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12 Hours In And Around Camden

camden
 

12 HOURS IN AND AROUND CAMDEN

WORDS BY MARTIN DEAN

The Borough of Camden is a rich seam of London, culturally, historically, and geographically. It stretches from just north of the River Thames, from Covent Garden’s famous Seven Dials and the Inns of Court, the city’s historic centre of training for Barristers, all the way north to the vast expanse of open parkland that is Hampstead Heath. On its western side, it touches the leafy Regent’s Park, while on the eastern side it meets the beautiful and bustling districts of Clerkenwell and Tufnell Park.

Within the borough’s large footprint, you’ll find the historic literary districts of Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia, famous institutions like the British Library, and at its centre Camden Town, best known for its lengthy association with rock and punk and its array of markets, bars, and restaurants. (To avoid confusion, remember that when most people say “Camden” they mean Camden Town specifically.)

9:00 a.m.

The ideal place to start exploring this borough is at its southern border in the heart of historic London. Catch the tube to Holborn Station, and if you haven’t eaten, stop by Fleet River Bakery on Gate Street for a fresh, healthy breakfast.

If you carry on along Gate Street, you’ll come to the beautiful grassy square known as Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Holborn has been associated with legal training since the 13th Century, and the precincts and chapel of Lincoln’s Inn — one of the Inns of Court, where barristers are called to the Bar – is open to visitors from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. On the northern side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, you’ll find one of London’s most unusual and intriguing museums, Sir John Soane’s Museum.

sir john soane's museum camden

Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was a highly inventive architect, and famously designed the Bank of England. He was also an avid collector of antiques and the museum — formerly the house he lived in — is an incredible labyrinth full of paintings, Egyptian relics, classical statuary, and a host of other curiosities.

Fleet Kitchen, 7-11 Upper Woburn Place, Kings Cross, London WC1H 0JW. Phone: 20 7387 5544

Sir John Soane's Museum, 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

11:00 a.m.

If you enjoy museums, then this is one of the best parts of London for you. On the other side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the Hunterian Museum (full of medical curiosities), and just a 15-minute walk away is the world-class British Museum with a vast collection of items from all times and places. You also have the Petrie Museum, the Cartoon Museum, and the Charles Dickens Museum all within walking distance!

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If you’re not a fan of museums, then this is an ideal time to catch a train to the northern part of the Borough and explore Hampstead Heath. It’s an enormous space, some 320 hectares in size, and it’s easy to feel as though you’ve left the city completely! Kenwood House, a beautiful stately home with masterpieces on its walls and activities for the kids, overlooks the Heath. As you explore its magical gardens, keep your eyes peeled for the flock of bright green parrots that live here. There are numerous theories as to how they got here – including that they were released by Jimi Hendrix – but the commonly held view is that they’re an accumulation of escaped pets that have made the Heath their home.

British Museum, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG

Hampstead Heath, Hampstead, London NW3 2QD

Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane, Highgate, London NW3 7JR

12:15 p.m.

If you decided to take the museum route in Holborn, then the Great Court Restaurant in the British Museum is an ideal place to have lunch, or even a traditional afternoon tea complete with cream, jams, and scones. If you’re up in Hampstead, you can grab a delicious bite to eat at the Brew House Café in Kenwood House or head into Hampstead itself and have a traditional British lunch at the Buttery Café in Burgh House (if it’s a Sunday, try the Sunday Roast) or amazing pizza at L’Antica.

camden

After lunch, explore the delightful Hampstead Village, which is well-loved for its boutique shops and is the ideal place to pick up gifts. If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to stop by Venchi for fantastic ice cream and handmade chocolates. Oh, and if you’re a die-hard Harry Potter fan, you might want to make the pilgrimage to Kings Cross Station after lunch and visit Platform 9¾ and the Harry Potter shop.

L'Antica Pizzeria, 66 Heath Street, London NW3 1DN. Phone: 020 7431 8516

Buttery Café, Burgh House, New End Square, Hampstead, London NW3 1LT

The Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 ¾, London King's Cross, Pancras Road, Kings Cross, London N1 9AP. Phone: 20 3196 7375

Venchi Chocolate and Gelato, 65 Hampstead High St, London NW3 1QP. Phone: 020 7794 7894

2:00 p.m.

For a unique London experience and a taste of the city’s past, be sure to visit the grand Victorian cemetary at Highgate, the final resting place of a number of a number of well known figures from Karl Marx to poet Christina Rosetti and scientist Michael Faraday. It’s a peaceful and historic place, with highly-crafted funerary architecture, making it a memorable experience. It’s divided into two halves, Eastern and Western, and while both are captivating, the Western side has the more grandiose architecture and can only be seen on a guided tour. If you’re visiting on a weekend, there’s no need to book; they happen every half an hour, so just turn up. On weekdays however, booking is essential. You can explore the Eastern cemetery at your leisure.

highgate cemetery camden

If you prefer something a bit less sombre, then head over to Primrose Hill and take in the fantastic view over London before heading into Camden Town. Camden Town has a long and fascinating music history, which takes in all genres and a host of iconic figures, from Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie to the Sex Pistols and, more recently, Amy Winehouse. A great way to get to know Camden Town is to take one of the many available walking tours, several of which focus on the area’s musical history.

Highgate Cemetery, Swain's Lane, Highgate, London N6 6PJ

Primrose Hill, Regent’s Park, Chester Rd, London NW1 4NR

4:00 p.m.

If you like shopping for interesting bits and pieces, the best place to start is the Camden Stables Market, so called because it was formerly a stables and horse hospital looking after the horses that pulled barges along the canal throughout the first half of the 20th Century. You’ll find an enormous selection of boutiques and stalls selling everything from taxidermy to chain-mail underwear as well as everyday things. Alternatively, take a walk alongside Regents Canal, which runs right through the heart of Camden, or stop in one of the many pubs and bars for a pint and a bite to eat. The Lock Tavern, The Black Heart, and The Hawley Arms are all steeped in atmosphere and musical history and are iconic Camden institutions in their own right.

Camden Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, London NW1 8AH. Phone: 020 7285 5511

The Hawley Arms, 2 Castlehaven Road, Camden Town, London NW1 8QU. Phone: 020 7428 5979

The Black Heart, 3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London NW1 0AP. Phone: 020 7428 9730

The Lock Tavern, 35 Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AJ. Phone: 020 7846 8219

7:30 p.m.

Several of the aforementioned pubs host live music nights, so if you’ve stopped in for a drink, you might want to make plans to return later and catch a band or stay put and make a boozy afternoon of it. They all serve food, so you’ll be well looked after. If you want more options to choose from, though, Camden has plenty. Mildreds serves incredible vegan food; Karavas offers a delicious Greek menu; if you’re looking for traditional fish and chips, Poppies does just that.

