London is rich in opportunities for people watching, and the good news is you don't just have to slum it on a bench in Trafalgar Square. Some of the best nosying to be done is in a few choice restaurants, where the clientele is just as much of a draw as the food. So, bag yourself a table at the right buzzy brasserie to watch the great and good dine next door, or get right among it all at some of London's biggest tourist hotspots without having to battle the crowds. Here are a few of our top picks:
Home to one of the grandest and most iconic dining rooms in town, The Wolseley offers some excellent people watching. Ask to be seated in the main deco style atrium - not in the more private side rooms or booths - and lap up the atmosphere, which is abuzz from dawn to after dark. Breakfasts here are legendary, of course, and the a la carte lunch and dinners are of a high standard too. Last time we were here we spied Fergie (the ex-royal, not the Black Eyed Pea) holding court as we munched on a platter of crevettes and marie rose.
This Chelsea stalwart is popular for a reason - and not just with the more-money-than-sense MiC crew. A restaurant, bar, cafe, food and wine shop, Bluebird offers great views of the King's Road. It's beautifully designed, staff are friendly and the modern, healthy(ish) food is ideal fare for a reviving pitstop mid-shop (try their two courses for £22 lunch Monday-Friday) . Cocktails are good too, and it's easy to to let a long lunch go on and on here as you soak up the SW3 vibes in the sunny courtyard.
The Ivy Restaurant
One of the original London restaurants to see and be seen, the sort of clientele at the first West Street Ivy Restaurant has remained constant for the last 100 years or so. Recently refurbished, the large dining room hosts a central bar where the best celeb spotting can be achieved. The cooking is consistently good, mostly British, and the shepherd's pie is the star of the show - at surprisingly accessible prices too. Even starrier spots can usually be found at the upstairs Ivy Club if you've got a friend on the door.
Borough Market is prime people watching territory and the views from Roast offer a considerably different perspective from the ground level hubub. Smart, British breakfasts, lunches and dinners are served up using produce from the market below, otherwise just sit up at the bar and watch the market punters and tourists go by. Window seat required.
Dean Street Townhouse Dining Room
As soon as the mercury rises above 20 degrees, the handful of al fresco tables on the Dean Street Townhouse's miniature terrace become some of the hottest property in Soho. Always packed with media types, luvvies and celebs, if you can bag a seat here - inside or out - then the people watching reads like a who's who of London's great and good. In winter, cosy up into a dinnertime booth for the signature mince and potatoes and in summer have your elbows at the ready for an outside table, and watch Soho go by with a glass of rose and seasonal salad.
A completely different people watching opportunity awaits at this W1 restaurant. Here, the dim sum you can watch being prepared may divide crowds, but no one can argue about the spying potential. Huge windows face right onto bustling Gerrard Street, affording you an unparalleled view of Chinatown. Bonus: it's also opposite the China Exchange which has an interesting quota of guest speakers (lately, Judi Dench), so who knows who you might spot.
Heliot Restaurant, Lounge & Bar
It's not cheap here but we promise the people watching is worth the price tag and the OTT decor. Slap bang in the middle of the West End - well, it is the Hippodrome after all - you'll see all sorts here. Settle into their award-winning restaurant and enjoy a rare view looking into the casino's three gaming floors for some extreme people peeping. Follow it up with a show and cabaret or a drink in one of their six bars. Not for the faint hearted.