London Neighborhood Walk: Fitzrovia
Published: June 2012
By Travel + Leisure Staff
<p>New and classic spots in England’s capital—from restaurants and hotels to shops, and more.</p>
Just north of Soho, near bustling Oxford Street, sits central London’s hidden neighborhood: Fitzrovia. Home to louche, boho types in the late 19th century (the Pre-Raphaelites and Oscar Wilde lounged in its bars), Fitzrovia’s leafy streets are lined with Edwardian-era apartments, Neoclassical mansions, and onetime warehouses. It hasn’t always been so appealing: 30 years ago, however, Fitzrovia was a grubby, rundown area. Vendors sold cars from the streets, fashion companies used warehouses for wholesale showrooms, and the only landmark was the Transformers-like British Telecom Tower, looming over it all. But in recent years, it has undergone an astonishing, if discreet, revival. Tired of the over-gentrified East End, gallery owners eyed Fitzrovia for its cheap rents and soaring spaces. New restaurants, bars, and hotels soon followed. Madonna even bought a building just north of Oxford Street for Kabbalah’s British headquarters. —Mark Ellwood
Alec Tiranti: The premier London vendor for art supplies, Alec Tiranti was founded by Giovanni Tiranti in 1895. This Fitzrovia store sells supplies to professional artists representing a variety of mediums and specialties, including sculpting, modelmaking, designing, stonecarving, pottery, and furniture restoration. The inventory includes everything from mallets and hammers to modeling materials like clay and wax. Customers can also browse a selection of kilns, health and safety items, and modeling stands. For customers new to their craft, Alec Tiranti also stocks a variety of helpful instructional books and videos.
Alison Jacques Gallery: Gallerist Alison Jacques worked as a curator for the British School at Rome before opening her first London space in a Mayfair town house in 2004, but three years later decamped to a roomier 3,600-square-foot space in Fitzrovia. Jacques’s stable of artists blends the media-savvy and controversial (Ryan McGinley and Robert Mapplethorpe, whose estate she has managed since 1999) with pop culture favorites like Jack Pierson (known for his letter sculptures) and collage maestro Paul Morrison.
Benito’s Hat: Benito’s Hat brings fresh, flavorful Tex-Mex cuisine to London. The owner, Ben Fordham, along with Mexican-born head chef Felipe, have created a menu of authentic dishes using local and Mexican ingredients. The menu is simple and allows guests to personalize their dishes. Selections include burritos, tacos, salads, and a daily soup. Diners can choose from among four fillings, including chipotle chile-marinated steak and grilled chicken marinated in achiote, tomato, and guajillo chile. Sides, desserts, beers, and cocktails are also available. At Benito’s Hat, the fresh, healthy approach to cuisine is a welcome alternative to the traditional, calorie-laden Mexican fare.
Charlotte Street Hotel: Decorated like a chintz-filled country house that Bertie Wooster might share with Anya Hindmarch, this shabby-chic 52-room hotel is filled with art curated by its co-owner, interior designer and collector Kit Kemp—from Roger Cecil abstracts to a contemporary mural by Alexander Hollweg. Like other Firmdale properties, it’s known for its Sunday night film club, which combines dinner with a screening in the downstairs theater, complete with comfy leather loungers.
French’s Theatre Bookshop: Theatre aficionados flock to this Fitzrovia bookshop, which is known for carrying an unmatched inventory of theatre and performance-focused literature, including titles on acting, criticism, audition material, theatre history, and print editions of some of the world’s most popular, as well as lesser known, plays. In addition, French’s has a wide selection of theatre magazines, DVDs of theatrical performances, and speech CDs. With its extensive selection and knowledgable staff, French’s has become the premier destination for shoppers searching for theatre-related literature and merchandise in London.
Heal’s: Celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2010, the stately Heal’s interiors store is a British institution. Climb the stairs and check out the so-called Heal’s cat, a sinewy 1925 sculpture by Chassagne peering from the mezzanine. The family began as bed makers, but in the mid-1890’s, under fourth-generation chairman/designer Sir Ambrose Heal, the store expanded its offerings. It’s still the perfect place for browsing the best in British design, from glassware to throw pillows to fabrics.
Lantana: Tucked away in London’s Fitzrovia neighborhood, Lantana is the place locals go for fresh, flavorful breakfast and lunch dishes. Named after a hardy, resilient weed able to thrive in hot, dry conditions, Lantana has ingrained itself in the London dining scene. Breakfast features include their Square Mile espresso (which has garnered its own share of praise) and meals such as toasted muesli and brioche French toast. Meanwhile, the lunch crowd can choose from items like the BRAT, a sandwich of bacon, rocket, avocado, tomato, and aioli, or Thai style coconut chicken. A weekend brunch is available, as are selections of wines, beers, and cocktails.
