Anna Shaffer’s insider’s guide to London
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A couple of years ago my now-husband Jimmy and I were on a walk when he said: “Right! I think we should move to Angel, start a business and get married.” Jimmy is impulsive in the best kind of way: it means we end up doing really fun things. He proposed two weeks later, and 18 months ago we opened Hector’s – first as a wine shop, with the bar coming later.
Now we live in Drayton Park, a leafy area next to the Arsenal Stadium. Jimmy and I are both from north London originally – he’s from Angel, I’m from Hornsey – so we haven’t strayed too far. But there’s still a bit of tribalism: I grew up in a staunch Tottenham household, so my dad can find it quite difficult when he visits. We got married at Islington Town Hall and he was devastated.
London is a real renaissance city, a place where you can constantly reinvent yourself and find different things to do. It’s also a place where no one is ever free: if you make a plan, it’s in three months’ time, so it becomes a celebration when you eventually meet up. And when you do it’s always fun and exaggerated – we’re not going to a café, we’re going out and having Martinis…
Often I’ll head to east London, where there’s a triangle of fantastic restaurants: Bright is absolutely delicious and P Franco was a huge influence when we started Hector’s. But my favourite restaurant in the entire world – not just London – is Brawn on Columbia Road. Any time friends want to meet up, I beg to go to Brawn. I’m surprised I haven’t been barred at this point. They’ve got an amazing wine list – lots of rare champagne – and the tiramisu is unbelievable. I’d say that it’s the best tiramisu in the world – and I’ve tried a lot.
Still, you can’t beat going into town – nipping into Soho and going somewhere classic like Brasserie Zédel is always fun. Or I’ll go to Dukes Hotel for a Martini. Until recently I’d always been an olive girl – it was always Dirty Martinis, dirty as possible, filthy – but now I’ve come round to the twist. It’s a good pick-me-up if you’ve been out eating and drinking all day: then you can go on to the next place for a boogie.
My favourite night out in Soho is Trisha’s (57 Greek St, London W1; 020-7437 9536), a basement bar on Greek Street. It’s very loud, very sweaty – think picnic tablecloths and £1 beers. Most of all, though, I like to do karaoke. No celebration is complete unless you are belting out something fabulous at the end of the night. There’s an amazing Korean place, Jihwaja, in Vauxhall, where you can eat fried chicken and sing the night away. My song of choice is “Shallow”, the duet with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper – and I like to sing both parts.
I go to the cinema as much as possible, often at the old Renoir in Bloomsbury, now a Curzon, which is close to another of my favourite restaurants, Ciao Bella. They can accommodate huge tables, and it feels quite cheap and cheerful. Jimmy and I are attempting to work our way through the whole pasta menu by the end of the year. Back in town, the Prince Charles is also a great cinema – last time I saw Midnight Cowboy – and I love going to the BFI for a seasonal showing of It’s a Wonderful Life.
If I’m staying in I’ll probably ransack Hector’s for something fab, like a Pinot Noir champagne, then I’ll go to Fin & Flounder in Broadway Market to pick up oysters and cured salmon. Across the road you’ve also got Hill & Szrok, which is perfect if you’re after a nice bit of meat. I always feel I can make a better roast at home, but if it’s joyful, hearty food that you’re after and you don’t want to cook, head to Towpath on Regent’s Canal. Even in the colder months it’s nice to sit outside and watch the world go by.
Sometimes Jimmy and I will stay at the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green for a treat. The rooms are massive, there’s a gorgeous pool and being a tourist in your own city always feels quite special. Otherwise we just eat and drink. This Christmas I’m actually looking forward to chilling a bit, but I’ll definitely be drinking some kind of champagne somewhere. And I’m sure there’ll be a Martini in play too.