When pondering the perfectly precise way to describe London, the amazing metropolis that I now call home, I so often draw comparisons between this vivacious city and a vibrant, bustling farmer’s market. Both are a compilation of independent and unique offerings. London encompasses fascinating cosmopolitan neighbourhoods, all with their own inimitable architectural details, rich cultural history, and community quirks. The farmer’s market is a collection of distinct stalls each offering their own array of specialist produce and artisanal delicacies which reflect the culture and origin of the vendors. The beauty and allure of both entities is their wealth of diversity which perfectly culminates into one glorious whole. The strength of an excellent farmer’s market lies solely in the quality of its vendors, and what makes London one of the world’s greatest cities is the abundance of interesting and varied neighbourhoods. And for me, Marylebone is one of the very best.
Tucked to the north of busy Oxford Street, with its swarm of tourists and dedicated shoppers, lies Marylebone (pronounced Maa.luh.bon), a village-like enclave nestled between the green embrace of Regent’s and Hyde Parks. Rubbing shoulders with the nearby affluence of Mayfair in no way diminishes Marylebone’s chic and upmarket atmosphere, and only plays to enhance the area’s more accessible nature. Distinguished by striking architecture and attractive garden squares, Marylebone is a majestic pocket dotted with a myriad of fine dining restaurants and swanky establishments jostling for attention with an assemblage of independent boutiques and neighbourhood cafes.
It only takes a short walk through this charming neighbourhood to appreciate the variety of historical evidence here. Organised by a grid of roads filled with an elegant mixture of Georgian terraces, Victorian mansion blocks and Art Deco architecture, Marylebone’s most alluring charms lie in the beauty of its details, rather than just as a place to shop and dine. On Chiltern Street, I am often captivated more by the architectural delights than by the array of lovely cafes and independent boutiques. This charming thoroughfare was originally built as an access road between Baker Street, that London street made infamous as the fictional residence to the renowned detective Sherlock Holmes, and Manchester Street. The Chiltern Firehouse, a Grade II listed historical fire station which once served the community of Marylebone, now serves up some of the priciest food in London in one of the city’s poshest hotels. The quiet street is a delight to wander, stopping occasionally to admire the tempting store-front displays, especially on Sundays when some of the establishments are closed and you can window shop to your heart’s content.
Besides the alluring siren song of window shopping, many exquisite details to be discovered are often hovering above eye level, slightly out of sight. As with any great historical city it always pays to adopt 360-degree vision to fully appreciate your surrounds. The barrage of sensory delights all around can be wonderfully intoxicating. However, those perfectly curated window displays with their artfully arranged objects can often side-track the visitor, causing them to disregard the enchanting details that time has embedded onto the building’s façades.
I try to remedy this fault by wandering down both sides of a street to gain a better perspective of the theatrical view above. Terracotta red brick buildings flank many of Marylebone’s residential and commercial streets, yet the features to be found in Chiltern Street are some of the most ingenious I have seen in all London. Above John Simons, a dapper menswear boutique established in 1955, I spied a marvellous cluster of stoic camouflaged faces, with their wide gaping mouths, cleverly shrouding the building’s metal down pipes.
Every London neighbourhood has its own ‘high street’, yet not all shopping meccas are created equal. Marylebone High Street cuts through Marylebone Village and has an enticing collection of independent shops and eateries, rather than your average slew of high street brands and chain store delis. Predictably, our first thought upon arrival is food, and on that front Marylebone does not disappoint. Before we head to the high street, we opt for an early lunch at our favourite eatery La Fromagerie, conveniently tucked around the corner on intersecting Moxon Street. With a plethora of tempting cafes, we still find ourselves drawn to this local institution as much for its delicious and reasonably priced lunch options, as for the European deli selections and freshly baked take home treats. With apricot season at its very juiciest we stash a couple of fruit laden buttery tarts into my bag to accompany our afternoon coffee back home.
Another place which we periodically patronise is Daunt Books, arguably London’s most well respected and sought-after bookshop, and certainly the most beautiful. Upon entering, we are immediately mesmerised and overwhelmed by the ambience. Marvelling at the glorious interior we stop to leaf through some of publishing’s prettiest hardback editions. A wallpaper clad entryway leads through mountainous stacks of gorgeous paperbacks, all arranged precisely in a rainbow of literary enchantment. A graceful arched window, an original feature of the heritage building, leads towards the rear of the shop, past bright displays of pretty stationery and alphabetical rows of glossy coffee table books. I rarely leave empty handed and find myself lugging a hardback or two around Marylebone for the remainder of the day.
Delightful merchandising hardly fails to entice and as much I strive to endure the temptation of retail therapy, I am but merely a woman who adores beautiful things and I quite happily concede defeat. A creature of habit, when in the vicinity, I always seek out one of my favourite independent British clothing labels, Toast. Reflecting a sense of ease and a slower, more thoughtful way of life, Toast creates consistently beautiful products, and its stores contain an accumulation of high-quality fabrics, original timeless clothing designs, and artisan made homewares and gifts. The merchandising and interesting details at Toast are worthy of a visit in themselves, and although not all their designs are suitable for my small frame, I always appreciate the cohesive aesthetic, and that their ageless pieces can easily complement existing wardrobe staples and personal style.