Fish and chips

If you like to mix food and music, The Blues Kitchen will keep you fed and entertained with spicy Cajun food and live blues. If you’re looking to eat out somewhere a little fancier, your best option is to head towards Regents Park to Gordon Ramsay’s York & Albany gastropub or further out to Primrose Hill for Bryn William’s Odette’s. Both are iconic eateries run by world famous chefs.

Mildreds, 9 Jamestown Road, Camden Town, London NW1 7BW. Phone: 020 7482 4200

Karavas Restaurant, 87-88 Plender Street, London NW1 0JN. Phone: 020 7388 4121

Poppie’s Fish and Chips, 30 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP. Phone: 020 7267 0440

The Blues Kitchen, 111-113 Camden High St, London NW1 7JN. Phone: 020 7387 5277

Odette's, 130 Regent's Park Road, Primrose Hill, London NW1 8XL. Phone: 020 7586 8569

York & Albany Restaurant, 127-129 Parkway, Primrose Hill, London NW1 7PS. Phone: 20 7387 5700

9:00 p.m.

One of the best things to do in Camden is to go to a concert! You’re surrounded by world-famous venues that cater to all tastes. Roundhouse, a hotbed for underground music through the 1960s (hosting everyone from Pink Floyd and The Doors to Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stonesm and David Bowie), is one of London’s largest and best-known venues for live music. You’ll find live jazz at The Jazz Café, punk and metal at The Underworld, and everything in between at venues like Electric Ballroom and Camden Assembly.

electric ballroom camden

If you don’t fancy a night of gigs and prefer the theatre, you’ll need to head back down to Holborn where you have a great selection of theatres showing large scale musicals: the Cambridge, the Gillian Lynne, and the Shaftesbury.

Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, London NW1 8EH

The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London NW1 7PG. Phone: 020 7485 6834

The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London NW1 0NE. Phone: 020 7267 3939

The Camden Assembly, 49 Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AN. Phone: 020 7424 0800

Electric Ballroom, 84 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London NW1 8QP. Phone: 020 7485 9006

Gillian Lynne Theatre, 166 Drury Lane, London WC2B 5PW

Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Aveue, London WC2H 8DP

Cambridge Theatre, Earlham Street, London WC2H 9HU

 
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The London of Karl Marx

karl marx london
 

THE LONDON OF KARL MARX

READ JAMES BLOODWORTH'S STORY

We know quite a bit about the time Karl Marx spent in London in 1849 after fleeing the Prussian monarchy. The communist philosopher intended to return to Germany upon a successful revolution there, but he ended up spending the rest of his life in London, occupying rooms in Soho with his wife, Jenny, and their children.

The Marxes lived at 28 Dean Street between 1851 until 1856 before moving down the road to 64 Dean Street. Jenny described the modest dwellings – Marx was at this point in his life scratching a living on the margins of journalism – as “frightful”. Marx himself self-pityingly described the penurious hack-work he was forced to undertake to make ends meet as “grinding bones and making soup of them like the paupers in a workhouse”. Fortunately for Marx, his co-conspirator, Friedrich Engels, was generous in his financial support for his impecunious friend.

Marx’s grave remains a site of pilgrimage for socialists from around the world.

Perhaps the most well-known stories surrounding Marx in London revolve around the drunken escapades he often found himself involved in. One story, in particular, involves Marx breaking street lamps with stones together with his German drinking companions Wilhelm Liebknecht and Edgar Bauer in the early hours of the morning. Liebknecht’s account of the revelry has several bobbies giving chase with the two drunkards managing to escape by turning into a side street and there running through an alley. “Marx showed an activity that I should not have attributed to him,” Liebknecht dryly commented on the incident.

Marx and his boozing companions found themselves in this state of inebriation after setting out, as a challenge of sorts, to “take something in every saloon between Oxford Street and Hampstead Road”, as Liebknecht had put it. One can still stop off at some of the public houses frequented by Marx’s today – though hopefully without engaging in any bouts of vandalism on the way home. The Jack Horner, The Rising Sun, The Fitzroy Belle, Bar TCR, The Northumberland Arms, and The Court are all still open to drinkers, despite the closure of other establishments that would have stood along the route in Marx’s time. Marx also used to frequent the Museum Tavern in Bloomsbury, which, as the name suggests, is next to the British Museum.

Marx may have been a bit of a barfly, but he was no slouch, and when not in a state of inebriation in one of the capital’s watering holes, he was usually holed up at the British Library on the Euston Road. It was here, in the reading room, that Marx wrote his masterwork Capital, a seminal text in materialist philosophy. The old reading room closed in 1997, but visitors can still view where it stood from the library’s Great Court. Marx’s Russian disciple Vladimir Lenin also worked in the reading room, going under the name of Jacob Richter.

The Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell is not a place that Marx himself visited, yet it is a treasure trove of socialist memorabilia and was another frequent haunt of Lenin’s during his period in exile in London. Founded in 1933, the library is a wonderful place to delve into the history of a movement that rose and fell with comparable precipitousness during the twentieth century.

Perhaps the most well-known stories surrounding Marx in London revolve around the drunken escapades he often found himself involved in.

Those wishing to see Marx’s final resting place can visit the majestic Highgate Cemetery in Swain’s Lane, Highgate. Marx’s grave remains a site of pilgrimage for socialists from around the world, but his imposing tombstone – complete with bearded Marx bust – is worth seeing, whatever one’s political inclinations. The monument is flanked by several notable public figures whose lives were inspired by the German’s writings, such as the former British Labour Party leader Michael Foot and Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm.

Do all of this and you will have trodden in the footsteps of the hirsute tribune of materialist philosophy and the communist movement. Though for the experience to be retained for later retellings, it is probably wise to leave the pub crawl until the end.

By Paasikivi [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

 
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The Charles Dickens Museum Is A Delight For Literature Lovers

charles dickens museum
 

THE CHARLES DICKENS MUSEUM IS A DELIGHT FOR LITERATURE LOVERS

In Camden you can visit the only surviving former home of Charles Dickens, one of England’s most famous writers. The house was recently renovated to the tune of £3 million and is decorated in the Georgian style as it would have been when Dickens lived there. The house is a 10-minute walk from Russell Square tube station.

Charles Dickens Museum, 48 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LX

Admission costs £9 for adults (£7 for students and seniors) and £4 for children aged 6 to 16. Children aged under 6 can enter for free. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Last entry is at 4 p.m. Please check the museum’s website for more details.

