It’s back! By popular demand! My Secret London! This is where I pin down prominent London style/design/food insiders and ask them to share their favourite London addresses and secret destinations with Wee Birdy readers. This is London by locals – and knowledgeable, super-stylish locals at that. Here we go…
Sarah Drinkwater (pictured top right) grew up in the countryside with a postcard of London above her desk and moved there to study. After careers as a vintage clothes buyer and a journalist, she turned her favourite hobby – exploring London – into a career and now works as a community manager for Google Plus Local, helping users find great new places to go to through their friends. Sarah also blogs (sometimes, honest) at www.theenchantedhunters.com.
Best shops for vintage homewares?
I love coloured glassware, and Vintage Heaven on Columbia Road is, as the name suggests, rammed full of pastel glass ice cream glasses, deep green vases and piles of mismatching saucers. The Old Cinema in Chiswick is one of those treasure troves where they have everything from red velvet rows of cinema seats to industrial steel lockers and kitsch Seventies porcelain. And I’ve picked up some great midcentury bargains at The Peanut Vendor, a tiny shop on Newington Green.
Best shops in London for clothes?
I feel like high street fashion’s never been better for us early thirty-somethings who are simply not into Topshop’s mesh crop tops anymore. I own lots of Whistles, who balance great quality basics with quirky prints and luxe leather jackets. Cos lets me pretend I’m an extremely trendy architect with their sculptural shapes and great jewellery (I love oversize jewellery) and Hobbs’ NW3 range can be cool, too – I just bought a grey merino wool tight-fit jumper in the sale with an orange paperclip print.
Aubin & Wills also turned up some sale goodies, like a balloon print silk shirt dress, and Liberty has the very best selection of pricey brands including Carven, which I wish I could afford. I’m also pretty excited about Folk‘s new womenswear range…
Best shops in London for accessories?
The only jewellery I wear are necklaces, but I wear one every day, and I’m always looking out for them! Tatty Devine is the classic quirky London jeweller, and I own plenty of their cheerful pop art pieces. Luna and Curious on Calvert Avenue stock some really unusual items by independent designers, and they’re right opposite the queen of enormo jewels, Mawi. My burger locket necklace by Lazy Oaf is my current favourite, and I’d love one of Jessica de Lotz’s wax seal initial pendants.
Best shops in London for buying gifts?
I really like giving books as presents, and both Broadway Bookshop and Daunts in Marylebone have the best recent novels and those gorgeous coffee table books you don’t buy for yourself. I just bought a friend a design-your-own-banner kit from Nook on my local high street, too. They do craft workshops which I think make a great gift.
Best shops in London for perfume, make-up and skincare?
At the risk of sounding poncy, I wear Diptyque’s Vetyverio, which smells like the velvet-lined inside of a wooden box, and their Marylebone shop is a bit of a treat. For most of my beauty and skincare products, I head to Space NK, a micro-chain that stock both unusual brands and big hitters like Laura Mercier and Nars.
Best places in London for food?
Between my job and my insatiable curiousity, I’m a bit of a tart and always keen to try new places. I’d definitely take any visitor to two places; Bob Bob Ricard, a luxe restaurant dishing up Brit classics that’s decked out like an Edwardian gentleman’s club, and Spuntino, a cool-as diner with bourbon cocktails, bone marrow sliders and peanut butter and jelly icecream for pudding. I’d also nudge them in the direction of Pitt Cue Co’s trailer on the Southbank which is dishing up macaroni cheese and pulled pork patties, and Mark’s Bar below Hix in Soho for some mighty fine cocktails.
You’ve got 24 hours in London. Where do you go? What do you see? What do you buy?
That’s so hard! I’d start with breakfast at Towpath Cafe overlooking the canal and then pick up a Boris bike so I could avoid the crowds. First stop would be the Barbican, a Brutalist arts centre that’s endlessly interesting, whether you want to see their current Bauhaus exhibition or just wander around the grounds. From there, cycle to the Southbank and stroll past The Globe, The Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye.
