Chanoy Honeymoon: London, February 2016

Note – photo gallery at the end of this post. It’s also quite a long post, so I’ve put in some skip links to different sections for those interested!

Introduction | Culture and Entertainment | History | Neighborhoods | Connectedness | Food | Photo Gallery

There was a time in my life when I seriously considered moving to London. It was at a time when most young people are considering their next step in life – right after I finished my undergraduate degree. Without a graduate job lined up, I was a bit of a loss as to what to do next. After a short visit to the UK, I convinced myself that moving to London and finding work would be the answer to all my problems.

This obviously never happened. While I was formulating my plans, other things happened in life. I got accepted into a postgraduate course, I bought an apartment, I started working full-time…suddenly, more and more tangible commitments began to tie me down to Australia and moving to the UK became nothing more than a distant dream.

Is that dream over? Possibly. The employment market in Europe is difficult at the moment, the political situation is unstable, and K and I would never move across the world unless we both had decently-paid jobs lined up beforehand. Still, if the opportunity ever presented itself…I think we’d move ourselves and our future family over to London in a heartbeat, at least for five years to really dip our toe into the English waters.

That is probably a pretty strong indicator of how we both felt about our time in London! There’s just so much to love about the city, and below I attempt to group all the different elements that we love about London under five main categories.

The Culture and Entertainment

London’s museums and galleries are unparalleled – both in sheer quantity and quality. Best of all, they’re all completely free to enter! We visited the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Natural History Museum and my personal favourite, the National Portrait Gallery, during our week in London. Our visits were very quick, and cursory at best. If we were to live in London, I think we could spent a half day every weekend at a museum for a whole year, and still not be able to view and appreciate all that they have to offer.

And the thing is, the very fact that they’re free of charge for visitors makes them all the more enticing! At home in Australia, we may only visit our museums once or twice a year – generally only if we have visitors staying with us, and generally only if we have a voucher entitling us to discounted entry. We’d love to patronise our cultural institutions more often – we simply don’t have the budget to do so.

There’s other cultural entertainments that are much more affordable to enjoy in London – theatre performances for example. We managed to get tickets to two large performances for just 100 pounds ($200) – essentially half the price of theatre tickets in Australia. There are also many more smaller or amateur productions on around the city when compared to the arts scene in Australia. You could see a different performance somewhere in Greater London three times a week, and never pay more than 20 pounds a ticket.

We saw two performances – Billy Elliott the musical which I had missed during its Australian run, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, based on the novel by Mark Haddon which I had read and enjoyed a few years ago.  K isn’t often a fan of the stage productions I love (he hates musicals), but even he had to admit that both shows were absolutely superb. The child performers in Billy Elliott were astounding, the humour in the script was on point, and the dancing breath-taking. The stage direction and set design in Curious Incident were far superior to any production I’d ever encountered before – a thoroughly modern design that enhances the whole story.

Obviously museums, galleries, and theatre makes up only one small part of what London has to offer culturally. For instance if pop culture is more to your liking, you’ll probably enjoy guided tours of the city based on famous film locations (one on every corner essentially!) – or do as we did, and go on the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Warner Brothers studios in Leavesden, just outside of London.

For a Harry Potter fan like myself, it was an absolutely unmissable experience. Having grown up with the books and then the movies, visiting the studios and seeing how the magic was created was very emotional – there were more than a few occasions when I teared up when the emotion was just too strong! Even non-fans will find it interesting…and everyone always loves trying Butterbeer, or Butterbeer ice-cream as we did! I’ll let the photos below speak for themselves.

The History

One of my favourite book genres is romanticised historical fiction, specifically when it comes to accounts of individuals within English royal history. If there’s a Lancaster, York, Tudor or Stuart in the book, I’m pretty much guaranteed to have read it. What this means is that every time K and I walked around different parts of London, or went into a museum or gallery or other notable site, I would regale him with my own versions of English royal history and how it was relevant to where we were or what we were looking at.

