If you’re planning a fall trip to London, you might want to consider experiencing Guy Fawkes Night, otherwise known as Bonfire Night. It’s a wild night and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Most expats I talk to find this entire concept very confusing. A wintery celebration to recognize a bad guy?
Guy Fawkes, the man of the night, apparently tried and failed to blow up parliament in 1605. Now there is a night either honoring his boldness or his capture, I’m not exactly sure which. And no one seems to be able to give me a straight answer. But it’s fine, since with it comes a lot of fun. Set on November 5th, an otherwise boring time of year, you get to congregate with a rowdy crowd and watch fireworks, a huge bonfire, and drink your face off.
My venue of choice is Battersea Park. Their fireworks display is held on the Saturday on or following Guy Fawkes Night. The park becomes the venue for an impressive ticketed food fair surrounding large bonfire and fireworks displays. Around 50,000 people come together to eat and drink around pallets stacked far above the crowd and cheer as they’re set on fire to create the biggest bonfire imaginable. This was the scene of my youth–pallet fires, a bunch of hicks, townies, and teenagers in the woods swigging beer from Bud bottles. Even though, in Battersea, we were sipping on mulled wine, it was kind of nice to see this down-to-earth side of the city that briefly reminded me of home.
With the bonfire also came a very impressive fireworks display. The American in me still cannot not wrap my head around fall fireworks. Who wants to stand outside in the freezing cold to appreciate such beauty? Isn’t it way better to put a blanket down, lay in shorts and a tank top watching the stars before the show begins? Sipping vodka drinks out of thermoses? Listening to some country music with the tailgate down? Ahhh, America.
Anyway, the Battersea Fireworks Display is a pretty amazing one. Reasonably priced at about £10, it’s a long, colorful show in a nice little location. I enjoyed the beautiful walk across the Albert Bridge into the closed off park. I had some nice drinks with great friends and watched one of England’s oldest traditions come alive right before my eyes. It was definitely a great place to experience my first Bonfire Night. I highly recommend.
For a unique London experience, head to Brixton to find one of London’s most diverse and Bohemian neighborhoods. Located in Lambeth, south of the river, Brixton is a hip, youthful area that attracts many visitors for one of its famed markets, Brixton Village. This breezy arcade, on the corner of Coldharbour Lane and Atlantic Road, includes a jumble of restaurants, food stalls, and goods for sale. The attraction houses 128 traders that offer everything from fresh raw fish, to wedding cakes, to handmade tapestries. It is nice to warm yourself with a coffee and wander through the aisles and eclectic shops or sit down and watch the market excitement from one of the little restaurants.
My experience at Brixton Village was different than the day-to-day Notting Hill life–a breath of fresh air. The area is gritty and colorful, almost reminiscent of being on an island vacation. This is probably due to the neighborhoods long-standing Caribbean roots. The actual market is right next to the popular hipster scene, Pop Brixton, so the vibe all around is new and cool. Some areas of the market are a little darker and dirtier than others, so I felt myself clutching my belongings a little tighter, but overall, within the arcade, I found it safe and comfortable. I perused a few little shops while deciding on a place for lunch. The food choices seemed endless, but I was sold on the Senzala Creperie after noticing some healthy vegan options on their menu. I’m not vegan, or even vegetarian, but during the week, I usually make it a goal to eat as healthy and lean as I can. I usually fail miserably, but everyone needs goals, right?
Senzala Creperie was delicious! I had their vegan Rosa Squash crepe (but made it vegetarian by adding gorgonzola #yolo), which included a filling of tomato chutney, butternut squash, zucchini, red pepper confit, arugula, and almonds. It was reasonably priced, a giant portion, and oh so flavorful! I sat in the little window, enjoying the passer-bys, and sipping a cappuccino. It was a lovely restaurant experience with an unusual backdrop. I highly recommend it.
And I’m sure the other restaurants are just as adorable inside and delicious. If I had more time and a larger appetite, I would have stayed there all day, sampling all of the baked goods and cocktails, while getting lost in rows of housewares, clothing, meats, cheeses, and produce. It was enough time, however, to learn that the Brixton Village is a must-do for a very cool view of London.
