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, especially if you’re keen to explore West London. Ready to follow her mouthwatering adventure across the city? Let’s dig in! – Valerie
Hi, everyone – Zhen, here! After not visiting London for 3 years (thanks to the lockdowns and whatnot in 2020 and beyond), this was my second time back in the span of two months, so I was really excited! Prior to this, I’d lived in London for 7 years, having moved there for my MBA in 2013, so London feels a little bit like home to me even after a long time away.
During my trip in late 2023, I was joined by my mom to spend time primarily in West London, and sampling many of the best flavors that the city has to offer. If you prefer a more relaxing way of traveling and would like to spend more time around South Kensington and Chelsea (my all-time favorite areas to live in London!), this post may be helpful for you!
London Trip Recap
Below you’ll find a detailed account of each day I spent in London on this trip. As you’ll see, my love of trying new foods – and beloved favorites – was the theme of this trip!
Day 0 / November 1 – My Mom and I flew to London from Lisbon (more on that below). It was surprisingly quick and easy to clear customs at Terminal 5 and, maybe because we had arrived at night, the roads were clear and the Uber ride to South Kensington only took 30 minutes. (You could also take a Gatwick Express to Paddington and then take the tube over, but we had a fair bit of luggage, so I decided to spoil us!)
When we checked in at the aparthotel, Cheval Harrington Court, it was almost 9 pm, so I picked up some noodles from the Vietnamese place and gelato from Oddono’s over at Bute Street. After a simple dinner, we called it a night. (We were beat after queuing for over three hours at Lisbon airport! Made us appreciate Heathrow a lot more.)
Day 1 / November 2 – We had planned to meet my London bestie but unfortunately, she had to cancel last minute. Ended up walking to Kings Road for lunch at one of my favorite pubs, The Cadogan Arms. (Also one of the few places in London that is open for a meal on Christmas Day!) In true British fashion, it was drizzling all afternoon, and the pub was beautifully decked out in its Christmas glory, so we dawdled over lunch and the pub kindly did not kick us out!
After that, we browsed the shops along King’s Road, looking at the Christmas decorations on sale at Flying Tiger, etc (Flying Tiger is a terrific place for inexpensive, nicely designed; it’s Scandinavian knick-knacks!) To end the day, we stopped by the excellent butcher, Jago, where I bought some chicken to make us ginseng chicken soup for dinner (to ward off a cold since we’d been walking in the rain.)
The kind man at Jago even gave me 1kg of chicken bones for free, despite the fact that this was my first – but definitely not last – visit to his shop! (Chicken soup is one of the few things that is easy to cook when traveling, as you do not need a lot of pantry ingredients to make it taste good.) In addition, if you were wondering, the meat Jago stocks are of very good quality, so the soup was delicious!
Day 2 / November 3 – One of my favorite things about Chelsea is how convenient it is: there are so many good shops and restaurants within walking distance! We decided to take full advantage of that and took a leisurely stroll through St. Luke’s Gardens then over to Charlotte’s Cloud on King’s Road for brunch. It was a nice day, and the cafe was quite crowded, so we sat outside and then went for a walk in Green Park to walk off the food. The weather was simply glorious, with clear blue skies all day.
After that, I ditched my Mom to meet a few food bloggers at Piccadilly. (I blog about Asian food over at greedygirlgourmet.com and regularly organize meet-ups for bloggers.) I was a little early, so I popped into St. James’ Piccadilly, a church designed by Sir Christopher Wren, for a bit. (The church regularly holds free music recitals and craft markets FYI.)
It was terrific to meet new blogging friends, but there were a few hiccups getting a 2pm table (just for drinks) for 8 people. I’d booked a really cute place, Maison Assouline. After we’d ordered our teas (around £10 each), we were informed the minimum spend was £50 PER PERSON. (They had mentioned a minimum spend before this but they failed to indicate that it was per person.) Anyway, despite there being empty tables, we ended up having to leave after barely having a sip of our (very expensive) tea! Anyway, we ended up adjourning to Waterstones next door, where we had a great time!
