Have Yourself a Luxurious London Christmas

In case you’re feeling the need for a little luxury this holiday season, we’ve rounded up some gift ideas that might come in handy whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of things.

This year, Harrods, that venerable institution dedicated to conspicuous consumption, has chosen
the classic British steam train as the theme for their holiday windows.

 
 
 
Of course, what Harrods is famous for are it’s hampers and this Christmas, Harrods offers it’s Decadence Hamper at a mere twenty thousand pounds.
 
 
 

Filled with everything one might need for an over the top culinary Christmas, the Decadence Hamper includes such staples as goose foie gras flavoured with truffle, Beluga caviar, table top decorations, a variety of cheese, mince pies, meats, jams, puddings, a Christmas cake and enough high end wines and liquors to make Mr. Carson envious. The hamper also includes Christmas crackers, but we doubt they can compare to those offered this year by Tiffany and Co.

 

The Tiffany and Co. Christmas Cracker, £180,000,  is available at the Bond Street Store and includes eleven pieces of Tiffany jewelry: a circlet diamond necklace in platinum, a pink tourmaline ring, Cobblestone earrings in platinum with diamonds, a yellow diamond ring, 8.75 carat aquamarine ring in platinum and a Marquise diamond cluster bracelet.


Should you prefer your jewels to come complete with historic provenance, you may want to turn to one of London’s venerable auction houses. Here’s a little something we found from the Sotheby’s Fine Jewelry auction that took place on December 13th in London –

 
                
 
                                                    
 
Diamond tiara, circa 1900 – The centre designed as two wreaths, each swing-set to the centre with circular-cut and pear-shaped diamonds, between two modified rectangular panels of open work floral and foliate design, set with circular-cut and rose diamonds, inner circumference approximately 290mm, central motif detachable and can be worn as a brooch or pendant, the panels can be worn as brooches. Sold for 18,750 GBP                 
Should selecting gifts for everyone on your list become overwhelming, head to Selfridge’s, where this year they are offering shoppers their very own Elfridge.

The festively attired elves have been sprinkled about the Oxford Street store to guide shoppers through departments, find the perfect gifts, gift wrap and carry packages and hail taxis.

Of course, you’ll need to put all of those pretty packages under a tree and for inspiration on that score we direct you to The Goring Hotel and it’s 2013 Luxury Christmas Tree Collection.  This year, the trees have been created by iconic British brands including The Real Flower Company, Olivia Von Halle and Honeyjam. You can read more and see all of the trees here.

Once your shopping has been completed, reward yourself by booking in for Claridge’s Timeless Christmas offer that includes:

  • A two night stay in Claridge’s
  • Welcome bottle of champagne and festive treats in room on arrival
  • Overnight stocking delivery filled with edible delights for the younger guests
  • English breakfast on Christmas Day
  • Horse-drawn carriage ride through Mayfair on Christmas morning with refreshments
  • 5-course Christmas Day lunch in Claridge’s Ballroom
  • Boxing Day breakfast
                            
From £860 per room per night (including all taxes).

 

On The Shelf: A London Year

A London Year: 365 Days of City Life
in Diaries, Journals and Letters
Edited by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison

Not since Hibbert and Weintraub edited The London Encyclopedia has there been a book that has taken London history and served it up in so enjoyable, usable and entertaining a package. Taking entries from letters, diaries and journals written by over 200 people, from Tudor times to nearly the present, editors Elborough and Rennison break them down by date and offer them up in daily entries covering the 365 days of the year. Often, days have more than one entry and it’s amusing to hear the different voices of diarists who have lived in the same place across the centuries.

By turns chatty, introspective, informative, superfluous, descriptive, evocative and nonsensical, A London Year is a big, doorstop of a book that should be kept at the bed or fireside and dipped into at intervals as a treat. You’ll want to devour it at one sitting, but I urge you to instead savour it’s contents a bit at a time – and then go back to the beginning and start again. Otherwise, the book may prove addictive. This is truly a Christmas present of a book for everyone who loves London, even if that person should happen to be yourself.

Here are just a few entries from A London Year to whet your appetite:

William Bray, Diary, 1757

To Drury Lane Theatre: King Lear by Garrick. Agreed with the barber for shaving me at 6s. a quarter.

