I started writing this as a guide for Summer Associates when I worked in the London office of a US law firm. It's not meant to tell you how to survive London but it is meant to act as a way to replace your contacts when you move to London. It is all written with the the caveat that I'm a horrible snob and a West London girl complete with pashmina to boot. Which you'll learn the meaning of soon I'm sure!
Areas I'd recommend for houses in rough order, given we're assuming you've got to get to the City are: Chelsea, Pimlico, Islington, Primrose Hill, Kensington, South Kensington, Queensgate, Bayswater, Nottinghill. There's also options living in the City itself - and Tower Bridge but that's going to be kind of noisy and dead on the weekends. Islington, Primrose Hill and Bayswater are going to be the cheaper options of that list. I lived in Putney, which is a funny little enclave a long way into West London mainly orientated around the Thames, rowing and cycling. There's a high street with all the shops and restaurants you could ask for and it's a leafy cute suburb. It was perfect for me but it is jolly expensive - alternatives around there are Fulham, Clapham and Barnes.
Best way to see West London is the 22 bus - sit on it all the way from Piccadilly to Putney, hopping off when ever you see anything you like and then go and have a walk round South Ken too. It was my shopping bus. There's a great book called The Shops on London shopping too.
Tube/bus directions: http://journeyplanner.tfl.gov.uk/
Oyster card http://www.tfl.gov.uk/oyster
Train connections: http://ojp.nationalrail.co.uk/en/s/planjourney/query
Black Taxis http://www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/taxisandminicabs/taxis/1136.aspx Radio Taxis is the easiest of the lot.
(do not get in anything other than a black cab off the street - if you do and you get attacked the police will just give you a withering look - I kid you not)
Mini cab (book in advance) http://www.addisonlee.com/
Private car hire/Airport pickup:
Palace Cars 01708 442 255
Sovereign Cars 020 7987 2007
FlightLink 020 7537 4777
City airport's the easiest to fly out of by far, after that Heathrow and the rest are kind of grim. Its six of one and half a dozen of the other from West London whether its worth going to Paddington and getting the Heathrow Express or just getting a cab. From the rest of the city you'll want to cab or tube it to Paddington and get the Heathrow Express. The Eurostar is not so fun now it's at St Pancreas but still worth doing at some point.
Grocery delivery http://www.ocado.com/ - Ocado delivers Waitrose food - see below. All the supermarkets also have their own home delivery services - but these are usually from stores not a warehouse and you tend to get stuck with sucky use by dates.
Cleaning lady - opt for an agency, much less hassle. My old agency has sadly gone out of business but a quick yelp should find several. Also - the standard on moving out of a lease is that you get a professional clean done and you give the invoice to your landlord and they release your deposit and go after the cleaning company instead if there's a problem.
Restaurant Food delivery https://www.deliverance.co.uk/ is amazing but pricey, and Seamless web has just started going - not super great yet.
In rough decending order:
Marks & Spencers - great for pre-prepared food, lunch time salads and sandwiches etc (though Pret or Tiffin Bites remain my favorites)
Waitrose - good quality food, not cheap in the context of British supermarkets, but where all my food came from and where Ocado sources food from (See above). Brit equivalent of Whole Foods, albeit considerably cheaper. Bear in mind that EU food safety is much more stringent that US (non-theraputic use of antibiotics have been banned for nearly 30 years in the EU), so if you bought organic from Whole Foods you can probably get away with buying free range rather than organic. Organic rules are also much more strict in the EU so worth having a look into.
Sainsburys - Ok - middle of the road
Tesco - random, their high end range is very good and the rest is horrible and cheap. Similar although a bit more upmarket to Safeway in the US.
Gifts are always a monster nightmare in a new town, and London can be a bit impentrable shopping area wise. Few thoughts to get you going below:
There's then hosts of florists you'll see in your neighborhood, but there is one that's worth knowning about if you want something a little different for a client, prospective mother in law etc etc which is Moyses Stevens - uber luxury florist with an appointment to the Queen. That should get you out of whatever spot you've got yourself into!
Gifts under $100
Easy single destination - the White Company They deliver - its painless and lots and lots in white shockingly enough, and lots of variety to suit any budget. There are other options of course but this is by far the easiest.
Diaries and Notebooks
Smythson - has lovely diaries and notebooks bound in beautiful colored leather and other little gifts. There's a store in Harrods - otherwise you're going to want the Sloane Square tube.
