Where’s all the tourists? The aggressive honk of taxi horns? The throng of shoppers? I thought to myself on a stroll through Connaught Village.
For nonresidents finding a quiet corner of central London away from the tourist traps and hullabaloo can seem a tough task.
But there are pockets of the city where you can escape the crowds - without ever leaving zone 1 on the Tube.
Five minutes walk from Lancaster Tube station and a stone’s thrown from the lush greenery of Hyde Park and the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street is Connaught Village in the West End of the city.
With its Georgian townhouses painted in pastel hues, picture-postcard mews and independent boutiques and food spots, it offers a more tranquil shopping trip than the rest of the Big Smoke.
So secluded, in fact, that it was an area once frequented by Princess Diana, and other celebrities as a place where they could avoid the glare of the paparazzi bulb. Today, it also houses the current residence of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Its individual character off the beaten track has also proved a magnet for creatives who have more of a focus on one off pieces than mass-produced goods. As such, it was once home to shoe designer Jimmy Choo’s couture atelier.
Here’s some of the independent businesses I found on a stroll through the village.
For a boutique that blends fashion you wear with the art on your walls head to Kokoro where, as well as picking up eye-catching clothing made with traditional printing techniques in Japan, you can have existing items customised. Take your leather jackets and handbags in for a consultation where a specialist leather artist uses them as a canvas to create hand-painted one-off pieces, adorned with everything from butterflies to Japanese style blooms.
For more street-style fashions, try Viola for unique clothes and accessories from brands such as quirky Greek jewellery designer Katerina Psoma to more rock ‘n’ roll chic designs by True Rocks, which was co-founded by the creative director behind the Ibiza Rocks brand.
If shoes are your weakness make a pit stop at Lucy Choi who’s set up shop in her uncle’s former base - her uncle being none other than Jimmy Choo. Born into shoe-design royalty, her designs blend comfort with show-stopping looks.
In London you can take your tastebuds on a global tour without leaving the Capital. In this corner of the West End there’s a smorgasbord of Middle Eastern and Asian eateries with Colbeh flying the flag for Persian fare. It’s been in the area for almost two decades and has built up such a loyal following it’s not been unknown for queues to form outside.
The decor is simple and informal, instead it’s the food that shines as well as its pièce de résistance, a mosaic oven where your flat bread, perfect for tearing and dunking in lashings of houmous and mast-o-khiar (mint and yoghurt dip), is made right before your eyes. At roughly five seconds from oven to table you can’t get much fresher.
After our appetite had been sated we headed next door to wet our whistle at Connaught Cellars. It’s a haven for wine-lovers where owner David Farber’s passion for fine wine is infectious.
We had a wine-tasting with the French business owner who talked us through some of the best wines from his home country. He cares more about the quality of a wine than the name and as such stocks a kaleidoscope of different wines from well-known to more select producers, many of which were far cheaper than you’d pay for a bog standard bottle from a pub, but with twice the flavour.
The next day we tried Roni’s Bagel Bakery, a new kid on the block which has branched out from its base in West Hampstead. It’s perfect for a coffee pick-me-up and, of course, bagels which are made using the authentic Jewish method of baking.
For a traditional London boozer try the Duke of Kendal which has been pulling pints since 1838. Due to its distinctive shape, think the pub version of New York’s flatiron landmark, it’s a focal point of the village and its beer garden is the perfect place to people watch on a sun-drenched day.
In keeping with Connaught Village’s ethos of individuality, it’s home to Europe’s only Mud Australia store where you’ll find a unique colour palette of hand-made porcelain which is crafted in Sydney. The pigment is added to the clay as it’s crafted giving it a rich colour, from a bold tangerine hue to baby blush blue. The resulting pieces are minimalist yet striking.
For a beauty blitz try Fé, which has a decor inspired by far flung corners of the globe, from buddhas to Japanese screens, and a treatment list to match with options such as Yuko, a permanent Japanese hair straightening technique.
•Where to stay
We stayed at the Lancaster London which is next door to Lancaster Gate Tube station. It’s a skyscraper of hotel, but it still manages to retain a boutique feel - even amidst a massive renovation. Our room offered pretty as a picture views of Hyde Park through to the familiar outline of The London Eye, Big Ben and The Shard.
We travelled with Grand Central direct from Sunderland to King’s Cross Station. For more information visit http://www.grandcentralrail.com/
Grand Central has been ranked as Britain’s best value long distance train operator for the fifth year in a row in the Spring 17 National Rail Passenger Survey.Travel direct to London Kings Cross with Grand Central from £16.40. Book up to 12 weeks in advance with no booking fee online and save up to 89%.
•For more information on Connaught Village visit http://www.connaught-village.co.uk/
We’ve teamed up with Grand Central to give away a pair of first class train tickets from a North East station of your choice to London Kings Cross.
Grand Central’s North East service connects Sunderland, Hartlepool, Eaglescliffe, Northallerton, Thirsk and York with London Kings Cross and offers free Wi-Fi and plenty of legroom as standard.
To win a pair of first class anytime walk up return tickets to London worth £495 in total, answer this question? Which London station does Grand Central travel direct to from Sunderland and Hartlepool?
A) Kings Cross
Send your answer and contact details to Grand Central Competition, Katy Wheeler, Johnston Press North East, 2nd Floor, Alexander House, 1 Mandarin Road
Rainton Bridge Business Park, Houghton le Spring, Sunderland, DH4 5RA
Alternatively email your answer and contact details to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk.
The winner can travel whenever they want, subject to availability, as long as they give ten working days notice of travel. The competition is open to over 18s only. Tickets are non-transferable and must be used within six months of the date of the competition. Closing date: September 11.