Marylebone High Street
It is a beautiful walk amongst Georgian architecture, contemporary design, and cobblestone pathways in Central London. Idling hours browsing through small, independent shops, or over a hot cup of French pressed coffee, coupled with a snack, is easy.
My favourite is La Fromagerie on Moxon Street (open 8am-7:30pm Monday-Friday; 9am-7pm Saturday; 10am-6pm Sunday; tel: +44 20 79350341 lafromagerie.co.uk). Coffee beans are sourced from the outskirts of Florence, and recently they’ve included coffee and herbal teas from France too. The shop has a great selection of cheese, nicely preserved in a cordoned off room that reeks of rich fermentation. If you ask, the staff will oblige with a tasting. La Fromagerie also has regional vegetables delivered from Italy and France that make for excellent food souvenirs — rose garlic from Toulouse, roscoff onions from Normandy and noirmoutier potatoes from La Guerande in western France.
Why should you visit? It’s a delight for anyone who romanticises food. The Conran Shop (open 10am-7pm Monday- Saturday, 11am-6pm Sunday; tel: +44 20 77232223; conranshop.co.uk) is another recommendation. This one pleases the eye and aesthetic sensibilities. Designers from the world over pride themselves on having their furniture, lighting, home accessories and curios showcased here. Parts of the shop are curated to display similarly themed items or those from the same designer, together. The rooftop, Conran Garden, open year round, displays outdoor furniture, lighting and accessories, including vintage outdoor finds and decorative items. The shop’s concept is contemporary with clean lines, making essentials such as ice buckets, vases and cutlery interesting with unusual, yet smart forms.
Why should you visit?The designs aren’t easily available elsewhere, and are interesting gifts. There is much more to see and do in Marylebone. It takes just one visit to find your favourite haunt, or two.
Columbia Road Flower Market
It began as a market from where florists sourced their stock each Saturday. As the population on Columbia Road expanded, the flower market grew in popularity too. The website, columbiaroad.info explains, “Plants were brought by handcart from nearby market gardens in Hackney and Islington and market pitches were claimed on the day on the blow of a whistle.” After the road saw a decline in 1970 due to negligence in upkeep, the locals had to fight against its demolition. It bounced back in 1980 and has since been at par with international standards. Today, most florists who own stalls here have been around since 1972 or later. As for the flower species, the range is vast. (Open 8am-2pm on Sunday.)
Why should you visit? It’s cheery and fragrant; it’s a pretty street to walk down. There is something quaint about Columbia Road and its by-lanes; perhaps it is because of the independent shops (apart from florists) that vend antique and vintage outdoor decor, eclectic home furniture and furnishings, tableware, and colourful pottery amongst others. There are a few art galleries too in the neighbourhood with reasonably priced canvases from emerging artists. Being a weekend market, a lot of families visit, lending it a happy vibe.
Stop at Jones’ Dairy for organic, local produce, and Fairtrade products. It has been around since a century when it was once just a shop that sold milk, butter and cheese, and kept eight cows behind what is a family-run cafe today. Visit at lunchtime for a light meal of homemade bread and soup, cheese, fresh fish, and oysters to name a few. (Shop: open 8am-1pm Friday-Saturday, 9am-2pm Sunday; Cafe: open 9am-2pm Friday-Saturday, 8am-3pm Sunday; tel: +44 20 77395372; jonesdairy.co.uk). Why should you visit? The homemade bread variety is absolutely delicious.
This flat piece of land is inured to bloodshed. In the early 13th century criminals were executed here. When Mary Tudor reigned, 200 people were burnt to please the gods. It has also been a crime scene on several occasions. As the area left behind its bloody past, it became a livestock market where the most good looking animals were traded. In the 1860s, Sir Horace Jones, architect of Tower Bridge gave it a makeover. Today the 10-acre site is known for serious trade of meat products.
Businesses start setting shop at 2am, readying themselves by sunrise when buyers and visitors are advised to arrive. You can visit earlier, but there really isn’t much laid out to see. By 7am, the entire market is bustling, loaded with fresh stock. Boxed,
canned, cured, frozen, processed, red and white meat, fish, carcass, offal, and sausages, the range is vast. Prices aren’t displayed at the “stalls”, but you’re guaranteed a better price than what the city offers because it is a wholesale market. As for haggling, it depends on how the seller feels about it.
Restaurants, supermarkets, shops, and even tourists are regulars at Smithfield Market. London’s official tour guide company, City Guides (cityoflondonguides.com) takes bookings for a 90-minute early morning walk around the area once or twice a month. You can visit on your own too (closed Saturday-Sunday and on bank holidays, open on weekdays until stock lasts; tel: +44 20 72483151; smithfieldmarket.com). The website insists that you “have a good walk round the market before buying anything”. Cash payment is more common than cards here.
Why should you visit? High quality products at reasonable prices. On exiting Smithfield Market, walk no more than 130 metres towards the left. You will arrive at Comptoir Gascon, (open 11:45am-2:30pm and 5:30pm-10pm Tuesday-Saturday; tel: +44 20 76080851; comptoirgascon.com) a delicatessen that has been a Bib Gourmand since 2008. The wooden shelves on bare, brick walls and the large counter are crowded with duck confit, cassoulet, cured meats, terrines, oils and vinegars, conserves, a variety of fresh cheeses, bread, croissants and chocolates. Skip the restaurant if you’re a vegetarian. Meat-lovers however, must visit on an empty stomach. It has a wide selection of duck and pork preparations, in addition to meat cuts served on a wooden trey for one or on a platter for sharing. The “specials” change every day, and are usually lighter meal options such as fish, salad or a small dish. Its burgers are popular too, but for a first-timer, order Piggy Treats (£7.50/₹619) for a sampling of Bayonne ham, saucisse confit, boudin noir, saucisson and pâté.
