Trip Recaps

January 2024 Trip Recap: Museums, Meals & More, Oh My!

Editor’s Note: As part of an effort to share the real stories, experiences, and expertise of the London On My Mind team, I’m excited to share this trip recap from one of our top writers. As you’ll see, Zhen’s love of food (which she shares on her own blog) comes through when she travels to London too – there are a lot of great restaurant recommendations in this post, plus a number of other attractions she’ll be writing dedicated reviews for in future months. – Valerie

Hi all, Zhen here again. If you read my November London trip recap, you may be surprised to hear that I went back to London again last month. (Lucky me!) This was the first of three trips I have planned to the UK in 2024, so I’m quite pleased with my vacation outlook for the year.

This time in London, I was solo, and most of my time was spent visiting museums, meeting friends, checking out new restaurants, and taking baking classes. If you enjoy gourmet travel, this post may be interesting to you!

London Trip Recap

January Trip Recap Hero

Below you’ll find a detailed account of each day I spent in London on this trip. As you’ll see, I packed a lot in but still had plenty of time to enjoy some new experiences in London.

Day 0 / January 17 – Due to my extensive travel plans, I needed to keep to a stricter budget, and thus took the tube to my hotel (instead of a cab or the more expensive Heathrow Express.) The bright side is that the Picadilly line stops pretty close to my hotel, the Cheval Harrington, at which I stayed in November and stayed again, is next to South Kensington tube station.

Unfortunately, en route, I suddenly remembered that South Kensington is not a step-free station, so I had to get off at Earl’s Court (I am not a light packer and the latter has lift access.) Keeping my budget firmly in mind, I decided to walk to South Kensington; I definitely underestimated how difficult it can be to lug a heavy suitcase over London’s bumpy pavements – which is why packing light(er) is always better!

The plane arrived rather early so I reached the hotel hours before the check-in time. They only have 40-ish rooms and are pretty popular (i.e. the rooms are usually all occupied), so they were able to allow me in early. I dropped off my suitcases, then headed to the nearby Brother Marcus for a pick-me-up. (More on this later – I’ll go into details about all the various places I dined at in the Restaurants section below.)

After that, I walked to Westfield at Shepherd’s Bush, as I wanted to get some scrapbooking supplies from The Works, a budget bookshop where you can find good deals on art supplies and books. This was followed by window shopping and a grocery stop at Waitrose then before I headed back to my hotel, after which I was dead to the world. (It is a 14-hour flight from Singapore and I’m not the world’s best traveler.)

Day 1 / January 18 – Following yesterday’s long flight, I planned for a more relaxing first day and spent the day walking down Fulham Road and King’s Road before picking up some necessities at the department store Peter Jones – the staff there are so kind.

This was followed by a leisurely late lunch at Ganymede in Belgravia before stopping by my favorite butcher (Jago) to grab some chicken for dinner. (Cooking at “home,” in my aparthotel, definitely helps to keep the cost down!)

Day 2 / January 19 – As I did during my November London trip, I organized a bloggers’ gathering to catch up with “colleagues.” 

You may have noticed that I enjoy walking, and I took a nice leisurely stroll through Green Park to get to the meeting venue, Waterstone Picadilly; they’re extremely nice about allowing people to sit for ages.

After that, a smaller group of us headed across the street to Downstairs at The Dilly to chat more over drinks, before I headed back to South Kensington for dinner at Al Dente. (Too hungry to cook by then!)

Day 3 / January 20 –  Today was another busy day! I walked from South Kensington to Maltby Street to meet a friend for lunch. The walk takes about 2 hours if you brisk walk, or more if you meander about and have a seat by the Thames. (This friend and I had met at a baking class when I used to live in London and have kept in touch ever since! One of the best things about London is that it’s full of people open to making new friends, whatever the stage in life.) 

I took the route through Green Park and St. James Park, passing the Tate, Shakespeare’s Globe, National Theatre, and Borough Market (super crowded) along the way, and even had enough time to sit by the river and enjoy the view.

Despite all that wandering, I ended up being a bit early, so had a hot chocolate at Maltby Street Market first; I was surprised by how quiet the market was. When I used to visit Maltby Street back when I was living in South London, it had always been packed! (According to the drinks vendor, the market has never quite recovered after the disruption of the last few years, sad to say.) 

There was so much to catch up on, my friend and I followed lunch with tea at the Watch House, which is definitely much more popular than it used to be. (Thanks to TikTok, or so I heard from a fellow customer.) 

After that, I headed to High Street Kensington to visit the Design Museum, before walking back to South Kensington. En route, I stopped for dinner at La Terraza in the Xenia Hotel. (Apparently, it’s an Autograph Collection Hotel, by Marriott, but I’ve never stayed there.)

Day 4 / January 21 – Another day of catching up with old friends! Today was lunch at my London bestie’s beautiful flat by the River Thames. The wind was simply howling so I chickened out of walking and took a bus there and back instead. 

A leisurely afternoon of good food, good company, and good wine was followed by a quick dinner at Go Viet, before turning in for the day. (All that walking over the last few days had quite done me in!)

