Pret-a-Reporter

A Cool, Stylish Guide to London From Jimmy Choo's Creative Director

7:00 AM 10/27/2016

by Alex Ritman

All the places to eat, stay, love as Sandra Choi reveals the hotspots where Salma Hayek, Alicia Vikander and fashion insiders have fun.

Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

As industry executives look ahead to L.A.'s U.K.-centric Britannia Awards and the BAFTAs in London, Jimmy Choo creative director and longtime Londoner Sandra Choi (also Jimmy Choo's niece) gives insider tips on where to stay, eat, drink and shop — and have rain-doused shoes fixed.

  • Hotels for Those in the Know

    For fashion and entertainment industry visitors, Choi recommends The Beaumont hotel (TheBeaumont.com, +44-20-7499-1001; double rooms from $560), a short sashay from Selfridges and the central, chaotic Oxford Street shopping district. "It's in the heart of Mayfair, but its discreet location makes it a cool sanctuary," she says. The art deco grand dame is where Alicia Vikander was spotted in The Roosevelt Suite and British icons old (Michael Caine) and new (John Boyega) pop by. "The design is quintessentially British with considered art and a suite designed by [lauded British sculptor] Antony Gormley," adds Choi.

    In the upmarket Knightsbridge neighborhood, The Berkeley hotel (The-Berkeley.co.uk, +44-20-7235-6000; doubles from $620) — the site of many film-festival photocalls, with Mila Kunis and Goldie Hawn spotted there — is home to the famed tea service Pret-a-Portea ($67), with a menu the hotel says transforms "every six months to follow the changing seasons in fashion." The current spring-summer 2016 serving of treats plays on "Stella McCartney's striped dress, Christopher Kane's playful asymmetric shift and Balmain's bright-orange flame," says Choi, adding that Pret-a-Portea previously has "featured Jimmy Choo-inspired cakes and biscuits."

    For pure festival convenience, The May Fair Hotel (TheMayFairHotel.co.uk, +44-20-7769-8200; doubles from $440) is where many press conferences take place, with stars and marketing folk often mingling in the marble lobby (photographers are relegated outside).

  • Secret(-ish) Eats

    When the sun makes a rare London appearance, Choi prefers the "fantastic," lush outdoor space at The Ivy Chelsea Garden (TheIvyChelseaGarden.com, +44-20-3301-0300) — sibling to the original Ivy in London and apparently the inspiration for the L.A. location — which has fed Salma Hayek and her husband, Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault. Opened in April 2015, the restaurant serves seafood dishes that have foodies salivating; try the lobster benedict ($22) — unless the much-adored lobster rigatoni bake has returned to the menu.

    Away from the white chinos and open shirts, the relaxed yet Michelin-starred Social Eating House (SocialEatingHouse.com, +44-20-7993-3251) in Soho has a "buzzy yet intimate feel," says Choi, serving eclectic twists on British classics. To show off your local knowledge, head to the hidden Chef's Counter in the basement for an eight-course tasting menu that includes artichokes with Langres cheese, truffle and iberico ham as well as lamb with peas and ricotta ($100).

    For Mediterranean food, around the corner sits Bocca di Lupo (BoccadiLupo.com, +44-20-7734-2223), which translates as "mouth of the wolf." The Italian spot, which draws Pierce Brosnan and celebrity chef Nigella Lawson (who calls the espresso gelato "perfection"), changes its menu weekly (it's worth checking on the truffled pork and foie gras sausages, $11.50 each). Choi also loves The Oak (TheOakLondon.com, +44-20-7221-3355) in Notting Hill, with wood-fired pizzas downstairs and tapas upstairs. But perhaps it's more than the food. "It's owned by my brother-in-law," she reveals. "We love spending long family lunches there."

