December in Duke of York Square Market

When I was interviewed about my photography exhibition by Stuart from Inspiring City last month, we met near Duke of York Square on a Saturday – the only day of the week that the market springs to life.

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The first thing he said to me was, “You know you’re in Chelsea when there’s people sipping oysters in the local market.”

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Yes, there are buckets and crates of oysters, served front and centre when you pass by along the King’s Road. I haven’t tried them, but people seem to enjoy them.

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One of favourite vendors in the market so far is the duck confit people who make “the best duck sandwich in Chelsea”. It’s the only one I’ve come across anyway, so I’d vouch for that.

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Another good one is the dumpling stall. They are always fresh and tasty and the vendors are quite cheerful.

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The pie and quiche stall offerings look pretty delicious too but I haven’t given them a try yet.

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If you’re after a quick snack, stop by the Brazilian table for a Coxinha De Galinha.

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Plenty of samples are waiting to be snitched as well.

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There’s other goodies to take home like buckets filled up with many flavours of olives.

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You can choose a nice bit of fish to wrap up for dinner.

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Then there’s sweets. Mountains of sweets.

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And tasty loaves of bread in different flavours.

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And cakes.

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And more cakes.

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And more cakes.

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And more cakes.

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And piles of meringue.

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And rows of sweets.

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Finding desert won’t be a problem then (or if none of those appeal, there’s occasionally a donut stall too).

I also found something else that made me very happy to see: Colombian fruit – a whole table full of it – lulos, sapotes! When I lived in Colombia, the fruit was one of my favourite things and while I realised that ultimately I don’t belong in a tiny mountain village, there are a few things I miss. This is one of them.

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They also had what we called mamones. They are sold in bags along the roadside, especially on the journey to Bogota and you occasionally see the shells and pits flying out of truck windows and littering the ground in traffic jams. You bite into the shell of the tiny round fruit and scrape the small amount of flesh off of the pit in the middle using your front teeth. It’s more a way to pass the time than pass the hunger. Here they are 10 for £10, but they were dirt cheap for huge bags full in Colombia. (Here’s the first three months worth of Little Colombia Observationist if you’re interested. Unfortunately I switched to wordpress.org for the second three months and ended up losing the domain when I came back to London.)

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Around the holiday season, the mulled wine and chestnuts arrive along with a stall selling wreaths. One reason I’m always drawn to markets is that they are almost always lively and colourful. Another reason is for the smorgasbord of smells: the hot apple cider, then the fried dumplings, then the cheese wheels, then the stacks of fudge and the chorizo sandwiches. People tend to be in a bit of a jollier mood too.

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Especially in the Summer, the square fills up with friends chatting and laughing. It’s a brilliant place for people watching. I spent hours there with my parents when they were here on a hot day a few months ago. There’s plenty to do nearby as well so it’s nice to make a day of it. Saatchi Gallery, one of my favourites, is just behind the market. The whole of King’s Road is filled with shops (try Claudie Pierlot – my new favourite), cafes (love Joe and the Juice) and places to eat (Sushinho!). There’s the Curzon Cinema as well. Plus, Hyde Park (and all the museums around Exhibition Road) and Battersea Park are within easy walking distance. (Here’s a little walk around Chelsea post in case you missed it with some other ideas).

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If you have kids, take them to chat with Santa.

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And, if you’re excited about sweet American treats like I am, you’ll be happy to visit the Partridges on the other side of the market. Jorge bought me some mini fruity marshmallows the other day and I picked up some Swiss Miss hot chocolate to accompany them. Mmmm, childhood in a mug.

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Now we just need some snow…Here’s a photo from last year to help you get in the Wintery mood.

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(Catch me on my other blog, Little Observationist, as well.)

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Listen to a Londoner: Suzi Brown

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I received an email the other day inviting me to a little shindig to kick off something called “Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience”. The message said it involved fashion, all sorts of art (including”specially curated graffiti”), the offer of some Monday evening drinks, a spot of shopping with local artisan vendors, food (always important) – in particular, home-cooked Middle Eastern treats and some comfy lounge-style sofas.

What could be better apart from the fact that it’s set in the old abandoned Victorian post office on King’s Road that’s always intrigued me and the fact that it’s less than two minutes walk from our flat? Yes, please. Count me in.

