Tag - london

The Sights and Sounds of Covent Garden

London has an amazing number of places to visit and events to see all year long. Whether you want to appreciate its iconic historical sites or take in its vibrant arts and cultural scene, there’s an incredible array of attractions to experience in this dynamic city.

To make the most of your trip, it’s recommended to stay at a hotel in central London, and you’ll find several five and four-star hotels in Paddington, in central London.

If you stay at the Park Grand London Hyde Park Hotel, you’re just a short distance from one of the hottest destinations in town: Covent Garden. The famous location has undergone a transformation from being just another tourist spot to one of the most popular areas in London. With fantastic shops, bars and restaurants having sprung up, along with a slew of activities to choose from, it’s the place to visit in the city.

During your next trip to London, you’ll want to fit these top attractions in and around Covent Garden into your itinerary:

Exploring Covent Garden Market

The area is well known for its famous market that has been around for more than 400 years—since 1654 in fact. The fruit and vegetable market, which was originally based here (New Covent Garden Market), has been moved to Nine Elms. In its place is the modern market we see today: Covent Garden Market. The stunning Apple Market, which is located in a picturesque, nineteenth-century piazza, houses shops with an eclectic choice of items that range from stationary, toys, jewelry, and ties. Many of the items to be found here are different from what you can expect to find on the high street. So, if you’re looking for something really quirky and unusual, then this is the place to shop.

The South Piazza hosts the Jubilee Market, known for its exceptional antiques. Mondays are the best days to head to the market for the finest pieces available for sale, and drop in on the weekends when there are more than 200 stalls selling a variety of arts and crafts. If you’re a gastronome, then visit the Real Food Market on Thursdays, which is when you’ll get to savour the finest homemade delicacies with fresh breads, cakes, and macaroons, among other treats.  

Visit wonderful museums

Probably the most famous museum in the world, the British Museum, is a short stroll from Covent Garden and a fascinating place to explore with the family. There are also free tours to take, which is a great way to learn more about the museum and its priceless exhibits.

The British Museum is home to one of the finest and largest collections of rare artifacts from around the world and different eras. With galleries displaying invaluable artifacts and the most incredible collections, it’s definitely not an experience to miss! There are plenty of free activities and events for kids like museum trails, art events, and the handling of objects. It’ll certainly be a one-of-a-kind event for kids!

Though there’s no admission fee, some of the special exhibitions may charge a nominal fee. As those generally attract large crowds, it’s always a good idea to book your tickets well in advance to avoid any disappointment.

The London Transport Museum is also in the vicinity and showcases a variety of different modes of public transport throughout the ages!

Enjoy a performance at the theatre

Covent Garden has an abundance of theatres neary in London’s famed West End, so it might be a bit of a puzzle deciding which to go to. One of the biggest theatres in the area is the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which has played host to some of the most popular and acclaimed shows in the city. These include those that have been a hit with the kids like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Producers, and Matilde.

For adults, there are great performances like War Horse and The Bodyguard, which have won accolades from both the public and critics. Whatever you plan to see at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, you’ll be amazed by the performances for sure.

Another popular choice is the Aldwych Theatre—its magnificent façade is a sight to behold. It also served as the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company for quite a number of years. Check the daily listings to decide for shows you’d like to see at any of the great theatres of your choice in the area.

Shop in Covent Garden

Covent Garden has become one of the most popular areas for shopping in London, and there are a multitude of high-street brands that keep in line with the chic and trendy image that the area is known for. If you’re keen on designer ware, you’ll never run short of options to choose from. With top brands like Burberry, Chanel, Mulberry, and Paul Smith, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

If you’re the adventurous sort, you could browse through shops like Filed & Trek and Cotswold Outdoor, among others. And if all that shopping makes you develop an appetite, head straight to Laudree, which is renowned for its superb macaroons. You can also sample scrumptious snacks with champagne or even order take-away.

Kingston – Have Some Wonderful Time with Art, Music and Shopping

Kingston upon Thames, Credit- theguardian.com

Kingston upon Thames, Credit- theguardian.com

A trip to London isn’t complete without taking a tour of its historic and vibrant market town of Kingston upon Thames. Located only 12 miles southwest of central London, Kingston is set in a picturesque location on the banks of the River Thames and offers a lovely getaway from the din and bustle of the city.

Market Highlights and Royal Heritage

From the exclusive boutiques and market stalls to the chic shopping centres and high street shops, Kingston is a shopper’s paradise. Noted as the oldest of London’s four Royal Boroughs, Kingston dates to 838 and derives its name from Kinges Tun, meaning a royal farm or estate. Its Market Place has been a hum of activity since 1170 when Henry II reigned and, today, there are two permanent markets plus regular visiting markets, such as the Continental Market and the festive Christmas Market.

Built by Charles Henman Sr. in 1838, the Market House is at the centre of the Ancient Market Place. The gallery on the ground floor provides space for markets, fairs and exhibitions, and it also supports new businesses a chance to promote their products with pop-up shop space.
Visitors will also want to start the week off right at the Monday Market. Stalls present a great variety of wares from bric-a-brac to rugs, but there is also a selection of butchers and florists and green grocers to choose from. Eden Walk Shopping Centre, Clarence Street and The Bentall Centre offer all the major brands, but there are plenty of quirky independent shops to discover, as well.

Kingston’s royal connection originates in the 10th century with the crowning of seven Saxon Kings. Its most historic landmark is The Saxon Coronation Stone on the grounds of the local council offices, the Guildhall, which is close to the 12th century Clattern Bridge.

The fascinating Kingston Museum and Heritage Service includes the Museum, Local History Room and an Archives Service. To learn more about the Royal Borough’s Saxon history, two exhibitions are well worth the visit: Ancient Origins and Town of Kings. A third exhibition at the Museum highlights the life and work of Eadweard Muybridge, a Victorian photographer from Kingston. The Art Gallery comprises expositions of photography, local history, arts and crafts. Kingston’s archives service is a resource for a collection of local history in the Local History Room at the North Kingston Centre, which also hosts regular visits by local historians and genealogists.

Old London Road

Falling over boxes, Credit- Pinterest

Falling over boxes, Credit- Pinterest

A must-see while strolling down Old London Road is the famous falling-over phone boxes. Created by Scottish sculptor David Mach in 1989, this public art display, officially called “Out of Order,”consists of 11 tumbling telephone boxes leaning against one that stands upright. It underwent a restoration process in 2001 after years of unfortunate neglect.

Old London Road also boasts the Kingston Antiques Centre, consisting of 2 floors with over 100 dealers. It even houses southern England’s largest collection of vintage jewelry in cabinets along the walls. Don’t forget to take a peek in the Vintage Fashion Room, which features a fantastic selection of attire from as far back as the 1940s.

