Where to enjoy a taste of Europe in London
As the UK prepares to leave the EU on 29 March, here’s where to enjoy the culture of our European neighbours while remaining marooned on British shores
While the below is by no means an exhaustive list, here are some of our favourite places in London to enjoy the culture, clothing, cosmetics and cuisine of the EU member countries we Brits visit most.
A taste of France in London
The breads at Orée
British women are notoriously in awe of French Girl Style and its owners' je ne sais quoi. Thankfully, there are several boutique stores in London to help us dress and pamper ourselves the French way.
The opening of a London branch of cult Parisian brand Sézane last September brought much excitement to Francophiles living in the UK. Meanwhile, we can cream up the French way and achieve dewy, ‘I just woke up like this’ skin with the help of Embryolisse. The French skincare brand is stocked in Boots as well as a spate of other chemists and wins the vote of Culture Whisper’s beauty editor, who describes Embryolisse products as: ‘the best French export since Champagne’.
Finish off your French girl vibe with a spritz of perfume from Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, which can be found in the Burlington Arcade. Or, head to Lew Senteurs in Belgravia where scents by covetable French brand Les Eaux Primordiales are stocked.
Teas for sale at Mariage Frères
‘What about French cuisine?’ you cry. For breakfast or brunch, look to Orée (branches can be found in Chelsea and on Kensington High Street) for a sit-in meal, or Poilâne for the best baguettes you’ll find this side of the channel. Meanwhile, those with a sweet tooth and a penchant for gorgeously decorated pastries should head to Maitre Choux (branches can be found in South Kensington and Soho), where gold-painted eclairs look like works of art, but a bag of sugar-dusted chouquettes are the truly French order du jour. For dinner, head to Pique-Nique on Bermondsey’s Tanner Street – a quintessential French bistro offering dishes such as Poulet au Bresse served four ways.
Tea is typically seen as a prowess of the British (while expertly-brewed coffee more a reserve of the French), but step inside the Covent Garden branch of Mariage Frères, France’s oldest tea house, and prepare to have that perception fully changed for good.
Finally, those in search of proper French culture should look no further than the French Institute in Kensington, where a programme of courses, film screenings, exhibitions and events runs throughout the year.
Danish and Swedish influences
Interiors inspo from Skandium
We Brits look to Scandinavia for many things – hygge winter evenings, pared-back interiors, Scandi-chic style and mouthwatering baked goods to name but a few. To get the best of the Scandi lifestyle in London, treat yourself to a Swedish bun from either Bageriet or Fabrique. Or, for a Danish take on the cinnamon-infused treat, head to a branch of bakery chain Ole & Steen, where the cinnamon social slice is arguably unrivaled in deliciousness.
While a certain Swedish chain store remains a relatively enjoyable place to wile away a rainy Sunday afternoon, far more stylish Swedish furniture can be found in London at Skandium, while Chase & Sorensen can help you deck out your home Copenhagen style.
Brexit could provoke a nasty rise in the cost of shipping to the UK when online shopping. Thankfully, the planned arrival of a bricks-and-mortar London outpost for popular Danish label Ganni will give Scandi-style hunters in London an alternative to forking out on hiked-up shipping costs.
Celebrating ties with Germany, Belgium and Holland
German Gymnasium's chic dining room
Fancy escaping the UK before the stroke of midnight on 29 March? German-British theatre troupe Gob Squad are holding a one-night-only show in Berlin called Love You, Goodbye, to mark the UK’s regrettable departure from the EU. The company, who specialise in interactive, immersive shows, split their time between London and Berlin, and have built a reputation for producing work that blurs the boundaries between art and theatre, fiction and reality. The one-off performance is taking place on the night of 29 March – literally as the UK severs ties with the EU – and is an exploration of everything it means to the company to be European, as well as the cast members' reactions to the UK’s departure, as it happens.
Those hankering for a taste of Germany back in London, meanwhile, will be hard-pushed to find a more Instagramable setting to tuck into the likes of robust stews, sauerkraut, river fish and black forest gateau than the lofty, high-ceilinged restaurant German Gymnasium in King’s Cross.
If it’s the sustenance of neighbouring Belgium you find yourself yearning for, though, there’s more of it on offer in the capital than the sustenance served at popular all-day dining chain Le Pain Quotidien. Housed behind an unassuming-looking storefront on Drury Lane in Covent Garden is Lowlander Grand Café, where authentic Belgian classics – from steaming pots of moules to chocolate-drizzled waffles – are served. Meanwhile, those who favour variety when it comes to Belgian craft beer should take a trip to The Beer Merchants Tap in Hackey, and those on the lookout for devilishly good Belgian chocolate should satisfy their craving at independent chocolatiers L’Appétit Fou in Chiswick.
Van Gogh's famous sunflowers
Amsterdam is a city loved by tourists for its cyclist-first transport system, café culture and art scene. While London’s cycle lanes could still learn a lot from the Dutch capital, bike fanatics can gear-up the Dutch way at The flying Dutchman in Camden; the shop has a reputation for being as much a place to congregate for the London-based Dutch community as a cycle shop.
Then, head to a branch of My Old Dutch (Holborne, Chelsea and Kensington) to sample authentic poffertjes (mini pancakes topped with butter and sugar) or De Hems pub in Chinatown, for top-notch Dutch craft beers and pub fare, and even a chance to cheer on Oranje (the national football team).
