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14 London guilty pleasures we love to hate (and hate to love)

By Time Out London contributors

This weekend, Kerb Market in Granary Square is celebrating the naughty foods we secretly love, with street food traders creating guilty pleasure ‘showstoppers’, reworking comfort food classics like chips with curry sauce, crisp sandwiches and arctic roll. This got us thinking about the slightly embarrassing things we love to do in London, but would never dream of sharing on Instagram. 


Clandestine alone time at Empire cinema Leicester Square is my favourite shame. I visit the BFI as much as the next insufferable film dick, but for a big arrogant blockbuster, only a purple-lit nine-screener will do. The summer comic book sequels are my go-to. Failing that, it’s something starring Katherine Heigl in a wedding dress. I get a box of sweet popcorn the size of a car engine, plus a little plastic bottle of wine, and spunk the best part of £35. When friends ask where I’ve been, I say ‘Foyles Bookshop’. But they know what I did. Katie McCabe


Despite the steampunk styling and quite frankly offensive amount of green on set, I am completely obsessed with ‘Wicked’. I know that it’s wrong, and that there are better/more interesting/thoughtful things to see at the theatre but I would rather see the prelude to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ again. I’ve seen it four times now and each visit has left me no less weepy, with a heroine who has to overcome being gross, and not just romance but friendship against all the odds. It’s emotionally manipulative, but also very funny with plenty of nods to the original. Plus the score is incredible. Fuck it, I don’t feel guilty, it’s just a pleasure. Miriam Bouteba


One whiff of that hit-you-in-the-face fragrance and my cravings for glitter encrusted soaps and flamingo-shaped bath wands can’t be contained. Okay, so Lush may smell like the world’s most intoxicating bowl of potpourri and blocks of heart-shaped, ylang ylang-infused hair oil aren’t on everyone’s shopping list, but nothing beats a heady trip around the bath time treasure trove, sticking your fingers into primary-coloured gloop, oozing moisturisers and bubbling glittering shower gels. It’s a Proustian olfactory dream and a chance to weigh yourself down with kaleidoscopic bath bombs. Alexandra Sims

Pizza Express

Yes, there’s one on every corner, and, yes, London has much more to offer than the countrywide carb-chain, but I find myself in there embarrassingly often. It’s nostalgic – I was brought up on Romana pizzas and ‘Orange Wednesdays’ dictated my teenage love life. Now, it’s a genuine option for big groups: cheap, reliable and you can always get a table. Stuff your rooftop restaurant, I’m staying on solid ground with a Sloppy Giuseppe and 40 dough balls. Phoebe Trimingham


Some people will tell you that Camden’s been shit since about 2008. Others put the turning point at around 1990. There’s probably even someone who’s miffed about The Clash parading around the market back in 1976. Honestly, though, who gives a toss? The whole point of Camden is that it’s never really been cool, which makes it fertile ground for anyone looking to wear stupid clothes, buy pointless countercultural shit (shout out to Cyberdog), listen to weird music and eat cheap, messy, delicious food. The tourists, the touts, the placard-holding punks, the goth teenagers, the mysterious fires: Camden’s got a street life like nowhere else in London, and I love it. James Manning

Fro Yo

Surely no one is really fooled into thinking that this Mr Whippyish stuff, covered in a million childish trimmings, and served in places that look like Barbie’s beach house, is good for you. But I like the whole experience of going for a ‘Snog’ – chortle! – or a ‘Pinkberry’. Their premises smell like Katie Price perfume, and their flavours are about as natural as her make-up. But I love a sugar-dressed-up-as-agave high. And the fact you can have free tasters of everything on the menu and then sod off if you like. Which as you’ll be the only Londoner in a room stuffed full of tourists under 15, you’ll want to do immediately. Katie Dailey

Topshop Oxford Street

The first time I came to London was with my family as a tween. The one place I wanted to go was Topshop on Oxford Street. I had been dreaming about it for months, imagining that my time in the superstore would be a bit like a teen movie makeover montage. Unfortunately, my mum gave me just 20 minutes in the huge shop, so I panicked and bought a horrible Ben Sherman T-shirt with a Union Jack on it. It means that, while all my mates now complain about the store being too big, busy, tacky and located in a tourist hellhole, Topshop Oxford Street still feels magical to me. I know this makes me sound like queen of the basics: but I can spend two hours in there, wandering around the concessions, feeling privileged that my office is a 15-minute walk from a place I dreamt of going to for years as a kid. (I no longer own the Ben Sherman T-shirt.) Kate Lloyd

