Here's the latest in French artist Nathalie Lete's painterly goodness: a children's puppet theatre from Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop. I'm just re-discovering this marvellous Covent Garden-based independent toy boutique, which also has a brilliant new online shop and blog.
It's so easy to forget about some Londons' speciality shops, particularly if they're located in the touristy part of town. Pollock's is a real little gem, with all sorts of traditional toys for kids and puppet theatres for less than a tenner. Nice antidote to all the mass-produced, high street tat around.
I'm also a little bit in love with this miniature puppet theatre (below), which at £6.50 is a very good buy AND (wonders of all wonders) it fits in the palm of your hand! Super-sweet.
Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop
44 The Market
London WC2E 8RF
Tel. 020 73797866
Nearest tube: Covent Garden
Click here for a Wee Birdy map.
Monday to Saturday 10.30-6pm
Over the past couple of years I’ve posted quite a lot about my favourite bits and pieces from various London museums and galleries, but I’ve never delved into any great detail about the actual shops themselves. So naturally, that’s about to change…
It’s a given that any gallery-goer’s journey will end in the designated shop space – in fact their presence (and the promise of a toy dinosaur) has been used as the proverbial dangling carrot to get many a child through the tedium of an exhibition itself. But some of the world’s greatest and most-loved museums and galleries (New York’s MoMA, London’s Tate Modern, Design Museum and the V&A) have evolved in such a way that their shops are a retail (and tourist) destination in their own right.
I must confess that I’ve been guilty, on more than one occasion, of making a specific gift-buying dash to the V&A shop, without so much as a peep in at any of the permanent collection galleries (I know, shameful behaviour!). But that’s because the V&A, in particular, offers up an expertly-edited line-up of gifts, accessories, books and children’s toys – all perfect candidates for being packaged up and sent away to friends and family far away.
There's also a dedicated bookshop, with subjects spanning the worlds of design, art, fashion, textiles, jewellery, photography and architecture. And they always have an extensive range of the most gorgeous cards:
The website is also an excellent source for all manner of design-led products and accessories, and autumn/winter’s new collection has just arrived online. I’m loving the cherry brooch by Francoise Montague, squirrel ring box by Jonathan Adler, and chirpy cicada brooch.
There's also a really lovely selection of luxe hairbands and headpieces, like this little pleated beauty …
The shop is also particularly good when it comes to accessing a clever range of kids’ toys, games and activities, starting at pocket-money prices. I’m particularly fond of the vintage-style wind-up tin toys, like this circus elephant, and these Clifford Richards cat and fairy notebooks.
The V&A also have a brilliant prints service, where you can order any print from their vast collection in the size, format and paper of your choice.
Also keep an eye out for pieces from the Cherry on a Cake collection, a brilliant line of limited edition designer collaborations, making them perfect (read: non-crap) souvenirs for tourists and London newcomers alike. Inspired by the museum’s extensive collections, you can take your pick from a stunning Grayson Perry doll (at a super-cool £4000, wow) or a Concise Book of Patterns necklace by Comfort Station. Art and history has never been so wearable.
The V&A Shop
Victoria and Albert Museum
London SW7 2RL
Tel. 020 7942 2687
Nearest tube: South Kensington
Click here for a Wee Birdy map.
Monday to Sunday 10am-5.30pm
Late night every Friday until 9.45pm
In part two of My Secret London with Neal from Present & Correct, we find out exactly where he shops for stationery, children's toys, skincare … and stacks more. Dig in, birdies.
Best for stationery?
Present & Correct of course! I always check out Magma, Muji and Shelf too to see what they are stocking on their shelves. Most of all I think that there are some brilliant old-school stationers dotted around. Belsize Stationers in Hampstead is a good example. Lots of binders, school notebooks and an eraser for any mistake. Holloway Arts, on Holloway Road is another good one. They have an old Letraset sign that I have been coveting for around 8 years.
Some of the design and stationery goodies from Neal's online shop, Present & Correct.
Best for kids?
Caramel has a great selection of things. The museum shops too, especially The Natural History Museum. And Couverture. Anywhere that sells traditional wooden toys makes me happy.
Above: wooden toys at Couverture.
Best for skincare?
I always buy Aesop products for myself and as gifts, I love the old-style apothecary packaging. The store itself is original and fun. You can’t beat Boots though. A good long walk in any London park will work wonders, too.
Neal out for a stroll on Hampstead Heath.
Best London shopping secret?
My friend Emma introduced me to Sunbury antiques market in Kempton. Get there early and be prepared to dig through lots of nonsense to find a great gem.
Above: Treasure to be found at Sunbury Antiques Market.
Best London souvenir?
A bag of Brick Lane bagels and something to put on them from Fortnum & Mason.
Best place to eat?
There are a few, because I love to eat lots and try new places. For breakfast The Modern Pantry on Clerkenwell Road is brill, as well as Bob Bob Ricard in Soho which is an OTT diner/brasserie where the staff have gold and pink uniforms and the menu features Farley’s Rusk milkshake!
Above: the fabulous interior of Bob Bob Ricard.
Ottolenghi is always good for lunch, as is Leilah's at Arnold Circus near Brick Lane. Market on Parkway in Camden is great and not dissimilar to the brilliant Quality Chop House in Farringdon – hearty British dinners.
Café Paolina on Kings Cross Road is a wonderful, cheap Thai café. Wood panelling, fake flowers, melamine chairs. An old greasy spoon now run by a super-friendly Thai family. Monmouth is always great for coffee, at Borough Market or in Covent Garden. I plan to go to Petersham Nurseries this year as I have been wanting to go for ages.
I like eating on the sofa at mine, too. It’s BYO at P&C headquarters.
For all addresses and a Wee Birdy map of Neal's secret London, click here.
Read more about Present & Correct here.
For more secret Londons, click here.
For those who may have missed my story in Time Out, here are some more pics from my latest fave shop in London, Lapin & Me. The newest arrival to the independent shopping haven that is Columbia Road (well, it's actually just around the corner on Ezra Street, but near enough), Lapin & Me stocks a fanciful and French-y range of limited-edition dolls, design-led products, stationery, homewares and children's clothes.
Wee Birdy is also super-chuffed to have served a tiny role in the creation of the real bricks-n-mortar shop. Apparently owner Madeleine James was inspired by the Columbia Road Christmas Wednesdays post last year, and started looking around the area for the perfect premises.
On my shopping wishlist is the hand-stitched "one-eyed" doll (see top pic, £36), Nathalie Lete's illustrated "Parisian shopper", and a Fatina doll brooch (£21). There are also glass jars on the main counter brimming with the most delightful pocket-money goodies, like Alain Gree labels (£3.50), vintage stork & baby sets (£2) and Tooth Mouse boxes (£3.50).
Don't fret if you're out of London – you can dig into this whimsical treasure trove online at www.lapinandme.co.uk.
Lapin & Me
14 Ezra St
London E2 7RG
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street
Click here for a Wee Birdy map.
Click here for more shops in East London.
Check out this week's Time Out London for my review of Columbia Road's newest shop opening, Lapin & Me.
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Wooden counties jigsaw, featuring almost all the counties in England, Wales and Scotland, £37.50, from Pedlars.