Dave the Taxi Driver's


Guide to London

St James Park, Londontrafalgar square, king charles statue, londoncanadian memorial, londonCharles De Gaulle Statue London

St. James/ Westminster (SW1)

Palaces, Pageantry, Parliament and Gentlemen’s Clubs

Queen VictoriaThe heart of the British establishment. The essence of Britishness. You can almost hear Elgar’s patriotic music floating through the air as you stroll through St. James. This grand area embodies and represents the history and traditions of Great Britain; our Royal Heritage; our civilisation that has taught the world how to overcome barbarism; the seat of power of our democratic beliefs which have circumnavigated the Earth; from where the resolute military have defended our shores and the peoples of our colonies for hundreds of years; from where the righteous ways of the followers of the Christian God were sent forth to transform the minds of the heathen.

Brian May, QueenThis is where rulers from the world are received by Her Majesty the Queen on State Visits; where the Queen welcomes thousands of her people at her Garden Parties; where Honours are bestowed on those special ones who have done great deeds and great service to their Country and Commonwealth; where celebrations of Royal Marriages have been greeted by thousands of flag-waving and cheering, with the Royals waving from the famous balcony of Buckingham Palace. The pinnacle being the Jubilee Party Concert in 2002, when Queen’s (not the Queen’s) Brian May, stood on the roof performing to an ecstatic sea of one million people who thronged The Mall. I feel like I’ve been overacting. Did I overdo that? I almost felt a stiff upper lip coming on.

Catherine of BraganzaSt. James and Westminster is not a large area, but there is so much history to see and you have the beautiful parks you can stroll through. I am beginning at Green Park by Hyde Park Corner (Memorial Gate),but you can start from anywhere. From Hyde park Corner runs the wide swathe of Constitution Hill, where King Charles II used to take his daily walk, his ‘constitution’. It is said that it was here that Queen Catherine of Braganza, Charles’ wife picked a flower, and handing the flower to her husband, she asked him to give it to the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Charles gave it to a lady passer by. The Queen was so angry that she reputedly had all the flowers removed from Green Park and decreed that no more should be planted. Until the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday in the year 2000, no flowers grew in Green Park. Another reason might be that the park lies over a lepers’ burial ground.

Buckingham Palace, LondonBuckingham Palace, which has been a Royal Residence since the early 1700s, is to your right at the far end of Constitution Hill (as if you are going to miss it?). On your left is Canada Gate and just inside Green Park is the memorial to the Canadians who died in World Wars I and II.

Royal CoachThe Queen Victoria Memorial (1911),which in the cab trade is known as the ‘wedding cake’, stands in front of the Palace. Have a look at Queen Victoria’s as you go by. It is white compared to the rest of her. When the monument was being refurbished, a workman knocked off her nose with a length of scaffolding. The new piece of marble, which was brought all the way from Italy, still has to weather in. In the meantime she does resemble an Australian cricketer wearing sunscreen. Adjacent to Buckingham Palace, on the other side on Buckingham Gate, is The Queen’s Gallery which an extensive of paintings from the Royal Collection and also The Royal Mews. In the Royal Mews you can see the State vehicles used by the Queen on many Royal occasions. Ornate horse drawn carriages and cars such as the one in front of my cab in the above photo which I was about to give a blast of my horn to pull over and let me pass until I realized it was indeed the Royal Coach.

The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace takes place daily at 11.30a.m. in summer and every other day in winter. The State Rooms of the Palace are open to the public from the end of July to early September.

You can go into St. James’ Park from here or continue up the Mall.

The Mall, which was dirt road until the late nineteenth century, now stretches majestically like a red carpet up to Admiralty Arch. Clarence House, the official residence of the Prince of Wales can be seen to the left, just before Marlborough Road. Clarence House was the former residence of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Her statue stands by on the left half way up the Mall, by Carlton Gardens, just in front of the statue of her husband King George VI.

You can detour off to the left up Marlborough Road to St James Palace and also take in St. James’ Square by continuing up St. James’ Street and turning into King Street or turn right into Pall Mall and take the next left.

St James’ Palace which was built by Henry VIII remains the principal Royal Palace of the British Monarchy, (The Court of St James), St. James’ Palace houses The Chapel Royal and The Queen’s Chapel.

