I will have been living in London for 4 years this Autumn. That’s the longest I’ve ever lived in a city other than the one I was born in and pretty good considering I was one of those “Oh I’ll just go to London for a year or two and then probably get sick of it and move back up north” people. I adore living here but sometimes I think simple things such as where to go for a nice cocktail, where for a good curry or where for a nice cup of coffee can be almost impossible to work out – as there is an overwhelming amount of choice!
You can basically only learn by trial and error I think. So I thought I would start to share some of my favourites as I have a whole list stacking up in my moleskin and they are better written in here than kept scribbled to myself. I figure they might be useful if you live here or ever visit (especially as they are all on the cheap, as one thing living in London does is swallow up any disposable income you have!) Here are my first 3 and there are many more where these came from…
01. The Best Place for a Coffee, Cake and Chat
- Ray’s Jazz Cafe @ Foyles Book Shop
When I first moved to London, for the first two years I think it is quite possible that I spent more time sitting in the Starbucks in Borders on Oxford Street, trying to make one £1.20 peppermint tea last a lifetime and pouring over a heaving stack of magazines, than I did in the bedroom I was paying rent for! When Borders closed down, I was literally devestated. I had always thought it would be a place I could visit and visit forever, filled with fond new-London living memories. It’s taken a long time to find a suitable replacement but the Jazz Cafe definitely rivals it.
Sitting within the lovely independent Charring Cross bookstore Foyles, which is worth a visit anyway, the Jazz Cafe has it’s own staircase from the street. It is filled with old oak tables, benches and pews and has tons of space. Which is lucky, as the secret is obviously out, and it’s always bustling and busy. I’ve never been unable to get a seat though, so it’s just on the right side of heaving.
It offers a heady selection of coffees and herbal teas. There is also always a vast selection of homemade cakes, homemade soup (that’s often on half price if you go in an evening!) and mostly vegetarian sandwiches.
Spot the difference between the book wallpaper and the real books! There isn’t endless access to free magazines (sadly) but there is a hefty book collection that they are pretty relaxed about you pilfering and taking back to your table, as long as you replace it on it’s rightful shelf after! The atmosphere is busy and social, I often park up at a table already occupied by a random stranger and end up having a bit of a natter before plunging into my reading or writing. There is always a really diverse crowd; tourists, business folk, students etc and the fact it’s in the heart of Soho means it’s an easy stop off on route to exciting places like Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Oxford Street.
02. The Best Place for a Curry
- Tayyabs, Whitechapel
I grew up in Bradford where about 70% of meals ever eaten were curry! In my primary school, for hot school dinners we had keema every day, except for Fish Friday. I love curry, I love indian/pakistani cuisine and the spicier the better! But curry is so easy to get so wrong, or just meh. When in London it is sort of enforced on you that Brick Lane is the best place for curry. It’s definitely fun to wander around and chat to the hecklers outside, and get 10 popadoms, 2 for 1 beers and a free plate of bhajis thrown in, but I haven’t ever had a mind-blowing curry on Brick Lane.
Walk ten minutes away though, and rather than people heckling you to come in, at Tayyabs… they are heckling you to wait outside as the queue is so giant it snakes around the entire restaraunt. And this is for a very good reason; it’s the best curry in London! This leads me to my first point: BOOK A TABLE. Even when you make a reservation you might have to wait ten/fifteen minutes to be seated. If you turn up on a whim, you will be punished. Last week my beau and I got a Tayyabs craving and wandered in on a Thursday night (fools!) and we waited 1 hour and 35 minutes for a table. No seats, no polite waiters giving you freebies as you stand fainting with hunger. They don’t need to! There were at least 30 people who waited as long, if not longer, than us. The food is good enough that you are willing to put yourself that amount of torture. But unless you like your meal-out to include a very hefty test of your patience thrown in… then make sure you book.
The menu is very limited, sticking to only traditional Pakistani/Punjabi dishes – Karahi and Gosht, with various naan, bhaki and tikka starters. This is probably the key to why it is so amazing as they stick to what they do well and don’t complicate things. But don’t go expecting to see kormas or rogan josh, as that aint going to happen! They also do a different special each night. The tikka dishes come out sizzling and everything I’ve ever eaten there (alot) has been just insanely tender and beautiful. They also have a sweet centre counter where you can stock up on kulfi and jelabi to take home for dessert. Did I mention it’s Bring Your Own Booze? So you can pick up some nice cheap Cobras or wine on route, and save more pennies for food. The staff are effiicient, friendly and despite the chaos of the crowds, always seem to be having a good time with each other too.
03. The Best Place for Happy Hour
- Franny’s Pop-Up, Frith Street
Sadly, pretty much as soon as I’ve recommended this serious London GEM, I will have to recommend another… as it’s a pop up and is only open until March 12th. Wah! I think I might go and chain myself to the door in protest as it’s my favourite London discovery for absolutely ages. I have to give it a mention because if you haven’t been to scope it out yet you need to cancel all future plans and hurry down. The downstairs is a restaurant and bar, and the upstairs is an amazing art exhibition space. Despite being a pop-up, a huge amount of effort has gone into the cool decor, the branding and the (hate this word!) ambiance. It feels unlike anywhere else I’ve been in Soho, there is a really laid back but buzzy, vibrant feeling.
Oh and did I mention, that during their happy hour that runs until 7pm, they have 50% off cocktails?! That means you can get a cocktail for £3 which is unheard of anywhere, particularly London! And they are serious business cocktails, not any old tat. I had far too many apple martinis and margharitas stacked up at 6pm and it made for a very fun night. I haven’t eaten there but my friend got the piri piri chicken pasta and said it was good, it was a big hefty portion too. Finally, the staff are all swell and super friendly and all in all, this is going to be a tragic loss to Frifth Street. I hope the team behind it open somewhere new, sharpish!