The Year of London
BY Matthew Breen
May 18 2012 8:00 AM ET
The Halkin Hotel Culture Lounge, above.
There can be few more opulent ways to take an afternoon’s high tea service than at William Curley’s Couture Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Halkin Hotel (Halkin.como.bz). It’s served from 3 p.m to 6 p.m. in the Culture Lounge; order it with champagne for £47.50, and browse the salon’s Assouline fashion and travel books while satisfying a sweet tooth. The chocolate pastries and cakes are practically baroque in their construction: chocolate financier with passion fruit curd, orange and chocolate Sacher, sea salt caramel and raspberry tart, a shiny Black Forest dome, and a perfectly chewy chocolate macaroon. But call ahead for reservations.
New York chef Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market restaurant (WLondon.co.uk/Spice-Market) at the W Hotel in Leicester Square features a lounge sensibility with low lighting, open kitchens, a pan-Asian sense of design in dark wood and bamboo, and the riotous energy of a Vietnamese street market. Signature dishes include spiced chicken samosa with coriander yogurt, cod with Malaysian chili sauce and Thai basil, and Ovaltine kulfi.
Wolfgang Puck’s first European restaurant is Cut London (WolfgangPuck.com/Restaurants/fine-dining/61487) at 45 Park Lane, another tony address, this one on the edge of Hyde Park. The American-style steakhouse serves the finest cuts of beef (filet, sirloin, rib-eye, rib chop, porterhouse) complemented by sauces including shallot red wine Bordelaise and Argentinean chimichurri. The clientele is moneyed, as is the atmosphere (16 Damien Hirst prints line the walls), and the servers are intensely knowledgeable; one person’s sole purpose is to bring around a rather heavy tray that displays all the cuts of meat available for order each evening. The steakhouse, interestingly, is also open for breakfast. The dinner experience, though expensive (expect to drop at least £125–£150 per person), is undoubtedly memorable.
If you’re traveling in a group of three or fewer, Small Car Big City (SmallCarBigCity.com) is a terrific way to get a personalized tour of London—certainly more stylish than double-decker buses. The amiable drivers of classic vintage British Mini Coopers will pick you up wearing their ’60s-era attire. They offer tours of varying lengths, from the 30-minute Royal London tour, to the three-hour Great Escape; they now have a William and Kate tour that includes the site of their engagement and the residences of royals for the past eight centuries. The drivers are quick-witted and full of fascinating gems about the city’s history. One stop in the Borough in South London was the tiny Cross Bones graveyard, a 500-year-old burial site for prostitutes who, for their sins, were rejected from consecrated ground (despite having been pimped to the area’s gentlemen by local bishops). The well-attuned drivers tailor their talking points and sites to the interests of each carload of sightseers.