If you cross Pall Mall in front of the Palace, it might interest you to know that beneath your feet, under the road, are around 200,000 bottles of wine stored in the cellars of Berry Bros. & Rudd. Pall Mall was so named because Charles II loved the French game of Paille Maille. If you turn right into Pall Mall you will see a Blue Plaque on the wall of No. 79. There used to be a house on this site where lived Nell Gwynne, the orange seller, actress, prostitute and favourite mistress of Charles II. On his deathbed Charles uttered “Let not poor Nelly starve”. She died in Pall Mall in 1687 having been duly catered for during her remaining years.

Around the World in 80 DaysFurther along this thoroughfare are several exclusive clubs. One of them, The Reform Club at No.104, was the start and finish point in Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’, and likewise for Monty Python’s Michael Palin’s re-enactment of the story in 1988. (As I might mention from time to time, being a London Taxi driver can be very interesting. You actually get to meet some of your heroes. I was at one of Michael Palin’s book signings. I was pleased to be able to thank him for immortalising my home town of Notlob in the Parrot Sketch.)   J. M. Barrie, Henri Cartier Bresson, Winston Churchill, E. M. Forster, Henry James, Lord Palmerston, William Makepeace Thackeray, and H. G. Wells were all Reformers. Although founded on traditional lines as a gentlemen's club, the Reform became, in 1981, the first such club in this country to admit women on equal terms.

Duke of York Column, LondonA little further to the right is the south section of Waterloo Place and the statue of ‘the Grand Old Duke of York’ on top of his column. Hardly a philanthropist, the Duke docked a day’s wages from his soldiers to pay for this monument. The Duke of York Steps lead back down to the Mall . The steps are close to The ICA Gallery (Institute of Contemporary Art). At the other end in the direction from which you have come is Carlton Gardens where stands the statue of General De Gaulle, opposite where he set up the Free French Forces during World War 2. If you turn left and go down the steps from here, you will come down to the statues of George VI and the Queen Mother.

Saint James Park Pelicans, LondonWalking through the beautifully landscaped St. James’ Park with its lake and pelicans, Big Ben, probably London’s most famous landmark becomes visible. The pelicans, the ancestors of which were originally a present from the Russian Ambassador to Charles II, are usually resting on the rocks in the lake until they are fed at 15.00, but now and again they go for a swim closer to Horse Guards Parade, and if it is cold they sit under the trees there. I don’t think they were employed by former Mayor Ken Livingstone, who has been accused of bringing in hawks to help rid Trafalgar Square of pigeons, but the pelicans seem to agree with his strategy by gulping down a pigeon now and again.

Running along right of St. James’ Park is Birdcage Walk, so named because Charles II used to keep caged birds hanging along its route. Here are the Wellington Barracks and Guards Museum and Chapel.

Horse Guards Road/Parade connects Birdcage Walk and The Mall. Here used to be Henry VIII ’s jousting ground. It is also where the annual ceremonies of Trooping the Colour and Beating Retreat take place. The Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum, where World War II strategy was planned, are at the Birdcage Walk end.

Admiralty Arch LondonAdmiralty Arch(1910) is directly in front of you if you have approached from The Mall. If you are coming from Horse Guards Road you turn right towards the Arch. Moving through Admiralty Arch, the imposing Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square with the large lions at its base immediately comes into view. If you look back into the vehicle entrance of the Arch you will see a small stone nose at a height of about 7 feet. This nose is quite a mystery. No one knows why it is there. It is known that he Duke of Wellington had a big nose, so maybe it is a wry addition by the builder. Mounted soldiers were said to touch the nose for good luck as they passed through the Arch.

In front of Nelson’s Column stands the statue of Charles I on horseback, gazing down Whitehall where he was executed in 1649 in front of the Banqueting House. The National Gallery is opposite on the north side of the square.

