Luxe London - Page 2

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London’s Big Ben
NOW'S THE TIME: London’s Big Ben  (David Toase/Photodisc/Getty)

It started to drizzle (this is London, after all) just as I nipped into The Wolseley (160 Piccadilly, London. Tel: 011-44-020-7499-6996), perhaps the hottest restaurant on Piccadilly.It's a cavernous place—a former bank, with marble pillars—owned by famed Brit restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King. The brasserie menu boasts quail egg croustade and rabbit casserole, but I'm afraid it's too fab, too packed. My overworked waiter—a dead ringer for Dieter, the hyper-haughty Mike Myerspersona from Saturday Night Live—was all rush-rush and jutted-out chin.

Over the next few days, I explore more of London's luxe offerings, including Kensington Palace the tiny hovel Princess Diana called home. It's been ten years since her death, and the Palace is commemorating the anniversary with a dress and photo exhibit that runs till January. Dresses on display include a black beaded halter worn to dine with French President Mitterand at Versailles, and a low-cut gown worn to a 1985 White House banquet (where she danced with John Travolta). It's the portraits, however, a black-and-white series taken by Mario Testino for Vanity Fair in 1997, that take your breath away. Huge. Spare. Mesmerizing. According to exhibit curators, Testino took one look at the awkward, formal way she sat on the sofa, hands primly in her lap, and said no, no, no. He made her wipe off most of her makeup, tossed aside the royal jewels, and coaxed out the girl next door. In one portrait, she leans forward into the frame, head cocked to one side, bangs askew, and you can't help but adore her.

Following Testino's lead, I pared down my plans for tea. If you're like me, and the whole high tea at the Savoy is a bit lost on you, then a quick stop at Twinings Tea Company (216 Strand, London. Tel: 011-44-020-7353-3511) may be a simpler, but by no means shabby, alternative. The narrow shop is located on the Strand, near Fleet Street, opposite the Royal Courts of Law. They don't serve the stuff here, but you can buy boxes off the shelf—the pungent Assam, from India; the ripe, peachy Oolong, from Taiwan; Darjeeling, from the Himalayan foothills; and on and on. They drink 165 million cups of tea daily in the U.K. and Stephen Twinings, whose family has sold tea for ten generations, usually has nine to 15 cups a day. "I have a teabag or two in my pockets for emergencies," he confesses. He thought the Lapsang Souchong, a murky, smoky brew, would make an excellent iced tea, and suggested I make ice cubes with it, too, as regular cubes will dilute the flavor.

My next stop is St. Alban (4-12 Lower Regent St., London. Tel: 011-44-020-7499-8558), a trendy, new restaurant (also from Corbin and King) riffing off the flavors of Italy, Spain, and Portugal. St.Alban is hushed, attentive, and unstoppably chic. The room dazzles in a retro 60s sort of way, with low, curving, turquoise banquettes, and murals with swooping outlines of glasses, utensils, keys, a plastic jelly sandal, and other random tchotchkes. Celebs pepper the place (look, there's Pierce Brosnan), and the food—linguine vongole, tender, char-grilled Cumbrian rack of lamb, a refreshing lemon cream with pomegranate sorbet—proved the best of my week.

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