London Calling


Around the time you read this, barring any flight delay agonies, I will have touched down at Heathrow Airport to spend a week in London. It's the first real vacation that my wife and I have taken, possibly since our honeymoon. Certainly it's been the first time I've been out of the country since my honeymoon and the first time I've been to London since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and I was too young to appreciate it properly.

After the last couple of months, I desperately need some R&R, and this will hopefully fill the bill. This trip means a couple of things. First, the blog will go (mostly) into reruns from the old blog for a week, thanks to the post scheduling feature of Movable Type. Believe it or not, there's still a lot of good stuff (well, at least I think it's good) that hasn't made the migration to the new blog and hasn't gotten so old that no one would want to read it anymore. I think it'll be really interesting to see how the material holds up after a couple of years or more and what your reaction is to some of it, particularly those who haven't been here since the beginning (the vast majority of you) and haven't plumbed the archives. Second, there will be no Your Friday Dose of Woo this Friday or next Friday. I know, I know, you need your fix, and, benevolent blogger that I am, I really tried to come up with something for this Friday at least, but, alas, time ran out before my flight, and I had to make sure I had queued up enough posts to keep the blog going in my absence. In any case, even a box of blinking lights containing the most advanced computer in the known universe. Assuming I'm still doing YFDoW by this time next year and haven't fried my last neuron delving into such woo, I'll probably just decide that there will be no editions of YFDoW around the Christmas holidays and for two weeks in the summer when I take my vacation, whenever that may be. Either that, or maybe I'll do something I swore I'd never do and recruit a guest blogger or two.

Whether I blog or not while I'm gone depends upon time and the mood. I will have my laptop with me, and I will be checking in from time to time to read e-mail and release comments held up for moderation, although I doubt I will check in more than once a day, if that. If something interesting happens and I have time, I'll blog about it in between repeats. So don't go away, at least not entirely. Possibly I'll do some photoblogging, which is something I tend to like to do when I'm on vacation.

So what will I be doing while in London?

Other than a planned side trip to Stonehenge next week, our week is fairly unscripted. To demonstrate my true über-nerdness, however, I do very much want to make a trip to Cardiff one day to visit the Doctor Who Exhibition there and to have my photo taken by the entrance to Torchwood's Cardiff headquarters or maybe where the TARDIS was during the episode Boom Town. I may change my mind, however, having seen this little tidbit:

Daleks from around Britain are being called to take part in a record breaking attempt at the Museum of Science and Industry (MoSI). Manchester-based MoSI currently hosts the Doctor Who Up Close exhibition and hopes to attract a record number of Daleks to visit the Museum on 26 August 2007. The Daleks which come to the historic gathering will have the chance to meet the original Dalek designer - Raymond Cusick too. To fulfil the Guinness Book of Records criteria, MoSI must attract 50 or more Daleks - people dressed in costumes which 'closely resemble a Dalek'.

That's happening on Sunday!

Of course, we'll probably do some of the touristy things too, such as visiting the Tower of London and hitting some of London's famous museums. More fun for me is sometimes just wandering around aimlessly through interesting parts of the city, seeing where my wanderings lead me and what sorts of things are off the beaten path. I'll also be meeting up with a former postdoc of mine who moved back to London after finishing her work in my lab, and I may manage to meet one of our London-based ScienceBloggers. I doubt I'll pull a PZ and announce that I'm going to be in some pub or other, the better to meet my adoring public, mainly because I'm not PZ. It would be embarrassing indeed if I sat there downing beers and no one came.

In any case, if any of my U.K. contingent (or anyone else who's been to London, even if living there) has suggestions of things to do and good places to dine (and drink) in London, leave a comment. Besides meeting

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You could visit the Royal Homeopathic Hospital! (where patients are told that if you forget to take your medication you might die of an overdose).
Make sure you get to a good Indian Restaurant or two while you are there, proper english food!

And try and pick up some copies of Viz comic, nominally a scatalogical humour title, which has lately been putting the boot in on evolution and intelligent design in stunningly funny and sophisticated style.

Hey, welcome to good ol' blighty :)

For the proper English social experience, get incredibly drunk and then buy a doner kebab.

I'm up in Reading, which is only a half hour training journey from London, but I don't go there often enough to be able to recommend good place to eat, alas.

On the subject of Torchwood, I always thought it was a bit crappy compared to the standard Dr Who series. Hmm, how much is saying that a faux pas on this blog? Worse than being a fan of electro-induction quantum inverse bio-field energy healing?

