Restaurants Malta | Planetmona

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Restaurants Malta - Paradise Found

Paradise Found

Mona Farrugia's London

Mona Farrugia has a different kind of London to everybody else. Or does she? Shopping and eating feature heavily, as is to be expected.

 
Mona Farrugia's London
Mona Farrugia's London
Mona Farrugia's London
Mona Farrugia's London
Mona Farrugia's London

I tried to put a group of friends together some time ago to go on a ‘shopping trip’. Now for die-hard plastic-wielders, a ‘shopping trip’ is the stuff of mad screaming and too much excitement. ‘When? How? Count me in’ they all seemed to be saying at the same time.

So I started researching. Flights were paramount. There is no point in booking low-cost if the seat costs a hundred euro and the luggage 300. I suggested Munich, Milan and myriad other possibilities but they were having none of it. ‘We. Want. London.’ was their conclusion.

Before the age of the internet, the Maltese shopping nation – and we do adore a good shop – was split culturally between the Londoners and the Sicilians. Those in the know did the former; those with a predilection for Auchan and plastic toys and clothing did the latter. These days, it seems, London has positioned itself firmly into the mind of the fashionista as the place to shop from.

I usually start my trip with Banana Republic in Regent Street. For the over-thirties who need to wear something other than a nylon black suit to work, BR does a brilliant selection of stylish, good quality clothing, shoes and accessories. Their sizing is extremely reliable, to a point where you can easily buy online (or get friends to bring stuff over) with no ‘issues’ about your bum looking big in anything. Moreover, the shop itself is brilliantly laid out. Most of the time there is a ‘discount’ section somewhere at the back on the first floor going up to a fantastic 70% off. If you’re lucky you will find something in your size. If you’re going, try and get one of the changing rooms at the back: they are huge, comfortable, well lit and come with an advisor.

The greatest thing about BR is their customer service. On a couple of occasions the quality of the clothing has turned out to have manufacturing defects and months later they quickly and easily give me store credit in exchange when this has happened. When this happens, you know that the service is excellent.

You see, store customer service has taken quite a dip in London. I have stood in an empty Marks and Spencers in Oxford Street and been ignored by seven staff who seem to spend more time ignoring me and gossiping amongst themselves than serving the customers. Harrods and Harvey Nichols have improved tremendously although you still get the odd snob focusing on the Middle Eastern ladies and not ‘noticing’ anybody else.

My favourite department store for both selection and service has to be the gorgeous Liberty. Everything about it – from the wonderful architecture to the sweet scarf ladies in that section – is spot on. They stock Current/Elliot in their denim section and Ash shoes. They also have some very good diffusions, including Vivienne Westwood, so you can easily bag yourself some lovely frocks at around £100.

Liberty may be missing out on Bobbi Brown and by Terry cosmetics (those are Harrods and Space NK respectively) but they do have Khiel’s, Aveda and my favourite Australian essential-oil based products: Aesop. Unlike at many other shops in London, their staff are go-getters, rather than process-obsessed automatons. On one occasion I found a Missoni scarf which needed mending: they offered it to me at half price off.

It is very difficult to go to London and not go to the Selfridges Shoe Hall. I know of people who have screamed their way in and sighed their way out so outrageously beautiful is this very female space. Few realise, though, that Selfridges also has a truly scrumptious food hall, with some really great British companies selling traditional items such as fudge, out of it. Their bookshop is also wonderful and has a great selection of cookbooks.

If you are into cooking, then do not miss Books for Cooks at Blenheim Crescent (they even stock my Mona’s Meals: The Foodbook – the first Maltese cookbook ever to be sold from there): the selection is quite extraordinary. And if you are into books in general then the Waterstones in Picadilly will have you salivating at its shelves. The last time I was there I managed to buy no less than fourteen bags of paperbacks and hard-bound cookery tomes, all very recent, at quite silly prices. It was even sillier that I then could not carry them and the lovely girl behind the till had to come out and help me to a taxi

For the men, I enlisted the great help of Francis Sultana, who has been living in London for many years. He introduced me to Taylors of Old Bond Street, one of those very old-fashioned barber-supplier shops which sell the kind of shaving cream that has every man super-kissable in minutes. I ended up spending a ridiculous quantity of money on The Writer’s facial hair removal but I see that as a justification and a way to keep the relationship on the right track.

