Review: A Hedonist’s Guide To London
Published 18 December 2010
It’s by all means a difficult task to capture London’s pizzazz in the few pages of a small guide. And small it is the Hedonist’s Guide to London, at first guess a Mao’s Little Red Book for London apparatchiks. Even the title on the cover of the book has been abbreviated to a mind-boggling Hg2 that brings haunting chemistry classes in mind.
And yet, A Hedonist’s Guide to London – because that’s what the title means – manages to sketch a complete but not excessively complimentary picture of the British capital, not even failing to allude to the impact of the credit crunch on the hearts and minds of Londoners.
Perhaps the best thing about A Hedonist’s Guide to London, edited by The Sunday Times editor Fleur Britten, is its flowery language, which makes the guide an amusing read, even for those who despise London and what London stands for. Particularly the way London’s lively day and nightlife has been depicted is plain and user-friendly enough, as all the hangouts you need to know have been broken down in nine categories; Sleep, Eat, Drink (Bars), Drink (Pubs), Snack, Party, Culture, Shop, and Play. Surprisingly enough for a city purporting to be the world capital of art, culture takes the back seat here, which is not the case with most mainstream city guides. But in a peculiar way that makes sense, as the guide does not target the highbrows. On the contrary, A Hedonist’s Guide to London would exhilarate the fast and the furious who seek to soak the British capital’s vibrant energy and still come out wanting more.
Besides, A Hedonist’s Guide to London is the latest of a series of publications claiming to capture the gist of each city in readable and fun pocket books, aiming to make a committed traveler’s life easier. London is only the latest gem in Hg2’s crown, although its founder is a Brit, the globetrotter Tremayne Carew Pole. As he claims in an interview, the whole venture was born out of the frustration he experienced in a trip in Budapest, when he found out that common travel guides are not that helpful if you have a fun-oriented gypsy heart.
Pole’s aspirations can be read between the lines of Hg2’s London guide book. Perhaps it cannot claim the comprehensiveness and intellectual rigour of a Lonely Planet, but what is lost in quantity is gained in carefree quality, or pleasure if you prefer. This might not read well for a city such as Roma or Beijing, but it suits perfectly to London’s ‘live fast and die young’ mentality, where clubs, restaurants and pubs sprout and disappear faster than anywhere else.
Of course, when it comes to city guides there is always the issue of independency, and even more so when it comes to a global metropolis awash in urban temptations such as boutique hotels and posh bars. As acknowledged in the introduction, Hg2 is an independent project, even if it is a hotel-focused one. As a matter of fact, the London guide explicitly promotes some special offers for a list of London hotels, which is regularly updated on the online version. But on the other hand, the authors do not hesitate to take sides when they deem it appropriate, nor do they shy away from a scathing critique. Their view on Gordon Ramsay and the service offered in his restaurants is quite interesting for example…
Finally, the most evident advantage of A Hedonist’s Guide to London is definitely its size, as minimalism has obviously cast its spell on the designer’s hand. Forget the daunting maps that make you look like a tourist ripe for exploitation. However, there is a flip side to everything; Hg2 London is so small that in some cases it’s even hard to read!
All in all, A Hedonist’s Guide to London is an up-to-date (published in Oct 2010), concise and very well written introduction to the city, ushering the unsuspecting visitor into London’s dirty pleasures, or even Londoners themselves into the well hidden ones. Perhaps that’s what makes it an ideal Christmas present for the never satiated Londoner. You can live without it when in London, but you might lose part of the fun.
Published by: Filmer Ltd
Written by: Fleur Britten
Edition Reviewed: 3rd revised edition (October 2010)