The Nightmare Before Christmas
Here they come, ready to spend in Westfield and Primark – the shoppers of Christmas, flooding Oxford Street, stuffing Covent Garden’s tiny tube station to breaking point, filling the pubs and restaurants so that it’s not possible to get a booking until 2013. And don’t even think about tickets for the big shows until next year.
But there are compensations if you know where to look. The Apple Store in Covent Garden is surprisingly calm in the mornings, partly because more people are buying online, partly because most shoppers head to the one in Regent Street.The same is true for HMV, where the staff are very helpful. And any department store not called Selfridges is likely to be manageable.
I prefer the smaller shops around Monmouth Street, Marylebone High Street, the German Market on the South Bank, the indie gaffs near Liverpool Street, and avoid Kensington, where the typical shoppers are bankers spanking the bonus on upmarket tat or WAGs looking for rhinestone heels.
Even Camden has a few places worth checking out again, apart from the ever-excellent Roundhouse. Inverness Street has a new chippy, and Hache is still superb. Soho has got heavily into meat lately, with the arrival of no-reservation cafes like Meat Liquor, Burger & Lobster and ceviche bar La Bodega Negra, which you can enter through what appears to be a Soho sex shop (above).
In fact, the credit crunch has produced some smarter thinking about good food, with pop-up restaurants, dining clubs and no-frills/fresh ingredients dining joints offering value-conscious set lunches all over town.
While we’re talking of saving money, fringe theatre venues are offering some good value plays over the season; I’m booked into half a dozen which have collectively cost less than one outing to a big West End show. Skating rinks are everywhere this year, which has the good side effect of making them less crowded. I went skating at Somerset House on Saturday night, and it was just comfortably busy, with hot chocolate and brandy being served in its pop-up apres bar.