Lord Byron, Journal, 1813

Two nights ago I saw the tigers sup at Exeter Change. Such a conversazion! – There was a ‘hippopotamus,’ like Lord Liverpool in the face; and the ‘Ursine Sloth’ hath the very voice and manner of my valet – but the tiger talked too much. The elephant took and gave me my money again – took off my hat – opened a door – trunked a whip – and behaved so well that I wish he was my butler . . . .


Frank Hurley, Diary, 1916

All London is excitement on account of a Zeppelin raid which took place in the small hours of this morning. Four Zeppelins participated and two were brought down. Late at noon, a German seaplane dropped a bomb just in front of Harrods.

Noel Coward, Diaries, 1951

Went to the Tower Pier at six to go on a yacht party up the river. Very grand and enjoyable, particularly coming back and looking at the South Bank, which looks like a dog’s dinner, and the North Bank – floodlit – which with St. Paul’s, Somerset House, The Houses of Parliament, etc., was breathtakingly lovely. Felt tears spring to my eyes when one of the ship’s crew nudged me and said, “How’s this for `London Pride’, eh?'”

Charles Greville, Diary, 1830

I went yesterday to the sale of the late King’s wardrobe, which was numerous enough to fill Monmouth Street, and sufficiently various and splendid for the wardrobe of Drury Lane. He hardly ever gave away anything except his linen, which was distributed every year Theses clothes are the perquisite of his pages, and will fetch a pretty sum. There are all the coats he has ever had for fifty years, 500 whips, canes without number, every sort of uniform, the costumes of all the orders in Europe, splendid furs, pelisses, hunting coats and breeches, and among other things a dozen pair of corduroy breeches he had made to hunt in when Don Miguel was here. His profusion in these articles was unbounded, because he never paid for them, and his memory was so accurate that one of his pages told me he recollected every article of dress, no matter how old, and that they were always liable to be called on to produce some particular coat or other article of apparel of years gone by. It is difficult to say whether in great or little things that man was most odious and contemptible.

Sir Roy Strong, Diary, 1969

I arrived early at 115 Ebury Street . . . . in a flat painted all over in a particularly awful shade of 1940s green. But he did have good pictures by Mathew Smith and Graham Sutherland. It had never crossed my mind what kind of party this was to be but that began rapidly to dawn on me as not a woman appeared and twenty men gradually filled the room. I left as soon as I could decently extricate myself, appalled at the sight, amongst other things, of all those bottles of cosmetics ranked above his dressing table.

Nathaniel Bryceson, Diary, 1846

Old Walker, proprietor of the hotel, 33 Dean Street, Soho, corner of Queen Street, has had his house lately pointed down and painted, and has this day had a square lamp fixed, lit with gas which till now has been a round one with tin top and lit with oil, and which was no doubt the original one put up when the house was built, which is about 160 years. This is an alteration which I am both surprised and displeased at as the house preserved its ancient look so like hotel and tavern of the 17th century. The proprietor thereof is very old both in years and fashion, wearing at all times a black suit with breeches and black stockings, and as I have heard saw Margaret Nicholson attempt to stab George III.

Evelyn Waugh, Letter to Nancy Mitford, 1955

I knew a woman who could not bear to say `W.C.’ for the London postal district because of its indelicate associations and always said `West Central.’

R.D. Blumenfeld, R.D.B.’s Diary, 1900

Yerkes, the projector of the new Charing Cross, Euston, and Hampstead electric underground, said to me that in spite of the opposition which he meets at every turn he proposes to go ahead with it. He has secured the backing of some large American financiers to the extent of $30,000,000, and he predicted to me that a generation hence London will be completely transformed; that people will think nothing of living twenty or more miles from town, owing to electrified trains. He also thinks that the horse omnibus is doomed. Twenty years hence, he says, there will be no horse omnibus in London. Although he is a very shrewd man, I think he is a good deal of a dreamer.

Sydney Smith, Letter to the Countess Grey, 1834

I am better in health, avoiding all fermented liquors, and drinking nothing but London water, with a million insects in every drop. He who drinks a tumbler of London water has literally in his stomach more animated beings than there are men, women and children on the face of the globe.

