For the past four years, Emma Wilkinson has been living in England’s buzzing capitol, after moving from the sleepy seaside town of Eastbourne. In today’s Britain Insiders interview, Emma shares her favorite place to score unique gifts, how she inspired a new menu item, and where to find a red telephone booth in the middle of a lavender field for striking Instagram gold.
On choosing the perfect neighborhood: There’s so much I love about living in Crystal Palace in south east London. It’s only 30-minutes by train from central London, but it has more of an urban village feel, with lots of green, open space. The Crystal Place Triangle is just three short roads jam-packed with pubs, cafes, and restaurants with art galleries, boutiques, and retro/junk furniture shops sandwiched in between. Actually, one of the streets is literally lined with junk furniture shops. I wouldn’t look twice at most of the pieces, but it’s obviously fashionable stuff as it sells like hot cakes – and for a pretty decent price too!
Dalhousie is my favourite café on the Triangle and they do the best coconut sponge cake layered with coconut cream. The French House is my favourite restaurant – they make these amazing tarte flambées that are kind of like you’d imagine a French pizza to be. Once, they created a special one for me, as I didn’t like some of the ingredients on their standard menu. It had goat cheese, apple, lavender honey, and walnuts – and now it’s on their menu permanently! Crystal Palace Park is another one of my favorite neighborhood spots. If you walk up to the top of the park, you’ll have a great view of the North Downs, and you can stand on the site where the actual Crystal Palace stood in 1851 when it housed the Great Exhibition.
On weekend routines: On Saturday mornings, I like to go for a short run – three miles is the most I’ll do, but it’s a good way to start the day and get that spurt of energy after a long week at work. Sometimes I’ll switch things up and take a yoga class. The Yoga Edge is my local studio and it’s heated to around 86 degrees, so I come out dripping and in dire need of a shower! On Saturday nights, my boyfriend and I usually grab dinner at one of our local “Palace” spots like Westow House Pub or The Alma. Occasionally, we’ll take the bus to Brixton Village, which is about 25 minutes away, if we feel like trying somewhere new.
On Sundays, nothing makes me happier than wandering around the city and snapping pictures with my DSLR camera. If the over ground train is running, then my boyfriend and I will often head to Shoreditch and walk around Old Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane. I love all of the street art in that part of town.
On eclectic fashion: Really, anything goes in London! I LOVE shopping – so much so, I have actually filled all of my cupboards and have a pile of clothes permanently stacked on the dining room chair! My go-to stores are Topshop and Zara. I also really like Monki, a Scandinavian brand. Their shop on Carnaby Street has this cool, multi-coloured staircase — definitely worth checking out. But, my favorite city for shopping is Brighton. Churchill Square has all of the high-street stores, and Brighton Lanes is packed with independent retailers—especially good if you’re buying gifts!
On dressing for the elements: Layers are definitely best for London’s fickle weather. In the winter, I wear a coat with a hood — and I live by scarves. Whatever season, whatever weather, I always have a scarf on me! If it’s raining and I don’t have a coat, I’ll wrap the scarf over my head, or if I’m cold, I’ll wrap it around my shoulders. You can never have too many scarves!
On the power of sunny days: When the sun is shining, everyone is in a good mood! This summer, we had one Sunday where the weather was absolutely perfect. My boyfriend asked me what I wanted to do and I replied, “Go to a lavender field.” I’d seen loads of lavender pictures on Instagram, but I had no idea if we lived near one! I googled nearby lavender fields and found Mayfield Lavender Farm, just a 20-minute drive away. It was great! We couldn’t stop taking pictures, and they had giant photo props too for those coveted Instagram shots, including an iconic red telephone box. I had to queue to get a picture with that, but it was worth it!
On getting away from it all: I miss living by the sea so whenever I can, I head back home to Eastborne—it’s a 90-minute drive or train ride from London—and catch up with my family and friends who all still live there. My mum lives just a two-minute walk from the sea, and there’s a lovely walking path along Eastbourne seafront. If you head east, you’ll end up at Eastbourne’s Sovereign Harbour Marina, which has a few restaurants and bars that are perfect for people-watching. If you head west, you can walk all the way along the promenade past the Victorian pier and Bandstand to the foot of Beachy Head and the South Downs. There’s always a great breeze on the seafront.
On date nights: We recently went through a phase of going to pub quiz nights, and tried out four in a row at different pubs in south east London. It was just the two of us, so needless to say, we came pretty near the bottom every time, but it was fun! Sometimes, we’ll meet in central London after work to try a new restaurant. The last one we went to was Foxlow Soho. It has a retro vibe, great cocktails (I ordered prosecco with grapefruit sherbet) and a pretty meaty menu, but it was really reasonably priced. They also do BYO on Tuesday nights, so we vowed to go back with our own booze!
On regional travel: I love Glasgow. It’s four hours from London by train, and there’s often great deals on tickets — I scored mine for just $26 (roundtrip) during the Virgin Train sale. It’s such a cool city with so many amazing shops and restaurants. I like Crabshakk and Mother India in the Finnieston area, or any of the little eateries along Ashton Lane – the cute fairy lights and cobblestones streets are so lovely. My favorite beach getaway from London is Margate on the Kent coast. The amusement park rides at Dreamland make me feel like a kid again, and there’s a great pizza restaurant right on the seafront called GB Pizza Co. that lets you pour your own prosecco from the bubbles tap!
On impromptu road trips: Last November, my boyfriend asked me if I fancied climbing Snowdonia—and less than a week later we were en route. I had no time to prepare – I didn’t even have time to break-in my new hiking boots. We stayed in a cute coastal village called Criccieth, and set off to Pen-y-Pass to climb Snowdon the morning after we arrived. I seriously underestimated how hard it would be. It took us six hours to up and down — I had to scale rocks and hoist myself up huge boulders — but the view from the top was so rewarding, albeit a bit chilly!
On local foods: The food scene in London is fantastic. There are new restaurants opening all of the time, and pop-up food markets with amazing street food all over. One of the best meals I ever had was at Dylan’s in Criccieth, after we climbed Snowdon. The menu had lots of Welsh influences, but wasn’t overly traditional. My other favourite restaurant is Bao in Soho. It’s a tiny Taiwanese restaurant that sells steamed buns with different fillings. You can’t make a reservation, and there’s always a wait, but it’s so worth it!
On the misconception of afternoon tea: I usually have a couple of cups of tea a day, but I try not to drink too much caffeine. I’m not sure that afternoon tea, as perhaps foreigners imagine it, is really such a big part of British culture. Tea drinking definitely is, but actual afternoon tea – a whole pot of tea, finger sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, and cakes – is usually saved for special occasions.
All photos courtesy of Emma Wilkinson. For more travel inspiration, follow her on Instagram @morethanldn.