Atlantic Road and Coldharbour Lane
This Soho hotspot it is a must-do right this second. Seriously, you are missing out if you have yet to visit the hopping Israeli eatery. Bustling with trendy patrons and a helpful, well-dressed staff, The Palomar is the place to be any night of the week. It is pretty impossible to get a last-minute table, but that’s not where you want to be anyway. The Kitchen Bar is where it’s at.
The Kitchen Bar is a first-come, first-serve space, comprised of 16 stools that overlook the entire open kitchen. What’s usually referred to as “the back of the house” is right there in front of you, giving you a front row seat to a flawless performance of tossing, mixing, plating, and sautéing. It is amazing to watch the kitchen ongoings and the friendly and interactive chefs at work. They have a flavorful sharing menu, very similar to the cuisine at Nopi. It was such an experience to order a mix of salads, vegetables, meats, and desserts, have them prepared right before our eyes, and then placed in front of us by their own creators.
And it wasn’t all smoke and mirrors. Those dishes were delicious. Our favorites were absolutely the Polenta Jerusalem Style and the Josperised Aubergine. I am still dreaming of those plates and am actively moving my schedule around to find a free evening to return to that beautiful bar!
Be aware, The Palomar experience is definitely a time commitment. The bar fills up so fast that a visit requires putting a name in early, and drinking and snacking for a couple hours down the street. It’s very doubtful that you will get to sneak in and grab a quick bite just before a show. But it makes for a long, fun, leisurely evening, that’s completely worth it.
I highly recommend The Palomar to anyone and everyone. This Middle Eastern gem in the heart of Soho is beautiful, fun, trendy, classic, delicious, and every other positive adjective I can think of. Enjoy!
34 Rupert Street
London W1D 6DN
Selfridges is my favorite one-stop shop for all of my clothing, accessory, beauty, gifting, and houseware needs. The large, iconic department store, located on Oxford Street, in London, can be seen from a distance with its proud yellow flags waving in the wind.
I might have a slight addiction. I find myself there on most Sundays, but usually with a specific goal in mind. Two weeks ago it was to pick out suits for my husband, last week I needed new bath mats, and yesterday I needed to find a dress for a summer wedding. But I love it there because, whatever I set out to find, I am usually triumphant.
Yesterday, I went in for a dress. Within four hours, I had found, purchased, and fitted that dress, dined with my girlfriends at Hemsley Hemsley, picked up a birthday gift for my brother, got new makeup from the Clinique counter, and purchased snacks for later in the Foodhall. Impressive, right?
There are so many diverse areas within Selfridges that makes an accomplished day like that possible. I recommend checking them all out, but let me just highlight some of my favorites. If you start at the lower ground level, you can visit Muji–simple (and sometimes ingenious) products for everyday living, The Conran Shop–a gorgeous, modern mix of housewares, and the amazing liquor and wine shop.
The ground floor is where you will find high-end jewelry and handbags, makeup, and the Foodhall. The Foodhall is a must-see area. While not as impressive as Harrod’s, there you can purchase amazing prepared foods or high-quality meats and produce, alongside many other grocery items. It’s also a great spot for some specialty gifts. You will also find a few more places to sit and eat when taking a break from shopping.
The first floor has the menswear, the second has designer womenswear and a variety of shoes, and the third has contemporary womenswear and the new Body Studio. This new area focuses on loungewear and exercise tools and attire. There is also a Hemsley Hemsley cafe within the Body Studio. This is where we had lunch during our latest shopping excursion. Hemsley Hemsley, an organic eatery, compliments the department’s healthy message, and was full of ladies lunching on vegetarian burgers and sipping cold-pressed juices. My girlfriends and I enjoyed a healthy, yet filling meal, that helped balance out our guilt for skipping Pilates and the horrible hangovers we were experiencing.
Lastly, the fourth floor (home to the Christmas decorations in the winter) has some more houseware goodies, kids clothing and toys, and some more places to snack. There’s even a Starbucks up there! As you can see, Selfridges really is a one-stop shop. And I didn’t even get into their new PSYCLE bike studio, the book shop, the technology department, sunglasses, additional cafes and restaurants. I would be typing for far too long and there would be nothing left to surprise you. So head to Selfridges and see for yourself why it is my favorite store in London. I might see you there this weekend since I know have a dress to pick up from their tailor. (See always another excuse to pull me back in.) Happy shopping!