House of ParliamentWhitehall was where Whitehall Palace stood for hundreds of years. It was the residence of several kings and queens. Henry VIII died there in 1547, and Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, in 1658.The veritable Corridor of Power ,Whitehall leads you down to Parliament Street onto Parliament Square and The Houses of Parliament. I recommend you book a tour of the Palace of Westminster. It really makes you appreciate our long established democratical heritage. Government Buildings along Whitehall include The Ministry of Defence, The Treasury, The Cabinet office, Scottish Office and Welsh Office. Horse Guards, which houses the Horse Guards Museum, stands opposite The Banqueting House. The Household Cavalry Guard, which is mounted here changes daily at 11.00 a.m. If you look at the two o’clock hour marker on the clock above, you will see that it is coloured black. This was the hour that Charles I was executed just across the road, and is black in reverence of the event.

Farther down towards Parliament Square, on the right near the Cenotaph, is well guarded Downing Street, with the Prime Minister’s residence at No.10.

westminster abby londonParliament Square is populated with many statues of politicians and statesmen, among them Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela. The 900 year old St. Margaret’s Church, the official church of Parliament, stands next to Westminster Abbey. The Abbey was consecrated in 1065. William I was crowned here on Christmas Day 1066. From the rear of Westminster Abbey, The Jewel Tower of Edward III is just along Abingdon Street opposite the House of Lords. Passing the Victoria Tower, in the gardens to the left, by the river, is the Buxton Memorial to the Emancipation of Slaves.

If you leave Parliament Square by Broad Sanctuary, on the right is the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre and opposite in Storey’s Gate is the Westminster Methodist Central Hall. Broad Sanctuary leads into Victoria Street. A few minutes walk along here will bring you to the Catholic Westminster Cathedral. If you walk into Palace Street on the other side of Victoria Street you will come back to the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Gate with Buckingham Palace to your right.

St. James Square and nearby

Christie's Auction House, LondonSt. James is an area of many fine art galleries. The world famous Christies Auction House is in King Street. St James is also renowned for its Gentlemen’s Clubs. When I say Gentlemen’s clubs I am referring to the culture of luncheons and leather armchairs, not leotards and leather underwear. These clubs do not advertise their presence. They remain anonymous. One exception is the ‘In and Out Club’ in St. James’ Square. That is not its real name, but the club used to be on Piccadilly. It received that title because of the signs at the gates, which were a separate entrance and exit. It has continued that tradition even though there is no ‘In and Out’ apart from by the same door, at its new location in the north -east corner of St. James’ Square. At No 31 the Allied Invasion of France in World War II was planned by General Eisenhower. The statue in the centre of the square is King William III.

St. James is an area of eminent gentlemen’s outfitters, shops with quality at their hearts, in St. James’ Street, Jermyn Street and Duke Street St. James. Many specialise in the sale of fine shirts and hand made shoes.

Piccadilly runs across the top end of St. James’ Street. To the left is the Ritz Hotel. To the right in the direction of Piccadilly Circus you will pass Fortnum and Mason (1707), the Royals’ grocer. Farther down is St. James’ Piccadilly, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built by Henry Jermyn, the Earl of St. Albans, with interior carvings by Grinling Gibbons. St. James Piccadilly was consecrated in 1684 and is respected as an important counselling and advice centre. It also has a small market and a Café Nero. 99% of the coffee I consume is from Café Nero.

piccadilly circus londonYou will reach Piccadilly Circus in a couple of minutes. The Haymarket is a short distance away to the right, with its café bars and Her Majesty’s Theatre, the only theatre to change its name when the sex of the sovereign changes (if you know what I mean), and also The Theatre Royal. If you turn left at the bottom Trafalgar Square is a short way in front of you. Just before you turn, look at the Blue Plaque on New Zealand House. When the Carlton Hotel stood on this site, one of its waiters in 1913 was Ho Chi Minh.

So why am I inviting you to take a walking tour when I am offering my services as a taxi guide? Well, I think it is a great way to see and also feel the city. Although I drive around all day. I like to walk as much as possible. You experience a different atmosphere, especially when you can get away from the traffic down an alleyway and find something interesting, such as the Texas Embassy in Pickering Place, at the foot of St. James’ Street, said to be the best Tex-Mex food in London. Walking in London however can be tiring. If you include entrances to Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, a few, or all of the other historical buildings I have mentioned, then that will be a long day. Just take your time and maybe do it over two or three days. There are enough cafes, restaurants and pubs to sustain you.

