London Insider Reveals Best Places to Eat, Stay and Play
David Gropman, production designer for Ang Lee and Lasse Hallstrom, details his favorite gastropubs and exotic cuisine for adventurous visitors: "Don't become addicted to bacon fat on white bread."
Production designer David Gropman has worked on 40 movies and been nominated for two Oscars (2012's Life of Pi, 1999's The Cider House Rules). The self-effacing L.A. native also was BAFTA-nominated for his art direction on Life of Pi. "David is special," director Ang Lee tells THR. "We always talk first about the story and the drama — the design comes later as a matter of fact." Robert Benton, a writer-director with multiple Oscars on his mantel, has made three films with Gropman, including Nobody’s Fool with Paul Newman, and Twilight, for which the production designer found a Hollywood house that the director says “became as much a character in the film as any of the actors. David was, in a sense, a co-writer of the film." With Lasse Hallstrom, Gropman designed seven films, including Cider House. "Everything David does is in good taste," says the director, "Nothing he does is ever vulgar." Gropman's taste also informs his pick of projects — from Denzel Washington's Fences to George Clooney and Grant Heslov's upcoming Catch-22 series for Hulu — and his guide to the best of London during the BAFTAs.
My message to Hollywood talent or studio executives heading to London's BAFTA awards is simple: BAFTA might be the best of the awards circuit. The English are great hosts and take incredibly good care of me and my wife, Karen, from our stays at The Dorchester on Hyde Park (during the awards, our stays were funded by the studios; from $530) to the BAFTA-booked Mercedes-Benz cars that efficiently take us to the awards and the many parties. The awards themselves are fantastic: It's all very chummy. They also make nice gift bags, with items like Hackett London wallets and champagne. I still tote one around. It's a great canvas bag.
For the trip in which we shot most of Lasse Hallstrom's Chocolat, I stayed in Holland Park and often ate at The Ladbroke Arms around the corner, a charming gastropub I still visit. Order the mackerel pate and the venison with cabbage (about $45). I later came across another fantastic gastropub in Notting Hill called The Cow, and in Bath I discovered the ploughman's lunch, one of my favorite meals. Found in every pub, it's a simple but tasty platter of local cheeses, paté, pickled onions and baguette.
It was on that extended Chocolat stay in the late 1990s that I fell in love with the Notting Hill/Holland Park neighborhood, and I almost always stay there now, in apartments booked through OneFineStay or other such upmarket Airbnb outfits.
Here's my tip about shooting at Shepperton Studios and Ealing Studios (which is really fun, as you walk from stage to stage and see different people you know from the industry): Don't become addicted, as I did, to the bacon fat on white bread sandwich from Shepperton's canteen. It's called "back bacon," and it will come back to bite you. So delicious.
Other than the usual suspects, my favorite must-see is the lesser-known Sir John Soane's Museum, the home and library of the Victorian architect. What an interesting character he was, and the museum is filled with an amazing collection of paintings and artifacts, including A Rake's Progress by William Hogarth.
I really got into London's Michelin-starred food scene while working on John Wells' Burnt (2015). John is such an avid researcher and wants to get everything just right, which is why we toured a lot of London's two- and three-star restaurants. Among others, we ate at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, Helene Darroze at The Connaught, The Ledbury in Notting Hill and Marcus at The Berkeley. That minimalist restaurant's executive chef, Marcus Wareing, also was a Burnt consultant.
But my favorite three-star establishment was Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road. The setting is beautiful, so small and intimate, and the service exceptional. Try the seasonal menu: Right now, they are serving pressed foie gras and Cornish turbot (about $160). The first time, no one knew why we were there, but because we ate late, the restaurant was emptying out. The maitre d' came over to the table and said, "Would you like to see the kitchen?" Uh … yes! It was a special occasion.
On Westbourne Grove in Notting Hill, we discovered Granger & Co. by Australian chef Bill Granger. It's embarrassing to say how many times we ate there during the week, because it's not inexpensive, but of course nothing in London really is. They don't take reservations, but if you go there enough times, they take care of you. I love that. Around the block is a fantastic Mexican restaurant called Taqueria — more Mexican tacos than L.A. tacos — and try Pizza East if you have young children. Wow. Never had the pizza there, but the crispy pork belly is amazing.
But my all-time favorite London restaurant is The Palomar in Soho. It's hard to get a reservation, so we just show up at 5:30 p.m. when it opens and get a place at the bar. But that's where you want to eat anyway. Just watching the chefs is fantastic, and you can get excellent vodka martinis from the bartender while waiting for your food. Order the m'sabacha, a kind of hummus; the sea trout tartar; and the shakshukit, which is minced lamb and yogurt ($18).
Last summer, when we were working on Catch 22, my wife and I flew to London just for a weekend. We stayed at the Sanderson London Hotel (from $695 for a loft suite), which I also like because it's near the West End, and had dinner at Palomar. The next day we ate lunch at Granger & Co. and then flew back to Italy. That pretty much says it all.
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.