We love this time of year, especially in London – the streets, shops and homes sparkle with decorations, and there’s so much to see and do as the Christmas spirit is everywhere. We asked Esti Barnes about how she prepares for the holidays and where her favourite pre-Christmas haunts are. Read on to share in her festive cheer…
‘Christmas isn’t Christmas without some carol singing; there’s something about joining in with these familiar tunes that nurtures nostalgia and creates a feeling of goodwill. In the run-up to the big day, carol concerts and Christmas services take place in some of the most stunning venues across London, including St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, St Martin-in-the-Fields and Southwark Cathedral.’
‘In December, London’s main shopping areas come alive not just with hoards of people but also with the twinkle of Christmas lights. Not to be missed are the ones on Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street, Covent Garden, and Sloane Square/Sloane Street.
‘The Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, gifted to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo each year since 1947, is the most well known, but there are other imaginatively decorated trees that are well worth taking a detour for. In the foyer of Claridge’s this year is a design by Burberry’s creative director and CEO that features over 100 gold and silver umbrellas, while the Connaught Hotel turned to Damien Hirst for its first-ever tree – and you’d be right to expect the unexpected. Adorned with syringes, medicine bottles, surgical scissors and snowmen made out of giant pills, it’s certainly a talking point!’
‘There are some delightful Christmas markets across London. Pick up some handmade gifts or just soak up the atmosphere armed with mulled wine and a mince pie. Among the best are the German-style wooden chalets at the Tate Modern, along the Southbank and by London Bridge City Pier; the Real Food Christmas Market at Kings Cross St Pancras; and the designers and makers at the Barbican. There is also the marvellous Borough Market, of course, which has some fabulous seasonal produce (as well as the best coffee at Monmouth). Over the Christmas period there are live music performances by the Salvation Army, a brass quartet and various choirs.’
‘For those with energy to spare, I suggest taking a spin around an outdoor ice rink. There are several in central London – the most spectacular, atmospheric locations are Somerset House, the Natural History Museum and Tower of London.’
‘Christmas for me is about getting together with friends and family, so inevitably food plays a major role. I feel so lucky to have so many wonderful independent fine-food stores nearby.
‘For my organic meat I go to family butcher Wyndham House in Chelsea. For a spectacular and varied cheeseboard, Royal Warrant-holder and Britain’s oldest cheesemonger Paxton & Whitfield in Jermyn St is unbeatable.
‘Luigi’s Delicatessen on Fulham Road is something of a local institution. A favourite of Nigella Lawson and other celebrities, it’s a great place to pick up fresh pasta and antipasti. The fine food market at Duke of York Square, which takes place every Saturday, has fantastic artisanal and locally produced meat, game, fish, bread, cakes and more – it’s an excellent one-stop shop for high-quality produce.’
‘An indulgent box of chocolates is a must over the holidays and again, there is so much choice in London. One of my favourite chocolatiers is William Curley, four-times winner of Britain’s best chocolatier, with stores in Belgravia and Harrods. It also runs chocolate-making classes – a lovely gift for a chocoholic friend, perhaps?
‘When Christmas shopping gets too much, I like to step into the magical world of Choccywoccydoodah, just off Carnaby Street. It’s a great place to pick up unusual stocking fillers, its beautiful, bespoke cakes are to die for and there’s a Bar du Chocolat for some sweet sustenance.
Alternatively, for a taste of home, I head to Kahve Dünyası at 200 Piccadilly. It’s the London outpost of a Turkish coffee chain and it has exquisite chocolate, Turkish Delight and other treats.’
‘With so much socialising going on, I like to make sure my wine rack is well stocked, and there’s no better place to do it than Berry Bros & Rudd in St James’s Street. I love the knowledge and expertise that comes with its rich heritage – it is Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant and has been a supplier to the royal family since the reign of King George III.’
London is a magical city at this busy time of year, and it seems that Esti knows how to get the best out of it.
Wherever in the world you are, we wish you all a very happy Christmas. See you in 2016!