Day 5 / January 22 – True to the Singaporean shopaholic spirit, I headed to Bicester Village to get some gifts for friends. (What can I say? It’s the January sale and, according to Girl Math, I would be losing money if I didn’t go pick up some bargains!)

On the way back, I got dinner from Honest Burger, which is by South Kensington tube station, before calling it a night.

Day 6 / January 23 – Today was my Tartlets class at Bread Ahead Tea House on Pavilion Street. I’d been to several classes at their original Borough Market location before and, if I’m not wrong, this was the first class they conducted at the Pavilion Street site! (You can also take classes at their Wembley outlet.) 

The class was fun and I learned a LOT, which I’ll share more about over on my food blog; I’m not going into detail here since I don’t think you’re on this site for baking tips!

After the intensive class, I met an MBA friend for a Korean lunch at Naru, before heading to a pub for drinks, followed by a visit to the Cartoon Museum, and then dinner with yet another MBA friend at Apricity.

Day 7 / January 24 – I’d been so impressed with Ganymede, that I wanted to check out their sister restaurant on Fulham Road, The Hunter’s Moon. Unfortunately, although Google states that they open at 11:30am, they actually only open at noon, and don’t allow customers to sit and wait for even 5 minutes. (I arrived at 11:55am)

As a result, I ended up dining at Rocca, another Italian restaurant in South Kensington, before walking to Liberty, a department store housed in a mock Tudor building, for a facial. 

This was followed by a walk to the British Library to meet another blogger friend, and hanging out in the Members’ Room – it felt like a private club! – before grabbing dinner at ChiliCool. (I usually prefer to eat Western food when in the UK but this blogger-friend is from China and she highly recommended ChiliCool so I thought I would check it out.)

Day 8 / January 25 – After so many days spent eating and meeting friends, I decided it was time for some culture and booked a ticket for the Benjamin Franklin Museum

Unfortunately, I ended up feeling rather lightheaded after the tour, so just got a comforting meal of congee at Tao Tao Ju in Chinatown, before going back to rest.

Day 9 / January 26 – Can you believe I booked a 2nd baking class? (I am a food blogger, after all!) Today’s class – again at Bread Ahead – was about Afternoon Tea and it was very different from the Tartlets session. After class, I went to Fortnum and Mason to get more gifts for friends, followed by another early night.

Day 10 / January 27 – Thankfully, I was back to feeling normal, so the day started with a wonderful walk in Kensington Gardens (beautiful and so much nicer than Hyde Park, in my opinion.)

I walked all the way to Notting Hill where I met yet another MBA friend for brunch at Sunday in Brooklyn. After that, I headed to the nearby Museum of Brands, followed by the Freud Museum. (All of these museum visits were part of research for future blog posts on this site.)

Unfortunately, the Freud Museum is closed on Monday AND Tuesday, so it ended up being a wasted trip! (I had checked but duly forgotten.) I ended up heading back to South Kensington in disappointment, followed by a quick dinner at Al Dente and packing.

Day 11 / January 28 – All too soon, it was time to head home. I usually book a night flight to get the most value for my buck (more time in London) so I actually managed to see a lot today: the Freud Museum AND the Postal Museum, both of which I was very impressed by. 

Lunch was a very hearty meal at Pho Ta in Finchley and I even managed to stop by local The Works to pick up more discounted books. Dinner was a Spanish sandwich from Viandas next to the South Kensington tube station before I had to leave for the airport.

Cafes, Restaurants & Bars on this Trip 

Editor’s Note: I absolutely love Zhen’s restaurant recaps because they’re honest and informed by her own knowledge of food and cooking. Hopefully this section helps you cut through the noise with so many restaurants to choose from in London! – Valerie

I’m a rather boring person and can eat at the same place over and over again (if it’s good); I would have been happy to eat at Cadogan Arms, which I discovered on my last visit, several times!

However, since I knew that I would be writing a recap of my London trip, I made it a point to try to find new restaurants that I could share with you. I’ve already mentioned most of these spots, but wanted to go into more detail about each one, what I had, and what I thought.