Spring is in full swing, and although we get are getting some chilly, cloudy days, there’s still plenty of sunshine to enjoy all of the open-air activities that London has to offer. I decided to take advantage of the spring weather this past Saturday and headed to Borough Market. Just a short tube ride to Southwark’s London Bridge station can offer you a brilliant view of or visit to the shard and then one of the oldest food markets in London!
It’s hard to imagine a market that could be older to rival their claim. At over 1000 years in Southwark, Borough Market brings together traders of fine and fresh wines, cheeses, produce, meats, fish and prepared foods. The full market is open Wednesday through Saturday. You could pop in for their lunch market only, open Mondays and Tuesdays, but you really need to experience the market in full swing. Saturdays are very crowded, but the energy is great. I like to hop into one of the pubs, like the The Market Porter, that spill out onto the street with happy drinkers. After I’m nice and warm, relaxed, and have worked up an appetite, I wander the market.
I usually set out to get something for lunch, which typically ends with me filling up on endless samples of cheese. The cheese there is my favorite. Each stall is happy to give you tastes and education on the varieties. My favorite stall is The French Comte. A reasonably priced cheese and charcuterie booth that has a helpful staff and sells my favorite Mont d’Or Vacherin in its cute little box for only £10.00.
If you’re hungry for more than just cheese, Borough Market has every prepared food imaginable. Paella, cheeseburgers, pulled pork, empanadas, donuts, cannolis. I could go on and on. But, trust me, whatever your cravings are, Borough Market will fulfill them.
Once I’m reasonably full, I then shop for gourmet items to add to my pantry. Borough Market has many fine grocery traders, offering more samples to showcase their different olive oils, vinegars and spices. These items also make really nice gifts. Not everyone will buy themselves a £15.00 truffle-infused olive oil, but what a nice treat to have! Then, right before I head out, I pick up the fresh ingredients I need for dinner that night or the next. Nice produce, steaks, a baguette, and my Mont d’Or, and my day is complete! And what a great day, filled with fresh food, pints, snacks, samples, cheese, and fresh air! Enjoy all that Borough Market has to offer this spring in South London!
Okay, the name may be difficult to recall (or even say for that matter), but the little Italian wine bar on the corner of Westbourne Grove and Portobello Road, in Notting Hill, is definitely worth remembering.
Negozio Classica stands out with its inviting red exterior. From the road, you can see the warm wine bar full of young couples and groups, caught up in romantic and intense conversations around tables full of wine and small plates. They are relaxed and cozy, as if they’re in their own homes, solving the world’s problems over nice bottles of red and plates of cheese. The place actually feels like a living room. There’s even a floor lamp for lighting, which I cannot recall ever seeing in any restaurant before. That lamp illuminates a framed map and some bookshelves, making the line between a public restaurant and a friend’s house very fuzzy.
The wine menu had a nice variety of types and prices. My husband enjoyed £17.00 glasses of Brunello and I got very drunk on £7.oo dry whites. That sentence basically sums us right up. But, anyway, the food menu was a little confusing at first. We were not sure if everything was to be considered small, sharing plates, or if there were in fact proper entrees. We chose to go the starter and separate entrees route, which worked just fine, but you could definitely go either way. The gorgonzola bruschetta was absolutely delicious. Whipped into a mousse with truffles and then swirled onto fresh bread, the dish was divine. We were worried that we didn’t order enough food, but ended up not finishing our steak salad and pasta dish. Which was unfortunate because they were both really fresh with outstanding flavors.
Overall, we had a great night at Negozio Classica. We will definitely head back for more wine, an impromptu lunch, or another weeknight dinner. I don’t know if it is where we would head for a full Saturday night dinner, since the menu is pretty limited and the atmosphere is casual, but by all means try it. The friendly staff will be ready to welcome you.
A hair salon with a cocktail menu, how can that be anything but a Do?! My experience at Taylor Taylor was too much fun. And I needed that after all of the horrible Aveda experiences that I have previously shared with you.
Taylor Taylor is located on Portobello Road in Notting Hill. Since I was so over Aveda, and had friends recommend this place, I decided to check it out for myself. I went to their website and booked a £64 (cheaper than Aveda) cut/blow dry appointment online. I love 2016 and online bookings. I never want to use the telephone for anything but non-telephone related activities ever again. Their website is easy and I got a time slot right away. And that’s not for a lack of clients. They always seem to have a regular, healthy flow of customers when I walk by and peek in their large windows.