Dickon Edwards, Diary, 2005

After viewing Mr. Nicholson Senior’s art at the RA, I sit in Borders Books Café, Charing Cross Road. The café is now a Starbucks, so I only use it if the one in Foyles (still an independent family business) is full up. And then, as I do in all Starbucks, I only ever order tea. Tea drinking as a revolutionary act, I like to think. The joke’s on me, as their tea is revolting. Clever, very clever . . . . .

 
A London Year, Frances Lincoln, ISBN 9780711234499

Dining In Berkeley Square

London residents and visitors alike looking for a peaceful and engaging afternoon spent in good company might do much worse than a stroll around Berkeley Square followed by some fine dining at one of the nearby restaurants.

While it may not be a major London attraction, Berkeley Square certainly has its fair share of history – Maggs Brothers Books has been trading from Number 50 since 1853 and  Gunter’s Tea Shop once stood at Nos. 7 and 8. Berkeley Square is still a light and airy space with a number of interesting features; two statues over 150 years apart can be found within the square as well as the iconic pump house dating back to 1800 which sits at the centre of the four quadrants that makeup the space.

From Berkeley Square you can make it to Oxford Street and Regent Street in just a few minutes on foot, however the Square itself remains relatively quiet and laid-back despite its central location. It’s a great location to unwind after a busy day walking the streets for the latest in innovative Christmas gifts and at just 6 minutes’ walk from Green Park tube station you can access the rest of London in no time at all.

A walk in the square followed by dinner at one of the many surrounding restaurants can make the perfect end to a busy day. With that said let’s take a look at some of the top choice for dining near Berkeley Square.

The Guinea Grill

30 Bruton Place, Mayfair, London, W1J 6NL (see map)

 

 

While prices may be just the wrong side of dear The Guinea Grill is the perfect destination for those on the lookout for truly traditional British food. An atmospheric, dimly lit location provides the perfect setting to warm up, with a selection of cooked-to-perfection steaks and a fine assortment of savoury pies, during those cold winter months. Seating is said to be a little on the cramped side however the staff are excellent and provide a warm and welcoming front to what it a very class and well established (since 1952) dining location near Berkeley Square. History: A tavern has existed on this spot since the 15th century. Bruton Place formerly housed the stables and coach houses of the residents of the Square. Look closely and you’ll find vestiges of this use in the existing architecture and hardware on the street. Mayfair servants, including coachmen and footmen, frequented the Guinea Tavern, as well as the nearby Coach and Horses and The Only Running Footman (below).

The Punch Bowl

41 Farm Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 5RP (see map)

 

 
A place brimming with history The Punch Bowl has been around since 1750 as a public house and is currently a grade two listed building. Until recently the pub was owned by Guy Ritchie and has had a stream of a-list celebrities for customers over the past years. On to the dining itself and you can expect the standard range of British fare and pub classics at The Punch Bowl with reasonable prices (for Mayfair) to boot. Maybe not the pick of the bunch when it comes to dining, The Punch Bowl as a location is hard to surpass and is almost always full with happy diners. History: Farm Street takes it’s name from Hay Hill Farm, as the area was known in the 1700’s. Building began on the stables and mews in the street in the 1740’s.

The Only Running Footman

5 Charles Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 5DF (see map)

 

 
Just a minutes’ walk from Berkeley Square The Only Running Footman is certainly accessible for that after stroll dinner. The pub come restaurant is set out over four floors with the upper three offering fine dining and the ground floor serving up a well-rounded selection of pub grub. Perhaps better known for its atmospheric and roaring downstairs pub than quiet and relaxed upstairs dining, The Only Running Footman provides a plentiful menu at reasonable prices; you can expect efficient and friendly service from the staff. History: Originally called The Running Horse, a pub has stood on this spot since 1749, at least.

Greig’s Grill

26 Bruton Place, Mayfair, London, W1J 6NG (see map)

 

 
Another steakhouse, Greig’s Grill is all about the steaks which never fail to get rave reviews. Large, exquisitely cooked steaks are the bread and butter at Greig’s and you’d really be missing out if this was not your dish of choice; not least because of the mediocre reviews accompanying their other offerings. An old-fashioned traditional feel complete with wood panelling and luxurious chandeliers help to give the place an authentic feel. Prices for steak are reasonable although you may find you get a little less than you paid for with some of the other dishes. The staff are dependable and the wine equally easy on the pocket as the steaks.