READ JAMES BLOODWORTH'S STORY

Being from the provinces I have always associated London with the writer Charles Dickens. Long before I first walked London’s streets I had already traversed the city, as it were, in the pages of numerous dog-eared books. Until I was around eight or nine years old Scrooge, Mr. Micawber and Quilp – “an elderly man of remarkably hard features and forbidding aspect” – were as real to me as the mangy laces that held together my shoes.

It was therefore with great interest that I learned in early adulthood of the existence of the Charles Dickens Museum. It was better still to note that the museum was more than the usual panoply of artefacts laid out mournfully in some frigid town hall. Instead this was a museum situated in one of Dickens’ former homes. Indeed, you could walk on the same floorboards trodden on two centuries ago by one of England’s greatest writers.

charles dickens museum

For those of us who write for a living, a visit to 48 Doughty Street represents a sort of pilgrimage. A feeling of reverence hangs over proceedings as I imagine it must do for a Christian in Jerusalem or a Muslim in Mecca. This is no ordinary mixture of cement and plasterboard and carpeting and rooftiles. Rather it is – or at least it was – the laboratory in which a man with an unusual and remarkable talent sat at his desk and brought reams of paper to life.

Dickens lived for two years in this grand town house in Camden. The house was built in around 1805, and Dickens moved in with his wife Catherine and their young son – also named Charles – on a three-year lease at £80 a year in 1837. The two years Dickens spent at Doughty Street was a short yet prodigious period in both his career and personal life: while residing here, Dickens wrote The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby. Catherine also gave birth to two daughters.

charles dickens museum

Dickens’s time at Doughty Street was, for the most part, a happy one. His stature in literary London was rising. The largest room in the house is the brightly lit drawing room where Dickens would have entertained his guests. I was handed a set of headphones on entry and listened to audio readings while imagining Dickens heartily regaling friends and family with witticisms and intimate performances of his works. Dickens frequently had illustrious friends around for dinner, including Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray and William Ainsworth, creator of the character Dick Turpin.

But the house on Doughty Street was also the scene of a tragedy in 1819 when Mary Hogarth, Dickens’s sister-in-law who lived with the young couple, died suddenly from a mysterious illness aged just 17. On the first floor of the building is situated the Mary Hogarth room, the bedroom where the tribulation occurred that would send Dickens into one of the deep depressions that would affect him throughout his life.

charles dickens museum

Dickens hailed from the provinces: he was born in Southsea, Portsmouth in 1812, before arriving in London with his young parents, John and Elizabeth, at the age of three. At the very top of the Doughty Street house is a room which documents the financial struggles of Dickens’s father, who in 1824 was sent in disgrace to Marshalsea debtors’ prison in Southwark, south London. The character of Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield is purportedly based on John Dickens, and at Doughty Street one can even lay one’s hands on a set of the rusty prison bars salvaged from the windows of the long-demolished prison.

Charles Dickens’s work can be rather mawkish and sentimental at times, yet his influence is inescapable. As George Orwell noted, “The thought of Christmas raises almost automatically the thought of Charles Dickens”. His lingering shadow looms over us like an old grandfather clock, while the immortal characters he fashioned with his quill pen – of rich men who come to see the error of their ways and a ragged London poor ground mercilessly into the dirt by Victorian capitalism – bolster the idea that we live in a country where inequality is alleviated by a “heart that never hardens” rather than by bloody revolution.

Nearly 150 years after Charles Dickens’s death, we still live in a nation soaked in Dickensian sentimentalism.

Photographs by James Bloodworth except feature photograph by Jane Nearing [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

 
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Mystery, Melancholia, And Marx At Highgate Cemetery

highgate cemetery london
 

MYSTERY, MELANCHOLIA, AND MARX AT HIGHGATE CEMETERY

Over 170,000 people are buried in Highgate Cemetery in 53,000 graves. The eastern part of the cemetery is accessible with or without a guided tour. Visits to the western side are possible but by guided tour only. The cemetery is a 10-minute walk from Archway tube station.

Highgate Cemetery, Swain's Lane, Highgate, London N6 6PJ

Admission to the East Cemetery costs £4 for adults without a tour; a guided tour costs £8. The guided tour of the West Cemetery costs £12 for adults and includes admission to the East Cemetery. Kindly check the Highgate Cemetery website for more details.

READ JAMES BLOODWORTH'S STORY

Advertising itself as one of England’s “greatest treasures”, Highgate Cemetery in North London has been the final resting place for many famous British residents. Opened in 1839 and enclosed by a prison-like wall which runs up Swain’s Lane, the necropolis contains some of the most brilliant architecture you are likely to find in any Victorian graveyard – or any graveyard, for that matter.

The first noticeable thing about the cemetery is its rather shabby-genteel aesthetic. Indeed, it is rare to experience such an overwhelming contrast between the illustrious reputations of many of the departed and the down-at-heel aura of the burial ground. Walking through the gates upon purchasing my ticket felt a little like what I imagine Miss Havisham’s house must have felt like to Pip in Great Expectations: so much splendour slowly collapsing into a mass of dust and cobwebs and ruin.

The most famous person buried in the eastern half of the cemetery – and the person I was keenest to locate on my own visit – is probably Karl Marx. On a busy day, you can see the small groups of bedraggled communists trooping up Highgate Hill to pay homage to the bearded philosopher. Marx’s tomb, like almost all communist monuments that eschew religion chiefly by making men into gods, is very large and imposing, and there is usually a bouquet of flowers or two placed lovingly at its foot.

Marx is flanked underground by the remains of some of those who were in life inspired by his works. The historian Eric Hobsbawm and the journalist Paul Foot lie to Marx’s left, while directly in front are the former Labour Party leader Michael Foot and the Iranian worker-communist leader Mansoor Hekmat. Elsewhere in the easterly grounds are buried the Victorian writer George Eliot – aka Mary Ann Cross – and Alan Sillitoe, author of the iconic 1950s novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

highgate cemetery london

Back in 1883 when Marx was laid to rest, Highgate Cemetery was run as a private affair. Yet, as Marx himself might have predicted, the cemetery fell into neglect once it was no longer deemed a profitable enterprise by the company that ran it. The London Cemetery Company was declared bankrupt in 1960, and until the Friends of Highgate Cemetery rescued it in 1975 the graveyard fell into a state of disrepair and neglect.

