By Maxx Grossman

A Mother-Daughter Trip

When the opportunity presented itself to visit London with my mother, I was excited to jump onboard. Having visited several times as a child with my family, I was eager to explore London with a fresh set of eyes and more sophisticated set of goals to enjoy good food, explore the English countryside, and uncover London beyond its notable landmarks. It is with these objectives, my mother and I set off to experience London off the beaten path.

Day 1

Bleary eyed from our overnight flight, we pulled up to the cheery Covent Garden Hotel. We chose to stay in the Covent Garden neighborhood because of its central location and charming atmosphere. With the busy West End theater district sitting on the fringes, Covent Garden stands as an engaging local oasis peppered with adorable coffee shops and stores. It is truly the goldilocks of locations humming with activity but not packed with people, quiet at night but not without evening joie de vivre. The Covent Garden, a part of the Firmdale collection, is an elevated home away from home dressed in delightfully English décor upscaled for the modern guest. Everything from the tableware to the cozy sitting room are thoughtfully curated in a sophisticated yet comfortable English aesthetic, a testament to the creative force and interior designer behind the Firmdale hotels, Kim Kemp. The staff at the hotel are endlessly helpful and friendly. Everything about the trip was easy thanks to the wonderful folks at the Covent Garden Hotel.

Upon arrival, we opted to stretch our legs and walk around the city. We started at the Covent Garden’s Market a partially enclosed shopping center full of well-known chain stores, tourist traps and the odd local gem. Stepping into the square you feel transported to that scene in Oliver Twist where everyone has something to sell and they’re wondering who will buy. We took in our fill and quickly scooted our way down the street to the Savoy Hotel for a peek. Perhaps London’s most famous luxury hotel, opened in 1889, the Savoy boasts a rich history full of glamourous personalities and innovation. We continued our walk along the Thames crossing the Black Friar Bridge to South Bank. From there we made our way up the river to the Tate Modern. The Tate is a gargantuan building showcasing modern and contemporary art. Like the rest of the UK, there is no entrance fee to see the museum’s central collection, only for temporary exhibitions. I recommend searching what is on display before visiting as the more popular ones tend to book out – if you forget, never fear as the majority of the museum’s art is viewable without a ticket. Having jumped off a red eye that morning, we were feeling a bit bedraggled, but if you’re feeling energetic feel free to stop by the Shakespeare’s Globe right next-door or Borough Market which is just down the street. We decided to rest and grab a pint at the Lamb and Flag one of the oldest pubs London (established in 1623). Even if pub fare and pints are not your thing, going to a traditional pub is a must!

For dinner, we ended our evening close to home with meal at the Barbary, a North African restaurant with a thoughtful menu of shareable plates full of aromatic spices, buttery meat and creamy sauces. As a total sucker for a good Mediterranean meal, this was my favorite food of the trip.

Day 2

For our second day we decided to get a taste of the English countryside. A daytrip to the country is a charming and engaging way to explore a different flavor of the UK for those who have been to London before. It is an easy train trip to get to wonderful spots like Oxford, Bath, Windsor Castle, Cotswold, or the White Cliff of Dover. We opted for a trip to Bath.

To get to Bath we left the hotel early in the morning with a stop at Neal’s Yard Bakery, a local spot in a charming square tucked away conveniently across the street from the hotel. We tried an Eccles Cake a dense British pastry with a Christmas spiced interior and a donut with fluffy pastry, a fruity jam center and perfect level of sweetness. Our pastries in tow, we headed to Paddington Station to catch the train. I recommend using or hotel concierge to book tickets. Like most of Europe, the train was easy, clean and quick – you will never want to take Metro North again – it took only an hour and fifteen-minute trip to arrive at our destination. I will note, and this goes for almost all European transportation, please keep a hold of your train or tube ticket as you will need it not only to enter the station but to exit it as well.

