Swapan Seth rewrites his London Grammar

  • Published 15.10.17

London has a seductive predictability to it. You stay in Grosvenor House. You walk in Hyde Park. Take a selfie with the ducks. You then lunch at Hakkasan. Post that you walk up and down Bond Street. Come the evening, you hit the Audley pub and finally there’s dinner at Sexy Fish. It is a carefully crafted script that is adhered to by so many from India in London. It is like transplanting Khan Market into Knightsbridge. It has a dreadful dreariness to it. On a trip last month, I vowed not to step into Savile Row, give Selfridges a skip and avoid the Arts Club. I decided to look at London through a completely new lens.

Poetic and melodic

I booked myself for lunch at a place called Shuang Shuang. Apparently, the haven of hotpots. Upon reaching the place, I found it absolutely empty. Proof, that there was nothing hot about the place. I looked around and found a nondescript restaurant called Wong Kei. The decor was completely deplorable. I was made to share a table with another tourist. The place was buzzing. The waiters were rude. But the food was simply fantastic. Their Szechuan Prawns were delicious. As was the Egg Fried Rice.

Another day, I had a meal at yet another hole in the wall:

Pho Cafe. Their Goi Ga (shredded chicken salad with Asian herbs, peppers and chilli ginger dressing) was glorious. And their Pho Chin (tender brisket slow-cooked in stock) was poetic.

Given the dietary restrictions placed upon us by our elected representatives, a great steak is almost always mandatory. I chose Zelman Meats, a frill-free cafe on the fifth floor of Harvey Nichols. Their Chilean Wagyu beef is a melody in meat.

Soul of cool

Shoreditch is the soul of cool London. That is where the trendiest stores and cafes are. Mercifully, even the most evolved visitors to London don’t know where it is. Specifically, Redchurch Street is the only street you need to visit in Shoreditch. Pop into Labour and Wait, a stunning small store that has everything from clothes to accessories, kitchen goods, bathroom goods and the coolest culinary seeds that fashionably feed my current fetish: gardening.

Down the road, there’s Monologue. Fabulous lights, furniture and even stationery. Check out their Amber Candle. It is simply divine. Modern Society is another gem. Great store for tees and shirts for men and women. Plus a really cool cafe that serves the meanest avocado on toast with tomatoes.

If fragrances are what you fancy, drop by at Le Labo, where they print up a label with your name to stick on to the fragrance you choose. Sunspel makes the most delicious tees and their store on Redchurch Street is the perfect way to sign off on the shopping. But before you trot off, do stop by a terribly tiny cafe called Albion. Order one of their winter fruit crumbles and custard. Wash it down with a turmeric almond latte. Bliss.

A charming new angle

As far as the art scene is concerned, London is heaving this year. I was thrilled to see the Giacometti show at Tate Modern. Otobong Nkanga’s works combine voice with sculpture. See that and also see Susan Hiller’s work at Tate Modern. I caught Jasper Johns’s magnificent exhibition at The Royal Academy Of Art. I caught Matisse there as well. As we speak, there is a fantastic Dali/Duchamp show at The Royal Academy of Arts. And, of course, there is a monumental Basquiat show at The Barbican. I also caught Henri Cartier-Bresson at the absolutely marvellous Phillips gallery, which also showed the work of Murray Fredericks.

London is also becoming the centrepiece of meaningful cinema. Now the trick as far as movies in London are concerned, is to avoid the over odious Odeon. Unless you want to see some mass trash movies. Instead, look for what’s showing at Curzon Cinemas. It always has some great films playing. I caught A Man Called Ove, Insyriated and Borg vs McEnroe. And on my flights in and out of London, I caught The Wizard of Lies, Churchill and The Dinner.

London is also a fabulous place to pick up interesting booze. I am so done with the Japanese Malt business. I discovered it eight years ago, well before it became popular in Paschim Vihar. Instead, my focus is on artisanal gins and vodkas. Pothecary is a glorious gin made in Dorset using Sicilian limes. Sabatini is another fine gin made with Tuscan herbs. Bimber is an ultra chic vodka infused with Summer Fruit. Our/Vodka is another great vodka with a fine fruity note. Pick up the Our/London variant.

For years, I was disenchanted with London. I found it banal and boring. But over the past few months, I have been going every month. And every month I discover a charming new angle to the city.
This is my London Grammar.

Copywriter, author, art collector, wine collector, son, brother, husband, father.... Swapan lives in Gurgaon. His heart, however, is in Calcutta