Friends of Highgate seek today to “keep the atmosphere of romantic decay” of the cemetery without allowing nature complete free rein. Such remains the decrepit state of some of the old tombstones – collapsing gradually into small sinkholes under the weight of nearby trees – that it can occasionally feel as if those below ground are endeavouring to pull down those of us situated above it. Elsewhere I saw rows of the most beautiful stone and marble gravestones leaning sombrely to one side, like fields of wheat bending under strong gusts of wind.

Rumour has it that Highgate Cemetery is haunted, including by a hideous old woman who is said to dart dementedly between the tombstones in search of her lost children. I didn’t stumble across any ghostly spectres on my visit to Highgate, and overall the experience of walking around the cemetery was a pleasant one, even on a bitterly cold December afternoon. It inspired in me a feeling of mournful gratitude not unfamiliar to most cemeteries. As one peruses the melancholic and loving inscriptions engraved upon the impressive collection of tombstones – “Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation” – it feels almost as if a thousand souls are metaphorically urging you to live while you still have the chance.

A visit to Highgate Cemetery also brings it sharply home to the visitor that, however illustrious one might have been in life, one invariably ends up buried under several tons of clay and earth and a shabby tombstone – both aristocrat and commoner alike. This is both egalitarian and life-affirming in its way. Old Marx would probably have approved.

 
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Your Guide To The Best Breakfasts In London

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YOUR GUIDE TO THE BEST BREAKFASTS IN LONDON

WORDS BY THE CITY STORY TEAM

“I went to a restaurant that serves 'breakfast at any time'. So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.”

- Steven Wright

Breakfast. The first and finest meal of the day in London. This is a city that prides itself on-all day breakfasts. A town where eating a fry up at 4 p.m. will be greeted with cheers rather than dirty looks. Luckily for Londoners, the wonderful waves of immigration over the years have brought breakfast specialities from the world over to its streets – allowing us to revel in such delights as Turkish or South Indian morning cuisine alongside the superb native greasy offerings. The best breakfast in London is a debate that never ends and is dependent on where you live, how hungover you are, and what your budget is. Relationships have ended over best breakfast discussions. Plates have been flung. Unlike nutritionists, we truly understand how important the first meal of the day is, so we asked the capital’s breakfast believers for their favourite spots. This is not a complete guide but a discernible compilation, one that highlights the variety and quality on offer to the Londoner.

Arthur’s Café

Arthur’s is no longer a secret thanks to some Guardian journalist writing about it – but it is still the best café for breakfast in Dalston. Arthur’s has been in the same family for decades, and its no-nonsense, no-frills attitude to serving top grub at very reasonable prices puts it high on the best of the best list. You may still get served by Arthur, the oldest of the family and well into his twilight years at 90 years old. He still likes to make sure the people coming into his caff are treated in the right way. His grandson prepares the bread at the front of the café, but be warned: if you want a bacon sandwich you’ll have to get it in the morning as they prove so popular Arthur refuses to serve them after midday. Famously, Arthur’s Café never once shut during The Blitz, and that dogmatic spirit continues to this day. Dalston has developed a lot of gimmicks over recent years, but Arthur’s is steadfastly holding on and making sure that beyond the hype of E8, there’s still something real to visit.

Arthur’s Café, 495 Kingsland Road, Dalston, London E8 4AU

Sam's Cafe in Primrose Hill

Look – you want a north London café that has a jukebox curated by Robert Plant, boasts customers such as Helen Bonham Carter, Dennis Lawson and that bloke out of Supergrass, interior design by Jane Rainey Design (of “Lady Jane”, the Rolling Stones song fame) started by the son of the editor of London Review of Books?

Sam’s Cafe is it. Although it’s a London experience that might make you weep at the price [full English breakfast at £12 (yes twelve whole English pound sterling)], a trip to Sam’s is a treat that is never forgotten.

Sam’s Cafe, 140 Regent's Park Road, London NW1 8XL

Blackbird Bakery

Proper baking. Proper breakfast. These guys don’t mess about – everything in the café is baked from scratch and tastes like it (which means it tastes good, by the way). No preservatives, no “improvers’ – just flour loving goodness. Rolling with things like huevos rancheros, a lip-smackingly good BLT, and a Reuben sandwich, Blackbird do simple really well. They also make sandwiches of your choice to order. Fabulous!

Blackbird Bakery, Arch 134, Queens Road, Peckham London, SE15 2ND

breakfast

Dishoom

Go to Dishoom and eat the bacon naan!

What's not to like? Spicy, tangy, masala laced bacon and naan. It’s the breakfast you’ve never known you’ve wanted until the day you eat it, and then you want nothing else but this forever more.  Add the faux-Bombay café chalkboard, hand-painted signs, and photos from the ’70s, and Dishoom will charm your pants off. Also, breakfast at Dishoom is probably its least busy time, which, considering the restaurant’s popularity, is something to cherish.

 Dishoom, 7 Boundary Street, London E2 7JE.

Café Z

Cafe Z does the best menemen in the north east. (Editor’s note: Easy now! That’s some contentious claim.) A frying pan of deliciously runny eggs with such a variety of toppings that it puts pizza to shame. Café Z has a lovely vibe, décor, and staff – it’s a veritable institution in Stoke Newington and very popular with the locals.

Café Z, 58 Stoke Newington High Street, London N16 7PB

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Parma

Parma does not mess around. We’re talking meat, meat, and more meat. The greasy fry-up is one of the finest in the south – always cooked and served at optimum, with care and diligence. The kebabs, if you missed getting one on your way home the night before, are well worth giving a go for breakfast. Don’t judge until you’ve done it; it could well be the breakfast that changes your life.

Parma, 412 Kennington Road, London SE11 4PT

Buhler and Co.

It has a really adventurous global brunch menu including Indonesian Gado-gado and a full Indian-inspired veggie fry-up with homemade paratha and paneer – because who doesn't want fried cheese before midday? The coffee is great, as are the bakes – especially the chocolate, halva, and tahini brownie. It also has a back garden for al fresco breakfasts. It gets busy on the weekend, but it's worth queuing for. Afterwards, you can take a stroll up to the picturesque Walthamstow Village and explore this quaint North London neighbourhood.

Buhler and Co., 8 Chingford Road, Walthamstow, London E17 4PJ

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The Rochester Castle

The Rochester Castle on a summer's day after doing a sleep-in shift is utterly perfect. You get that cheap-as-you-can-get Wetherspoons breakfast but in one of the best buildings they own. There are endless refills of coffee, a calorie count on the menu (if you are so inclined to worry), but best of all, if you fancy a pint with your eggs and hash browns, the array of beers on offer will keep you in the pub well past the point of no return.

