A Hedonist’s Survival Guide to London in the Winter

Find respite fro the bitter British winter in London...

Bitter weather, darkness, exorbitant gas bills, sneezing tube passengers and snow causing mayhem – it can only be London in the savage winter time. Conditions may be harsher in Siberia, but have our Russian counterparts ever tried making their way home on the district line in a snowstorm, wrestling with bags of food shopping while battling with a cold?

Let’s forget about pitch black mornings when the alarm goes off, cigarette breaks in arctic conditions, the bus riding past you in the rain and slipping over on the ice; London winters may be long and dark, but at least we don’t live in Iceland. Sooner or later one has to face the icicles, so rather than complain, why not embrace the winter in hedonistic fashion?

A true hedonist devotes 90% of their time to the pursuit of pleasure. Turn weather-related havoc into an opportunity to pamper yourself, sleep till late, eat carbs and be flamboyant. Take a leaf out of the book of King Ludwig II, who liked to set off into the cold night in a horse drawn carriage wrapped in ermine blankets covered in peacock feathers. Then again, he was mad.
Eat, drink and be debauched
Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life, not a simple necessity. Throw faddy low sugar macrobiotic nonsense out of the window; how is one meant to get through winter without a decent helping of roast potatoes? It’s the time to eat cakes, pastries, pies and hearty game: baked Camembert in puff pastry, potato gratin, toad in the hole and venison sausages should all be making an appearance - the stodgier the dish, the better. Try the wholesome winter fare at The Albannach and taste their many Scottish whiskies, or sample the fondue at L’Art du Fromage, a restaurant where the menu is entirely devoted to cheese. Find a gastropub with a roaring fireplace - The Duchess of Kent in Highbury has a cosy fire and serves kitsch desserts such as lemon posset made with popping candy.

Downing shot after shot of whiskey is perfectly acceptable at this time of year for the purpose of keeping warm, as long as it’s a quality aged malt on the rocks and not a succession of Jim Beam and cokes. Post-dinner digestifs are essential after filling yourself up with cheese and potatoes, and give plain old coffee a kick by adding brandy and heaps of whipped cream. Happy Hour gets a lot of bad press, but isn’t it just the commercial equivalent of the indulgently retro Cocktail Hour? In the after-work environment, Happy Hour offers the chance to unwind after a long day, gossip incessantly about colleagues, form strong bonds with fellow drinkers and flirt outrageously with the bar staff, all for half the price of a usual pint.

Throw yourself a party. The reason? To have something to look forward to in the bleak midwinter, naturally. If your neighbours are the pedantic sort, hire a suitably decadent venue – the Westbury in Kilburn has a room called The Priory perfect for such ventures. If north west London is a touch too far then Thirst in Soho can be hired out for free with no minimum spend. Cheap, central and with a 3am closing time (after which the lightweights will have gone to bed, so those of you still standing can continue the festivities at home long into the following morning).

Get your portrait done. Even if you do have to scour the Yellow Pages, Thomsons Directory and Google before coming across an artist you can affordably commission, as far as your grandchildren will know the beautiful image that hangs in the living room was produced by a world famous painter who was head over heels in love with you.
Have sex and lots of it. Not only does it release endorphins, therefore getting rid of the winter blues, it also helps to increase the production of immunoglobulin A in the bloodstream, a chemical that boosts the immune system, protecting you from colds and flu. If things need steaming up a little, Apartment C on Marylebone High Street is an Art Deco boudoir filled with silky undies where you can even help yourself to the contents of a 1930s cocktail cabinet. Clichéd it may be, but after a spot of lingerie shopping heading to an oyster bar is a must. For Soho habitués Randall & Aubin has the added benefit of being filled with pretty boy waiters to perv over, otherwise there is Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill which also boasts a fine selection of Champagnes. If the saucy underwear and aphrodisiacs don’t lead to a night of passion then you may want to find yourself another partner, pronto. Should you happen to find yourself sans lover for the winter, fear not. The money you save on dates can be put towards a Hungarian goose down duvet from the White Company on Marylebone High Street. Add some satin sheets, and you’ll never want to leave your bed, even if you do just have your pillow for company.

Enjoy the city
Pick a part of London you’ve never been to before and get deliberately lost by not looking up at bus stop signs. There are bound to be parts of the city you’re unaware of, whether it’s the quaint streets of Walthamstow Village or the bits of the Docklands that haven’t yet been rebranded as yuppie paradise. After all, how else are you going to discover a charming restaurant that no one has heard of yet, or an illicit basement bar that opens till dawn?

When the snow hits, be unabashedly childlike and make the most of it by playing outside. Primrose Hill in the snow is beautiful, but there are bound to be countless others who have also thought of throwing snowballs on top of the hill. Don’t go to work, instead build a snowman in Canada Square amidst the corporate high rises while the suits are rushing to the office. It goes without saying that to be a true hedonist, you have to pull the odd sickie. As good old Abraham Lincoln said: “It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues”. In other words, to be good, you need to be a little bit naughty.


Athour: Leila Hawkins