Alexandra Jourdan Astruc, student on the postgraduate diploma in hospitality, offers you her guide to original eating and shopping in London (including some great money-saving tips).
Last August, Anna – my best friend from law school – and I decided to go somewhere close to Paris (somewhere nice, even in winter) for a catch up – we were quite worried about being apart for 6 months. So we chose London, a city both of us knew already but which is always a good idea.
Where to stay?
Because I am in the hospitality field and since I had never been to the district she was talking about, when Anna suggested we try the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, obviously I said yes.
We had to pay right away via booking.com – and to pay right away when you are student 6 months before going somewhere may not be really nice or convenient – but in the end, it was really worth it.
We paid 150 pounds for a night, in a double room standard for the two of us, and the hotel was amazing. First, the bed was huge. Second, the room and the entire building was all really modern and in the indu style. After 3 minutes in the room, we wanted to live there forever.
We tried the restaurant at the hotel for first night. A burger for less than 15 pounds. It was good but not amazing, though.
On the last day, however, we called room service for the breakfast. We wanted a light breakfast – fresh orange juice and grapefruit juice, one yogurt, some muesli a cup of tea. It was really good, but actually huge, so not that light, and quite expensive. This breakfast cost us 40 pounds… That is a lot when it’s made up mostly of cereal.
My advice: go to the hotel, enjoy the nightclub, the lobby bar, smoothies, sauna and gym but avoid the restaurant if you can because it is a little too expensive for what is offered and you have so much more nicer place to eat in the area.
However, with the currency exchange rate variation, we found London really expensive for us Euro-Europeans. Until August, I used to think that Paris, my home city, was the most expensive city in the world, but then I moved to Switzerland… and went on a trip to London… I can tell you now, it’s really not.
Where to eat?
So, food was a huge part of our budget, and for anyone like us who doesn’t want to spend all our meals in McDonald’s and Burger King, here are some useful tips.
In Shoreditch, where we spent most of our time walking around, admiring labels and people:
• Pizza East, 56 Shoreditch High Street / and lucky you, two more in London : 79 Highgate Road, 310 Portobello Road.
Delicious pizzas for dinner. I recommend the Aubergine one with a Camden Pale Ale beer, and add to your meal a Burrata – the best one we had so far. The restaurant is full most of the time… but thankfully you can book online, we did it one day before for a dinner on Tuesday night for 2.
Good to know: they do brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
• Dishoom Shoreditch, 7 Boundary Street.
Really good Indian restaurant –great atmosphere, great people and really great food –my roommate is Indian, my best friends at school are Indians – believe me, I know Indian food now. With whatever you order, take samosas, cheesenams and a Lassie –which may help a lot if your dish happens to be a little too spicy for you…
Book online, we tried twice before being able to get a table.
• Tramshed by Mark Hix, 32 Rivington Street
Even if it is not a good option for vegetarians, this place serves really good chicken and beef. Do not forget to book… We had dinner walking in, but we were only two and had to have our dinner at the bar (it was really nice, though).
Do not hesitate to check online for more good restaurants, we still have a lot on our list for the next time we come, notably Andina, 1 Redchurch Street, a Peruvian restaurant, which looked really nice… and is always full. There’s also Aubaine, 260-262 Brompton Rd, really nice and little fancy French restaurant in Knightsbridge, which you can visit after a mandatory stop at Harrods.
And there are other restaurants I still want to try all over London…
• Muriel’s kitchen, 36 – 38 Old Compton Street / 1-3 Pelham Street Monday – Saturday 8am – 11.30pm, Sun 9am -10pm
• Byron, 24-28 Charing Cross Road/ 11 Haymarket / 409 Strand – I have heard they are the best burgers in London…
• Embassy East, 285 Hoxton street, in Shoreditch again, the brunch looks quite amazing. Monday to Friday 9am-5pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am-9pm
• Café Spice Namasté, 16 Prescot Street, a really famous Indian restaurant near the Tower of London (Monday– Friday 12pm – 3pm and 6.15pm – 10.30pm, Saturday 6.30pm – 10.30pm)
Where to shop?
Of course, you can’t go to London without shopping (as well as eating).
If you are tired of Zara, H&M and Mango… take a walk in Shoreditch and do not miss:
• Glassworks, 190 Shoreditch High Street, women’s clothing shop with amazing sunglasses for 45 pounds, hats and nearly everything else you could think of.
• Decorum, 2 Bethnal Green Road (at Boxpark) really cute, small – but expensive – home ware boutique.
• Wandering Minds, 4 Bethnal Green Road (at Boxpark), really nice trendy women’s clothes from all around the world and stored by location.
• Boxpark, 2-10 Bethnal Green Road- Complex of concept and pop-up stores. For sure, you will find a gift there, for someone else or for yourself. Fashion opening hours : Mon-Sat 11-7pm, Thurs 11-8pm, Sun 12-6pm
And you will also find American Apparel, A.P.C., Carhartt, Diptyque…
Places not to miss in London
• Covent Garden, a covered market, a lot of shops and street shows, one of my favorite places in London.
• The National Gallery, (Daily 10am – 6pm, Friday 10am – 9pm), Trafalgar Square: my favorite gallery in London… I am always glad to be back there and spend hours contemplating Turner. And you have no excuse, the entrance is free.
• The British Museum, you will learn something for sure and enjoy the amazing architecture (Open daily 10.00–17.30 and Fridays: open until 20.30. Free entrance).
• Oxford Street (from Marble Arch station to Oxford Circus station). Primark (a really famous cheap shop that sells everything), New Look, Topshop, All Saints, Urban Outfitters… In one street, you will find everything you need, and even everything you do not need but that you will still buy.
• Piccadilly Circus, a small Time Square…
• Camden Town – a really unique district, very urban one, a lot about piercing, tattoos and tags. You will find a lot, from vinyles to any sportshoes while having a 2 pounds fresh orange juice
• Walk around the River Thames, Westminster and Big Ben, the London Eye and even the Millennium bridge (the one the Death Eaters attack in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince… yes, I am 23 and still make references to Harry Potter.) And, about Harry Potter…
The Highlight of our trip to London and the real reason we chose to visit:
If you are a fan, you cannot miss the Harry Potter Studios. It may seem a little expensive (33 pounds + about 12 to 15 pounds to go there). You get there by going to Euston Station, taking a train to Watford Junction, and then hopping on an official tour bus that takes you to the studios (for 2 pounds, return).
The visit took us about 3 hours and we saw everything. All the costumes, scenery, iconic elements such as the Great Hall, the Hogwarts Express, Privet Drive or Gryffindor common room… And it did not break the magic, on the contrary. There weren’t many attractions there, even if you still can try a Nimbus 2000 and see yourself flying on it, or wait for the Dementos to come while waiting to get to school in the Hogwarts express…
And not to forget the huge studios gift shop. Anything you have always wanted to get from the books and the movies, you will find it there – from the Marauder ‘s map to the well-known Ron’s knitted sweater.