The Rochester Castle, 145 Stoke Newington High St, Stoke Newington, London N16 0NY

The Regency

Quite possibly the best breakfast atmosphere in London, only rivalled by E Pellici in Bethnal Green (see below). The Regency has a unique queueing system that takes the novice a while to understand. Word to the unwise - don’t take a seat before you’ve ordered your food!

But the food! Oh, the glorious Regency breakfast. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted from a British breakfast – perfectly cooked, great ingredients, on the right side of greasy, served with a shout and a wink. Great value for its central London position (you might also recognise it as a film location for Layer Cake), it’s tremendously popular for a reason. It is for all occasions always: bad news/good news/hangover/after exercise/in love/freshly dumped.

The Regency, 17-19 Regency St, Westminster, London SW1P 4BY, UK

Cabman’s Shelter

You want the best bacon sandwich in London? The Shelter is your spot. Enough said.

Cabman’s Shelter, 23 Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1B

Titbits

Vegans and vegetarians – this is your spot. The breakfast here is stonkingly good, and no animal has been harmed in the process. It’s no fry up, of course, but the bircher muesli is to die for (not literally, that wouldn’t be very vegan now, would it?), and their pastries (croissants etc.) are delicious. It’s a buffet, and you pay by the weight of your plate. What?! Yes, that’s right. Tuck in, veggies! The bonus of being on bankside means the Thames is but a hop skip and jump away – wonderful on a sunny London summer’s day.

Titbits, 124-128 Southwark Street, London SE1 0SW

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Cafe Coco

Cafe Coco serves a decent breakfast, with the bonus that Magculture is next door. Worth it post-Fabric or pre-day out walking in Clerkenwell.

Cafe Coco, 266 St John Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 4PE

Gökyüzü

Hands down the best Turkish breakfast in London. The menemen might be amazing in Café Z, but Gökyüzü has got it all – the mixed mezze is incredible, the English fry-up is impeccable, and the halloumi is perfection. Just find a bus and get on it – you won’t regret it.

Gökyüzü, 26-27 Grand Parade, Harringay, London N4 1LG

Egg Break

West London often gets overlooked for East these days, but the gems are still there if you look hard enough or are rich/fortunate enough to know someone local. Egg Break is one of those gems. As you might expect, it’s heavy on the huevos. The menu has at least 10 different egg options, but the best are probably Levantine eggs (fried eggs, za’atar, and chickpea tabbouleh) or the Calabrian eggs – (scrambled eggs with nduja, onions, and topped with a herb and puffed chickpea salad). Major shout out to the Crab cake with poached eggs, sriracha 12 hollandaise, and spinach too. Delicious!

Egg Break, 30 Uxbridge St, London W8 7TA

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E Pellicci

What can be said about Pellicci’s that hasn’t been said before? Alongside The Regency, this east London institution is vying for the ‘best breakfast in London’ spot. Whilst the fry ups are top notch, it’s the atmosphere that gets you coming back, and back again. It’s been open since 1900 and is still in the same family. The interior is pure old school east London, and the staff have more banter than the Archbishop of Banterbury riding a Bantersaurus Rex to the Banterbus station. It truly is a joy to eat at Pellicis. You can’t chat about London breakfasts with authority of you haven’t been here.

E Pellicii, 332 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 0AG

Mess Cafe

Hackney, glorious Hackney. Under pressure from gentrification left right and centre, communities getting divided, house prices killing the neighbourhood. Somehow, it’s still hanging on. Mess Café is perhaps Hackney in a microcosm. It is incredibly popular with all Hackney types – local kids, dads with daughters, hipsters on a hangover, girls gossiping over milkshakes, old boys reading the Mirror, families, young professionals, musicians, artists, cabbies, builders, teachers – people from all walks of life. Stepping into Mess is like stepping off the street and bringing all the people on the street with you. A true egalitarian space. The fry-ups are strong and the omelettes banging, but whatever you eat, make sure you order the malt milkshake. It’s heaven.

Mess Cafe, 38 Amhurst Road, London E8 1JN

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Jesse’s Café

Everything about Jesse’s is amazing – but the décor is one of its strongest features: all the specials, such as STANDARD BREAKFAST, BREAKFAST SPECIAL, SPOTTED DICK are dotted around the place, installed into the wall. It's just a brilliant greasy, not fussy, the best kind of naughty sausages you can buy, scolding tea, and conversations with strangers.

Jesse’s Café, 68 High Street, Walthamstow, London E17 7LD

Riding House Café

Posh with a capital P.O.S.H, posh! The Riding House Café is a pricey place, but boy, if you’ve got the cash, you’ve got to splash. Set near Regent Street, it’s an elegant destination that’s great for a date the night before or a post-ahem-you-know-what in the morning. The food is superb, and the décor is just as delicious, but with a full English at £14.50, you’ve got to be sure the overdraft is ready. For a cheaper life, have a muesli and a cup of tea and soak up the well to do atmosphere instead.

Riding House Café, 43-51 Great Titchfield Street, Fitzrovia, London W1W 7PQ

With thanks to:

Saskia Wickins, Susannah Otter, Tim Burrows, Natalie Hardwick, Meghna Gupta, Ben Dawes, Farah Chowdhury, Rosh, Dino, Gayle Lazda, Marie Maurer, Shayamal Vallabhji, Paul Case, Ben Southwood, Eli Davies.

 
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The Complete Guide To London’s Best Bookshops

london bookstores best bookstores
 

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO LONDON'S BEST BOOKSHOPS

WORDS BY KIT CALESS

London is a literary city. Books are its main storytelling medium, its mythology maker. From Daniel Defoe to Charles Dickens, Angela Carter to Zadie Smith, London’s representation is best in books. What’s more, in case you didn’t know, books are back. Physical book sales have been on the rise over the last few years. Novels are novel again. Lit is…lit.

Luckily for Londoners, the city is replete with hundreds of bookshops in which you can find these physical wonders of the world. Books are booming so much that there are even new bookshops opening (shout out Ink84 and Burley Fisher). Sure, Amazon can recommend something to you if you like, but in London we like walking around the city, popping into bookshops and browsing. We chose our favourite bookshops to visit in the capital, some well-known, some hidden gems, but all glorious.

london review bookshop best bookstores london

CURATION PERFECTION – LRB

London Review Bookshop is the place to go to if you don’t know what book you want until you see it. The staff at LRB are incredible – they’ve read more than you ever will, but they make you feel like you are discovering the books at the same time they are. Enthusiastic, informed and consistently funny, LRB staff are the reason to visit the shop, and their recommendations are hands down the best in the city. You’ll come out feeling like you’ve made a friend, bought a book that will change your life, and found a second home.

