1. Eating Through Borough Market & Photo-Op at Tower Bridge | 9 a.m.
We started our journey on the east end of town as we were staying atop the Shard, the newly minted addition to the London skyline with its pyramid like architecture. In the past, the area was seen as somewhat neglected and downtrodden, but it has undergone a revitalization over the past couple of years. One of the great activities of the area that’s been around for decades, however, is the Borough Market right by London Bridge. While most of the markets, such as Notting Hill and others, are focused on goods and crafts, this one is almost entirely focused on food. It’s a nice blend of farmer's market for locals looking for fresh meats and vegetables, and also cooked foods for tourists and locals alike to have a taste of authentic and fresh local cuisine. The market is only opened on certain days of the week, so be sure to time it correctly, but on the days that it’s opened, it’s a large sprawling area lined with hundreds of stands. There were tons of places selling local cheeses and cured meats, jams, chocolates, produce, as well as cooked pies, burgers, and pub grub. One of the highlights was a stand serving fresh seafood including huge oysters and clams on the half shell.
We ate our way through the market and also stopped by the Old Thameside Inn, a local pub, which had a fairly large selection of beers and ciders as well. The pub was right by the Thames River with seats outside if it’s not too cold, and is perfect for a relaxing and breezy summer day.
After relaxing by the river, we took a quick stroll further down to see the Tower Bridge, which a lot of people mistaken for the London Bridge. We took a lot of pictures of the bridge, but decided not to make the trek across even though it’s a fairly short walk. Instead, we hopped onto the Tube and made our way to the next destination.
2. London Must-Dos: Buckingham Palace & Afternoon Tea at the Ritz | 3 p.m.
One of the tourist highlights of London is going to Buckingham Palace, which is the home of the Queen and the Royal Family. The palace itself is quite grand and is situated in a very nice and relaxing area between Green Park and St.James Park. If you plan ahead, which we didn’t, you can go and witness the changing of the guards and see the guards march in their red uniforms and tall furry hats. During the other times, there are still a few guards standing post outside the palace. There wasn’t too much to do besides snapping a few photos, so we went quickly through Green Park where we had booked a reservation for a classic British staple - afternoon tea.
The Ritz is an institution in London and has one of the most classic and opulent dining room for tea. When we stepped in, we weren’t disappointed as the room was beautifully adorned with gold statues, marble columns, grand flower displays, and chandeliers hanging from the roof. A formal dress code is required, and we felt like we were transferred back to the Victorian age. Everything was excessively opulent, but didn’t feel kitschy or inauthentic. We ordered the afternoon tea, which came with a multi-layered tray of finger sandwiches and pastries as well as a silver teapot of our tea of choice. Of course there were also warm scones with clotted cream and preserves. Everything was fantastic and really is an experience that justifies the £60 price per person.
3. Wandering about in Fortnum & Mason / Piccadilly Circus / Leicester Square | 5 p.m.
We had to walk off all the food we consumed, so we headed east along Picadilly. One of the interesting stores we came across was a large Fortnum & Mason, which is famous for producing teas and biscuits. This was probably their flagship stores as it was huge and also had a lot of items like chocolates which I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Parallel to Piccadilly to the south is also Jermyn Street, which is renowned for its shops selling gentlemen’s shirts and shoes. Farther to the north is Savile Row, which is famed for its bespoke suits. As we needed neither of those, we didn’t spend time there. Instead, we kept walking east towards Picadilly Circus, which offers a photo-op with the illuminated signs. We then continued to Leicester Square, which houses a lot of theatres. Unfortunately we didn’t get tickets this time to see any of the shows, but it’s definitely on the list for next time. Instead, we checked out some of the more touristy spots like the M&M’s and Lego store, as well as Chinatown.
