The capital at Christmas is alive with celebration – here’s Wings’ guide to London’s best spots to indulge, and escape the hectic crowds of shoppers and merrymakers.
Words Rocky Casale
Londoners go all-out for the holidays, decorating their homes and streets, and especially celebrating the season with food. You can see this everywhere, from the takeaway delis that exaggerate their sandwiches with turkey, cranberry relish and stuffing, to the outdoor market vendors that brew giant cauldrons of spiced cider and mulled wine. Food emporiums like Fortnum & Mason, or the Food Hall at Harrods are rammed with shoppers snatching up Christmas hampers loaded with cookies, cakes and all the indulgent treats of the season. The local cheesemonger, Neal’s Yard Dairy, is completely mobbed. Chefs and hoteliers join in on the clamour of the season, adding hearty dishes to their menus, and decking their lobbies with bows, garlands and all the bells and whistles of Christmas. Here, Wings puts on its winter coat to curate some of the best places to celebrate the holiday in London.
This new dining proposal in London’s towny West End is the brainchild of modish restauranteurs, David Waddington and Pablo Flack of Bistrotheque and Hoi Polloi in The Ace Hotel. Their latest restaurant is tucked inside Boutique 1, a luxury fashion boutique that opened in Sloane Square in summer 2016. Though not open for dinner, April’s is a fantastic spot for breakfast, lunch, coffee and cocktails, or a champagne break away from shopping. Their menu is seasonal, light and fresh, with dishes like blood orange and fennel salad, or caramelised tomato tart and burrata.
www.aprilscafe.com; 127/128 Sloane St, London SW1X 9AS
The latest Barrafina outpost occupies a quiet corner in London’s Covent garden. In summer, there’s outdoor seating, and in colder months, the inside tables and bar seats are packed to the gills and riotous. The menu is a Rolodex of Mallorcan and Catalan tapas, like croquetas pipped with thick béchamel and crab meat, or Iberian pork ribs and suckling pig. They also carry a very healthy selection of wines and sherries by the glass and bottle, like their crisp, white Hacienda El Ternero 2013 or a dry Palo Cortado.
www.barrafina.co.uk; 10 Adelaide St, London WC2N 4HZ
Out & About
Royal Opera House
Christmas at London’s Royal Opera House is a joy, especially when The Royal Ballet performs shows like the The Nutcracker on Christmas eve. Before or inbetween performances, most patrons drift toward the opera house’s restaurants and bars, which, during the holidays, are draped with festive decorations and seasonal drinks, like warm mulled wines. The Paul Hamlyn Hall Champagne Bar is an excellent spot to quickly sip on a chilly glass of Ruinart and nosh on a small plate of smoked salmon before intermission concludes.
www.roh.org.uk; Bow St, London WC2E 9DD
London’s most popular outdoor, covered market gains some extra shine during December. Families and friends drop by on the weekends by the thousands to shop for meats, cheeses and all the extravagant trimmings to accompany their holiday parties. Warm spiced cider and wine bubble away in big cauldrons for sale, and florists stalls fill up with pine garlands and Christmas trees. It’s worth the visit just to take in the cheery ambience that even inclement weather can’t seem to diminish.
To avoid crowds, visit during the week days if possible, when it’s quieter, though many food stalls are closed.
www.boroughmarket.org; 8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL
The latest emporium for select designer wear has taken up residence in London’s affluent Sloane Square. What this means (or perhaps therefore no longer means) is that the former edginess of east London and the moneyed consumer class of west London are finally meeting in the middle. Here, the thrill is about a day out shopping in Sloane Square – Boutique1 carries brands like Proenza Schouler, Missoni, Erdem, Peter Pilotto, Roland Mouret and Roksanda. Break from shopping for a glass of champagne at the boutique’s in-house eatery, April’s Cafe.
www.boutique1.com; 127/128 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9AS
Travellers who have never seen London over the holidays ought to make a pilgrimage to Harrods. The historic department store is celebrated not simply because it carries one of the largest selections of luxury brands under one roof: its window displays and especially its Food Hall, attract hordes of shoppers, many of whom come just to browse the decor and detail. During December, Harrods creates Christmas hampers stuffed with wines and spirits, fresh cured meats and cheeses, and other gourmet products like their artisan cookies, crackers, and flatbreads.
www.harrods.com; 87–135 Brompton Rd, London SW1X 7XL
Perhaps the greatest asset of this new Mayfair based hotel is not its superb location in central London near shopping, museums and public transit.