The one thing that both men and women love is food and London just does food in a tremendous way these days. I adore the Borough Market in the City of London. On a Saturday morning, meander through the stalls and get an idea of what real food, and real food shopping, should be like. The Pork Pie stand sells award-winners, the vegetables are stunning and mostly organic, there are sweets and cakes and everything edible under one roof. I like to plan it on the way to the 12pm flight with Air Malta: wake up early, have a breakfast of kippers at the chic Roast (which overlooks the market), shop then go straight to the airport. Like this, your food remains super fresh. It’s very cold in the aircraft hold and there is nothing illegal about transporting food from the UK to Malta so you should be fine at customs too.

Restaurants in London have become extraordinarily good. It is rare that I have a dinner which upsets me, although the one at Hunan did in a big way (read my reviews on http://www.planetmona.com ). I have no idea how I made it to the flight after that particularly terrible experience. Otherwise, the selection is really brilliant.

I almost always go to Racine on the Brompton Road where Henry Harris does French food – dare I say it – better than the  French themselves. Their offal is unparalleled but just in case that scares you, stick to their fish and outstanding meats, sticking in some creamed spinach with foie gras while you’re at it. Racine is not cheap but it is certainly excellent value for money.

London does Eastern particularly well. You cannot miss out on Nahm, which is very probably the best Thai restaurant outside of Thailand that I have ever eaten in. Their degustation is an amazing culinary adventure – I spent most of my meal there ooh-ing and aah-ing on my own, inwardly just in case people started to wonder about my sanity - but even better value for money is their lunch set-menu. Two courses at £20 for a top-notch standard meal in one of London’s most celebrated Thai restaurants. I reviewed The Halkin, the hotel of the restaurant, some time ago for FM.

Since London is so popular with the Maltese, I have put a great selection of restaurant reviews up on planetmona.com since people are always asking me. Simply choose ‘London’ for ‘Town’ in the Restaurant Section and you’re good to go, complete with maps.  A favourite ‘cheap and good’ place has to be Comptoir Libanais. It’s a chain now but when I tried the one at Westfield I was very pleasantly surprised at their selection of fresh, Lebanese food: olives, tidbits, bread, soups – everything you want when you just want something good to eat.

Having said that, I do have a bit of an obsession with Byron Burgers. Byron do one thing and they do it brilliantly. I took a Londoner there and he was also surprised at the excellent quality of his beef patty. I tried a lamb and mint one, wondering if I would miss my favourite Byron (with bells on): it was excellent, fragrant and almost gooey. Their chips are superb and if you’re lucky, the Manager in the South Kensington branch will sing for you. At least, that’s what he did for me.

If the shopping and the food are not enough, or you’re simply feeling guilty, remember that the parks, including Hyde park, are simply glorious the moment the sun comes out. If it is raining, as it does all the time in this city the main colour of which is grey, spend a few hours meandering around one of the brilliant museums, including the Design Museum. The last time I was in it they had a Manolo Blahnik retrospective. I was so inspired I ran out and bought two pairs of his shoes

This article was originally published in the April 2011 edition of FM, the Sunday Times' fashion glossy http://www.fmlifestyle.com

Additional Information

Location

Address Knightsbridge, London
Town London
Country England

Map

 

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Mark
May 10, 2011
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Il-gurnata idejali tieghi f'Londra tikkonsisti fi zjara twila l-British Museum, wara naghmel xirja kbira mill-hwienet tal-kotba tal-madwar u ta' Bloomsbury u wara mmur ghal ikla tajba Indian f'Whitechapel.

 
 
Paul Cave
May 01, 2011
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Liberty has always been a cut above. I worked there for nearly four years in the 90s. Second best job I ever had. Staff are recruited as much for character as for experience and tend to be given much more decision making responsibility than in most stores. I think it helps that it's always been a very design-led concept.

Mona's reply

@Paul
I agree with you about the staff. And you can really feel it: they're not all about process and ticking boxes but they seem to actually enjoy their job in every single department.

 
 
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