You can judge the health of the British economy by the number of cranes viewed from Waterloo Bridge over the River Thames. At the moment, dozens of towering steel mammoths stud London's skyline. But the true index of wealth - cultural and financial - lies at street level: for each new crane on the horizon there are a dozen new swanky hotels, restaurants, galleries, health spas, shops, bars and tearooms. To find the latest in this fluctuating maze of choice, visitors have to be quick, because what's hot and what's not seems to change on the stroke of Big Ben in faddish London. Nowhere is this wealth more apparent than in the shops. Whereas most cities boast one strong top-end retail area, London sports several, prompting the current debate over whether to flex the plastic in Bond Street or the reinvigorated South Kensington, Knightsbridge and Chelsea axis, known colloquially, and tongue in cheek, as 'Brompton Cross'. The latest additions to the flagship stores of Bond Street and its parallel minions include Gucci's new emporium, Alexander McQueen's third shop, Gibo for the ultra-now Julie Verhoeven label, Stella McCartney's debut shop in Bruton Street, De Beers and Sonia Rykiel. There is also Oki-Ni, the hip home to streetwise shoppers after cult brands such as Zakee Shariff and Paul Smith. It started life as an online store so perhaps it's not surprising Oki-Ni boasts no changing rooms. Brompton Cross attracts shoppers with bigger purses, whereas Bond Street is busier and more central, with its narrow lanes less tiring on the legs and handy for Selfridges, which is rapidly outshining Harrods and Harvey Nichols for designer ware. It is also close to Sketch (the ultra A-list new restaurant). Although it is marginally less central, Brompton Cross has a greater air of sophistication. Chloe opened its first British store there last year, next to the new Jo Malone, where Madonna shops for perfume; Dior also opened recently, joining Bottega Veneta and Maria Grachvogel. Brompton X also sports Uniqlo, London's latest Japanese import. For interiors, Brompton has nothing to compare with the superb and tres du jour five-floor Aram furniture emporium in Covent Garden. It does boast Conran, the master designer Sir Terence's flagship art deco building, as well as B&B Italia and Interior Bis. World-famous Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini's new minimalist shrine to the cocoa bean is also nearby. Probably Belgian's top chocolate maestro, Marcolini is also London's most expensive chocolatier: witness his handpainted offerings, which start at #150 (HK$2,056). If top-end shopping is having its own little tussle, then top-end troughing is engaged in open warfare. London is enjoying an explosion in expensive dining. Having finally cast off the shackles of a boring, bland national cuisine, the capital is awash with expensive new restaurants and older establishments sporting multi-million-dollar makeovers. Gordon Ramsay, the former Glasgow Rangers footballer turned gastronome, is leading a one-man assault on high dining. His chef's table (where diners watch the master chef at work) at the refitted 'Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's' has a reported 14-month waiting list, while his eponymous boutique eaterie in Chelsea was named London's top gastronomic experience last year in the London Restaurant Awards. Perhaps the place to be seen is the hugely trendy Sketch, the most talked-about joint in town, and loathed and loved in equal measure, largely because of its #143 Lecture Room price fixe menu. Expect to see celebrities in the restaurant, the back bar and especially its tea parlour. The modern decor is a tad garish, and quite likely to cause headaches, but what price fashion? A firmer favourite is two-year-old Hakkasan, which offers adventurous cuisine worthy of its Michelin star. A chic 'new oriental', its waiting staff wear Hussein Chalayan uniforms and the soundtrack is provided by the DJ from Paris' trendy Buddha Bar. If you can't get a table there try Khew, which also recently opened to rave reviews. And when you've eaten your fill and dropped from the shopping, head to a spa hotel for pampering. Chic hotels such as the Sanderson have never been busier. Its Agua spa is a second home to the glitterati, as is The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental, possibly the capital's best holistic experience (open until 10pm), complete with granite-walled baths, black-pebble floors, tea lights and bamboo. Expect to pay at least #140. Bliss London spa is the hottest offering in town, says London guide Time Out. New hip hotel, the myHotel in Chelsea, has the fung shui-ed Jinja Spa and even Harrods gets in on the act, with its fifth-floor Urban Retreat Spa. For men, there is the Refinery all-male spa with locations in the City and Bond Street. Its City branch has a waiting room modelled on an old first-class train carriage and cannily offers a Hair of the Dog hangover treatment (#155). If you want a shave, London's dandies head to Trumper in Mayfair, a men-only barber's akin to a gentlemen's club. Chill out free at the Tate Modern art museum, on the South Bank, where thousands are flocking to be mesmerised, as The Guardian put it, by 'a sun rising out of a sweet-scented Wagnerian mist that sets the hairs on the back of your neck tingling'. Visitors lie down in the huge Turbine Hall and stare at the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson's exhibit, as if lying on a beach after a nuclear war. Another place to gaze is the award-winning Rockwell Bar at the Trafalgar Hotel - the London Evening Standard and Time Out's best bar 2002. It has excellent views overlooking Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square. Few go for the view, however; they are there for the 100-plus varieties of bourbon ('the new vodka' in fashionable circles). Arrive early on Thursdays and Fridays. Since its rumoured #49-million refit, young designers, architects and media gurus swamp Claridge's Bar for cocktails, getting in on a who-you-know basis. Book a room in the now uber-cool hotel and, voila, instant entry. A stay at the Metropolitan, whose Met Bar is possibly the most exclusive in town, hosting Kylies and Clooneys alike, will also afford admission. The same goes for The Light Bar at St Martin's Lane and the Purple Bar at the Sanderson (look out for Robert de Niro). If bars and clubs are not your thing, you're in luck. Tea has made a comeback and as with all things hip it's not what you drink but where and how. Taking tea, with teapot, fine china and cake stand, has never been so fashionable. Redubbed 'couture tea' or 'event tea', new parlours and salons - modern, urban chic or traditional and chintzy - are sprouting. The London paparazzi now stalk tea rooms as well as nightclubs, prompting hotels to offer 'tea parties'. The Drawing Room at Brown's recreates the Victorian aesthetic and Dustin Hoffman and ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell are regulars. The Dorchester offers the same vibe, but fewer celebrities. Refitted Claridge's boasts George Clooney as a fan. The Opium Room at Blake's Hotel may not sound healthy but it attracts a raft of celebrities, among them Kate Moss. Madonna, or 'HM' (Her Madge) as she is known in London, visits Spoon, the very 'now' parlour at the Sanderson. Alongside the Philippe Starck-designed St Martin's Lane Hotel, the Sanderson woke up to trendy tea years ago. St Martin's Lane is now upping the ante, offering 'power teas' to attract businessmen. If you must take tea back to China, head to the venerable Fortnum & Mason, which, as the trend for all things leafy takes off, has seen a 40 per cent rise in sales of rare blends. Buy handpicked, handrolled Fairy Lady's Golden Ring from Fujian at #70 for 125 grams. Perfect with that #150 chocolate.