It's a bit difficult to suggest a few things to do in London, given how much there is to see. One recommendation would be to pick up a copy of TimeOut; it has cultural listings for the week so you can see whats on in theatres, galleries etc etc.

Another thing, depending on the amount of time you have, would be to buy a copy of The London Compendium by Ed Gilnert (you can pick it up in pretty much any significant sized bookstore). It's a perfect guide if, as you say, you just like wandering around and seeking out lesser known nooks and crannies. Highly recommended. Also pick up an A-Z map if you are there for any time at all. The Lonely Planet guide to London is also worth getting to give you more ideas.

On the food front, it is really impossible to know where to start. Be wary of places in overly touristy areas, they are often overpriced and not really that great. Certainly, if you are a fan of oriental food, avoid Chinatown like the plague. It's crap. Places I like on the food front:

Borough Market - get off at London Bridge tube on a Friday and Saturday lunchtime for an excellent market.

Yautcha - fantastic all day dim sum in a lovely venue in Soho (corner of Broadwick and Berwick Street). Reasonably priced.

Royal China - good chinese food, a few of them round town. Best is at Canary Wharf, next to the river. Mid-range price.

Italian Graffiti - good pizza/pasta stuff on Wardour Street, Soho. Decently priced.

Song Que - best of a bunch of Vietnamese Places along the Kingsland Road (Old Street tube). Cheap.

Tendido Cero - really really good tapas on Old Brompton Road. Only 10 minutes walk from the Natural History Museum (which I imagine you will visit!). It's sister Spanish restaurant is over the road. Towards the expensive end of things, but not too badly priced.

Mango Lounge - tasty Carribbean Food just next to Camden Tube Station (at the bottom of Kentish Town Road).

Rock and Sole Plaice - London doesn't have great fish and chips generally. This chippy in the 5 Dials area (off Shaftesbury Avenue) is pretty good though. Cheap.

On the Indian food front, Brick Lane (strictly speaking Bangladeshi area) is a lively location with loads of places to eat. Fun to visit, but not the best curries in town. Red Fort (quite expensive) and also Imli (Indian Tapas) in Soho are both much better.

There are a number of Chains that are worth checking out if you are at a loss and don't want to pay too much. Wagamama does generic oriental food and is pretty good, Strada not bad for Italian.

On the Pub front, try to avoid chain pubs and go for places with a bit more individual character. The Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden is a decent place as is the Museum Tavern near to the British Museum. This is a reasonable site for pub finding (though it misses stuff out):

I'm an ale drinker and recommend you have a few proper ales. Most pubs will have London Pride, Youngs, Courage and these are all OK. However, the better pubs will have beers from smaller breweries will be much better.

Finally, some tips from a London resident; get an Oyster Card for the tube, it will save money. Go to the end of tube platforms, generally there will be more room there. Busiest times are 8am-9.30 and 5pm-7 and can be rather unpleasant.

Oh and if you get out of London much, go to Oxford where you MUST visit the Pitt Rivers Museum. It's the craziest most amazing museum in the world.

Have fun!

SteveF gives a great runddown of various paces to eat around town - I just wanted to post a possible correction.

Last time i went (granted, some time ago), the Caribbean restaurant near Camden Tube was the "Mango Room", not "Mango Lounge". Might have changed... dunno.

Regardless of which, I'd thoroughly recommend it - it really does have some of the nicest fish i've ever eaten. And Jerk Chicken to die for. Not to mention Camden's Famous Curried Goat (TM).

Actually, I'm making myself hungry.

Some ideas:

The Notting Hill Carnival is this weekend.

Visit Greenwich Park (15 minute train ride from London Bridge or Waterloo).

Seize every sunny moment as an opportunity to be outdoors - Markets, parkland, walking by the river, etc. The weather this summer has been atrocious, you could be driven into the National Gallery by a shower at any moment :)

Never hesitate to ask for directions. It's the only social interaction some Londoners get :-) They'll practically walk you there themselves.

Watch our for pickpockets in the touristy areas and on the tube.

Drink warm beer. Timothy Taylor's Landlord, Fullers London Pride, that kind of thing. Pubs? The Cheshire Cheese on the Strand, The Grenadier (if you can find it!), Taylor's Wine Bar next to Embankment tube.. Consult if you're short of ideas.

And of course.. look at for listings and ideas.

Hope you have a great time.

I'd skip Stonehenge if I were you. You can't get close enough to the site to make the trip worthwhile and there's not really anything else in the area to enjoy.

If you're going to head West to that area and Cardiff, your time would be better spent in Bath or walking in the Cotswolds. As for Cardiff, it has a very good science museum.

