Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Activities & Where to Eat in London

This is a continuation of our London & Paris trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

London - Day 1

Covent Garden

Covent Garden is a pretty happening area in London. There's the actual "Covent Garden" market with lots of shops and restaurants, and the theatres were all pretty close by.

Iconic Phone booth in front of Covent Garden

From our walking tour, I learned the following interesting facts about Covent Garden:
  • Historically, Covent Garden used to be a garden run by convent/nuns 
  • The Covent Garden area also used to be the red light district in another historical period, and prostitution is apparently legal in England (but solicitation is not). So in the past, there were yellow guidebooks that listed all the prostitutes address and how they were like, etc. :) 

Covent Garden

Shake Shack

Our first food stop in London was Shake Shack! I know this is not a true English food, BUT I love Shake Shack and not sure when I'll be in London next. So we ate here. :)

Shake Shack London

We really liked Shake Shack from our last trip to New York. I got the 'Shroom burger, Dan got the ShackMeister burger, and we shared cheese fries.

The taste was consistent with New York, and I'm glad I got my Shake Shack fix.

Hawksmoor Seven Dials

For dinner our first night, we went to Haksmoor, which is a famous steakhouse near our hotel. We went in a little later, without reservations, and were able to get a table. The restaurant was packed and obviously very popular.

We ordered the bone marrow appetizer, Ribeye steak (450 gr), creamed spinach, side salad, and sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

The bone marrow appetizer was pretty good, but the grilled onions on top were a bit too overpowering.

Bone Marrow

The Ribeye steak was pretty good, not the best we have ever had, but still pretty tasty.  Interestingly  they precut the steak for us.

I was disappointed with the spinach side, it was not as creamy as in the US and it had a slightly strong flavor that I didn't like.

The dessert was really good though. We got the Sticky Toffee Pudding! This is a traditional English dessert. It tasted like warm toffee cake. I also asked for vanilla ice cream on the side, and it was just heavenly!

Sticky Toffee Pudding

London - Day 2

Sandemann's Free Walking Tour - London

We did a similar free walking tour when we were in Munich a few years ago. The premise of these tours is that the tour itself is free, and the guide does not get paid by Sandemann.  They get paid by tips from the people on the tours.

The meeting point was at Covent Garden Piazza, which was close walking distance from our hotel. There was a big group that got separated English vs. Spanish speaking. Our guide was Charlotte and she was a really good guide. She was originally from New Zealand but had lived in England for quite some time.

Buckingham Palace

A couple interesting points/areas we covered during the 3 hour tour:
  • We watched the changing of the guards at St. James palace, which was much less crowded than at Buckingham Palace. Interestingly enough, the guards during our visit was actually the Gurkhas--from Nepal who actually serve in the British Army. Very interesting indeed.
  • We walked to Buckingham Palace, which turned out to be originally owned by the Duke of Buckingham, and was then taken over (somewhat forced) by the King at the time. This is also the Queen's residence when she's in London.
  • The roads in front of Buckingham palace were reddish in color, to signify the red carpet (for royalty).
  • I have always been intrigued about the succession rule in the English monarchy. So I asked Charlotte about the rule and whether only men can rule or why/how a Queen comes to power. She said, in general, if there were only female heirs, then they would rule as Queen. But if there was a male heir, then he would take the throne, even if he had older sisters. This rule has recently been changed and now the oldest would be the heir regardless of gender.
Overall definitely a good overview of London and would highly recommend it.

Afternoon Tea at Corinthia Hotel

After the 3 hour walking tour, we were SO tired! We went back to our hotel to change for afternoon tea at the Corinthia Hotel, which enforced smart casual dress attire (no jeans, sneakers, etc).

I am a big fan of afternoon tea, and wanted to get the full English afternoon tea experience. My top choice was actually at Claridge's, but they were fully booked for the dates that we were in London (even though I checked 1.5 months before our trip). So I then decided on the Corinthia Hotel. The hotel looked so beautiful and elegant, and I was looking forward to this.

Since our feet was still so tired, we took Uber. We reserved the 2 PM seating and were seated immediately. I didn't realize that the cost was actually quite pricey (50 pounds per person), so roughly $75 USD per person! lol. Definitely the most expensive afternoon tea experience, even more expensive than our steak dinner the night before. :P

I ordered the Pomegranate tea and Dan ordered the Afternoon tea blend. We were then served a selection of sandwiches (and we could order more as many times as we wanted), and then scones and dessert. The sandwiches were good--my favorite were the egg mayonnaise and the smoked salmon sandwiches (which I asked for second servings).