Finally, forget paying a trip to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam this spring and instead head to London’s Tate Britain, where the Master of Sunflowers is getting his first major UK retrospective in over 70 years. Bringing together the largest group of Van Gogh paintings shown in the UK for nearly a decade, Van Gogh and Britain reveals how the artist was inspired by British art, literature and culture (yes, really) throughout his career.
Where to find a slice of Greece in London
Dissolve-in-the-mouth honey cakes from Mazi
Ah Greece. Home of sun-kissed holidays filled with swimming in clear waters and sprawling dinners exoticised with dolmades, honey cakes and one too many shots of ouzo. While you’ll be hard-pushed to recapture the climate without hopping on a plane, thankfully you can dine like you’re on a Greek holiday of dreams without leaving the M25.
Lemonia is a gorgeously authentic family-run restaurant in Primrose Hill that has been transporting diners to Greece through their taste buds for the past 35 years. Over in Notting Hill, meanwhile, neighbourhood eatery Mazi offers more refined Greek fare in a quaint, rustic-chic space. It even boasts a foliage-adorned garden dotted with further tables where on balmy summer evenings you can truly believe you’re sitting down to dinner outside a Greek taverna. Those looking to recapture more of a traditional Greek party vibe might want to book a table at Elysee which, having opened its doors in 1936, claims to be ‘London’s original Greek restaurant’. Here, diners are serenaded with jazz and traditional Greek music as they eat, and can even take part in a customary Greek plate-smashing ceremony.
Greek influences in London aren’t limited to the cuisine, though. Beauty brand Korres, which was founded in Athens in the 90s, sells a heavenly range of shower gels made with natural plant extracts. Whether you opt for fig, jasmine, lavender or lemon, the bath products – which are sold in Waitrose and M&S – might just revolutionise your morning scrub for good.
The best of Spain and Portugal in London
The tapas at Barrafina – among the best you'll find in London
Few pleasures in life offer quite the same sense of merry bliss as sitting outside a little Spanish restaurant in a cobbled square, enjoying an assortment of independently flavoured tapas, a glass of red wine (or sangria for the sweet-toothed) and a heavy dose of people watching. While you’ll be hard pushed to find as picturesque a setting in London, the rest of the package can be achieved by bagging a window seat at a branch of either Barrafina or Brindisa – where the tapas rivals that produced in its Spanish homeland.
In the art world, an exhibition of the work of Joaquín Sorolla – described by Claude Monet as 'The Master of Light' – is showing at the National Gallery this spring. Featuring over than 60 paintings, Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light offers a rare opportunity to marvel at the greatest collection of Sorolla works outside of Spain. Meanwhile, those looking to add a streak of Spanish style to their wardrobe should look to luxe fashion brand Loewe (with locations on Mount Street, Haymarket and in Selfridges) for leather accessories and boho-meets-preppy vibes.
Finding an authentic taste of Portugal in London is admittedly a little trickier. That is, until you step inside Carlos Gomes' bakery Lisboa Patisserie – a Golborne Road home-from-home for the city’s Portuguese community since 1983. The bakery’s pastéis de nata custard tarts are the most authentic you’ll find in the capital, as evidenced by the fact roughly two-and-a-half thousand are sold each day.
Italian cuisine at its best
Small plate pasta dishes from Lina Stores
London is a city overrun with pizza and pasta joints. It’s worth noting, though, that not all have been made equal. While you can tuck into a hearty Italian a stone's throw from virtually every tube station, the city’s most authentic and downright delicious fare is often housed in lowkey looking establishments with a daily queue winding out of the door.
The best-known and loved pasta parlour is Padella by London Bridge. Locals and tourists alike can be found queuing before the walk-ins only restaurant has even opened, hoping to nab a table and tuck into its menu of fresh and varied small-plate dishes. Competition for Padella has recently come by way of Lina Stores – a relatively new small plate pasta restaurant from the team behind the popular Italian deli of the same name, that’s been a Soho staple since 1944. The restaurant, with its aesthetically-pleasing mint-coloured interiors, looks like something out of a Wes Anderson film and can be found on Soho's Greek Street. Meanwhile, look to Bar Italia in Soho for an authentic Italian café experience where the short and sharp coffee mirrors that found in Italy.
L’Antica da Michele has a reputation for serving the best pizza in the world
Who needs to travel to Italy for pizza when ‘the best pizza in the world’ can be found in London? L’Antica da Michele on Baker Street and Vicoli di Napoli Pizzeria in Stoke Newington came to London from the team behind the famed L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples. The already-world-renowned pizzeria became all the more famous after becoming a subject of praise in Liz Gilbert’s novel Eat, Pray, Love. Now, you can feast on the very same recipes in London.
Finally, those painfully aware there’s far more to Italian cuisine than its tomato and cheese laden carbs should book a table at acclaimed chef Jacob Kenedy's restaurant Bocca di Lupo, which celebrates artisanal, regional Italian cooking and offers one of the best pre-theatre menus in the West End. Kendy also owns a gelateria, Gelupo, which serves the best gelati you’ll find in town.
It's hard to know, yet, what turmoil the aftermath of Brexit will bring. For now, solace can be found in the European culture that continues to thrive across the city, keeping London proudly multicultural.