London

Eat. Read. London.

books

For a literature geek like myself London is a treasure trove of literary history. Walk through this marvellous city and you can find yourself in a pub with Keats, Byron and Shelley, strolling alongside Sherlock Holmes on your way to work or walking Kensington Gardens with Elinor Dashwood. London is full of nods to some of the most renowned authors and poets of all time. If you’re only partially/in no way interested in literature you’ll be relieved to know that many of these historically significant sites are also pubs. So, walk with me through my favourite parts of the city and I’ll share with you what you should eat, drink and read.

Fitzrovia

What Is It?

Famously the centre for artists and writers, Fitzrovia has been the stomping ground for Dylan Thomas, George Orwell and Virginia Woolf. It is well documented that Woolf walked the streets of London to clear her head of dark thoughts and get inspiration: “I’m so ugly. So old. Well, don’t think about it, and walk all over London; and see people and imagine their lives.”

Start by taking in Woolf’s home on Gordon Square which became the meeting place of the “Bloomsbury Group” – a group of writers and artists Woolf’s brother knew from Cambridge. Woolf would walk along Piccadilly, Whitehall and through the St James’ Park which I would recommend if you fancy stretching your legs. Make like Mrs Dalloway and buy yourself some flowers from the Flower Shop on Goodge Street on the way.

I’m Hungry!

Although she wasn’t a big drinker, Woolf was known to occasionally frequent the Fitzroy Tavern. Today it’s a Sam Smith’s pub which makes it one of the most reasonably priced places for a pint in London. All beers are vegan and additive free and there is also a very reasonable food menu.

If it’s too early for a drink then get yourself to Workshop Coffee for one of the best flat whites in the city served by the friendliest staff.

What Should I Read?

    

Baker Street

“It is my belief Watson, founded up my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

What Is It?

In case you’ve been living inside a tree for the whole of your life Baker Street station is beautifully clear about its literary fame. This is the only entry dedicated to the dwelling of a fictional character rather than the writer. You can go and visit the home of Arthur Conan Doyle (it’s in Norwood) but why would you when you can go to 221b Baker Street and have your photograph taken wearing a long coat and a deer stalker? The museum itself is well worth a look although be prepared to queue.

I’m Hungry!

The Volunteer

Nestled conveniently at the top of Baker Street is The Volunteer a cosy pub with log fires and comfy seats. Take a good friend and share a bottle of wine with one of their delicious roast dinners – there is no finer way to spend a Sunday afternoon. If you have the energy you can even have a game of Scrabble afterwards…

If you don’t have the luxury of an afternoon free to hole-up in a pub on Baker Street then never fear – take a quick walk to Marylebone Station to my new found favourite place in London: International Cheese. I could write a whole blog post about this place but I’d rather you went and experienced it for yourself. In fact, forget all the literary stuff and just go here. Now. Go, order the gorgonzola and apple croissant and a coffee and thank me later.

Cheese 1 Cheese 2

What Should I Read?

Hampstead

What Is It?

There are many reasons to visit Hampstead: the heath, the Everyman cinema, the pubs but next time you’re there take a walk to the home of John Keats. It is widely believed that Keats wrote “Ode To A Nightingale” whilst sitting under a plum tree in the garden of his Hampstead home. Look next door to see the home of Fanny Brawne (Keats and Brawne were a 19th Century Ross and Rachel.) Or at least they would have bene had Ross travelled to Italy and died of TB, alone and in terrible pain.

I’m Hungry!

Work up your appetite with a stroll through Hampstead Heath to Spaniards Inn – Keats’ preferred watering hole. An atmospheric pub with beams and dark wood panelling and an excellent menu. Order the steak sandwich and wash it down with one of their local brews.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA map

What Should I Read?

Highgate

What Is It?

Highgate Cemetery is the resting place of many a literary giant: Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Douglas Adams to name but a few. It’s certainly worth a respectful stroll and it backs on to Waterlow Park which is hands-down my favourite park in London.

Why are we here? Samuel Taylor Coleridge. For his final, drug-addled years Coleridge lived in Highgate with his friend (and doctor) James Gillman on The Grove. His house is not open to the public (although there was an opportunity to buy it a few years ago for those with a spare £7m lying around.)

I’m Hungry

In the evenings, Coleridge would wander over the road to one of my favourite pubs in London. I’ve dragged many a weary, hungover friend up the hill from Highgate station with the promise of the food here. It’s The Flask – a historic pub that claims to be the site of the first human autopsy and boasts Dick Turpin as a patron. Now I don’t know if either of those facts are a) true or b) related. What I do know is the Flask is the perfect place for risotto, crumble and a Mongozo banana beer or three. In fact, maybe just get a window seat and view Coleridge’s place from the warmth of the pub.

What Should I Read?

Clerkenwell

What Is It?

Love him or loathe him (and I LOVE him) you can’t write an article about London’s literature without mentioning Dickens. London is the opening word to Bleak House, one of his most famous novels. It’s difficult to pin down an area you should visit as Dickens wrote about vast areas of the city. Like Woolf, he would stroll the city for hours taking in his surroundings that he would later turn into vivid descriptive writing. I suppose, as always, his house is good place to start. It’s now been turned into a brilliant museum so jump off the Piccadilly Line at Russell Square and get yourself to 48 Doughty Street.

I’m Hungry!

“A man in a velveteen coat sits in the parlour of a low public house with a small glass strongly impregnated with the smell of liquor.”

The man in this case is Bill Sykes. The “low public house” is the fictional The Three Cripples. Surprisingly there is no pub that goes by that name but it is generally accepted that Dickens was writing with The One Tun in mind. Dickens was a patron of the pub between 1833 and 1838 and published the first instalment of “Oliver Twist” in 1837. Saffron Hill is a 10 minute walk from Dickens’ front door. There you’ll find The One Tun – order a small glass strongly impregnated with the smell of liquor and imagine you’re a Victorian pimp. 1833 the pub probably didn’t serve Thai food but we’re in 2015 so forget the authentic Victorian experience just this once and order the sambal prawns. Dickens would have done the same if he’d had the chance.

What Should I Read?

 

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