Grab lunch at Pitt Cue’s Trailer and haul your bike over the bridge to Liberty in Soho, for the best collection of British design in one place. A nice cup of tea at Kaffeine will prepare you for cycling up to Hampstead Heath for a ramble with the best view of the whole city. I’d pick up a beer and a burger at Dach and Sons, then head to the Everyman Cinema there to watch films how they should be watched; on a sofa, with waiters bringing you mojitos!
Where do you go for a good coffee in London?
I’m a coffee fanatic so this changes all the time; my current favourites include Ozone Coffee Roasters right by Silicon Roundabout and arty cafe The Russet. But for the best coffee and breakfast, try the avocado on sourdough (so hard to get in the UK!) at Wilton Way Cafe, where they run London Fields radio in the corner, or the bircher muesli in a jam jar with passionfruit at my beloved local, Mouse and de Lotz.
Your number one London shopping secret?
Never judge a book by its cover; the shop next to Wilton Way cafe looks a little challenging from the outside, but sells an amazing collection of vintage glasses (for not junky prices).
Click here for a Wee Birdy map of Sarah’s Secret London, complete with all the addresses and contact details.
Click here for more Secret London posts.
I get asked a lot of questions about the best places to go in London. And one question that keeps cropping up time and again is where to take kids. I visited London and travelled around the UK several times throughout my childhood – when I was two years old and when I was 10. In these snaps from our family album you can see that (a) I look rather pleased with myself in my natty pinstripe shirt with bow tie in front of the Tower of London; and (b) the duckpond in St James’s Park proved to be a popular destination for toddlers and tweens alike.
There are the obvious tourist attractions such as The Tower of London (can’t miss the Crown Jewels and Henry VIII’s plus-sized armour), The London Eye and Madame Tussaud’s (it’s ridiculously expensive and tacky but I remember loving it when I was 10-years-old), but there are loads of other things on offer in London that offer a real point of difference for kids than any other destination. I’m not sure if I was a particularly nerdy child (this is a real possibility) but I adored visiting museums, and was particularly fascinated by archaeological discoveries. And London has no shortage of world-class museums and galleries. Best of all? They’re free.
So with the London 2012 Olympics in full swing, I thought it would be a good time to take you on a little tour of London for kids, Wee Birdy style.
1. Need to let the kids run wild after a morning at the museum? Head to the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens for one of London’s best playgrounds. There is an enormous wooden pirate ship to explore, as well as tee-pees, sandpits and sculptures. Don’t miss the darling Peter Pan statue further along the garden path. Check the website for opening hours, which vary throughout the year. Image via Playground Adventure UK.
2. For a museum that the whole family will enjoy, check out the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. You’ll rediscover your old childhood favourites and there is always a schedule of events and activities for kids. Admission is free.
3. Got a late-tween/teen girl who loves to paint her nails? If you’re OK with manicures (go on, Mum, you’re on holiday!) make a beeline for London’s legendary Wah Nails for the coolest nail art in London – and let her choose the design of her dreams. Wah Nails has a concession located in Topshop’s flagship store at Oxford Circus, so she can go shopping for mad accessories after her nails are done. Bookings are recommended.
4. Afternoon tea is a British institution, but sometimes kids get bored in the more traditional London hotels. For a family-friendly afternoon tea, head to the Mercer Street Hotel in Covent Garden where kids can enjoy the Stupendous Afternoon Tea. Inspired by the Roald Dahl children’s classic Matilda (the musical version is currently playing in the Cambridge Theatre opposite the hotel) the tea includes Ludicrously Lovely lemon-loaf cake and Tremendously Terrific trifle. Prices are £13.75 per child and £29.50 per adult, and every child takes home a complimentary copy of Matilda. Bookings are essential.
5. Older girls will love a more sophisticated afternoon tea with a playful twist, like Prêt-à-Portea at the Berkeley, which includes exquisite cakes and biscuits inspired by the latest fashion collections. Meanwhile, the Sanderson has launched a Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea (pictured, above) that takes guests on a fantastical food adventure, including blueberry lollipops that turn your tongue from hot to cold and hazelnut praline ice cream lollipops that explode after a single bite. Fabulous. Bookings are essential for both afternoon teas.
