A Local’s Guide to London, England

Martin Ballard, head concierge at the iconic Claridge’s hotel, shares his favourite spots, including where to shop, eat and drink.
 

Photo courtesy of Claridge’s

For Martin Ballard, head concierge at iconic five-star hotel Claridge’s, London is a world apart when it comes to restaurants, pubs and shops. Below, Ballard shares a few of his insider secrets.

Diamond in the rough

The Dove in Chiswick is a very old pub set on the River Thames, and is rumoured to be where poet James Thomson composed ‘Rule Britannia.’ They do great fish and chips, which I like to wash down with a pint of bitter.”

Neighbourhood restaurant

“It has to be Chez Bruce on Bellevue Road in Wandsworth. It’s my favourite French restaurant, with a wonderful view of Wandsworth Common, fabulous food and a fantastic wine list.”

Perfect day

“I’d start on Jermyn Street in St. James’s, shopping in Turnbull & Asser for new shirts, followed by lunch at Wiltons, one of London’s oldest and most traditional restaurants. I’d order crab salad, followed by Dover sole and a glass of Chablis, then finish the day at my favourite theatre, The Old Vic, to see a performance.

Best-kept secret

The Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House is the definition of a hidden gem. It has 66 Reubens and one of the best Impressionist art collections in the world.”

The Courtauld Gallery, photo by Ian Dagnall/Alamy

Shopping spot

Heywood Hill bookshop on Curzon Street is one of my all-time favourites. It’s owned by the Duke of Devonshire and sells a mix of old, new and antiquarian books and has been in business since 1936.”

Favourite café

The Wolseley, without doubt. It’s not exactly under-the-radar, but it’s such a British institution, it deserves special mention. The building is an old bank and there’s always a great atmosphere. You’re sure to spot someone famous there, too. I’ll order the eggs Benedict at any time of the day or night.”

Best celebrity story

“Being [at Claridge’s] for more than 30 years, I have so many good stories, but one of the standouts is the day I met Audrey Hepburn and her son. It was 1986 and The Phantom of the Opera had just opened in the West End. Tickets were like gold dust, and Ms. Hepburn wanted to go. I managed to get two—just.”

The pinch-me London moment

“The view from London Bridge looking to the city is unbeatable. If you look to the left, you have the Tower of London, one of the city’s oldest buildings, and to the right is one of the newest, tallest buildings, The Shard. It’s London at its finest, showcasing old and new, side by side. Also, whenever I walk past the Houses of Parliament, I feel very patriotic and proud to be British.”

Getting there: WestJet flies to London four times a day from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and St. John’s.

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