A taste of cool Britannia

A taste of cool Britannia

YP cadet Alex Wong shares his favourite places to eat and sit in the British capital

London has so many tourist spots that it's natural to assume it's an expensive city. It can be. But there are more than a few ways to save your pennies.

My experience as a student in Britain tells me good food here comes at a cost. Sushi is expensive and of low quality. On the other hand, family-run Italian restaurants are more down-to-earth and authentic.

Near Hyde Park sits a cosy, inexpensive place called Pierino, serving the best pesto, risotto and salad in London. The best thing about it is that you can scale down your meal to a salad or a plate of pasta if you're on a budget, or pick the lavish seafood pizza and top it off with chocolate fudge cake if you feel rich.

Don't miss the classic fish and chips: the best ones come wrapped in greaseproof paper, with loads of salt and vinegar. The battered fish at Sea Shell in Lisson Grove is super fresh and flaky, and is served with a gherkin, pickled onions and mushy peas. For some reason, the cod is tastiest at the end of the week; maybe the thought of the weekend cheers up the chefs? Expect a queue on weekdays, as office workers like a grab-and-go lunch.

Chinatown is where I spend most of my money. In fact, it's more of an Asiatown: you see a weird mix of people, all there to fulfil their insatiable craving for a taste of home.

My personal favourite is the dim sum from Harbour City, which is quite fairly priced if you share the cost with a large crowd. You can more or less get what you would order in Hong Kong: the steamed prawn and chive dumplings are an absolute gem, and the cha siu bao fresh from the steamer completes your imaginary trip home.

Londoners love to sit on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral, leaning against the magnificent stone-carved architecture. They nibble on a panini or a pack of sashimi from a Tesco supermarket while taking in city scenes.

The bright red London buses come and go, and from a distance, you see the most interesting blend of people zooming across the streets.

While you're there, go inside. Taking in the architecture is one of the few experiences that can leave you speechless. The cathedral is like a gallery, thanks to the fine murals and stone carvings that make up the walls. Fluted pillars stretch up to the dome-shaped ceiling, which feels like a halo over everyone's heads. A discreet passageway leads up to the Stone Gallery, which surrounds the dome. From there, the view of the River Thames is breathtaking; you can take great photos to brag about to your friends.

If you want to stick with the city's cultural side, check out the museums and art galleries. London's gallery atmosphere is friendly and relaxing: fear not, no one will test you on what you think of Edvard Munch and his surrealist motifs (on view at the Tate Modern until October 14). Half the people who go to galleries barely know about art, and the other half only think they do.

My tips are the newly refurbished Tate Modern, and the British and Natural History Museums.

You'll never run out of things to do in London. The only thing you might run out of is cash, but if you flash your student ID, you can get nearly everything at half price.

Visa

No visa required for HKID holders.

Health and safety

No special health warnings. Watch out for pickpockets.

Currency

GBP1 is a little more than HK$12.

Weather and climate

The temperature in winter can drop to zero degrees Celsius and below; in July and August, it occasionally gets as hot as 30C. Frequent showers all year.

Transport

Get a one-day travel card, which lets you travel within the six main zones of London by Tube and buses; or an Oyster card if you're there for a week or more. Always check for concessions.

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