Fortnum & Mason - again Piccadilly - have all sorts of wonderful foods, coffees and teas that make great gifts, all wrapped up in tasteful duck egg blue. But if you need the brand recognition then Harrods is going to be the way forward and that's off High Street Ken.
Homewares - and Baby Gifts
Penhaligons is a very old English company that does lovely perfumes and they do little gift sets in the $25-$80 range. They've got a store in Burlington Arcade, which you can get to from Piccadilly Circus. Its a bit more inventive than the standard Crabtree & Evelyn or L'Occitane.
Ren Skincare - has absolutely amazing body washes that smell heavenly and have no parabens. You can buy them online or from another London staple Space NK (you can however easily bankrupt yourself at Space NK!).
There are four stores, all accessible from the Sloane Square tube, which make expensive gift giving easy. Hermes, La Perla (or Agent Provacteur round the corner if you prefer) and Tiffany I'm sure you've all heard of - but Pickett is a well kept British secret. Beautiful pashminas, gloves, purses/wallets and handbags and funky pearl and crystal jewellery. Very hard to go wrong.
Men have it easy - everything smart that you'll need will be somewhere along Jermyn Street.
As for the girls - the best shopping areas are : Kings Road & Sloane Street, Piccadilly, New Bond Street and Upper Street in North London. The three stores that may or may not be new to you that are great for work are Joseph, LK Bennett and Hobbs. Armani Collezioni also has a concession in Harrods that's kinda useful for kick ass suits.
Restaurant recommendation http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/
Opera, music booking etc:
Social stuff: http://www.timeout.com/london/
Obviously there are many other better, wider guides to restaurants in London that you can lay your hands on, and if you're looking for Nobu, or something else obvious that you can find with googling, its not going to be on this list. These are just a selection of my favourite restaurants, call it the West London girl's guide to an entertaining evening. Want to have somewhere perfect to catch up with friends after work - and the best Negroni in London - Polpo is the answer. If you've fallen out of a club and are starving at 4 am, then the solution is Vingt Quatre. If you've got parents in town and you need something that'll be reliable then Fortnums for tea and Cheyne Walk Brasserie or J Sheeky for dinner. First date? Bar at Fortnums. None of them are cheap cheap, this being London, but they're all reasonable other than the Wolesley but that's just for entertainment value and work. I'll mention if it's really good value. Chelsea restaurants lend themselves to a post prandial walk along Kings Road or the Embankment, Mayfair to Green or Hyde Park, Putney along the Thames path.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/uk/view/80262/Bluebird On Kings Road and easy for a shoping lunch. The cafe's reasonable, the restaurant a bit bland and pricey, but it's reliable food and the service is nice and the bar/sofas are comfy. The club round the corner can also be fun.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/80350/Caraffini Old school Italian close to Sloane Square - nothing very exciting, but great if you're in a hurry and don't fancy the standard restauarants around the Square itself.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/82681/Cheyne_Walk_Brasserie_and_Salon ok - probably my favourite restaurant in London for a big night. It is good value *cough* for what it is, rather than reasonable - but great for a blow out evening. The food is good, the service sweet, it is in a nice part of Chelsea (get the bus or a taxi from Sloane Square tube otherwise 20 min walk) and there's a room with sofas and a bar upstairs which is great for pre dinner drinks and post dinner collapse.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/80431/Le_Colombier Really sweet French restaurant with very good French food and good prices, hidden away down the West end of Chelsea near Fulham Road.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/80553/La_Famiglia Fabulous Tuscan food and reasonable.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/81331/Sophie's_Steakhouse Crowded and crazy, and you can't book, but does great mojitos for while you wait for a table, amazing steak and great value.
I don't think this needs an introduction - but all over west London now, and there's a great one on Kings Road. There's incidentally a great newsagents about 30 yards further West by the next bus stop. There's your Sunday morning sorted!
What's not to like? Cute waiters, good value, doesn't close. I've gone in for lunch and left at 2 am - also good for falling out of a club into.
I love this for brunch or afternoon tea on a weekend, it's very reasonable, central and graceful. The bar is also great and has light food and a good stopping off point if you're on your way to an event at one of the clubs.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/82485/Benares No discussion of London Indian restaurants would be complete without a reference to Benares. Very high end, very fabulous food - this isn't Tikka Masala - this is European technique invested Indian inspired food. But if you have a serious event to throw and you don't want a thing out of place, this is a good place to start.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/80398/Chor_Bizarre For a variety of reasons, I've been in pretty much every major Indian restauarant in London. This is very lighthearted with really great North Indian food.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/80594/Franco's Italian - another good one for taking fund types to lunch
Again - doesn't really need an introduction, and there's one in Covent Garden and Burlington Arcade too.