Lazarides: This brand-new five-floor spread opened last May in a Georgian town house that was once a brothel. The notorious, headline-grabbing gallery is run by Steve Lazarides, the onetime art director of London’s now-defunct SleazeNation magazine. He was the first person to print a poster by media-shy graffiti artist Banksy and helped make him a global phenomenon. (Brangelina and Christina Aguilera have bought Banksy works from him.) Lazarides is also known for prankish, punk artists with a wicked wit, such as Jonathan Yeo, who makes detailed collage portraits of politicians using cutouts from vintage porn magazines.
Paperchase: Though there are now branches of this paper mecca across the world, the triple-decker Fitzrovia spot was the original Paperchase store, catering to artists in the area since the 1970’s. On the first floor, check out a vast range of cards, Pop-arty boxes, and one-of-a-kind printed gift wrap. Then move upstairs for professional supplies—paper in various weights, day planners, and dozens of types of pens.
Pilar Corrias Gallery: London socialite and gallerist Pilar Corrias—who helped start Haunch of Venison gallery, a branch of which recently opened in New York City—opened her namesake 3,800-square-foot space to coincide with Frieze Art Fair just over a year ago. Her roster includes Scottish conceptual artist Charles Avery and Berlin-based Keren Cytter, known for her narrative film and video installations. Through Miuccia Prada, a client, Corrias tapped Rem Koolhaas to reimagine a leather showroom as a gallery with 16-foot ceilings and moveable walls that accommodate monolithic artwork.
Salt Yard: Central London’s Salt Yard is a trendy restaurant and bar celebrating the Spanish tapas tradition. Chef Ben Tish’s men features an array of tapas-style small plates created from Spanish- and Italian-inspired ingredients and flavor profiles. Using simple, yet bold flavors and locally sourced meats, Tish crafts such selections as chargrilled chorizo, slow roasted lamb, and carpaccio of sea bream. In addition to the main tapas menu, Salt Yard features a charcuterie selection and bar snacks, as well as a menu of puddings, which includes churros with valrhona chocolate sauce and saffron cheesecake.
Sanderson: Once a sleek furniture company headquarters, the Sanderson became a hotel in 2000 under the guidance of Ian Schrager and Philippe Starck. The team preserved much of its Midcentury charm while adding signature touches (note the Daliesque red-lip sofa in the lobby). Suka, the new Malaysian restaurant on site, was masterminded by New York’s Zak Pelaccio, and the 300-square-foot guest rooms feel surprisingly large, with offbeat flourishes like a Starck-designed rug riffing on Voltaire’s handwriting. The hotel’s best amenity, though, is a well-kept secret: the Japanese-style Courtyard Garden hidden in the center of the building like an urban oasis. It features a lounge with a wooden deck set amid restored 1960’s mosaics, rhododendrons, magnolias, and a man-made canal filled with white water lilies.
Stuart Shave/Modern Art: Originally in the vibrant East London arts district, Stuart Shave relocated his avant-garde gallery to a large, glass-fronted West End building in 2008. And, thanks to Shave’s commitment to showcasing the art of the future, his patrons followed. First founded in 1998, Stuart Shave/Modern Art has become well-known and loved for nurturing up-and-coming artists with unique styles, many colored by bold graffiti or Gothic influences. Among the works exhibited are dynamic sculptures by David Altmejd, vivid installations by Barry McGee, otherworldly paintings by Nigel Cooke and captivatingly humanistic photographs by Collier Schorr.
The Langham: The 380-room Victorian-era landmark (unveiled by the Prince of Wales in 1865 and still a royal favorite) has recently been restored to its storied grandeur and brought into the 21st century with flat-screen TVs and wireless Internet in every room. British-style afternoon tea—voted London’s best in one recent poll—is served daily in the posh Palm Court off the lobby (try the tomato-and-cream-cheese sandwiches and the lemon posset cups). But the real culinary treat is the Roux at The Landau restaurant, a collaboration between legendary chefs (and father and son) Albert and Michel Roux Jr., for roasted wild sea bass and free-range Gloucester Old Spot pork loin. Langham’s new Asian owners have added subtle Eastern touches, too. At the Chuan Spa, Asian healing arts take center stage; holistic revitalizing treatments are grounded in traditional Chinese medicine. And the Langham’s central location, across from the Art Deco masterpiece BBC Building, makes it perfect for exploring Soho, Mayfair, and the funky Fitzrovia neighborhood.
Villandry: Villandry is London’s one-stop shop for gourmet dining. The sleek and modern restaurant serves French-inspired cuisine, including smoked haddock and moules frites, for lunch and dinner. The café features free wireless Internet and a menu of sandwiches and small plates, including the croque monsieur and the poached chicken terrine. Shoppers at the foodstore will find a welcome selection of artisanal and seasonal items, including breads, chocolates, and wines, as well as a deli.