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 . : American Way (American airline's inflight magazine) : .

Celebrated Weekend

by Mark Seal
In his new movie, About a Boy, the beguiling British actor plays a London bachelor. In this story, he plays London tour guide. And we think you’ll want to tag along.
London has provided both setting and role in Hugh Grant’s best films: Four Weddings and a Funeral (in which Grant plays a lovelorn London bachelor), Notting Hill (London bookseller seduced by Hollywood star), Bridget Jones’s Diary (London boss/cad), and, out this month, About a Boy (rich, childless Londoner who invents a son to help him meet women). The setting is apropos, for "Londoner" has always been Grant’s real role in life. Born and bred in the suburb of Fulham, he was educated at Oxford and worked as a salesman at Harrods and as a London copywriter before becoming an actor. Today, his star shines internationally, but for Grant, there’s no place like home.

“I’ve never stayed in a hotel in London in my life, because I live there. But I’ve certainly visited people who look like they’re having a very luxurious time at The Dorchester and at Brown’s, which always struck me as a romantic, special place. They’re both historic. The Dorchester is the huge one on Park Lane, and I’m told by my American friends that it has the fastest and most delicious room service in the world. You haven’t finished ordering by the time they’re actually knocking on your door. I have some British friends who go for dirty weekends at Brown’s even though they live in London. It’s very Old World, romantic, tucked away in the heart of Mayfair.”

“Curry is my comfort food. I like the Star of India on the old Brompton Road. Unlike other Indian restaurants in England, which all have the same kind of look, this has a sort of operatic look to it. There are frescoes of cherubs and things all over the walls and rather extraordinary music. It’s sort of high-camp, a fascinating place. There’s Assaggi, which is Italian and delicious, above a pub in Notting Hill. I suppose you’d call it ‘un-messed-about’ Italian. It’s not heavy or saucy. I love The Ivy and its sister restaurants, Le Caprice and J. Sheekey’s, which is fish. The Ivy is difficult to get in, and I’ve never been one for going to the hot restaurant. I go to The Ivy because the food there and at the two sister restaurants is completely delicious. In a way it’s very traditional British cooking done at its best. If you’re into star-watching, The Ivy is a good place to go.”

“If you want to go clubbing, I’d go to Attica or a place called Catch. Attica is sort of a dance-on-the-tables place, but a little more ‘posey.’ Catch is just sort of relatively glamorous. Opposite Catch there’s a very good Vietnamese restaurant I’ve been going to for years called Nam-Long-Le-Shaker. It has a great bar with the most lethal cocktails in England.”

“Assuming one had a hangover, I would go for a traditional English breakfast near my house at a place like Vingt-Quatre, which used to be called Up All Night. It’s always been a 24-hour restaurant. They do a very good full English breakfast. You’ll see a lot of men like yourself, not wanting to talk to anyone else, with their hats pulled down over their eyes, reading the papers.”

“I’m a big fan of the open spaces. I love Kensington Gardens almost more than anything, with the big round pond there on the Serpentine. It’s where I go running. I think it’s one of the most beautiful gardens in the world.”

“I’ve always loved the Natural History Museum, both inside and out. It’s considered kind of hideous, the worst of English Gothic revival. But I think it’s absolutely gorgeous. I used to be taken there as a child to draw all the dinosaurs. I did go to see them the other day and they were still looking good. The National Portrait Gallery is underrated. You don’t have to be a big art buff to get some fun out of it, because in a way it’s like a Madame Tussaud’s, a catalog of famous faces through British history. It’s a bit like looking at Hello! magazine, but stretching back for 400 years or more. I also like Tate Britain. Tate Modern is the new one everyone’s raving about, but I think Tate Britain is very underrated. There’s a fantastic Turner collection there. Leighton House is a charming little museum of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Lord Leighton was a patron of … late-19th-century British art. This is Leighton’s own house. It has an aura of decadence. You could tell they had sort of wild, debauched parties.”

“You would have lunch in a pub with a couple of pints, a shepherd’s pie, and some baked beans. Delicious. I’ve been going to Finch’s on Fulham Road for 20 years now. Originally, it was one of the few pubs that hadn’t been updated and given a theme. It was full of Chelsea eccentrics. It was full of nutters, really; it was a loony pub. And I used to spend all of my time there with my friends. It has, I’m afraid, now been tarted up a bit and is not quite what it was. But I still have a great fondness for it.”

“If you’re a guy and you want something exclusive to London, you might have a look at Savile Row, where now a sort of battle rages between Old World tailors, who are marvelous, like Huntsman and Anderson & Sheppard, and the newer tailors who claim to have all the old skills with a modern twist. There are people like Richard James, who I use a lot. Fantastic clothes, fantastic tailor. I make film companies use him, and then I steal the suits at the end. For shirts and ties, you could go to Jermyn Street and Turnbull & Asser or Harvie & Hudson or New & Lingwood. The difference is the collars mainly.”

“If I could only do one thing in London, I would go to a game at Fulham Football Club. Oh, god, yeah. Football is such an integral part of the British culture. It’s always slightly startling to people from abroad, the sheer passion that arouses. The Fulham football ground just has a special association to me, because I was born in Fulham, and I used to work at the ground, cleaning the seats during the summer holidays. I still go to as many games as I can.”

“Saturday night is always tricky in big cities. The French say, ‘Les Samedi soires ne sont que pour les bonnes’ — you know, ‘Saturday night is only for maids.’ Which is a horribly snobby thing to say, but it’s not the cool night to be out. Lots of people go away from London for the weekend. I stay. I might go to Riva. It’s more obscure, but absolutely delicious Italian. If you want to eat in Notting Hill, the most typical place is called 192. It’s full of Bridget Jones types.”

“I did comedy in a number of small theaters in London, like the King’s Head Theater in Islington. That’s worth a visit. It’s a theater in the back of a pub. The pub still charges in pounds, shillings, and pence rather than decimal currency. Your pint will cost two pounds, nine and sixpence. You’ll see fringe theater, but high-quality fringe theater. It’s just down the road from the Almeida, which is another famous, what you would call off-Broadway place.”

“I’m a member of a golf club called Stoke Park. Its restaurant there, Stoke’s Brasserie, is in this gorgeous setting called Stoke Poges, a remnant of the old Windsor Great Park that connected to Windsor Castle. They do fantastic Sunday lunches and very good weekend breaks. In fact, the weekend break that my character takes with Bridget Jones in that film is all set at Stoke Poges. It has a lovely lake that we row on. The golf is really good, too.”
“I used to work at Harrods. Twice. I worked in Table Stationery and I worked in Christmas Hampers. I had very little money, and I used to trail through Harrods’ food halls with my tongue hanging out like Oliver Twist. … I now know the owner of Harrods, and I feel I actually owe him money. Because the second time I worked at Harrods years and years ago, before he was the owner, I was working in the Christmas Hampers packing department and our boss went away for three weeks. After a couple of days, we decided that we really couldn’t be bothered to pack any hampers at all. We’d pack maybe two or three, but we were supposed to do, like, 100 a day. We’d put little surprises in the hampers just to puzzle the person who opened it, like half a packet of cigarettes. We’d sign in and play Frisbee with the tops of the coffee jars for a few hours, then sign ourselves out as if we’d been there until 6 o’clock at night, when in fact it was only midday. I’ve always been rather ashamed about that. I would like to apologize to Harrods. Mind you, I’ve spent so much money there over the years, I think I’ve paid my dues.”

Mark Seal is an American Way contributing editor whose work has also appeared in Vanity Fair, Esquire, Playboy, Time, and Town & Country

Thanks To Sara

 : . posted by Foxxy


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