Wednesday, 23 July 2008


Ahh, London. Noisy, crowded, huge, lovely London. Before we moved to London, I thought I was a city girl through and through - I had lived in the "huge metropolis" of Wellington (about 400,000 people including Hutt City) for 6 years after all! But after 18 months in London I discovered that I was actually a small town girl at heart. I loved that in London Europe was on my doorstep, and the theatre, music, markets, museums and food that comes with a big city, but I didn't like the commute, the traffic, the frustrating bureaucracy and the hordes of people. It was great to go back as a tourist this time though, and not have to stress about everyday things.

When we lived in London, I wasn't particularly crafty, apart from doing a bit of cross-stitch, so before we left New Zealand I did some research to find out the best crafty places to visit in London. There are good suggestions here and in the comments here and here. In the end I only got to visit a few places on my list, but I figure I'll be back there one day, so it's nice to have something to look forward to next time.

I didn't want to make this the longest post ever (although I suspect it may become that), so here are just a few favourite craft and food places I went to and would recommend. A list of links to other places that I liked is at the end of this post. I've restricted this list to craft and food places, but the links above list many other museums, parks and places of interest that are also well worth a visit. The picture at the top of this post was taken in St James' Park - a nice haven of calm to relax in after a few hours of touristing.

*Loop. The well-known knitting shop certainly lived up to its reputation. It is a tiny place, full of delicious yarns, fabulous patterns and other bits and pieces. Downstairs below the shop is an area where they hold knitting classes. There was a class being held when I visited and every now and then a roar of laugher would make its way up the staircase. Sounded like they were having a lot of fun. Even though the shop is small, I still spent ages deliberating over what to buy. In the end I picked up some pattern books and some wonderful Clover bamboo DPNs. Yummy though the yarn was, I just didn't have space in my bag. The lady working there told me that they do ship to NZ through their online shop though...

If you are visiting, I would allow plenty of time to get there and even more time for browsing. The shop is situated half-way between the Highbury & Islington and Angel tube stations - about 15 minutes walk from each station.

*Liberty. I had visited Liberty when we lived in London, but that was just to see inside the wonderful Tudor building more than anything. It is only in the last two years or so that I have realised that the wonderful tana lawn fabric I have seen in lots of craft blogs is from Liberty. I have to admit that I did get a bit overwhelmed by all the crafty goodness and in the end only bought some rolls of grosgrain ribbon, although I did spend a lot of time oogling the countless rolls of fabric (both the Liberty fabric and the huge range of cotton quilting prints), and the Rowan knitting yarns. No pictures for you though - the sales people were pretty attentive so I couldn't take a sneaky pic.

Liberty is pretty central - just off Regent St and close to the Oxford Circus tube and Carnaby Street.

* Spitalfields Market. This was a favourite market of my mine from the time we lived in London. Since then it has been revamped and now has permanent shops as well as market stalls. Most of the stalls sell art and crafts and a lot of it is handmade rather than imported. There seemed to be quite a few emerging designers selling their clothing labels. Sunday is the busiest day (it's closed on Saturdays) and on Thursday is the antiques/vintage market which we didn't get to but sounds like it would be fabulous (a friend we caught up with said that the vintage market is great for taking photos).

The market is about 5 minutes walk from Liverpool St tube station. It is also within walking distance of Petticoat Lane market and Brick Lane so you can make a bit of a morning of it.

* Borough Market. My favourite food market in the world (well, I've only been to a few, but this is the one I liked best). If you've watched early episodes of Jamie Oliver's show, you might recall that he would jump on his scooter and go to a fresh food market to pick up his supplies - apparently that was Borough Market (though I never saw him there and we used to go most Saturday mornings). This is the place to go on Saturday mornings to get your fresh veges, meat, bread, cheese, olives, wine or just soak up the atmosphere. Apparently some of the stall holders come over from France for the day to sell their local cheese or other produce. When we lived in London, I discovered a stall-holder selling kumara (NZ sweet potato) and bought a few at great expense to roast on Christmas Day as a reminder of home.

Our Saturday morning routine often consisted of going to Borough Market in the morning, getting a 'proper' coffee from the Monmouth Coffee stand, having some raclette from another stall, a brownie for dessert and then picking up some olives, bread and cheese to take away for later. I was pleasantly surprised to see that after 5 years, most of the stall-holders were still going strong and a lot of them were still operating from the same location in the market.

Borough Market is close to London Bridge tube station.

* Mildreds restaurant. This is a great modern vegetarian restaurant in Soho. I read about this place on another blog before we went to London and knew we just had to go there. Their menu is really varied, reasonably priced for London and would probably satisfy carnivores as well. We had two lovely meals there, one night before we saw Phantom of the Opera and also our last night in London. I would happily have eaten there every night. Their varied menu has also inspired me to try some new recipes at home.

Mildreds is in Soho and is therefore within walking distance of several tube stations - Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.

Rolls of ribbon from Liberty, other ribbons from VV Rouleaux, coin purse from Marimekko and knitting books, needles and project bag from Loop

Other places I enjoyed:
* Carluccio's Caffe. A chain of cafes started by chef Antonio Carluccio - their Bicerin coffee, cream and melted chocolate drink is to die for.
* V.V. Rouleaux. Shop selling ribbons and trims in Marylebone. Not as impressive as the ribbon shops in Hong Kong, but still wonderful to browse in.
* Cloth House. Linen and vintage trims. In Soho.
* Marimekko. Fantastic! The shop I visited was in St Christophers Place, just off Oxford St.
* Treacle. Cupcake shop in the Columbia Road flower market.
* Bar Italia in Soho - an espresso or cappucino and cannoli here is a must-do. I think their cannolis are better than any we had in Italy.
* Brick Lane - Bangadeshi curry houses lining the street. On a busy night the touts outside offer you discounts to dine at their restaurant.
* Hummus Bros for reasonably priced healthy fast food, all based around hummus (yes really). Their tag-line is "Give (Chick) Peas A Chance".


Julie said...

oooooo, this post makes me really homesick, especailly for the fantastic shopping...sigh! Sounds like you had a wonderful time..X

Melissa said...

Wow! What did Alex do while you consumed hours and hours in craft shops?! Looks amazing - you are going to need a bigger sewing room soon :)