Why should you visit? Excellent food is one reason, presentation is the second.
If the winter festivities warm your heart, you may want to explore these experiences too.
It is loud, crowded, bright, and smells like Christmas. More than 1,00,000 fairy-lights twinkle from strings, abstract webs, and other shapes. Each year a part of Hyde Park is occupied by kiosks selling mulled wine, ginger- and cinnamon-flavoured goodies, roasted chestnuts, hot chocolate, decorations, stoles, and everything “christmassy”. In addition to traditional British fare, there is enough sugar to keep your spirits high.
A 60-metre observation wheel, rollercoasters and fairground rides add to the thrill. The carousel, on my last visit, seemed to be the most popular amongst all age groups. An ice-skating rink, irrespective of whether you know the skill at all, amplifies the winter fun; skates are available to rent. Themed bars and legal bonfires at some places add an element of cosiness. Why should you visit? If you want a dose of holiday cheer, this is where you should be.
This year Winter Wonderland celebrates its tenth anniversary. To mark the occasion, it has included three new attractions: a 60-minute musical performed on ice — The Nutcracker on Ice (£18.95/₹1,569); a walk- through the Arctic region that tells you to “look out for icebergs, a shipwreck trapped in an arctic ice floe and explore a lost island in search of the Palace of the Polar Bears” (£10/₹828); and a puppet show for kids (£8.50/₹703). Entry is free; open 10am-10pm until January 2; hydeparkwinterwonderland.com
The Gingerbread Cabin
Instead of visiting a regular pub after work this season, try The Gingerbread Cabin pop-up by York & Albany, a hotel in Central London. The wooden cabin is decorated like a living room with gingerbread- shaped cushions, colourful walls and furnishings, candles, and has blankets on hand for guests to wrap themselves in. It says on the website that the “home” is “cookie-coated”.
Mixologists on the job have taken Christmas very seriously here, to name a few, they have fashioned cocktails such as Gingerbread Espresso — Gingerbread-infused Grey Goose l’Orange, Kalhua, Amaretto, espresso; I am hot and ginger, so what? — Cider, Bacardi Gold, spices, lemon, gingerbread; and Ace! “The Gingerbread Man Drink” — Woodford Reserve, Martini Rosso, Chambord, gingerbread- infused maple syrup.
The cabin is available for group sizes up to 12 people; cost for each person starts at £30 (₹2,486) and includes two cocktails and a snack platter; tel: +44 20 73875700; gordonramsayrestaurants.com/york- and-albany
Why should you visit? It’s different from a regular outing with colleagues.
Why should you visit? It’s different from a regular outing with colleagues.
Jubilee Market Hall
It is a building on Covent Garden Piazza that is open year round. It sells items such as jewellery, arts and craft, leather goods, clothes, home accessories, food items, and more. On Mondays, Jubilee Market hosts an antiques market too. This is also where you can enjoy a traditional English breakfast, French crepes, and jacket potatoes at any time of the day. (Open 5am-5pm Monday, 10:30am-7pm Tuesday-Friday, 10am-6pm Saturday-Sunday; tel: +44 20 73794242; Jubileemarket.co.uk)
Why should you visit? It’s a goods place to sample British fare.
In December, the buzz heightens. At 5:30pm until the kiosks pack up, Jubilee Market spills onto the piazza’s cobblestones with even more food stalls
than on a regular day. You can enjoy a feast from a huge spread that includes regional cheese and olives, marinated meats, food tossed with homemade sauces and served in a bread-bowl, barbecue, hot drinks, something for the sweet tooth, as well as jarred items to take home. Brace yourself for long queues at the more popular food stalls and restaurants around. Carry enough change.
Covent Garden Piazza looks stunning enough during this time of the year that you will want to take pictures as memories. This year the theme is cheekily romantic with mistletoe chandeliers hung at several places. The enormous Christmas tree will radiate on one side of the square, just like it does each year, as does the lit up reindeer on the opposite end. Adding to the buzz, shops in the square have attractive sales, and the piazza has performers entertain the crowds. They aren’t impromptu shows, but those that have been approved after auditions that take place once every three months. coventgarden.london
Why should you visit? It’s an eye-pleaser to begin with, and the merriment is contagious.
France’s popular tea room, Ladurée situated here, takes on the festive cheer too with delicate decorations and a special menu. Visit at sunset and request for a seat in the balcony – sip on wine, binge on macarons and finish with a strong espresso shot. This is also the best view for any winter-special performances at the piazza below. (Open 8am-11pm Monday-Thursday, until 11:30pm Friday-Saturday, until 10:30pm Sunday; tel: +44 20 72400706; laduree.com)
Why should you visit? For the rose petal macarons (£2.20/₹190) and Strawberry Millefeuille — caramelised puff pastry, fresh strawberries and vanilla cream (£6.70/₹570).