In nearby Manchester Square, we pass the very dignified and imposing Hertford House with its elegant circular driveway and formal columned portico. This stately townhouse contains The Wallace Collection which comprises an entire family collection of historic art and armoury. The 4th Marquess, an obsessive collector of art and objects, left all his treasures to his illegitimate son and fellow enthusiast, Richard Wallace. Wallace’s widow, in turn, left the entire extraordinary collection to the nation of Britain, which became one of the greatest ever bequests of art to the public. Realising that a visit to this extraordinary museum would demand at least most of a day in order to do it justice we make a note to come back at a later date.
Before heading home, we manage to catch the tail end of the Marylebone Farmer’s Market before they finish trading for the day. Open every Sunday, rail, hail, or shine since 2003 the local market is one of the city’s very best. Fortunately, there are still a few stragglers besides us, so we have plenty of time to pick up a few fresh goodies. While I snap up the last remaining carton of freshly laid farm eggs, I spy a neighbouring cheese monger who offers a wheel of gooey brie which I am unable to resist. We quickly purchase some cherries, blood-red with plump shiny skin, a couple of big fat yellow courgettes and some pungent fresh herbs, tied in neat little bunches with rustic packing twine.
The allure of Marylebone never grows dim, and nowhere embodies a leisurely Sunday jaunt quite like a wander through the streets of this neighbourhood pocket in the heart of London. With goodies in hand, we head home to enjoy the delicious spoils of the day.
Other interesting pockets in Marylebone
St Christopher’s Place – a little hidden gem nestled between bustling Oxford Street, London’s busiest shopping hub, and Marylebone. In the 18th and early 19th centuries St Christopher’s Place was a forgotten slum, and the then littered streets led directly down to Tyburn Gallows, where up until 1783 public hangings were commonplace. During the 1870’s the area was redeveloped for social housing under the patronage of Octavia Hill, joint founder of the National Trust, and the street level dwellings became commercial businesses housing historical trades such as lamp making, chandlers, cheesemongers, drapers, and bookmakers. The Lamb & Flag public house, which still presides over the corner of James Street with its original wood panelled interior, was once a favourite haunt for local anarchists.
While adjoining Oxford Street thrived, becoming the busiest shopping street in Britain, St Christopher’s Place declined and by 1967 there were many empty properties and shops. Today, thanks in part to an unconventional property developer Robin Spiro who fought to retain the areas cultural and historical heritage, the area is once again a vibrant square surrounded by pedestrianised streets, brimming with independent boutiques, as well as neighbourhood coffee shops and restaurants.
Other interesting streets around Marylebone worth a wander are Marylebone Lane, New Quebec Street, and Seymour Place, all of which have a lovely array of restaurants, pubs, and interesting shops, as well as plenty of architectural interest.
Lovely places – just a few of my favourites, and by no means an exhaustive list.
Mouki Mou– Under-the-radar brands of earthy clothing, accessories and gifts sourced from around the world.
Tracey Neuls – For the past two decades, Tracey Neuls has continued to design with an original and distinctive signature, an extension of her character and personal values. Combining both her creative and technical ability, she creates shoes that are unique and wearable, two things not often found together.
TOAST – TOAST creates and curates simple, functional, beautiful clothing, homeware and editorial.
Bobbies – Founded in 2010, Bobbies is a Parisian house of exceptional shoes and leather goods. Designed in Paris, their creations are developed in Portugal from raw and noble skins of Italian origin. I own a beautiful pair of their boots, but for me, it is their men’s shoes that really shine.
Poetry – The Poetry aesthetic is one of understated luxury, they create easy, relaxed pieces in beautiful fabrics. Simplicity of design with clean lines and contemporary silhouettes.
Daunt Books – An original Edwardian bookshop with long oak galleries and graceful skylights situated in Marylebone High Street. My favourite for perusing the classic new edition hardbacks with beautifully designed cover art.
La Fromagerie – An award-winning cheese shop with a selection of farm fresh fruit and veg, as well as an excellent restaurant serving brunch options, as well as delicious seasonal salads and pastries.
The Grazing Goat – Spacious gastropub with contemporary country house-style interior, for traditional British cuisine. Very popular with the locals for a Sunday roast.
The Monocle Café – a spin-off from Monocle magazine, the showcase of design consultant and publisher Tyler Brûlé, who also founded Wallpaper magazine. Modest, yet perfectly executed little café serving well brewed Allpress coffee and delicious pastries from Stockholm bakery Fabrique, which now has a branch in London. Perfect spot in Chiltern Street with views looking across to the Chiltern Fire Station.
Workshop Coffee – Situated in St Christopher’s Place this well-respected London coffee institution offers seasonal coffee obtained sustainably and transparently from small fair-trade farms around the world. Their café in Marylebone serves great coffee, simple, well-procured and prepared food, and humble hospitality.