Every Christmas brings a proliferation of London-themed Christmas decorations, so you’d think it would be difficult to find something new – and a bit special. But this handsome collection of hand-stitched fabric ornaments by Fortnum & Mason is really rather splendid.
Some might shudder at the notion of a department store-themed ornament, but I like to think that the historic Fortnums is a wee bit different and deserving of special treatment.
Like many other Londoners, a trip to F&M in December was one of my most memorable Christmas traditions. There were the Christmas windows to be gawked at, Christmas crackers to be admired, and presents to be bought and posted to Australia (the tea and biscuits inevitably picked over by Customs). There were also essential Christmas supplies to stock up on: the creamy ceramic pot of Stilton, the most perfect clementines (individually wrapped in squares of tissue paper) and traditional mince pies.
By the way, if you’re interested, here are Fortnum & Mason’s Christmas windows this year. It’s a theatrical theme (very West End London) and was apparently inspired by the Pet Shop Boys’ video for ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This’.
What do you think? Who do you think has done the best Christmas windows this year in London?
I did this magazine interview a while ago and it never eventuated, so I thought it shouldn’t go to waste. Enjoy reading about some of my all-time London favourites!
What are your favourite local stores, boutiques or markets for great fashion finds and bargains?
I adore Liberty. It’s quintessentially London and the most stunning shopping experience. I’ve been known to while away entire afternoons on just one floor, and it has the best Christmas shop in town. It’s the first place I drag visitors from overseas, and the buying team have done a damn fine job with the most incredible mix of fashion accessories, stationery, cosmetics, homewares, and crafty things. It’s my one-stop London present-buying shop.
If you’re after cutting-edge, avant-garde designers, head straight to Dover Street Market in Mayfair (which is more department store than market). You can also lose yourself in there for many an hour (and don’t forget to revive yourself at the Rose Bakery on the top floor).
You really can’t go past Britain’s high street fashion chains, and COS, the older, more sophisticated sister of H&M, is my absolute favourite. Think Marni-style cuts and gorgeous fabrics at moderate high-street prices. They do men’s clothes too, as well as a small children’s collection. (Forget about Zara, I want a COS shop in Sydney!)
If you’re up for a day trip outside of London, you’ll be rewarded with serious designer bargains at Bicester Village, which includes outlets by the likes of Alexander McQueen, Burberry and Marni.
Liberty Great Marlborough Street, W1B 5AH. Tel. 7734 1234. Dover Street Market 17-18 Dover Street, W1S 4LT. Tel. 7518 0680. COS 222 Regent Street, W1B 5BD. Tel. 7478 0400(go to the website for all locations). Bicester Village 50 Pingle Drive, Bicester, Oxfordshire. OX26 6WD. Tel.1869 323 200.
Best local hairdresser for a Saturday night blow-dry or a colour touch-up?
If I’m just after a blow-dry, I go to Headmasters in Mayfair. It’s centrally located and offers a seasonal ‘menu’ of on-trend blow-dries and pretty going-out ‘dos at very reasonable prices (from £24). They’ve never put a hair out of place.
But I also have to mention my London hairdresser, John Vial at Realhair in Chelsea, who does an amazing job with my pretty ordinary long-bob. The man is a cutting genius! Of course, I’m not the first to think this, as he also looks after many a Conde Nast editor, as well as the likes of Gwyneth, Elle and Vidal Sassoon’s wife’s hair (he worked alongside Vidal for years). He comes at a price (£200) but he’s worth every penny.
Headmasters Mayfair 11-12 Hanover Street, W1S 1YQ. Tel. 7408 1000 (go to the website for all locations). Realhair 6-8 Cale Street, SW3 3QU. Tel. 7589 0877.
The best place to get a facial?
Vaishaly Patel at the Vaishaly Clinic is considered the best facialist in London. Vaishaly Clinic 51 Paddington Street, London W1U 4HR. Tel. 7224 6088.
Where to go for the best spray tan?
I never do spray tans! But I AM a threading convert (I know it’s got nothing to do with tans, but it’s my must-have beauty-maintenance procedure.) I’d never had it done before I moved to London, and now I get my brows threaded and tinted every six weeks. I like Malika salons (great prices, too), but whatever you do, don’t let them put you in the chair next to the window at the Westfield Shepherd’s Bush salon. I once sat there and attracted a small audience, including a little boy who was mesmerised by my grimacing performance while I was getting my upper lip done. His eyes just about popped out of his wee head. Malika at Trevor Sorbie, 27 Floral Street, WC2E 9D9. Tel. 0844 445 6901 (go to the website for all locations).
Best affordable mani/pedi?
I love Cowshed near Carnaby Street for immaculate manis and pedis (a mini shape and polish is £17). But a little secret find is the salon at the London College of Beauty Therapy, just down the road from Liberty. Students do all the treatments but they’re supervised by experienced staff. You can get a mani for £10 (unheard of in central London!), as well as a host of other beauty treatments. Inside the actual treatment area, it looks just like any other beauty salon. And they do a really great job. Just leave a bit of time because while the students are super-careful, they can sometimes be a teensy bit slow, and they have to get their supervisors to sign off on each job.