A Way to A Man’s Heart…

Good food can make a tour to any place all the more delightful. If you are a food lover, then the historic market of Kingston will elate you with its eclectic stalls that boast fantastic displays of vegetables, fruits and fish. From Continental to Japanese to some of the best Indian restaurants in London (fineindianrestaurants.com), Kingston has broad variety of restaurants that will certainly pamper your taste buds.

A Night on the Town

Kingston is a great place to head to when the sun goes down. Enjoy an excellent selection of classic and modern productions at the Rose Theatre or the Arthur Cotterell Theatre. For the latest blockbuster movies, get your tickets at the Odeon Cinema. You’ll laugh your heart out at Outside the Box Comedy Club at the Fighting Cocks Pub or The Comedy Club at the Rose Theatre.

If you plan on your holidays, compare some of the hotels in the area and pick out the best one that suits you.

The Easiest Ways To Get From London To Paris



There are several options for people to get themselves from London to Paris. While driving is usually the most frequently chosen option there are others as well. Here are some of the easiest ways to travel from London into Paris.


The Eurostar train can get someone from London to Paris in 2 ½ hours. This train starts in the St. Pancras Station in London and its final destination is Paris’s Gare du Nord. With both train stations being in the heart of their respective cities, the Eurostar is a great way for tourists to see both. Any passenger taking this train must arrive 30 minutes prior to their train’s scheduled departure time and is required to have their luggage pass through a metal detector for security reasons. The streamlined shape of this train allows it to pass through the Eurotunnel at a speed of 100 miles per hour. The train provides a smooth ride free of the sound most other trains make while in motion.


    France Dover-ferry

France Dover-ferry

Those who are looking to have a long, leisurely trip to Paris from London can always take the ferry. This is a more expensive option than the Eurostar but is desirable to tourists who want to see as much of the area as possible. The journey is a very scenic experience and eliminates the need to travel through the underwater tunnel of the English Channel. From London it is necessary to take the train to the ferry in order to get to Paris.


If someone needs to get to Paris from London quickly they have the option of flying if they would rather not take the train. Many U.K. airlines offer cheap and frequent flights between London and Paris.

iDBUS London to Paris



Taking the iDBUS to get from London to Paris is an easy and popular choice. Passengers are able to choose the iDBUS coach travel they wish to take part in. These buses depart many times per day and run every day of the week. The bus ticket prices are fixed so whether a person buys their ticket days in advance or hours in advance they will pay the same amount of money. The price of a bus ticket is dependent upon when a person is looking to travel as opposed to where they are looking to travel to. Making reservations on this bus entitles passengers to check one bag and carry one bag with them on the bus. On-board services are available to passengers, such as power outlets and free wifi. The bus leaves from the Victoria Coach Station and travels to the Paris-Bercy Station.



No matter how an individual chooses to travel from London to Paris they will enjoy their commute. With so many transportation choices everyone can find the service that fits their needs the best. Having several different ways to get from London to Paris is very convenient for both locals and tourists from around the world.

London’s Greenwich District

London’s Greenwich District—What Time Is It, and Where Are you?

England’s Great Maritime History and its place in defining World Space and Time (pronounced”Gren-itch”). This area of London, a World Heritage Site, has so much to see and do that, next visit, we plan to spend a couple of days right there and use it as a springboard for a slice of what the city has to offer.

The Cutty Sark immediately catches your eye

The Cutty Sark immediately catches your eye

We arrived on the DLR (Docklands Light Railway Line) at the Cutty Sark station, but our family there says it’s also fun to start with a Thames River boat trip that docks at Greenwich Pier, just below the Cutty Sark.

Soon after exiting the station, what immediately strikes your eyes is the Cutty Sark (built 1869), one of the most famous clipper ships ever (a composite of wood and iron), now in its permanent resting place after a terrible fire in May 2007, and subsequent restoration. She is the only one of these sailing ships still in existence, a memorial to the great days of sail and all those who served on all ships.

Plan to spend at least a couple of hours wandering the decks, now a museum to the tea trade

The lower deck now has displays on tea and trading

The lower deck now has displays on tea and trading

with China and to clipper ships, and marveling at all the masts and rigging. It’s a beautiful, elegant, lean vessel that was fast and very specialized. Using (replicas of) old tea chests as part of the flooring now is a nice touch. It’s easy to visit and fun for adults and kids as there are a number of interactive features to help reconstruct that era and imagine life on a boat like this. It’s a life long gone and very unlikely to re-appear, a time of romance and mystery in a way: the romance of the high seas, of bringing a new exotic commodity (tea) to the British market. But, there’s always a dark side to romance too: competition and trying to be the fastest in bringing the tea to Europe; the opium trade, for example.

As you wander under the hull of this vessel you’ll notice a collection of ship figureheads at the prow end. This Long John Silver collection is the biggest collection of figureheads in the world and it’s interesting to see the different shapes, sizes and colors— human figures, but we spot one golden eagle. Included is the Cutty Sark figurehead (a replica is on the ship). It is Nannie, a beautiful witch in a “cutty sark” or short under dress, who features in Robert Burns’ poem Tam O’Shanter. Nannie chases Tam, he escapes but she pulls out his horse’s tail. No-one is quite sure why the owner, John Willis, chose this name or figurehead. But, it is very striking!

Buy a Combo ticket for the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory online before you visit. It’s cheaper and you can avoid long lines. A concession ticket (senior) was £12.25, regular adult £16.50, kids 5-15 £7.50

Have lunch at The Gipsy Moth, a large very popular pub right next to the Cutty Sark. Because of its location it’s crowded and service a little slow but the backdrop of the intricate rigging of the clipper ship makes up for that. The food was actually rather good—we enjoyed the cider-battered cod with chips and peas; the wild salmon fish cakes with salad and celeriac and apple slaw; and the cheese board. Starbucks is right next door, if you need a coffee!



After that, pass by the excellent Tourist Information Center and Discover Greenwich Visitor Center, with great displays of the history and development of this area. It’s in one of the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College. The other buildings now house the University of Greenwich and various libraries and galleries, all of which you can visit if you have time available. Nearby is also the Greenwich Market, and if you’re feeling energetic you can walk the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which runs below the River Thames between the Cutty Sark and Island Gardens.

Then, depending on your time and ticket, head through St Mary’s Gate into Greenwich Park and up the hill to the Royal Observatory. There’s a wonderful view from outside the Observatory, over the park down to the huge National Maritime Museum and Queen’s House, over the River Thames and across parts of London. The Observatory is important for many reasons (good exhibitions), but for most visitors (including us) the most exciting part of the visit is to find and straddle “The Line”, with one foot in the east and the other in the west, as it really is a defining spot in so many ways. Why?

Perhaps more than Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, the Royal Observatory reflects the British Empire’s command of world affairs at the height of its power. The Observatory became the earth’s measuring stick when geographers drew an arbitrary line there that became the prime meridian, the starting point for the grid system of navigation that has helped mariners and geographers locate their position from before the days of Lord Nelson to the age of Google maps.