The decor at Taylor Taylor is not exactly my taste, but I did really like the gold basement shampoo room. The sink and chairs were comfortable and allowed for me to lay back with my feet up and stare at the gold gilded ceiling and a pretty cool peacock painting. In the gold room, I received a nice little scalp massage with my wash. Then, I headed back upstairs walking by some pretty cool wallpaper.
Upstairs, I had one of their signature bellinis waiting for me. It was delicious and made the whole experience extra decadent and fun. Everyone seemed friendly and I enjoyed chatting with the stylist as I got more and more drunk. At the end, the cut looked great! I was afraid I had Bellini goggles, but even the next day I was still in awe of my new ‘do. It even passed my test of looking great after my unprofessional hands tried to style it! That’s what I call a success. Therefore, I’m definitely going to head back to Taylor Taylor. A do for my do!
The Westbourne is where the cool kids like to go. The “sceney” pub is a summer hotspot right in the heart of Notting Hill. Instead of your typical corner pub that circles around a bar, The Westbourne is just a big open space filled with a hodgepodge of minimalist and antique tables. These tables are rammed together and full of drinkers and diners. The tables are first come first serve and make for a great place to just chill.
The real draw to The Westbourne, though, is their equally open and spacious outside seating. There are not too many places with outside, sun-facing tables. At The Westbourne, a 100 people can squeeze into the squared off front and enjoy the sun right up until it sets. The outside gets packed with a mix of young money, dressed up in designer streetwear, and hip Notting Hill parents that down pints as their kids wander around. It’s such a cool mix of people and the vibe on a sunny day is like you’re on a beach holiday. No cares, just relaxed, drinking in the sunshine.
The food at The Westbourne is pretty good, too. I sat with friends and had pints and then wine while we shared the hummus and cheese plate. I also had their baked goat cheese salad with sweet potato. Both dishes were amazing, and I left full and drunk for under £30.00. Can’t beat that!
The Westbourne is just a fun place to have a low-key weeknight dinner or to stop in to get your Saturday night rolling. Pregame in the sunshine outside, or get cozy inside during the winter months. Regardless, of when you go, there will be a nice little crowd and it will be worth the trip.
101 Westbourne Park Villas
London w2 5ED
A girl and her hairdresser have a very sacred bond. It’s a relationship that can take a long time to acquire and develop. Finding the right hairdresser is a bit like finding a husband. You have to go through a lot of frogs and sit in a lot of chairs before finding The One. When you find The One, you don’t let him go. You make time for him in your schedule, listen to his advice, and treat him very well at Christmas.
But, unfortunately, sometimes even the greatest relationships are torn apart. There are a number of reasons why, but for me, it was a move. I had been with Jesse for a number of years. There were many others before him but no one stuck. I had even been called a “chair tramp” at one point in my life. Could you imagine! I didn’t mean to hop around from salon chair to salon chair, I just needed someone who could fulfill my simple request. I wanted a cut that looked great at the salon and when I did my hair the next day. I always looked great leaving the salon. The same affect those skinny mirrors have on your body when you try on clothing at a store. But, when you get home, you may be looking at something completely different.
After my first cut with Jesse, I came out of the salon looking like a bombshell (as usual), but the shape of the cut finally stayed awesome. Even a month later with an air-dry! I had found my person! With him I was comfortable and willing to experiment with maybe a few lowlights, some bangs, and even a subtle ombré. It was a very exciting time in my life. Then, having to leave Jesse for London was almost as hard as leaving my family and friends. It was a huge loss and I knew I would be taking backwards steps to the “chair tramp” days of my life to find someone new all over again! This long, painful journey is what has led me to this giant DON’T!
Gina Conway Aveda is a rip-off. Plain and simple. It is not a true Aveda salon, but instead a “partner”, which takes existing salons and allows them to flash the recognizable Aveda name by their commitment solely to Aveda’s product range and their branding. This name could work wonders for the salon attached to it. Aveda has had a great reputation. At one time I used to love Aveda. I used to think their hand cream was magical. Now I don’t want any of it. Anywhere. Ever again.