Alas, the journey back wasn’t great: I ended up just missing the Tube by a few seconds. The next one came pretty quickly but it was held at the station due to an issue with the signal. After 30 minutes of being packed like sardines in a can, I decided to take a bus instead. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, so it wasn’t possible to get on the bus, so I ended up walking back to South Kensington from Piccadilly (which took about 45 minutes.)
Day 3 / November 4 – I’m a little embarrassed to say we went to Bicester Village to shop! (How uncultured, but they were having a sale and we needed Christmas gifts!)
We took a bus to Marylebone train station, from which there are regular direct trains to Bicester. If you need help, there is a dedicated booth at the train station for visitors to Bicester Village. On my previous trips to Bicester, I had always been less than impressed by the food there, and considered dining at Bicester Village a “necessary evil.” I was really happy to see that La Tua Pasta (from my beloved Borough Market) had opened an outpost at Bicester and that the food was GOOD. Best food we’ve ever had at Bicester!
The village was a little crowded as the sale had just started (and it was the weekend), but it was simply gorgeous under the twinkling Christmas lights! Unfortunately, it was pouring rain for most of the afternoon, but the shops kindly let us shoppers shelter in their stores, even when they weren’t shopping!
We had originally planned to go back to Cheval Harrington Court for a home-cooked meal but the less-than-hearty lunch left us famished. Added to the fact that the bus stop that Google Maps directed us to had closed (i.e. the return journey took longer than expected), we decided to stop at Rosa’s Thai for a quick dinner before taking a bus back.
Tip: Bicester often has credit card promotions i.e. if you have an XYZ card, you can get an extra 10% off certain items. You can ask at the office near the train station for more details.
Day 4 / November 5 – We went to my MBA classmate’s house in Queen’s Park for lunch. Since we were going all the way to North London, we decided to go over early to explore the area. It’s certainly changed a lot over the last few years! A Joe & The Juice and Planet Organic had moved in, there was a farmer’s market… Overall, it felt distinctively more gentrified and like a great community to raise a family. (My friend has 2 kids.)
After brunch, I was meeting another friend for dinner on Portobello Road. One of my favorite things about London is how walkable the city is, so I decided to walk over from the aparthotel. It was Guy Fawkes Day so I could hear fireworks being set off all evening. You won’t be able to see the fireworks everywhere though.
Luckily, when walking down Notting Hill, the road sloped downwards so I managed to see the fireworks lighting up the sky. Dinner was at Gold along Portobello Road, and the food was great. It was also really interesting to see the street so quiet (after all the antique traders had closed for the day!)
Day 5 / November 6 – Today was another easy day window shopping at High Street Kensington before meeting an MBA friend for lunch at Megan’s followed by dessert at the gorgeous restaurant, Jacuzzi. I had a work call in the evening, so we headed back early, and I cooked up the rest of the meat I had gotten from Jago. (It’s not surprising that I cooked quite a few dinners on this holiday, since I’m a food blogger and we were staying at an aparthotel!)
Unfortunately, the soundproofing of Cheval isn’t the best and my colleagues could actually hear my neighbors! (They asked if I had kids with me, and I had to tell them the kids were actually from next door.)
Day 6 / November 7 – Sadly all good things have to come to an end and we had to check out today. The aparthotel kindly kept our luggage so we walked to Elizabeth Street, a very pretty street famous for the Peggy Porschen Cafe. Lunch was at the Thomas Cubitt, a pub I used to eat at when I lived in South Kensington. Service was even better than I remembered but food, alas, was not.
After lunch, we headed to Sloane Square, wandering around the Saatchi Gallery and grabbing some food souvenirs at Partridges before heading to the Natural History Museum. We had an early dinner at Cocotte before heading over to Heathrow to fly out of London.
Cafes, Restaurants & Bars on this Trip
Over the years, I’ve seen the London food scene improve phenomenally, and now, it’s one of the best places to eat in the world. (If you know where to go, that is- which you will, if you follow this blog! I say that tongue-in-cheek, of course!)
