Tips for a life in London
September 22, 2006 6:43 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I just moved to London, and will be here for at least two years. We are trying to make it feel like home; and there are a lot of things that can make a place feel like home ... or make it feel like a strange new country. I have many specific questions, and also welcome general advice pertaining to life in London.

We live here (just north of Uxbridge Road, five blocks west of the Shepherd's Bush H&C tube stop), and my wife will be studying here (five minutes from South Kensington tube station): for service-related things, we are interested in a combination of convenience, quality and price, so the closer, better, and cheaper, the better. Any and all help is appreciated.

Food and Drink-Related:
(F1) Good cheap supermarket?
(F2) Good bakery?
(F3) Good farmer's market?
(F5) Good cheese shop or some other way to get a wide selection of good cheese?
(F4) Bulk food store?
(F5) Specific food items: where to get fresh spices, rice paper for spring rolls, coarsly ground cornmeal, organic flour?
(F6) Good restaurants? Particularly Thai, Indian, West Indian, Italian, "Vegetarian", and Chinese? These ones don't need to be so close to home...
(F7) Good homebrew supply store? (Related to this: any easy way to get empty beer bottles, particularly if they have flip tops such as those found on Grolsch bottles?)
(F8) Our best neighbourhood pub? (The closer the better ... not more than a 5 minute bike ride by safe streets.)
(F9) Good kinds of beer that it might take a while to stumble upon?
(F10) This is a longshot, but: is it possible to get bagels in London that are even 10% as good as in Montreal?

Bodies:
(B1) A good dentist?
(B2) Good men's and women's hair salons? We both would prefer good haircuts to cheap haircuts.
(B3) A gym? This one could be near home or near the V&A...

Shops:
(S1) A good bike shop? Our nearest bike shop -- A Fudge & Sons, located here - is no good to me: they have a very limited selection of parts and seem to cater only to the bikes they sell, which are mostly hybrids with straight handlebars. I ride a road bike (10-speed) with drop bars, my wife rides a road bike frame with funky monkey bars, and I maintain both bikes. Price is of moderate but not paramount importance. (Related to this: are there any bike coops that have workshop space for members?)
(S2) Cheap computer parts and supplies? If you've ever walked along Spadina avenue in Toronto, you know the kind of store I mean ... the kind where you can buy a hard drive without the case, and most things don't come in a cardboard box.
(S3) Related to (S2): a store that services Apple Macs? How about one that services Acer notebooks?
(S4) A well-stocked hardware store?
(S5) Office supply store?
(S6) Record/CD stores (yes, there are still people who buy music)?
(S7) Good bookstores, both new and used, that aren't on Charing Cross Road?
(S8) Anywhere that sells math books (for mathematicians)?
(S9) Good thrift stores, both for clothing and other household stuff?

Miscellaneous:
(M1) Live music that doesn't cost an arm and a leg? We both like a wide range of music, and know how to use the Time Out guide, but if there's anywhere that consistently has good blues, folk, or country where we can become regulars, we want to know about it.
(M2) How to keep up our French, and how to improve our Spanish and Arabic? Hammersmith and Fulham has what looks like a great community courses program but the ones we wanted are all full. Any easy way to find someone to do a language swap? (For French, we are not looking to take courses but for more for social activities, French-language movie theaters, or any other ideas you oh-so-clever readers have).
(M3) A good, safe bike route from point a to point b?
(M4) If we need a daycare, do we need to get on a waiting list a million years in advance?
(M5) Do we need some special card or identification number in order to work? I am British and my wife is on a spousal visa, so we both have the right to work ... just interested in the technicalities as it will be our first time working in the UK.
(M6) Where to get rubber boots and raingear?
(M7) Is our water hard or soft? How can we tell?
(M8) Feel free to ask and answer your own questions; I'm hoping this thread will end up as a resource not just for me but for other people!
posted by louigi to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Up My Street and particularly the FindMyNearest function is a good starting point to finding where some of these things are actually located.
posted by janecr at 6:59 AM on September 22, 2006


Just a couple of answers to be getting on with but I'm not very familiar with that area.

(M5) Employers generally ask for a National Insurance number, which I believe is used by HM Customs and Excise to calculate income tax. If you son't have one there's info here
(M7) Unless you have a water softening device fitted in your home it will be hard - pretty much everywhere in the south of England has hard water. Check out the build up of limescale on a kettle after about a fortnight of it being new.