Special Clock at the Royal Observatory

Special Clock at the Royal Observatory

The Prime Meridian is Longitude 0° 0′ 0”. Every place on earth is measured in terms of its distance east or west from this line.

The Observatory also serves as the planet’s standard of time. Since 1884, the Prime Meridian at Greenwich has been the co-ordinate base for calculating Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The 24 times zones and the International Date Line were also created then. Before this, most towns in the world kept their own local time. However, as railway and communications networks expanded during the 1850s and 1860s, it became obvious the world needed an international time standard.

The world’s clocks are set to GMT, though the actual atomic clocks that officially track time’s passage are no longer located there. GMT is basically the same as Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), an atomic timescale available since 1972 from broadcast signals.

London’s Best Modern Furniture and Design Stores

Aram store in Covent Garden, Credit-homegardenin

Aram store in Covent Garden, Credit-homegardenin

Design tourists have plenty of great shops to visit in the UK capital, where they can see the latest lighting, the coolest sofas and quirkiest ceramics.

For anyone interested in contemporary furniture and cutting-edge design, London is a city not to be missed. From one-off independents to the major Italian brands, design aficionados will find plenty to inspire them.


On Drury Lane in Covent Garden, Aram is a family-run business that showcases high quality furniture from brands such as Cassina, Edra, Moroso, Flexform, Vitra, Porada, Knoll and Porro. The 20,000 sq m store is light and airy and covers five floors. A real design mecca.


On Vigo Street in London’s West End, Alma is know for its leather and suede furniture that encompasses simple seating cubes and bean bags to floor and wall tiles, sofas and headboards. This is a magnificent shop, with high ceilings, oak flooring and cosy fireplaces. If you have ever wondered about the design potential of leather, then a visit to this store will get your imagination working.


Aria is on Barnsbury Steet, just off Islington’s famous Upper Street. It’s a friendly, slightly chaotic emporium that is choc full of product to suit every budget. Busy and bustling, it has a fun and relaxed atmosphere – you’ll find high end brand furniture to decorative accessories and quirky one-offs. Downstairs you’ll find glassware and bathroom products.

B&B Italia

On the Brompton Road, close to Knightsbridge (about a ten minute walk from Harrods), is this wonderful flagship store for renowned Italian brand B&B. The store has a glass front but once inside you’ll find an immense almost cathedral-like showroom, with a double-height ceiling. See the latest furniture and kitchen collections from B&B Italia and sister company Maxalto.

Bowles & Linares

Based in super trendy Notting Hill, Bowles & Linarea is a small showroom that displays the furniture, lighting and glassware designed by owners Sharon Bowles and Edgard Linares. Many of the pieces are made in the duo’s West London workshop – hand-production is very important to them. They use materials such as metal, horsehair, enamel, ceramic, cast concrete, wood and borosilicate glass. A real gem.


On Blandford Street off Marylebone High Street, Century has many furniture and lighting designs from the big names (such as Eames’ chairs manufactured by Vitra) as well as more one-off and idiosyncratic pieces from Europe, the US and Canada.

Charles Page

On Fairfax Road, close to Swiss Cottage underground station, this superb 10,000 sq ft modern furniture store was founded in 1921. Ninety years on and its ethos remains the same: to introduce clients to the best in understated contemporary design. You’ll find collections from top European manufacturers including Molteni, Flexform, Maxalto and Minotti among many others.

Christopher Farr

Considered by many interior designers to be the best modern rug designer in the UK, Christopher Farr’s rug store on Burnsall Street off the Kings Road will have you drooling with desire. Many of his creations are hung on the wall and have the impact of great art. Farr also offers fabric collections, with designs printed on linen and cotton. Rugs are expensive, his fabrics are not.

The Conran Shop

With splendid stores on the Fulham Road and Marylebone High Street, the Conran shops, founded by Sir Terence Conran, aim to make good design available to all. The stores are vibrant but not intimidating and you can find everything from huge leather sofas to bars of soap.

Designers Guild

A much-loved stalwart of the Kings Road (textile designer Tricia Guild set up the store in 1970), Designers Guild is a store to lift the spirits. That is because of the jewel-bright colours combined in the room-set displays, which have made the brand so instantly recognisable. Tricia Guild fabrics are world-renowned and this flagship showroom stocks some 3,000 designs. It also offers furniture, bed linen, and accessories such as cushions, glassware, ceramics and tableware. This is a store for those who want to know how to use colour and pattern in their home, without creating a kaleidoscope effect.


A very smart, sophisticated showroom in Notting Hill, Gotham offers a carefully edited selection of high end classic contemporary furniture from designers such as Hugues Chevalier and Knoll. See seating, tables, lighting, case goods and wall hangings, as well as antiques. A good place for those who like combining antiques into modern displays for an eclectic style.


On Marylebone High Street, Skandium showcases the best of Scandinavian design. See furniture and lighting by such 20th Century luminaries as Arne Jacobsen, Alvar Aalto, Hans Wegner, Poul Kjaerholm, and Eero Aarnio. It’s a very cool and spacious store, great for browsing.

London has many more independent design stores, for example you’ll find plenty in the Brick Lane area of east London. Habitat is a chain in mid-range modern design stores, with showrooms across London and a flagship store on Tottenham Court Road. Next door to it is Heals, a more high end interiors store with extensive collections of seating, bedding, fabrics and accessories.

London: Britain at its Best

London, Cr-europecharm.com

London, Cr-europecharm.com

The capital of England, London, is an exciting, culturally vibrant location, full of tourist attractions, vast entertainment events and varied food. This European destination will leave you wanting more.

As any picture will show, one of the most stunning images of London is its skyline.  Start your itinerary by grabbing a glass pod on the London Eye, a 443-foot Ferris wheel, and witness it for yourself.

From here you can see Elizabeth Tower or ‘Big Ben’, as it’s affectionately known.  Iconic in the capital, it’s situated next to the Houses of Parliament, making it one of the most important places in the city.

To the right you’ll see Buckingham Palace with its magnificent gardens and parks.  Known largely as the home of the Queen of England, this attraction is visited by millions.

Even further along the Thames, catch a glimpse of St Paul’s Cathedral, which has been the site of many historically important events, such as the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Once your hour on the London Eye is up, take a trip towards Westminster Abbey and appreciate it from up close.  Built by Henry III in 1245, history fanatics will be in their element experiencing one of the most important Gothic buildings of England.

After being in awe of the history of the city, visit Oxford Street, one of the best shopping destinations in Europe, full of the world’s biggest retail outlets, including large department store such as John Lewis and Debenhams.

If you’re looking for something special, though, take a journey towards Harrods, situated near the highly affluent Knightsbridge area.  The most exciting department store in London, Harrods has everything you could ever need to buy, including high-cost, designer items to die for.

