During a recent visit to London, I decide to cast aside my copy of Europe on a Shoestring, and instead immerse myself in the city as it is presented in The Mail Online. My itinerary, I’m sure, will be familiar to readers of that esteemed publication. Holland Park, Nobu, Notting Hill and The Chiltern Firehouse promise ready entry to the world frequented by the likes of Kate Moss and Rita Ora — a world lit softly enough to compliment one’s bone structure, but harshly enough to necessitate the wearing of sunglasses after dark (a symptom, presumably, of the omnipresent paparazzi).
The locations I plan to visit, clustered around Hyde Park in London’s west, represent an intersection of London’s old money crowd, its Russian magnate expat community, and the movers and shakers who seemingly fashion themselves on the city’s ’90s Primrose set. (It’s difficult to tell how many generations past the Jude Law-Sadie Frost-Liam Gallagher-et-al incarnation of Cool Britannia we are today, given the revolving door of ‘it’ girls debuted by Tatler on a bi-monthly basis.)
In addition to these London sub-cultures, of course, there are the rubbernecking tourists such as myself. I’m surprised, though, at the relative dearth of this breed when I explore upmarket shopping district Knightsbridge. Crowds of visitors press around the flagship Harrods store on Brompton Street, admiring their newly-purchased, retailer-branded umbrellas and plastic tote bags, but otherwise the area boasts fewer tourists than almost anywhere I visit in London.
Instead of zig-zagging tour groups, Knightsbridge’s Sloane Street plays host to Mercs and Beamers, their drivers cupping pints of milk* and flicking through The Sun while they await the return of their clients. Said clients traipse between the street’s set of high-end retailers: Gucci, Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, Tom Ford, Ermenegildo Zegna.
As I walk up Sloane Street, it becomes clear that I am not equipped to enter these premises. Each shop’s door is guarded by an intimidatingly-muscled doorman, scrutinising the gait and the wardrobe of prospective entrants. My outfit — head to toe Kathmandu, darling — has been chosen with functionality prioritised over style and so, I assume, fails to meet the requirements for admission. As a result, I dare not make eye contact with the gatekeepers, experiencing Sloane Street from the wrong side of the shops’ glass panelling.
Even from a distance, the boutiques’ goings-on are easy to observe. I can almost hear the whispering of tissue paper, as garments are carefully folded and placed into padded, pastel boxes by shop assistants. Still, though, I wish I had the panache (and the funds) to charge through the doors of Dolce & Gabbana, demanding a ten thousand pound coat to replace my eighty dollar fleece.
Having failed to broach the walls of elite London, I resolve to try again. I am surprised by the ease with which I was able to book a table at Sexy Fish — given its apparent status as London’s restaurant of the moment, I had suspected that I’d need to know someone who knew someone (which I don’t) in order to reserve a space. The night before our booking, I sit at (or, rather hunch over) my laptop, bent within the fifty-odd centimetres of space above my hostel bunk bed, and do my pre-reading. I check for a dress code (there is none, officially) and screen the menu for items within stratospheres of my price range (there are a few, unexpectedly).
The following evening I retrieve my skinniest jeans, a collared shirt and my trusty leather boots, and arrive at Berkely Square at five minutes to six. Upon entry to Sexy Fish, the connection between its name and its fit-out becomes as clear as the bluest of waters. An enormous Damien Hirst mermaid sculpture hangs over the kitchen, dozens of papier-mâché-esque fish dangle above the bar, and the window panes are numerous enough to house an internal waterfall.
Spectacular though its interiors may be, the Sexy Fish aquarium lacks the shimmering specimens I had hoped to spot. Its clientele, while certainly well-heeled, is staid: ladies on the tail end of long lunches, expats talking business and curious tourists are clustered across the restaurant’s floor. The beautiful, darting specimens of London’s celebrity circuit have swum out of my reach once again (perhaps upstream to the restaurant’s private dining room), leaving me to enjoy plump edamame and oysters surrounded by the hum-drum of wealth, but not fame. Still — at least I managed to make it past the doorman.
*Please, can somebody explain — why is drinking milk straight a thing in England?