The shop emerged from one of the UK’s most prestigious and influential cultural journals. It also has lovely side café in which you can sit and read the London Review of Books for free. Events at the bookshop are excellent but often fully booked in advance, so check their website for listings.

London Review Bookshop, 14-16 Bury Place, Bloomsbury, London WC1A 2JL. Phone: 020 7269 9030

burley fisher books london best bookstores

LOCAL HEROES – BURLEY FISHER BOOKS

This is biased, but Burley Fisher are up there with the best in the business. It’s biased because I live very close to Burley Fisher. It’s biased because I have run events and publishing parties at Burley Fisher. It’s biased because Sam Fisher at Burley Fisher likes a pint. Sometimes likes a pint with me. Sometimes likes more than one pint with me. But that doesn’t detract from the facts. The facts are as follows:

Fact One: Great book selection

Fact Two: Great booksellers, happy to chat and advise, or leave you alone if you prefer

Fact Three: Brilliant literary events, often free or very cheap to attend

Fact Four: They’ve only been open for a year, and they are smashing it

Fact Five: Great basement, if you’re into basements

Fact Six: Also do coffee

Fact Seven: Very close to the Fox pub which has excellent beer and sofas for reading on

Burley Fisher Books, 400 Kingsland Road, London E8 4AA. Phone: 020 7249 2263

foyles london best bookstores

MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF BOOKS – FOYLES

Foyles. Fabulous Foyles. Boss of Bookshops. Legends in Literature. A visit to Foyles is a must-do for any book lover in London. The old Foyles shop housed a rampant, ridiculous gallimaufry of books that had its own charm, but their new flagship store (opened just down the road from the previous site) is a magnificent, highly organised beast. Foyles is the place if you can’t find a book in any other bookstore. Foyles is the place if you want to keep on top of the latest trends in literature. Foyles is the place to find gifts, recommendations, books you thought were just figments of your imagination.

Foyles also has a brilliant café up on the fourth floor and an excellent space, Ray’s Jazz and Classical Store, where you can buy records or sheet music and listen to live bands. Foyles is all things to all people. King of bound, ink printed paper, long may it reign over London.

Foyles Bookstores, multiple locations across London.

housmans london best bookstores

RADICAL BOOKS – HOUSMANS & 56A INFOSHOP & BOOKMARKS

Every self-respecting city has a radical bookshop, and London’s got more than its fair share. “Radical”, of course, is subjective. A bookshop like the marvellous Gay’s The Word could be considered radical, but for simplification, I’m sticking to a kind of lefty radicalism. Of course, “radical” doesn’t mean that traditional books aren’t sold at the shops either, just that there will be books at the radical end of politics and culture that you won’t normally find in a branch of Waterstones. I’ve written about my love affair with peace-loving Housmans Bookshop for The City Story before. Housmans is simply one of the greatest bookshops in the world that everyone should visit.

56a Infoshop is a social centre in Elephant and Castle that is entirely volunteer-led, completely unfunded, and utterly DIY. The fact that it’s been going so long is a testament to London’s radical resilience. Visit Infoshop for all the zines you could ever want, meeting people and hanging out (tea and coffee are free for anyone), and to find amazing books. Other than the Wetherspoons or the bowling alley, 56a Infoshop is the reason to head to the Elephant.

Bookmarks is the largest socialist bookshop in Europe. No bones about it, they are committed to the revolution. They cover politics, economics, trade unionism, labour history, the environment, black struggle, feminism, and loads more. On top of that, they also publish their own books addressing these topics.

Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London N1 9DY. Phone: 020 7837 4473

56a Infoshop, 56a Crampton Street, London SE17.

Bookmarks Bookshop, 1 Bloomsbury Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3QE. Phone: 020 7637 1848

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JUMBLED MADNESS – JUDD BOOKS

Judd Books is a higgledy-piggledy, magnificent mess of a place. When you walk into Judd Books, you are almost assaulted by literature – books falling off shelves, books in piles at your feet, books holding the door open, books blocking the stairwell. It’s a cornucopia of literature, a mad tea party of writing. Judd has so many books that there are ladders in the shop to help you get to the top shelves that border the high ceiling. It’s like the library in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, only better and in London and not owned by some noble aristocrat who once insulted a witch for being ugly.

At Judd, you’ll find some of the best philosophy, sociology, economics, and history books available in the Big Smoke. Being situated in Bloomsbury and a stone’s throw from University College London, there are hundreds and thousands of second-hand and used academic books inside. Go to Judd on an empty prose stomach and feast.

Judd Books, 82 Marchmont Street, Saint Pancras, London WC1N 1AG. Phone: 020 7387 5333

jarndyce london best bookshops

ANTIQUITY AND RARES – JARNDYCE

Jarndyce is right opposite the British Museum. So next time you’re down there to look at the stolen relics from the age of Empire, sack off the BM and head across the road. Walking into Jarndyce is like walking into the past anyway, so you’ll get your history fix immediately. It’s beautifully lit with wooden interiors that’ll make you want to take all the books down from its shelves, dust off the dust jackets, and travel back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The building has been a bookshop since at least 1890, and Jarndyce has been occupier since 1969. Rumour has it, the building is haunted, but the booksellers assure you it is a benevolent ghost.

Over the years Jarndyce have published over 200 catalogues, and believe you me, there are some books in their store you never knew existed.

Jarndyce Booksellers, 46 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3PA. Phone: 0 20 7631 4220

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BEAUTIFUL TO BROWSE – DAUNT MARYLEBONE

Daunt, in Marylebone, is a simply gorgeous bookshop that makes you feel like reading as soon as you enter. It was built in 1910 specifically as a bookshop and retains its Edwardian charm. The centrepiece of the bookshop is a long, main room that feels like a gallery – with a stunning window at the back that is partly stained glass. There is a balcony running above this main room, from which you can view the shop below. It feels like a religious chapel, with books as the icon to worship. Daunt’s book selection is excellent, and they pride themselves on arranging books by country, rather than genre. Visiting Daunt is a fascinating, deeply rewarding experience.

Daunt Books, 84 Marylebone High Street, Marylebone, London W1U 4QW. Phone: 020 7224 2295

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SO FRIENDLY YOU WANT TO LIVE THERE – BIG GREEN BOOKSHOP

Look, they’re famous now, okay. The secret is out. The Big Green Bookshop is wonderful. The Big Green Bookshop is a small little place in Wood Green that has excellent contemporary fiction, great children’s books, and an eye for the independently published future classics. Walking in, you are greeted like a long lost friend and regaled with tales of the day, books of the week, or just booksellers Simon or Tim’s current personal musings. They do an excellent mail order service too.