General advice - Plan to get out of London some weekends. I found it can wear you down a bit.

Good luck!
posted by brighton at 7:03 AM on September 22, 2006


Funnily enough my sister lives just near there, and I stayed with her last weekend. I can answer a few of your questions

F8
Havelock Tavern was my favourite whilst I was down there, and is about 5 minutes away.

F10
Don't know if they're as good as Montreal, but there is a shop that sells nothing but freshly baked bagels here (take a right off Rockley Road and you'll see it)

S2
Tottenham Court Road

S3
There is a small Apple Centre on Kensington High Street (link here). That's the only one I can think of around that area from my time there.

Computer Warehouse are one of the biggest and best respected Apple dealers in the UK, but is quite a bit further

Hope this helps
ps. buy a good umbrella!
posted by derbs at 7:11 AM on September 22, 2006


This is a bit of a ridiculously long list. For a lot of it I would suggest just stepping out your front door and having a wander around. I mean a lot of the food related questions will be answered by simply going into your local supermarket. However rather than just chide I will try and offer some help for F5: Neal's Yard Dairy.
posted by ninebelow at 7:12 AM on September 22, 2006


I've not lived in London for a few years, but here's a few for starters and for what it's worth...

(F5) Almost any UK supermarket will have a better selection of cheeses, cheaper, than any in N. America, in my experience. Try Marks & Spencer before you hunt for the more obscure.
(F6) London is crowded with good (and bad) restaurants in all price ranges. They come and go, get local advice when you get there. Buy Time Out, ask coworkers and friends.
(F8) See (F6). The fun is trying different ones to discover them for yourself.
(S1) The Bicycle Workshop, All Saints Road, Notting Hill - small but perfectly formed.
(S2) Tottenham Court Road.
(S7/8) What's wrong with Charing Cross Road? It's where lots of good bookstores are. Foyles for academic texts, Scoob for used academic texts. See also the big University College branch of Waterstones, off Mallet Street.
(M7) Very hard.

Like others suggest, just get there and exploring is half the fun of a new place - lots of this is local knowledge stuff.
posted by normy at 7:18 AM on September 22, 2006


We've already been here for two weeks, and have done plenty of exploring of what's within walking distance; these are the things that we haven't managed to easily find. When you start thinking about all the kinds of places you shop and go, the list gets long fast...
posted by louigi at 7:19 AM on September 22, 2006


normy, thanks for your answers. On (F5): I'm used to an extremely wide range of cheeses from all over the world, for fairly cheap, and right around the corner from me. I lived in Montreal, which is quite different from much of North America on this count. I've been in the large-ish M&S and Tesco's and Sainsbury's near Hammersmith station and on Shepherd's Bush road; I'm looking for more selection than any of them offers.
posted by louigi at 7:30 AM on September 22, 2006


Unanswered: B 1,2,3, S 4,5,6,9, F 1,2,3,4,7,9, M 1,2,3,4,6.
posted by louigi at 7:31 AM on September 22, 2006


So jealous, you lucky dog. It will take like a week to get yourself sorted. In addition to all the good advice so far, try , Craigslist/London and Londonist., too. Don't forget to scoot on out the the countryside and explore the rest of the UK, it's only 3-5 hours away.. not to mention hitting France for a weekend or two, at the very least. Plus flights on RyanAir are ridiculously cheap, you're in a great position to jaunt on over to Bulgaria or Turkey for the weekend.
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:33 AM on September 22, 2006


(F5) There's an excellent cheese shop on Jermyn Street. If it's good enough for the Queen...

