Austinite in London

An Austinite's guide to London: Hot restaurants, cool bars and, of course, barbecue

Austinite's guide to London: Hot restaurants, cool bars and barbecue

London skyline
Take in London with our guide. Photo by Brett Davis/Flickr

As you've probably heard, Austin now has a daily, direct flight to London on British Airways, which gives the perfect excuse to visit jolly ol' England. In addition to the classic sites, we've pulled together a few can't-miss restaurants, buzzy bars and attractions to make the most of your time in London.

The classics
Start with those must-see iconic London landmarks; taking in a whole bunch of them requires nothing more than a pair of comfy walking shoes and a few hours. Walk along the Thames River to gawk at Big Ben, the infamous clock tower on the Houses of Parliament. Just across the street, enjoy the majesty that is historic Westminster Abbey. From there, stroll through shady St. James Park, the oldest of the capital's eight Royal Parks, which features ponds, gardens, and daily pelican feedings, to 775-room Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s official residence. You can simply admire it from the outside or sign up for an Exclusive Evening Tour of the state rooms. It’ll set you back 75 pounds (about $125) but an expert will guide you through the collections of paintings, furniture, sculpture and porcelain masterpieces — and you'll get a glass of champagne at the end.

Follow the St. James Park Mall back toward the river and turn left to bustling Trafalgar Square, home to the Fourth Plinth. This column holds a rotating series of contemporary art pieces; currently it is occupied by Hahn/Cock, a giant blue rooster. The other three hold statues of George IV, Henry Havelock, and Sir Charles James Napier.

With these iconic sites checked off your list, it’s time to go off the beaten path a bit.

Get a little nosey
Around Soho there are six or seven plaster noses, the sole survivors of what were once 35 sculptures affixed to London landmarks by sculptor Rick Buckley, reportedly modeled after his own proboscis. He matched the color of each to the walls that bear them, so you’ll have to look closely. Find noses in the Covent Garden piazza, Bateman Street, Dean Street (at Quo Vadis), Denmark Street, off the Strand, and near the Trocadero. Legend has it that those who find all seven noses will become wealthy, although there’s no evidence that this is true – yet.

Take in dinner — and a show
After you find the nose at Covent Garden, celebrate at Circus, a cocktail bar and cabaret restaurant with a Pan Asian flare. The surrealist interior, created by British designer Tom Dixon, hosts cabaret-style entertainment on a stage table, which is also used as a communal banquet and a runway. Acts appear throughout the evening and continue after dinner when the music is turned up for dancing. For the best view, sit at the bar. It's positioned at the head of the stage table for an excellent view of the performers.

Wake up early to snap up some great deals at Brixton Station Road Market, a community of local traders offering their wares on a pedestrian mall near the Tube station by the same name. Since the 1960s, this spot has hosted a baker’s and flea market the first Saturday of the month, a maker’s market the second Saturday, retro and vintage sales on the third Saturday, and a smorgasbord of everything else on every fourth Saturday. A Sunday farmer’s market, cafés, street food from around the world, and music add to the fun.

Get outta town
A day in the country is a very London thing to do, and an easy way to get there is through Corinthia Hotel London’s packages at Petworth Estate. Situated on 14,000 acres in West Sussex, Petworth is about an hour and 20 minute drive from downtown London. A car and driver pick you up at the hotel and deliver you to a rustic cottage. There among green fields and hedges, feast on a lavish breakfast prepared by the hotel’s executive chefs, followed by a choice of activities: game drives or clay shooting, rifle shooting, fly fishing, picnicking, exploring the grounds, touring the house, shopping in the village, or any combination thereof. All gear is provided and you’ll be well-fed, with elevensies (a sort of second breakfast in late morning), lunch (either in the cottage or as a picnic), and afternoon tea before you depart.

Make sure to carve out time to visit the main house. Built in 1752, Petworth House sports an incredible art collection, including paintings by J.M.W. Turner and Sir Anthony Van Dyck, ancient and Neo-classical sculptures, and furniture and carvings. On your way back to the city, stop for a pint at The Crown Inn in Chiddingfold, an authentic country pub.

Have some fun
London hosted the 2012 Olympics, and you can play on the ping pong table used for the Olympic final game at Bounce, located on the same site where the game was invented in 1901 by John Jaques III. This 12,000-square-foot facility also has 17 ping pong tables, a restaurant and bar.

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, a UNESCO heritage site, illustrates significant periods of the art of gardening from the 18th to the 20th centuries. It’s also home to a worldwide seed bank, a project that includes Austin’s own Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

At the London Film Museum’s Bond in Motion exhibition, see the largest official collection of original cars used in the James Bond films, along with a variety of other Bond vehicles, miniature models, action sequence boards, vehicle concept art, and props from the films.

Clove Club bar and restaurant recently opened in the Shoreditch Town Hall, which was built in 1865 and served as a vestry hall for more than a century. The open-kitchen restaurant serves a five-course menu featuring interesting — and often overlooked — British ingredients and produce, such as wild Irish Pollan (a freshwater fish), lamb, radishes and fennel.

If you prefer tapas over multi-course meals, pop-up restaurant specialists Terry Edwards and George Craig run The Pearl in an old textile factory overlooking historic Hoxton Square. Each of the three floors is illustrated to look like rooms in a grand manor house, from the downstairs parlor to the upstairs ballroom. Its tapas-style plates, designed to be shared, feature seasonal British produce.

Barbecue joints are hot in London and a new one, Q Grill in Camden, offers raw, grilled and smoked dishes such as moonshine battered shrimp and smoked kielbasa hotdogs, focusing on seasonally and locally sourced ingredients. Its drinks are billed as “from the Deep South of America.” You can let them know if they got it right.

For even more insider scope, consider checking out The Corinthia Hotel’s Crafty Concierge. This unique program specializes in off-the-beaten path and insider activities. And more information on attractions, restaurants and hotels, please visit the Visit Britain’s London Travel Guide.