6. Keep it simple and head to St James’s Park for a picnic and some squirrel-sighting. The grey squirrels may be one of the UK’s biggest pests, but you could almost forgive them for keeping young ones fascinated while they scamper around and chase each other. There is also the popular duck pond and you can play ‘spot the species’ thanks to the handy bird identification charts. The cafe near the duck pond, Inn the Park, is also very family-friendly and you can either eat in or get takeaway. The park makes a good pit-stop to break up some serious sight-seeing, as it’s right in the middle of the Buckingham Palace//Westminster/Trafalgar Square triangle.
7. Go treasure-hunting on the shores of the Thames! This is one that’s strictly for older kids and tweens, as it involves negotiating broken glass and jagged rocks. Just make sure you go at low tide and take the right precautions (wellies, antiseptic wash and rubber gloves are essential as Weil’s Disease is a real threat). Read more about mudlarking on the Thames – including how to declare treasure (!) – here. One of my favourite spots is the little beach right in front of the Tate Modern on South Bank. Over 10,000 years of history gets washed up on the shores of the Thames, and you can easily find Tudor roof tiles, Elizabethan clay pipes and Roman oyster shells. It’s best to go with a tour group, so you know what you’re looking for. London Walks does a good Thames beachcombing tour. Image via My 5 Boys.
8. Bounce on Stonehenge. In the middle of London. Really. The brainchild of artist Jeremy Deller, this life-size inflatable replica of Stonehenge, named ‘Sacrilege’, is touring around London during July and August 2012. Under 12s must be accompanied by an adult. For all locations and dates, check Time Out London.
9. It’s hot, tempers are frayed and you’re knackered – nothing a good ice-cream can’t fix. For a real retro treat, take the kids to The Parlour Restaurant at Fortnum & Mason for a Knickerbocker Glory (pictured above), which they’ve been serving to Londoners since 1955. The £12 ice treat boasts vanilla bean ice-cream, strawberries and 12-year old balsamic vinegar, as well as frosted strawberry and shortbread ice-cream with raspberries, pineapple chunks and raspberry coulis.
10. Get your Hogwarts on and head to Warner Bros. Studio for the Making of Harry Potter tour. Located around 20 miles north-west of London, it’s easily accessible via public transport. See all the original sets and learn how some of the Harry Potter (film) magic was created. Want more Harry Potter? Check out this free self-guided tour to the film locations around London. Kids will love discovering the real-life Potter landmarks, and you could also squeeze in a bit of real-life London history. Win-win.
11. If your daughter is interested in fashion and accessories, include these must-visit London shops in your itinerary: Lazy Oaf (pictured above, for pop-tastic graphic tees and playful accessories); Tatty Devine (for the most original and fun perspex jewellery – think giant watermelon necklaces, bow rings and cat bangles); Urban Outfitters (for cool clothes and awesome gifts); and Topshop‘s flagship store at Oxford Circus (it’s the biggest fashion store in Europe and has an entire floor dedicated to accessories). Image via Time Out London.
12. Take the kids to The British Museum and make a beeline for Rooms 62, 63 and 64. These rooms, located on the third floor, are home to the museum’s extensive mummy collection, and the exhibits are guaranteed to interest the most jaded of tiny tourists. Don’t miss the mummified animals – especially the cats. Kids are fascinated by them. (I also liked the peat bog man.)
Want more tips for kids? I heartily recommend An Uncle’s Guide to London by Herb Lester (pictured above) and checking out Time Out London‘s weekly listings for kids, as well as their book London for Children.
Have you seen Wee Birdy’s Facebook page? I’ll be posting more amusing photos featuring questionable ’80s fashion from the Wee Birdy family album this week. Come over and say hello.
N.B. All details are correct at time of publication. Some exhibitions and events included in this post are temporary or for a limited time only. Please double-check all details, (especially opening and closing times) with each exhibition or event at the time of your visit, as I’d hate to hear about disappointed little ones.
What are your best tips for kids in London?