Once you’ve shopped till you’ve dropped, give yourself a rest and take a seat in Hyde Park, nearby, which once served Henry VIII as a hunting ground.  For the brave and articulate, there is the opportunity to join the Speaker’s Corner where attendants are encouraged to speak their mind.

After taking in the many exciting sights of London, you may start to build an appetite and, like any major European destination, London’s cuisine goes a long way to form its character.  But what is it that sums up the capital’s taste buds?  Well, while many cities across the world are associated with a specific dish, London is famed for a wide assortment of food from cultures around the world.

You can wake up in the capital and have breakfast at Café Broheme, a Parisian café in the centre of Soho, offering croissants and coffee.  Then, for lunch, enjoy an authentic English afternoon tea at the famous hotel, The Ritz, with scones and cream.  Finally, for dinner, find Belgo’s, an authentic Belgian restaurant located in Covent Garden that serves up a host of delicacies, including mussels, as well as a large selection of Belgian beers.

As you discover the thousands of restaurants in London you’ll come to realise that what makes its cuisine so individual, is that it is every world’s food culture at once.

Now you’ve had a long day of sightseeing and have your hunger satisfied, you’re looking to fill your evening with entertainment.  Fortunately for you, London has everything to suit anyone’s needs.  When in the capital of England, you will never find yourself without something to do.

The Royal Albert Hall, the centre of entertainment in London, holds events such as the BBC Summer Proms as well as critically acclaimed plays like Billy Elliot and The Lion King.

If you’re looking for something a bit more lighthearted, though, experience the much-famed British wit at one of the many comedy clubs available.

Check out The Boat located on the Thames opposite the London Eye.  Without having to spend too much you’ll get a host of great comedy acts and, if you’re so inclined, club nights run on till the early morning without extra charge.

So, if you’re looking for somewhere full of history, great shopping locations and highly enjoyable entertainment, travel to London.  One of the most exhilarating European destinations, no tourist’s cap truly has credibility until it holds the feather of this city.

Article provided by EuropeCharm, operated by Felix Travel, LLC, is a premier travel company that offers customized itineraries for leisure and business trips in Europe. All travel services are designed to cater explicitly to the needs of each client. Custom itineraries and packages are personalized, independent and designed precisely for clients so that they can travel at their own convenience.


The English Cities Everyone Ought to Visit

by Gavin Harvy,

English Cities by Dan Brickley

English Cities by Dan Brickley

When you think of English cities, London undoubtedly springs to mind first with its iconic red buses, black cabs and royal buildings. Yet this is only a tiny fraction of what English cities have to offer. Have you ever visited John Lennon’s house? Walked across Clifton Suspension Bridge? Or been down the Cam? Much less likely. With so many cities to visit and such a vast array of sights to see, here is just a mere collection of English cities everyone ought to visit.


If it is your first trip to England, the capital city is certainly the first port of call. From museums, to shows, to food markets and parks, there really is an unlimited amount of times you can visit London.

London has an exceptional range of things to do, cultures to experience and famous landmarks to spot. Buckingham Palace is arguably one of the most influential buildings in the city, having been home to so many of the country’s past leaders. Whether you’re interested in history, architecture, or simply feeling a little patriotic, the palace is a great place to spend an afternoon regardless of the weather. London is also inundated with thought-provoking museums and galleries, such as the Natural History Museum, the V&A, London Transport Museum and the National Gallery, just to name a few. No other English city has so much to offer in the evening, with West End shows, Michelin Star restaurants and stylish bars heading up the city’s nightlife.

The best area to stay if you’re planning on visiting the main attractions is undoubtedly central London; however the efficiency of the underground means that you can stretch out to alternate locations like Shoreditch or Richmond.


Cambridge is one of England’s most visited cities, due to the prestigious university and spectacular architecture. The majority of the university’s colleges offer guided tours, so you can view the stunning buildings whilst learning about their history and uses for the university today.

Perhaps one of the most iconic things to do whilst in Cambridge is to go punting down the River Cam with a glass of champagne in hand. For the more rainy days try the Fitzwilliam Museum or the Arts Theater, or wander through the historic Market Square for a real taste of Cambridge city life. The closer you can stay to the city center and its architecture the better.


Having been named Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2008, Liverpool is fast becoming one of England’s unmissable cities. Liverpool’s strong cultural presence comes largely from its music scene during the 1960s, and there are numerous museums and exhibitions to visit centered on the Beatles. You can even take a look inside John Lennon’s house if you’re happy to stray from the city center.

However, Liverpool Waterfront is where the majority of the attractions lie with the Tate, Merseyside Maritime Museum and recently developed shopping areas, and this is certainly the place to stay if you want to be near all the action.


Home to much of the notorious Banksy’s artwork, Bristol is another great cultural English city. Bristol has a diverse architectural backdrop of buildings, churches and bridges, alongside fashionable restaurants, shops and bars, intertwining old and new with every step.

The Victoria Rooms and the Wills Memorial Building are just two examples of the noteworthy architecture, whilst climbing to the top of Cabot Tower will give you a spectacular overview of Bristol’s eclectic mix of buildings. Bristol’s zoo and harbor are further attractions not to be missed, and if you can visit Clifton Suspension Bridge during the International Balloon Fiesta then you will experience something truly special. There are loads of great locations to stay in Bristol, from Clifton to the city center and Broadmead.

Brighton and Hove

Brighton and Hove is arguably England’s most exciting seaside city, although it attracts mainly seasonal tourists. If you were to picture Brighton, you would see the infamous pebbled beach littered with striped deck chairs, the ironically tacky pier with its fairground rides and most probably a colony of seagulls soaring above the ruins of the abandoned pier. This stereotypical image is largely accurate and adds to Brighton’s charm. It’s a classic British seaside town.

If you are to explore further than along the seafront, be sure to visit the Royal Pavilion and the Brighton Lanes. Unless you wish to be disturbed by noisy seagulls and the vibrant nightlife of the seafront, it is best to stay a bit further inland.

Of course, this is only a small number of England’s beautiful and cultural cities, and there are countless more attractions worth visiting, such as the Roman Baths, Newcastle’s quayside, York’s iconic street the Shambles and Manchester’s large collection of museums. Sites such as Hotelopia offer a wide range of hotels.

Which English cities would you recommend? Let us know in the comments.

Top 5 London Attractions for Kids This Winter

London, by Uri Baruchin

London, by Uri Baruchin

by Gavin Harvey,

A visit to London can be the perfect day out for the family during the winter months – whether its festive spirit you’re after or jaw-dropping exhibits.

In the cold, dreary months of winter – it can seem impossible to keep the kids the entertained. If they’re not running riot around the house, they’re glued to the computer screen for the duration of the day. So why not take them on a trip to London this winter?

