As a digital training specialist at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Giles Berry enjoys a daily commute to the RICS headquarters in Parliament Square. Here he shares where to find a quiet nook away from its vast hordes of tourists.
Sitting in Westminster, you really feel as though you’re by the seat of power in the UK: the incredible architecture of the Houses of Parliament and the imposing modern government buildings of Whitehall ooze gravitas. Parades and demonstrations go right past my office – so at times of both celebration and upheaval, I literally have a window into the news of the day. I’m a bit obsessed with Big Ben – I can see it from my desk and the dongs always sound terrific.
- Eat: Strutton Ground Market right by the Old Scotland Yard is a cobbled street with outdoor stands and small independent food vendors. You can get a very large lunch for £5 or £6 – great falafel, gourmet burgers, Indian wraps and shwarma.
My two favorite eateries there are Blanche, which offers amazing cakes and pastries among its French dishes, and, at the pricier end of the market, Ichi Riki, a subterranean Japanese restaurant with a really authentic atmosphere and fresh sushi. The Sanctuary House Hotel on ancient Tothill Street has great “pub grub” – definitely order the fish finger sandwiches. They have pie & ale tasting menus where you get 3 mini pies and 3 mini ales. The Cinnamon Club is famous for Indian cuisine in a swanky setting – the walls are covered floor to ceiling with book-lined shelves.
- Caffeinate: Iris & June is a really cool little cafe just off Victoria Street. It does the best coffee in the area, in my opinion – and definitely for “flat whites”, a latte-like coffee made with warm milk and tasting a little sweet.
- Cocktail: Low, Slow & Juke is a large industrial-style underground bar with exposed pipes, smoky American-style dishes such as pulled pork BLT, and sometimes live music. The place is buzzing on Thursday and Friday nights as large groups of co-workers go to celebrate the end of the week with their happy hour deals on craft beers.
The upstairs section of Westminster Arms, by the QE2 Conference Center, has rejected the way a lot of watering holes in the area have gone for light, modern feels. Instead it serves classic English beers like London Pride in big heavy pint glasses and traditional dark wooden surroundings. Munich Cricket Club replaced a rubbish old pub with a German beer hall. Wait staff are in Bavarian dress serving wurst to benched tables. Some nights there is a live Oompah band – great fun. Tattershall Castle is a boat-turned-bar moored close to Embankment and with views of the London Eye. Being on the Thames is particularly pleasant for summer drinks.
- Culture Up: Duck Island Cottage is a relic of the peak prestige of the Royal Parks – it’s a Swiss-style chalet that used to house St James’ bird keeper. Now it’s used to tend to some vegetable patches – I like having something so quirky nearby.
The Tate is quite close for an art fix and the whole riverfront stretch from Westminster to Vauxhall Bridge has a lot of old Georgian houses if you want to take in beautiful architecture. It’s great that such a functional area is also so stunning and it’s interesting to spot the English Heritage’s blue plaques on the former homes of really accomplished icons. Churchill War Rooms is a favorite, especially for a rainy day history lesson.
- Work Out: A lunchtime jog around St. James’ Park is always interesting – you can go past pelicans and other weird birds, run by Buckingham Palace, and see picnic eaters getting accosted by the Park’s wildlife. They have become a little aggressive because they are so used to tourists – the squirrels will literally leap on you if you’re on a bench with a sandwich. Gymbox in Victoria is popular for intense classes with DJs.
- Shop: The Houses of Parliament gift shop is perfect for anglophile tourists – lots of embossed leather items and intricately designed tea towels.
- Skip On: Walking past St Stephens Tavern by Westminster tube station. To attract tourists it pumps out fumes from the kitchen to the street. It usually smells like fried fish and vinegar – it’s horrible.