Residents’ neighbourhood guides
Welcome to a new series of residents’ neighbourhood guides. I often try and finish the Perambulation trails on a pub, which led me to thinking it might be a nice idea to ask local residents for their neighbourhood spots in case you fancy exploring an area further, beyond just the architecture. I can’t think of a better person to kick off the series than Marina O’Loughlin — the multi award-winning restaurant critic. After over two decades writing for The Guardian and the Sunday Times she’s now — amongst other fun things — contributor to and Commissioning Editor for Noble Rot magazine. One of her favourite restaurants, the original Noble Rot, is on the beautiful Lambs Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, a stones throw from where Perambulation Number 6 starts.
Bloomsbury and Clerkenwell by Marina O’Loughlin
Where is the best spot to grab breakfast before a walk?
I’ve a soft spot for Beppe’s near St Bartholomew's Hospital in Smithfield’s — one of the original London caffs and knocking out a mean bacon sarnie. It’s a fantastic people watching spot: workmen to surgeons to fashionistas.
23 West Smithfield, London EC1A 9HY
Where’s the best place for a quick lunch
Brutto (pictured) is brilliant for lunch: it’s a bit too much of a hectic scene in the evening, but lunchtimes are a bit more serene. I love their peposo, a savagely black-peppery beef stew. But I find myself going back time and again to the slightly hidden Clerkenwell Kitchen, run by two women with deceptively simple menus and a hidden courtyard exterior. Or hitting the street food hubs at Exmouth Market or Leather Lane. (And a new one, Kerb, in a courtyard behind Cowcross Street)
35-37 Greenhill Rents, London EC1M 6BN
The Clerkenwell Kitchen
27 Clerkenwell Close, London EC1R 0AT
Where's the best place to grab coffee?
The little Clerkenwell Kiosk in the grounds of the striking St James Church — its address is, endearingly, Park Ranger’s Hut. The coffee is excellent and they have benches outside, dedicated to the departed. My favourite reads: ‘Ichi for the michi’ loosely translated, I believe, as ‘one for the road’.
Park Rangers’ Hut St James’s Churchyard, London EC1R 0EA
Best post-walk pub?
The White Bear in St John Street (pictured, left), a wonderfully lugubrious interior of brown textured walls and a lovely curved glass exterior. I think the new owners are Italian, hence their very good sourdough pizzas, and the appearance of a negroni sbagliato alongside the pints. I’m often to be found in the bar at St John (pictured, right) for one of their lethal little hanky panky cocktails, bitter and herbal from cult digestivo Fernet Branca. With a side of their legendary Welsh rarebit.
The White Bear
57 St John Street, London EC1M 4AN
26 St John Street, London EC1M 4AY
Where is the best place for a budget dinner?
Quality Wines (pictured), next door to the always-excellent Quality Chop House and run by the brilliant chef Nick Bramham, is every bit as much a restaurant as a wine shop/takeaway (though they understatedly now call it ‘cafe‘.) The last time I went I had lasagne bianca — with bechamel, nutmeg and cheese — of such lushness I think about it almost daily. They now do a set menu for £25.
And Fish Central—excellently eccentric, cod and chips for skint days, lobster and oysters for when you feel like flashing the cash.
88 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3EA
149–155 Central St, King Square, London EC1V 8AP
Where‘s the best spot for a fancy dinner?
Sessions Arts Club for a setting of such glamorous loucheness you always feel as though you're in the world's coolest joint. Real celebration stuff. Or the far more understated but no less delicious Bouchon Racine (pictured), if you can ever get a table, for the best bistro outside the 11th Arondissement.
Sessions Art Club
24 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0NA
Upstairs at the Three Compasses
66 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6BP
If you only have time to visit one shop in the area, where should you go?
I could think of more interesting answers but I'm afraid it would have to be the St John Street branch of Waitrose. Or the double-whammy of Shrine to the Vine and La Fromagerie in Lamb‘s Conduit Street.
174 St John Street, London EC1V 4DE
Shrine to the Vine
48 Lamb‘s Conduit Street, London WC1N 3LH
52 Lamb's Conduit Street, London WC1N 3LL
Where’s the best place in the area to spend a few hours without spending any money?
The Conservatory at The Barbican. An extraordinary space that many people don't seem to know about, kind of hiding in plain sight.
(Sorry to butt in, but to avoid disappointment, it's worth mentioning that it's not often open. In fact I think I've only managed to get in twice. It's officially meant to be open on Sundays, but it's worth checking before you go. However, if you go up to the fourth floor in the Barbican Centre, and walk towards the old Cinema 2 and 3, you can get a good view from the corridor—pictured on the right. Stefi)
Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS
What‘s an interesting fact about Clerkenwell that only locals might know?
Scottish hero William Wallace was hanged, drawn and quartered in Smithfield. There's a plaque to him. I‘m also obsessed with the little fat, grumpy golden toddler just down from Wallace — described in the inscription as ‘prodigiously fat‘ and on the corner of Cock Lane both of which, I‘m afraid, make me chuckle. And swish Clerkenwell Green used to be a hotbed for the radical left: Lenin published his newpaper, The Spark, from here. And I adore watching the crowd of young people all playing chess on the odd Saturday on the long stone table on St John’s Square. And the Rising Sun pub on Cloth Fair is rumoured to be haunted by the drinkers who'd been rudely abducted by bodysnatchers paid to provide cadavers to nearby St Bart‘s Hospital.
What’s your favourite building in Clerkenwell?
The Barbican towers. I‘m a huge high rise, Brutalism fan. Before we bought our current flat, we looked at many of them, but my husband refused to go above the 10th floor, so what would be the point? Also, the terraces are notoriously difficult to grow anything on. So now we have a full-on view of them from our own terrace and windows: the best solution — they change colour dramatically depending on the light, sometimes golden-orange as the sun goes down.