Thursday, 7 August 2008

Meeting Places In Central London

This week, a friend of mine was over from Ireland and staying in London for a couple of days. She was staying in a hotel in Central London and we planned to meet for lunch and a little sale shopping. The night before she had been to see Dirty Dancing in the West End (the main purpose of her trip) and, that morning, she was going to visit Westminster Abbey before meeting me.

Now, it all seems so very simple to meet an old friend in London for the day but when one friend is totally unfamiliar with the city and the others newfound area of knowledge is sightseeing attractions along the River Thames (!), it can be a little complicated! I didn’t have anywhere specific in mind for lunch but thought that dim sum in Chinatown would be rather fun so did an internet search for reviews and recommendations.

In years gone by, I often frequented restaurants in Chinatown but much has changed in recent years and I couldn’t remember names and places. All the restaurant reviews were mixed so I decided it would be better to chose where to eat once we had met up. It only remained for me to suggest a rendezvous point that my friend would be able to find easily. Leicester Square was the most obvious choice so I suggested meeting outside the Odeon Cinema – home to many a movie premier.

On the train to London, it began to rain so I sent my friend a text to say if it was raining there we should meet inside the Capital Radio Café next door to the Odeon. To my horror, when I arrived I saw that, whilst Capital Radio is still there, the café downstairs is now a Yates wine bar (and has been for several years apparently!). My friend found the wrong cinema in Leicester Square and then, standing below the massive sign indicating “CAPITAL RADIO”, had asked a passer-by where capital radio was! Anyway, eventually we found each other and the confusion was soon forgotten!

So, if you need a good place to meet in central London, I can recommend Yates Wine bar on Leicester Square. I’m not a fan of meeting outside tube stations as they can be crowded and many stations have more than one exit. I’m not terribly familiar with specific London bars or cafes these days but obviously that option makes most sense if you are more informed than me! If you are meeting someone for a day of shopping than an excellent place to meet is at Oxford Circus in the large entrance to the flagship Top Shop store or round the corner at the Apple store on Regent Street.
There is an old tale that says wherever you are from in the world, if you spend all day hanging around Piccadilly Circus, you are guaranteed to see somebody you know. It has actually happened to me twice, even though I was just passing through. However, I don’t suggest arranging to meet someone in Piccadilly Circus – it’s far too hectic there! Theatre foyers are also handy places to meet during the day (but too busy in the evening) as are art galleries and museums.

Wherever you decide to meet, make sure it’s easy to find and not too secluded. Cafés and bars have the bonus of cloakroom facilities and being able to sit with a drink if you arrive early or one of you is running late. I’ve always enjoyed people-watching in hotel lounges and, again, they provide a little comfort while you wait. The Hampshire Hotel in Leicester Square and the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel in Knightsbridge are two of my favourites for the stylish surroundings. Why wait in the heat or rain when you can enjoy a little luxury?!

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