This article is part of a guide to london by FT Globetrotter
I moved to London in 1989 at the age of 17, after deciding to do a management traineeship at Sainsbury’s instead of going to university in Scotland. I had visited the city for years with my parents and my brother throughout my childhood. Our parents loved London and had worked there in their past lives, so they loved coming back and showing us their favorite galleries, theaters and most importantly, their restaurants. One of my earliest memories of the city was its incredible energy and smell, especially the diesel trains arriving in London from Edinburgh. Even today, when I arrive at King’s Cross station, I can still imagine that distinct smell from my childhood visits.
On Windrush Day in June I visited the sculpture in Hackney by Thomas J Price to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants to the UK, which reminded me of my first visits to the city. This generation contributed so much to the London we know and love today, and it was so obvious to me from an early age that I wanted to live in a place that represented a true melting pot of cultures.
My ideal weekend in London would start in East London. If I’m not at my friend (and food heroine) Angela Hartnett’s for breakfast, I’d meet her at St John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields, for a midday coffee and cheddar Eccles cakes – a combination of brunch which I consider to be one of life’s great pleasures. I first went to the original restaurant, St John in Farringdon, with Margot Henderson and Trevor Gulliver over 20 years ago and it’s still one of my favorite places to have lunch or dinner.
After a leisurely breakfast, a stroll through the nearby Columbia Road Flower Market is a must. It was originally established as a food market in 1869, but now, every Sunday between 8am and 2pm, dozens of local traders set up their stalls along the road to sell a wide range of flora.
If I’m not too full from my previous fare, I’d go to the Beigel Shop on Brick Lane, for what I think are the best bagels in London. Different from New York bagels, they are made the traditional way (the secret to a perfect bagel is to boil the dough before baking) and they are still as delicious as the first one I tried 30 years ago year. I lived in Enfield, then Rotherhithe, so a night out in Shoreditch was a common occurrence for me and my friends. We often strolled down Brick Lane and ordered a bagel for only 9p for the return trip.
Another non-food related place I like to visit in Shoreditch is Dennis Severs’ House, a wonderful hidden gem of a museum around the corner from the old Spitalfields Market. You usually have to queue as only a small number of people are allowed at a time. Severs was an artist who lived in this house until his death in 1999. He created a “still life drama” featuring an imaginary family of Huguenot silk weavers with authentic 18th and 19th century artifacts. It looks like a theater set – everything is perfectly staged, but somehow feels like a real family’s home. In one room, there is a stand with a ceramic frame and small dishes filled with candied chestnuts, Turkish delight and marzipan fruit, which he apparently liked to buy from Fortnum & Mason. It is always topped with a whole candied pineapple. I have always found this detail deliciously charming.
From the museum, I took the Overground to Wapping to one of London’s oldest riverside pubs (and one of my very first London pub experiences): The Prospect of Whitby, which dates 1520. My father was a merchant seaman, and when he sailed in London in the 1950s and 1960s he liked to stop, and we often visited for a pub lunch on our half-yearly visits to the city.
In its heyday, The Prospect of Whitby was visited by historical figures and celebrities: Turner and Whistler both drew views of the Thames from the pub, and Charles Dickens also dined there. In the 1950s, Princess Margaret was regularly spotted there with her royal escorts, seeking to rub shoulders with East End regulars. I always love to visit, thinking about how many different people have seen the same sights on the river for hundreds of years and how it has been a long time mainstay in the community.
As I’m still thinking about my next meal, my last stop on the way back to Battersea would involve picking up ingredients for Sunday lunch. If I’m in the mood for fish, I’ll go to Rex Goldsmith, a fishmonger who’s been in Chelsea for almost 20 years. He used to sell fish straight from the counter to customers on the street (the store was too small to invite anyone inside), and since then has moved on to a full-fledged store next door.
Here I like to buy anything from the day boat – often Cornish monkfish – or a selection from the incredible range of prawns and prawns. One of my favorite times of year is May, when seagull eggs are available. They have a perfectly soft shell (not like a chicken egg), which you boil lightly and gently peel off to dip the egg in homemade mayonnaise and celery salt. This simple snack is one of the happiest things you can eat.
Ewan Venters is the CEO of Hauser & Wirth and Artfarm, which is launching its first London hotel business, The Audley, this fall
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