Pret a Manger

I grew up in the countryside dreaming of the big city, and when I finally moved to London, Pret felt like the height of urban sophistication. Yes, you have to take out a small mortgage to buy a tiny pot of cut-up nectarine, but, as a lowly intern, life was okay if I had an exotic sandwich and a fancy cup of Pret coffee in my hand. Fast-forward six years and I should know better but my love affair with the chain endures (partly because of the promise of those rare free coffees.) I could still happily eat three Pret meals a day if my bank balance would allow. Mine’s a silly-expensive super bean and turmeric cauliflower salad. Ellie Walker-Arnott 

Westfield Stratford 

Westfield Stratford has its haters. I’m kind of one of them. I dislike the confusing architecture, the twee arcades, the lurching feeling of stepping inside a cathedral of mindless corporatism. But if you walk across the footbridge, and down the vast flight of steps leading to Stratford Bus Station, you’ll always find breakdancers, beatboxers, religious preachers and Eastern European accordionists all jostling for space and trying to drown each other out. Unlicensed, unregulated – this is where real London pushes back against the soullessness. I love it. Matt Breen


Everyone knows that moving house is absolute hell, but there’s one silver lining: the trip to Ikea. Okay, they’re usually really inconveniently located, but it’s totally worth the journey. Obviously, you have to eat the delicious meatballs and buy a huge bag of Daim bars, but the real highlight is meandering around the marketplace. Sure, it’s a bit chaotic, but that’s the beauty of it. I’ll ‘accidentally’ spend £100 on tealights, useless but aesthetically pleasing baskets and a load of succulent plants that will definitely die in my care. But I have no regrets. Isabelle Aron

Victoria Coach Station

Of all the ways to travel, the coach journey is the least appealing of the lot. But sweaty, crowded Victoria Coach Station is far more than just a gateway to the most mind-numbing mode of transport known to man. Not only does this underrated interchange have a beautiful Art Deco frontage, it’s a symbol of egalitarianism – wanderlust for all realised on a shoestring – it echoes with a cacophony of accents and brims with people from around the world, clutching their bags, waiting for the next adventure. Essentially, it’s a little London, a microcosm of our gloriously diverse city. Alexandra Sims

Hamilton Hall Weatherspoon’s

Part Louis XIV palace, part retirement home, part city nightmare, part rococo hen do, Hamilton Hall aka the Liverpool Street Station Wetherspoon’s is a confusing place. If you can find a time when it isn’t thick with the smell, smoke, smarm and stares of swarming post-work City Boys, this is actually a fairly incredible place to enjoy a drink, safe in the knowledge that it costs less than a new Oyster card. Nell Frizzell

Thorpe Park

The closest place for Londoners to anything resembling the big, Orlando-style theme parks is just a bus journey away from zone 6. A visit to Thorpe Park is a joy but mostly because of the nostalgia value, having been every summer as a kid. Whilst nearly all of the rides have been replaced by more high-octane ones, the humble Loggers Leap (always my favourite as a youngster) – although currently closed for much-needed renovation – is still there. Yes, tickets are pricy, you need to bring a billion pounds (you even have to pay to leave the car park), there are big security queues, and all you’ll be scoffing is overpriced sugar and fast food (whilst probably being harassed by some sort of Angry Birds cacophony on the ever-present loudspeakers) but it always makes me feel like a kid again. Tom Havell 

The Dolphin

Ever just wake up with that guilty feeling? No? Well, you’ve probably never been to The Dolphin. The Mare Street boozer is one of those places where good nights out go to die. When all other Hackney pubs are shutting up shop, this one has a queue on the door. It’s actually a listed building with glorious Roman-style mosaic scenes on the wall. But that’s not what you came for. You’re there to grind to ropey R ’n’ B, neck Jägerbombs and make friends in the flirting grounds (sorry, beer garden) until 4am at weekends. Best of all, you’ll wake up with barely a smidge of your memory intact. Yes, you feel bad, but you can sense it was good. Laura Richards

Find more naff places in London that we love and read more about Kerb’s ‘It’s only arctic roll but I like it’.

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