MARC EVANS discovers magnificent paintings, nose-to-tail eating and a hotel with a difference in London.

ANYONE accusing us Brits of being a bunch of philistines should take a look at the viewing figures for the latest exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

The retrospective of the work of Lucian Freud – arguably Britain’s greatest living painter until his death last year – has broken all records at the gallery and shows that when it comes to art, we know what we like.

And it provided the excuse for my wife and I to drop the kids off at their grandparents and check out the capital.

We stayed at a new concept in budget hotels. Make no mistake – Tune Hotel (it calls itself Liverpool Street, but it’s actually 10 minutes away in Folgate Street) – is no fleapit: the clever part is you just pay extra for the bits you need (towels, TV, etc), and can get your room for as little as £35 if you literally just want a bed for the night.

It’s perfect for a short stay if you’re just looking for a base to explore London from. There’s a coffee shop, manned reception desk and flexible approach.

It’s modern, nicely furnished, great value for money and handily placed for the trendy East End.

A wander around the iconic Brick Lane area is a must, with its Asian restaurants (give some of their fluorescent sweets a try), vintage stores (DON’T call them second-hand shops), street art and too-cool-for-school locals, it provides a much better show than the West End could offer.

I saw one poor guy being followed by a would-be rapper/social commentator who was treating him as a one-man audience.

We ate our way around the world (breakfasting on bagels, lunching on a bewildering choice of street food from Mexico, China, Japan, the Caribbean, Sri Lankan and more, before finishing it off with some diabetes-inducing Asian treats).

Time is running out if you want to catch the Freud exhibition – you’ve only got a few weeks left. You don’t have to be an art lover to appreciate his bold brush strokes, his forensic attention to detail, the development of his style over the years and the insight into his sitters.

You can immerse yourself in one of the greatest artists of his generation and get a flavour of the man whose life was even more colourful than his canvases.

It never ceases to amaze me that so many of our galleries and museums are free to visit. Of course, you’ll have to pay to see this exhibition, but make sure to enjoy the rest of the portraits and photos on show when you’ve left the Freuds.

You’ll see an awful lot of naked flesh on show at the NPG (on the walls, that is), so (please excuse the dodgy link), what better place to eat afterwards than St John?

This nose-to-tail restaurant in St John Street, Smithfield, specialises in the parts of the animal that others discard. Offal, bone marrow and cuts that need a bit more love and attention dominate.

We feasted on brown crab meat on toast (stunning), mussels with a cabbage salad, kid faggots and pigeon. The food was exceptional.

There’s also a cracking bar and bar menu, and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, and as unpretentious as you could wish for for a restaurant with its reputation. And don’t worry if you’re a bit squeamish – there’s plenty for everyone, even if ox heart and chips is not for you.

* Tune Hotel (Liverpool Street), 13-15 Folgate Street, London E1 6BX.

Bedrooms start from £35 a night. For more information or to book visit tunehotels.com