Covent Garden : An anecdotal guide
Herein lies foodie secrets and memories galore accumulated and selfishly guarded throughout university years. Handle with care.
Covent Garden, London
Evidently, 10am on a Saturday morning did not make this location any less popular as waves of people rushed passed me in an endless beeping of Oyster cards.
The darkness gave way to a lightly dreary morning complete with cobbled streets, the bright lights of a Charlotte Tilbury boutique, groups of people hanging about flower carts and faint accordion music.
A wave of nostalgia hit: the first time I moved to London for university, I had arrived 2 weeks before orientation, without a single familiar soul in a foreign city. Covent Garden was the first place I visited, and it was this exact rush I had felt. But this time, with a knowing familiarity, a friendly albeit strangling hug from a friend, and a dappling of new shops!
So without further ado, hop along this anecdotal emotional baggage of a guide cum travel diary!
1 - Covent Garden Square & Market
For the photos: been there, done that and tea sampling.
Make a right at the station. There, you'll be greeted by the expansive market hall and its daily buzz of restaurants, handicrafts market, shoppers and tourists. It is there you will find a romantic courtyard, usually filled with people under the flower arches, dining to freelance musicians serenading at the stairs.
Check out the alley of stores below. Feast your eyes on the cutest home decor in Sass & Belle. Or head below the archway to the acclaimed Whittard : connoisseurs of tea and hot chocolate (with a huge selection of teas for you to sample, should you be thirsty).
Exit for the central square in Covent Garden, which also happens to be the first modern square established in London and is always filled with people, pigeons and street performers (most often magicians). Surrounding it are wide promenades lined with luxury fashion such as the likes of Dior and Burberry, a huge Apple store, and most recently, the popular % Arabica coffee chain. And Clos Maggiore - named one of London's most romantic restaurants.
Oh, and it was indeed romantic! We booked it to celebrate a friend's birthday, and dressed up to the nines with dresses and open-toed heels. Timing was the only issue: on that fated day, there was a mini winter storm, a strike that held our Uber at the traffic light for a good 30 minutes (by then we were running late). Then the Uber broke down, forcing us to take the underground in heels (thank god it broke down in front of the station). And to audible gasping and (I was in boots. I have no idea how my friends were still walking) snow-crusted heels, we braved the icy winds and made it to the warm floral dining room to laughing waiters who graciously kept our booking despite the disastrous delays.
And for dessert, Venchi's pistachio gelato (always a favourite of mine in town!) - savoured while shivering in winter jackets and numb toes. Perhaps the worst decision ever made, but with it came one of my best memories.
This area comes alive every season: from Christmas to Easter with installations constantly updated for your photo satisfaction. Plus! The walkways are always lined with something to satisfy: be it hot mulled wine for the winter or lights for Valentines.
2 - Seven Dials & Neals Yard
For the art lovers, vegans and health junkies
It was the best savoury avocado oats I have ever had (which they have very unfortunately, discontinued. *cries*) that led me to the discovery of this very colourful, very photogenic square. A square surrounded by a plethora of vegan food options and natural product stores.
Leave this square, and you shall find yourself once again, on a wide promenade leading towards a romantic roundabout. This is where in the winter, one would visit for a nice stroll under the Christmas lights, or in warmer weather, a popular spot for couples. Personally, it is my favourite area to just wander aimlessly whenever I needed a breather.
Neals Yard /
Recommendations around the area:
London Graphic Centre: For art fanatics, this is a huge art supplies shop that truly saved me throughout my university years.
Food & Drinks /
26Grains: They specialise in oat porridges alongside a small but no less delicious menu of simple, healthy food and drinks (think matcha latte with no sugar and alternative milks!) in Scandinavian aesthetics.
Redemption Bar: Your pink and glittery cool-girl-healthy-brunching spot. Sporting a variety of delicious healthy options in big portions. Vegan friendly.
Monmouth Coffee: The legendary London coffee chain that sees visitors lining up for it. I recommend coming on odd hours on a weekday.
In front of it sits Monmouth Kitchen: a really nice, classy Italian Peruvian tapas restaurant for when you want to get fancy with a friend but in a more affordable range. Think candlelit dinners which I so happily found in the midst of a nervous breakdown. The food and candles helped.
Timber Yard Seven Dials: A cosy cafe that is very popular amongst people who love working in cafes. If you don't mind the crowds and the daily hustle, the colourful interiors certainly make a nice study spot should you chance a seat.
Arome Bakery: One of the most popular bakeries to date despite being very new. Twas a friend who recommended this Asian fusion bakery. But go early, for a queue is sure to ensue those who pursue, a good dose of caffeine and flaky pastries to consume.
Pictured on the left: a sticky Gula Melaka coconut bun.
Seven Dials Market /
Aha! A new addition! And an exciting one at that.
It was an extremely long queue for a Banksy exhibition that then drew our eye to the new expansive hall: a covered food and handicrafts market.
Note: while we salivated to trays of delicious doughnuts and a cheese conveyor belt, we had to leave because we had no prior booking. So yes, reserve a seat first before visiting the food market!
3 - Floral Court, Shops & more food
For romantic arches, books, cakes, pastries, & Dishoom
Take a stroll down the streets, peruse the shops.
The vibes. Come for that. Bright sun, a light breeze - the place to live your French-girl dreams. Or, come to admire the beautiful handcrafted elephant sculptures that are part of an Elephant Conservation effort.
Or book a table at one of Petersham Nurseries' restaurants and treat yourself to a meal amongst flowers in the beautiful courtyard!
Dishoom: If you haven't heard of this place, well it is certainly one of London's most famous restaurants. And is but one of many branches dishing up rich, tantalising Indian food across London. Here, I had my first encounter with the addictive House Chai (refillable up until 5pm!), where the waiter kept refilling my cup as we chatted the morning away. Seven cups later, I was on a sugar high half running to class, drenched in a cold sweat. So. As much as I recommend the Chai, I suggest keeping a lookout on the amount!
WA Cafe: Calling all matcha fans- this Japanese bakery is bound to satisfy! From creamy sesame cheesecakes to fluffy shokupan sandwiches, here's a great option be it to satisfy a sweet tooth or to buy a gift!
La Gelatiera: Small, yes. Easy to miss even. But not the gelato, no. A well-guarded secret amongst friends, if you will. This small but mighty gelato parlour is a strong competitor against the ice cream behemoths like Venchi or Amorino. Give it a try! I kid you not.
4 - ... and more restaurants
Lined with a plethora of pricier restaurants, this path leads to the wide road that is the Strand. Where one may ogle at the incredibly intricate architecture and the many historical landmarks, including Trafalgar Square to the west, and St. Paul's Cathedral to the far east. Ahh, stories for another time.
For coffee and brunch /
Abuelo, despite its extremely small space, offers a simple and no less delicious menu of very aesthetic toasts.
Or the uber-cool Grind- serving meals, cocktails and espresso from day to night.
Speaking of cocktails, drop by the delightfully colourful Blame Gloria cocktail and wine bar with a selection of cocktails that certainly did not disappoint.
It is here where, if you love steak, lies the famed Flat Iron (that I have heard ravings of but will probably never try due to my inability to digest steak). The cult Korean franchise On the Bab where one may meet one's new juniors to the vigour of stainless steel clanging in a crowded small space, but hey the food was good and the company wonderful. Or for fancy dim sum at Ping Pong (vouched by my Shanghainese friend who, between parcels of soup, claimed that these were dumplings better than many from home.)
And that is all I have for today.
If you do visit Covent Garden, I hope this helps! Or if you are just here for fun, I hope you enjoyed this little photo diary of sorts.
Thank you for reading!