Finding Pieces of Asia in London
Not long ago, the British Empire encompassed the globe. From east to west, north to south, the saying goes, “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” Nowadays, most British colonies have become independent nations. However, the far and wide reach of the British Empire has led London to become one of the most diverse cities in the world.
With the current exchange rate hovering around £1 to $1.25 (the lowest exchange rate since the 1980’s), now is an ideal time to visit London. And with over a million Asian tourists a year visiting London, why not visit?
Below are some ideas of things to do, places to visit, and restaurants to dine at:
London is home to a slew of museums and galleries making the city a must see for anyone interested in history. From the British Museum to the National Gallery, there’s something for everyone. The best part of the museums: many of these great attractions are free. However, for just a little extra, special exhibits and tours can provide extra insight and guidance on how to get the most out of a museum.
Lovers of ancient history and civilizations would enjoy the British Museum with its Egyptian, Assyrian, and Greek antiquities. As a museum that focuses on the world as a whole, the British Museum is packed to the brim with Chinese ceramics, Egyptian mummies, and other treasures from around the globe.
For those interested in Japanese artwork, the British Museum featured the Citi exhibition Manga マンガ, the largest exhibition of manga outside of Japan. Manga, Japanese comic books or graphic novels, have existed since the 19th century but the business has exploded into a global phenomenon, encompassing video games and Japanese anime. The summer exhibit highlighted the process of manga production, the history of manga from the 19th century to today, and of course, the artwork. Prominent manga artists in attendance included: Tezuka Osamu from Astro Boy, Toriyama Akira from Dragon Ball, and Oda Eiichirō from ONE PIECE.
On top of the famed Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles, the museum houses objects from around the world including Korean artifacts, Japanese treasures, and the largest collection of Chinese ceramics outside of China. Admission is free but donations to help maintain the museum are always welcome.
Alongside Broadway in New York City, West End in London showcases the highest level of commercial theater. Spending a night enjoying a West End show is a definite must do.
For those unfamiliar with theater, Wicked is one of the more approachable shows to watch on the West End. In the midst of the retold Wizard of Oz story, you find relatable characters, satire and irony, and messages that resonate in today’s political climate.
Tourists traveling by the London Underground, or the Tube, should easily find the Apollo Victoria Theatre as Victoria Station is only a three minute walk away. For those traveling by bus, the Victoria Coach Station is within eyesight of the theatre. Show tickets can be purchased from as little as $30 via phone, internet, or in person.
A trip to England would be incomplete without spending time in the English countryside. How else would you see the rolling hills, greenery, and the castles? Leaving London proper allows tourists to see other facets of English life and provides a break from the bustle of the city.
Built in 1270, Hever Castle is known for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII. Their marriage caused significant political and religious uproar and started the English Reformation, but all that’s history.
The castle itself is an amazing sight and each room is filled with history of the various owners. The vine covered castle walls and expansive grounds are gorgeous and romantic. Yet there is something for everyone to spend their time enjoying. Children, young and old, can spend hours playing in the nearly thirty-foot castle known as Tudor Towers. Tricksters can challenge themselves to find the center of the Water Maze or discover the way out of the Yew Maze. Or there’s always the casual walk through the impressive gardens and grounds.
Japanese Tea House in Hever Castle
Those taking the Lake Walk or renting a boat should look for the Japanese Tea House. Perched on the edge of Hever Lake, the tea house was built and designed to embody the intent behind the original Edwardian Tea House that was knocked down during World War II. Regardless, the Tea House serves to enhance calm atmosphere around Hever Castle and Grounds.
Walking tours are one of the best ways to experience any city as you learn the history, see multiple sights, and get a general feel for the city.
Take Walks offers tours in major cities throughout Europe and the U.S. All tour guides share in-depth knowledge of the sites. Without a guide, it’s easy to get lost and never truly understand the significance of the landmarks.
Highly recommended would be the “Complete Tower” Tour as you get exclusive access to the opening ceremony of the Tower of London and early access to the Crown Jewels. This is a particular treat as lines to see the Crown Jewels have been reported taking as long as two to three hours. As an observer to the opening ceremony, guests bear witness to a ceremony that has been held daily for the past 700 years. From there, tourists are guided to see the Crown Jewels and through the rest of the Tower of London.
The Tower of London itself is an amazing historical site as it has been the monument to several different aspects of government. Inside the White Tower, the original Tower of London, there are relics from the Tower’s days as an armory and mint.
Not big into history or jewelry? Take Walks has a multitude of other tours including a one-hour walk through SoHo and a full day out to see Stonehenge and other sites part of England’s mysterious past. Book tours well in advance as they fill up quickly.