Yeah, James' is right; it's Mango Room, not Mango Lounge. My mistake. I should also add that if you venture a mile or so up Kentish Town Road, there is a really nice Gastropub (slightly poncy, upper-middle class pub experience) called The Oxford. Excellent, excellent beers and good food. Also, over the road, is a nice Italian (specialising in Sicilian food) place called Pane Vino (with appropriately surly service).

Max makes a great point about the Notting Hill carnival; I'd totally forgotten about it. A visit is highly recommended (Sunday and Monday). It's true about the weather as well; it's been utterly arse here this summer, but this weekend is supposed to be nice. Plenty of pleasant green spaces in London; I particularly like Hampstead Heath, which is a little way out of the centre, beloved by Londoners and off the tourist trail. It also has good views of the city, from Parliament Hill.

Speaking of good views, go to Greenwich (as in GMT); nice park, cool observatory museum, good views of the city. You can go by boat along the Thames, which is an enjoyable way to spend time and see the city from a different angle.

Reading all of the above is really weird for me. I went to school in London and university in Cardiff where I lived for a total of ten years but I have now lived abroad for twenty-seven years and you guys are describing a foreign country as far as I am concerned. Talk about stranger in a strange land!

Any possibility of a Ben Goldacre/Orac meetup?

It's possible. A lot of it depends on our schedule and how it plays out.

As for the Royal Homeopathic Hospital, I am indeed seriously tempted to see if I can get there and have a few pictures taken of myself in front of it, perhaps making rude gestures at it, pretending to take a piss on it, or something like that.

Everyone: Thanks for the suggestions. Alas, after a redeye flight in coach with idiots sitting in front of us who made it a point to put their seat backs back as far as possible and then some, followed by a long haul to the hotel, our room wasn't quite ready. Completely sleep-deprived and starving (and still with some of our luggage), we hit the first place we found, across the street from the hotel, just because we couldn't stand to go any further.

It cost a lot, and it sucked. Is it a regular feature of British restaurants that I need to be aware of to bury a perfectly good piece of salmon in grease and oil?

Now that we are somewhat recovered, hopefully we can have some fun tonight just wandering around the area and getting our bearings.

On the subject of Torchwood, I always thought it was a bit crappy compared to the standard Dr Who series. Hmm, how much is saying that a faux pas on this blog

It's not a faux pas at all. I've always said that the series was maddeningly uneven, with a couple of really good episodes, a lot of uneven episodes, and a couple of truly, godawful bad episodes ("Countrycide," for example). But the show has a lot of potential, and I still wouldn't mind checking out the Doctor Who Exhibit if I can pull it off.

While people are making suggestions: How about places near The Strand and Trafalgar Square? We're close to that...

London is a good walking city. You can find your way to a number of landmarks on foot, and there is plenty to see as you go along. The north and south embankments are recommended for getting a good sense of London as it unfolds along the Thames. Also if you can plan routes using buses instead of the tube, an all-day bus pass is cheaper than an all-day Travelcard -- useful when you consider the horrible exchange rate at the moment.

Sadly, London does have it's fair share of crappy, overpriced restaurants. Sorry to hear things got off to a bit of a a bad start; food does seem to increase in quality exponentially away from touristy areas (but I can well appreciate that exhausted must eat feeling). Having said that, there are some good places centrally, especially around the Soho area.

Anyway, there's plenty to see and do around Trafalgar Square; it has a lot of the main tourist type things and they are well worth ticking off the list. You are close to the centre of government so there's all that kind of stuff, Buckingham Palace, some great art museums (you must go to the National Gallery, which is in Trafalgar square - the great thing is that all out public museums are free to enter), nice strolls along the Thames. You are also on the last interglacial terrace of the Thames, but only Quaternary geologists like me find that vaguely interesting!

There is so much to see and do in London that I think guide book is essential. There is a Waterstones bookstore just along from covent garden and there might be one at the Trafalgar Square end of the strand too. I'd suggest popping along and getting a Lonely Planet and the other book I mentioned, the London Compendium. You should have a good initial feel after a quick wander tonight though; London's not planned like North American cities (or even quite a lot of European ones), it kind of grew up organically, as a bit of a mess. Once you get your head round that (plus the tube map), it's not an especially difficult place to navigate.

Oh and Fire and Stone is a fun pizza place near to where you are staying, just south of Covent Garden. It has really interesting pizza toppings. You usually need to book, or wait a little while in the bar:

Tried to call you back before you boarded. I was at the country house and my cell doesn't work well there. Have fun and call me when you get back. I'll be in Chicago.

