Pie’s London: Covent GardenJanuary 16, 2012
I received a request from one of my readers who will soon be paying a visit to Londinium. What do you think of such places as Covent Garden, Soho and Piccadilly, asked Jacki Dilley? And can you tell us about it? Well, I don’t spend a lot of time in Central London these days, mostly because I’m skint. Still, I wanted to give a flavour of those areas and realised as I walked around taking photos with my crappy little camera, there were quite a few shops, streets and pubs I have visited and loved. So I give you a snapshot of the first area I covered: Covent Garden.
The station is small and at peak times can become very congested. There are only two ways to leave the station: by lift, or by stairs in an emergency. If you’re claustrophobic, your fitness level had better be good, because there are 193 steps to the top. If you choose to meet your friends at this station, be sure your phones are fully charged and contain a sat nav. You’ll need it to find each other in the crowd.
Once you leave the station you could go to Neal Street, which seems to contain mostly shoe shops, or the Piazza where you can be entertained by jugglers, musicians and human statues. You can go the Apple Store and worship at the altar of Jobs, or find a souvenir shop and spend your money on London themed tat.
Alternatively, you could leave all that behind and try this: take a little trip down quiet and genteel Floral Street, where designer stores like Paul Smith and Nicole Fahri live. There’s also The Sanctuary, which is a spa and The Tintin shop for all things Tintin related, if you like that kind of thing.
If you keep walking down Floral Street towards Leicester Square, you’ll find this little alleyway to your left called Lazenby Court.
Walk through until you’re out in the open, where you’ll find a pub called the Lamb and Flag to your right.
It’s a small and very old pub (16-1700s). I can’t tell you about the food as I only went for a drink late one night with a friend, but the service was friendly, the atmosphere was relaxed, there’s a fireplace at the rear, and on the night we went, we were lucky enough to be entertained by a mouse. If you decide to go back through the alleyway, once you leave the pub, you’ll see this sign.
Find your way to the Seven Dials, a prosperous neighbourhood between the West End theatre district and the shopping area near Neal Street, where seven streets converge and you can go on a discovery to any of the ‘dials’ that shoot off from the centre.
One of the ‘dials’ is Earlham Street, which has one of my favourite shops. If you like interesting and quirky art and design books, this is the place to go. Dover Books specialises in books full of copyright-free images, which you can use for any project, without fear of being sued. I like the Magma art book shop a few doors down, but sometimes it’s so cool, hip and fly it hurts. Dover is an unassuming, old-fashioned bookshop – a browser’s paradise.
Proceed to the corner of Earlham Street and Shaftsbury Avenue and you’ll find Fopp. It’s a music store where you can browse for CDs, DVDs, vinyl LPs, books and T-shirts. Although it’s now owned by HMV, it still has the feel of its independent origins. The range is good, the prices are keen and the staff, rocking the appearance of a goth or emo looking for a gig, are great.
Finally, I take you to The Harp in Chandos Place. It’s even smaller than the Lamb and Flag and on the night I went, it was so crowded, I was lucky to find my friends! I loved it. The atmosphere was crackling, the patrons were lively and the bar staff were efficient and friendly. I don’t think I had ever been served so quickly in what was a jam-packed pub. There are old portraits everywhere and there’s a display of beer mats hanging over the bar. Upstairs was only slightly less crowded.
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: my Covent Garden. Next stop: Soho.