Cowshed 31 Fouberts Place, W1F 7QG. Tel. 7534 0870. London College of Beauty Salon 47 Great Marlborough Street, W1F 7JP. Tel. 7208 1302.
Day spa or massage parlour you’d suggest for relaxing body therapy?
The Agua bathhouse spa at The Sanderson is incredible, but the Elemis flagship Day Spa is an all-time London favourite.
Elemis Day Spa 2-3 Lancashire Court, W1S 1EX. Tel. 0870 410 4210 Agua Spa at The Sanderson 50 Berners Street, W1T 3NG. Tel. 7300 1414.
Your favourite café for a weekend brekkie/brunch?
I love a traditional full English breakfast at Tom’s Deli in Notting Hill. Especially when it’s snowing outside. Tom’s Deli 226 Westbourne Grove, W11 2CH. Tel. 7221 8818.
Your favourite restaurant?
Andrew Edmunds in Soho is perfect for a romantic dinner – expect flowers on the tables, candles and a modern European menu. It’s by no means the best restaurant in London, but I love its cosy atmosphere. And Lexington Street just might be one of my favourite little streets in London. I love Bocca di Lupo for dinner with friends, where you can share delicious tapas-style Italian dishes. Oh god, the scallops there are melt-in-the-mouth.
Your favourite pub?
I’ve had some rather tasty Sunday roasts at Charles Lamb in Islington, which is a small and cosy pub in Islington. It’s a tad off the beaten track but it’s popular with the locals, which is always a good sign. Charles Lamb 16 Elia Street, N1 8DE. Tel. 7837 5040.
Where to go for a scenic run/walk?
I love the walk along the canal tow path from Little Venice to Regent’s Park. The colours in autumn and the blossoms in spring are incredible. And it’s fun looking at all the narrowboats moored at the side of the canal, with their own carefully-tended mini gardens.
Otherwise, head to Hampstead Heath’s Parliament Hill or Greenwich for superb London views.
Is there a great yoga or Pilates class to check out?
I’ve been to Triyoga in Primrose Hill a few times. It has a beautiful spacious studio, as well as its own (healthy) café and some of the best yoga teachers in London. Triyoga 6 Erskine Road, NW3 3AJ. Tel. 7483 3344.
Where to go for alterations/dry cleaning
Designer Alterations is in South London, but they can do fittings at your hotel, work or home. Head to Celebrity Cleaners in Soho for pristine dry cleaning. Designer Alterations 220A Queenstown Road, SW8 4LP. Tel. 7498 4360. Celebrity Cleaners 30 Brewer Street, W1F 0SS. Tel. 7437 5324.
What’s the best hotel in terms of location (close to bars, restaurants), great facilities, good rates etc
The Hoxton in London’s East End is brilliantly located near all the best shops, markets, bars, pubs and restaurants in Shoreditch, as well as Old Street tube. Sign up to their newsletter and keep an eye out for their crazy (but rare) £1 room specials.
Alternatively, if you’re staying in London for an extended period, consider renting an apartment. Ivy Lettings has an excellent reputation with really lovely options in fantastic locations.
The Hoxton Hotel 81 Great Eastern Street, EC2A 3HU. Tel. 020 7550 1000.
Best time to visit London?
I love the UK in early April, when all the blossoms are out, the new spring/summer collections are in store, and Londoners are cheery after the long cold winter. And the field of wild buttercups in Greenwich is pretty special, too.
All photography by Wee Birdy, except photos by Headmasters.
Anyone who's spent a little time in my company knows that I fully appreciate the finer qualities of a well-made, full-bodied Bloody Mary. I won't linger on the makings of the perfect Bloody Mary, suffice to say that it usually comes down to good quality tomato juice (and vodka), as well as just the right balance of Worcester sauce, chilli sauce/Tabasco, salt and pepper. And a deft squeeze of lemon is crucial. Too much lemon can be a great Bloody Mary's undoing. Same goes for too much ice (watered-down spicy tomato juice is not very pleasing).
I've had quite a few excellent Bloody Marys in London (The Wolseley, The Narrow, and The Diner) but I love visiting Automat on a late Saturday morning, usually following a prolonged tour of Dover Street Market. May I suggest that the Bloody Mary goes down particularly well with the classic Automat burger, which comes complete with pickle and a side-serving of fries. Very pleasing, indeed.
London-based jeweller (and Wee Birdy favourite) Alex Monroe is renowned for his delicate, whimsical (and Valentine's-worthy) creations. So when I had the opportunity to ask him about his secret London destinations, I jumped at the chance. Here's what he had to say …
"Warning! Don’t forget that although I make particularly feminine jewellery, I am a bloke! Which means that I have a whole different relationship to shops and shopping to women. Bear this in mind and forgive my sins …"
Best for a bargain? "Guilty secret: I love cheapie shops like Uniqlo, Hennies and Gap. And they’re all over the place! I sometimes pop into town with my eldest daughter to buy piles of skinny jeans (for her not for me!). The kids grow out of things so fast, which isn’t a problem when they’re cheap. We always have a bit left over for Hot Chocolate at Leon, and a treat lunch in Sakura (on Hanover street). I’m afraid I’m not much of a bargain-hunter, except for my bi-annual purchase of John Smedley pull-overs from London Fashion Week-end. Oh, and the odd spree at The White Stuff."