  • Brother Marcus (South Kensington): I visited this when in London last October and wasn’t super impressed by the food. However, the concierge at Cheval Harrington recommended it, so I decided to give it another go. However, though the service was great, I don’t think I’d return, as the flavors are too sweet for me.
  • Ganymede (Belgravia): they have a lunch set which offers great value. The restaurant is also beautifully decorated (and dog-friendly.) However, the experience needs a bit of polishing up. For one, the wait for the dessert was EXTREMELY long, and a mistake was made on the bill. (I was charged for the dessert when it was actually part of the set.)
  • Rocca (South Kensington): this Italian restaurant has fairy lights and looks gorgeous from the outside. It has two outlets in London but has a family-run feel (very warm and welcoming- maybe the best service I experienced on this trip.) The food smelt delicious but was a little bland- they did have some salt by the side, so maybe we’re meant to add our own seasoning? They even kindly offered me a box to take away my leftover roast veggies- the serving was easily thrice as large as at other places!
  • Al Dente (South Kensington): I went to this fresh pasta restaurant twice. The first time I found it amazing, and reasonably priced for London. So I decided to go a second time (It was the only restaurant open in between lunch and dinner.) I had the exact same pasta, but it wasn’t good, so I’m not sure if I was just really hungry the first time I visited, or if the chef was having an off day on the second!
  • Gỗ Viet (South Kensington): This South Kensington restaurant has been around for a while- I used to pass by when I lived in the neighborhood but had never visited. The food was tasty enough that I’d be happy to go again but I don’t think a Vietnamese person would like it. (There’s flavor, but it doesn’t taste authentically Vietnamese. And, yes a Vietnamese friend looked quite disparaging when I mentioned it to her!)
  • ChiliCool (King’s Cross): This is a small hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant near King’s Cross. Pretty busy, but the flavors weren’t as spicy as they should be (in my opinion.)
  • 40 Maltby St (Maltby Street): This was one of my old haunts when I used to live in the area. The food was good, and the ambiance was great.
  • Watch House (Multiple Locations): Extremely crowded, but we didn’t have to wait long for a seat. There’s a maximum seating time, but you don’t feel pressured even if you only order a cup of coffee.
  • Honest Burger (Multiple Locations): Good burger, chips a bit salty.
  • La Terraza (Kensington): The restaurant is gorgeous from the outside – it looks like a greenhouse with fairy lights! The servers were also very nice and the carbonara sauce was extremely tasty. Unfortunately, the pasta was undercooked. (I understand and appreciate al dente, but this really needed an extra 30-60 seconds in the pot!)
  • Downstairs at the Dilly (Piccadilly Circus): We had a few drinks but the live music wasn’t on when we visited. Wouldn’t mind returning for it!
  • Naru (Soho): The food was good but the place needs a bit of work. The ventilation is so bad, that I smelt very strongly of Korean food for the entire day. (And the toilet is SO small, a hole is cut out of the door to help it close! (If not, it would hit the toilet seat and be unable to shut!))
  • Apricity (Mayfair): This restaurant was chosen by my friend and was the most expensive meal of ALL my London trips. The food was OK – a little too salty for me – and the service was good but I wouldn’t go again, at that price. (Over a hundred pounds!)
  • Tao Tao Ju (Chinatown): I’ve seen people say online that this is the best place for dim sum in London. (However, all the Chinese people I know go to Royal China or Gold Mine.) I was too tired to walk further, so I decided to try it, but almost instantly felt that I had made a mistake, as there were no other Asians (besides the service staff) in the restaurant! (That’s how Asians suss out which are the good places to eat- observing the other customers.) And, indeed, the food was OK but not great. (I had a bowl of congee and one dim sum, neither something I’d care to repeat.)
  • Sunday at Brooklyn (Notting Hill): according to my friend, this restaurant is extremely popular, and has queues around the block on weekends. It wasn’t that crowded when we were there and I didn’t find the food anything to write home about. The burger at Honest Burgers is much better!
  • Pho Ta (Finchley Road): After the Freud Museum, I popped by this Vietnamese place for lunch. Maybe because it’s out of Zone 1, the noodles were great value for money. You get a LOT of chicken in the bowl! The pandan tea was also very fragrant.

Accommodation on this Trip 

Once again, I stayed at Cheval Harrington in South Kensington, but this time in a bigger room, to avoid the issue of noise from the connecting room. (The one bedder, with a sofa.) 

The bigger one bedder doesn’t have a connecting door but unfortunately, it faces the very busy main road AND there was construction going on opposite, Luckily, the team was very helpful and we managed to find a solution for me that was less noisy. (Poonam and Raymond went above and beyond the call of duty.)

Aparthotels from $250 per night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.

Highlights & Lowlights 

Just as in past recaps in addition to all of the above, I thought it might be helpful to share the highlights and lowlights in one spot, so you can easily understand what I thought was worth it on my trip – and maybe add some new activities and experiences to your travel plans.

Highlights

  • The Freud Museum and the Postal Museum. I was a little disappointed by the Benjamin Franklin and Museum of Brands experiences and had almost written off smaller museums as being too niche in their offering. However, the Freud and Postal Museums were incredible. You really get a sense of the life Freud lived at his old house, and get to take an exciting train ride at the Postal Museum.
  • Peter Jones. I’m usually not a fan of department stores but the ladies there were really warm, friendly, and helpful. 
  • The facial at Liberty. The cost is redeemable against purchases so, in Girl Math, free!

Lowlights

  • Sadly, the restaurants I tried on this trip weren’t as good as the ones I went to in November. The only one I’d go out of my way to return to is probably Ganymede.

And that’s my time in London, in a nutshell! If you have any questions about what I did, ate, or saw, let me know in the comments!

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Zhen fell in love with London when she first visited at the age of 4. After that, she was lucky to have the opportunity to live in UK for 11 years, 7 of which were spent in London. (She particularly adores the areas around Kensington, Southwark and Baker Street!) As someone who loves both food and travel – don’t we all? – you can find her sharing her Asian food recipes over at greedygirlgourmet.com.

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