My perfect London day is in late spring, before the city has got too hot and stifling but winter’s shadow has been left behind. The green spaces are beginning to bloom and the cafés, bars and restaurants are opening their terraces and spilling out in to the streets. The day starts early because there is no rest for the wicked and because it is the best time to drive through London’s streets. Part of the charm of London is the gritty toughness of a postindustrial landscape. We’ll never be orderly or squeaky clean but it is the unexpected and our optimism that makes London such a fascinating place to explore.
I would take a trip to Borough Market before the tourists arrive as the chefs and foodies haggle over stalls full of the very best fresh produce. It’s a wonderful piece of theatre that I would sit back and enjoy over an excellent cup of fresh coffee. It has an old-fashioned market atmosphere and it is a pleasure to be surrounded by delicious fresh fish, meat, vegetables, herbs and spices.
A short cab ride away is Norman Foster’s wonderful Millennium Bridge that has got over its early wobbles and offers one of the most spectacular views of London. Sir Christopher Wren’s magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral at one end of the bridge is answered by the gutsy Victorian architecture of Tate Modern at the other. To the west there is the South Bank and West End while eastwards is Tower Bridge, the Gherkin and the rest of the City and the majestic Shard – in one rotation you have London’s past, present and future in architecture.
Hopefully there would be one of the spectacular art works on show at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall but as the day started early I have a little time to enjoy a peaceful stroll through the Chelsea Physic Garden before lunch. London is a chaotic, bustling and energetic place that often seems to live life on fast forward but it has plenty of green spaces to breathe and get away from the madness, if you know where to look. The Chelsea Physic Garden is a very seductive place because it is intimate and inspiring and encloses you like a secret world.
It is time for lunch and I don’t think there is a finer spot for a spring or summer meal in London than the River Café, in the garden of which I have happily passed many an hour eating the simple, unpretentious food they serve. The key to its success is the mantra of Ruth Rogers and the much missed Rose Gray – “sourcing, sourcing, sourcing”. What would I eat? Who knows, because the menu changes twice a day, every day according to what is best in the market that morning, but I know it will be delicious and that the star of the dish will be the inherent quality of the ingredients. There will also be a glass or two of delicious Italian white from their excellent and extensive list.
Refreshed by lunch it is time for some shopping and my first destination would be Marylebone High Street, which has really stood up well to the challenge of the high street chain stores. It has a sensitive choice of shops, restaurants and cafés. Even if you are not a big reader, Daunt’s is well worth a visit because it is such a beautiful space and filled with well-chosen books. The Marylebone Farmers Market is exceptional and always worth a visit for the very best fruit, vegetables, meat, game, fresh fish and herbs and I also like the Ginger Pig, the Natural Kitchen and La Fromagerie.
It’s been a long day. Time for a rewarding supper and it has to be in Bibendum – I make no apologies for choosing one of my own restaurants because it’s also in Michelin House, one of the most extraordinary and quirky buildings in London, and is the perfect way to end my perfect day.
Sir Terence Conran is chairman of Conran Holdings