But let’s not beat about the Big Green Bush. Something magical happened earlier in 2017, which put BGB on the map. Over a series of weeks, the Big Green Bookshop tweeted Piers Morgan every single word, in order, from Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone after Morgan claimed never to have read a word JK Rowling had written. A feat of severe endurance, but one of the noblest endeavours a bookshop has ever undertaken.

Big Green Bookshop, 1 Brampton Park Road, Wood Green, London N22 6BG. Phone: 020 8881 6767

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BLACK BOOKS – NEW BEACON BOOKSHOP

A London without New Beacon Bookshop is a London not worth living in. Which is why, in early 2017 a GoFundMe campaign established by the shop to ensure its survival as a business, smashed its target of £10,000 within 20 days. The people of London want New Beacon to continue, and so it shall be. If you live in this city, then New Beacon has to be on your map.

New Beacon was set up in 1966 by the late poet and publisher John La Rose and his partner, Sarah White. They specialise in Caribbean, Black British, African, and African-American authors but, like so many other specialist bookshops, they also publish books. New Beacon’s arresting new paint job (following the successful funding bid) helps the bookshop stand out on Stroud Green Road in Finsbury Park. Inside it is packed with fascinating books, from classics like WEB DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk and CLR James’ Black Jacobins to contemporary work from the likes of Irenosen Okojie, Robyn Travis, and Reni Eddo-Lodge. The children’s section is a treasure trove of books for young people of colour, providing stories and illustrations that reflect their own heritage, something mainstream bookshops often fail to do.

New Beacon Bookshop, 76 Stroud Green Road, Stroud Green, London N4 3EN. Phone: 020 7272 4889

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MAKING YOU FEEL CLEVER – LIBRERIA BOOKSHOP

You can’t deny that bookshops make you feel smart. Walk into a good bookshop and you start to tingle with intelligent potential. All these books that could teach you something. All this knowledge, storytelling, language. It’s only after you walk out with a copy of Derrida’s Of Grammatology that you start to read on the bus home do you realise that bookshops will always be cleverer than you.

One bookshop that exudes intellectual feeling is situated on the east side of London, down a Brick Lane side street. Libreria is a beautiful shop, lovingly curated with a calming yellow hued interior. Rather than genre, books at Libreria are organised in subject categories such as “Wanderlust”, “Enchantment for Disenchanted”, and “The City”. Their aim – which works – is to pull you away from the usual browsing experience and encourage interdisciplinary reading. So that means you could find a copy of JG Ballard’s Crash next to Foucault’s History of Sexuality. Now that’s smart thinking.

 Libreria Bookshop, 65 Hanbury Street, London E1 5JP.

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OLDEST IN THE SOUTH – KIRKDALE BOOKSHOP

Not every bookshop can be in a glamorous part of London like Bloomsbury or Marylebone. London is a vast, sprawling megalopolis which takes several hours to travel across no matter what mode of transport you take. So if you live in the deep south, you need a bookshop in the deep south. Step forward Sydenham’s Kirkdale Books.

Yes, Sydenham is a place. It’s near Crystal Palace. Don’t worry; it’s on the Overground.

Kirkdale says it is “probably the oldest independent bookshop in South East London”, a typically understated claim from a wonderful little local space. Spread over two floors, the range of new and second-hand books is impressive. The basement is a particular delight; just being in there makes you want to own every book ever written. I’ve been told the shop’s book club is superb and, judging by their monthly recommended reads, their eclectic taste is second to none. Add an excellent Twitter account to the mix and you’ve got one helluva local bookshop.

Kirkdale Bookshop, 272 Kirkdale, London SE26 4RS. Phone: 020 8778 4701

HONOURABLE MENTIONS
  • Al Saqi Books in Westbourne Grove – Arabic book specialist and publisher.
  • Pages of Hackney – local bookshop where staff member Jo Heygate was nominated as Bookseller of the Year in 2016.
  • Waterstones Gower Street and Waterstones Picadilly – the best Waterstones branches in the capital.
  • Skoob – excellent second-hand bookstore in Bloomsbury.
  • Review Bookshop – Peckham-based store run by novelist Evie Wyld.
  • Brick Lane Bookshop – great events, unrivalled London literature section.
  • Stoke Newington Bookshop – located in one of north London’s most literary districts, it has an excellent selection and comes into its own during Stoke Newington Literary Festival.
  • Belgravia Books – lovely little contemporary store near Victoria Station.
  • Tate Modern Bookshop – brilliantly curated, and you get to wander around the Tate before you browse.
  • Artwords, Shoreditch and Broadway Market – you could spend a day looking at the books at Artwords.
  • Banner Repeater – a print and books space in the oddest of places, Platform One of Hackney Downs station.

All photographs by Juhi Pande except Big Green Bookshop by Alan Stanton [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

 
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Kish Highlights The Best Of Persian Cuisine

 

kish persian cuisine restaurant camden

KISH HIGHLIGHTS THE BEST OF PERSIAN CUISINE

Camden’s Kish Restaurant is an authentic Persian restaurant that serves excellent bread and meat, in particular the lamb kebabs. Open daily, it also delivers within a 3-mile radius.

Kish Restaurant, 7-9 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 5SD

READ PAUL HICKIN'S STORY

When a restaurant is full to the brim with customers whose home-cooked food is one and the same, is that the main sign that the food is good? I used to think so: lots of Indians in an Indian restaurant, it’s sure to be good. But of late that conception is becoming more and more misplaced. Not because Indians no longer know their culinary delights, just that so many others do too. The monopoly on taste has been broken in London.

The same can also be said of Iranian food, but it was a comforting sight to walk into Iranian restaurant Kish for the first time and be surrounded by people of Persian persuasion. Iranian food is defined by doing the simple things well: meat and bread. And Kish takes the meat side to a whole different level. The sumptuous lamb kebabs – Chelo Kabab Koobideh – for example, are difficult to better, even when compared to many of its high performing peers along Edgware Road. Tender, succulent, and perfectly spiced. And the warm fresh bread almost doesn’t need a partner as it goes just as well with a daub of butter as it does with one of the cold starters. All washed down with a glass of doogh – Iran’s twist on the lassi.

Indeed, Kish has made me rethink my favourite Persian restaurant, once a toss-up between Alounak in Queensway and Patogh, a cavernous gem just off Edgware Road. Can someone have three favourites? It’s good to have options at any rate.

