London's not short of eateries with views (Duck & Waffle, Searcy's, Aqua Shard, we're looking at you). But if you want a skyline view where you won't have to wait weeks for a table — and your meal won't cost you a month's wages — head to Waterstones.
That's right, Waterstones. Unless you have a specific interest in Russian literature or military history, you might not have made it up to the fourth floor of London's biggest bookshop on Piccadilly. One floor above THAT is the aptly-named 5th View restaurant.
It's open all day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee or cocktails — but we're not really here for the food or drink. We're after the view through those floor-to-ceiling windows.
The lounge area you arrive in at the top of the stairs, or from the lift, looks tempting with its cosy armchairs, but it hasn't got the view. Heading past the bar, you'll catch your first glimpse.
The wall of glass faces south-east, offering a panorama of the rooftops of Victoria, Westminster and St James's, with the Battersea Power Station development visible in the far distance. Unfortunately, we find ourselves here on a rather bleak day, grey windows reflecting grey clouds, details lost in the haze of rain.
Your best bet is heading there for an early morning weekday coffee and croissant — or make a booking for later in the day. Naturally, window tables are in high demand. We've opted for a Wednesday morning, when the only other occupied table is hosting a business meeting.
Satisfying as it is to find this little-known view of the London skyline, it's more interesting to be up among the everyday rooftops, with solar panels and air vents, aerials and antennas. We half expect a 21st century Mary Poppins to dance among the chimneys as we sup our flat white.
Panning right to left we can spot two glass box office buildings at Victoria, Battersea Power Station in the distance, a couple more aesthetically-challenged office blocks, the tower at St George's Wharf and the concrete core of another tower going up somewhere in Lambeth.
Next up is a rather fancy dome which we finally identify as Methodist Central Hall (just sitting here is like a London quiz in itself); another tower under construction; the famous western end of Westminster Abbey and its lesser-known eastern end.
A non-descript modern glass building on the other side of the river is the next big feature, followed by Victoria Tower at the Houses of Parliament. In total we count 12 individual cranes, plus an indistinguishable conglomerate of them over at the Battersea development. It's a lot to take in.
Our eyes come to a rest — the remainder of the skyline obscured by the haze of brickwork in St James's — not far from where we're sitting. And then we see it — just the spire at first — a reticent Big Ben peeping out, taunting diners. No matter where in the restaurant you sit, he won't reveal his (clock) face to you. Scan a little further and Nelson appears. The London Eye deigns to show a raised eyebrow, but that's it.
A coffee here will set you back about £3, with burgers coming in around £12 and cocktails about £8 (though look out for 2for1 happy hour). It more than pays for itself in the hours of entertainment to be had, trying to identify these London buildings from this unusual angle. During our visit, service was brisk to the point of stand-offish, but we were too busy snapping away to be too bothered.
Is this London's best bookshop cafe? Possibly, although it's more of a restaurant than your typical curl-up-with-a-book coffeehouse — and it still doesn't beat the hot chocolate at Stanfords.
5th View, fifth floor, Waterstones, 203-206 Piccadilly, W1J 9HA. Open Monday-Saturday 9am-9.30pm, and Sunday 12pm-5pm.