Orac, I hope you and the wife have a great time in London. One place I hope to get to before I get too old to enjoy all the walking, but probably won't be till kids are out of college/medical school/whatever.

I hope you are able to post pix so I can drool!

Have a fabulous time!!!!!

If you're a surgeon and you're going to Borough Market or elsewhere in the London Bridge area, you might want to visit the Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret. Discovered in the garret of St. Thomas's church, where St. Thomas's Hospital was before it moved to its present site in Lambeth opposite the Houses of Parliament, the operating theatre is a gruesome reminder of what patients had to suffer before anaesthesia and antiseptics.

Gratuitous strained Doctor Who connection: the present St. Thomas's played the part (with name changed) of the hospital that the Doctor first meets Martha Jones in.

Absolutely second any recommendations for visiting Borough Market - lots of good stall food and cafes round about. The competition means that the food is comparatively reasonable. Do walk through to the 2nd part of the market because L'Artisan du Chocolat is a must nibble and their hot chocolate drink is an experience to be repeated whenever possible. If you eat red meat - do buy a roll or something from the Ginger Pig stall but there should be lots of food to suit any taste.

If you want a basic comparatively reasonable snack (this is London) then Eat has good soups and snacks/rolls/wraps. I'm not over-impressed by them but some people really like the Square Pie chain where you can buy pies and mash etc.

There is a very good Dali exhibition at the Tate Modern. The South Bank has some fairly good outdoor sculpture at present and a water installation with water curtains.

British Library is worth seeing. (Sad I know, but true.)

I recommend the Original London Walks (no connection but they are well narrated) but there are several companies that do tours that allow you to see parts that you would otherwise miss.

The London Eye is a must-do - especially at night.

If you're interested in architecture, that's a whole other post.

Have you dropped an email to Ben Goldacre of Bad Science or anyone who would probably be delighted to recommend places? I'm thinking of gems such as Postman's Park
which has fascinating memorial plaques and "a wall commemorating ordinary people who lost their lives trying to save others" - various medical officers etc.

Kew Gardens - pretty much a must-see, even if you think that it isn't.

By gadgeezer (not verified) on 24 Aug 2007 #permalink

For basic snacks, drinks, good deli etc. - then pop into Marks and Spencer's, Waitrose etc. For good food and specialised shops (like cheese - kept especially cold, damp and humid), then Covent Garden market is interesting.

Again - you might think that you would hate it, but I recommend the experience of watching a Shakespeare play at The Globe theatre. Buy the £5 ticket if you think that you'll only stay for the first half for the experience, but if you will stay and watch the entire play - fork out for a seat and hire a seat back...

By gadgeezer (not verified) on 24 Aug 2007 #permalink

Both for the experience and the music, it's probably worth your while trying to attend one of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

Don't know if you or Mrs Orac are LoTR fans but I've heard good things about the musical (rather surprisingly - particular praise for the staging).

If you're round Drummond St (near Euston Station) then it is full of reasonably-priced indian restaurants.

I doubt that you could book Browns at this notice but it is worth visiting Fortnum and Mason or Liberty's for Afternoon Tea. Liberty's is particularly good if you are in the mood for seeing odd pastries and impossible meringue shapes under glass domes etc. Liberty's also tends to have a good range of exhibitions on the West Gallery of the 4th floor.

The Loch Fyne chain is good for fish - but do yourselves a favour and skip the vegetables and the pudding as they are disappointing.

If you're really stuck for food that suits you - consult the relevant threads on

By gadgeezer (not verified) on 24 Aug 2007 #permalink

Fish and chips - good compilation of the only shops that you should try - don't just 'walk in and see', the chips will be flaccid and the batter horribly heavy.


If you're visiting Windsor - do nip into the Fat Duck (if you can get a reservation) or the pub next door that is also run by Blumenthal.

If you're interested in unusual but classic food, there is, of course, St John's.

Some special offers in London at present.

Take a look at the 5pm site if you are going to the theatre or concert and will eat pre-theatre.

Lisboa Patesserie by Ladbroke Grove if you're visiting the Portobello Rd. market. They have amazing Portuguese bakery items (ham & cheese croissant, custard tarts, etc.) and good coffee. You will queue but it is worth it.

If you go to the Borough Market - I second the Ginger Pig and L'Artisan du Chocolat (for sure on the hot chocolate which is indescribable) but also speak up for a chorizo sandwich from Brindisa.

I have to second the Pitt Rivers Museum. The place is amazing, but freaky in a I-can't-look-away kind of way. Plus Oxford is a great place to visit...