4. Elevated British Cuisine at Pollen St. Social | 8 p.m.
When we had first booked our trip to London, we knew that we had wanted to try one of Jason Atherton’s restaurants. He had launched a series of restaurants in London under the Social moniker and has expanded to Asia and the Americas since. We decided to try his flagship Pollen St. Social, which is Michelin starred. It was 15 minutes away from Leicester, and was an easy walk on Regent Street while browsing some of the large international brand stores like Zara and Hugo Boss. There was also a large flagship Burberry store and Reiss for UK based fashion. Pollen St. Social was off on a side street, and we were greeted by the receptionist when we approached. The restaurant was upscale with white table clothes and well-dressed servers, but it was very cozy and approachable with a hearty buzz and conversations going on to make it comfortable.
We started with the raw scallops and the quail and duck liver, both of which were done exquisitely. For the main, we ordered whole roasted duck for two. They brought out the entire duck for us to look at and to take pictures before bringing it back, which reminded me of the NoMad in New York City. It was perfectly roasted and the meat was extremely juicy and tender. However, the portions were fairly small for £85 as we only received a cut of the breast and a salad of the dark meat, and we did wonder where the rest of the duck went. We finished the meal with dessert, ordering the pistachio soufflé and the eton mess, a traditional British dessert with meringue, cream, and berries. Everything in the meal, from the amuse bouche to the ending mignardises were amazing and gave us a taste of elevated British cuisine in a comfortable and cozy setting. While very expensive, we were very still impressed and wouldn’t hesitate to come back.
5. Cultural Learnings at the British Museum | 9 a.m.
One of the great things about visiting London is that almost all of its museums are free to the public, including places like the National Gallery and Tate Modern. It’s especially useful for those with a limited amount of time, but still want to check out the place. The museum that we decided to go to on this trip was the British Museum. The highlight of the place is definitely the Great Court at the entrance, which has a large glass dome-like ceiling and is an architectural wonder. The museum itself also has historically significant pieces such as the Rosetta stone and includes an extensive collection on Egyptian, Ancient Greek, as well as European and British arts and sculptures. One could spend many hours wandering through the halls and learning about the rich history of the world.
6. Dishoom - Showing London is a Capital of International Cuisine | 12 p.m.
When one thinks of British food in the past, it’s typically a fairly drab vision of things like pub food, fish and chips, and Sunday roasts. Over the past 20 years, the dining scene has evolved dramatically and London is now the epicenter of offering diverse and multi-cultural cuisines. One of the must-try foods that has almost become ingrained into British culture is Indian food, and the go-to place is Dishoom. While the restaurant has become almost a chain and is always filled with tourists, the food was actually quite amazing and deserving of the hype. We ordered some of the signature items on the menu including the Black Daal, Chicken Tikka, Samosas, and Lamb Chops along with freshly baked Naan. While I’m normally not a huge fan of foods that are heavily spiced and flavorful, I genuinely enjoyed everything that was served here.
7. Browsing Through Oxford Circus / New Bond Street | 2 p.m.
Right next to Dishoom is Liberty, which feels like a smaller now-defunct Barney’s in the States. It has more of a boutique feel while carrying some newer and more fashion forward brands. Nearby at Oxford Circus is also a lot of large international flagship stores like Nike and Uniqlo, but also British brands such as Fred Perry, Allsaints, and Ted Baker. There are also a number of department stores such as Marks & Spencer and Primark to the more high end Selfridges.
8. Chinese Food in London? Yes at Yauatcha Soho | 7 p.m.
After all that shopping, we walked back to the Soho area and decided to get dinner at Yauatcha, which was started by the same person as Hakkasan and Wagamama. The place was packed, and given that we didn’t have a reservation, we opted to sit and order food at the bar. One of the cool things about Yauatcha was that it actually served dim sum even at nighttime. As such, we got a few small dim sum dishes including scallop dumplings, bbq pork rice rolls, turnip turnovers, and pork ribs. The quality of the food really surprised me. While obviously not comparable to the top tier dim sum places in Hong Kong, it would’ve easily been more than above average there. Furthermore, the prices were very reasonable and didn’t charge an arm and an leg like Hakkasan. As such, I think it’s a great place to go for something different in London when you get bored of the pub food or European fare.