Bath is a gorgeous hamlet located on the southwest side of England between London and Bristol. It is known for the whitewashed limestone used in the perfectly preserved Georgian buildings that make up the city. While many famous historical figures, like Jane Austen, claimed Bath as home, what Bath is most known for, unsurprisingly, its thermal waters and Roman Baths. The city is incredibly walkable with everything reachable from the Bath-Spa train station. Start your day with one of the free walking tours provided by the Mayors of Bath Honorary Guides, a volunteer group of locals, who host daily walking tours at 10:30am and 2:00pm (hours do change depending on season so be sure to check the website before you go). The group meets in the shadow of the Bath Abbey and walks throughout the city discussing the area’s lengthy history from Roman times to its heyday in the 18th century as Londoners version of a winter escape. You’ll explore Bath’s highlights, like Pulteney Row and Pulteney Bridge – a British answer to the Rialto bridge in Venice. You’ll also see the gorgeously symmetrical Royal Crescent and The Circus, two preeminent examples of Georgian architecture juxtaposed against the pastoral British countryside. After finishing your tour, take some time to shop around Milsom street, the Bath Guildhall Market or have lunch at Sally Lunn’s, a museum and restaurant in one of the oldest homes in Bath.

One of the must-see attractions in Bath are the Roman Baths. Book your tickets online ahead of time. The Roman Baths date all the way back to 70 A.D. but are shockingly well preserved. The museum is captivating and rich with information and artifacts. We did not budget nearly enough time to explore it all so make sure you leave yourself at least 90 minutes to take it all in. Exploring the Roman Baths might give you a craving for your own spa experience. Never fear, Thermae Spa, located a short distance away, gives visitors access to the same therapeutic waters the Romans experienced. Thermae Spa is best enjoyed early in the morning or late in the evening away from crowds. It’s well set up, all you need to bring are a bathing suit and flip flops. Thermae Spa will provide you with the rest – towels, robes, a spot to quick dry your swimsuit and bags for anything wet. Inside the spa, stick to the rooftop pool with its panoramic view of the city and to the 2nd floor with the café and various steam rooms, showers and dry saunas. The rest of the building feels a bit like a public pool. The space is clean, staff nice and it is truly the best way to experience the baths.

After Thermae Spa, we ended our day at Dark Horse a subterranean bar with dark academia like décor and an exceptional menu of seasonally inspired cocktails. Together we enjoyed delicious herbaceous gin drinks and a cheese plate full of local English cheeses and homemade crackers. A sleepy train ride back to London saw us ending our evening with a late dinner at Fatt Punditt which serves cuisine unique to the Kolkata region of India. The food is a blend of Cantonese favorites and Indian spices. We paired the plates with a citrussy Indian wine. The combo was so delicious we completely forgot to take any photos before devouring our entire meal.

Day 3

Our third day, we started our morning with the hotel’s bountiful breakfast included with the stay. Then we headed out to the Victoria and Albert Museum – colloquially called the “V & A” to see their long sold-out Chanel exhibit (insiders tip is to get a V&A museum membership which allows access to any sold out experiences). The V & A is the world’s largest museum of applied arts, decorative arts and design – or in layman’s terms the art of beautiful items, sculptures and clothing. It’s worth a visit to see their excellently curated and thoughtful exhibitions. We lost track of time taking in the extensive collection in the Chanel exhibit and had to hop into a classic black London cab to make our reservation for afternoon tea. A sidebar, I am suggesting taking a cab over an Uber when you can. London cab drivers are required to take a knowledge test in order to drive in the city and can answer any questions you have. We had many entertaining conversations on our rides throughout the city.

For a traditional high tea experience, Fortnum & Mason and Harrods both have excellent and elevated options for tea. If you you are looking for a little more adventure and artsy-ness bordering on quirkiness, I recommend Sketch. Housed in an 18th century townhouse, formerly belonging to an Architectural Society, the building is massive with each room serving as its own art piece, or “Sketch Pad” that is designed and redecorated every few months by a different artist. It is like an Alice in Wonderland experience for the sophisticated diner with each floor housing a different eatery. On the top floor is The Lecture Room and Library. It is a three Michelin Star restaurant that is decidedly congenial and unstuffy. The first floor has the Parlour, a more casual bar and bistro that hosts live music. The Glade is located on the bottom level, it is a bar currently modelled after an English forest and the Gallery, an expansive peach, pink and yellow art deco delight that hosts afternoon tea. For tea we indulged in multiple courses of the usual tea sandwiches, scones, and Battenberg cakes flavored with their own quirky Sketch twist. The meal was accompanied by tea, champagne and a three-piece string quartet playing pop songs. Despite all this jaw dropping whimsy and delight, what Sketch is known for, believe it or not, is their bathroom. Yes, you heard me correctly – their bathrooms. This room, like all of Sketch, is an art installation. It is futuristic, space age with high gloss wall to wall white topped by a multicolor glass paneled ceiling. The bathroom stalls are self-contained egg-shaped pods that you sequester yourself in all while a celestial soundtrack pipes in over the loudspeakers. The whole room smells deliciously of smokey grapefruit and is so bizarre you can’t help but smile.

