A GUIDE TO CHRISTMAS IN LONDON (AND HOW TO MAKE IT PARENT FRIENDLY)
My mum, for the second year running, made the trip over to London to celebrate Christmas with me and despite an argument (or four) this was for sure our best Christmas to date. Why? Well I made sure we really made the most of London at Christmas and never got too bored sitting around my flat. What was on the agenda you may ask? Well below are a few highlights of our 6 days together and although my mum may be far from perfect this festive period made me love her (and London) even more, so I hope you can pick up a tip or two when it comes to entertaining your parents in my favourite city, be it Christmas or not!
EXPLORE LONDON ON FOOT!
I don’t get to take long walks in London enough when I’m working so I loved showing my mum areas I don’t usually venture to. We started off on her first full day in London going West and having a wonder around South Kensington and Knightsbridge, taking in the beautiful ice rink outside the National History museum and Harrods’s always impressive food hall along the way. It is an area that is super pretty during this time of the a year and which I can once in a while tolerate with its masses of tourists.
We then headed towards central and explored the classic shopping spots like Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and Soho’s little side streets.
Luckily my mum was there over a weekend so the next day we embarked on another beautiful walk from mine in Hoxton to Borough market via Spitalfields, which now with its new food court and great selection of boutiques is always worth checking out, and London Bridge.
I love walking through this stretch near Liverpool street, with its tall and shiny skyscrapers, during the holidays or on a Sunday, so eerily quiet yet impressive to look at, offering a total different way of seeing the city.
Borough Market was unsurprisingly heaving but the atmosphere when the market is on is always so great plus there is a permanent store selling German groceries called ‘The German Deli’ that allowed us to pick up the goodies from my homeland that my mum forgot or couldn’t find for the Christmas days.
From Borough Market you almost have to continue your walk down by the Thames towards Southbank, especially if the weather is as nice as we were lucky enough to experience, as you get to take in some pretty amazing panoramic views of the city. I always like to cross back into central via the bridge just outside the Tate which takes you straight to St Pauls cathedral and soon towards Covent Garden.
I think we averaged about 25,000 plus steps each day but it really didn’t feel like it. Right before Christmas London quietens and calms down and gave us the chance to see the city I call home from a new perspective, discovering corners I had never seen before.
DRINK AND EAT AT COOL BUT PARENT FRIENDLY PLACES!
There are cool restaurants and there are parent friendly AND cool restaurants. Not to say that my mum wouldn’t appreciate some underground supper club but I wanted to take her to slightly fancy yet affordable spots where she didn’t feel like the only person over 35 and which also made her feel a little spoiled.
My top picks on this occasion were the Wigmore (my new favourite fancy pub discovery, thank you Maddie!) which is a pub with a difference, being attached to the snazzy Langham hotel and which wins with its gorgeous interiors as well as serving the most amazing Bloody Mary salt chips, Circolo Popolare because heck any Big Mamma restaurant is here to wow no matter the age and a divine roast at the super cosy Exmouth Arms.
I have of course been to the Exmouth Arms many times before, it being the preferred watering hole on a Sunday of me and my partner in crime Maddie, but had not eaten there yet for some reason. Well I am happy to report that their roast dinner offering was outstanding and very good value for money. My mum loved her roast beef while my mushroom and butternut squash wellington was perfectly cooked and seasoned, not a given considering the many, many bland and soggy wellington I have endured in my time. Trimmings were also great, plenty of cabbage to get a bit of green, an excellent Yorkshire Pudding, cauliflower cheese (one of my favourite side dishes), roast potatoes and roast root vegetables and the whole vibe was absolutely lovely on the Sunday afternoon we went, with a diverse and friendly crowd that gave my mum an excellent taste of Sunday lunch pub culture at its best.
I put my hands up, I don’t make enough of an effort to experience the amazing culture London has to offer. Yes, my lovely friend Henry and I share the guilty pleasure of musicals and see at least a couple a year but that is about the extent of effort I make, which is of course lazy and ridiculous, especially when one considers how many amazing theatres, museums and other cultural institutions London has to offer.