I finally paid Broadway Market a long overdue visit recently to re-discover some old favourites (Violet has some of the best cupcakery in London), as well as stumble across some exciting new finds. Since we moved to South-East London it's a bigger effort to 'make the trip' to what was once my little local market. It's more of an event than just nipping out to stock up on veg (and uh, cake) for the week. Can't wait til they open up the new rail line next year…
But first, I need to indulge my Violet obsession with a pic of their incredible chocolate devil's food cupcake with marshmallow icing (no wonder this stall was one of the first things I blogged about when I first started Wee Birdy)…
And I loved the look of these apples sitting in the sun…
But it was Karin Andreasson's jewellery that caught my eye this time: a mapgie's nest of vintage-style hairpieces, pendants and jewels. She's a local East Londoner and I love how she's used old ballerina jewellery boxes and mannequin busts to display her wares. It all adds up to a rather charming little stall…
I really love the '20s-style single-feather hair pins embellished with antique lace and vintage diamantes, which are perfect for tucking into a bun or chignon for a special occasion. And if you like quirky pendants, keep an eye out for Karin's re-purposed watch-faces, miniature hand-mirrors, keys and crocheted-edged charms.
(You can also pick up some of Karin's gorgeous pieces online from Wee Birdy sponsor Cerise.)
Broadway Market, every Saturday
Hackney, London, E8
Nearest rail: London Fields
Click here for a Wee Birdy map.
Click here for more Wee Birdy reviews of stalls and shops on Broadway Market.
Peggy Porschen is standing in her gleaming Battersea studio and demonstrating how to make perfect squiggles using a piping bag she’s fashioned out of a piece of paper. But I’ve only got eyes for the bowl of edible glitter in front of me, appropriately named, “White Disco Hologram”. Which might explain why my subsequent squiggles are considerably less than perfect.
As London’s Queen of sugarcraft, Peggy’s cakes are sold in Fortnum and Mason and her clients include Elton John, Gwyneth Paltrow and Stella McCartney. In fact, she made Stella’s wedding cake in 2003.
She has just launched a series of masterclasses where students can learn the secrets to decorating cookies and cakes, in Peggy’s irresistibly pretty signature style.
After some initial apprehension about my distinct lack of decorating/kitchen skills, I was relieved to learn that I wasn’t the only beginner in the class. There were, however, a couple of skilled decorators taking part, with one girl travelling all the way from Germany to learn Peggy’s tricks of the trade.
Taking our places around a huge granite tabletop in Peggy’s airy commercial kitchen, we set to work straight away, learning how roll out marzipan and cut out a pile of holly-shaped leaves. These were the main decoration for our traditional Christmas fruitcake.
It didn’t take long to get to the fun stuff – playing with gorgeous
shimmers and edible glitter, and learning how to make veins in our
leaves using a moulded stamp.
There’s no need to worry about cleaning up as Peggy’s staff are on hand to whisk away bits and pieces you’ve finished with. And when it comes to learning the art of piping, we’re presented with our own set of freshly baked gingerbread snowflake cookies, ready to decorate.
Peggy shows us how to hold the piping bag and and demonstrates the correct piping technique. This is where it’s easy
to just sit back and watch Peggy’s mesmerising and deceptively simple
control of the piping bag. She makes it look way too effortless, but
after several botched attempts (which are hurriedly disappeared down my
throat) I start to weave my own little sugarcrafted magic.
After breaking for afternoon tea – delicious finger sandwiches and cake – we’re back in the kitchen and standing behind our own individual (and marvellously alcoholic) six-inch Christmas fruitcakes. We learn how to brush the cake with apricot jam, before rolling out a sheet of marzipan and carefully draping it over the cake.
Next, after brushing the marzipan with a layer of vodka, we’re rolling out a perfectly smooth layer of sugar paste to drape over the cake. This is where cake smoothers become your new best friends in your quest for sugar paste perfection.
With the tricky bits out of the way, we get to the fun part of decorating our (mostly) smooth iced creations with the holly leaves we’d made earlier, creating a simply wreath around the top of the cake. So pretty!
"I can't believe I made them!" … the finished snowflake cookies
Want to learn Peggy's cake decorating secrets? Ask about the next masterclass at www.peggyporschen.com.
Peggy's beautifully designed Christmas bauble cookies are also available to order for Christmas, with prices starting at £8. To guarantee delivery in time for Christmas all orders must be received by Sunday, December 7. See the full range at www.peggyporschen.com or call 020 7738 1339.
