Monthly Archives: December 2015

Esti’s favourite festive haunts in London 

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…

Music

‘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.’

St Martin-in-the-Fields - church lit up at Christmas

St Martin-in-the-Fields

 

Christmas decorations

‘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.’

The Winter market at the Southbank Centre

Winter Market, Southbank Centre – Photos: Belinda Lawley

 

Ice skating

‘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.’

The ice rink at the Natural History Museum (lit in the evening, with skaters)

Ice skating at the Natural History Museum

 

Food

‘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.’

Wyndham House Contemporary English Butchers - shop from exterior
Interior of Paxton & Whitfield cheese shop with cheeses on display

There is an amazing array of cheeses on offer at Paxton & Whitfield

 

Chocolate

‘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.’

William Curley shop from the exterior, Belgravia

William Curley in Belgravia

 

Wine

‘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!

 

 

Esti’s top five destinations for a winter break

Esti’s top five destinations for a winter break

Travel is a great passion of Topfloor founder and creative director Esti Barnes – experiencing different sights, sounds, cuisines and cultures is a wonderful way to spark creativity. Here are some of her favourite destinations for a winter getaway.

NEW YORK CITY

‘I love New York at its festive best. There’s such a buzz of activity and feeling of goodwill at this time of year – the decorations, the supersized Christmas trees, the street lights and the shop window displays are spectacular. New York can’t be beaten for shopping, museums, exhibitions and of course the theatre. The hottest tickets in town at the moment are for hit Broadway musical “Hamilton”, which is based on the remarkable story of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.’

Ice skating at the Rockefeller Centre at Christmas

Ice skating at the Rockefeller Centre – Photo by Allan Harris / CC BY-NC-ND

 

ST PETERSBURG

‘For the ultimate winter wonderland, it’s hard to top the grand, regal city of St Petersburg. Don’t let the cold get the better of you – dress for the weather and warm yourself up with a shot or two of vodka! The snow-covered parks and frozen rivers and canals are a sight to behold, especially on a sunny day. There’s also a wealth of culture to enjoy. The vast art collection at the State Hermitage Museum includes masterpieces by Da Vinci, Picasso and Rembrandt. The heavily guarded Gold and Diamond Rooms in the Treasure Galleries are also absolutely breathtaking. For world-famous ballet and opera, head to the Mariinsky Theatre.’

The Winter Palace (part of the State Hermitage Museum) in St Petersburg

The Winter Palace (part of the State Hermitage) and frozen Neva river – Photo by Garrett Ziegler / CC BY-NC-ND

 

OMAN

‘For some very welcome winter sun, I highly recommend Oman. It’s an exotic beach-holiday destination but it also boasts fabulous scenery and a rich and interesting history – there are hundreds of forts, towers and castles and several UNESCO World Heritage sites. There’s only a four-hour time difference, too, so it’s a great jetlag-free option. I loved the beachfront location and quiet luxury of the beautiful Chedi Muscat Hotel. The pools, spa, food and service were all exceptional.’

Muscat (Oman) at dawn

Muscat at dawn – Photo by Andrew Moore / CC BY-SA

VIENNA

‘Vienna is special for me because it is my mother’s birth place. It has so much cultural history but is also at the forefront of cutting-edge art and design. There’s no better place to get into the festive spirit. Wander around the charming Christmas markets (follow the aroma of glühwein and roasted chestnuts!), or come in from the cold and enjoy a hot chocolate and a slice of Sachertorte, the legendary Viennese chocolate cake invented by Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich. Try the original recipe at Café Sacher, directly opposite the Opera House.

‘Vienna is synonymous with music, so music lovers will be spoilt for choice. Seeing an opera at the famous Vienna State Opera is a must – just make sure you book well in advance. There are also concerts and galas being held in beautiful historic venues across the city.’

Vienna at Christmas

Festive Vienna – Photo by Roderick Eime / CC BY

Original Sachertorte at Café Sacher - Photo by Christian Stangier

Original Sachertorte at Hotel Sacher – Photo by Christian Stangier / CC BY-NC

 

ISTANBUL

‘For me, the holiday season is about eating good food and partying with friends and family, so my list of favourite winter destinations wouldn’t be complete without my hometown, Istanbul. It’s a beautiful city to visit at any time of year, but in winter there are fewer tourists and less hustle and bustle, so I take the opportunity to visit the latest exhibitions at my favourite galleries. Among them are Istanbul Modern; Arter; Santral Istanbul; Sanatorium; Galeri Nev; and many others.’ I hope you’ve enjoyed Esti’s whistle-stop tour of her favourite winter-holiday hotspots. We wish you all a happy holiday!