard Kingsnorth/Getty Images.