With a reputation for displaying cakes “like jewels” (The Goddess Guide by Gisele Scanlon), it didn’t take long for me to sniff out The Parlour at Sketch when I first arrived in London.
Located across the road from Vivienne Westwood on Conduit Street, it offers an avant-garde setting for taking tea. Think traditional private men’s club complete with dark-wood panelling meets edgy gallery with odd-matching furniture and a chandelier fashioned out of Angelpoise lamps. It’s the sort of place where a live bird in a Victorian wire cage is replaced by a mini LCD screen playing looping clips of the real thing. And the toilets? Let’s just say that Kubrick wouldn’t be disappointed.
I was delighted to discover that said cakes were, in fact, exquisitely displayed in a carefully lighted glass showcase, and considering the location and setting, a reasonably-priced menu. Here, a delicious cream tea (fruit scones served with jam and clotted cream with a choice of tea) is £7.75 per person, compared to £10.75 at Liberty. Afternoon tea is also competitively-priced at £18.50 for the traditional line-up of assorted finger sandwiches, fruit scones served with jam and clotted cream, a selection of pastries and choice of teas.
The tea menu offers an excellent range catering for all tastes, with traditional blends and herbal infusions starting at £3. My pick is the deliciously-fragrant Jasmine Silver Fur for £4. There’s also a rather handy free Wi-Fi service, which I noticed quite a few people taking advantage of on both occasions I visited.
Just keep in mind that despite the fabulous cakes and edgy gallery setting, the service is notoriously snail-paced. But what does that matter if you’ve got all the time in the world (or a few emails to write). And did I mention the toilets?
9 Conduit Street
London W1S 2XG
Tel. 020 765 94500
Nearest tube: Oxford Circus
Click here for a Wee Birdy map.
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“I believe that it is customary in good society to take some light refreshment at five o’clock.”
- Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
Tea at Liberty is of one the little places I like to keep up my sleeve whenever I want to treat myself and escape the maddening crowds of Oxford and Regent Streets. Situated on the ground floor of Liberty, right next to the all-too tempting handbag department, the tea shop is an elegant indulgence in all manner of tea and cake goodies. Tea is taken very seriously here at Liberty, with a menu packed with over 30 different blends and a range of fruit tisanes.
There’s a fine selection of light meals (the Welsh rarebit is a tasty savoury affair) and sweet things (classic Victoria sponge cake, fruit loaf cake and meringue served with clotted cream and rose petal jam).
My favourite tea-time treat is a pot of freshly brewed English Breakfast (£2.95)
with hot buttered crumpets and strawberry jam. Here, the crumpets come square,
light and fluffy, the most perfect accompaniment to a lovely pot of tea. Liberty use traditional Burleigh earthenware in the classic
Willow design to serve tea and cake. (And if you really like it, the entire Willow range is available to purchase upstairs in the kitchen and dining department.)
There’s also a cream tea for £10.75, which includes scones with jam and clotted cream, served with tea or coffee. And if you really wanted to splash out, there’s the Liberty Champagne Afternoon tea, including champagne, finger sandwiches, cakes, scones and tea or coffee for £25.75.
It’s difficult to avoid being seduced by
the lyrical descriptions of the hand-tied flowering tea range, which
will set you back by a rather hefty £6.95. But seduced, I was, by Flower Jewel,
which was described as “tender hand-picked white tea crowned by a delicate and
bright pink amaranth flower. The dancing petals blissfully open as sweet
jasmine scents this captivating elixir. Tantalizing the palate with its vibrant
freshness and clarity, surrender into this everlasting ambrosia.” See what I
mean? It actually WAS the most delicious and beautifully fragrant blend I’ve
ever tenderly sipped, but I was a little disappointed that the hot water was
added before it reached my table. I really wanted to see the petals ‘magically’
open! You kinda want some sort of entertainment value for your £6.95, eh?
Tea at Liberty
Great Marlborough Street
London W1B 5AH
Tel. 0207 734 1234
Nearest tube: Oxford Circus
Click here for a Wee Birdy map.
here for more shops in W1.