Jay Rayner's Perfect Day in London

The famous food critic, less well known for his jazz, gives us the lowdown on his favourite things in London.

Born in London, Jay Rayner is a food critic for The Guardian and Observer newspapers, and has been a judge on BBC TV’s MasterChef. He is also a jazz pianist, and is performing with the Jay Rayner Quartet on 23 April at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, and 4 May at the Crazy Coqs club at Brasserie Zedel.

We caught up with Rayner to ask him about a few of his favorite London things. 

The Wolseley, London, UK
The Wolseley is famous as a venue for breakfast, but it also serves afternoon tea and dinner. (©The Wolseley)

What is your favourite venue for breakfast?

My perfect breakfast would be at The Wolseley. The room just makes you feel like you’re in the right spot. It does a good cooked breakfast.

What are your favourite buildings?

St Pancras Station, before and after its redevelopment, and the National Theatre – it took me a long time to fall in love with it, but it deserves our love.

St Pancras Station, London, UK
St Pancras railways station has enjoyed a major makeover inside and out. (©Dave Logan/iStock)

What’s your favourite place to have lunch?

Four Seasons on Gerrard Street. I sneak in alone to have roast Cantonese duck, not crispy, with a side of greens with chilli, no rice and The New Yorker magazine; I’m happy by myself.

And which museums and galleries?

Tate Modern, for me, is about the Turbine Hall and what is in that space. I love the National Portrait Gallery as it’s always fascinating to look people in the eye.

Tate Modern, London, UK
Tate Modern gallery has different exhibition and performance areas. (©Tate Galleries)

What are your favourite green spaces?

I’m a fan of my local park, Brockwell Park, which is south of Brixton. When I was a young parent, I could spend the day in that park: in the playground, walled garden and café.

Which venue in London is special for you?

Shaftesbury Avenue. My father had been an actor, so from a young age I was taken to the theatre. By the age of 10 I had been backstage at every West End theatre, so—as my parents are gone now—the street reminds me of them.

Shaftesbury Ave, London, UK
Shaftesbury Avenue is home to many well-known theatres. (©Christian Mueller/iStock)

Is there a memory that stands out?

I remember going backstage to see Tommy Steele. He had a star dressing room, which I thought was the fanciest thing.

What places in the city inspire you?

Cities are about possibilities. I am a city man, right to the ends of my toes. If you ever want proof of that, stand on Waterloo Bridge—ideally at dusk—and look north. The city is laid out for you, almost wantonly. If you can’t get excited by that, then you’re dead inside.

Waterloo Bridge, London, UK
Waterloo Bridge, spanning the River Thames, is a famous London landmark. (©Chris Hepburn/iStock)

Where do you like to have tea?

Maison Bertaux on Greek Street. It’s an old-school patisserie, run in a ramshackle way.

Where do you like shopping?

A lot of people never get beyond the ground floor of Fortnum & Mason, but the real treasures are found above it. It’s a brilliant department store—it’s not cheap, but it’s good value. If I’m hunting for a present, I can be found in the halls; nothing bad happens there.

Fortnum and Mason, London, UK
Treat yourself at Fortnum & Mason, one of London's most famous stores. (©Cfotoimages/iStock

What is your favourite place to dine?

If I was forced to choose, I’d say Bentley’s on Swallow Street. If I could sit at the bar and watch the guys open oysters for me, I’d be happy. 

Tell us about your jazz performances... 

I can’t bear self-absorbed jazz, which seems to be performed for the people onstage rather than the audience. I’m a big believer in an all-around show, and musically we are on point. My idea of utter bliss is playing with the jazz trio.

What makes London stand out?

It has never been mortgaged to its own history. It has a sense of itself while also being open to the rest of the world. There are cities, like Rome, which are fantastic, but they can’t get over the fact they’re Rome whereas London is a bustling metropolis, open to the world.