Not only is London an iconic city in its own right, it also plays host to a great many entertaining activities and locations that are perfect for kids of any age. And, you needn’t pay through the nose for them either. Some are completely free, and educational. What’s more, there are multiple attractions that are kept indoors, so there’ll be no need to shuffle about in your winter layers all day.

Natural History Museum

Especially when the Christmas holidays come around, most parents want to keep their children’s education flourishing in some way. So why not take them to the Natural History Museum? It’s free and there are plenty of exhibits that are tailored to keep the kids interested. Plus, they have the added benefit of teaching kids all about the world’s history.

With giant dinosaur skeletons and live history shows led by staff and scientists at the museum, you can sit back and let the kids pursue their curiosities. There are also discovery trails you can follow leading you about various exhibits and places where the kids can engage in craft activities. A family can easily spend the day here!


It’s behind you! You can’t get into the festive spirit without a pantomime. And these performances can make a fantastic form of entertainment for the kids – and the parents.

Commonly based on traditional fairy tales, with a comical twist, the kids can see all their favourite storybook characters up on stage and have a great time shouting at them till their throats turn sore. With various venues around London showing pantomimes at Christmas, you’ll be sure to find a show that is perfect for you and not too far from where you’re staying.

Ice Skating

If you’re willing to brave the elements, then ice skating could be a great option for you. In the winter season, multiple outdoor ice rinks are set up for everyone to enjoy. And with some surrounded by Christmas stalls selling food and quirky gifts, you can have a scrumptious hot chocolate to warm yourself up afterwards – or maybe some mulled wine for the adults.

With the majority of ice rinks opening in November and closing in January, there’ll be plenty of time for you to sample one, or maybe several, in the area. There’s no better way to get into the winter spirit than skating (and slipping!) on the ice.

Christmas Pudding Race

Are your kids a pretty athletic bunch? Why not keep them on their feet this winter by taking them to a one-of-a-kind run? The Christmas Pudding Race, an annual run conducted for the benefit of Cancer Research UK held in Covent Garden. And, you’ve guessed it; everyone dresses up as a something seasonal.

Of course, anyone can come and watch the Turkeys, Santa’s and Christmas tree ornaments run, or you can sign yourselves up. There’s even an obstacle course where contestants desperately try to balance their Christmas pudding on a tray. A fun day out for all the family – but be sure to wrap up warm.

Visit the Reindeers

Who doesn’t love a trip to the Zoo? Well as the winter season approaches, so does the winter festivities. And the Zoo is no exception. Head on over to ZSL London Zoo this year and book to see the reindeers up close and of course – visit Santa Claus.

Or, if you’re hoping to escape the chilly outdoors – you can head inside to the zoo’s living rainforest exhibit – The only living rainforest in London. With plenty of rainforest creatures and insects for the kids to look at learn about, you’ll never run out of things to see and do on your day at the zoo.

There’s always something to do in London, regardless of the season, the weather or your age. The real difficulty is deciding which attractions you want to visit most. So why not give you and the family a weekend break and book a hotel in Westminster for the weekend?

But be sure to book your desired attractions in advance, so you’ve got a spot saved for you and the kids, winter can be a pretty busy time of year. Then, simply sit back and wait for the winter season to come.

Do you have any great winter attractions in London to recommend? Comment below and share your experiences!

Winter Wonderland vs. Summer Fun: What’s the Right Holiday for You?

Winter VS Summer

Winter VS Summer

The idea of flitting to the other side of the world is a tempting one, but if you’re planning on travelling to Australia this summer, you must remember you are heading into winter … which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! You could also make the most of the summer weather and head across the ditch to the likes of a city like Paris. Here’s the deal on both kinds of holidays so you can decide what works best for you!

The Lowdown on Paris in Summer

Paris city breaks are always a good idea. Whatever the season, Paris is an undeniably magical city. It comes alive even more so during the summer, as tourists from all over the world make the most of a European summer. The temperature in Paris over the summer period sits around a pleasant 25 degrees — quite different from the likes of stifling Rome. During this period, it rarely dips below the mid-teens, with over eight hours of sunshine per day. Occasionally, these pleasantries are interrupted by a shower or two as Paris receives over 60mm of rain each summer.

The atmosphere of a Parisian summer is electric; an assortment of tourists and locals, all embracing the beautiful weather and the city’s wonderful food, fashion, art, fun and festivities. The one downfall is that prices are hiked up for attractions and accommodation during this period — although this is the same for most of Europe as well.

The events Paris has from June through September are awesome. Besides the usual attractions, including the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Notre Dame, Palace of Versailles, Champs-Élysées, and Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris is host to a number of great events and attractions over the summer months. Three of the most noteworthy include the Rock en Seine, Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) and Cinéma en Plein Air (outdoor film).

Taking place at the end of August, the three-day annual Rock en Seine festival attracts music lovers from all over. This year, the line-up features huge international acts such as System of a Down, Franz Ferdinand and The Bloody Beetroots. Tickets start at €49 and camping facilities are available. The Paris Plages is a wonderfully unique and free event that started in 2002. Throughout August, three areas of the Seine are transformed into beaches complete with sand, water sports and outdoor concerts. It’s suitable for the whole family. One of the other top attractions is the Cinéma en Plein Air, the outdoor cinema that runs over the summer months at Parc de la Villette in northern Paris. Kick back with a glass of champers on a fold-out chair and enjoy some recent Hollywood movies as well as classic French favourites.

The Lowdown on Sydney in Winter

Booking city breaks to Sydney over the U.K. summer means you’re heading into a New South Wales winter. This coincides with the off-peak tourist season, which can lead to some great savings on accommodation, flights and attractions. It also adds to a more chilled-out atmosphere with fewer tourists and backpackers. The weather in Sydney over the summer is quite different from that of the U.K. in winter. It’s mild and dry, with average air temperatures sitting around the mid-teens and a sea temperature of approximately 19 degrees – so don’t rule out swimming!

Sydney during winter offers a wonderland of festivals and attractions including the Bondi Winter Magic Festival, whale watching, day trips to the snow, and if you’re lucky, some swimming and surfing. The Bondi Winter Magic Festival is one of the highlights of a Sydney winter. The beach suburb of Bondi comes alive with art, music, food and winter-themed entertainment. Two of the best events are Art on the Streets and Music on the Streets. These are both designed to showcase local talent. Other highlights include the kite-flying festival, The Festival of the Winds, which takes place on the 8 Sept. and the world-famous Sculpture by the Sea. During Sculpture by the Sea, the beautiful coastal walk between Bondi and Tamarama is transformed into an art gallery.

Winter in Sydney also coincides with two important other seasons: ski season and whale-watching season. Some of the best skiing in Australia is located a few hours from Sydney at the Thredbo and Perisher resorts. The coast of NSW is also one of the best places in the world to see whales. They make their annual migration over the winter from Antarctica up past Sydney’s east coast searching for the North Tropical Queensland’s warmer waters.

