Ewan Mcgregor's London
by Mark Seal
London | food | Ewan McGregor | Berwick Street | Eddie
The Scottish-born actor, soon to be seen in the romantic comedy Down With Love, spends his time in London at Italian coffee bars, Polish sandwich shops, English tailors, and galleries specializing in Russian and Asian art. Join him for an eclectic weekend in the British capital.
Ewan McGregor arrived in London much like his character in Moulin Rouge arrived in Paris: as a starry-eyed 18-year-old, knowing no one but immediately meeting fantastic people and visiting incredible places. Next month, McGregor plays a playboy journalist who falls for a feminine novelist (Renée Zellweger) in Down With Love, an homage to 1960s Rock Hudson-Doris Day films.
Born in Crieff, Scotland, McGregor found his future at age 6, when he saw the movie Star Wars — the cinematic epic in whose later installments he would eventually star — then saw it again and again, so many times that he could recite the entire script. He moved to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, from which he landed roles in British TV and film before snagging the lead in Trainspotting, a film that took Ewan McGregor to the world. The 32-year-old actor still lives in London with his wife, Eve, and their two daughters. Step out on the town with him for a weekend in the English capital.
LODGING “The Covent Garden Hotel is good because you’re right in the middle of town. It has a fantastic kind of bar/breakfast place. Nice rooms and a nice drawing room upstairs, where I’ve had several meetings. It’s kind of casual but smart. If I was to go on a special night — and my wife and I have done this — we’d go to The Hempel. It’s white and minimal and Zen. The room we stayed in had a big, square stone bath, which was just fantastic for two. Their restaurant, Hanami, does amazing food.”
DINNER “I go to The Ivy, and I go to The Ivy, and I go to The Ivy. The Ivy’s somewhere I was taken by my uncle when I would come down to London when I was 14. And it was definitely the place to be seen. It’s become very familiar to me. It’s kind of an old friend. They do a mixed Oriental hors d’oeuvres, which I would start with. They do fantastic dressed crab. Then they do incredible overcooked beef in ale, really slow cooked and tender and beautiful. But their ultimate dish is their crispy duck watercress salad.”
NIGHTLIFE “I don’t frequent pubs anymore, but when I did there was The Intrepid Fox, which is only for the brave-hearted. It’s kind of a punk/grunge/cycle bar. It’s full of the most extraordinary people, and they play very loud rock. Now, after dinner, I go to Bar Italia, a coffee bar in Soho. They do the best coffee there, and they have Italian television on a big screen. It’s ridiculously expensive and quite small, but they’ve got seating outside. I ride motorcycles, and every week they have a classic biker’s night and there are a hundred motorcycles parked out on the street.”
SIGHTS “Soho is where my business is based. The movie industry is all housed in Soho. And I like nothing better than wandering around Soho. It’s getting harder and harder to do, because I’ve made too many films. But I still love it more than anything. Greek Street, Old Compton Street, Wardour Street, and Berwick Street market — that whole area. The fruit and vegetable market is at the southern end of Berwick Street, and you’ll see all sort of people there. There are a few good Polish sandwich shops in Soho, too. You’ll find them. Lots of pubs and restaurants and the movie business, really.”
CULTURE “The Tate Modern — I just love that building. I think it’s phenomenal what they’ve done with this big, industrial space. They’ve turned it into somewhere that’s really nice to visit. On the big downward ramp going into the building, you’ll often see people sitting on the edge of it, reading papers and chatting. There’s something about the scale of it. It’s quite exciting to be standing in that big of a building, with that much space around.”
LUNCH “Go down to South Bank, on the River Thames, where the Royal Festival Hall and The National Theatre are. There are cafes and restaurants all over the place. Very often we go down there for lunch because they have a huge foyer and jazz bands playing at lunchtime. There are free concerts at the lunch hour. It’s a very rich place for the arts — and sandwiches. Otherwise, Le Caprice is very lively and slightly more showbizzy than The Ivy. Feels a little piano bar, you know.”
