Think Balthazar or the Brasserie Lipp without the totalitarian regime, and you've got Café Rouge—the city's finest eat-and-run chain restaurant, with dozens of well-designed faux-French bistros in choice spots all over town. It was at a Café Rouge that Helen Fielding penned Bridget Jones's Diary, and whenever Bridget and her gang held a romantic postmortem, they usually wound up here, commiserating perhaps over a $14 bowl of moules or a $12 salade niçoise with grilled salmon. If you don't stumble upon a Café Rouge in your wanderings, ask at your hotel or check the Web site for locations (www.caferouge.co.uk). • Even more ubiquitous are Pizza Express restaurants, with their modern interiors and 10-inch designer pizzas to match—from basic cheese-and-tomato to pine nuts, onions, and raisins—priced from $7.50 to $9. A bottle of eminently drinkable house wine goes for $16.50. Again, they're hard to miss—but just in case, check www.pizzaexpress.co.uk. • For fast Asian cuisine, Wagamama is a name to remember. This chain serves healthful, traditionally presented Japanese noodle dishes—as well as fresh salads, dumplings, and curries—in sleek dining halls. Most meals are under $10, but if you're famished, try the Absolute Wagamama special ($15): dumplings, chicken ramen, and a beer or juice. (For addresses and more locations, go to www.wagamama.com.) • For a quick cappuccino, salad, or sandwich, don't overlook Pret A Manger (www.pret.com), London's high-tech snack bars, which have also begun cropping up on this side of the pond.
If you're mad for European antiques, vintage clothes, and mid-century bits and bobs, London's plentiful street markets deliver the goods—often at very fair prices. Just keep in mind that you're in Great Britain, and aggressive haggling will get you nowhere, but a polite "Is that your best price?" can work wonders. • Written off a few years ago as too touristy, too crowded, and too expensive, the Notting Hill institution Portobello Market (Saturdays 7 a.m.-6 p.m.) is making a comeback. Treasure hunters scour the five-block stretch north of Chepstow Villas for 19th-century antiques, Art Deco jewelry, and leather-bound books. They get there from the convenient Ladbroke Grove tube station, less crowded than the Notting Hill Gate stop. • Serious buyers arrive at the crack of dawn at Bermondsey Market (Fridays 4 a.m.-2 p.m.), London's most celebrated antiques emporium, to preview the day's possibilities as they're unpacked. Take a flashlight to check for maker's marks and to fit in with the many professional dealers and decorators who hit these open-air stalls every week. • At Camden Markets (Saturdays and Sundays 9 a.m.-6 p.m.), a vast swap meet in northwest London's funky Camden Town, dedicated shoppers rummage through hippie junk and often unearth riches—from fifties light fixtures to well-preserved British military uniforms—in the Stables Market section. To reach it (and to avoid the mob scene at the Camden Town station), use the Chalk Farm tube stop. For better prices on bigger items, shop late in the afternoon, when tired hawkers would rather make a deal than repack what has been passed over. • Not to be confused with the grungy, Goth-youth-filled Camden Town market, Camden Passage is a popular North London quarter of antiques shops in fashionable Islington. Twice a week (Wednesdays 7 a.m.- 4 p.m.; Saturdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m.), the area is flooded with street sellers, offering even more in the way of furniture, paintings, antique maps, decorative arts, and Victorian jewelry. For the best prices, check out the trinkets displayed on blankets on the sidewalk.
Dress For Less
For classic British couture at bargain prices, don't leave London without hitting Joseph (53 Kings Rd.; 44-207/730-7562) in Chelsea. Here, acclaimed local designer and retailer Joseph Ettedgui showcases his own women's wear as well as that of Prada, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana—all at slashed prices. • In an alleyway off Brook Street, around the corner from Claridge's, fashionable lads (and dudes) can pick up amazing buys from the town's top men's-wear maven at the Paul Smith Sale Shop (23 Avery Row; 44-207/493-1287). Choices include beautifully detailed T-shirts for $15, jeans and shoes from $67, even suits from $455. • If you're addicted to a certain brown plaid status symbol, it may be worth the trek to the Burberry Factory Shop (29-53 Chatham Place, Hackney; 44-208/985-3344). In this huge outlet in northeast London you'll find scarves for $25, umbrellas for $40, and the world's most famous raincoats starting at $210.
Dedicated to "no-label, quality goods," the Japanese retail operation MUJI (44-207/323-2208; www.mujionline.com) has taken London by storm: it has eight locations here. Fashionistas covet the chain's $7.50 black, gray, and white T-shirts; real writers insist on a supply of MUJI's ergonomic gel pens ($1.20). The sleek, minimal home furnishings may inspire you to rent a London flat of your own to decorate. Few travelers can resist the cool gray flannel eye masks ($5) or that perfect-for-London plastic raincoat ($15) that you can cut down yourself for just the right fit.