It’s the attention to detail in its elegant and modern rooms and suites. For those who want to splash out, reserve one of the hotel’s studio suites. They feel like sumptuous little apartments, with access to small garden terraces, and best of all, a bar stocked with small batch, artisan gins, and all the tools, mixers, bitters and recipes for making amazing cocktails.
www.flemings-mayfair.co.uk; 7-12 Half Moon St, London W1J 7BH
St Pancras Renaissance Hotel
Christmas at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is a whirlwind of holiday cheer for several reasons. To begin, the hotel is located directly above St Pancras International train station, and the platforms and boutiques that surround it are buzzing with thousands of holiday travellers en route to and from Europe. You can see this Christmas chaos unfold with a cocktail and a bite to eat from the hotel’s bars and restaurants, like the Booking Office bar, the Hansom Lounge or the MI + ME eatery, located on the upper concourse of St Pancras Station.
www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/lonpr-st-pancras-renaissance-hotel-london; St Pancras International, Euston Rd, London NW1 2AR
Don’t miss out on the season’s goings-on
1 Time Out London is one of the largest resources for finding all the Christmas happenings in London. Its writers search the city and share with readers where to find Christmas Markets, what restaurants and bars will be open on Christmas and Boxing days and so on. It also publishes the times and locations of holiday events, such as carolling in the city, christmas musicals and festive theatre, ballet and opera shows.
2 Santa’s Bag is an app that you can download on your iPhone that helps with organising your holiday shopping for you. The app helps you create shopping lists, maintain a gift budget, and track the days, hours, minutes and seconds until Christmas.
3 Another great and reliable resource for finding everything you need in London this Christmas is Visit London. The website is the authority of all things London, and provides travellers with detailed information about accommodation, restaurants, events, shopping and more.
Celebrity Chef Holiday Reads
It’s the season for Britain’s celebrity chefs to show us how it’s done
The Great British Bake Off Christmas
Lizzie Kamenetzky, £20
Never mind Brexit or the US Presidential Election; the news that The Great British Bake Off cookery programme was switching channels triggered the same levels of panic and alarm in the UK that you’d expect from news of an alien invasion. Format mourners can at least take perfectly crisp crumbs of comfort from this seasonal tome, packed with 256 pages of recipes and cookery tips from the Bake Off’s judges – pastel-shirted destroyer of dreams Paul Hollywood and doyenne of the doily Mary Berry, as well as past winners and contestants from the show.
Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook
Jamie Oliver, £20
He may have risen from humble beginnings to owning most of the real-estate in the country’s city centres – almost the UK’s answer to President Donald Trump, just more hell-bent on world domination – but it’s still fair to say the man can cook. Here, Jamie puts the Oliver Twist on the seasonal menu, peppering the excellent recipes, cooking tips and ideas for creating edible gifts that pack out this 405-page Xmas cookery bible with infuriatingly smug pictures of him putting up Christmas decorations in a frighteningly idealised family context that’s so Christmassy, santa would be hard pushed to recreate it in his grotto.
Christmas With Gordon
Gordon Ramsay, £14.99
Anyone who’s seen Gordon’s TV show Kitchen Nightmares might be steeling themselves for a roasting in these pages – we imagine the audiobook version consists entirely of low sobbing sounds over which the Michelin-starred Silverback screams ‘You’ve done it wrong… JUST GIVE IT HERE!’ for a full hour and 20 minutes. Yet this is an extremely useful guide where Gordon offers 75 foolproof (his term) recipes for the perfect Christmas banquet – and you can imagine him containing his simmering anger long enough to construct five main-course centrepieces before ushering everyone out of the house in disgust.
Nigella Lawson, £20
Nigella is a British cookery institution. And as ever ‘Indulgence’ is the keyword here, as every dad’s favourite celebrity spoonlicker orders in a five-tonne home delivery of cream and butter and feeds us up like helpless, waddling festive foie gras, begging to be put out of our misery as yet another steaming tray of seasonal artery armageddon lands on the heaving table with a sickening thud. If you like your Christmas pudding denser than a neutron star and your turkey prepared with a side dish of (boiled) ham-fisted innuendo, then Nigella is without doubt still your go-to Domestic Goddess.