Annabel’s

44 Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, W1J 5QB (see map)

 

 

With one of the biggest reputations in London, some may argue the world, Annabel’s is best known as an elegant nightclub where old-time rockers, aspiring business women and of course the regulars converge at this members only location situated within Berkeley Square. You’ll hear little of the food, which is described as good and dependable, because it’s all about the experience of being at one of London’s top and most exclusive clubs. Expect an expensive night and bear in mind that the biggest barrier may well be getting invited; being a members only club you’ll either need to signup or be invited by an existing member. History: Opened in 1963 by Mark Birley, the Club’s earliest members included Frank Sinatra and Princess Margaret. Ownership changed hands in 2007, when Annabel’s was purchased by Richard Caring, who also owns The Ivy.

A Guest Post – “Better it is to Get Wisdom than Gold.”

By Guest Blogger Mandi

 
 

Images and the journey itself courtesy of amitours.co.uk

Recently I took a ride in a cab through the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. I was tasked with producing photos of the taxi in action; an out and about photo shoot. South Kensington in particular is an area I felt I was already very familiar with having gotten to know it well during my time at the Royal College of Art, where I’d studied two years previous. I was quite wrong! It’s quite interesting how used to your surrounding environment you get without ever actually paying it any particular attention. At the time I would walk around with my mind fixed on a destination, not necessarily absorbing myself with what was around me in the present.

I already understood the anatomy of the area. The Royal college of Art, the Royal College of Music, the Imperial College, the V&A, the Natural History Museum (above), the Science Museum and the Royal Albert Hall. To me these were just all convenient nearby attractions. I had never thought of the reasoning for their close proximity until researching the area for the photo shoot. So here we are, the reason.

 Albertropolis!

In the summer of 1851 the Great Exhibition brought a celebration of creativity – the best of human creativity – to this small borough of London. Pulling together two realms that previously could not have been further apart: Science and Art. 

 
The Victoria and Albert Museum
 
 
The reconciliation between the two began at The Great Exhibition in nearby Hyde Park, then shortly after Prince Albert pushed for this area to be bought by the Royal Commission with the profits made. This area was then built up to encourage a community where science and art could coexist, if not crossover. The nearby museums could aid the practitioners of science and art alike.

Of course this was all built up overtime and a lot of the original institutions have long since vanished.  Interestingly the central axis of the Imperial College, the Royal Albert Hall and the Albert memorial are all aligned, appearing set to stay. This slight detail that goes unnoticed to the everyday visitor as it is only viewable from the Queen’s Balcony (rarely open to the public). The axis ties together the marriage of art and science: an arts institution, a science institution to the facilitator: Price Albert.

The Albert Memorial

“Better it is to Get Wisdom than Gold”

The memorial was commissioned ten years after The Great Exhibition because of Prince Albert’s sudden death in 1861. The area was affectionately named Albertropolis, although this is more or less forgotten these days as the area has become known as South Kensington. It’s a shame as we have a lot to owe him. Prince Albert was an advocate of self learning and encouraged the opening of museums and libraries to the public – before which these were places of the academic, the researcher. This was a truly ground breaking endeavour; one which we now take for granted.

Without Prince Albert I may have not received the education I did in one of the world’s most densely populated and successful cultural quarters. 
 
Visit the Amitours website, the friendliest taxi fleet in London, for all your taxi, minicab and airport transfer needs.

The Wellington Tour – London By Night

Recently, Victoria and I embarked on another of those musing, rambling, disjointed conversations we often have about London.

“We’d better figure out exactly what we want to do in London on the Tour so Patty will be able to start blocking out all the travel details,” I said to Victoria.

“What travel details?” she asked.

“Hotel rooms, motor coach and driver, meals, admissions. Like that.”

“Thank God we have Patty and Novel Explorations for all that. We can concentrate on all the fun stuff instead.”

“We should stay in either Victoria or Mayfair. That way, we’ll be in walking distance to everything.”

“Yeah,” Victoria agreed before staring off into the distance, no doubt dreaming of walking the streets of London again. I began thinking of London myself. In my mind’s eye, I walked down Buckingham Palace Road – the Royal Mews, the giftshop next door, down the sidewalk and round to the left in order to stare through the gates at Buckingham Palace. Sigh.

