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Travel Report: London Pops Open Again like a Cork from a Bottle

SPY logo SPY 10/10/2021 John Scott Lewinski
© John Scott Lewinski

In this travel report, John Scott Lewinski reports off a week in London exploring venues and attractions that opened during or reopened new and improved following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Coronavirus tried to close London. It failed. Three times lockdowns brought silence and restricted activity to the largest city in Europe, and three times the UK capital rallied.

Now, the town is wide open again with a wide range of newly opened or freshly renovated hotels, bars and restaurants cooking alongside special events for autumn.

Autumn Attractions

Inside Out Festival: Underway now through the end of October, the Inside Out Festival fills Westminster with collaborations between London’s artists, theaters, museums and other venues to celebrate the reopening of London and to get local and tourists back into the spirit of collaboration.

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Carnaby: Greater London and Westminster have countless neighborhoods and boroughs with their own unique personalities. Carnaby Street and its surroundings boast some of the city’s newest and most unique dining and shopping spots. Carnaby is a spot where tourists can mingle with the locals in venues they decide are the hottest in town.

Connaught Village: This quaint, but sophisticated neighborhood often gets overlooked by travelers in favor of nearby Hyde Park and Kensington. Still, the plethora of locally owned shops, cafes, restaurants and art galleries give this high-end collection of streets an upscale, but unassuming feel.

Queen Store: There are two Queens that matter in London, and this store celebrates the one who doesn’t live at Windsor Castle. The Queen Store celebrates the legendary rock band in pop-up fashion, combining a thorough collection of merchandise with genuine museum items documenting the band’s history.

Frieze London: Based in Westminster’s Regent’s Park, Frieze London is the most important event on the London calendar for contemporary artists, collectors and galleries. The fair focuses on living artists and innovators, featuring more than 160 galleries. The event runs October 13-17.

Lakwena at Temple Station: Popular London artist Lakwena recently tranformed the roof of Temple Station in the London Underground into a geometric art installation. The colorful display will be in place until April.

New and Renovated Hotels

Sanctum Soho: A funky boutique hotel in the heart of Central London, the Sanctum Soho offers rock n’ roll decor with a soundtrack to match. Still, it keeps the noise restricted to its rooftop bar and out of the comfortable rooms. The staff is small, but attentive — and the ground floor restaurant varies its offerings between breakfast, lunch and dinner.

St. Ermin’s: Known internationally as London’s “spy hotel,” the classy property’s proximity to Whitehall, #10 Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament has long made it a popular meeting place for powerful people. Now, it’s a friendly home base with cozy food and drink options and a roof full of bees that produce the hotel’s in-house honey.

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The Londoner: This new venue opened less than a month ago as we head to press. Calling itself “boutique,” it feels significantly bigger than that and manages a special engineering feat. It’s right on Leicester Square – one of Central London’s busiest, loudest and (come Friday and Saturday nights) craziest gathering spots. Even in the midst of that weekend fuss, stepping inside The Londoner’s doors shuts all of that out completely and submerges the guest in an environment of peace, hospitality and sophistication. You won’t find better and more personable service at any hotel in London.

New and Reopened Restaurants and Shops

Bar Crispin: Calling itself an all-day, natural wine bar, Bar Crispin is a small, friendly spot in Carnaby offering up small plates to share, ala tapas, to accompany an accessible wine list. In fact, the small plates are really an excuse to work your way through those wine collections. A reservation is a good idea, considering the joint’s popularity and intimate size.

Korean Dinner Party: One of the most entertaining little dining spots in the Carnaby area, Korean Dinner Party offers a fusion menu with Asian flair. We recommend the fried chicken by all means. Meanwhile, the upbeat and helpful service might be the highlight of your visit.

Aquavit: If you came to the city of rain and fog from the land of ice and snow — and you’re missing Norwegian cuisine — you’re in luck at Aquavit. To prove that you can find any sort of international food in the UK capital, Aquavit specializes in the seafood-centric cuisine of Norway. The plating and presentation is sophisticated and the service friendly enough to explain the occasional odd duck on the menu.

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Burger and Lobster: While its name sounds a little like a food-centric law firm or a strange 70s cop show, Burger and Lobster operates with a simple plan — offer a sort of friendly surf and turf with manageable prices. Live lobsters wait to be devoured in the tank as you walk in, unless you opt for the lean burger offerings. We recommend the deep fried lobster burger to hedge your bets.

Plaquemine Lock: You might not be thinking Louisiana bayou food while you’re exploring London, but Plaquemine Lock offers up real Cajun flavor with a New Orleans-centric menu and down-home, friendly service to complete that southern ambiance. We think tourists and locals should make this spot a priority for comfort food.

28-50: Offering different menus throughout the day, 28-50 is all about its award-winning wine list. Still, it’s friendly fair will keep the eager diner satisfied even if he or she doesn’t dig the vino. While it’s a prime place for scheduled wine tastings, we recommend its breakfast outdoors, if the weather holds.

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Mariage Frères: Already a well-established, high-end teahouse franchise, the new Mariage Frères is a massive presence in Covent Garden. Offering hundreds of teas from around the world, visitors can enjoy a brew in-house or take it home. We recommend the full afternoon tea with the selection of sandwiches and cakes so pretty you won’t want to eat them (but you will).

Floris: Operating at full speed out of Jermyn Street just in time for No Time to Die, Floris is home to its iconic #89 – Ian Fleming’s favorite cologne. The crisp, traditional and subtle #89 is only one of several scents worn by the rich and famous (including the likes of Oscar Wilde and Marilyn Monroe). Floris will have new scents for the holiday season shortly.

New Art Galleries and Exhibits

While there is a constantly evolving collection of art galleries across Westminster, you can sample a nice variety of London galleries and get a flavor of what’s to be found in and around that Connaught Village neighborhood.

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The Dellasposa Gallery specializes in contemporary art and is currently offering an eclectic collection of painting and sculpture including works by Damien Hirst and Misha Milanovich. Nearby, the Dorothy Circus Gallery combines today’s emerging artists with the ambiance of a Bohemian tea house. Finally, Kaleidoscope: A Celebration of Colour is a celebration of the late London artist and gallery owner Halima Nalecz. Organized by Robin Dutt, the show makes one wonder if artists want to step out into the post-pandemic world with more joy and a brighter palette.

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