WHY LON­DON’S AL­WAYS A GOOD IDEA

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - TRAVEL - lubna.salim@hin­dus­tan­times.com Fol­low @lub­nasalim1234 on Twit­ter

M y first trip to Lon­don seemed dis­ap­point­ing at the start. It’s like any other world city, I thought, on my way from Heathrow to my ac­com­mo­da­tion around King’s Cross. It’s ex­tremely well-mapped and the pub­lic trans­port sys­tem is ex­cel­lent, but where are the cob­bled streets, car­riages and palaces from the fairy tale city that were the ful­crum of my imag­i­nary uni­verse dur­ing my three-year English hon­ours grad­u­a­tion, I won­dered.

Also, if I may add at the cost of sound­ing supremely racist, I missed see­ing “fair-skinned” Brits. Asians out­num­bered them ev­ery­where from the parks to restau­rants and the ‘tube’ (that’s what they call the metro there).

But as they say, Lon­don grows on you. So I de­cided to give it an­other shot to dis­cover the new facets of the old city. A com­fort­able and has­sle-free flight later, I was set to see an­other Lon­don. For those who’ve had their help­ing of quin­tes­sen­tial tourist at­trac­tions (read The Lon­don Eye, Buck­ing­ham Palace, West­min­ster Abbey), here are five uber cool ways to dis­cover the Queen’s coun­try.

WILDE WAYS

How about ex­pe­ri­enc­ing glam­orous af­ter­noon tea at a ho­tel where Os­car Wilde is said to have fallen in love with Lord Al­fred Dou­glas?

Un­like the pop­u­larly-known Ele­phant House cafe in Ed­in­burgh (the favourite haunt of JK Rowl­ing fa­nat­ics), the Os­car Wilde Lounge tucked in­side the cosy con­fines of Ho­tel Café Royal on Lon­don’s Re­gent Street might not be known to many, but is surely a must-visit for the au­thor’s fans, for both its rich his­tory and the ex­pe­ri­ence it of­fers.

The very idea of hav­ing tra­di­tional af­ter­noon tea in a room that’s been fa­mously fre­quented by ev­ery­one from high pro­file politi­cians to writ­ers and rock stars of great reck­on­ing – think Mick Jag­ger, Win­ston Churchill and Os­car Wilde him­self amongst oth­ers – is su­per ex­cit­ing!

I was as de­lighted by the gilded in­te­ri­ors rem­i­nis­cent of Chateau de Ver­sailles as with the fin­ger sand­wiches, muffins, petite cakes and scones that came on tiered trays, in­ter­spersed with teas. I went with hi­bis­cus, but there are 30 blends and in­fu­sions on the menu and you are even served palate cleans­ing tea be­tween the sand­wich and cake cour­ses, with a back­drop of lilt­ing tunes by a live pian­ist.

WHISK UP SOME WHISKY

The Os­car Wilde Lounge is where the au­thor is said to have fallen in love with Lord Al­fred Dou­glas

This one’s a must, es­pe­cially for those who drink just to get drunk. A tast­ing ses­sion at the hole-in-wall Mil­roy’s of Soho whisky bar

ex­hib­ited a se­lec­tion so vast, it re­minded me of the never-end­ing drinks menu on Vir­gin Atlantic’s Up­per Class lounge, a bit too elab­o­rate for an eight-hour flight.

Take your pick from five kinds of 60 to 90-minute-long tast­ings rang­ing from Re­gions of Scot­land to Amer­i­cas and Closed Dis­til­leries in the com­pany of a con­nois­seur.

What caught my fancy dur­ing the “Around the world” whisky tast­ing ses­sion was the Ja­panese Nikka whisky. This one could eas­ily pass for a top-notch sin­gle malt at a blind tast­ing.

BE­STOF BICESTER

Who doesn’t mind some se­ri­ous re­tail ther­apy? And when de­signer brands come 60 per cent cheaper, there’s ev­ery ex­cuse to spoil your­self. Plus, if you’re lucky you could even bump into fa­mil­iar faces from Hol­ly­wood and Bol­ly­wood whilst bou­tique hop­ping!