Restaurants in St. James

Don’t expect to eat cheaply in St. James, but it is possible to pay reasonable prices. The restaurants complement the area to a tee, or maybe a tea, which I think is a good place to start.

Tea in the Palm Court at the Ritz Hotel at 150 Piccadilly. Gentlemen are expected to wear a jacket and tie for this elegant occasion, where you will be entertained by tasteful live music. As well as Traditional Afternoon Tea there is a varied menu which includes a Champagne Tea. The exquisite Louis XVI Restaurant is probably one of the best dining experiences in the world.

A little further along Piccadilly at No.160,in what used to be a former car showroom, if rather grand,( it did sell Bentleys),is the Wolseley, a café/bar/restaurant, decorated in the grand European style, like you might see in Vienna, complete with home made viennoiseries. The Wolseley serves breakfast from 07.00 and covers all the sessions from then on until midnight, including afternoon tea. Breakfast might be something like a simple bacon roll, or fried haggis with duck eggs; lunch maybe a hamburger, matjes herrings with pumpernickel, soup de poissons or Welsh rarebit; dinner a plateau de fruits de mer, with Beluga Caviar at the top end of the range.

Le Caprice is just behind the Ritz in Arlington Street. Reminiscent of a Manhattan piano bar, it is not as formal as the Ritz, ties not being required. Considering its location and its cool, chic reputation, prices are reasonable. Book well, very well in advance. They do a decent pre/ post theatre menu and a brunch menu which includes a pitcher of buck’s fizz. Specialities are the salmon fishcakes, eggs benedict, caesar salad and steak tartare. [ see the Joan Collins Experience(s)]

Café Nikolaj at the Caviar House on the corner of St. James’ Street and Piccadilly is a Russian Restaurant specialising in seafood and caviar and an impressive wine menu, so I am told.

Fortnum and Mason, Piccadilly.

Probably the most famous grocer in the world, with a fascinating history dating back to 1707. There are three restaurants, plus the 1707 Wine Bar within Fortnum and Mason. Classic formal dining, piano music and afternoon tea at the St.James’ Restaurant. The Fountain is a de luxe brasserie serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, when you can enjoy romantic guitar music. The Parlour menu gives your children what might be their first opportunity to experience the high life. They can indulge themselves in delicious, gastronomic ice creams and milk shakes. You can enjoy Viennese pastries and open sandwiches, or the other way around maybe.

Green’s Oyster Restaurant, Duke Street St. James.

Aristocratic in its ownership and also in its tradition, the essence of which seems to have imbued itself into its wooden panelling and seating. There are also private dining areas. At Green’s you can delight in an extensive menu of oysters and seafood and traditional English Dishes of the highest quality. Game is served when in season.

Richoux, Piccadilly.

A member of the tasteful group of Richoux restaurants in London. The décor is reminiscent of the colonial France you remember from all those years ago, yet the menus are varied with continental breakfasts, eggs Florentine and the New Yorker. As well as the English breakfast other specialities like Shepherd’s Pie and Fish and Chips are served. There is also a special children’s menu.

The Itsu Piccadilly, by pure chance, found itself embroiled in the mystery of the death of the Russian, Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. The Itsu serves healthy Japanese sushi and noodle dishes at reasonable prices.

Ristorante Biagio, Piccadilly.

A touch of Italian nostalgia with food from Northern Italy the speciality.

Just before Piccadilly Circus is the Scotch Steak Houses.

Criterion Brasserie, Piccadilly Circus.

Neo-Byzantine architecture, with gilded ceilings and mirrors which have reflected the history which has taken place within its walls. Where the Suffragettes held meetings; where such luminaries as Winston Churchill, Lloyd George and Bertrand Russell dined and where Sherlock Holmes was conceived, in the mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of course. Classic cuisine which complements the Ritz at the other end of Piccadilly.

Down the Haymarket, on the right from the Criterion is Galileo’s, an Italian Trattoria, the food having a Tuscan influence. Farther down near Pall Mall is the Sports Café. This is just about as opposite as you can get to the St. James’ tradition. Totally dedicated to sports from all over the world, which are shown on dozens of screens, with all the noise to go with it. Food includes burgers, nachos, barbecued ribs and steaks.

