My Secret City: London
Home to iconic attractions, the UK’s multicultural capital is steeped in history and at the forefront of cutting-edge art, design and food. Alumna Kirsten McCroskrie (MA 2015) gives us her insider’s guide to London.
There are endless unique and inviting neighbourhoods to explore in London, and I’m lucky to call my favourite one home. Stoke Newington is a paradise of cosy pubs, independent shops and cafes, and incredible restaurants. I love to spend the day on Stoke Newington Church Street, known locally as the ‘village’, popping into its clothes shops, checking out Abney Market’s local craft stalls and then grabbing a pint in the Auld Shillelagh, one of London’s most charming and welcoming Irish pubs. Given that they are adjacent to the gorgeous Clissold Park, the pubs around here are usually teeming with cute pups, which in my opinion is a major added plus to the area.
After a busy work week, I tend to find myself craving a bit of comic relief and there’s nowhere better to find it than Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green. Unsurprisingly, London is teeming with incredible comedy venues, but this is the one I find myself returning to time and time again. It’s cheap, so it’s always packed, and every time I’ve been, the line-up has been diverse and of course, incredibly funny. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a famous face performing new material!
"For me, London is all about constant discovery. It’s massive, so I’m forever exploring new neighbourhoods in the city and being wowed by its history, creativity and diversity."
Brick Lane in Tower Hamlets is better known for its ubiquitous curry houses (and for good reason!) but for me, it’s where I go when in need of some retail therapy. The lane and surrounding streets are packed with great vintage clothes shops and independent retailers. My absolute favourite shop in the area has to be Libreria. This amazing bookshop organises their curated collection by broad themes (rather than genres), to help you discover books and authors you would normally miss in traditional bookshops.
When I’m looking for some late-night dancing, I’ll head to Doña in Stoke Newington. From cabaret and drag nights to jazz shows and Latin DJ sets, this female-owned, basement mezcal bar is one of North London’s best creative hubs. I’m obsessed with the decor – we’re talking pink walls, feather boas, velvet sofas and tasselled lampshades – it's a veritable paradise of kitsch and camp. It’s my favourite place to have one too many margaritas and trick myself into thinking I can salsa.
When I need some fresh air and green space I head to Battersea Park in Battersea. I love to grab a coffee from the Pear Tree Cafe and wander around this large leafy space. I'll usually park up by its huge golden pagoda that has great views of the river. It's the perfect way to find a bit of zen in the city. I usually tie in this trip south of the river with a stop off at Battersea Flower Station (a really cute garden centre and florist that feels a bit like a secret garden) or I'll head across the iconic Albert Bridge and into Chelsea (if you want to spot a celeb, you'll most likely find them here!).
As soon as the weather heats up in London I head to Victoria Station and jump on the train to Whitstable, Kent. It’s got everything you want from an English seaside town. First off, there’s the delicious fresh seafood – the town is famous for its creamy oysters which are best sampled from Wheeler’s Oyster Bar or during the annual Oyster Festival in September. It’s got those quintessentially English multicoloured beach huts. And it's also got some great pubs and craft beer bars. If I ever decide to move out of London, this is where I’d like to end up!
My food & drink hit list
The best cocktails
I’m a sucker for a good cocktail and Satan’s Whiskers in Bethnal Green is my favourite place for them! Its graffitied exterior may scream dive bar, but venture inside and you’ll be greeted with an always-excellent playlist, atmospheric lighting and an interesting collection of mismatched paraphernalia such as taxidermy and vintage booze posters. Elegantly-served cocktails are what’s on the menu and, in my opinion, they are undoubtedly some of the best in the city.
"I love cooking, so I try to find inspiration from the food stalls in Borough Market and then attempt to replicate the dishes back at home!"
Street food & deli
My favourite place to enjoy some tasty street food is Borough Market in London Bridge. There are plenty of stalls offering food from around the world, but my absolute favourite is KUBBA. They serve up Iraqi-inspired street food that is best enjoyed sitting by the Thames with a gin & tonic tinnie from East London Liquor Company (their shop is also located in the market). As one of London’s oldest and largest food markets, Borough Market is also a good spot for picking up deli products, amazing fresh fruit and veg, and exotic spices.
A special dinner
Primeur in Newington Green is one of my favourite restaurants for a special meal. With its daily changing menu of modern European small plates, the food is a celebration of local and seasonal produce. Located on a quiet leafy street in North London, in the summer they swing open their concertina doors to enjoy the sunshine and in winter, its warm lighting and muted furnishings make it a cosy place to splurge on incredible red wine and plates-upon-small-plates of simple yet exquisite food.
A meal with a view
For a guaranteed “London is so cool” remark from visiting friends, I take them to Frank’s Café at Bold Tendencies, Peckham which is open over the summer months. Part of the novelty is its home, right at the top of a multi-storey car park in the depths of buzzing Peckham in southeast London. But I also love its tasty Mediterranean menu, classic spritz cocktails and dazzling view of the city, all nicely packaged in a low-key, no-frills setting with an Instagrammable neon pink stairwell. Bold Tendencies is a not-for-profit art collective and experimental civic space, so there’s usually some interesting installation art and live performances going on too!
An amazing meal on a budget
Cheap eats are not the easiest to come by in London, but when I’m in the mood for something delicious and economic, I head to Andu Café in Dalston. This Ethiopian restaurant serves huge plates of spongy injera bread topped with delicious vegan stews for a palatable £10 a head.
This article was first published January 2023. All opinions expressed are the views of the author and are not endorsed by the University of Glasgow.
Libreria, on Brick Lane in Tower Hamlets, is Kirsten's favourite bookshop. The shop curate their books to "maximise serendipity" by arranging them in broad themes such as 'Wanderlust' and 'The City'.
Borough Market in Southwark is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London, with a market having existed on the site since at least the 12th century. The current buildings date back to the 1850s.
Founded in 1753, the British Museum has a permanent collection of eight million works covering two million years of history. At the centre of the museum sits the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court (above), a two-acre space enclosed by a spectacular glass roof and the largest covered public space in Europe.
The Natural History Museum in South Kensington takes visitors through 4.6 billion years of our planet's history. With more than 80 million objects in its collection, the museum attracts over five million visitors annually.
Tower Bridge in London was built between 1886 and 1894. Visitors to the bridge can experience walkways that offer breath-taking panoramic views of London from 42 metres above the River Thames.
Stoke Newington is Kirsten's favourite neighbourhood in London. She loves to spend time on Stoke Newington Church Street (above) exploring the cosy pubs, independent shops, cafes and restaurants.
Hyde Park in Westminster is one of London's eight Royal Parks. Offering wetland, gardens, playgrounds and sports facilities, the park currently features in Tripadvisor's top 10 London attractions.
London Eye on the South Bank of the River Thames is Europe's tallest cantilevered observation wheel, at 135 metres in height. It's the most popular paid tourist attraction in the UK, with over three million visitors annually.
Whitstable in Kent is famous for oysters and traditional English beach huts. Reachable in less than 1.5 hours from London by train, it's Kirsten's favourite escape when the temperature in the city heats up.