So I decided to interview the brains behind this operation to find out what it’s really all about and, well, who exactly is “Mama Brown”? Turns out she’s Suzi Brown and she’s a pretty fascinating person indeed. She’s well travelled, has a light installation in her dining room from a Saudi Arabian artist and she believes in cooking good food and bringing together people from all walks of life. Read on for more.

(Note: These are press photos throughout besides a couple from Mama Brown’s Facebook page, but I’ll be sure to take some to share with you at the event on Monday night!)

Mama Brown's

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. What’s your favourite London discovery?
SB: I was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and grew up in Lebanon. When the war started in 1975, I came to the UK to study at Oxford and then went on to Richmond College and earned a BA in Art History. London is now my home. There’s nowhere like it. It is the centre of the modern world, yet it maintains a rich sense of history and tradition. That’s what gives London its edge and that’s why people keep coming back. Just when you think you know it, London presents another side that you never even knew existed. It is then that you realise you’ve only just scratched the surface of this amazing city. Discovery is the norm in this eclectic and international place.

Brooski Jewellery

LLO: The old Victorian post office on King’s Road will host your upcoming event “Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience”. What can we expect from the “experience”? What will the atmosphere be like? Also, talk a bit about your choice of venue.
SB: When I first walked into the post office on King’s Road, it was in a sad state –  dirty and grimy, with no source of water or power. But there was something about the space that I knew would lend itself well to what I wanted to do with Mama Brown’s. It was huge, cavernous, and gritty. It was like working with a blank canvass, “tabula rasa“.  We immediately seized the challenge of transforming the space into what it is now. The atmosphere is a bit of London’s East End meets London’s West End. Mama Brown’s is bringing a bit of Shoreditch street flavour to the posh neighbourhood of Chelsea.

Miro's Love Bites

LLO: What prompted you to set up the first Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience over the Summer and where was it? What were the highlights? What’s new this time? 
SB: The first Mama Brown’s was at Holland Park. It was hugely successful as it was an intimate setting where art, design, culture and cuisine came together. Apart from the amazing showcase of merchandise that came from all around the world, people were very much impressed by the organic Middle Eastern food that was served fresh every day. That was definitely a highlight.The idea was born through my love of bringing people from all walks of life together at huge communal tables – each person sharing his or her own experiences in life, culture, food and art. But this time, I want to take things even further by making the experience even more memorable, more enriching, more impressively festive. Of course, Mama Brown’s will still have the same heart and soul that made people fall in love with it the first time around, but we have a few more surprises up our sleeves that are sure to delight. There will be more art to admire, more beautiful merchandise and even better food. We are bringing in lots of new vendors whose items you will fall in love with.

Torula Bags

LLO: Tell us about a couple of the stand out vendors who will be there on King’s Road. 
SB: It’s difficult to name only two as all of them are stand outs in my opinion. Each one is bringing in something totally different from the other. What makes Mama Brown’s different and unique is that all these amazing designers, whether they are established or up-and-coming, will be found under one roof.

cire trudon candles

LLO: Give us your top choice of gift for holiday shoppers looking to buy something fun at Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience for each of the following:
SB:
Mum: A beautiful and ornate cashmere shawl
Dad: A pair of exquisite cufflinks
Brother: A cool, one-off designer shirt
Best girl friend: Gorgeous accessories for everyday
Boyfriend:  A holiday weekend bag or a nice leather iPad cover with his initials

LLO: I hear there will be “specially curated graffiti” on display at the event. What sort of specially curated graffiti? Also, with artist Ben Wilson’s recent chewing gum art trail down King’s Road, do you think Chelsea’s becoming more open minded about embracing street art? Or will it stay in the east?
SB: The space we have was a virtual blank slate and we had to think of ways to aesthetically transform it whilst keeping the edgy character of the place intact. Graffiti is the one art form that we felt would allow us to do this.  But it couldn’t just be any graffiti. The style had to reflect what Mama Brown’s is all about – avant-garde, yet classic; street, yet clean and functional. Yes, we are in Chelsea, yet we are bringing some edge to it. Ben Wilson’s chewing gum art on the King’s Road is a breath of fresh air. It tells us that the neighbourhood can appreciate beauty in all forms.

Year Zero Bag

LLO: What is your favourite piece of art in your private collection?
SB: It would definitely be the Ahmed Mater light installation in my dining room. It is difficult to explain why. Art is art and it speaks to each one of us differently. That’s why art is so special, isn’t it?

