Welcome to my place … London
Food writer Niamh Shields shares the best places to explore the UK capital’s food and arts scene and soak up its history
Niamh Shields in London, with the London Eye in the background
Blogging was a path to a new career as a food and drink writer and cookbook author for former scientist Niamh Shields. Shields is originally from Dungarvan, Co Waterford and now lives in London. She blogs at eatlikeagirl.com and you can also follow her cooking and travel adventures on Snapchat, where she is @eatlikeagirl.
Where is the first place you always bring people to when they visit London in summer?
If we meet where I live, I take them to my local cafe, which is not just any local cafe. It is one of the best in London – Milk – and it is particularly famous for brunch, plus there are tables outside which are perfect in the summer sun. We will definitely have coffee and we might have a glass of natural wine.
Afterwards, The Wine Tasting Shop across the road is the perfect place to ease into what will be a busy few days. Part wine boutique, part bar, part music venue, it is terrific and so friendly, with brilliant wines to boot.
If we meet in town, I will bring them for lunch or dinner in one of my current favourite places. Koya Bar, for udon noodles and gorgeous small plates; Kiln for brilliant Thai food; Bao for Taiwanese bao buns and small plates, or The Clove Club or Lyle’s, if we are looking for something a bit fancier.
The top three things to do in London, that don’t cost money, are ...?
The South Bank: A walk along the South Bank is one of my favourite things to do. Starting at the Royal Festival Hall where there are lots of free activities, gigs, a poetry library and a balcony on the fifth floor with spectacular views overlooking Westminster and the Thames.
If it is at the weekend, we will stop at the River Stage at the National Theatre which has weekend takeovers all summer from the likes of World festival Womad and dance company Rambert.
Last weekend’s takeover was from The Glory in London, East London’s exciting alternative performance venue. It was terrific and shows London in a perfect light. London is an open city, it is fun and friendly, and it is very creative.
Street food is very big in London now too, and there is a selection of street food trucks at the National Theatre, as well as a terrific craft beer selection from the Understudy Bar.
Food Markets: London’s food markets are on form and there are many choices. I will usually bring friends to Maltby St and Druid St Market, where there is lots of excellent food and drink to choose from, from doughnuts to street food to fine dining to coffee to artisanal beer to gin. Otherwise we might go to Broadway Market, the Old School Yard Market and Netil Market, which are all right next to each other also.
There is always a superb atmosphere with lots of locals bustling about, buskers dotted along the market as you walk, and there are plenty of wonderful things to eat from Turkish gozleme to homemade Chinese dumplings to African tacos served in taco shells fashioned from injera bread.
Regents Canal: A walk along Regent’s Canal is wonderful and shows friends a side of London that they don’t expect. We would start east in Hackney and walk towards Islington. London has many gentle sides that most people who have only visited for a few days would never experience. We would stop at Towpath Cafe en route, for a beverage and a bite to eat, or The Barge House nearby which has a front that opens on to the canal and a lovely Breton cider on tap.
Where do you recommend for a meal eaten out doors on a sunny day?
There are many wonderful options in London for this, and despite rumours to the contrary, the weather is actually pretty good here. It rarely rains, at least compared to home. We are spoiled for outdoor eating options. I have already mentioned two favourites, Milk and Towpath, both of which are excellent for outdoor dining.
Depending on our budget and how fancy we feel, we may also head to The River Café in Hammersmith for excellent upmarket Italian food in their riverside garden terrace.
Alternatively, Rochelle Canteen is one of London’s best, serving wonderful modern British food in the old converted bike shed of the Rochelle School, with tables outside.
For brunch, The Pavilion Cafe is a favourite spot in Victoria Park. Set in a old domed Pavilion, there are lots of tables outside overlooking the pond and the park.
Where is the best place to get a sense of your area’s place in history?
London has many museums, most of which are free, but the city itself is rich in history, so to feel it, you never even need to go inside, just walk around and always look up, you will be surprised at what you will see.
I love the Natural History Museum and the V&A, conveniently across the road from each other and next to the Science Museum. The British Museum is striking, with wonderful architecture and an impressive collection.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to your locality?
There is so much you can bring from London. As a food and drink writer, I would save room for one of the many terrific artisanal London gins and local cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy or La Fromagerie.
If you’d like to share your little black book of places to visit where you live, please email your answers to the five questions above to firstname.lastname@example.org, including a brief description of what you do there and a photograph of yourself. We’d love to hear from you.