The scones were also amazing! Served warm with clotted cream and strawberry or raspberry jam. There were also a huge selection of desserts (macaroons, lemon pie, brownie, chocolate mousse, carrot cake, etc.), but I actually thought the desserts were just so-so. The scones were much more memorable.

Overall it was a good experience, but I honestly couldn't tell much of a difference between afternoon tea in England vs. in the US. I feel like the US serves very comparable afternoon tea, and there's nothing "different" or more special having afternoon tea in London.

I probably wouldn't recommend this place specifically, since it wasn't anything special, but we still had a great time.

Rock & Sole plaice

We wanted to try traditional British fish & chips, so we went to this place near our hotel. The place was very low key. Dan & I shared the traditional large Cod, mushy peas, and extra curry sauce.

We were SO glad we shared! The large Cod was HUGE and definitely enough for two. :)

The batter was good, very crispy on the outside and fish was soft on the inside.

I wasn't a fan of the mushy peas, tasted like baby food :), but the curry sauce was a good condiment for the chips.

What was interesting here (and seems common at places in Europe) was that they had different prices for dining in vs. take out. Sometimes the cost is almost half!

Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus is like the Time Square of London (smaller scale version).  It was 0.5 mile away from our hotel, so we walked there. And it was a pretty nice stroll, passing through Chinatown.

Piccadilly Circus

There were lots of typical American stores (Gap, Toms, etc.), as well as the luxury brands on Bond Street (Chanel, LV, Burberry, etc). We went at night time after dinner, so a lot of the stores were already closed. But it was good to get a feel of that area.


London - Day 3

Stonehenge & Bath Day Tour

I found a Groupon for a discounted Stonehenge & Bath day tour. I thought it would be good to spend a day in the countryside, away from the city for a change. Plus, I wanted to see a bit of the countryside and visit the famous UNESCO world heritage site, Stonehenge.

The Groupon I got was for 65 Pounds for 2 tickets from Day Tours London, which was actually a pretty good value. It included the coach bus ride, narration/guide to the two sites as well as ticket entry to Stonehenge.

We met quite early, 7:45AM at the Gloucester Road tube station. There were a total of 25 people. Our guide was a lovely English lady (forgot her name), but she was excellent! She had been a guide for a long time and used to do the Hop on/off bus tours.

She explained to us about the town of Bath, the Georgian period (named Georgian because of the various King George's), and that Bath was the "in" town for rich people/landowner to socialize.

We stopped by a "Pasty" shop per the recommendation of our tour guide, called Pasty Presto. A Pasty is basically a pastry with various fillings, we tried the beef & potato one which was the traditional one.

"Pasty" :)

We then went to the Pump room to try the warm Bath water. It just tasted like warm mineral water. :)
There's also a museum for the actual Roman Bath, but we didn't want to pay the entry fee so we just went to the Pump room for free. Afterwards we walked around the town, which was very beautiful, but a bit too commercialized. I wasn't expecting to see a Gap store there!

We took the route that was suggested by the tour guide up to the Circus and the Crescent, which is like a millionaire's row of beautiful townhouses. Very beautiful!

Dan in front of the Circus in Bath

Afterwards Dan did a cider testing at Westgate Pub, and I convinced him to try Sally Lunn Bun for lunch. Dan had the salted beef bun and I had the bun with clotted cream and jam. The bun basically tasted like a French Brioche, and was pretty good.

Sally Lunn Bun

After Bath, we went on our way to Stonehenge, which was located not too far away from Bath. The bus dropped us off at the coach lot, where we got our the audio guides. We then walked to the main entrance where there were restrooms, a bookstore, small museum, and cafe. From the entrance, we took the shuttle bus to the actual area where the stones were.


I'm sure you've probably seen a picture of Stonehenge before. I wasn't quite sure what it was actually, and it turned out no one knows 100% what it was for. The theory is that it's some kind of memorial/cemetery.


It was nice to be able to see this place!

Overall it was a great tour. I would highly recommend doing a tour of Bath & Stonehenge while in London. It's a great way to see the beautiful countryside, and was a nice change from the hectic & busy city.