Imperial Collection Vodka

LLO: Where does your love of cooking come from? What will we be eating at Mama Brown’s Pop Up Experience?
SB: When you are a mother of five children, you learn how to diversify and experiment when it comes to cooking! Apart from that, I was exposed to some of the best cuisine from an early age, growing up in an Arabic household. I am an avid traveller and I believe one of the best ways to experience culture is through food. I bring the flavours and tastes of my travels to every dinner party I host and to every meal I prepare for my loved ones. Mama Brown’s is a labour of love. What better way to show my guests my appreciation than by preparing some of my best-loved Arabic dishes at Mama Brown’s?

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LLO: What’s your favourite holiday season tradition and why? Any holiday season pet peeves?
SB: It would have to be the time I get to spend with my family over the winter break. We have a tradition of travelling to a corner of the globe that we have never been to. Last year, we spent a glorious three weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia. It was amazing – totally immersing ourselves in a new culture. Apart from spending time lounging on tropical beaches, we did some really interesting things that we’ll never forget, like planting rice in rice paddies. Pet peeves? I abhor packing and tourist traps!

Communal Table

LLO: You’ve been called “London’s ultimate hostess”. That’s a big name to live up to! What are your top three hosting tips for the rest of us?
SB: A big name to live up to, indeed! If I didn’t love bringing people together, I would never do it. I love to host and I do it very frequently – whether it’s a small intimate dinner with my closest friends or a big party until the early hours.

Top three tips:
1. Food made with love. Everyone loves a delicious meal. It’s what people remember most at the end of the night.
2. Introduce new blood. Always make it a point to bring in a few new faces each time you entertain. It makes things more interesting.
3. Create a fun atmosphere with no stress.

Thanks Suzi!

Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience is located at 232 King’s Road, Chelsea and will be open to the public from the 26th of November until the 15th of December (Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00am-7:00pm).

Street Art: Clet in London

It looks like the clever French street artist Clet Abraham was at work in West London recently – perhaps he was in town for the bank holiday weekend?

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Wandering through Chelsea on Monday with my parents who are over from New York, we spotted a few stickered signs in typical Clet style (Oakley Street and King’s Road). Then I found another two on my way home  last night (Sumner Place) in South Kensington.

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It’s great to see some street art on my side of the city for a change.

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Clet and Ben Wilson’s recent chewing gum art trail down King’s Road may be some of the subtler styles (I’ve also spotted  few Christiaan Nagel mushrooms perched on Chelsea rooftops), but it makes me hope for some colourful murals popping up around here eventually! Or at least a few small Pablo Delgado pieces please?

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I’m positive there are plenty more Clet pieces hiding nearby and perhaps further afield. Have you spotted any recently?

A Goodbye Brunch at Bumpkin’s New Secret Garden Restaurant in Chelsea

I remember the day Leslie told me she was moving to London to complete a master’s program in Greenwich. It wasn’t that long ago.

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Time flies though, and this city is one of transience and I’ve seen countless friends move here and then abroad and sometimes back again, like I did myself a few years ago.

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So to say goodbye and celebrate the short time we did get to spend with Leslie in London, we met with Carolina at Bumpkin’s  brand new “secret garden” restaurant housed in a converted Georgian townhouse in Chelsea. It was a beautiful blue and sunny summer day, perfect for a bit of outdoor eating and some seasonal British food.

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The “secret garden” is not so much a lush green leafy garden as an outdoor patio area where you can eat away from the noise and traffic of Sydney street. The walls are painted with leaves and there’s a handful of plants hanging around.

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It overlooks the Chelsea Gardener in case you’d like to go shopping for your own garden, if you’re lucky enough to have on in London, when you finish. Avoid the bright white table in the corner if it’s sunny. It is blinding!

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We went early so we could enjoy a Saturday brunch at noon. Mmm, breakfast food! I ordered scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toast.

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Carolina went for the same, but substituted the salmon for bacon.

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And Leslie went for one last traditional English breakfast (baked beans on the side) before heading back to life in Tennessee.

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We went for teas and lattes with our brunch, but the drinks looked pretty delicious, especially the cherry lemonade and cherry iced tea. I’m going back for one of those! Or the refreshing sounding “English Garden” – gin shaken with cucumber, elderflower, mint, apple, lemon juice and a hint of soda water.