And as for markets, Borough Market is worth having a look.
posted by jontyjago at 7:36 AM on September 22, 2006


seconded on Paxton & Whitfield as mentioned by jontyjago above. It's good enough for Michael Palin too (saw him there on Christmas Eve many years ago, there was a huge queue going down Jermyn Street, and the staff were going around with trays of free mini mincemeat pies).
posted by lowlife at 7:47 AM on September 22, 2006


F3: Farmers' market in West Ealing - cycle lane on Uxbridge Road all the way. For more on cycling/S1/M3 try the London Cycling Campaign
F1: Try the Chiswick Sainsburys
F5: Waitrose is usually a good bet
F8: A bit further away, the pubs by the Thames at Hammersmith Bridge esp the Dove
M2: Institut Francais in South Ken - lots of social activities, French cinema etc
B1: You can find out about dentists here - you may find it difficult to get an NHS one.
M7: You can tell that the water is hard as you'll need a lot of shampoo before it will lather and your kettle will fur up as will your iron.
posted by boudicca at 8:01 AM on September 22, 2006


MeTa
posted by c:\awesome at 8:16 AM on September 22, 2006


Have you thought of moving to Montreal? It seems that everything you need is there. :)
posted by daveyt at 8:27 AM on September 22, 2006


F1: Get your grocery shopping delivered by Tesco. It only costs about £3.50 to get it delivered and it'll save you so much hassle. Also, Tescos are cheapest for almost everything and the quality is good. Your time is worth more than £3.50 :)
posted by wackybrit at 8:27 AM on September 22, 2006


M3: Cycle routes in London -- Transport for London Cycle Guides are excellent free maps.
posted by trevor at 8:38 AM on September 22, 2006


I have had many of the same questions, and found a lot of them answered here.
posted by Lillitatiana at 8:43 AM on September 22, 2006


I should add that it's a paid subscription ($15?), but really worth it, in my experience.
posted by Lillitatiana at 8:44 AM on September 22, 2006


Still unanswered: F 2,4,7,9, S 4,5,6,9, M 1,4,6, B 2,3
posted by louigi at 8:52 AM on September 22, 2006


F6: If you check the area where fulham starts to merge into hammersmith, there are a few good places to get foreign food, although some are tucked away. Check out Tandoori Lane on the Munster Rd for excellent indian food. An excellent (an inexpensive) Italian restaurant is in South Ken, next to the tube: Spago.
F8: Absolutely second boudicca's call on The Dove in Hammersmith - it's everything you've always dreamed a friendly, cosy English pub ought to be - I think that and i'm from London...
M1: Go to 'Gaz's Rockin' Blues' at the St Moritz club on Wardour St in Picadilly on a thursday night. Inexpensive, cosy (if crowded) and a live band, ordinarily reggae but occasionally more bluesy.
On a more generic culture point, go to Riverside Studios (Theatre, Cinemas, Exhibitions) in Hammersmith, near the river.
F9: On the beer front, bear in mind that all the widely distributed lager is low quality and mass produced; this isn't Germany. Guiness is an acquired taste, but try the bitters wherever it is you end up going; you'll most likely find one that suits you. Good pubs will have guest ales - worth watching out for.

That's all for now... best of luck settling in!
posted by jrengreen at 9:03 AM on September 22, 2006


S4: Robert Dyas.

S5: Rymans.

M6: Millets.
posted by ninebelow at 9:07 AM on September 22, 2006


NW3 bias coming, cos that's where I live :-)

F6: Manna is a cosy vegetarian restaurant in Primrose Hill. Pricey but good. Cute friendly staff too. Be sure to check out Lemonia (Greek) just up the road too. Not veggie, but plenty of veggie options, and very friendly.

F10: Brick Lane's twin bagel shops are well thought-of. I've no idea if you'll feel they're worth the trip though. You may just want to stroll through any Jewish community, such as Golder's Green.

S6: Any decent market and surrounding shops, but you may want to try Camden.

M1: The strip of bars between Camden and Chalk Farm tube stations host lots of live rock/indie/folk/etc music most nights.

M2: Join meetup.com or upcoming.org and look for language groups.
posted by ajp at 9:29 AM on September 22, 2006


(F5) and all related 'gourmet' food items.

Harrods. As garish, over the top, ridiculously trendy and expensive as most of the store is, the food items can not be beat. And are _honestly_ priced for the quality you're getting. Definitely not the place for your weekly shop (oh god, if only) but it's the first place I go to when I want something slightly more special. This advice assumes you like your food like you like your hair; good rather than cheap.

(F9) You can't live in England and not sample the local ales. Most (smaller) pubs will have ales unique to them and guest ales. Drink ale and fit in. With lager and stout, it gets a bit more tricky. (I drink Guinness. It gets much, much nicer the closer you get to Ireland.)

