I was overly ambitious when planning the itinerary for my first trip to London. I wanted to see the iconic sights (the London Eye, Big Ben); do some cheesy tourist things (be photographed in a red phone booth and try to make the guards at Buckingham Palace smile); and eat at the great restaurants and food spots (Borough Market, St. John). But my inner Food & Wine curiosities had me reaching out to the city’s food and style insiders in search of the newest bars, shops, restaurants and trendsetters in the city. I didn’t sleep much, but I did leave feeling like I'd tasted the perfect mix of old and new.

The rundown:

I had the pleasure of meeting visionary designer Ilse Crawford at her studio, where she and her super-talented team updated me on their latest projects (Soho House Miami for 2010; a new boutique hotel in Stockholm; and the fabulous remake of the just-about-to-open Kettner’s restaurant and bar in London’s Soho neighborhood). Over drinks at Cecconi’s, a classic Italian restaurant in the Mayfair district that Ilse redesigned spectacularly in 2005, she fed me her of-the-moment recommendations: the Rothko exhibit at the Tate Modern; the extraordinary Patricia Urquiola exhibit at the Design Museum exploring the creative process behind Landscape, the Spanish designer's recent tabletop collection for Rosenthal; the Comme des Garçons Printed Matter exhibit at Dover Street Market, the six-floor designer-label mecca conceived by Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo that stocks Lanvin, Rodarte, Zero Maria Cornejo and, tucked away on the fourth floor, an outpost of Paris’s divine Rose Bakery; and finally lunch at chef Skye Gyngell’s adorable garden café at Petersham Nurseries.

Notes in hand, I rushed around the corner for dinner at the Connaught.The hotel recently underwent a huge refurbishment that has transformed it into the latest hot spot, anchored by Michelin-starred French chef Hélène Darroze’s eponymous restaurant. There, I had an extravagant meal that included her signature starter, an oyster tartare topped with caviar jelly and a purée of haricots verts, and a decadent spit-roasted grouse with grilled foie gras and Brussels sprouts.

After dinner I ignored my jet lag so that I could properly experience the hotel's much-buzzed-about new bars. I was smitten with India Mahdavi’s playful design in the Coburg Bar and equally impressed by the mixology geek menu of drinks dating back to the 1700s. In stark contrast is the flashier Connaught Bar, which received a sparkly, Deco redesign from David Collins. By 1 a.m. the leather and marble space was still packed with a glam crowd sipping vintage cocktails, absinthe and Champagne from gorgeous stemware. I knew I’d need a killer recovery breakfast in the morning and luckily had a long list of options that I’ll blog more about next week.

The Coburg Bar

© courtesy of The Connaught/Damian Russell
The Coburg Bar at the Connaught hotel in London