  • Must-Have Buys

    Like many figures in fashion (including Manolo Blahnik), Choi heads to the famed, historic Liberty store (Regent Street, Liberty.co.uk) when brainstorming an "eclectic gift idea" for the person who has everything. She also stops by the home-focused Conran Shop (55 Marylebone High St., ConranShop.co.uk). "I usually find something to buy myself at the same time," admits the creative director. Liberty recently hosted a "Bolli filled," or Bollinger champagne-soused, afterparty for Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, with Jerry Hall and Rupert Murdoch joining Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders, who has joked about her character and the store, "Edina would pocket most of the accessories department if she could."

    Other destinations on the shopping list include the U.K. outpost of celeb favorite Dover Street Market (18-22 Haymarket, DoverStreetMarket.com) from Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, Alfies Antique Market (13-25 Church St., AlfiesAntiques.com) and, "for plain jeans and T-shirts," the Goodhood store (151 Curtain Road, GoodhoodStore.com).

  • Otherwise Out and About

    London boasts several expansive, green outdoor spaces, but Choi's nearest is the River Thames-bordering Battersea Park, once a popular spot for dueling but now a location for film shoots (and One Direction's video "One Thing"). "It has lots of parts to discover and has become my children's playground," says the mother of two daughters. If you're in the area at night, enjoy the lights of the stunning Albert Bridge (there's an initiative to illuminate every bridge over the Thames).

    On the same side of the river — though you'll need sturdy walking legs or an Uber — the grand gallery Tate Modern, housed in a former power station, is where Choi goes to admire works by her favorite artist, Gerhard Richter. The vast space is the setting for awards shows where the likes of Ricky Gervais, Amy Schumer, Bella Hadid and Simon Pegg have received statuettes happily. The Serpentine Gallery, in the midst of Kensington Gardens, and the Saatchi Gallery also are culture spots worth a visit (and both are "very child-friendly," says Choi).

  • In the Club

    Although London's private-club scene has exploded during the past decade, with Soho House seemingly opening a venue in a new city every other week and others such as The Hospital Club, Devonshire Club, The Arts Club and Quo Vadis tempting creatives and entrepreneurs alike through their doors, Choi prefers the original temple for late-night media gossip, the recently revamped The Groucho Club (45 Dean St., TheGrouchoClub.com). "It feels naughty!" she says of the iconic venue, whose guest list reads as a who's who of the past 20 years (it's where Bono warbled "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to a visiting Bill Clinton and artist Damien Hirst bought the house drinks from his £20,000 Turner Prize winnings).

    Choi enjoys heading through the famously nondescript doors (have a member — the club is full of TV, film and media types — sign you in or leave your name at the door) with artist Mat Collishaw and his partner, "taxidermist to the stars" Polly Morgan (fellow Groucho regular Kate Moss is a collector of her in-demand stuffed animals), who became Choi's "good friend" when they collaborated on a collection. For a late-night session, try the new Tabasco-infused Cyril's Margarita ($16) at the Groucho's colorful T-shaped Soho Bar.

  • Sandra's Little Black Book

    HAIR, ETC. Salon Daniel Hersheson (45 Conduit St., +44-20-7434-1747)

    Stylist to royalty (Kate Middleton) and stars (Sienna Miller), Hersheson offers a flagship where Choi says you can get everything — hair, mani-pedi — done at once: "For someone who is short on time, that's what I need."

    FLORIST Scarlet & Violet (76 Chamberlayne Road, +44-20-8969-9446)

    Owner Vic Brotherson, who took care of the florals for Kate Moss' 2011 wedding, creates signature arrangements of English flowers that appear "handpicked from a country garden," says Choi.

    TAILOR Stitchcraft (7 S. Molton St., +44-20-7629-7919)

    Should a stitch come out of place, Choi heads straight to this alteration specialist. "Their work and attention to detail are excellent," she says.

    COBBLER Classic Shoe Repairs (23-25 Brecknock Road, +44-20-7485-5275)

    Broken Jimmy Choo? Never fear. Says Choi, "They are really the only shoe-repair company that are relied upon by the luxury industry and can bring the most loved pair of shoes back to life." 

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