Indian Restaurants in London – Why Are They So Popular?

    Indian food

Indian food

The easiest way to answer this question is to start by looking at curry houses. Note that curry houses are not Indian restaurants in London. They are, rather, what people who have never been to an Indian restaurant in London is until they go to an Indian restaurant.

To navigate our way through the thicket of clauses above, we’ll look at an imaginary curry house on a hypothetical London high street. There are enough of them around, and we’ve all had some experience of their food. It comes in a metal dish, normally, and is distinguishable only by three things: the shade of red or yellow of the dish; the type of meat or vegetable floating in the sauce; and the level of heat experienced by the eater.

It is undeniably true that the diner in a curry house, whether he or she chooses a Korma or a Vindaloo, is opting for a meal mainly based on the perceived level of heat in the sauce rather than any specific flavours. This is nowhere truer than when you look at the difference between a Jalfrezi as served in a curry house, and a Jalfrezi as delivered to table by an Indian restaurant in London.

The curry house Jalfrezi is essentially a hot red sauce with some green chillies in it. This is combined with whatever meat or vegetable combination the diner orders – and has an overriding flavour of nothing, because the heat takes it all away.

The same dish, served in a proper Indian restaurant in London combines the charred flavour of expertly cooked vegetables and/or meats with a deep pungent bite, a combination of tomatoes, garlic and fresh chillies surrounded by the earthy flavours of a selection of appropriate spices. It has warmth that complements the tastes of the vegetables and meats used in the dish, without overpowering them.

This is not the only example whereby curry house food pales into insignificance next to the real thing. Taste, texture and aroma are just the beginning.

In a proper Indian restaurant in London, dishes tend to be tied to regions – just as they are in India itself. An Indian restaurant may choose to provide only dishes from one region – as is the case with places where all the chefs come from that part of the continent – or it may decide to take the best of regional cuisine from a number of areas and give the diner a selection of flavour styles to choose from.

This is true in particular of the Thali, a dish that is served all over India but which has specific regional variations to identify it. A Gujrati Thali is vegetarian and seasoned with the signature salt, sweet and heat combination familiar to the region. Thalis from other regions incorporate different spices and may include some meat dishes.

The Thali is designed to promote a healthy, balanced meal by providing controlled small portions of a number of dishes rather than a single large portion of one single element.

Author Bio

Shannen is a freelance writer based in Denbighshire. Shannen is a big fan of dining out and Indian restaurants having experienced some of the best Indian restaurant in London personally. Shannen enjoys spending time out in the garden and going to the cinema with her partner in her spare time.

Copyright Shannen  © STI

Theatre Packages in London

    London -UK

London -UK

A night out at a London show is one of the best ways to celebrate a special occasion. Sure you can just buy tickets on the internet, or phone the theatre, even – if you are feeling lucky – just turn up on the night! But a great night out usually needs a little more planning… and by adding on extra bits, you can find yourself saving yourself a lot of time and often a lot of money!

There are two packages that stick out for London theatres – the theatre break with a stay at a hotel included, and the pre-theatre meal deal with dinner included in the price of the ticket.

Theatre Breaks

The Posh London Theatre Break

Now “posh” can be the Ritz or it can be just not falling asleep on the train. It is not necessarily where you stay but how you do it. So most Theatre Breaks companies have a range of central hotels – generally from two star to five star. Usually “central” means anywhere in the zone one travel district (but beware “London” for some London show package companies can
mean a very long way out indeed – without much warning). If you are worried about where you stay then only look at hotels within zone one travel area, keeping you nice and central and stick to 4 star hotels and above – there are really no nasty surprises in the four star range in London!

For “posh” I have also included the assumption that you want best seats. This doesn’t necessarily mean top price but it does mean Stalls or Dress Circle seats. Why? Because sometimes it is nice to be with the posh people down the front and you do feel more involved even if you are still watching the same show! And these seats needn’t cost you the earth – see below!

The other tip for saving money in the theatre is not to buy a drink in the interval. Have a drink before hand or afterward and make sure you buy your Maltesers at the sweet shop round the corner. Only if you are showing off do you buy anything other than a programme at the theatre! Sorry London theatre owners but it’s true – and you know it! If you have to do something in the interval stay in the auditorium and discuss the show – your date will think you awfully cultured! If you can’t think of anything to say nip out to the pub next door… that will be where the band are!

The Value Deal Theatre Break

Every theatre has cheap seats. You can sit in them, you can have a pre-theatre dinner before them and you can even have them as part of your theatre break. They can be as much as £35 less than the top price seats and if you are looking to book a weekend break in London with a performance on the Saturday night that is the only way you will save money.

As long as you are not going at the weekend, theatre breaks can include best seats for only a few quid more – only tourists turn up on a Saturday night expecting best seats to be there waiting for them at a sensible price. So “value theatre break needn’t mean you must to have rubbish seats. The trick for saving money on these “top price” seats is not to go on a Saturday night and look out for Saver tickets or Special discounts when selecting your tickets on a theatre break website. Not all shows have them but most do.

Meal Deals

Either you have already booked your hotel or you live close enough to get home after the theatre. Whatever the case, you do not have time to cook your own meal and eat it and avoid indigestion before taking your seat at your chosen show. Because London restaurants know they will get rid of pre-theatre diners before the main rush, they can feed you for a minimal amount. Combine this with the knowledge that London shows are sometimes happy to let some deals slip out to the travel trade whereas a member of the general public will be charged full asking price then you have the recipe for a really cheap evening out. So you have best seats and a two course pre-theatre meal for around £60pp during the week. At the weekend this can remain the same but on a Saturday night it will rise to £80 -£90 pp. That may seem steep but some agents charge that just for the ticket on a Saturday night! You can also get similar deals on cheaper seats with dinner/theatre deals around £80 for two

So How?

Do you organise it yourself or get someone else to? You could get it cheaper… maybe, but how do you know if the restaurant is any good, or if it is close to your theatre or if the hotel really has three stars? How do you know you can get it cheaper and how much cheaper, and is it better or at least as good as? And then there is the train travel… travel agents used to have to go on courses to learn how to use the rail ticketing system in this country and you are expecting to do it in between the end of X Factor and the start of Match of the Day – after having sunk a bottle of wine (who does X Factor sober?).

Would you take a £300 gamble on your 20th Wedding anniversary or your first serious date? No! Check out companies like Theatre Breaks for both theatre and hotel breaks and theatre and dinner packages.

Useful info:


You can’t beat Luxurious St Ermin’s in London


Hotel St Ermin

by Jonny Rowntree,

London is such a busy city with the hustle and bustle of the central streets, crowds roaring out of tube stations and all of the sights and sounds to be contempt with. If you are planning on visiting London for a holiday, there are plenty of reasons for choosing a central London hotel.

The luxurious St Ermin’s Hotel located in Westminster, hidden away from the hustle and bustle of busy Central London but in the heart of Westminster’s business and conference district, overall occupies a great place for tourists and business travellers.

