Master Somm Laura Rhys is the global ambassador for Gusbourne Estate, a sparkling wine producer in Kent, England. She focuses on development for the winery, both in the U.K. and internationally. Before joining Gusbourne in 2015, Rhys was the head sommelier at the Michelin-starred La Trompette restaurant in London, where she managed the wine team and oversaw the extensive wine list. She also earned the U.K.’s prestigious Sommelier of the Year title in 2009. When Rhys is not traveling around the world promoting English sparkling wine, she enjoys exploring London’s flourishing food and beverage scene, visiting galleries, and strolling along the South Bank.
Here, Rhys shares her top picks for a 48-hour visit to one of the world’s most dynamic culinary capitals.
How to Get There
There are five major airports in London, but most international flights go through Heathrow. From Heathrow, the fastest way to get to central London is the Heathrow Express, which takes about 15 minutes. Or you can take Heathrow Connect trains, the London Underground, or a bus or taxi.
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Where to Stay
From quirky B&Bs to larger, luxury hotels, London offers a wide variety of places to stay. Rhys recommends seeking lodging in the southwest of the city, in districts like Battersea, which runs along the Thames, and neighboring Clapham, or looking further east, and north of the river, toward Hackney and Hoxton, where she says you can “find better values and still be pretty close to the action.” To make lodging arrangements, she suggests using sites like Booking.com or Airbnb.
Where to Eat and Drink
Core is the debut restaurant of Clare Smyth, the former head chef of the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea and the recipient of the Michelin Female Chef of 2017 award. Core features simple dishes—like braised lamb with sheep’s milk yogurt—that spotlight natural and sustainable ingredients sourced from U.K. farmers and food producers. Rhys says she particularly enjoys the relaxed atmosphere of the dining room and the stellar wine list, which is “pretty varied and far-reaching, especially for such a new opening.” (Core opened in August 2017.) Leaning toward classical regions and producers, the list, Rhys says, is “exceptionally well executed, with many good bottles to choose from.” 92 Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill.
The 10 Cases
A small, intimate wine bistro, The 10 Cases has only 10 tables (though there’s limited additional seating at the bar and on a terrace) and ”they only ever buy 10 cases of all the wines on the capsule list,” says Rhys, “so it’s ever changing and always full of gems.” She suggests checking out the wine menus on the wall “for some fun surprises.” The bistro menu, which “is superb,” Rhys says, is made up mostly of small, tapas-style dishes, charcuterie, and cheese, with a few main dishes. “But head next door to the Cave too.” The Cave á Vin wine bar and retail shop also has a constantly evolving list—with more than 300 wines. 16 Endell Street, Covent Garden.
This place is a Soho institution, says Rhys. “It’s small, relaxed, and always bustling,” she says. “The menus are simple and handwritten daily, and the wine list is one of the very best in town. Although it’s not the largest, it’s full of interesting bottles with incredibly fair markups.” Expect to find classic British-influenced fare made with local produce. 46 Lexington Street, Soho.
London Shell Company
For a change of scenery, enjoy a meal on the water. London Shell Company, aboard the Prince Regent, offers lunch and dinner cruises on the historic Regent’s Canal—and a unique perspective from which to view such iconic sights as the London Zoo, Regent’s Park, and the Maida Hill Tunnel. The barge’s tiny kitchen turns out delicious seasonal dishes, and the wine list changes regularly. “There’s always something fun to try,” says Rhys, adding, “There’s no other place in London where you can glide along the Regent’s Canal, drinking magnums of Assyrtiko from Domaine Argyros and eating great seafood.” The Prince Regent, Sheldon Square.
Driven by their mutual passion for Burgundy, Master Somms Xavier Russet and Gearoid Devaney joined forces and opened Cabotte, a Burgundy-focused bistro named after the small huts that punctuate the the iconic region’s vineyards. “Much of the [wine] list is a somm must-try,” says Rhys, adding that the last time she was there she was particularly excited to see a Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Saint-Aubin Le Banc at a great price. “But really, the whole list is chock-full of gems.” 48 Gresham Street, St. Paul’s.
This wine bar and restaurant is owned by the same team behind Noble Rot wine magazine—Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew. “As a magazine, Noble Rot is really progressive and exciting, and their wine list in the restaurant certainly follows [suit],” says Rhys, pointing out that Noble Rot features an array of both established and new, groundbreaking producers. The venue itself is always buzzing, but it’s a great place to relax, savor some fine “Franglaise style” cooking, and enjoy what Rhys calls a treasure trove of a wine list. 51 Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury.
Rumor has it that this old pub is where the Pilgrims began their journey, before leaving Southampton to cross the Atlantic. It’s a great stop for traditional British pub fare and a pint of English ale. 117 Rotherhithe Street, Rotherhithe.
This Michelin-starred restaurant is known for its elegant British cuisine and special focus on produce sourced from throughout the British Isles. The wine list features classic and esoteric wines—with hidden gems for the curious, according to Rhys. “Whenever I go here,” she says, “I walk in and just tell the waiter, ‘Choose me something.’” Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, Shoreditch.
“Grower Champagne and hot dogs—what more can I say?!” exclaims Rhys. She says the wine list at this gourmet hot dog and champagne bar is almost entirely focused on grower Champagne and features producers like Eric Rodez, Francis Boulard, Fleury, and many others. “Oh, and [they have] a killer selection of Cédric Bouchard,” she says. 70 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia.
American Bar at the Savoy
This legendary venue, which was named the 2017 World’s Best Bar by 50 Best Bars, offers all the classics, but as Rhys points out, its menu is beautifully written, with detailed descriptions of new and inventive cocktails that are often quite unusual. “They have a whole section of Kent-inspired cocktails,” Rhys points out, which pay homage to the county’s historical farms, gardens, groves—and one cricket ground. The Savoy Hotel, 100 Strand.
For a craft cocktail and a bird’s-eye view, visit one of Sky Garden’s two rooftop bars, Sky Pod Bar and City Garden Bar, located within London’s highest landscaped public gardens. “You get an amazing view of the entire city along the South Bank,” says Rhys. “It’s pretty cool.” 1 Sky Garden Walk.
Experimental Cocktail Club
If you’re a night owl, Rhys recommends that you try an expertly crafted nightcap at the London outpost of the speakeasy-esque ECC in Chinatown. 13a Gerrard Street, Chinatown.
Places to Visit
Rhys highly recommends a walk along the South Bank to explore a vibrant area of the city. She suggests starting at the Westminster Bridge and walking toward Tower Bridge, with a spin on the London Eye “a must.” Located near the Jubilee Gardens, the capital’s giant ferris wheel has been in operation since 2000; it’s 135 meters high (433 feet), and takes 30 minutes for a complete revolution. “It gives you an amazing view of the entire city,” Rhys says, but she warns that the queue can take up to a half hour and recommends booking tickets online ahead of time.
As you continue to meander along the South Bank, you’ll have an opportunity to take in some of the city’s most scenic views—and experience rich cultural sights, like Shakespeare’s Globe theater, the Tate Modern contemporary art museum, and Borough Market, where Rhys urges a stop to investigate the market’s food and artisan stalls—as well as the many nearby street-food offerings. And when you’re in need of a coffee, she says, there’s “the spectacular Monmouth Coffee on Park Street in Borough Market, just around the corner from the equally spectacular and iconic Neal’s Yard Dairy.”
Lauren DiFilippo is a New York–based writer and the production coordinator at SevenFifty Daily. You can find her with her nose in either a how-to book or a glass of wine. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.