(S4,5,6,7,8&9) Plenty of main brand stores that'll sort you out on all accounts. Plenty of each (especially thrift stores) around. Just walk along any high street and you'll see them. Then google the nearest ones as I can't be arsed to list all the company names.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:39 AM on September 22, 2006


Thanks, everyone, for all your help. It has already changed our plans for tonight, and will be a great aid in making this city feel like home.
posted by louigi at 9:47 AM on September 22, 2006


At the risk of offending people: still unanswered are F 2,4,7,9, S 9, M 4, and B 2,3.
posted by louigi at 10:28 AM on September 22, 2006


Whoops, F9 is answered twice.
posted by louigi at 10:29 AM on September 22, 2006


Welcome to SheBu, neighbour. Let me give you a few local tips - although I know most of these have already been answered.

(F1) Damas Gate and Al Abbas (both on Uxbridge Road), are great for fresh fruit and veg, as well as Middle Eastern sweets / snacks, and so on.
(F2) I'm a fan of (I think it's called) Forrest the Baker on the corner of Uxbridge Rd and Devonport Road. It seems to be run by Thai women, and they sell really good pies!
(F6) The Nepalese restaurant is nice. The waiter's schtick gets old quickly though.
(F8) The best of your localest local pubs is The Goldhawk. But please avoid most of the pubs on Goldhawk Road.
(S4) Have you tried Greenford Timber on the corner of Uxbridge Road and Ingersoll Road? that's where I go, but I don't have a whole lot of hardware related needs.
(M1) Keep an eye on the listings for Bush Hall, there's usually a pretty wide variety of genres represented. If you see something you like, drop me a line (email's in my profile) and I'll put you on the guestlist!
posted by featherboa at 11:05 AM on September 22, 2006


I hope you are making a similar list of things to enjoy because you are not at home
posted by Idcoytco at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2006


(F1) Good cheap supermarket?
(F4) Bulk food store?


There's a Tesco in a small precinct opposite the "other" Shepherd Bush tube.

(F5) Specific food items: where to get fresh spices, rice paper for spring rolls, coarsly ground cornmeal, organic flour?

Have a wander around your local south Asian corner shops. "Oriental" food ingredients I would source from Gerard Street, W1.

(F6) Good restaurants? Particularly Thai, Indian, West Indian, Italian, "Vegetarian", and Chinese? These ones don't need to be so close to home...

While you're getting rice paper from Gerard Street, check out Wong Kei just off the western end of it. World-famous-ly rude service, great restaurant. Cantonese, mostly, like most Chinese restaurants in the UK.

For both Indian *and* vegetarian, go to Drummond Street, NW1, just by Euston/Euston Square tubes. Again, most "Indian" restaurants aren't actually Indian, but Bangladeshi.

(F9) Good kinds of beer that it might take a while to stumble upon?

Retail? There are Belgo restaurants with beer stores on Chalk Farm Road, NW1 and in Covent Garden near Seven Dials, WC2. That's for your Krieks and Geuzes and other Belgian import stuff. I've never been a fan of the brown ale so can't help you with indigenous stuff.

Sam Smiths have a chain of boozers dotted all around town where all the beer is made by themselves, and sold for comparatively lunatic prices. Look them up.

(F10) This is a longshot, but: is it possible to get bagels in London that are even 10% as good as in Montreal?

I'd be more concerned about whether there's a bagel store anywhere in North America which is even 10% as good as the Beigel Bake, Brick Lane, E1.

(S2) Cheap computer parts and supplies? If you've ever walked along Spadina avenue in Toronto, you know the kind of store I mean ... the kind where you can buy a hard drive without the case, and most things don't come in a cardboard box.

CEX (Computer Exchange), Tottenham Court Road, WC1 (Goodge Street tube).

(S3) Related to (S2): a store that services Apple Macs? How about one that services Acer notebooks?

Apple Stores in Regent Street, W1 and (iirc) now also at Brent Cross Shopping Centre, NW4. Someone on Tottenham Court Road will be able to sort your Acer.

(S4) A well-stocked hardware store?

Thousands. Look for B&Q or Homebase for the large chain store outlets.

(S5) Office supply store?

You don't want one. They're insanely expensive, with no exceptions. Buy online from Viking Direct.

(S6) Record/CD stores (yes, there are still people who buy music)?

