“It’s an ever evolving mix of interesting people in an unpretentious setting with the best food and service possible.”
Hikari reads in copy. This is not the name of the coolest band you’ve never heard of. Rather, this was the first line of an email from my friend, Celine, connecting me to Hikari Yokoyama. Just the fact that she opted to say “reads in copy” vs “CC’d” already had me tickled. And with a name like Hikari, I knew this was gonna be good.
In putting together the travel content for The TIG, I wanted to highlight my favorite hidden gems in the world, but to also get an insider perspective from curators of cool. Cue Hikari. Beautiful, fashionable, incredibly cultured, and one of the team of people who started Paddle8.com, an online auction site for contemporary art and design. A world traveler, lover of the arts, and advocate of Women for Women International, Hikari is as TIG as it comes. Now a London local by way of NY, she’s the girl that chooses right, does right, and orders right. Just like a scene in When Harry Met Sally, you would look at Hikari and say, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Chiltern Firehouse – This is my local haunt and sister hotel to Chateau Marmont in LA and The Mercer in New York. Coming from New York courtesy of my dear friend André Balazs, this is a little bit of New York mentality brought to London – by that, I mean it’s an ever evolving mix of interesting people in an unpretentious setting with the best food and service possible. Chef Nuno Mendes is as humble as he is genius and always shakes your hand, bows his head enthusiastically and says thank you if I bump into him – proving that delicious food is made not just from the science of flavours and temperatures but also from a warm heart. Not to mention the incredible lighting done by Arnold Chan that always makes you feel happy to stay just a little bit longer and have one more last drink.
Rochelle Canteen – Margot Henderson, (wife of Fergus Henderson,) and part of the incredibly influential nose to tail food movement started by St. John’s, also has a little cafe hidden in the yard of a defunct school house on Arnold Circus. You walk up and around the “Circus,” a lush and overgrown roundabout with little benches for lovers to sit and hold hands, walk up to a brick doorway and ring a buzzer. Once inside the yard, the simple restaurant is clean and white, with floor to ceiling glass facade. The food is fresh, hearty and flavourful. I love it here.
The Wolseley – This restaurant will be on many a list of London guides and it is deservedly so. It holds the place that Balthazar does in New York, only the decor more elegant (the late David Collins) and the food more delicious. I always peruse the menu but always have to come back to oysters, followed by steak tartare, french fries (chips) and a salad, the perfect meal for lunch or brunch or dinner. The bustle is just enough to make you feel the palpable happening that is London but subdued enough that you can have a long conversation.
Mouki Mou – My favourite small boutique (on the same block as Firehouse.) This shop is owned by Maria Lemos who also owns Rainbow Wave, a showroom that represents several independent designers. It is run by Clifford Beacham, formerly of Browns, who is always cheery with a Scottish accent, knows what looks good on me and will happily send images if I want to browse the shops new arrivals remotely. I love Mouki’s selection of dainty jewellery, Wendy Nicol’s handmade leather bags, Arts & Science crunchy linen blazers and dresses – all non-seasonal items that you can’t find anywhere else in London, easy to wear and down to earth.
Mairead Lewin Vintage – This is a best kept secret of London. Mairead is a self-proclaimed vintage junkie who only sells it because it gives her money to buy more of it. She has an incredible eye, a great sense of humour and the best selection in London of 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s dresses with the unattractive linings taken out. She is now working on her own line that refashions old white French cotton undergarments into cool bohemian beach wear with the addition of some strategic embroidery and tailoring. Every time I go here, I wish I had more money to help her habit.
Columbia Road Flower Market – I love the bustle and chaos of this market on the weekend – you get the robust and portly sellers shouting their wares in bold cockney accents- a fiver for a orchid, come on love! Alongside the narrow channel of colour are rows of small independent shops where I’ve bought first edition Maurice Sendak books, or Japanese pens and pencil cases or a French watering can and cafes where one can find a great cup of coffee or a plate of spanish tapas or even a bagel.
Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues – The oldest ongoing club in London, this place is sweaty, grungy and happening every Thursday night, late night. They play a mix of rock’a’billy, reggae and ska. You come here to dance, not to be seen or to people watch. The crowd is a mix of regulars in their zoot suits, teenagers channeling Jim Morrison, red lipped tough birds in tight corsets and other randoms that pepper the evening with strange encounters and lots of laughs. Don’t wear heels.
Sounds of the Universe – My favourite place to shop, or in other words, kill time and never regret a purchase. It’s hard to go wrong in this tightly curated shop of vinyl that stocks soul, jazz, reggae, world music, funk, rock’n’roll and bits and pieces of the rest. Their new releases are always good and friendly staff encourage me to spend hours listening through obscure sounds of Bahamanian revolution songs or Louisiana gospel music from the 50s.
Photos: Hikari’s own, Chiltern Firehouse, Mouki Mou, Rochelle Canteen, Wolseley, Flower Market