Being such an enormous, vast city of neighbourhoods, cardinal points and numbered zones that can take as long to travel between as it can to change countries, Londoners often end up sticking to one or two specific areas for all their socialising/working/living purposes.
We’ve chosen our own backyard to highlight this week, providing you with entertainment options from quirky local eats, drinking spots, museums and shopping gems - Covent Garden in the heart of the West End has got enough happening to keep you busy for days, let alone hours.
The Amba Hotel Charing Cross is just steps from the centre of London’s Theatreland, with dozens of different theatre venues dotted around the vicinity. Whether you’re seeking high drama, comedy, political satire, classic or modern, from big hitters such as the Palladium to the dinkier Donmar, you won’t be left at a loose end. Why not have a browse through our theatre blog for some inspiration to get you started?
There are also numerous galleries and museums hidden away down the side-streets around Covent Garden, among which one of the city’s most unique and beloved, the London Film Museum. The Museum is located on the site of the Theatre Museum in the original Flower Cellars and approximately half of its collection comes from the private archive of founder Jonathan Sands, who started out as the resident photographer at Elstree Film Studios. The exhibitions are varied in nature, ranging from a series of set images from the prestigious Magnum Photos photography agency to the current collection of vintage cars from the James Bond film franchise.
For a combination of culture and couture, swing by the natty Vintage Showroom, where you’ll find an expertly curated collection of clothes and accessories for gents. Accessories, hats, bespoke 1930s suits, military uniforms and country garb, the archive contains some true gems of international and British design and tailoring.
Wandering around discovering the nooks and crannies of a new city can take more out of you than you realise, since you forget to factor in getting lost, postponing eating times to spend that bit longer in an art gallery, and just choosing your refuelling spot can leave you a little energy depleted. For quick, delicious sustenance, step into the little courtyard oasis that is Neal’s Yard, just behind the main shoe-shop strip of Neal Street. You’ll find a number of independent, health-conscious establishments here, one of which is pop-up-gone-permanent pizza place Homeslice. Having started life in an East London brewery, with a hand-built clay, wood-burning oven, this cosy 50-seat restaurant has a choice of just five different pizzas per day, using only the freshest seasonal produce (think white anchovies, Doddington cheese, orange zest or roasted whole spring onions). The thin-crust wonders are available by the slice (£4) or as whole 20-inch monoliths intended for sharing (£20), plus they provide craft beers and prosecco on tap, so if you’re not careful a stop-off here could easily spell the (happy) end of your explorations around the rest of the area.
Just around the corner and down some stairs into a basement den of rock-and-roll music, you’ll stumble into the Japanese-Taiwanese-London restobar (yes that’s now a thing) that is Flesh & Buns. Don’t panic, it’s nothing to do with the Soho seediness the name might suggest - we’re talking delicious pieces of meat or fish (the flesh) served grilled, steamed, barbecued or roasted to juicy perfection and coupled with bowls of salad, pickled veggies, marinades and sauces together with steamed rice-flour hirata rolls (the buns) to create your own bespoke Asian sandwich, in a sense. This is tantalising, inventive, messy finger-food to accompany your sake, whiskey, Yuzu margaritas or whatever else you’re supping with your meal: Flesh & Buns is based on traditional Japanese Izakayas, which are bars that also serve simple but perfect small dishes to keep your stomach lining firmly in place while you indulge in your after-work tipple.
Covent Garden received its very own ambassador for Peruvian food with the arrival of Lima Floral. The restaurant is in fact divided into two separate sections - the top floor for proper sit-down dining and the lower level as a Pisco bar that also serves piqueos, the Peruvian equivalent of tapas. The Pisco drinks list is as plentiful as it is potent, with classics including the passionfruit-based Pisco Maracuyá Sour as well as the Lima Creations signature cocktails, such as the Noche de Verana (vanilla-infused Luna Pisco, Amaro Nonino, Lime and Lemon Juice) and the devilish El Señor de Sipan (Prosecco, Apple Juice, Raspberry Syrup, Luna Pisco and Campari foam). The chefs make use of Peru’s native fruits, vegetables, fish and meat, introducing a number of rare and pretty much unknown ingredients to the mix, as well as what have become regulars on the menus of the smattering of Peruvian eateries that have sprung up across the capital in the past few years. So sea bream ceviche and avocado salsa are served with the traditional ‘Leche de Tigre’ and staples quinoa, corn and sweet potato are all well represented across the dishes, mixed in with novel twists to give a unique flourish.
Once you’ve closed the shops and eaten your fill, there’s nightlife to be seen in this corner of the city, too. El Nivel had its work cut out to distinguish itself from the numerous other Mexican bars and restaurants in and around London’s Soho, but it has pulled it off with style and substance. El Nivel focuses on what it knows and does best, Mexican spirits: from the famous to the rare, aged and new, cocktails or neat, the bartenders will mix up your preferred take on agave-derived spirits, tequila, raicillas, bacanaras, mezcal and tempt you with tapas cooked up in-house. As for the cocktails, you can manhandle the menu from classic Margaritas right through to the single-minded La Poderosa - made with Vida Mescal, lavender honey, lime juice, cardamom bitters and topped with sparkling wine. Decorated in a luscious, grandiose 1930s style, the bar has all-too-welcoming leather armchairs, a comfy bar to perch at and proper tables for those who are after a bit more solid with the potions you’re about to fall under the power of.
If wine is more your bottle of preference, the Cork & Bottle Wine Bar, as well as being about as self-explanatory as it gets in terms of names, wants you to enjoy a good, honestly priced one (or more, who’s counting?). Having squirrelled itself away in a basement space under a less salubrious locale just off Leicester Square over 30 years ago, Cork & Bottle is a welcoming little bolt-hole away from the frenetic pace of the famous theatre land that pulses above it. Its wares span the globe’s best vineyards, with themed tasting events held regularly and a hearty food menu crafted to match the drinks: selections of cheese, quiches, salads, wonderful baguette bread and main dishes are all available throughout the evening, as is good conversation with the regulars and patrons.
Another old hand in the neighbourhood - albeit it one with something of a loftier pedigree, perhaps - is the institution that is Kettner's. Nestled in Soho and formerly playing host to such luminaries as Oscar Wilde, Bing Crosby, Agatha Christie and a number of Royals, Kettner’s is an elegant brasserie of faded glamour and a vibrant clientele. Originally a series of Georgian townhouses, the restaurant first opened its doors in 1867, and legend has it that King Edward VII even ordered a secret tunnel to be built between Kettner’s and the Palace Theatre. In addition to the bustling brasserie, the Grade II listed building today boasts a Champagne bar and eight private dining Rooms available for hire for more modern-day parties and events (and the tunnel is no more, sorry).
Now you have your own personal Covent Garden Guide, get out and explore your new locals before coming back home to relax at Amba Hotel Charing Cross.