St Ermin’s is located close to the banks of the River Thames and tourists can be assured that they will find major London attractions along this route including The London Eye – allowing riders to see London and the surrounding area from 443 feet up in the air, Houses of Parliament – home of the British Government and Buckingham Palace – the second home to the Queen and Royal Family. Other major attractions nearby include Tower Bridge, Tower of London – which is heavily guarded and contains the Crown Jewels and St Paul’s Cathedral.

If you’re looking to discover the rest of London, St James’s Park tube station is a minute walk from the hotel which allows you to travel into the busy streets of Regent Street, Bond Street and Oxford Street. Oxford Street has the best of today’s high street all in one stretch and nearby Regent Street is home to the UK’s flagship Apple Store and most importantly the famous toy store, Hamleys. If you’re looking for a top class department store known for some high end retail therapy, Harrods is located on Knightsbridge.

However, if you’re looking to discover the rest of the UK or for a quick connection to two of many London’s airports, Victoria railway station is within 5 minute walk where you can catch the Gatwick Express to London Gatwick. London Paddington station can be accessed through a quick ride on the tube where the Heathrow Express departs from. Sleeper trains also run from this station on a late evening to locations such as Plymouth and Penzance.

Once you return to the hotel, you have access to Caxton Bar and Grill – the hotel’s restaurant and bar serving a delicious European menu using seasonal and local British ingredients within a modern, stylish environment with attentive and friendly staff.

Overall, even though St Ermin’s Hotel is marketed strictly at business travellers, the hotel doesn’t carry a corporate feel and welcomes families, couples of solo guests. Reviews on TravelAdvisor rate this hotel as a perfect honeymoon spot for domestic and international travellers and is rated #27 out of a possible 1,085 hotels in London.

This article was contributed by St Ermin’s Hotel – a distinctly individual hotel located in Westminster, Central London.

Useful info:



Top 5 London iPhone Apps

 iphone apps

iphone apps

You may be lost in the city, or just in need for some last-minute travel inspiration. Whether you’re on your bike or travelling in the London Underground, there will always be an app that can help you out. Living in the capital has its ups and downs; what it doesn’t lack, though, are resources. Being a popular tourist destination has resulted in endless apps being flooded into the iTunes store. Only a handful of them are useful, though. Here are my top five.

London Cycle

The 8,000 Barclays Bikes have fit well into Londoners’ daily lives. You’ll catch an ordinary city businessman riding a Barclays Bike through the capital, as if he were a tourist. The London Cycle app is a must-have for both regular and occasional users. It’ll help you find the nearest bike parks, give you routes, and an overview of the map for a better idea.


Although thousands of black taxis roam London through the day and night, it can be difficult to find one when you’re in a hurry. Hailo helps you find taxis closest to your location at the time, put you in touch with the driver, and tell you how long it will take to get there. It will feed in live updates so you can see where your taxi is in real time on the map. It’s certainly an essential if you travel by taxi often, but still do expect delays during rush hours, event-endings, and busy rail stations.

London Bus Checker

London buses are a good alternative to get around the capital overground. Although there are bus lanes on practically every road, you’re still a part of traffic, and it can get pretty crowded. If you’re in a hurry, delays and stops can get really annoying. A few bus stops across the capital have digital screens telling you estimated bus times, but most stops do not. The London Bus Checker app helps you by checking the arrival time for the next bus. If you’re a regular bus commuter, then this app is certainly an essential—it works very well, too.


Possibly the best travel app out there, the TubeMap has saved people from tube-related confusion countless times. The app will turn navigating around the underground from a nightmare to a delightfully easy experience. The app includes a station finder, route planner, and real-time service updates. You can even set your oyster card to check your balance.


Let’s be real; London is expensive. It can be very difficult to enjoy the capital while you’re on a budget. The Vouchercloud app is free and has an endless selection of discount vouchers and codes. It’s perfect for students as well—everything from pubs & bars, restaurants, and entertainment. Whether you’re looking for a day out or discounted London hotels, Vouchercloud will not disappoint.


Flying into London’s Stansted Airport

 Arriving at Stansted Airport

Arriving at Stansted Airport

This guide to London’s third largest airport explains arrival procedures and the various methods of travelling from the airport to London and beyond.

From its beginnings as a bomber airfield and maintenance depot during the Second World War, Stansted Airport has grown into the third largest and busiest airport in the United Kingdom. Located 30 miles (48 kilometres) northeast of Central London near the village of Stansted Mountfitchet in Essex, it handles over 20 million passengers a year and is a hub for Easyjet, Ryanair, Thomas Cook Airlines and Thomson Airways.

Stansted Airport opened for commercial operations in the 1960s in order to help relieve congestion at the two main London airports, Heathrow and Gatwick. It grew rapidly in the 1980s and 90s and plans are underway for further expansion. Passengers flying into Stansted Airport will generally find it to be smaller and less difficult to manoeuvre than Heathrow or Gatwick, but it can still be a bewildering experience to those who have never flown there before.

A Guide to Arriving at Stansted Airport

nStansted Airport has one main passenger terminal which is separated into three areas, the Check In area, Arrivals and Departures. Gates are located within three satellite buildings, two of which are reached by a transit train system and a third which is connected to the terminal by a walkway. Passengers from Europe and other countries will arrive in the International Arrivals area which is connected to the main terminal by a transit train.

Upon entering the waiting area for the train, it is wise to stand nearest the first two doors to the left as the trains are often short. When a large flight or several flights arrive at once, this area can become quite congested. Transit trains run every 5-10 minutes. Passengers then arrive at Immigration and Customs. Those holding European Union passports go to the right while arrivals from all other countries go to the left. Immigration cards are often provided on the plane and can be filled out ahead of time. New regulations state that you need to provide a full
address of your residence in the UK, even if it is a hotel or guest house.

Once through Immigration, passengers enter the Baggage Reclaim area. Once are reunited with luggage, travellers pass through Customs, through the “Nothing to Declare” gate and into the main terminal. Once at the terminal, there are various methods of ground transportation available to ensure travellers reach their final destination.

Ground Transportation from Stansted Airport

Many travellers arriving at Stansted are destined for London. The quickest and most convenient way to get to London is by taking the Stansted Express train service. Trains depart from Stansted every 15 to 30 minutes and it is a 45 minute journey by train to London’s Liverpool Street Station. Cost for the train is £18 for a one way ticket and £26.80 for a round trip to London. National Express trains also run from Stansted to other destinations such as Cambridge. Train tickets are available in the terminal and costs vary depending on where you are travelling.

A cheaper, but longer option is to take the bus. The Terravision Shuttlebus departs from Stansted every 30 minutes with service to London’s Victoria and Liverpool Street Stations. The journey time is an hour and 15 minutes and tickets cost £9 for one way and £14 for a round trip. Tickets for the shuttlebus can be booked online. National Express coaches are also available from Stansted and have stops at Victoria, Liverpool Street and London Stratford Stations.