 
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Southampton Arms Is One of London’s Finest Traditional Pubs

 

southampton arms pub highgate camden london traditional english pub beer ale cider meat

SOUTHAMPTON ARMS IS ONE OF LONDON'S FINEST TRADITIONAL PUBS

Southampton Arms is a traditional pub in London that serves ales and ciders from small, independent breweries in the UK. They don’t have a telephone, don’t take table reservations, and don’t accept credit or debit cards.

Southampton Arms, 139 Highgate Road, Highgate, London NW5 1LE

READ MARTIN DEAN'S STORY

The Southampton Arms is, in my opinion, London’s perfect pub. It’s historic, with a sturdy ’60s atmosphere and appearance, glazed brick walls, great ales on tap from traditional hand pumps, and delicious, hearty food. But it doesn’t veer off into that loafers-without-socks, everyone-on-their-laptop Twilight Zone that seems to have befallen many of London’s traditional or traditional seeming pubs. In the Southampton Arms, you will wander in and there will be an old man with a dog; there will be three musicians gathered around the piano, one with a clarinet, one singing or clapping along, all of them doing it for the fun of it, not for the Instagram of it. If you don’t find them on your first visit, you’ll just have to keep returning until you do.

There’s a great beer garden out the back, and the atmosphere is very lighthearted and welcoming: you will almost certainly end up in a conversation with people you’ve never met before, which can be a rare occurrence in many of London’s pubs. Whether it’s because of the friendly staff or the intimacy that comes with the pub’s compact dimensions, Southmpton Arms seems very natural. I highly recommend a trip to this pub on a Sunday afternoon after a walk on Hampstead Heath. Oh and it’s cash only, in keeping with the traditional theme, so pop to a cashpoint before you go!

 
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Any Amount Of Books Feels Like Wonderland

any amount of books charing cross london second hand bookshops
 

ANY AMOUNT OF BOOKS FEELS LIKE WONDERLAND

Any Amount Of Books is a second-hand bookshop on Charing Cross Road. They sell rare books, first editions, and leather-bound sets across genres and have a collection of over 55,000 books.

Any Amount Of Books, 56 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0QA. Phone: 020 7836 3697

READ AVANI UDGAONKAR'S STORY

Every broken spine and well-worn edge of a used book tells its own tale. There is history in these books; their words are not the only story they tell. Holding a second-hand book feels gentle and comforting, akin to finding a trail in the woods and knowing you are not alone. Someone has walked this path before you.

What first attracted me to Any Amount Of Books were the bins filled with books on sale outside the store. Before I knew it, I had abandoned my friend and was trailing my fingers along the spines of the neatly ordered stacks. When I did finally look up, into the wide, windowed front filled with books, I knew this was someplace special.

Stepping into the store for the first time felt oddly like coming home. It’s the kind of place you walk into, get hit with the beloved scent of old books, and cannot help but smile. It has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves overflowing with beautifully kept tomes and cheerful, knowledgeable staff. There are a few people wandering up and down the store, and the division between the new and the regulars is apparent. The new talk in murmurs, as if afraid to break the intimate silence of the books around them. The regulars laugh together, occasionally calling out jokes to the owner who sits behind the desk.

There is history in these books; their words are not the only story they tell.

I immediately make my way over to their poetry section – as I always do in bookstores – which surprises me. Every bookstore has the standard collection of poetry: Yeats and Wordsworth and other canonical writers, all the same editions by the same publishers. But here, between these standard tomes, I find some of the most beautiful editions: a sturdy hardback by Sir John Suckling, a copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay, thin pamphlets and slim editions of poets I have never heard of. I’ve been collecting and reading poetry books for years and always look for volumes that are unusual or rare in some way, a task I have often found difficult. Here, it is as easy as breathing.

But I know I have found something truly special when, near the bottom of the bookshelf, tucked away into a corner, is an absolutely gorgeous little hardback edition of Thomas Hardy’s poetry in blue leather and silver lines. Though Hardy as a poet isn’t awfully rare, I cannot look away from this book. I flip it open and find that not only does it contain some of my favourite poems by him, the print is beautiful, as is the price – £3. I don’t let it go for the rest of the time I’m in the store. After having combed the poetry section, I turn my attention to the rest of the store that weaves through fiction, biographies and cookbooks alike. A locked cupboard near the billing desk contains rare and first editions that my hands itch to possess but cannot afford to. Below that are shelves of critical theory that the literature student in me both desires and dreads instantly. Every way I turn, a book catches my eye, and I’ve soon collected a stack of books I cannot live without. I make my way down to the maze-like basement and, in the low warm light with ceiling-high shelves lining my twisting path, feel like Alice, fallen down a rabbit hole into my own personal Wonderland.

I’m not sure how long I stay down there. For hours, I hunt through piles and shelves, finding myself captivated by different books in a way I haven’t been in a long time. I stay that way until finally, a hungry (and slightly exasperated) friend pulls me out, forces me to make my purchases, and literally drags me away.

 
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Calcutta Street Transports The Flavours Of Kolkata To London

 

calcutta street bengali restaurant london

CALCUTTA STREET TRANSPORTS THE FLAVOURS OF KOLKATA TO LONDON

Set in Tottenham Street, Calcutta Street is a restaurant that serves authentic, home-style Bengali food. The menu includes recipes from a Bengali kitchen, Calcutta-style street food, and cocktails made with ingredients such as kaffir lime and green mangoes. There is a branch of the restaurant located in Brixton.

Calcutta Street, 29 Tottenham Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 4RU. Phone: 020 7636 2744. 395 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8LQ.

READ DIVYA SEHGAL'S STORY

My Bengali friends are always pleasantly surprised when I tell them that I’m craving some alu bhate (mashed potatoes in mustard oil) or I made a chorchori (medley of fresh vegetables accompanied with rice). There weren’t many Bengali restaurants when I was growing up in Bangalore; the best place to eat Bengali cuisine as a kid was in my half-Bengali grandmother’s kitchen. So imagine my surprise when I found a restaurant in London serving authentic Bengali food.

Calcutta Street is a delight to dine in. It’s set in a small corner near Tottenham Court Road, but it started off as a pop-up restaurant in Camden and Exmouth markets. The brainchild of 27-year-old Srimoyee Chakraborty, it transports all the flavours of Kolkata home-cooking to London. So what culinary delights were we treated to when we went? To start off with, we had some jhalmuri (puffed rice with garnish) in classic roadside style, served in rolled paper cone. For mains, we had the most authentic kosha mangsho (lamb curry) with luchi (Bengali bread) I’ve ever had outside of a kitchen in a Bengali home.

The menu is a collection of Srimoyee’s mother’s recipes, and she does them complete justice. Her food is an ode to the City of Joy, and what can be a better love letter than that?

Feature photo courtesy Calcutta Street