London Neighborhoods To Explore

The Lucy Choi Boutique on Marylebone is popular with shoe-lovers as it offers a selection of pumps and flats.
 
The Lucy Choi Boutique on Marylebone is popular with shoe-lovers as it offers a selection of pumps and flats.

For newbies or frequent visitors, three dynamic London neighborhoods keep changing for the better. We suggest checking out centrally located Marylebone for swish new restaurants and shops; the northwest area of Queen’s Park/Kensal Rise for chic boutiques, exciting eats and family fun; or head south of the Thames to Bermondsey, for edgy art, design and delicious destination dining.

Marylebone

The opening of the Chiltern Firehouse, the sizzling celeb-studded restaurant slash 26-room hotel, by André Balazs in 2013, has lifted disparate corners of the formerly sleepy Marylebone. Despite being just north of busy Oxford Street, this delightful neighborhood is surprisingly quiet with grand, white Victorian homes surrounding leafy garden squares; you’d never know you’re between the very commercial Tottenham Court Road and the energetic Middle Eastern-flavored Edgware Road. While the Marylebone High Road is a well-established destination for high-end boutiques and restaurants, the southwest edge of Marylebone is suddenly bursting with cool new shopping and buzzy restaurants.

For a start, we love the newly revamped Seymour Street, now being called “Portman Village,” a surprisingly calm oasis two blocks north of touristy Marble Arch. There you’ll find three new highly acclaimed restaurants: Lurra, a Basque-style grill specializing in tender 14-year Rubia Gallega “Galician Blond” Prime Rib, just named one of London’s best steaks by The Times; sister restaurant Donosita, also Basque but casual, tapas style; and the brand new Bernardi’s, developed by two Italian brothers, Gabriel and Marcello Bernardi, from Melbourne, is an Aussie take on high-end Italian featuring unusual pizzettes and cicchetti, and delicate mains of seasonal meat and veg, plus fab wines and extensive Italian aperitif list. Don’t fret if you arrive before lunch or dinner, on the same street, hand-brewed coffees are available at Borough Barista, as well Gail’s, one of London’s best artisanal bakery chains.

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Between the restaurants, you’ll find one-of-a-kind shops like Taliare, London’s newest tailoring house offering bespoke suits by Erlend Norby. Originally from Norway, Norby trained as a tailor in France and England, working his way through gentlemen’s clothing shops on Savile Row. His custom-designed suits are all handmade in Britain, an expression of luxury that blends English and European craftsmanship with Scandinavian minimalism. Next door, ladies can snag a bargain on top designer clothing and accessories from Chanel, Isabel Marant, Helmut Lang and Hermes, to name a few, at the high-end resale shop Buy My Wardrobe

This part of Marylebone, along the southern part of Edgware Road, has long been an Arab and Muslim community (incidentally this is also home to England’s oldest reform Jewish temple, West London Synagogue, and these communities happily coexist). Here you’ll find some of London’s best Middle Eastern grills and specialty Shisha cafes, where people sit outside and smoke tall traditional water pipes. Don’t miss Maroush Express for amazing grilled baby chicken, shawarma, excellent hummus, falafel and salads. Around the corner is Green Valley, a wonderful Lebanese deli, with gorgeous nut-filled pastries artfully displayed in the window — impossible to resist.

Across Edgware Road is another fantastic few blocks of unique shops and cool restaurants along the charming Connaught Place and side streets Portsea Place and Porchester Place. Clothes coveted by Rachel Weisz, Kate Moss and Jade Jagger can be found at De Roemer, think ultra-chic cashmere tops, fine jewelry and handbags. Kokoro, another intriguing independent label, offers charming clothes and accessories with Japanese flair, while Me+Em is the only retail shop of the online UK brand for affordable, fashionable ladies clothes. Don’t miss shoes at the Lucy Choi boutique for a great selection of blingy pumps and flats. Lucy, the niece of Jimmy Choo, worked at French Sole for 10 years before launching her eponymous brand.

The Shop in KensaL Rise claims to be the originator of cocktail served in a jam jar.
The Shop in KensaL Rise claims to be the originator of cocktail served in a jam jar.

For nibbles, try Cocomaya, famous for delicious pastries, chocolates and tea service, or for savory, head to Buchanans, named one of the five best British cheesemongers by the Financial Times. They have a lovely cafe for sampling cheese and wine. For a proper meal, one of London’s most buzzed-about Japanese spots, Kurobuta, opened on nearby Kendall Street last year, with a hot Aussie chef trained by Nobu.

Queen’s Park/Kensal Rise

Just north of Notting Hill, Queen’s Park and Kensal Rise have become super cool over the last few years. Priced out of exclusive Holland Park and Notting Hill, a hip mix of young families and professionals, mainly from the arts and media, call the area home, including Brit celebs Daniel Craig and Thandie Newton. Even the fictional Bridget Jones moved here in Helen Fielding’s third book and the area is rumored to be a location for upcoming film “Bridget Jones’s Baby” due out in September 2016.