Gauthier Soho

I booked dinner for us at Gauthier because I wanted to celebrate somewhere nice for our anniversary. We got back to London around 6:30 PM and headed back to our hotel to change into nicer outfits and then walked to Gauthier. Thankfully, the restaurant was located not too far away from our hotel (10 minute walk).

I didn't know much about the chef, but apparently he was either in Top Chef or Master Chef or something like that. :)

The restaurant was located in an old townhouse, and we had to ring a doorbell to be let in. Since I made a note that this was our 5 year anniversary, they set up a private table inside their wine room for us, which was a very nice touch!

Private dinner setup

They had a three-course option for 40 pounds, four-course for 50 pounds, and five-course for 60 pounds, or the tasting menu for 75 pounds. I thought the price was pretty reasonable for fine dining (same price as our afternoon tea, haha!). Of course, drinks were additional. We ended up choosing the four-course for me and three-course for Dan--my fourth course was dessert, of course. :)

The meal started with several amuse bouches--a parmesan crisp which was yummy, and mousse in a cup. I also loved that they served the bread warm!

My first course was scallops, and Dan's was asparagus with salmon. Both dishes was excellent, though we both favored Dan's slightly more. It was so light and wonderful, and the fish was cooked beautifully.

My second course was risotto with truffle (10 pounds extra), and Dan got truffle pasta. Both tasted very similar to each other, very rich!

My third course was sea bass with pesto, and Dan's was the filet (15 pounds extra). I actually preferred Dan's steak and ended up eating most of it, haha!

We were so full at this point, but still had dessert left. We ordered the famous Louis XV, which was a chocolate mousse with hazelnut crisps. It was actually not as heavy as it looked, and we finished it off!

Total bill was 141 pounds, which we thought was pretty reasonable and definitely a great meal to celebrate our 5 year anniversary!

London - Day 4


This is one of the more famous Indian restaurants in London. We tried going for dinner one night, but the wait was over an hour. Every time we passed this restaurant there always seemed to be a line, so we decided to go on our last day for breakfast/brunch (hoping for a shorter line)!.

We went around 10:30 AM and there was one group in front of us. We ended up waiting about 15 minutes. The restaurant was already full at 10:30 AM! :)

We ordered the Bombay Breakfast and the Bacon & Egg Naan. The Bombay Breakfast was a good mix of everything. I loved the scrambled egg; it has a unique flavor to it.

Bombay Breakfast

The bacon and egg naan was also yummy. Very unique, and it came with a sweet & spicy jam.

I also ordered the Masala Chai (they make the best one!). Definitely get this if you go to Dishoom.
Overall we both liked the food and would recommend this place.

London Eye & Walking around River Thames

We didn't have much planned for our last day, and I wanted to at least see the London Eye. We made our way via underground tube to the Waterloo station, and then a short 5-10 minute walk to the London Eye. The line was SUPER long, plus I wasn't planning on going up anyway, so we just took a picture and then walked along the River Thames. It was a nice stroll.

London Eye

Mathilda the Musical

Since our hotel was by the Covent Garden area, we kept seeing lots of ads for different West End shows, and I wanted to at least catch one show while we were here.

We ended up getting really good discounted tickets for Mathilda by purchasing on the day of from this company called London Theatre Booking. I found this company online, and was a little worried if it was legit or not. They had an actual retail outlet in Covent Garden, so we went there to buy the tickets. Interestingly enough, we first tried the Mathilda theatre box office directly, but the cheapest available tickets there were much more expensive than what we got from London Theatre Booking. I believe we paid 66 pounds total for two tickets, which was a really good price!

Mathilda the Musical was a very cute story and very child friendly. We went to the Saturday matinee show at 2:30PM, and it was a great way to spend our last afternoon in London.

Mathilda London

Bone Daddies

For our last meal in London, we went to Bone Daddies. We were considering Ippudo and Bone Daddies, but decided to try this place since we hadn't been (we already had tried Ippudo in New York). Bone Daddies is a hipster ramen restaurant located in Soho. The restaurant was quite full when we arrived at 5 PM, but we got seated immediately.  The restaurant only has bar seating, so it would be hard to bring kids here.

Dan ordered the sour ramen, and I got the tonkatsu ramen. Dan liked his sour ramen; it definitely had a unique flavor.

My tonkatsu ramen broth was VERY thick. Overall was pretty good, but not the best that we've had.

Bone Daddies London

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