Best for vintage? "I only ever buy vintage bikes and crockery. I don't know how many bikes I have – Holdsworths and Hetchins from the 1960s. Ahh. Bliss. Herne Hill bike jumble if you’re a ‘Classic Lightweight’. Never drink out of a mug. I get my cups, saucers, tea-pots, etc from car boot sales. Now friends buy me bits and bobs whenever they see something. There’s a handy car boot sale in Battersea on Sunday morning, or check out Bermondsey Market on a Friday morning."
Margaret Howell's spring/summer 09 collection.
Best for fashion? "Margaret Howell, mmm! Or Old Town Clothing, they rent a showroom in Dickensian East London once in a while. You have to get in touch and make an appointment. And John Smedley. For browsing, stroll from Angel tube station through Camden passage and along Upper Street. Don’t forget to stop for a coffee and treat in Ottolenghi!"
Old Town Clothing.
Best for jewellery? "Ha! Me, of course! But seriously … Liberty are re-doing their jewellery department for Valentines Day, it should look great. Harrods have a fab department. Sweet Pea in Primrose Hill is lovely, as well as Kirt Holmes in Camden passage. It's harder work, but it's really exciting to see the St. Martin’s degree show exhibition in June, or New Designers in Islington in July."
Alex Monroe jewellery.
Best for interiors and gifts? "For gifts, head to Burlington Arcade. Lovely macaroons from Laduree, tea from Luponde, or smellies from Penhaligons. Anything extra, pop over the road to Fortnum and Mason (and get afternoon tea while you’re there!). Petersham Nurseries are fab. They have a lovely nursery, cafe and wonderful shop in the old greenhouses. Lovely gardening pots, strings, and gadgets all on a dry mud floor intertwined with jasmine and honeysuckle. It’s heaven. Great furniture, too."
Best for stationery? "Smythson of Bond Street. (Save up for it though, it’s not cheap!)"
Best for kids? "My kids are out-doorsie so we love Nunhead Cemetery and Dulwich Woods."
Best for beauty/skincare? "I’m a bloke! But my wife is an aromatherapist at Neal’s Yard in Marylebone. She does natural facial rejuvenation which is fantastic."
Number one London shopping secret? "The Neal’s Yard Dairy cheese shop in Borough Market. I love it!"
Best London souvenir? "Cheese of course!"
Best for food? "Depends if you’re feeling poshy, or noshy. For Posh I love a long lunch at Roussillon in Pimlico. The wine is perfect and the food – well, try it for yourselves. It’s a taste-bud treat from heaven.
For Nosh there’s only one place, The Anchor and Hope in Waterloo. I’m a real fan of great British food, and that’s what they serve. Crab on toast, mackerel with pickled cucumber, potted shrimp and beetroot salad. All washed down with a lovely Kentish beer. It doesn’t get much better than that. The freshest of local ingredients at a great price. I go there every week to catch up with my big brother. We have a chat, a drink and some grub. It’s lovely."
I know … a bottle of perfume isn’t the most wildly original or personal Valentine’s Day gift. That’s why the department store counter is probably best avoided at this time of the year. However, the extremely clever people at Ormonde Jayne, arguably London’s best-kept secret perfumery, have got Feb 14 all wrapped up with their genius engraving service.
What I wouldn’t do for a hand-blown glass flacon of their signature parfum with my initials engraved onto the exquisite gold and glass stopper … heaven! And I’d happily settle for Ormonde Woman, which was described as “truly great” and awarded five stars by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez in their recently-published fragrance handbook, Perfumes: The Guide.
But it doesn’t come cheap. A bottle of parfum with personalised engraving will set you back £130. Allow five working days for engraving and delivery in the UK and two weeks for international post.
What’s that you hear? Oh don’t mind me – that’s just the pounding of my wee heart as I race to post these pics of Brown’s brand-spanking new shoe store, which opens its doors on Brook Street tomorrow.
As London’s very first dedicated shoe boutique to carry a variety of up-market international designers as well as emerging talent, Browns has created what sounds like the ultimate shoe experience with repair services, bespoke shoes and upcoming “special events”. The downstairs mens’ floor comes complete with its own wireless laptop service and a line-up of designers including Commes des Garcons, Lanvin, Raf Simons and Rick Owens.
And in a move that will compete with Liberty’s new-ish designer shoe floor, Browns will be carrying its own line-up of exclusive designs by the likes of Balenciaga, Balmain, Rupert Sanderson and Martin Margiela.
It all sounds defiantly anti-recession to me, which is reinforced by Browns’ comment that shoes are its “fastest growing category, having doubled year on year since their introduction two years ago.”
That may be so, but I’ll be desperately trying to hang on to my pennies come opening day tomorrow.
Browns Shoes 59 Brook Street London W1K 4HS Tel. 020 7514 0000