Mainstream: HMV, Virgin Megastore (Oxford Street, W1), Tower Records (Piccadilly Circus, W1)

Less mainstream: wander down Berwick Street, W1, or check out the Music and Video Exchanges at Notting Hill Gate, W11 for untold amounts of second-hand stuff.

(S7) Good bookstores, both new and used, that aren't on Charing Cross Road?
(S8) Anywhere that sells math books (for mathematicians)?


The Waterstones which was once Dillon's, on Gower Street, WC1.

(S9) Good thrift stores, both for clothing and other household stuff?

There are charity shops in abundance all over the place. Oxfam runs lots of them if you're looking for something to start with.

(M2) How to keep up our French, and how to improve our Spanish and Arabic? Hammersmith and Fulham has what looks like a great community courses program but the ones we wanted are all full. Any easy way to find someone to do a language swap? (For French, we are not looking to take courses but for more for social activities, French-language movie theaters, or any other ideas you oh-so-clever readers have).

The Institut Francais is in South Kensington if memory serves. You'll want to check that out. For courses, there's a large paperback book available in every newsagent in the city right now listing almost everything in London. Damned if I can remember what it's called. (Spotlight?)

(M5) Do we need some special card or identification number in order to work?

You'll need a national insurance number for tax and that. Phone your local tax office and they'll send it to you. This will not incur the interest of any immigration officials.

(M7) Is our water hard or soft? How can we tell?

Hard water leaves calcium carbonate flakes in your kettle once you've boiled it daily for a month or so.

Not bad, if I say so myself, for someone who left the country a year ago...
posted by genghis at 11:35 AM on September 22, 2006


Someone please tell me that there is a better bagel than Beigel Bake. I went there and was underwhelmed.
posted by lukemeister at 1:38 PM on September 22, 2006


(F4) Costco if you're happy to drive. Or online ordering from Tesco or Ocado.

(F9) Lowlander in Covent Garden. You too can experience the party in your mouth where everyone's invited.

(S9) They're called Charity Shops here and they're on pretty much every high street. Allegedly the ones with the best swag are found in the posh areas, so try the Oxfam in Hampstead (Gayton Road if I remember correctly).

Other thoughts:
- You really want to buy as much online as possible.
- If the locals seem unfriendly, it's often because they are. There are plenty of foreigners around tho, so it doesn't need to impact you too much.
- The Gate is a wonderous vegetarian restaurant in Hammersmith, which is a not-too-bad walk from you.
- Craigslist in London is filled with US expats. For something similar, try gumtree.com.
- Like many big cities, there's an amazing amount of things going on that is barely publicised because of the sheer volume. If you find something you like, get on their email list as it's a great way to keep in the loop.
posted by quiet at 5:51 PM on September 22, 2006


Music venues local to you - I second the fantastic Bush Hall, which from your location you're practically living on top of, and there's also Ginglik, which is underneath Shepherd's Bush Green. It's a bit media-trendy, but in a nice, friendly, non-posy way. Don't be out off by the fact that it describes itself as a "beat bunker" - it's really not the soul-sucking hellpit that phrase suggests. I spent many happy hours there when I worked in the area.

I also second the Havelock Tavern, which is a little bit of a schlep from where you are, but worth it. Good food, good drinking, and a fantastic atmosphere.
posted by flashboy at 4:14 AM on September 23, 2006


(F7) I don't know of any in central London, but there are a couple that are reachable by train/bus:


Art of Brewing

42 Richmond Road
Kingston Surrey KT2 5EE 020 8549 5266
www.art-of-brewing.co.uk

(SW Trains, Kingston-upon-Thames)
They also do mail order; have a depot in Chessington which can be reached by train (have not been).

Cheers Winemaking & Brewing
Terminus of the 93 bus (Other end: Putney Bridge), or catch 93 bus at Wimbledon (District Line or SW Trains) or Morden (end of Northern Line).

Highly recommended. Richard Burns is a great mentor to British ale styles.

I also use Hop and Grape. Excellent selection; decent shipping prices.

You can buy empty bottles at the brew shops, but that seems pretty pointless to me. Why not just empty your own? Fuller's London Pride bottles are excellent for homebrew. Buy caps (crown seals) at the homebrew shop. They're cheap.
posted by sagwalla at 4:23 AM on September 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


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