Eat around London
Since 2013, Eating London, has treated tourists to the various food and sites of London. British tour guides come equipped with a variety of backgrounds consisting of any mixture of acting and comedy, history and guiding, and real foodies and chefs. Each guide, who has lived in London for several years, goes through a training course with the company before setting off to guide tours.
With tours lasting three to four hours, Eating London has something for everyone; traditional English fare to international cuisine that is prominent in the city with sides of history, pop culture, and music. Each restaurant on the tours is selected for its history, its relationship to the neighborhood, the importance of the building, and the promise of delicious cuisine.
The Twilight Soho Food Tours features Soho restaurants versed in Mexican, British, Spanish, Chinese, and French cuisines making the foods on tour approachable but giving any tourist something new and different to try. Walking from restaurant to restaurant, tour guides provide insights about the area. Its history, the movers and shakers who have called Soho home, and the various scandals and darker aspects of the neighborhood. In particular, this tour highlights some of Soho’s hidden gems, restaurants and places the average tourist would miss if left to their own devices.
Of the restaurants featured in the Twilight Soho Food Tour, Opium stands as a fan favorite. Tucked behind an otherwise unassuming door in Chinatown, this two-story restaurant features three different themed bars with corresponding cocktail and food menus. The dim lighting and rich silks that decorate the restaurant are reminiscent of the opium dens that once existed in London and China. The name itself is a nod to the dark history between the two world powers.
Wherever we go in the world, there’s bound to be good Asian food. With London being such a cosmopolitan city, finding amazing food is not a problem, especially Indian foods and curries. Chicken tikka masala is considered a British national dish. The dish is especially noteworthy because it wasn’t brought over from India, but created for the British as a way for them to enjoy the more traditional chicken tikka, with the added masala sauce similar to gravy that Brits love to pour on everything.
Nestled in SoHo in a converted townhouse, Baoziln has created dim sum and Chinese food for more than ten years. Their extensive menu is filled with recommendations.
Overall, the food is phenomenal and avoids the common pitfalls of modern cuisine by staying away from fat, heavy sauces and utilizing vinegar to open the taste buds. This is best evidenced in their Salt and Pepper Squid which has a nice, crispy batter that feels light. Baozilnn’s classic dim sum fare such as their Classic Dim Sum Platter, Xiao Long Bao, and Wontons with Prawn or Pork Filling are masterfully prepared and visually stunning. The restaurant’s Dan Dan Noodles are equally wonderful with just the right amount of spicy kick.
The wait staff at Baozilnn go the extra mile to make sure your experience is the best possible. They are also prompt with their recommendations and are quick to notice if your order will be heavy in certain flavors or proteins thus helping you alter your order if needed or confirming your choices.
Eating at Baozilnn is an absolute delight and a highly recommended experience. Reservations can be made via phone or online via OpenTable.
Less than a five-minute walk from the South Kensington’s Tube Station, which provides easy access to several of London’s museums, lies the Malayasian restaurant Zheng Chelsea. The unassuming restaurant exterior is marked only with a simple name plate which makes it easy to mistake it for someone’s townhouse. However, once you get past the foyer, you see the chic but simple design of a cozy restaurant with plenty of corners to hide away and just enjoy your meal.
Malayasian cuisine is supposedly a fusion of Asian food that mixes and matches to create a wonderful meal. Dining at Zheng Chelsea is best done family style in which you share everything you order.
A favorite is the Chili Salt and Pepper Aubergine which is eggplant battered, fried, and topped with flash fried garlic. The flavor combination opens the taste buds and makes you hungry for more. Another favorite is the Rendang Beef, a well executed curry with blended spices that ensures even flavoring and mouthwatering, tender beef. As a whole, the menu is filled with tasty dishes and with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options.
Chef and owner, Adam Abdullah, boasts that both Zheng Chelsea and Zheng Oxford, the Oxford location, on being authentic Malayasian as the recipes come from his wife. Given the quality of the food and service, it is evident that the couple enjoys their career in the restaurant industry.
Xi’an Impression is far from the Western idea of Chinese food. Featuring hand-pulled noodle dishes and street food signature of Xi’an City, famous for the Terracotta Warriors, the food is humble, unapologetic, and undeniably authentic. The restaurant prides itself on importing certain ingredients from China, which explains the bold flavors of the food.
If you have no idea what to eat, picking a dish is easy as the menu is in Chinese, English, and has pictures of most dishes. Service is quick in this small, 20-seat restaurant as food is served shortly. Enjoyed by locals and tourists alike, guests may find themselves hearing Chinese or British English while sitting down to lunch or dinner.
London is a fantastic place to visit for any tourist. There’s bound to be something to see, explore and love that captures your attention. There’s so much to do that there is no way it can be done in one visit. The best advice: pick and choose your itinerary based on your interests.