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Londonspring in the square mile

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Andrew Demaria in Soho, London

Mark Parren Taylor

Photos by Mark Parren Taylor

The Natural History Museum

I'd just been out-coffee-snobbed. Surrounded by Lycra-clad gents earnestly working their lattes and laptops, I was already feeling uneasy on my first day back in London. Then I had to go ask for some sugar for my flat white at Rapha Cycle Club in Soho. In return, a look greasier that a late-night kebab.

"We find our coffee is already rather sweet," the barista informed me before opening a hidden cupboard to expose a poor, forgotten glass of clumpy sugar. I guess I deserved my lumps. The quality of coffee was worth my shaming, but I had an excuse. I'd been eight years since I'd lived in London—back then a decent latte was only slightly easier to find than an air-conditioned Tube train.

Though I return for meeting-packed trips every year or so, each visit is a chance to revisit stomping grounds and discover something new. Rapha and the rise of cycling (Rapha is billed as "an inspiring meeting place" for cyclists) are good examples. For dinner, DEHESA adds to London's roster of excellent new tapas bars. Nearby Nopi is more formal, with lots of inventive ways to make baby chickens and roasted aubergine taste even better. Its only drawback: momentarily losing my girlfriend to our charming server.

From left: Bartender making a bloody mary at Bar Américain; Dean Street; burrata, peach, fennel and coriander seeds at Nopi.

 

Aside from seeing old friends, the best bit about these trips for me is bedding down in the heart of town. This time it was the recently refurbished Café Royal on Regent Street. Despite light switches so trendy they're rendered inoperable by mere mortals, the location, quietness, comfort and service guarantee my return. Before leaving the city, I set aside a few hours for Sebastião Salgado: Genesis, a photography exhibit at the Natural History Museum that showcases incredible landscapes and remote communities captured by the renowned Brazilian snapper. (Editor's Note: Sebastião Salgado: Genesis is at the International Center of Photography in New York through January 11, 2015.)

I washed away the feeling of insignificance (Salgado's work is that powerful) with farewell cocktails at the classic Bar Américain, near Piccadilly Circus. No saccharine backchat from the staff, just more of the stuff that already got me plotting my return. Surely someone here needs to attend another meeting.


Andrew Demaria is executive producer of CNN Digital Asia and CNN Travel. He's based in Hong Kong.

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