Such a shopa­holic’s par­adise is about an hour’s drive from Lon­don. There, Ar­mani rubs shoul­der with Alexan­der McQueen and Longchamp sits cheek by jowl with Longines, all with price tags that scream pick me up.

The destination in ques­tion is Bicester Vil­lage, which has over 160 in­ter­na­tional de­signer bou­tiques along with restau­rants and cafés for bites be­tween shop­ping ses­sions. Think you’ve over­spent? There’s a prayer room too!

MAGIC OF MI­CRO-GREENS

Away from the madding crowd, spend a morn­ing learn­ing how to grow mi­cro-greens at the Bel­mond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. The 15th cen­tury honey-hued manor, where you can stop for tea and pas­tries be­fore mak­ing your way to the veg­etable and herb gar­dens, is nes­tled in Ox­ford­shire and is home to the ac­claimed The Ray­mond Blanc Cook­ery School.

Our teacher, the head veg­etable gar­dener, Jen­nifer Pryke gave us a tour of the lush gar­dens and mush­room val­ley as we took wild guesses at iden­ti­fy­ing the herb and veg­etable mi­cro-greens we were tast­ing straight from the plants, mis­tak­ing radish for mus­tard and pars­ley for cel­ery!

Our last stop, the glasshouse, dou­bled as our class­room and the venue for a de­li­cious work­ing lunch. Armed with com­post, seeds and minia­ture gar­den­ing tools, we sowed mus­tard, Greek cress, pak choi and pur­ple radish seeds in lit­tle por­ous black plas­tic trays.

A veg­e­tar­ian lunch (creamy pump­kin soup, gar­den fresh sal­ads, melt-in the-mouth spinach and ri­cotta pie and choco­late ganache) pre­pared in the Miche­lin star kitchen with or­ganic pro­duce is the per­fect way to end a fruit­ful day.

DATE WITH TATE

There can be no bet­ter way to get up close and per­sonal with a city’s cul­ture than vis­it­ing a mu­seum, and while the Bri­tish Mu­seum and The Na­tional Gallery oc­cupy top spots on vis­i­tor itin­er­ar­ies, a visit to Tate Mod­ern will of­fer a chic peek into in­ter­na­tional mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art.

I en­joyed the walk to the mu­seum by the river Thames, with the Tower Bridge of Lon­don form­ing an iconic back­drop, and felt overly pa­tri­otic and proud to spot Sheela Gowda’s mas­sive in­stal­la­tion Be­hold there.

Com­pris­ing four kilo­me­tres of hand-knot­ted rope ex­tended around nearly 20 car bumpers sus­pended on gallery walls and piled on the floor, this is quite an eye catcher.

These ropes, we learnt, are made of braided hu­man hair. Eureka! Now I know the rea­son for the strange smell around us!

Sheela Gowda’s mas­sive in­stal­la­tion Be­hold com­pris­ing four kilo­me­tres of knot­ted hu­man hair and car bumpers at Tate Mod­ern is hard to miss

HIGH ON TEA The Os­car Wilde Lounge in Lon­don’s Ho­tel Café Royal (fac­ing page) might not be known to many, but is surely a must-visit for the au­thor’s fans

TIP­PLE TALK Learn the art of en­joy­ing your tip­ple at Mil­roy’s of Soho whisky bar

SHOP­PER’S PAR­ADISE With over 160 in­ter­na­tional de­signer bou­tiques, Bicester Vil­lage is the per­fect place for some celeb spot­ting

GREEN REV­E­LA­TION Spend a morn­ing learn­ing how to grow mi­cro greens at the Bel­mond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Ox­ford­shire

Tate Mod­ern will of­fer a chic peek into in­ter­na­tional mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art ALL FOR ART

LOVE BITES Stop for re­fresh­ments at the Farmshop restau­rant in Bicester Vil­lage

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