The actual historical accuracy of my enthusiastic accounts is tenuous at best, but it does make for a good story. Simplifying the historical events with a more colourful retelling also seemed to help bring the history alive – K even admitted that as time passed, he began to fit names to families, dates to events, and events to places.

The thing about London is that you can’t escape this history. Every street you walk down has played its role in history and if you were to read and research everything, you could be around for hours. For example, K became fascinated by the number of “ER” and “GR” monograms that he saw on postboxes around the city and in looking up what they meant, fell into a Wikipedia black hole of reading about the history of the Royal Mail.

Royal history aside, there are other things to consider about the more questionable side of Britain’s history when exploring London. There are shameful elements of imperial and colonial history that still have repercussions today and it’s worth keeping your eyes open while spending time in the city.

For instance, I felt particularly uncomfortable about exploring certain areas of the British Museum with the knowledge that many of its priceless displays had been effectively stolen from their countries of origin and never returned. There are obviously arguments on either side of this ethical dilemma but I side with those who believe that stolen artefacts should be returned to their place of origin – with the proviso of course, that the location is safe and secure!

The Neighbourhoods

The more time you spend in the city, the more you realise that each postcode in London has its own very distinct character. From suits in the City, souvenir shops in Westminster, moneyed in Kensington, hip in the East and alternative in the North, there’s a different London waiting to be explored around every street corner.

We stayed at a B’n’B south of the Thames, between Vauxhall and Stockwell tube stations. The area was largely very quiet and residential with a mix of terrace houses and apartment blocks which suited us well – after a full day’s sightseeing amongst the crowds in central London, we needed a bit of quiet and relaxation at home at night! Considering that the average price of hotels in London are about $240/night, we definitely didn’t mind staying in our $120/night B’n’B located a little further out…the London Underground is so well serviced that travelling two extra stops on the Tube is barely an issue!

When it comes to where you should spend your time though, I have to say that I love the area stretching from South Kensington (museums!), to Knightsbridge (fancy shopping at Harrods!), through Hyde Park and Piccadilly (green space and palaces!), up to the West End (theatre!) and Soho (pubs, bars, nightlife!). We must have walked that path a million times over during our time in London, and I would swear that it’s one of the routes that takes you past some of the best and most interesting neighborhoods that Central London has to offer.

Note that I haven’t really talked about the areas of Westminster and Southbank, where most tourists tend to spend their time in ticking off areas such as the Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye…it’s a pretty area along the waterfront, but the problem is that it is extremely touristy. We just spent half a day in the area taking in the sights (and a few photos) before moving on to other neighbourhoods in London that felt more local and friendly.

Another area that I think all tourists have to visit is Camden Town. I’m not just saying this because my friend Maren is twisting my arm – she’s lived in Camden all her life and loves the area. It’s actually a wonderfully diverse and lively area. The Camden markets are wonderful (as I’ve mentioned before on this blog), the food options are numerous, the people are interesting, and there’s just so much to see and do.

However, if crowded neighbourhoods aren’t your thing, you can always explore the great outdoors! For a city that’s such a heaving metropolis of people, there’s a remarkable dedication to green space both within and outside the city. We spent our first afternoon and evening in London walking through Hyde and Green Parks, wandering down to Buckingham Palace before meandering back up to Kensington Palace – taking over 25k steps that day according to my Fitbit! There’s certainly no lack of parklands to be found for those who are more outdoorsy.

The Connectedness

It’s just so easy to get around London and the UK in general. From local buses to the Tube, to regional rail and National Express coaches – there’s a million different modes of transport, all of which are scheduled regularly so customers never have to wait too long for their bus or train.

Granted, they have the population to sustain such services, but Australia really could learn a few lessons from English transport efficiency – I shouldn’t have to wait on a train platform for up to twenty minutes on a weekend in order to catch a train into the city. The Tube runs almost every two minutes – why can’t Australian public transport run at least every ten minutes?

The pricing is hard to beat as well, with regional travel particularly affordable. We bought two Megabus tickets from London to Cardiff for nine pounds – barely $18 AUD. Return train tickets from Manchester to Liverpool were about 15 pounds ($30 AUD), and train tickets from Manchester to Edinburgh were 33 pounds ($65 AUD).