Lancashire Court in Mayfair has three great restaurants/bars that are all close to New Bond Street shops etc:
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/81130/Rocket Lots of fun and quite reasonable
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/80705/Hush Bit pretentious but entertaining.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/84111/Mews_of_Mayfair Mews I'm actually a fan of. The set meal for lunch is actually great, it's great light food and also works well for business lunches. Then the bar downstairs can make for a highly entertaining night.
Not just Russian but Slavic in general cusine for the homesick or those tired of people complaining that Stroganoff is a heavy beef stew.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/81290/Tamarind Another high end Indian in the same vein as Benares, this time with a Michelin star.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/82786/The_Wolseley Hilariously pretentious, primarily for being seen - very short sittings, so so food, silly wine list, but worth it for a visit. Actually great for business breakfasts, not bad for lunch - again - especially for meeting those who will have worked out in one of the clubs.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/81195/J_Sheekey Someone recently asked me if I remembered it, as if you could forget. This is the place to go if you really have had enough, and just want to eat and drink fabulously and forget the whole g*ddam world. Also great if you want somewhere high end, cosy, amazing fish and good service (!)- they do a pre theatre service that will really honestly get you out of the door on time. Part of the family that includes the Ivy etc.
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/80319/Cafe_Des_Amis Restaurant is also good, but what it is great for is the bar downstairs for wine and a huge plate of cheese.
Starting with the City hangouts -
Best in the summer to sit out by the water with a glass of something bubbly.
It probably is the best steak place, at least in the City. Uniformly a boys place at lunch. There's one in Spitalfileds and one in Guildhall. Just don't expect to come out of here paying much less than $150 and don't expect to be able to work that afternoon if you're foolish enough to agree to lunch here (guilty).
http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/80911/Moshi_Moshi One of the best Japanese restaurants in town - you can only get non-sushi if you sit in the booths but the booths are lovely to chill out in the middle of a hectic day.
Awesome Italian restaurant and wine bar upstairs, Negroni bar downstairs. What's not to like?
Canary Wharf, semi unusually, has some fairly slim pickings in terms of awesomeness despite its tidy facade and long list of places. For light lunches there are great places, Cafe Nero, Tiffin Bites etc But in terms of nights out, the three best are:
The solution to a long and shitty week. Hidden next to Birley Sandwiches (always good to know where that is), with no natural light is an awesome little restaurant attached to this Wine Store. Drink amazing French wine at shelf prices and perfect French food. Also fairly unknown other than amongst the seriously overworked, and always fairly noisy so fairly safe to tal
Plateau is pretty awesome in terms of the view and buzzy vibe and riculously expensive but reliable wine - but it is going to be wall to wall with every trader, banker and lawyer in the Wharf - so keep it strictly to general gossip!
A wee bit out of the way, still ridiculously expensive but quieter than Plateau and a better bet than Nicolas if you say have partners or clients with you.
Oxo Tower Basserie http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/80989/Oxo_Tower_Brasserie Over priced but great view
Roast http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/83502/Roast great British (I know, I know) food
Enoteca Turi http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/80543/Enoteca_Turi Way west but the best Italian food and wine anywhere
So you have friends or family in town - now what?
Take a walk http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/vmtours/chelseawalk/vm_cw_chelseaembankment.asp and visit the Physic garden: http://www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk/
This is a great walks company - the Westminster or Mayfair walks would probably be best. There's also a Harry Potter one and it's cheap GBP 8 per person http://www.walks.com/London_Walks_Home/Mondays_Walks/default.aspx
The Barclays bikes are not great but an easy way to get around some places
Kensington Museums (all free and within a 5 minute walk of each other)
Science Museum http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/
Victoria and Albert Museum http://www.vam.ac.uk/ - fantastic combination of art, historical artifacts and design
Try and get to the more unusual ones like Green Park - or the individual gardens in Hyde Park - or the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park or catch the train or tube out to Richmond and go to either Richmond Park or Kew Gardens.
St. Pauls http://www.stpauls.co.uk/
Westminster Abbey http://www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us