In Panton Street, a small street just off the Haymarket, there is quite a mix of restaurants. On the corner of the Haymarket, the Angus Steak House, North African at the Saharaween, the vegetarian Woodlands, the dependable Stockpot, a favourite with cab drivers and children, the long established West End Kitchen, for well priced modern European food and the Strada for quality Italian at a decent price.

In the Haymarket Hotel, Suffolk Place, is the Brumus, If you like dining surrounded by pink décor, this is the place for you. A bright, relatively new hotel with character, where they serve English Cuisine, or rather, that to which our cuisine now aspires, with a quite a bit of European influence.

The Mint Leaf, which is also in Suffolk Place, is a fashionable Indian restaurant with the accent on contemporary cuisine from all over India.

For great Tex-Mex, call in to the Texas Embassy Cantina in Cockspur Street, built on the site where the Rugby Football Union was formed. You can also but a Tex-Mex t- shirt here and take it back to Texas to impress all your friends. Also in Cockspur Street is the Thai Square which is part of the ever growing Thai Food revolution in London.

Moving towards Trafalgar Square, is the Rockwell , a brasserie at the Trafalgar Hotel with Modern European, and the Scottish themed Albannach, in Spring Gardens near Admiralty Arch, serving Smoked Salmon, Haggis etc, plus a large array of single malt whiskies.

On the other side of the Haymarket is the Japanese and noodle Wagamama in Norris Street, with Noura (Central) in Regent Street, just below Piccadilly Circus. A Lebanese experience without going all the way to Edgware Road.

In Jermyn Street, which runs parallel to Piccadilly, the Abracadabra has an extensive a la carte Russian menu which includes sturgeon and caviar. Two Italian restaurants here are classy Italian Getti, near Piccadilly Circus and at the other end near St. James’ Street is Franco’s. A marvellous institution, Franco’s has been here since the 1940s. British and International at Ormond’s (in Ormond Yard) and of course Wilton’s, which has been there almost as long as St. James itself. As they say: ‘Noted since 1742 for the finest oysters, fish and game’. Need I say more?

Rowley’s, famous for its Entrecote with herb butter is at 113. This was the site of original Walls Butcher in the nineteenth century.

The Leyton Brasserie (International) occupies the first floor of the Cavendish Hotel. The Al Duca is just off Jermyn Street in Duke of York Street . The Al Duca has a Mediterranean Menu with an exclusively Italian wine list. The ever trendy Quaglino’s of Bury Street is closer to St. James’ Street. Quaglino’s has an impressive stairway entrance down into a very large open dining area. Modern European Cuisine, including seafood.

The Matsuri (Japanese) is close, also in Bury Street. Great Japanese theme with waitresses wearing Kimonos.

In St.James’ Street:

The Avenue. Minimalist décor specialising in high quality British fare.

L’Oranger. First class French Cuisine.

Authentic French cuisine at the Brasserie St. Jacques with Jazz on Friday nights.

Just St. James. Beautiful British food in beautiful surroundings.

Wheeler’s. Established in London in 1856, Wheeler’s is the heart of British tradition. Famed for its oysters and seafood.

Sake No Hana won an award for its stylishly designed interior. Excellent Japanese food and not only Japanese seating, but western as well.

From Trafalgar Square, there is a large gap to the other end of St. James, which is handsomely filled by St. James’ Park and Buckingham Palace. In St. James’ Park is the Inn the Park (Horse Guards Road). Traditional English food. There is also an roof terrace where you can enjoy the view.

Buckingham Gate runs next to Buckingham Palace, as well as away from it. In the part that runs away is The Crowne Plaza Hotel, which has three impressive restaurants. The Michelin starred Quilon, known for its excellent cuisine from South India, the Bank Westminster and Zander Bar, with Greek, Asian and Modern British as well as the Bistro 51, with high class traditional European, Modern British, Beef Grills and a Sunday Roast.

The Bongusto at 75,Buckingham Gate is a popular authentic Italian restaurant.

Tube: Hyde Park Corner/ Green Park/ St. James/Victoria (& National Rail)

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