Travel: West End girls in Christmas grooveBy Leigh Mencarini
November 16, 2010
With under six weeks to go until the big day, Leigh Mencarini and her sister Dee spent the weekend shopping in style in London
Christmas cheer can often fade when you’re battling your way through the hustle and bustle of shoppers.
A dozen carrier bags in each hand, shoes pinching at your hot, tired feet, with nothing but an evening of wrapping paper and Sellotape to look forward to.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
In fact, from now on, facing the festive crowds on Oxford Street should be made into something of an occasion.
That’s how my sister Dee and I kick-started this year’s splurge; and we even managed to cram in a foot spa treatment and a boogie with the King of Pop in the West End.
First port of call was the trendy urban Portman Village, just north of Oxford Street in a quiet corner of W1.
The gift list soon fluttered to the back of our minds when we spotted the contemporary fashion at Ronen Chen.
Its first UK concept store, Isreal’s leading label lists Davina McCall and Barbara Windsor as devotees and aims to appeal to young trendy 30-somethings as well as the more mature fashionista.
We managed to tear ourselves away from all those cutting-edge cuts, to browse the other cute indie-retailers at the village.
Homemade London, a craft boutique, caught my eye as it’s here they show you how to make your own lingerie, cushion covers, perfume – anything. Who doesn’t love a handmade gift?
An afternoon’s browsing had taken its toll on our appetites, but The Portman, a fully refurbished Victorian pub, soon remedied that with a fine dining menu that blew the ‘gastropub’ tag out of the water.
Perusing its scrumptious offerings with a glass of celebratory Champagne (well, it is Christmas, almost) Dee chose roast cannon of lamb (£15.95) while I opted for slow-roasted pork belly (£12.95). Both were presented like works of art and tasted all the more impressive.
We didn’t think we’d finish our desserts, but there was something about the sticky toffee pudding and the chocolate and amaretto parfait (both £5) that kept us digging for more. We were staying at the art-deco style Thistle Marble Arch, which proved to be an ideal location for Oxford Street. A word of warning though – the breakfast is popular.
Order it to your room the night before if you don’t want to queue (and waste precious shopping time).
Of course, we all tend to gravitate towards the flagships. So we checked out the recently revived Biba line at House of Fraser, which has plenty of luxurious fabrics, faux fur, velvets and sparkling embellishments for the Christmas party season.
The Apple store has plenty of ideas for the gadget geek at home – everyone wants an iPad, but it’s worth checking out if only to log on to Facebook for five minutes.
But if there’s one thing that really gets Dee and I in the festive spirit, it’s walking into a department store’s winter wonderland. This year, Liberty & Co on Regent Street delivered the goods, with a treasure trove of gifts and glittering decorations, stylish souvenirs such as the cute woodland animals with snow-tipped ‘fur’.
The magnificent Tudor-style building, erected in the 1920s, gave the whole browsing experience a vintage touch. And there’s even the Wonderful World of Manolo Blahnik inside to allow for some fairytale daydreaming.
As if all this shopping wasn’t hard enough, we now had to work for our lunch. In fact, it was a real treat — pizza-making at Ponti’s Italian Kitchen makes a tasty change from grabbing a quick snack on the go. For £15 a head, you’re let loose in the kitchen to create your own stone-baked pizza, dough flipping and all. That includes another glass of bubbly (for which we were developing quite a taste).
Topshop on Oxford Street is a far cry from the modest unit in mine and Dee’s hometown. For a start, Kate Moss was pictured posing on its escalator this month which I’m pretty sure never happened in Peterborough.
Here we found high street concessions galore in what felt more to me like a nightclub than a clothes shop. Add to that the beauty treatments available; have your hair revamped before a big night out and treat those talons to a funky colour at the WAH-nails bar, and you could easily lose a couple of days in there.
No visit to Oxford Street could be complete without a quick stop at Hamleys. Ben 10 devotees are well catered for, as are the big kids of the family. And if you’ve not yet heard of the Science Museum’s My Mystery UFO toy, trust me; you will have by December 26, judging by the store assistant’s live demo.
We finished our shopping session with a visit to the Shoe Galleries in Selfridges – an absolute must for dedicated followers of foot fashion.
From Louboutin to Chanel, McQueen to Prada, more than 150 iconic brands are exhibiting their 4,000 works of art in this glorious gallery of velvet, glass and steel. You start at high street prices and work your way to the couture label dreamland, by which time you’ll be calculating just how much grace you have left on your credit card.
It’s tiresome work, this shopping malarkey. And despite declaring her new boots the “most comfortable I’ve ever owned” at the beginning of our day, even Dee’s feet were beginning to feel the tread.
We hobbled to the third floor where the store’s quirky Aqua Sheko fish foot spa is installed. Boots and socks abandoned, Dee and I plunged our tired toosties into the cool clean water where tiny finned pedicurists nibbled away at our dead skin.
It’s completely painless – in fact, it’s insanely ticklish. The garra rufa fish have no teeth, although I’m not sure the audience we attracted with our squealing and squirming were entirely convinced.
No visit to the West End is complete without a trip to the theatre. So that evening we moonwalked our way to the Lyric to be dazzled by Thriller – Live.
Dee, being a huge MJ fan, managed to control herself in the first half (the Jackson Five years) but by the time we got to Smooth Criminal and Billie Jean we were up on our (newly rejuvenated) feet and dancing with the rest of them. She even tried to Moonwalk.
Sensational sounds and dazzling choreography put a glitzy end to our girly weekend – and after seeing all those glittering stage outfits, I even remembered to pick up wrapping paper on the way home.
Leigh and Dee stayed at the four-star Thistle Marble Arch. Visit www.thistle.com for room rates and special offers.
Travel to the capital by train and save with 2-for-1 deals at top attractions such as the London Eye, Madame Tussauds and the Tower of London. Download the vouchers from www.daysoutguide.co.uk.
Aqua Sheko at Selfridges is £12 for 10 minutes (if you can stand the tickling for that long).
Tickets, from £25.50, are still available for Thriller – Live at the Lyric Theatre. Visit www.the-lyric-theatre.co.uk.
Head to the West End on Saturday, November 27, for the sixth Shop West End VIP Day.
Both Oxford and Regent Street will be pedestrian priority zones, coming alive with entertainment and special festive events between 10am and 6pm. For details visit www.westendlondon.com/vip.