’Tis the season to go shopping in London
If you are thinking of a pre-Christmas treat, Sarah Marshall has a few ideas for making it memorable, especially for the younger members of the family
Most children have been counting down the days to Christmas since… well, since last Christmas, and as December approaches, they’re probably reaching some sort of transient, tinsel-themed higher state.
Indulge their excitement with a trip to the capital, where the streets really do appear to be paved with gold – if you stand beneath the displays on Regent Street for long enough.
One patch in particular appears to glow more brightly, at least in the eyes of children, so don’t be surprised to see them flutter like moths in the direction of Santa’s one-stop shop, Hamley’s.
A trip to the toy Mecca is also part of a new Dukes And Duchesses package offered by townhouse hotel, Dukes, with wide-eyed young shoppers transported through Mayfair in a royal rickshaw. Once they’ve compiled their stocking wish lists, they can visit M&M’s World, finishing with a family trip to see Matilda The Musical.
To really make children feel special, they’ll also be presented with lavish outfits (a pink gown or a three-piece costume with sash and military hat) and an afternoon tea of cakes and flavoured milks.
Although Dukes is a polished five-star property, it’s also refreshingly relaxed and tolerant; a few sticky fingerprints on the mahogany banisters, or the sound of little feet thundering along plush carpeted corridors won’t raise any eyebrows.
Nigel Mendham’s Thirty-Six restaurant welcomes young diners for breakfast, and after dark, parents can escape to the Perrier Jouet lounge, a drawing room sparkling in fizzy lime tones, to find some festive cheer of their own.
The Mini Dukes And Duchesses package costs from £390 (for a family of four) per night with breakfast. Afternoon Tea for children and costumes included. Visit www.dukeshotel.com or call 020 7491 4840.
You don’t need to be based in the West End to appreciate London’s illuminations. As darkness falls, the city skyline beams brightly, putting on a year-round show to rival any Christmas display.
The best place to survey the dazzling scene is from one of the Thames-view rooms at the Shangri-La Shard, which opened earlier this year.
Occupying the upper section of the capital’s tallest building, the slick Bond-style rooms teeter high above some of London’s most famous landmarks. From the wall-length windows on all sides, guests can enjoy a panorama of Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the more modern Cheese Grater and Gherkin.
Watch commuters charge like ants as they board trains that snake slowly from London Bridge station, or take a voyeuristic peek into nearby office buildings, with the aid of binoculars provided in each room. Even the bathrooms have a view to the outside world, with a narrow window placed strategically in front of the toilet.
For a real taste of Christmas, head to nearby Borough Market, where the smell of roasting pork mingles with the sweet scent of fresh pine from Christmas trees stacked up for sale. Even if you have no intention of doing a weekly shop, the food stalls piled high with artisan cheeses, organic fruits and exotic meats are a feast for the eyes.
Thankfully, all cooking needs are taken care of at Shangri-La’s Ting restaurant, serving an elegant festive menu (four-course lunch £40, five-course dinner £65). But the real star on top of the Shard’s pointy Christmas tree is Gong, the cocktail bar on the 52nd floor.
Order The Nutcracker (a whisky and sherry blend with mulled wine), and
A sparkling sea blue beacon on the South Bank, this eagerly anticipated hotel from the US Mondrian group is arguably the most striking decoration of them all.
Furniture designer Tom Dixon has turned his creative hands to hotel design, transforming the once drab and tired 70s riverbank Sea Containers building into a ship-shape work of art.
The nautical theme begins with a large replica of links from an anchor chain in reception and 68m copper hull that curves through the building into hotly tipped restaurant, Sea Containers, where a yellow submarine is suspended above the bar.
Riverside suites feature balconies designed to replicate those found on grand liners of the early 20th century, and with touches such as a fuchsia pink wardrobe interior, inspired by the silk lining of a Savile Row suit, it’s evident Dixon is trying to resurrect that glorious era.
The overall feeling, though, is modern and fun, with murals in the lift featuring a Pearly King, and even Dixon himself dressed as a US astronaut.
That youthful personality extends to the Dandelyan bar where award-winning mixologist Mr Lyan has devised a menu based on modern botany. Drinks are categorised as cereal, vegetal, mineral or floral, with a handy time chart advising the best time of day to tackle each one.
But it’s the hotel’s location that really sells it; close to the OXO Tower and Borough Market, it’s also a 10-minute walk from the Christmas stalls that line the South Bank throughout November and December.
Europe’s first grand hotel cost £300,000 to build, a fraction of what property in London’s premier shopping district would sell for today.
The hotel, which will be celebrating its 150th anniversary next year, is a short stroll from Oxford Street and the glittering window displays of Top Shop, Liberty and John Lewis, meaning guests can return home with truckloads of goodies without dislocating their shoulders in the process.
Paying homage to its past, the hotel still revels in its grandeur with plaques commemorating past guests, such as Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain. The gift shop even sells its own leather-bound London guidebook, published since 1877, while the concierge can supply guests with a pre-loaded MP3 player for self-guided historic walking tours of the neighbourhood.
But the hotel also has some new accolades to shout about; its glamorous cocktail bar Artesian was recently voted World’s Best Bar for the third year running. After a day of contending with heaving crowds and big band renditions of Jingle Bells, retreat to the Art Deco enclave for mixologist Alex Kratena’s seasonal ‘Pine Waiting To Become a Christmas Tree’ cocktail.
Or go the whole (roasted) hog and book a table at Roux at the Landau, where a festive menu of spit roast sirloin beef and butter-roast farm turkey is likely to make both eyes and bellies bulge. Good sustenance then, for that final dash to find stocking fillers.
The Festive Break (available from December 1 until January 11, 2015) costs £295pp B&B and free wi-fi. Visit langhamlondon.com/Christmas or call 020 7973 7503.
Mondrian Sea Containers restaurant