If you calculate that by distance, it’s about 300km from Manchester to Edinburgh, or 5km travelled per dollar paid. By comparison, taking the train from Sydney to Canberra would cost $112 AUD for two tickets. With 288km between the two cities, it works out to be 2.5km travelled per dollar paid. Essentially, we pay double the price to travel in Australia.

Basically if I were to live in London, I would be spending every second weekend in a different city in the UK, taking advantage of the cheap travel costs to explore more of the country!

The Food

We obviously ate out quite a lot while in London! Here’s just a few of the places we went to, which I’ve covered in previous blog entries:

There were many other snacks and meals had which I haven’t covered in full reviews. Sausage rolls and pasties from Cornish Pasty Shops for example. Morning tea at The Muffin Man. Lunch at Muriel’s. Dinner at Mildred’s. Rainbow bagels. Chocolates, coffees and teas. And one of my favourite destinations after a long day’s sightseeing to pick up a simple dinner to eat at home – the Marks and Spencer Food Hall for ready-made soups, salads, and sandwiches.

And yet…there’s still so much ground to cover. With pubs, restaurants, cafes, and take-away shops on every street in the city, there’s a million places we didn’t get to try, but would have loved to try. If we lived in London…well, we’d have to re-evaluate our ‘dining out’ budget!

What now?

I miss London. I would say that I want to go back…but to be honest, I think it’s more of a need than a want. I need to go back to London – and this time, I don’t want to wait another seven years until my next visit!

Review: Shake Shack, London England

Yes we had Shake Shack, one of the great four American burger joints, while we were in London. Forget the English fish and chips or the pies and mash, once we walked past Shake Shack near Tottenham Court Road, our hearts were set on trying it out. After all, who knows when we’ll get a chance to go to America given that we’ll be virtually broke after this European trip?


The Shake Shack on New Oxford Street looks very new – and indeed, once I looked it up, Google informed me that it had only opened up two months earlier. Despite its novelty, the restaurant was surprisingly quiet when we went. Of course, we were there quite early for a pre-theatre meal which may explain it. I certainly hope that it’s not a sign of how successful Shake Shack will be in its international endeavours!


From what I can tell, the menu seems to be fairly consistent across different countries. There are some nods to its new location with the use of Scottish Aberdeen beef, some English sausages in its hotdogs, and a “New Oxford Street” concrete drink with proceeds to a local charity. For the most part however, the basic burger recipes remain unchanged from the American originals – the signature ShackSauce is still widely used.


Between the two of us, we ordered a basic single ShackBurger, a vegetarian ‘Shroom Burger, one serve of the fries, a Fifty/Fifty lemonade and iced tea blend, and Creamsicle float using Shake Shack’s signature ‘Frozen Custard’.

The fries were tasty but nothing on the fries we’d tried at Five Guys in Belfast. The Fifty/Fifty drink included the fizzy sweetness of lemonade and the strong flavour of pure iced tea which was a surprisingly excellent combination. Enjoying my Creamsicle float was like being a child all over again – mixing the ice-cream into the lemonade to create a fizzy volcano-esque mix that spilled over the top of the cup.


The burgers are where it’s at though. The ShackBurger essentially defines a good simple cheeseburger. Kids these days are all about the monster stacked burgers with fifteen different ingredients that defy gravity but there’s something to be said about a nicely grilled beef patty, some healthy green lettuce and a slice of tomato, and a soft toasted brioche bun. Simple. Tasty. Winning.

The vegetarian ‘Shroom Burger was surprisingly tasty with a thick and juicy breaded and deep-fried portobello mushroom that perfectly mimicked the juiciness of a beef patty. I guarantee that even non-vegetarians will find the ‘shroom burger to their liking.

Having now tasted both Shake Shack and Five Guys, I have to say that Shake Shack wins it in the burger stakes. Simple is best. Shake Shack does simple well, while Five Guys tries to impress with an overload of ingredients. Please come to Australia Shake Shack!

At the time of writing, there are three Shake Shacks in London. We went Shake Shack at 80 New Oxford Street, London.

