I work in Russell Square in central London, but I live in Maidenhead, a half hour train ride outside of London. Every day I endure the crammed commute into town, walk to the office from the tube, spend all day at work (rarely going out at lunch as I always bring my own food), and then finish for the day, trudge back to the tube, head to Paddington, and squash myself onto the next train home. Sometimes I meet friends after work, but more often than not I have to get home to walk the dogs. ‘My’ London these days is one of dreary routine, and I could be doing it absolutely anywhere – I really see nothing of the real London in this daily drudgery.
Once upon a time when I lived in Islington, and before that in Clerkenwell, I really made the best of living in one of the most exciting cities in the world – I would be out every night after work, going to the theatre, gigs, meeting friends for drinks, underground cinema clubs, supper clubs, you name it, I used to do it. I remember barely getting home before midnight more than one night a week (looking back I have NO IDEA where I got the energy from to do that and make a success of my full time job), and weekends were no better, fitting in two or three activities each day and squeezing every new experience out of the city that I could. A memorable favourite weekend was spent attending the Oxford v Cambridge Goat Race. Yes, goats, not boats. Easily confused, especially as they happen on the same day. It took place at Spitalfields City Farm and raised a shed load of cash for them, and had great DJs and some of the best caipirinhas I’ve ever tasted (and I’ve been to Rio de Janeiro!), courtesy of Tony and Hal of Abelha Cachaca (shameless plug for my favourite cachaca there). So, crazy stuff, not just your average tourist London.
These days, all I do is show visiting friends the sights of a weekend, or meet friends for dinner at the same few tried and tested restaurants, so my love of London had waned, soured by the hell of commuting and no spare time to really appreciate the city. Yesterday I commented on another blog, and recommended that they visit Store St Espresso, a great coffee place near my office. I realised that even though it’s five minutes walk away, I’d not been in a few months. So today I decided to combine taking some lunch to a friend living nearby who is recovering from an operation with a quick jaunt around Bloomsbury. And I am so glad I did.
I started off at the Farmer’s Market on Torrington Square, which happens (right next to my office) every Thursday. I last went midsummer last year! It was a particularly lovely crisp wintery day, and the square looked really pretty full of trees with the church as an impressive backdrop.
I dodged the hordes of students getting their lunch from the wild boar sausage man, or the venison burger stand, or queuing next to huge vats of paella, and headed to the Old Post Office Bakery stand for some delicious fresh bread for lunch.
I managed to resist picking up some dessert from the delicious looking Popina (photo in the header), which sells all organic vegetarian fare, and hurried past the german bakery too lest my resolve somehow waned with every mouthwatering stall I passed, and went on to pick up some salad bits at Planet Organic.
Now, I know Planet Organic is a chain, but I still absolutely love the place. It’s a supermarket for all things health food and organic.
I am not so bothered about the organic factor, knowing rather too much about organic certification in the meat industry to really take it too seriously, but I am a big fan of health foods. My eye was caught by an entire row of nut butters, 8 different types in all, and I picked up some hazelnut which I love to put in my breakfast smoothie of banana, frozen berries, almond milk and cinnamon for a delicious nutty hit and some serious health benefits.
I also love the olde worlde styling of the veg section, not to mention the yummy cakes which they evilly place right in the middle of the store where you queue up for hot food, so temptation is always in your path!
The rest of lunch acquired, I headed over to my friend’s house for a lovely meal and to run some errands for her.
On my way back to the office I spotted a new addition to Tottenham Court Road. Franco Manca. The best pizza in London, now without queues (the original location is in Brixton Village Market and trying to get a table there of an evening inevitably involves a fair wait, as it is tiny and super popular). I shall be visiting soon!
Further down the street, just as it started to pour with rain (the beautiful sunny day having taken a turn for the worse whilst I was happily munching my lunch), I saw the welcome glow of West Elm, beckoning me.
This New York (or Brooklyn to be precise) institution has only just opened in London, which I heard about via my hero-blogger, Liberty London Girl, in this post. Again, despite being round the corner and open since the start of December, I had yet to visit. So I had to go in of course. The place is heaven for interiors-fiends. I couldn’t go away empty handed, but it being the end of January with all the financial implications that entails, I was very restrained and only bought one thing, a scandianvian-inspired owl mug, to replace a very similar one I bought in Sweden earlier in the year and sadly broke.
I could have cheerfully spent hours in there, just touching the beautiful array of coloured, supersoft throws, or speculating on where to fit all the kitchen gadgets into my home.
As it was, I was conscious of having already had an extremely long lunchbreak, so I hotfooted it to Store St Espresso for my coffee fix.
I love this place. Not only is the coffee exceptional and expertly made (it really is, you must try it), but the food (especially the cakes) is yummy, and they have plenty of big tables in the back and free wi-fi, making it an excellent place to sit and write, if you’re one of those clichéd types who does such things, like I am. (An aside: I really don’t think it is such a pratty thing to do, to sit in a cafe with your laptop! I found when writing my book it made me 100% more productive because you can’t keep making excuses to get up and do things, because that entails packing up your laptop every time, and it is easy to drown out the hubbub of sound to leave you completely in the writing zone. It does get expensive in coffee and may be dangerous for the waistline though. What do you think about coffee-shop-writers?)
I actually really like the whole street, which has some great little shops. There’s a couple of health food shops, a musical instrument shop, a bike shop, and my favourite, an orchid shop, which has stunning window displays, and even the old petrol station across the street has had the gentrification treatment. Even though it has morphed into the chain restaurant Byron Burger (not bad burgers, but definitely not the best I’ve had in London), it has done so really tastefully, maintaining the features of the garage and the architecture, and now makes a colourful and fun addition to this great little street. Note the big mural on the left hand side, under the word Petrol.
In all of two hours, I explored some of the best that Bloomsbury has to offer, and reminded myself just why I love London. Around every corner is something new and exciting, and in this area it seems there is great coffee in abundance too. I shall have to make it my aim in 2014 to try more coffees in more places, and make the most of being in our great capital, even if only in my lunchbreaks and quick moments after work.
This blog post was inspired by the Zero to Hero WordPress challenge, which I’m running a little behind on, but better late than never. All photos were taken on my Sony Experia Z.