8 Things That Confuse Visitors To London
1. The more elegant a London restaurant looks, the worse it is.
All the best restaurants are funky and scruffy, and may look like you’re sitting in a carpentry shop or a foundry. If it’s got white tablecloths and candlelight, avoid! The Angus Steak House may look inviting but don’t be fooled. No Londoner has ever eaten in one. The places with seriously awesome food have bare wood, mismatched plates and no dress code. I’d never heard of dress code in a restaurant until I went to America. Some suit-monkey told me I had the wrong shoes. The only place you’ll be made to wear a jacket is in a traditional London gentleman’s club, and the food in those is pure 1950s school dinners.
2. Cafes and pubs serve better breakfasts than fancy places.
Why? Because upmarket restaurants precook their poached eggs and never heat them up properly, whereas cafes cook from scratch, and many (especially the New Zealand ones) are legendary. Pubs don’t look like they serve breakfast but a lot do, and portions are huge. Even transport cafes have funny-shaped plates now. The one nearest me serves Eggs Benedict with asparagus, tomatoes and basil for a fiver. Truckers have clearly been watching ‘Masterchef’.
3. The tube doesn’t go where you think it does.
You want to go from King’s Cross to Embankment, which is due south, so you need to change at Euston, which is actually west, but to do that you need to take the Northern line up, which is north. Go figure.
4. Nor does the city.
The West End is in the city centre, but West London is going toward the airport. Hoxton and Shoreditch in the East End aren’t in East London. Because of the way the Thames meanders, north of the river is sometimes actually in the south and vice versa. And wherever you stand within sight of the London Eye, it’s the wrong way around. This is because if you face the river on its north side looking south, you may be facing east or west. Got it?
5. That place you’re going to isn’t what it looks like.
Local office workers near me eat in a lunch place that’s a fetish club at night. Food halls may also hide cinemas, nightclubs or cabaret. Restaurants may have entertainment. Theatres are in pubs. Dance classes are in churches. My top bookshops are hidden in a medical institute, a library and a barge. Since the death of Time Out there’s no single stop to discover this kind of stuff. You just have to figure it out for yourself.
6. The things that look old often aren’t, and the old-looking stuff is new.
Tower Bridge isn’t old by our standards. It was finished after my grandad was born. But some of the nice modern-looking, plain houses you’ll find in backstreets may predate Tower Bridge by seventy years, which was the early Victorian style. Oscar Wilde used to go to work on the tube. Now that’s just weird.
7. The things you should pay for are free and vice versa.
You expect to pay to enter the world’s major museums – but you don’t in London. Ceremonies and shows seem to appear from nowhere and are free (a few weeks back Elton John performed in my local station for free, unprompted). But you pay to use a public toilet.
8. Londoners are so unfriendly you can’t shut them up.
Everyone says Londoners are unfriendly. Yes they are, until you make the first move and talk to them, especially in a pub. After that you won’t get a word in edgeways. And if you become so friendly they say, ‘We must get together again some time’, it means ‘We’ll never see each other again.’