Camden Markets and the Cereal Killer Cafe, London England

There’s a lot to love about the central areas of the city of London. Amazing skyline along the river, restaurants, cafes, theatres, shops, nightlife… there’s always something to do, something to see, and something to eat. If only London was cheaper, I could definitely see myself living there!

There’s lots to love outside of central London though, and the northern area of Camden Town is particularly well beloved by cool young millenials.


Camden Markets are full of market stalls catering to various sub-cultures – gothic, steampunk, hippie, retro vintage, and more. There are stalls selling souvenirs for tourists, many second-hand bookstores, and food stalls as well.


You can definitely spend hours just wandering around the markets exploring the different stalls. I loved looking at all the vintage tea sets and browsing through the shelves of the second-hand book stalls.


I got hungry before long though and we decided to settle for getting some lunch from one of the food stalls on the north side of the market. There are other options though if you’re looking for more variety – a wealth of Asian cuisine in the centre of the market, and a million food trucks and temporary food stalls set up in an area by the Camden Lock.


A Mexican food stall looked like the best of the options on the north side of the market – a vegetarian quesadilla for myself and a taco bowl salad for K which was actually presented in two taco shells rather than an actual taco bowl! The quesadilla and the tacos were quite flavourful and highly cheesy, but I think the real highlight were the corn chips which were so crunchy that it tasted as though they were freshly fried.


However, forget the Mexican food. The real highlight of our visit to the Camden Markets was visiting the Cereal Killer Cafe for dessert. You’ve no doubt read various condemnatory articles about the ridiculous Gen-Y hipster-ness of this concept. A cafe that serves cereals from around the world and charges over $5AUD per bowl for the privilege? It’s an incredibly overpriced first-world concept but I’m going to be honest – it appealed to the over-privileged hipster in me!


They’re not lying when they say that they offer a wide range of cereals – interestingly, healthier cereal options are few and far between as they cater to the nostalgic sweet dreams of millenials as they offer the most chocolatey, marshmallowy, honeyed, sugary cereals to be found. Their suggested themed cereal mixes (‘chocopottomus’, ‘double rainbow’, ‘feckin nut case’, mint choc cHipster’, ‘miss american pie’) speak for themselves.


Beside cereal, they also offer other naughty ‘breakfast’ treats – poptarts, cereal-flavoured lip balms, and more. Their primary market is catered to throughout the cafe as well – the walls are decorated with Spice Girls wallpaper, Billie Piper and other 90s pop stars blast from the stereo, decorated cartoon lunchboxes line one wall, and old CRT TVs play 90s shows such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Millenials yearning for the innocence of their 90s childhood is who they’re targeting, and they’re doing it well.


We were there for dessert, and I needed to choose one of their over-the-top hot chocolate concoctions once I saw the picture – this is a Stacked Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate. Served with overflowing whipped cream, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, puffed peanut cereal bits and rivers of chocolate sauce, I really shouldn’t have been surprised that I developed a sugar-related headache soon after I had this hot chocolate!

Structural integrity unfortunately is not a strength here – the hot chocolate quickly melts all the other elements and before long you end up with a sticky chocolate and peanut pond on the plate.


We finished off with one bowl of sugary dessert cereal to share – a bowl of Unicorn Poop. This is made up of Ricicles, Party Rings, Marshmallow Fluff, marshmallows, hundreds and thousands and semi skimmed milk. Colourful it is and sweet too…I suppose that unicorn poop really would taste like this!

Visiting the Cereal Killer Cafe would only make sense if you’re a young person in your twenties and thirties with a healthy amount of disposable income, a yearning for the innocence of childhood, and an irrepressible sweet tooth. It’s something you might visit once to say that you’ve been there, and you’ve ticked it off your ‘food fad’ list of must-dos.

I did note with interest however that they hold parties and functions in the cafe after hours – this would be the type of place that I would want to hold a retro nostalgic 30th birthday party…which eep, is coming up in November for me!

Cereal Killer Cafe is located in Camden Markets and also in Brick Lane.