- Cadogan Arms (Chelesa) – This was one of our best meals on the trip. It’s an upmarket pub so some dishes are on the pricier end (over £30) but you can also order mussels or burgers for under £20. I would definitely be a regular here if I was still living in London. The interiors and service were great too!
- Charlotte’s Cloud (Chelsea) – It had the best hot chocolate I’ve had in a while! Good chocolate flavor and is not too sweet. The food is also pretty good. A slight hiccup is that you get forgotten if you dine al fresco (they literally forgot the 2nd hot chocolate I ordered) so you might want to sit inside instead. (The cafe is actually a lot bigger than it looks so do explore inside before deciding to sit outside.)
- Thomas Cubitt (Belgravia) – This was in the same price bracket as the Cadogan Arms but minus the less-expensive options. (So the least expensive main is over £20.) Unfortunately, the food is really quite bland and unimpressive. We ended up paying about £80 for 2 mains, 2 sides, and a hot chocolate. Service was phenomenal so I’d say this is a place to go for drinks, not food.
- Gold (Notting Hill) – The ground floor is a very, very busy place for drinks (and, probably, to see and be seen.) Upstairs is the restaurant, which is much quieter. My friend was vegetarian so we ordered only veggies, which overall were pretty good. Do note that it has a service charge AND asks you for a tip (the only place I’ve eaten at that does so on this trip.)
- Jacuzzi (Kensington) – this was the most beautiful restaurant we’d dined at on the whole trip! (My Mom had pasta and dessert, but I only had the tiramisu and tea.) Unfortunately, service can be on the supercilious side.
- Rosa’s Thai (Baker Street) – This is a very popular Thai chain in the UK. However, if you’re Asian, the food is quite hit-and-miss. The Winter Wings were delicious and we would totally order those again. (Crispy, spicy, and sweet.) However, the Tom Yum Noodle Soup tasted so weird, I actually wondered if their spice paste had gone off!)
Accommodation on this Trip
I stayed at the Cheval Harrington Court for my entire trip. (This particular location offered the cheapest rates of all the Cheval outlets for my dates and I’ve always loved South Kensington, so it was a no-brainer.)
I was really impressed by the hotel as the receptionist, Ali, immediately came up to help us with our bags and welcomed us very warmly (not always the case at aparthotels.) In addition, there was a terrific welcome in our room, with toast, croissants, jam, butter, eggs, cheese, and even salami to make us feel at home!
The only downside was that the room was quite small and the soundproofing wasn’t the best. I’d unknowingly booked the smallest room (they have an option with and an option without a sofa on the same page, and I had inadvertently booked the one without the sofa.) To be fair, there is a 3D map for you to view everything before you book, but I was rushing to book so made a mistake.
Overall, I was very happy with the stay and would definitely return to Cheval Harrington Court again!
Trip Extras: Lisbon
We’d spent 2 weeks in Lisbon before flying to London. It was our first time there and the food was as excellent as I’d heard. However, the slippery, mosaic-style pavements and hilly terrain do take some getting used to.
If you’re curious about my trip to Lisbon, I put together a YouTube video that you can watch to learn more and maybe plan your own trip there too.
Highlights & Lowlights
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.
- Being back in the Southwest London area and just walking around! I’d forgotten how much I adored this part of London and my step count was up, which is always good.
- Meeting other bloggers and catching up with old friends
- Getting some good bargains at Bicester Village: it’s not just for big brand names, though it has its fair share of those
- My best buys were necessities such as skincare and toiletries!
- The bad experience at Maison Assouline: £10 for a pot of tea isn’t cheap, so it felt like a waste of money that we had to leave very soon after ordering
- The heavy rain for 2 days: but that’s London for you! (Always bring a raincoat!)
- Being stuck in a very crowded tube for 30 minutes: again, another fact of London life.
That’s about all I did on my trip! If you have any questions about what we did, ate, or saw, feel free to let me know in the comments below!