9. A Whole New World at Mr. Fogg’s Gin Parlour | 10 p.m.
We had booked reservations to check out Mr.Fogg’s Gin Parlour after seeing the photos and reviews online. It was within walking distance at Leicester Square and was housed on the 2nd floor of the building. Once you step in, it almost feels like being transported to another world, with so many trinkets hanging on the wall and ceiling. While the décor is definitely part of the appeal, the drinks were also no slouch as the bartenders crafted beautiful and delicious gin cocktails based on your likes and dislikes. It was a great way to end Day 2 of our adventure in London.
10. Modern British Lunch at Lyle’s | 12 p.m.
We had been eyeing Lyle’s for a while since it placed in the Top 50 Restaurants in the world. Even though it’s a bit out of the way, we decided to make the trek over specifically for lunch. The restaurant is housed in what was originally a factory building, but with huge windows to allow the sunlight to stream in and with a woodgrain theme that felt very Scandinavian. The menu consisted of seasonal British food, and we started with the cockles and cured trout, with entrees of the quail and turbot. Everything was really delicious with the cockles fresh and plump, and the quail cooked perfectly in retaining its juices and flavor. While it is far, especially for those not staying on the east side of town, I would highly recommend it if you have the chance.
11. Exploring Covent Garden | 2 p.m.
After lunch, we took the Tube to Covent Garden. In the center is the former market or central square, which is a bi-level open-air complex with shops and food choices including Shake Shack, Laduree, and Venchi. Around the square are a lot of retail shops including Apple, Burberry, Mulberry, Jigsaw, and Paul Smith amongst many others. There is also the Jubilee market, which has vendors selling a lot of antiques and crafts. The whole area is worth exploring, and highlights the convenience of London is that so many of the main commercial areas are centered around here.
Taking advantage of the proximity, we walked to Soho to get an afternoon dessert. We decided to go to Maitre Choux, which focuses on eclairs. The store and the desserts are very Instagram-esque, and the taste also lives up to the visuals. It was a great way to give us a sugar rush to trek through the rest of the day.
12. Shopping Galore at Harrod’s | 4 p.m.
From Soho, we took the tube along the Picadilly line to Knightsbridge to visit the iconic Harrod’s department store. It is huge and seems to have everything that one can imagine. From luxury to fashionable to sportier clothes, it also has a large children’s, home, and electronics department. The highlight for me though, is probably the expansive food hall which is reminiscent of those in Asia. One section was focused on packaged goods which make great souvenirs and gifts such as British teas and chocolates, while the other section had both sit-down places as well as prepared food to take-out. The variety was great and one could spend a whole day just in this store.
13. Something Different - Spanish Tapas at Barrafina | 8 p.m.
As night fell, we headed back to the Trafalgar Square area where we decided to get dinner at a Spanish tapas place, Barrafina. One of the great things about London is the diversity of food and we took full advantage of that. This place is super relaxed and we sat at the large countertop and watched the chefs preparing the food. We ordered a number of classic tapas such as tortilla, pan con tomato, octopus, prawns, and lamb. We also got the miljohas dessert, which is like a softer mille feuille that tasted divine. The food was probably the best that you can get outside of Spain and was for sure worth the visit.
14. Reflections at the London Eye | 10 p.m.
After dinner, we headed to our last destination of the trip. We took an evening stroll across the Golden Jubilee Bridge. It was a great place to take photos of the Thames River and parts of the London skyline. The walk was very pleasant, and took us to the London Eye, the ferris wheel which overlooks the city.
We waited in line for about half an hour before getting into one of the capsules, which were surprisingly big and fit about 20 people. The whole ride was surprisingly longer than I expected and took about 25 minutes. During that time, we had wonderful views of the whole city, including the nearby Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, although the former was still under renovation.
While there wasn’t too much to do, it was nice to take a breather. It was a moment to absorb the views of the city, and also to think back on the wonderful memories of the trip created over the past few days.