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Last time I went to Bumpkin – the one in South Kensington – was with Jorge for dinner. If you’re there for dinner and mulling over the menu, I would highly recommend the Chargrilled cod served with a heritage beetroot, tomato & fennel salad. Yum!

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Inside was typical cosy Bumpkin with green walls, country home style decor, antique mirrors, heavy wooden tables and herbs in white pots.

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While there were plenty of people outside soaking up the sun on a rare Summer day, the inside was, as you would expect, completely empty!

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Though I think the secret “garden” marketing is slightly over rated, the food was definitely tasty, the atmosphere was welcoming and the company and conversation were, of course, fabulous.

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Here’s to British sunshine for months to come.

Exploring My London Neighbourhood: Chelsea, SW3

I was asked to write this post below for Move Guides, an expat relocation company, for a new series on their blog called Neighbourhood Wars. This was the first one, published earlier this week. Each Monday, they will feature a guest post from someone in a different London neighbourhood. Stephanie, who runs the blog, was happy to let me re-post here for you as well. These are some of the things I like about my own London neighbourhood. Photos are mine unless indicated otherwise.

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Chelsea Chimneys

I love to travel, which is part of the reason I ended up living in London, but sometimes exploring your own neighborhood can be just as entertaining as a trip abroad. Though I’ve lived all over West London in the last five years, my current neighborhood is in a little corner of Chelsea.

This area was once London’s bohemian quarter, full of artists, writers and musicians. It’s pretty well gentrified now but King’s Road has a history as a central area of activity during the Swinging 60s and the punk movement of the 70s. It’s long been a major fashion hub to one degree or another.

Here’s a list of some of the places I most enjoy in my neighbourhood, which I’ll define as within 15-20 minutes walking distance from home in any direction.

Tom Tom Coffee HouseTomtom Coffee House

FOR COFFEE, TEA & JUICE

There’s a cosy little gem on Ebury Street called Tomtom Coffee House, which is said to have some of London’s most delicious coffee. I’m more of a tea drinker, which is good as well.  They have heat lamps outside allowing for some fantastic people watching even when the weather is cold.

One of my favourite places to relax for an hour with a good magazine in hand after shopping is Joe & The Juice on King’s Road. It’s inviting, the seats are comfortable, the paninis are delicious and their fresh juice is healthy and refreshing.

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 9.15.51 PMScreenshot from http://www.fernandezandwells.com/

Soho’s infamous Fernandez & Wells recently opened a branch on Exhibition Road near South Kensington station. It’s always crowded with museum-goers, but head there on a week day and you’ll have a much better chance of getting a seat.

Jak’s on Walton Street is another relaxing place to stop by for a coffee or a fruit smoothie. You can sit on a big couch in front of a drum set table and talk the afternoon away. It also serves food, which I haven’t tried yet but it seems to get good reviews!

JaksJak’s

FOR FOOD

My favourite place to go for dinner nearby is Sushinho on King’s Road, a Brazilian – Japanese fusion restaurant with melt-in-your-mouth sushi and other dishes with creative use of textures and ingredients. The cocktails are worth a trip alone. We went Monday night and I had a Brazilian Coconut Martini. Yum!

sushinhoSushinho

Madsen, just across from South Kensington station serves up some tasty Scandinavian dishes. The décor, as you would expect, is simple. Staff are friendly and welcoming and prices are pretty cheap for this side of town.

The pizza at Rossopomodorro, on Fulham Road, is delicious and they have plenty of topping options to choose from for a more laid back dinner.

For a change, we sometimes order Vietnamese street food from Phat Phuc Noodle Bar, a little kiosk tucked away in a nook off of Sydney Street near King’s Road.

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El Gauchoa little Argentine restaurant, sits in nearby Chelsea Farmer’s Market. The steak is delicious.

American themed Honky Tonk opened last year on Hollywood Road. It’s good for an easy-going Saturday brunch with the girls.

Speaking of American, my favorite place to pick up all of my goodies from the States (like Fluff, Goldfish and Lucky Charms) is Partridges in Duke of York Square. Expensive, as most imports are, but it’s all there. For fresh bread, we have the lovely Gail’s bakery – one on King’s Road and one just outside South Kensington station.

FOR DRINKS

Jorge and I had our first date at Azteca a year ago and we’ve been there many times since. It’s a Mexican themed bar on King’s Road with the best mojitos I’ve had in London accompanied by lively Latin American music.