It is also possible to hire a taxi or a car at the airport. Taxis to London generally cost around £80 to £100 with about an hour’s journey time into central London. Car rental companies are also located at the main terminal, should you wish to hire a car for your trip. Be aware that you may be subject to the congestion charge if you drive in central London. Stansted Airport is located near the M11 motorway and you will need to manoeuvre a rather complex series of roundabouts to reach it. Maps are available at the Terminal Information Desk.

Stansted’s main terminal has an Information Desk right next to the International Arrivals area which is open from 5.30 to 1.30 am every day. There are facilities for currency exchange and it is now possible to purchase a visitor’s Oyster Card at the terminal. The Oyster Card allows visitors direct access to the Underground and bus services upon arriving in London. It comes with £10 of pay-as-you-go credit and can be easily topped up at most rail stations and newsagents. Two hotels are located near the airport, the Hilton London and the Radisson SAS. The terminal is also home to a variety of restaurants, shops and newsagents, as well as a post box and courtesy phones.

Further Information on Flying into Stansted Airport

Travellers can check live flight departures and arrivals on the Stansted Airport website,
as well as find out the latest news on check in procedures and security. With the recent flight disruptions due to the volcano in Iceland, it is always a good idea to check with the airport and your carrier before arriving at the airport. Enjoy your trip to London or beyond.

Zuma Restaurant Review – No Beef About the Quality

    Chewing the fat... the marbling gives a wonderful taste

Chewing the fat… the marbling gives a wonderful taste

By Sarah Juggins,

Zuma is a contemporary Japanese restaurant with one unique selling point, as Sarah Juggins found out to her carnivorous delight.

Zuma in London is one of a family of five contemporary Japanese cuisine restaurants that espouses the izakaya-style of dining – that is, sharing platters of food with large groups of people, eating the assortment of food in no particular order.

I visited the Knightsbridge branch of the restaurant with a large group of friends and some seriously high expectations after reading many of the reviews. “Stylish”, “shiny glamour,” and “set against a moody urban backdrop” were just some of the comments on the Square Meal review page.

The menu itself was wide ranging, and there were some eye-catching dishes on offer. But my group of fellow diners were interested in one thing and one thing only – the Wagyu beef.

So we ignored the lobster tempura, the moromi miso marinated baby chicken, the tuna in chilli daikon and ponzu sauce. We even turned up our noses at the sea bass with truffle oil. All we wanted was the beer-fed, daily-massaged bovine delights that are the specialty of this restaurant.

Life of Old Riley

So what is so special about Wagyu? Well, first it is about the rearing. These cattle are treated better than royalty. For the last two years of their short but pampered lives, they are fed nothing but top quality grain, washed down with sake, beer or red wine, depending upon which region of the world they are reared in. Some farmers have even hired musicians to relax their stock through a rendition of Mozart. The result is a special type of beef, where the fat is marbled within the meat instead of around the edge of the cut, as is the case with regular steaks.

It was once the case that, a little like Champagne originating from its namesake area in France, you could only get Wagyu beef from the Japanese area of Kobe. The breed was Wagyu, but it was always referred to as Kobe beef. But, as the fight for space on the land intensified, it was clear that the Kobe area could never support enough beef to provide for world demand. Smart livestock farmers from Australia and South America realized that these cattle were potential gold mines, and Wagyu beef began to be reared away from its homeland.

Now, beef connoisseurs can enjoy Wagyu beef across the world, and breeders are enjoying a windfall for their investment as high-end restaurants, such as Zuma, have it on their menu, marketing it as their specialty dish.

So back to the restaurant under review.

Zuma, in the heart of London’s West End, has a stylish décor, and certainly as you approach the entrance, you begin to anticipate a culinary experience. The decorative flame outside the door, the atmospheric lighting and the large, rustically-chic wooden benches and tables all shout “understated class.”

The edamame bean pre-meal appetisers were delicious, but the speed of drinks service was almost too quick. There was an extensive wine menu, and by the time we had finished reading about the £2,000 bottle of Rothschild red, we were almost ambushed into choosing a Billecart Salmon pink rose champagne.

The starters were lovely. The squid in light batter with green chillies was delicious and very well cooked. The miso and avocado salad was fragrant and delightful. And for the size of the portions, it was very reasonably priced.

The main act arrived on a large slate plate, the rib eye steak sliced into perfectly sized slivers of meat. The secret to Wagyu beef lies in the fat content – the marbling of the beef – and my portion was absolutely spot-on. There was a very thin, lightly browned layer of fat on top of the beef, and then the lean meat had a depth of flavor from the fat running through it that is often missing from the leaner beef we are encouraged to eat on a daily basis.

The greatest quality of this beef, however, was the texture. “Melt in the mouth” is an overused cliché that is not always appropriate for something as durable as meat, but it is difficult to use another phrase that can describe it. You pop a piece of Wagyu beef into your mouth, you get a taste sensation that immediately tells you that these cattle do not eat ground-down bones, and then you hardly have to chew before swallowing. But that in itself makes it sound a disappointment, and it isn’t. It is a satisfying, lingering taste that makes you feel good about what you are eating.

To accompany the Wagyu, we had courgettes, asparagus and sweet potato. Of these, the courgettes were the best, grilled to perfection with a soya sauce to accompany them. The asparagus was sweet and tender, the sweet potato slightly overdone and hence a little mealy in the mouth.

To wash this all down, we had a rather lovely bottle of Domaine des Terres Falmet Carignan from Languedoc.

Repeat Custom?

Whether I would venture back to Zuma is something I am not sure about. I probably wouldn’t come back to this particular restaurant again, although were I in Dubai or Tokyo, I might be tempted to try some other dishes off the menu. Certainly, the range of Japanese dishes was mouthwatering. But in the Knightsbridge branch, it was not quite enough. The waiting staff were not friendly in a way that inspires customer loyalty. Zuma is a place that you may go for a special occasion as a one-off. It is also the place you may go to impress a client who is visiting London. It is a place that flaunts its unremitting stylishness, but somehow it just seems to be gauche and trying too hard. I think the nearest metaphor I can offer is that it is like an X Factor contestant trying to mix it up with Bowie or Jagger but being too contrived to truly be a rock star.

But the ethos behind Zuma, that of paying top dollar to eat well-bred animals, is one that I would both endorse and encourage, as it sends a clear message to the food industry that producing good quality food that costs a bit more does pay.

The meal at Zuma in Knightsbridge cost two of us £300. This included two glasses of Billecart Salmon Brut Rose champagne, two glasses or 2008 Domaine des Terres Falmet Carigna, two starter dishes, three dishes of vegetables and two rib eye Wagyu steaks at £68 each.