Anouska Hempel has worn many hats over her lifetime: The New Zealand native first made a name for herself as an actress after moving to London in the early 1970s, but then pivoted, becoming a respected hotelier (her own projects include London’s five-star Blakes Hotel) and one of the most in-demand interior designers today. (Her clients have ranged from retailers like Louis Vuitton to hotels like Brazil's Warapuru Hotel & Resort; she also designed the gardens for her stunning 16th-century Wiltshire country house.) Now in her mid-70s, Hempel, who also goes by Lady Weinberg, for her husband, entrepreneur Sir Mark Weinberg, still approaches London with the same joie de vivre that characterizes her designs. Case in point: Her idea of a luxe night out begins with shopping spree and ends with a rooftop dinner, and her Sunday evening routine involves strolling Hyde Park with her two Burmese cats in tow. For more of Hempel’s choicest places to eat, stay, and play in England’s capital city, read on for her guide.
What neighborhood do you live in, and how long have you lived there? I jump all over London. I’m in Knightsbridge at the moment, which I love. I’ve been there for a couple of years. Before, I was in South Kensington, Notting Hill Gate—I’ve been everywhere.
What hotel would you recommend for friends visiting town? The Franklin. I’ve just finished [designing the interiors]. It’s beautiful. It’s got a feeling like a Budapest train station. It’s very, very attractive, pretty—a lot of mirrors and a lot of twinkles. Good-looking staff, good-looking concierges. You sign in at big tables when you come in; you don’t go to a reception. It’s a new way of living, and it’s good fun. And [they have] every service you could jolly well like. (24 Egerton Gardens, Chelsea; 44-20/7584-5533; thefranklinlondon.com)
Where is the best place to find London's signature dish? Sea urchin at the Chiltern Fire House. You dig into them with a knife and you slurp you the yellow stuff in the middle. Just don’t eat the prickles. (1 Chiltern St., Marylebone; 44-20/7073-7676; chilternfirehouse.com)
What is your favorite restaurant to take visitors? The Wolseley. Designed by David Collins, it is an iconic breakout place. (160 Piccadilly, St. James's; 44-20/7499-6996; thewolseley.com)
Where can you find the best cocktails? The Beaumont. It’s a very attractive, lovely, colonial kind of place. There’s a cocktail bar in the corner, and they mix up everything. You book this little room—you take a little Beaumont private room—and they come in with a butler, and they mix you up any concoction. It’s kitschy. You have about ten people in there, and you just can hardly get out of there until six in the morning, when you fall out of the window. It’s good fun. (8 Balderton St., Brown Hart Gardens, Mayfair; 44-20/7499-1001; thebeaumont.com)
Where can you find the best beer list? Probably in one of those pubs, somewhere in South Ken. Go to the Wellington for the best beer. I think you get a free beer if you’ve had three, or something like that. And all the kids love it. All the short skirts are there, and all the pretty guys—good hair cuts, good genes, good look. (56 Haldane Rd., Fulham; 44-20/7385-8638; thewellingtonpub.com)
Where can you find the best wine list? You probably have to go somewhere terribly fancy, like Le Gavroche. It’s as old as I am. It’s got seaweed-colored carpets and the best soufflés, and they have one of the best wine lists. (43 Upper Brook St, Mayfair; 44-20/7408-0881; le-gavroche.co.uk)
Where would you choose to splurge on a night out? I think you should stay in Selfridges. You should buy yourself a new frock, your lipstick, your shoes … you should put something on, and then go up in the escalators and be seen by everybody. Grab a boyfriend—out of the Dolce & Gabbana corner where they all get dressed—and you keep going, all the way up to the top. Have dinner at the restaurant up there, Forest on the Roof, looking across London. They’ve got fantastic drinks, and they’ve got kind of a roof garden. And you keep on going all night. It really is good fun up there, but you have to do it my way. (400 Oxford St., Marylebone; 44-20/7318-3287; forest-restaurant.co.uk)
What is your go-to after-hours bar? I go to all of them. We do the rounds. We just keep going.
What’s the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon? Clipping your little box hedge around your garden—get the lawnmower out. And a picnic lunch in Hyde Park.
What is your Sunday morning routine? I don’t know if it’s Sunday or Monday, ever, because I work all day and all night. So on Sunday morning, I look out the window and I just think, “Ah, I’ll just get on with this, that, and the other.” Taking it easy is not something I do very often. There’s no such thing as a Sunday morning routine. The papers are the same—it’s just got a different date printed on it … I do love newspapers. I love getting the black and white all over the sheets and driving everybody mad. But [when I have a morning off], I’ll go for walk, go for a run, take the dogs out. And again, on Sunday evening, I take the cats for a walk. I’ve got two Burmese cats and I put them on a leash and I go through Hyde Park. Of course I walk the cats. Doesn’t everybody? You just have to be calm and patient. They don’t like it much, but they catch up with you.
Where is the best brunch? We all go to that funny place, that’s like a garage—it’s run by that Australian chap—Granger & Co. [I typically order] avocados, smashed up on a great big lump of toast, and a lump of butter, and a bit of grilled cheese, and a poached quail’s egg if I can get a little bit of protein. (175 Westbourne Grove; 44-20/7229-9111; grangerandco.com)
Where do you go for the perfect cup of coffee? The same place.
What’s your favorite view in town (that tourists might not know about)? The view from the top of the Brompton Oratory. It’s a Roman Catholic Church; you go up to the top of the tower and you can look all the way across Knightsbridge, South Kensington—the whole lot—and down to the river. (Brompton Rd., Knightsbridge; 44-20/7808-0900; bromptonoratory.co.uk)
What’s your favorite path or trail to follow on a walk? I’m very happy around the Kensington area, obviously. I browse everywhere we go. Down by Albert’s Road, all the way through to Kensington Gardens, all the way down through there. Absolutely beautiful. You can go wander and look in the windows of the rich and famous, and then you can go down to Portobello Road and back again. London is for walking—all day, and all night. You follow a trail and it changes every day by taking another corner.
What are your favorite off-beat cultural attractions in the city? The Serpentine Galleries always have something ridiculous in the garden—and it’s right in the middle of Hyde Park. (Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park; 44-20/7402-6075; serpentinegalleries.org)
What’s your favorite shop, store, or boutique? I think we should just go Harrods and get on with it. That’s the only way to answer that one. My favorite floor is probably the ground floor—you can see everyone coming and going. You can sit quietly and just watch the lot. (87-135 Brompton Rd., Knightsbridge; 44-20/7730-1234; harrods.com)
What’s the ultimate souvenir from your town—something you can only get there—that you recommend people bring back with them? You go through the streets and you keep the itchy balls from the Plane trees, and you take a whole pile home. You put them into a bag, and you give them to your granny and she gets bumps all over her. You know itchy balls? They’re little things that are full of that fluffy stuff that gives everybody hay fever and itchy eyes. [It’s a] lot of laughter, a lot of fun.
What’s the city's best-kept local secret? Fulham Road Cemetery. It’s beautiful. You go and you look at all those glorious creatures from the turn of the century, the fanciful romantics of our time. And all their gravestones are beautifully engraved and decorated. It is the prettiest place, the quietest place—and nobody goes there, because everybody doesn’t like cemeteries. (Fulham Palace Road, Fulham)