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That first night, we also went to Janet’s Bar on Old Brompton Road. This is not your ordinary drinking hole nor does it look like it belongs in Chelsea. It’s fabulously quirky and eclectic with walls lined with intriguing customers’ photos, mirrors, lights and random ephemera.

Down on Walton Street, Eclipse is a dark and seductive cocktail bar with nooks and crannies and creative concoctions to drink (including a delicious gin-based drink called Divine Smoke that actually smokes).

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The Sydney Arms, on Sydney Street, is our friendly local with room to sip a gin & tonic outdoors on a Summer’s day.

The Hollywood Arms has one of London’s best quiz nights and free movies on Sundays. They also have board games which are great for whiling away a rainy weekend afternoon.

For a traditional pub experience, I love the Queen’s Head tucked away on a narrow road called Tyron Street off of King’s Road. It has a fireplace and a warm atmosphere.

FOR ART & CULTURE

There are some giants nearby: Saatchi Gallery which has a fascinating collection of contemporary art, the Victoria & Albert Museum which often features design and fashion exhibitions, the architecturally beautiful Natural History Museum and the educational Science Museum as well the elegant and impressive Royal Albert Hall.

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On a smaller scale, there is a tiny branch of Proud Galleries on King’s Road showing off rock & roll, fashion and pop culture photography. For a rainy day, there’s always the luxe Curzon Cinema on King’s Road. There are only a few films to choose from at any one time, but beats out the nearby Cineworld if they’re playing something good.

FOR BEAUTY

The girls at the cheap and cheerful Nail Boutique in the Chelsea Farmer’s Market off of Sydney Street are always worth a visit for a quick and clean manicure and pedicure. The Chelsea Day Spa just off of King’s Road offers a much wider selection of treatments from manicures and pedicures to waxing to massages to facials. They also list a selection of treatments especially for men.

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If you’re willing to splash out a bit (about £60 for a luxury manicure), try Salt and Chocolate on Walton Street, a project of Russian fashion writer, DJ and socialite Yana Uralskaya. The walls are like galleries, full of original photography prints and the chairs are bespoke Jimmie Martin designs.

FOR RETAIL THERAPY

King’s Road is full of my usual favourite high street shops: Anthropologie, Zara, Massimo Dutti, Ted Baker, etc but there are a few other places that inspire the shopaholic in me.

I have a small magazine addiction, which I regularly feed at Londis, a corner shop on King’s Road with a gold mine of some 2,000 magazines hiding away in the back.

LondisLondis

For books, I head to Daunt, a Fulham Road branch of the original Marylebone shop where the collection is organized by country in which the books are set.

Another great place to pick up coffee table-style books (think photography, architecture and interior design) is the Taschen shop near the Saatchi Gallery in Duke of York Square.

For interior design, there’s the simple yet creative white decor of Jonathan Adlersome cool Asian-style pieces at Oka and the innovative Conran Shop right around the corner. If it’s flowers, plants and outdoor décor you’re after, The Chelsea Gardener is one of the best nurseries in London.

IMG_5447_2The Chelsea Gardener

FOR FRESH AIR

The vast Hyde Park is just up the road, a great place for Summer picnics and bike rides and a short stroll over the Candy Land coloured Albert Bridge will take you to Battersea Park with its peace pavilion and long pathway lining the Thames.

Battersea ParkBattersea Park

Nearby, we also have the Royal Hospital grounds where the annual Chelsea Flower Show is held and the Chelsea Physic Garden, a walled in sanctuary full of flowers and plants from around the world just off the Chelsea Embankment.

Chelsea Flower ShowChelsea Flower Show 2012

A walk through the side streets, like this one from Sydney Street to Sloane Square, can be just as fascinating. Chelsea has quite a few luxurious homes and private members clubs with an insight into the way the other half lives. These make for some entertaining people watching anywhere you go around here!

The garden next to St. Luke’s Church where Charles Dickens was married is a quiet and tourist-free place to lounge in the grass with a good book or bring a bottle of wine to share among friends. We often wake up to the church bells on a Sunday morning or mid-week to the clatter of 20+ horses trotting up the road!

St Luke's ChurchSt. Luke’s Church

Am I missing anything good nearby?

Leave me a comment and let me know what you like most about your own neighbourhood and where it is (London or not)!