26 Feb A LOVE LETTER TO LONDON
It’s official: after a couple of false starts and a three-month bonus round that allowed me to mooch around town and stuff myself with local treats like each day was my last, I’ve left lovely London for sunny, sweaty Singapore. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally digging the change of scenery and have been mainlining laksa and chicken rice since I landed, but I still find myself pining away for my home of four years.
And this is the thing: anyone who’s moved on from London (especially the Aussies who’ve gone there for a working holiday, torn up the town and still squeezed in a Euro-hopping travel bender) will tell you there’s still so much more they wish they’d done. You’ll always leave with unfinished business. Here are a handful of the things I loved and I’ll miss the most. Londoners, I know the weather often makes you lose the will, but you’re still in one of the most glorious cities in the world. Love your hometown while it’s yours – you never know when you’ll be the lured away to a tropical city for good!
Yes, I’m a middle-class cliché, but one of the highlights of my week was hanging out at my local farmers’ market on Venn St. Biodynamic heirloom veg, artisanal bread, game birds, smoked mackerel and unpasteurised cheeses driven over the border from France that same morning are now just a sweet, sweet memory. Londoners, go out now and buy a block of Wyfe of Bath or a slab of Comte – or even better, head to the mother of all markets at Borough, line up for the oozy melted goodness of Raclette – and spare a thought for poor, cheese-deprived moi.
Anyone who’s wandered through Brixton Village into this jewelbox of a shop will know it’s like going down the rabbit hole – I don’t want to admit to how many hours I’ve spent loitering around in there. Emy Gray, Brixi’s lovely owner, is a champion of local talent, and has curated a most excellent collection of handmade treasures, including jewellery by We Are Arrow and Datter Industries, quirky ceramics by Kinska, fragrances by Wickle and limited edition prints by local artists. You might even find rare gems including bow ties made by Ladyland’s very own beauty and wellness guru (and some-time bow tie couturière) Bella, and illustrated prints by our mastermind, Emma. And if you’re particularly lucky, you might find Ladyland’s Margherita behind the counter… I consider it our alternative headquarters.
POSH PEOPLE’S HOUSES
One of the best things I did during my UK stay was get a National Trust membership so I could enjoy unlimited snooping into posh people’s houses and gardens. Sissinghurst Castle Garden and Knole, homes of Vita-Sackville West (the inspiration behind Virginia Woolf’s eternally youthful gender-bending character, Orlando), are personal highs. Sissinghurst, with its spectacular, sprawling gardens and Knole, being a house the size of a town, are admittedly a day trip from London to Kent, but there’s still plenty of sticky-beaking to be enjoyed in the heart of the city: for more literary thrills, head to Carlyle’s House in Chelsea (home of Victorian celebrity writer John Carlyle, who entertained the likes of Dickens and Tennyson). London’s greatest household, however, is Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields (not a National Trust property, BTW). The perfectly preserved home of the renowned architect is packed floor to ceiling with antiquities, artworks and oddities you could spend a lifetime looking at. Ask a guide to point out the monument to his dearly departed dog, Fanny. Trust me. Once a month, the museum opens at night, allowing visitors to explore Soane’s treasures by candlelight – it’s enough to warrant a return trip to the UK.
Tate Modern; National Portrait Gallery; The V&A; White Cube; The National Gallery; Tate Britain; Saatchi Gallery. Need I say more? Once upon a time when I was working in Southwark, I could pop into the Tate Modern after work to gaze at my favourite painting whenever I wanted, and it’s a luxury I’ll never forget. No excuses for moping around at home on a freezing, wet day, Londoners. Some of the world’s best art is at your doorstep, and bloody hell, it’s for free. Go. Go now! (PS While it isn’t free, the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House is one of the best bijou collections you could hope to find: you’ll get a hit of Van Gogh to Gaugin in one of the city’s most beautiful buildings. Guaranteed art fatigue-free!)
SOUTH LONDON FEASTING
Silly, sceptical me moved to South London from food-obsessed Sydney fearing the worst after suffering through too many traumatic (and eye-wateringly expensive) London meals in the early naughties, but I’ve since eaten my words. London’s food scene has skyrocketed – and these could be fighting words, but its street food is possibly the world’s best (see Whitecross Street in Hoxton, Broadway Market in Hackney and Borough Market for some of the best examples).
I’ve name-dropped some of my foodie favourites in Ladyland before, but here are the unforgettable experiences worth chasing down if you’re south of the river:
- Beijing-style spicy chicken wings and king prawn dumplings at Mama Lan
- Pork tonkotsu ramen in a creamy broth at Koi Ramen Bar, Brixton Station Road
- Bacon breakfast muffins and proper antipodean coffee at Bullet on Wandsworth Road
- Roti by Brixton’s roti queen, Maureen Samuel, Brixton Station Road
- Roast pork belly at The Rookery, Clapham
- Beef pares from Filipino food stall Kusina Nova at Clapham’s Venn St Market
- Flame-grilled flank steak with chimichurri at Santa Maria del Sur, Battersea
- Curry goat at Fish, Wings & Tings, Brixton Village
- Chorizo rolls from Brindisa, Borough Market
- A roving feast of seasonal, beautifully articulated dishes at The Dairy, Clapham
Farewell, London. I love you.
Photography: Brixi, Ola O Smit
Additional Photography: Selina Altomonte