We sat in silence for a time until I finally said, “We have to take the Tour to see the Palace at night.”

“Definitely,” Victoria agreed. “But what happens if some of the people on our Tour have already seen the Palace?”

“How many times have you seen it?”

“Jeez, I don’t know. Lots.”

“And we still go back and gawk at it every time we’re there, right? Believe me, no one will complain about seeing the Palace at night.”

“Then we can toddle our way up to Apsley House and see that at night,” Victoria sighed.

“Then we can walk down Piccadilly to St. James’s Street and do all the Lions.”

Victoria gave me an odd look. “The lions are in Trafalgar Square.”

“Not those lions. The pubs. The Red Lion, the Golden Lion . . . . . “

“Oh, we’ve got to take them to the Golden Lion, it’s like stepping back in time. And if we do that, then we’ve got to walk down the street to Almack’s.”

“Definitely. We can tell the group about Wellington’s being refused admission because he was wearing boots.”

“I thought it was because he arrived after eleven o’clock.”

“Depends which version of the story you want to believe,” I said. “I can just see Wellington strolling through the Park to Almack’s. Can you picture it?”

“Walk? Wouldn’t he have ridden there?”

“Nah. Then he’d have to put his horse somewhere. Much faster and easier to walk. Think about it. He’d only have had to cross the road in front of Apsley House and then cut through Green Park diagonally and he’d have been in King Street.”

“He’d have had to cut through somewhere to get to St. James’s Street,” Victoria mused.

“He could easily have cut through the back of Spencer House.”

“Spencer House? Cut through Spencer House?”

“We’re talking about the Duke of Wellington here. Do you really think Earl Spencer was going to tell him that he couldn’t cut through his yard?”

In response to this, Victoria said, “If we’re going to go to King Street, then we might as well just walk down another block to St. James’s Palace.”

“I love seeing London by night,” I sighed.

“Yeah. The streets are empty, it’s quiet and you can actually imagine that it’s 1805 again.”

“Cobblestones.”

“Hmmm. Damp cobblestones,” Victoria said.

“Damp cobblestones shining in the lamplight. And it’s got to be the tiniest bit chilly.”

“Definitely. Not actually cold, though.”

“No,” I agreed, “not cold. Just nippy.”

“Just nippy enough for us to be able to drop into the Golden Lion and casually order a glass of port.”

“Ooooh, port.”

“So Wellington, no?” Victoria asked.

“Oporto,” I said, prompting both of us to stare off into the middle distance for the next few minutes.

“Have you ever been to Duke’s Hotel?” I finally asked.

“No. Why?”

“They’re supposed to have a fabulous bar. I’ve always meant to go, but time just gets away from me when I’m in London. We should stop in there for a drink.”

“What’s the Wellington connection to Duke’s?” Victoria asked.

“Er, it’s called Duke’s?”

“Yes, but not that Duke, is it?”

“I don’t think so, but it’s definitely a part of Wellington’s London. Not to mention that it’s in the same street as Spencer House, so Artie would definitely have known it. I think it was lodgings for wealthy bachelors back then. And Mrs. Delaney lived in the street, too.”

“Isn’t that where Domenico Angelo had his school?” Vicky asked.

“Who?”

“Angelo. The fencing master.”

“Ah. Could be. Google it,” I suggested.

Victoria Googled, using her tablet. “St. James’s Place. Let’s see . . . . Spencer House . . . . Duke’s Hotel . . . . Oh, God, listen to this, there’s a Blue Plaque in St. James’s Place for William Huskisson!”

Our William Huskisson?”

“Yes, our William Huskisson, the one who was run over by the train right in front of Wellington. England’s first railroad fatality.”

“Well that seals the deal then. We’re going. And we’ll drink a toast to him in the bar of Duke’s Hotel.”

“Oooh, this is such fun!”

“It is. And we’ve got the whole rest of the tour to flesh out. This is just about three hours of it, so far.”

“I can’t wait to go,” Victoria said wistfully.

“Don’t get too excited. We have almost an entire year to wait. Why did we plan it so far in the future? What were we thinking?”

“I guess we’re just gluttons for punishment.”

You are cordially invited to join us September 4-14, 2014!
Find Complete Itinerary and Details of the Wellington Tour Here