A taste of London

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 65 of the October 2010 issue.

by Randy Keck (Part 1 of 2 on the UK)

Looking over Westminster Bridge toward Big Ben — London. Photos: Keck

London cuisine today is clearly on par with those of the major gastronomy centers of Europe. This was one of the primary discoveries of a March ’10 visit I made to the city as a guest of the tourism promotion organization Visit Britain and Ireland. Our group of five writers had the chance not only to visit the annual “Best of Britain and Ireland” travel and tourism exhibition but to experience some of London’s finest attractions and cuisine.

We were accommodated at the newly opened Park Plaza Westminster Bridge. The property has over 1,000 rooms, a full-service spa and a major entertainment complex. The ultramodern-style rooms are both luxurious and utilitarian ($300-$380 double).

Ideally located near the Westminster Bridge, Big Ben, the London Eye and two Tube stops, the hotel proved to be convenient for self-guided exploring during our free periods. Our group utilized London Oyster cards for our subway meanderings and, both coming and going, the Heathrow Express for connections between Heathrow Airport and the Paddington city transport hub.

Cuisine happenings

The London restaurant scene has upgraded dramatically over the last decade, and we had the good fortune to sample a few of the city’s finest culinary treasures. The following are most noteworthy and definitely recommended.

Racine (239 Brompton Rd.; phone 020 7584 4477), near the Victoria and Albert Museum, serves French neighborhood-style cuisine (lunch, $21-$32).

• Family operated since 1910 and a favorite with celebrities, The Goring offers mixed-cuisine fine dining (two-course pretheater dinner, $47, and three-course dinner, $68).

Randy surveying the city from the pinnacle of the London Eye.

It’s located within the five-star, boutique Goring Hotel (phone +44 [0] 20 7834 4393), on Beeston Place across from Buckingham Palace, with doubles from $490 to $725.

• My favorite, Texture (34 Portman St.; phone +44 [0] 20 7224 0028), is one of the most highly regarded and popular restaurants in London, offering an astounding wine list and mixed-cuisine fine dining (starter and main course, $47-$68).

All of these establishments are a bit pricey but definitely worthy culinary experiences. Another highly recommended alternative is dining with the locals at the utterly addictive Harrods Food Court.

London on the hoof

Our walking tour on the second morning began with the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, one of London’s most highly regarded modern and contemporary art exhibition venues.

We traversed the grounds of the imposing Albert Memorial (opened 1872), with optimal photo ops, and Royal Albert Hall (opened 1871), one of the world’s foremost concert venues, en route to the massive Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) on Cromwell Road.

The V&A, one the world’s greatest museums of art and design, is generally regarded as unrivaled in the scope and diverse nature of its collections. For many museum aficionados, half a day would not be enough time to explore its bounty.

London solo

The afternoon was free for us to explore on our own, so after a lustful visit to famous Harrods, just down the road from the V&A, I employed my Oyster card at Knightsbridge Station and departed several stops later at bustling Leices­ter Square.

The Albert Memorial is a lordly tribute to the legendary prince.

A cornucopia of historic attractions infused my stroll down Charing Cross Road, including the English National Opera and the National Gallery, before I arrived at Trafalgar Square, graced by Nelson’s Column.

Continuing on to Whitehall Road, I passed the Institute of Contemporary Arts before the obligatory visit to 10 Downing Street. As I approached Westminster Road, now-familiar Big Ben, the House of Parliament and the imposing London Eye helped direct me across Westminister Bridge back to my hotel.

Eye over London

While undeniably touristy and controversial, the London Eye ($26 adult) is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel and provides a remarkable bird’s-eye view (443 feet at the pinnacle) of London obtainable in no other manner. It is important to board it in clear weather to enjoy optimal photo opportunities from the heights. The 32 viewing capsules do the full circuit in 40 minutes.

Now celebrating its 10th year and carrying an average of 10,000 visitors a day, the London Eye is a definite London “must do” for most visitors.

For information, maps and brochures regarding London, contact Visit Britain (800/462-2748).

Continuing my report on my UK visit, in my next column I touch on southern Wales and Glasgow, Scotland.

Keck's Beyond the Garden Wall

❝When we learn about the world, the experience is of no small value
When we learn about ourselves in the process, the experience is invaluable ❞
— Randy Keck