April 19, 2009
If you want a world-class arts scene or superb wining and dining, there's more to London than meets The Eye
By Frankie Chee
SINGAPOREAN ABROAD IN LONDON WITH...
Length of stay: Seven years
Kids may sing about London Bridge falling down, but the famous London landmark is most definitely not. Along with the London Eye (above) and the Tower of London, it has made the River Thames a hot spot for tourists, says Singaporean lawyer Adeline Chuah.
The single 26-year-old has lived in the British capital for seven years and loves taking her visiting friends to the popular river.
She also likes the crowd-pleasing Covent Garden, which is abuzz with buskers and musicians. But for somewhere more low-key, she recommends Little Venice, which has showy houseboats on a canal.
Singaporeans would most probably enjoy London's seasonal weather, thriving arts scene and varying vibes in different parts of the city - from the swanky Notting Hill to Camden Town, the home of goths and punks.
The best way to explore the city is...
On foot, definitely. This is the best way to discover the architecture of London, which covers a considerable timeline. There are also lots of hidden gems and cobbled side streets that you can only explore and discover on foot.
The culture and vibe of one street can be distinctly different from the next, and you can always pop into one of the little boutique shops or local pubs if you want some respite from sightseeing.
An alternative to walking, and a good way to get an overview of the city, is to go on an open-top bus tour. These are relaxing and come with useful commentaries on the common tourist sights in London. They also allow you to hop on and off so you can decide which sights you want to spend more time at. The tickets cost £24 (S$54) for an adult and £84 for a family of two adults and three children, with spring promotions at £22 and £69 respectively.
The best time to visit is...
In spring. Around late April to June is when the sun comes out to play a little longer and the flowers are in bloom. I think this is when London is at its prettiest, the weather is balmy and mild, and daffodils pepper the city.
This is the perfect time to take long walks outdoors, explore the sights, have a picnic in one of the many royal parks or enjoy some alfresco dining in a pub garden or a rooftop terrace.
Which places in the city excite you?
I love Covent Garden during weekends as it has the hustle and bustle from the market and lots of street buskers and musicians dotting the square. It is great just strolling along the streets watching the performers and darting into the shops or settling down in one of the numerous cafes to watch the crowds go by.
For somewhere off the beaten track, an exciting place is Little Venice in Maida Vale where you can stroll along the canal, look into the numerous houseboats and then enjoy lunch at The Waterway (54, Formosa Street, tel: +44-20-7266 3557, www.thewaterway.co.uk ) , a stylish bar and restaurant by the canal.
Your favourite breakfast is at...
202 (202 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, tel: +44-20-7792 6888). This is set in an eclectic shop which displays well-known fashion designer Nicole Farhi's collection. The restaurant upstairs has a casual atmosphere where you can dine amid beautiful homeware and clothing displays.
This is the perfect place to soak up the fashionable and bohemian Notting Hill vibe, and people-watch as the residents of Notting Hill, including the occasional celebrity, get their morning fix.
For more traditional fare, the Electric Brasserie (191 Portobello Road, London, tel: +44-20-7908 9696, www.electricbrasserie.com/menu_breakfast.php ) does a full English breakfast with eggs Benedict - an essential sustenance before hitting Portobello Market on a Saturday.
Your favourite eating place is...
A hard question to answer because the city has culinary experiences to meet every mood and occasion, and satisfy even the most fussy palate.
If I were looking for a well-cooked and fairly simple meal, I'd go to The Garrison (99-101 Bermondsey Street, tel: +44-20-7089 9355, www.thegarrison.co.uk ). This gastropub has a cosy atmosphere and serves simple, yet amazingly tasty English food.
For a more expensive meal with all the trimmings, the tasting menu at Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley (Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, tel: +44-20-7235 1200, www.the-berkeley.co.uk/marcus_wareing.aspx ) is divine. But, be prepared to spend at least three hours eating because there are about nine courses and each course takes approximately 20 minutes. There is also an option to allow the sommelier to select matching wines for each course. Nobu (15 Berkeley Street, Tel: +44-20-7290 9222, www.noburestaurants.com/berkeley/index.html ) has yummy food, a great buzz and an awesome bar for post-dinner drinks.
The coolest place to chill out is...
Loungelover (1 Whitby Street, tel: +44-20-012 1234, www.loungelover.co.uk ) is one of the coolest bars I have ever been to. Opened by three antique dealers, it is decked out with an eclectic mish-mash of treasures they have collected from around the world - think Parisian boudoir meets art deco meets a Baroque courtesan's parlour.
With an impressive cocktail list and incredibly skilled bartenders and waiters happy to recommend drinks or shake up a cocktail, it is the perfect place to chill out after a tiring week.
On a sunny spring or summer's day, though, the coolest place to chill out is definitely on the grass in one of the royal parks, with a picnic basket or a good book.
What do you think Singaporeans will like most about your city?
The weather and the arts. The four seasons is something which Singaporeans will love. Depending on when you visit the city, you will see London in a completely different light. Fashion, food and activities alter according to the seasons.
In winter, outdoor ice-skating rinks open around the city and Christmas fairs spring up in the parks. Everyone is wrapped in warm clothes and hitting the shops for their Christmas shopping.
In spring and autumn, the weather is balmy and people dine alfresco, taking walks in the parks. In summer, the colourful summer clothes and English sunburn come out in force. The parks are filled with people in their swimwear sunbathing - a sight for Singaporeans who normally don a swimsuit only by a pool or the sea.
The London arts scene is one of the best in the world. The West End offers a wide selection of musicals, plays and comedies, and there are independent performing arts centres all over the city. For those interested in dance, Sadler's Wells has an amazing line-up of international dance performances and there is, of course, The Royal Opera House which is home to The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet.
What's the biggest difference between Singapore and this city?
There is so much to do here and such a different vibe in each different area or community. Camden Town is home to punk and gothic types. The market sells alternative fashion and quirky craft items.
The City of London (also called the Square Mile) is the financial district and home to the famous office block The Gherkin. During the week, it's filled with suits, but during the weekend, it is home to Spitalfields Market - one of London's biggest markets selling everything from fashion and arts and craft items to food and antiques.
Bordering the Square Mile is Shoreditch and Hoxton, which is home to edgy and trendy clubs and bars in converted industrial buildings, and populated by the uber-trendy media, art and fashion students. Notting Hill, on the other hand, is filled with beautiful Victorian and Georgian period buildings with a mix of affluent city-type folks and bohemian-arty sorts.
Where is one place you always take your friends when they visit you?
The River Thames by the South Bank. Starting off at Westminster, you get to see the Houses of Parliament, and then the London Eye as you stroll down the river towards Embankment. Going further down will take you to the South Bank, where numerous performance venues, restaurants and bars are.
If you have the time, enjoy a sundowner at the top of the Oxo Tower, then stroll further down the river to get to the famous Millennium Bridge and the Tate Modern. Finally, you will get to London Bridge, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
From there, you can cross London Bridge and head to Borough Market, where food traders gather to sell interesting delicacies and cuts of meat and fish. This is the perfect place to sample a wide variety of food. A must-try is the ostrich and venison burgers.
Where is the best place to go on a shopping spree?
Oxford Street is where you will find a collection of all the high-street and designer brands. Selfridges (400 Oxford Street, is a great one-stop shop that houses all the usual brands and a good food hall.
However, if you wish to steer clear of the crowds, or are looking for a more leisurely experience, Kings Road is a nice alternative for a shopping spree while Notting Hill is great for independent boutiques.