Indeed it was walking past Sadler’s Wells theatre for about the millionth time on a weekend stroll through Clerkenwell that I thought ‘why the hell have I not been?!”, particularly as they are known for their inventive ballet performances. After a bit of research back in October I realised 'The Red Shoes' ballet by Mathew Bourne was going to be on over Christmas and I immediately bought two tickets, reasonably priced if you book ahead.
Now, it was not the best ballet I have ever seen but that really did not matter, the whole experience of getting dressed up and going to the theatre was utterly enchanting and, my mum being here or not, I will try and take in a lot more of the amazing culture I fortunate to have at my front door in 2020 that is for sure.
TAKE THE STRESS OUT OF CHRISTMAS DAY!
Of course I also had to consider what to do on the big day. Last year we spent Christmas day with a friend of mine and her mum which was lovely but made me realise it is always going to be a little odd joining another family’s festivities unless you are very, very close to them.
Hosting at mine could have been an option but I think cooking for two always means loosing a bit of the grandeur that a Christmas feast should be all about plus it makes the one on one time in my small flat inevitably more intense with nothing to diffuse possible arguments.
Instead I started to look into which hotels and restaurants were open on Christmas day and what their menus were like. You can get some decent offers at places like The Hoxton for around £80 a head, though everything on their menu sounded pretty meh and standard. I nearly booked the Ham Yard hotel who were offering a very nice sounding modern European inspired 4 course menu with a glass of champagne and canapés but then had a brain wave as I chatted with Maddie about the most impressive and old school dinner venues in London…both of us concluded it would have undoubtedly be The Ned!
For those that don’t know The Ned is a hotel, members club and multi restaurant space, located in a beautifully converted bank, and is also part of the Soho house group. It has awe inspiring and grand interiors that effortlessly carries a certain level of luxury which you can find across all Soho house operation and which for me made it the ideal spot for an indulgent Christmas day.
I was even more convinced when I saw their dining concept for the day: a 3 hour unlimited buffet plus a glass of Prosecco for £110 per person. I know its not cheap but considering the amazing set up and that the buffet included lobsters, smoked salmon, any kind of meat you’d want and a whole cheese table, yours to demolish for a total of 3 hours I was sold. I would hundred percent go back not only because of the amazing atmosphere with a life band playing all evening, the incredible buffet which is about as luxury of a buffet you are ever going to get and the attentive service but also because of the overall amazing vibe, with a room full of people wanting to celebrate Christmas day in the best of ways.
A word of warning: book early. I booked our table at the end of October and was lucky to get a space at all (and it was a late one at 6:45pm too) and also be aware you have to pay the full sum right there and then, for me hundred percent worth it though and trust me I will be the first one to pick up the phone when their reservations for 2020 open. The Ned is one of a kind and their Christmas dinner the most indulgent and stress free way to spent the 25th December with your loved ones.
Or at least have one of you watch the other. I will do a post soon on our little German feast which was so fun to do. From planning the menu, to go the the supermarket to gather ingredients, to getting the table all set up, I loved every aspect of our day of planning this feast.
My mum cannot cook to save her life but she did her best to contribute- mainly through cleaning dishes and setting up the table, but it still felt like a collaborative effort and without the pressure of it being Christmas day made for a festive feast where the prep was as much fun as eating the final end result plus it also was a lot cheaper than eating out which I love doing in London but doesn’t need to be done every day!
AND REMEMBER YOU ONLY HAVE ONLY HAVE ONE FAMILY!
They can be annoying, know how to push your buttons and expect a lot, but you know what cherish every second with your family even if just on this one occasion a year. I have spent Christmas alone and it really truly sucks. No one is perfect so be willing to compromise over Christmas and not let the little things ruin the days in which it is about good food and spending quality time with your family and friends. You may need a break from them after it (and I do for sure from my beloved mother) but enjoy it while it lasts, heck it is only once a year!