These two neighborhoods flank the verdant 30-acre Queen’s Park, opened in 1897 by Queen Victoria herself and a marvel of that era complete with tennis courts, pitch-and-putt, petanque and an ornamental garden for grown-ups and an excellent adventure playground for kids, all surrounded by elegant Victorian and Edwardian homes. 

Iris in Queens Park offers the latest in contemporary fashion for women and children.
Iris in Queens Park offers the latest in contemporary fashion for women and children.

The park is great for a stroll and there are two main shopping streets to explore on either side. Salusbury Road in the more established Queen’s Park has an award-winning farmers’ market on a Sunday, lively with delicious fresh and prepared local foods; the charming Queen’s Park Books, which hosts readings for adults and kids; and trendy Iris, for a brilliant selection of indie UK ladies fashion. Just a few blocks west is the notable Tricycle Theatre, innovative plays start here then transfer to the West End.

Kidsen in Kensal rise is known for Scandi kids clothing.
 
Kidsen in Kensal rise is known for Scandi kids clothing.

On the other side of the park is Kensal Rise’s Chamberlayne Road, called the “hippest street in Europe” in 2009 by the editor of UK Vogue, who lives nearby (natch), and it’s unbelievably better now. It has a great mix of restaurants, bars, boutiques and vintage and antique shops, which include the new Austen’s, a place for fantastic BBQ that is part-owned by a local DJ, so it rocks in the night and is filled with families in the day; funky art filled bar, The Shop, which claims to be originator of the cocktail served in a jam jar craze; Kidsen, known for chic Scandi kids clothing; and Circus Antiques, which offers unusual treasures.

A bit further down is The Paradise, a local institution, part gastropub, part late-night karaoke-DJ dance party spot. The food is seriously good though, high-quality British farm-to-table fare from Cat Ashton who recently joined from the acclaimed Petersham Nurseries. On the south fringe of Kensal is the Grand Union Canal, and here you’ll find the home and HQ office of über-trendy designer Tom Dixon. He lives in a renovated water tower overlooking a canal. There is a Tom Dixon retail shop, as well as Dock Kitchen, a gorgeous waterside restaurant, with exquisite modern interiors by — you guessed it — Dixon, and an ever-changing experimental menu that tends toward Middle Eastern and Indian flavors by acclaimed chef and cookbook author, Stevie Parle. Dock Kitchen sits at the start of a pretty section of the Grand Union Canal with walking paths winding through tony Maida Vale and on to the splendid Regent’s Park and London Zoo; for those more ambitious, the full canal stretches 137 miles all the way to Birmingham.

Bermondsey

Located on the south side of the Thames, once a vital part of London’s river trade, Bermondsey became a notorious slum in the 1800s, immortalized by Charles Dickens in “Oliver Twist,” in which he vividly describes the area as “decaying foundations; every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage.” Hard to imagine that now, boasting some of the most expensive residential and commercial properties in London, after the redevelopment of the riverside wharves starting in the 1980s until last year’s opening of The Shard with the five-star Shangri-La hotel, Bermondsey has arrived.

Bermondsey has a mix of boutiques, restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
 
Bermondsey has a mix of boutiques, restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

In the shadow of The Shard, you’ll find a fun, vibrant neighborhood, with interesting art, one-of-a-kind boutiques, exceptionally good restaurants, bars and coffee shops, all catering to a mix of well-heeled lawyers and bankers from the City (just across the Thames) and tourists coming from Tate Modern, Borough Market, or the Tower of London, all of which are a short walk.

For cool design, there’s London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, which currently has an exhibit on the history of quintessential English luxury brand Liberty; or the Design Museum, for an upcoming exhibit on trends and styles of cycling. A must for contemporary art lovers is White Cube, founded by Jay Jopling, who is responsible for turning artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin into household names. His massive Bermondsey gallery (nearly 60,000 square feet) opened in 2011 and features stunning rotating exhibitions. An amusing pit stop is the London Glassblowing gallery, where you can buy original handmade pieces and watch them being blown by hand. Nearby, on Bermondsey Street, whimsical housewares, accessories and stationery can be found at the boutique Lovely and British, or one can hunt for treasures on Friday mornings at the Bermondsey Square Antiques Market. Also on Bermondsey Square is amazing coffee and Swedish treats (think cinnamon bun!) at Hej (Hey) Coffee.

More sustenance can be found back on Bermondsey Street, Spanish superstar Chef and cookbook author José Pizarro has his delicious tapas and sherry bar José, and the more formal, yet still relaxed, Spanish restaurant Pizzaro. For French, the tiny 20-seat Casse-Croûte offers warm, rustic deliciousness. Most unusual and a true dining destination is Restaurant Story, which was awarded a Michelin star in 2013; young celeb chef Tom Sellers offers a range of set menus that “tell a story,” the longest is nine courses and costs £95 taking 3.5 to four hours for the meal, there is also a “half story” at lunch for £39. Pre-booking is essential. 

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