SHOPPING “Mr. Eddie makes my suits. He’s on Berwick Street in Soho, and he makes the finest suits in London. I bought a couple of mod suits from Carnaby Street, which you can buy cheaply there, and I took them to Mr. Eddie and he made me some mod suits with original ’60s fabric. I wore one of them to the première of Moulin Rouge in Cannes. I took great pride that when a reporter asked, ‘Who are you wearing?’ I was able to say, ‘Mr. Eddie, Berwick Street.’ On Carnaby Street, there’s Merc, a ’60s fashion house. It’s a fantastic place, like stepping back in time. You wish you’d arrived on a Vespa scooter. Notting Hill is great for shopping. We do a lot of our grocery shopping there. There’s the Caelt Gallery, a good place to buy art, fantastic Russian and central Asian art that the owner has collected on trips.”
OUTDOORS “My favorite place would be the parks. You’ve got beautiful parks in London. From where I live, I can walk down into Regent’s Park and cross the whole of the park and within 20 minutes be in the center of town. It’s a beautiful park, well looked after, and it’s a big space. That and Hyde Park are
really our Central Parks.”
DINNER “I was taken to Pied-à-Terre by a producer friend of mine, and it’s probably the best food in London. It’s very small. The food is unbelievable. I had a seared scallops starter. Then I had a lamb dish. They’ve got the perfect balance, where the food is unsurpassable and yet it’s not all about the food. Casa Frattini is a small Italian restaurant in Notting Hill that’s always absolutely packed. It’s very dark with a fantastic atmosphere and fantastic Italian food. You can imagine someone’s Italian grandmother is in the back making the food.”
THEATER “My favorite theater in London is the Hampstead. It’s the first new theater since the 1970s that’s been built in London.”
NIGHTLIFE “I go to Ronnie Scott’s. It’s steeped in history, a proper old club the likes of which you don’t get anymore. I would think it’d be the world’s premier jazz club. There’s a lot of jazz played in PizzaExpress restaurants in London. You sit and eat pizza and listen to some trio. I like to go to the PizzaExpress on The Beatles’ famous Abbey Road. It’s near the Abbey Road Studios, which is great. The graffiti is fantastic outside the studios. It’s whitewashed every couple of months
or so, and then immediately after there’s a fresh amount of graffiti about The Beatles. It’s a shrine now to The Beatles.”
BRUNCH “There’s a little place around the corner from me called Ambra, which is an Italian delicatessen where they make very fine coffees and fantastic pastas. The two guys who run it are very loud and very Italian. We go and see the same people in there every morning. People go there, I think, because they get to feel Italian for half an hour while they have their coffee. Everyone’s giving it, ‘Ciao, bella!’ And then you come back into the real world again.”
WALK “After Ambra, we’d go up to the Hampstead Heath and spend the afternoon. It’s a wilderness. It’s untouched, and you have no idea you’re in London. You lose all sense that you’re in a large city. It leads up to this huge stately place called Kenwood House, where, in the summer, they have a stage in the middle of a lake and they have classical concerts and people take picnics and wine and lie in the grass. What I love about it are the trees. It’s a very old forest and you can lose yourself there.”
ONE GREAT DAY IN LONDON
"I’ll tell you about my first day living in London. I was driven down there by my father from Scotland. It was quite a big deal. I was 18 years old and I was coming to live in London on my own. And my father felt that he’d drive me down, which was very nice of him. We spent eight hours in the car together and we arrived in the business center of London, at the Barbican, where I was going to go to drama school. I was moving into the Barbican YMCA, where I lived for a year. I’m sure they’ve improved it since, but the room I stayed in was shabby, awful, depressing. My dad took all of my stuff out and I could see he was really worried, but he had to get back into the car and leave. I took a Tube into Soho and went to a pub called The Pillars of Hercules, which is still a nice pub on Greek Street. I knew it was a Scottish bar and I assumed there would be Scottish people there and I could have a chat with them. What does that tell you about London? That it’s a huge city, too big to comprehend really. But it shrinks in your mind the longer you live here. It becomes split into small areas that you frequent more."
Ewan McGregor’s London Essentials
Covent Garden Hotel
French; very expensive
Mr. Eddie & Chris Kerr
art and antiques
retro and contemporary menswear
Italian coffee shop
The Intrepid Fox
pizza and jazz