Aleksandra Crapanzano was on one of her typical rambles through London—from Books for Cooks to her favorite location of Ottolenghi (on Ledbury Road) for a tahini cookie—when she decided to write a cookbook.
She realized that London's culinary boom (now decades-old and showing no signs of flagging) had produced scores of destination gems like Ottolenghi, each with legendary dishes whose stories needed to be told, and experienced at home.
The resulting book—appropriately titled The London Cookbook—is itself a compendium of genius recipes, very much like the ones I write about every week on Food52, perhaps a more elegant cousin. It’s the best and most iconic recipes, culled from the best and most iconic restaurants in London.
Crapanzano hunkered down with each chef to document the fine details—like Fergus Henderson delighting in watching diners' proper technique for eating a Welsh Rarebit (score the molten cheese topping into cross-hatch, to form crannies for the Worcestershire sauce to seep in), and the way Ruthie Rogers will maternally touch the shoulder of her cooks at River Café as she passes through the kitchen to guide them.
In other words, Crapanzano is my ideal guide to experiencing London—in the kitchen, in moments of armchair travel (or rather, the squishy corner of my sectional couch), and in preparation for, yes, what will now be a much-sooner visit. Read on below for 33 of Crapanzano's favorite restaurants, bookshops, cheesemongers, paint stores, bowling alleys, and more—we've also gathered all her favorites onto an interactive Google Map, to make your travel planning (or armchair-planning) easier.
The Genius Guide to London
For the tea lover, Rare Tea Co. is the insider’s go-to (they no longer have a shop, but it has a cult following and is well stocked in stores), as is My Cup of Tea on Denman Place. And while you’re on Denman, stop by The Ham Yard to go bowling. Then walk up Archer Street for a victory (or not) gelato at Gelupo.
For a movie in Notting Hill, Electric Cinema on Portobello Road provides a storied history and a great burger. If you find yourself in Notting Hill with time to kill, walk up or down Westbourne Grove for the window shopping. If you are craving a sip of health, try the juices at Daylesford. If you want a rich, buttery cheese, try their organic Double Gloucester. If I could import it, I would. And if I could afford the beautiful pottery and sumptuous linens and cashmere blankets sold in the back of the shop, I’d fill a second suitcase in the blink of an eye.
For the best sandwich in town, head to Quo Vadis on Dean Street for the cult Smoked Eel Sandwich, brainchild of the great chef Jeremy Lee. In fact, there is nothing that Jeremy makes that is less than fabulous. He is a great favorite of mine.
Whether you take your martini shaken or stirred, there’s no place better to try endless variations on this classic than at the bar at The Connaught Hotel. A master mixologist will come wheeling a bespoke martini trolley to your table and custom tailor your drink as precisely as a Savile Row shirt-maker. Oddly, it won’t seem like a stunt. The Brits are good at keeping true pomp underspoken.
But if a Pisco Sour is your thing, head east to Shoreditch and stop by Andina. If it’s a weekend, have the Bloody Mary (I included the recipe in The London Cookbook made with chili-infused pisco) and a Chicharron Sandwich made with a confit of pork belly and camote ketchup.
Save room, however, for dinner at Lyle’s or The Clove Club, two of the must-try and must-return-many-times restaurants in town. (I include the decadent Chocolate Squares from Lyle’s and the Buttermilk Fried Chicken in Pine Salt from The Clove Club recipes in The London Cookbook.)
Fancy a rosewater meringue the size of a bowl? Ottolenghi stocks them in most every one of his eponymous shops. Also try the Tahini cookies (the first recipe in The London Cookbook). The Ottolenghi on Ledbury Road is my favorite because it is only a few minutes from Books for Cooks. If you arrive around eleven, you may get a spot for lunch—this bookshop cooks from the books it sells. But, any time of day, this little Notting Hill shop will be buzzing with food news and cooking wisdom.
A few steps away is The Spice Shop, a travel bookshop, and, of course, Portobello Road. Go into The Spice Shop, sniff the exotic aromas, and pray that Brexit doesn’t make this most international of cities any less international.
Marylebone is home to four of my favorites: Daunt’s for books, The Ginger Pig for the Scotch eggs, La Fromagerie for the best cheese in town and the unparalleled Rococo Chocolates. Ask for extra shopping bags at Rococo, as their blue and white design is nearly as good as their confections.
Oh, Daunt’s… I do love it there. The children’s section is small but beautifully selected and the travel section is comprehensive. They will ship. For the book lovers among you, also stop by the Primrose Hill Books for a cozy, jam packed, excellent shop. For unparalleled book knowledge, the staff at John Sandoe in Chelsea can answer your most arcane literary question.
The Wallace Collection is the museum to go to when you want something smaller and off the beaten path. Walking through it is more like walking through The Frick in New York or The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston—private residences that are now museums, but which don’t attract hordes of tourists. Of note: Titan, Rembrandt, Velazquez, and beautiful maiolica and 18th century porcelain.
If you find yourself in Marylebone in need of a haircut, Michael van Clarke is a genius with shears. He’s also a font of knowledge on the history of hair styles, which, to a history nerd like me, offers a far more enticing conversation than the usual celebrity gossip. His “3 more inches” product does seem to work, though I’m not sure how or why.
When I crave a dessert that’s comforting but a touch exotic, I head to Gymkhana for the mango kheer, but only after a Quinine Sour (recipe in The London Cookbook) made with gin, curry leaves, ginger, and lemon.
On the days when I want a bit of glamour AND want to please my son at the same time, I head to The Wolseley for breakfast. The hot chocolate rivals the best in Paris and the grand room inspires a silk scarf tied just so.
For a good cuppa joe in a tea town, head to Caravan, where the beans are roasted and the brew is dark.
If the weather is lovely, book at table outside at Moro. It’s one of the best restaurants in London, but its hip crowd keeps it casual. Next door is Morito, even more casual and just as good. For cookbook lovers, note: the Moro cookbooks belong in every great cookbook library. I included two recipes from the restaurant, including a fiery Sea Bass with Hot Paprika Vinaigrette in The London Cookbook and wish I’d had room to include more. Save a few minutes to walk around the neighborhood. Clerkenwell is a vibrant, non-touristy part of town.
It might not be feasible to carry gallons of house paint back to the U.S., but I find it inspiring to peruse Little Greene, Francesca’s Paints, and Farrow & Ball whenever I’m in London. Their offerings are well curated, so you don’t find yourself faced with hundreds or mind-numbing samples, most of which are inevitably terrible. And it's fun to see how a city battles the grey of its rainy days with cheerful colors that are somehow never garish.
Speaking of never garish, it’s worth stopping by The Conran Shop in Chelsea. Terrance Conran remains as relevant a designer today as he was twenty years ago. And if browsing makes you hungry, there are always great oysters at Bibendum, just upstairs. It’s hard to get more iconic than Bibendum, and somehow the stained glass window portrait of the Michelin tire man never fails to delight even the most jaded traveler.
Let us know what you'd want to see in future Genius Guides! And for more London intel and recipes from Aleksandra, scoop up The London Cookbook.
To see the rest of our Food52 Goes to London guide, head here.