By Matt the heathen (not verified) on 24 Aug 2007 #permalink

The Lamb in Conduit St is lovely, as is the wonderful Jerusalm Tavern in EC1 (I know its not really old, but it should be). SteveF has it right, Beerintheevening is an ace site.

Things to do - BM, South Kensington Museums, etc. There are some decent places to eat around South Ken, but up near Harrods is better. Fortnums is great for snobby tea (and gifts), and check out Jermyn St for nice shirts, ties, etc (Pinks and some of the others also do womens stuff).

The Soane Museum is one place I always meant to go, but never got around to it, and UCL has a secret (or at least barely known) museum of chinese ceramics which is great (and free).

Proms if you can - or the Opera/Ballet - tickets can be pretty cheap. And check out the Barbican at the moment.

There's always the river, and you might get to look around parliment. The Original London Walks can be good - theres a great one with an actor around the city where he dresses like a monk, but the Jack the Ripper one was rubbish (I knew more about the case than he did).

Frankly, there's loads of stuff to do (you could even just wander around checking out old DW locations, but I know what my wife would say...), but we apologise in advance for the rubbish service, the odd dodgy meal (avoid anything with Steak House in the name like the plague), the sweaty tube and the way nobody has quite organised anything properly. Oh, and the exchange rate is rubbish for you too. Sorry.
Have a great time.

if nr trafalger square, ICA maybe worth a look Sometimes interesting modern art, talks/debates, music, films etc. Also one of the best bars for food/european beers/cocktails/late license in the area (IIRC you have to pay an entry charge if not seeing something else in the venue, but then food/drink prices not bad for area).

Oh yeah, and definitely go to the Globe if time allows - I think the pain of standing adds to the experience ;) Somerset House also worth a look if nr waterloo - nice (often quiet) art gallery, and beautiful courtyard w/ fountains etc. (also w/ bar in courtyard and iirc decent restaurant in gallery)

Given the history, you should really try to hoist a pint in the John Snow Pub. (The street has been renamed to Broadwick Street since.)

Only the English would name a pub after a teetotaler....

For an addict of World War II, the HMS Belfast would be a good idea. It is not far from the Tower, on the other bank of the Theems. It is about everything I still remember from London, not counting the British Museum.

That's all. I wish you a very pleasant vacation.

P.S. Would Stonehenge be a good subject for YFDOW?

Second gadgeezer's comment about Drummond Street (just north of Euston Stn) for cheap (mostly vegetarian) curries. The one-price Thali lunch at Diwani's bel-poori house is one of the great culinary bargains of London. Probably a tenner for the pair of you. And just along from there is Laurence Corner, the original surplus store where Adam Ant and the Clash used to shop. If you're into that kind of thing.

As someone else said, Oxford makes a good day trip as the train from Paddington only takes an hr and you can walk round the town. Good for spotting locations for the upcoming film of Phillip Pullman's books, plus the spot where "Bloody Mary" burnt the three bishops at the stake. Gives me a few ideas about Deepak Chopra every time I walk by there.

MikeB mentions the UCL's obscure museum of Chinese ceramics. It's the Percival David Collection, on a square a few blocks north of the British Museum, and if the whole idea doesn't bore you to tears, then it's an absolute must.

I also second the recommendation of Sir John Soanes museum if you're into quirky brilliance.
And if you're in Oxford for Pitt Rivers, don't forget there is a fine if less quirky museum of the history of science in the middle of town. (Anybody could recommend the Ashmolean; we have higher standards here.)

Porlock Junior is right - the Percival David Collection is great if you like that sort of thing..I was an undergrad at the IoA when a group of us got shown around it by a ceramics expert - which was much more interesting than just wandering around it on your own.

Its a bit late, but I've actually just thought of one place which is certainly a good day out, and thats the South Bank. You can start at Westminster Tube Station (which is pretty cool anyway) and have a quick look at the Palace of Westminster, then cross the bridge over to the other side, where there's the London Eye (which is good for 15min anyway) , or Lambeth Palace & St. Thomas's if you turn right. Under Hungerford Bridge and you are at the Royal Festival Hall, which has just been restored and is apparently wonderful (it was always very good). Then there is the rest of the Southbank, which looks horrible, but inside is really good. Carry on down the Thames and past the Oxo Tower (good free views), Bankside Gallery and then your at Tate Modern, which is great (there's the level 7 resturant with great views), and then the Globe (the old pub next to it should be a gem, but was a total hole when I last went, so hopefully someone can tell me that its improved) - and if you want you can go down to HMS Belfast. Or you could walk over the bridge at Tate Modern and go into the city - you can head for St.Pauls.
But dont go to Leicester Square - its the tourist armpit of the capital.