Eat and shop, for to­mor­row you may diet

There is much more than shop­ping to tackle in Bri­tain’s largest city, but it’s a good place to start, es­pe­cially at Christ­mas, writes Cather­ine Lam­bert

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - FESTIVE LONDON -

LON­DON in win­ter makes me think of bright lights, mulled wine, mince pies, fash­ion sales and not too many tourists. It is the sea­son when she puts on her bright­est, most au­then­tic face.

The dark skies are warmed by the pret­ti­est light dis­plays, the pubs are warmed with fires at the hearth and the streets glis­ten with pud­dles.

Step­ping out from the wel­come tra­di­tions in the Cap­i­tal Ho­tel in Knights­bridge, one of only two re­main­ing fam­ily-run ho­tels in Lon­don (the other is the Gor­ing where the Duchess of Cam­bridge stayed on the eve of her wed­ding) there can be no doubt of the sea­son. Win­ter fes­tiv­ity is ev­ery­where in Knights­bridge. From the day­time lights of Har­rods, which may even ri­val its fa­mous night lights, to its Christ­mas win­dows de­pict­ing Dis­ney princesses in cou­ture gowns, it is a sea­son which is most alive in this city.

The Christ­mas win­dows at de­part­ment store Fort­num & Ma­son, one of the most fes­tive shops in Lon­don, are just as en­chant­ing.

This sea­son saw gi­ant gold carousels decked with gourmet treats ro­tat­ing in the win­dows while car­ol­ers charmed shop­pers in­side. The Pic­cadilly Ar­cade nearby is a feast of pret­ti­ness with blue Christ­mas trees, stark against the all­white ar­cade. And of course the Bea­dles man­ning the en­trance to the Burling­ton Ar­cade look splen­did in their uni­forms at Christ­mas.

Head­ing to May­fair, a moment is taken to gaze at Tif­fany’s win­dows that are pint-sized dio­ra­mas of elab­o­rate houses where jew­els sit like gi­gan­tic Christ­mas gifts on a sweep­ing stair­case or plush arm­chair.

While at Dolce & Gab­bana, a feast is in place with man­nequins dressed in the most ex­quis­ite black lace over­see­ing a long rec­tan­gu­lar ta­ble laden with a Christ­mas din­ner. But the pri­mary des­ti­na­tion in May­fair is Clar­idge’s for af­ter­noon tea. Here, Christ­mas is a feast of il­lu­mi­na­tion with a mas­sive tree beg­ging at­ten­tion in the foyer stripped of leaves but flut­ter­ing with clear lights.

It makes their sil­ver ser­vice tea of cham­pagne, as many teas as you could imag­ine, all the more fes­tive.

A short tube trip to Not­ting Hill finds a more sub­dued win­ter at­mos­phere un­til we reach our des­ti­na­tion, The Led­bury, run by Aus­tralian chef Brett Gra­ham.

Get­ting there

A va­ri­ety of air­lines fly from Aus­tralia to Lon­don.

Stay­ing there

The writer stayed at The Cap­i­tal, Knights­bridge, which is within walking dis­tance of Knights­bridge tube sta­tion and di­rectly be­tween Har­rods and Har­vey Ni­chols; www.cap­i­tal­ho­

Here, for a rea­son­ably priced $58 three-course lunch, we are in com­pany of all Lon­don’s beau­ti­ful peo­ple. The men in the cor­ner ta­ble all look like Prince Wil­liam while there are Si­enna Miller types through­out.

It is out­stand­ing food, de­serv­ing of its two Miche­lin stars, and served with warmth and a lack of pre­ten­sion.

Two Miche­lin stars also be­long to Nathan Out­law, chef at Out­laws, which is an­other im­pec­ca­ble din­ner des­ti­na­tion. It is quickly be­com­ing known as the best seafood restau­rant in Lon­don, served with ca­sual ease.

In win­ter, there is a spir­ited use of win­ter fruits and brus­sels sprouts.

While Lon­don may be more with­drawn at Christ­mas it is, in many ways, at its most in­ter­est­ing and sea­sonal.

The­atre lovers can en­joy the an­nual per­for­mance of The Nutcracker or Simon Cal­low per­form­ing A Christ­mas Carol for about $40.

At St James’ Church, de­signed by Christo­pher Wren in 1672, Christ­mas carol con­certs are ac­com­pa­nied by mulled wine and mince pies. Now, that’s the Lon­don fes­tive spirit.

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