Visitors to London see it as one huge city, stuffed with fabulous architecture and a plethora of shops and museums. It’s only once you know London quite well that you discover that much of it has a village feel. Neighbourhoods that have something distinctive about them, a strong sense of local pride and a very engaged community. Usually these are based around a pretty green, a pedestrianised street or simply an area with a Farmers Market and independent shops such as butchers and greengrocers. This is my Village London.
Between the rush of cars on the Marylebone Road and the press of shoppers on Oxford Street, is the calm of Marylebone village. Centered around Marylebone High Street and saved from through traffic by a complicated one way system, a thriving village has grown up around independent retailers and good casual eateries. This has always been a haven of fashion with Margaret Howell and Agnes B having their shops at either end of the road. Now there is a butcher, a fromagerie, a hand made chocolate shop and countless cafes and food shops. Perfect for whiling away an afternoon or doing some serious shopping in one of London’s largest Farmers Markets. It’s a wonderful place to spend a weekend, and for those out of towners, whether you choose townhouse, boutique or grand hotel, there’s plenty to choose from in the area. This is my Village London.
The Conran Shop has long anchored Marylebone High Street. With stylish designed furniture, accessories, lighting and kitchen ware, it attracts the well heeled design led shopper. Added to that is now a coffee shop where you can sip away in the belly of the store, surrounded by the beautiful products and listen to chilled music.
Next door is the Orrery Epicerie, more of a casual coffee and croissant or cake stop than a real epicerie (grocery store) but you can pick up Italian pasta, handmade chocolates or just a well stuffed sandwich to eat in the small park opposite watching the office workers hurry to their destinations. It’s a bright sunny spot with a couple of tables outside.
As you walk south down Marylebone High Street take a glance along Paddington Street and you see the original 1900s shop front of James Taylor And Son a bespoke shoemaker. The historic frontage hides the high tech approach that is used to create a hand made pair of shoes. Just across the Street is the Church Of The Good Shepherd in all its stripy Victorian “Tudor” glory. Built in 1898 its a wonderful example of Victorian play on architectural styles.
The Natural Kitchen stretches along the west side of Marylebone High Street. At the long internal bar you can stop for a Breakfast croissant, long lunch or peruse the shelves for an unusual Kitchen gift before buying your Sunday roast at the butchers counter. Outside seating accommodates the dog walkers because this is, after all, a residential area in the centre of the west end.
Stroll on past Skandium, although it’s hard to resist all that Nordic style and check out Fishworks, one of the few wet fish shops left in London. Bright eyes and shiny scales tell the tale of fresh fish and a board outside promises the best fish and chips in town.
Next take a right turn down tiny Moxon Street, a seeming dead end that leads to a park and an alleyway the width of a horse drawn carriage. In this melange of narrow streets you get a feel for Victorian London, but the food on offer in this small locale is far from Victorian. Fromagerie hosts a temperature controlled cheese room stuffed with rounds of artisan cheese from France, Italy and Portugal to Norway and the United States. Come here to gorge or gloat and then stop for a delicious meal in the cafe sharing a table with locals. This is a true epicerie with bright hanging string bags, fresh vegetables, olive oil, canned goods from around the world and of course cheese.
Next door is the Ginger Pig which began in Borough Market, this was their first permanent shop. A renowned butchers which also produces cooked and cured dishes. With hot roast sandwiches at lunch time and butchery classes every night you could pop in for a late lunch snack and leave an accomplished sausage maker.
Opposite is Rococo Chocolates a small enclave of the Master Chocolatier Chantal Coady. Original flavours and beautiful packaging give the products an original identity. Who wouldn’t want to try some of the magic from the inspiration behind Joanne Harris’ Chocolat?
Almost next door is the unprepossessing Cramer Road car park that is home, every Sunday, to the Marylebone Farmer’s Market. It’s a well kept secret, but just follow the locals carrying their bags and wicker baskets. This is where you can revel in shucked oysters, unpasteurised milk and cheese, unusual salad leaves and rare breed meat. And where you can become a London Village local for the day.
If you haven’t completely gorged yourself and if you still have time for another cookery class, get immersed in the Caldesi Italian way of cooking. In a narrow mews just off Marylebone Lane is La Cucina Caldesi (Caldesi Cookeery School). Here, in a renovated Victorian coaching garage, with light streaming through the many paned windows you can learn the secrets of regional Italian cookery. If you want it all done for you try the Cafe Caldesi.
If after all this walking you need a moment of quiet or even a sumptious afternoon tea pop into The Wallace Collection. Sited in a house built in the late 1700s is a diverse collection of Old Master paintings, medieval and renaissance objets and European arms and armour. Being smaller than some of the better known galleries it’s an oasis of calm in the maelstrom of the west end. The covered courtyard, flooded with natural light, is perfect for lunch, a traditional afternoon tea or dining under the stars.
Come and enjoy Village London and discover a different city.
The Conran Shop 55 Marylebone High Street W1U 5RB
The Orrery Epicerie 55 Marylebone High Street W1U 5RB
James Taylor & Son 4 Paddington Street W1U 5QE
Natural Kitchen 77-78 Marylebone High Street W1U 5JX
Fishworks 89 Marylebone High Street W1U 5QW
Fromagerie 2-6 Moxon Street W1U 4EW
Ginger Pig 8-10 Moxon Street W1U 4EW
Rococo Chocolates 3 Moxon Street W1U 4EW
Marylebone Farmers Market Cramer Street Car park W1U 4EW
La Cucina Caldesi 4 Cross Keys Close W1U 2DG
Cafe Caldesi 118 Marylebone Lane W1U 2QF
Wallace Collection Hertford House Manchester Square W1U 3BN
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