A Covent Garden Christmas
By Francesca Roberts
As a South African living in London for three years, the only consolation to the wet and grey Decembers is the festive atmosphere that radiates through the city centre at night. We do have Christmas lights, markets, decorations and such back home, but I can’t deny that seeing snowmen in front of sandstone clad houses in summer can be a bit of an anticlimax. London has the amazing capability to transform itself into a merry wonderland, and while it rarely snows, the city embraces the thematic holiday to an extent that would send Scrooge running.
With uncertainty of what we can and cannot do over Christmas this year, it will be harder (or illegal) to make many plans. As it currently stands, however, there are still ways to fill the your time and stockings with Christmas cheer and perhaps lots of beer? My suggestions, while not entirely Christmas themed, will be useful if you’re a Londoner who appreciates the distraction of bright lights, wintery city walks or you just need an excuse to get out of the house and away from the person you have spent FAR too much time with this year.
Christmas has always been a time to stick to your carefully cultivated personal and social traditions, but this year has been awful and you deserve something refreshing. Maybe for you its swapping sprouts with cauliflower or trifle with tiramisu, or maybe its ditching the clichéd activities altogether and going rogue this festive season. Fish and chips? In a Christmas article? I know. Forgive my creative liberties, I’m feeling a little rogue myself.
The Christmas light displays in Covent Garden are always impressive. This year they are installing over 115 000 lights in and around the “open air Piazza” — a bustling covered market square, not to mention the thousands that will be adorning the sixty foot tree… They also have a Deciem store… You’re sold. You’re going. But you’ll need somewhere to eat and drink. It being London, there are so many restaurants and pubs, so recommendations are vital in making sure you don’t waste your money. I would check, however, that my suggestions remain open before you visit due to local lockdown regulations.
Christmassy Cocktails at Henrietta Hotel
For the third year in a row, the flawless Henrietta hotel will be hosting it’s Miracle pop-up bar. Overlooking the Piazza in its bedazzled festive glory, the chalet style pop-up originated in the U.S. and has become a feature in most Americans’ Christmas Calendar. If that is anything to go by, their cocktails would be a cosy treat to finish off a day of shopping, and will be sweetly infused with cherries and cheeriness, pumpkin spice and everything nice. Due to social distancing, it’s likely that there won’t be a white-haired old man dressed in red expecting you to sit on his lap, but if you ask me, that’s a perk.
Sake Tasting at Moto
While not strictly Christmassy, Moto is the stylish minimalist sake bar and eatery that you didn’t know you needed. If you have never tried the Japanese rice wine, or maybe your trip to Japan has been postponed indefinitely, spending a night sitting at the bar and sipping on specially chosen alcohol is hard to beat.
Known for their sake, their sample menu is concise, clean, affordable and perfectly paired. The Nasu Nibitashi (a classic Japanese aubergine broth) would bring warmth on the coldest day, and the sake infused chicken karaage would bring a smile to the grumpiest man. They even have a cocktail with an ice cube in the shape of Mount Fuji which is the kind of creative winter kitsch we love to see over Christmas.
Fish and Chipsmas
If we have to be tourists in our own city, we might as well do it properly, and what would an English holiday be without greasy chips and crunchy cod? I’m not saying that you should replace your turkey or nut roast with the stuff, 2020 has thrown us enough curveballs as it is. But I think that grabbing newspaper wrapped oily grub, eating it with your fingers under the Christmas lights in Trafalgar Square would be a wholesome way to spend an evening. I have sampled many a chippy in my life and few have been as memorable as Rock and Sole Plaice. It could be the punny name (I’m only human), but my fondness for this spot is largely due to both the quality of the fish and the crunchiness of the batter. I haven’t tried their mushy peas because mushy peas are the absolute worst, but their homemade tartare sauce is a capery hug to bring it all together.
A Coffee in Neals Yard
You have to go to Neals Yard if you haven’t already. It’s literally around the corner and it’s a quirky metropolitan heaven. With overflowing window boxes and intense colours, the ‘yard’ is a charming and surprising pocket of London nestled within Seven Dials. The Christmas decorations are largely subtle, as the existing aesthetics are already so vibrant. But the square nonetheless offers a charm that is unique to London and only improved by the jolliness of the holiday season. There are a few restaurants and shops to peruse in the square, including the Neals Yard flagship store (which I wouldn’t really bother with) and Monmouth Coffee shop (which I really would bother with). Unless you’re dining at one of the restaurants, there isn’t much to do here, but it’s a fun setting for your selfies at the very least.
About Francesca Roberts
Francesca Roberts is a London based Visual Artists and writer. British-born, South African raised she has degrees in Fine Art, Art History and History from Rhodes Unviersity. When Francesca is not drawing or writing she can be found singing to Van Morrison and rearranging furniture.