We spent a good while being thoroughly enchanted by Sketch and by the time we left the sun had set. We took the day’s end to stretch our legs on Bond Street, London’s premiere high end shopping street. As if our dining experiences for the day could not get more delightful, we chose to spend our evening meal at Bob Bob Ricard. This oddly named SoHo restaurant is decorated to mimic the elegant train car experience from the Golden Age of Travel – expect blue leather booths with dark wood and gilded art deco accents. Best of all, each table comes with a fully functional call button to ring for champagne. The food is a modern take on English classics and French standards like Beef Wellington and Salmon en Croute. It was a perfect way to wrap up a day of absolute whimsy.

Day 4

After three days of back-to-back activities, we took Day Four on the easier side. The only set activity was a visit to the Natural History Museum. Although we were unable to do so, I recommend combining your visit to the Natural History Museum alongside your trip to the V&A as the two museums are neighbors. The building of the Natural History Museum is a wonder all on its own. Its palatial and crafted ornate terra cotta façade is typical of Victorian architecture yet looks like nothing I’ve seen before dripping in dizzying details. After the museum, the rest of the day was spent leisurely in the Islington neighborhood located in Northeast London. Islington is akin to Brooklyn in its youthful vibe sprinkled with vintage stores, overpriced coffee and trendy clothing boutiques. Brick Lane in Shoreditch delivers a similar experience if you are looking for more art galleries. For shopping in Islington, we visited Wild Swans, Whistles and Colibri. For lunch, we stopped at Ottolenghi, a food shop, deli, bakery and lunch spot by chef Yotam Ottolenghi who boasts a deep rolodex of delicious restaurants in London. This takeaway spot offers a sampling of the aromatic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes for which Ottolenghi is known. If you’re looking for drinks, try Noci, an delicious Italian restaurant with homemade pasta and espresso martinis on tap or The Bar with No Name, a tiny romantic venue with great martinis and nightly jazz music. For dinner, The Tamil Prince is a hot Indian restaurant by Prince Durairaj that serves an intentional and insanely delicious menu of South Indian plates in the atmosphere of a British pub. If you can’t get into The Tamil Prince, a dilemma we faced, as they book up several weeks in advance, you can travel several paces down the road to The Tamil Crown, a sister restaurant with a similar menu and slightly more upscale feel. After dinner, I ended my evening having a drink with an old friend living in London at Seed Library in Shoreditch.

Day 5

After four days of exploring off the beaten path, we knew we couldn’t leave without seeing the landmarks for which London is famous. Anticipating the long flight ahead, my mother and I charted a course from the hotel, through Covent Garden Market and along the Thames to Westminster area. We walked past Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abby continuing through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace and onto Green Park before turning around to walk back to the hotel through the St. James neighborhood. All together this 3-3.5-mile loop is a great way to see all the essential London landmarks and get in a good walk. Passing back through St. James is a great place to pick up gifts for those back at home. One of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, yet still a hidden gem, St. James is comprised of long-lived menswear shops and shopping arcades. Take a stroll down Jermyn Street and pop your head into Jermyn Street Barber with traditional men’s grooming supplies or Paxton & Whitfield for some local artisanal cheese and accoutrement. Also on Jermyn Street is the back entrance to Fortnum & Mason’s massive flagship store complete with multiple floors of tea, goodies and accompaniments. Armed with treats for everyone back on the other side of the pond, we were ready to say goodbye to London.

I came into my trip to London with a few goals in mind. Putting all of London’s greatest hits and remarkable landmarks to the side for the first half of the trip forced me to scratch under the surface and find all that London has to offer. What transpired as a result was four and a half days of a dizzying menagerie of delicious food, delightful décor and engaging doses of art and culture. Having the opportunity to visit again as an adult felt like getting the best reintroduction to an old friend.