With my Ayurvedic medicine fascination, you would think the inspired Aveda brand would be right up my alley. That’s partially why I did love it in the beginning of my beauty regimen life. Now, I view Aveda as a sellout with nothing holistic going on–especially at Gina Conway Aveda on Westbourne Grove.
Gina Conway Aveda is an uncomfortable experience from beginning to end. You walk into a busy salon that does not have proper air conditioning. It is so hot that you immediately shed your jacket and watch them shove it into a messy closet. If you’re getting a facial, you are brought downstairs to a dark, humid basement. There, an unfriendly and aggressive aesthetician attacks your face in an impersonal manner. There’s no friendly banter. There’s nothing. Just a one-hour time slot to get her job done, and then on to the next victim.
If you’re getting a haircut, you are brought down to another area of the basement for a wash. In this area, they try to be original by having you sit first in a chair for a massage. You get to select the scent of the oil they use and then the massage lasts about 30 seconds. The theatrics of it all is laughable and a waste of time. I would prefer a longer massage at the sink like a normal place. But then again…that’s only if their sink works properly. For over a month (!) the salon did not have any hot water! Their boiler was broken and the unprofessional staff told me that Gina was taking forever to fix it and that I should complain because it would increase the chances of getting it fixed! She then, at the end of the wash, offered to boil water. It was a little too late. What I would have really liked was a heads up or perhaps a discount for the inconvenience.
But nope, no discounts at Gina Conway Aveda. And all the services come with higher price tags. Cuts average £75 between all of their stylist levels. Facials average about £87/hour. These prices would not seem so harsh to me if the salon was a comfortable temperature, with a friendly staff, and you know, HOT WATER.
Another gripe I have with the salon, is the constant upselling. I could never trust anyone there. Behind every hair or skincare tip was always another product to buy. The facialists never even gave consistent suggestions–constantly offering different products and trying to switch my skincare regimen monthly. They made me feel like just another number that they could squeeze dry.
Seriously, don’t waste your time at this salon. At Gina Conway Aveda, you won’t feel special or relaxed at all. You’ll feel taken advantage of. London is a huge city with a ton of other hair and skincare options. Stay tuned while I explore them for you!
Aveda Lifestyles Salon
62 Westbourne Grove
London W2 5SH
With the slogan “The most authentic diner this side of the Brooklyn Bridge,” I knew Lucky 7 in Notting Hill was going to fill a huge void for me. The void being the empty part of my stomach that has longed for an amazing cheeseburger since I moved to London.
Cheeseburgers and fries are as American as it can get. They’re what turned McDonald’s into a multi-BILLION dollar brand and the United States into the most obese country in the world. If you google what is the most American food, you get pictures of cheeseburgers and then some pretty incredible variations that include cheesy patties sandwiched between donuts or breasts of fried chicken. #Merica!
Ahh, the cheeseburger. The perfect late-night snack, hangover cure, picnic must-have, crowd-pleaser. Cheeseburgers for everyone all the time! And then I moved to England. Where the meat is not fatty and full of flavor and the patties are too thick and dry. Where there is a mild cheddar barely melted on top instead of a salty, gooey slice of American cheese. Where the bun is just blah and the only thing you can say to comfort yourself is “it’s much healthier here.” Now, English people may not get this obsession, and love their own burgers, which is fine. To each their own. But for me, being brought up in America, I need each bite to be an explosion of flavor in my mouth.
So with every hangover in London, I found myself depressed that I hadn’t yet found my cheeseburger cure. That was until I found Lucky 7! An American-themed diner that would join my list of places to combat homesickness, located on Westbourne Park Road in West London. The place is set up like a true diner with large booths, soda pop decor, and peg letter menu boards. They have everything you could want at a diner! Chili cheese fries, milkshakes, burgers, even pancakes! And everything tastes AMAZING! My only complaint is the pickle. I still have yet to find a good, salty pickle in London. Every time I get a pickle alongside my meal, it’s always sweet. But I’m asking for too much, I know. Its just that there’s always something that reminds you you’re not in America with these themed places. But that’s okay! I had found my cheeseburger!!!
I’m a little too excited right now, I know, but it’s almost lunchtime and this burger picture is making me giddy. Please, if you are an expat missing America, or from another country and want to understand what Americans make a fuss over, go check out Lucky 7. You won’t regret it. (Until you have to run twice as long at the gym the next day.) Enjoy!