Tuesday 10 December 2019

 

48 Hours in Seven Dials 

By David Ellis - Editor of Evening Standard's 'Go London'

 

 

I have a particular memory I tend to think of whenever Seven Dials is mentioned.

It is early in the morning, the end of a long night, about the time when the dawn light is still a little purple. I’m standing on the sundial pillar itself, on the roundabout opposite the Cambridge Theatre.

In turn, I look at the roads around me: Monmouth, Mercer, Earlham, both halves, then Shorts Gardens. They are empty, for a moment. Quiet – in the middle of town. Golden. Then, with the fi rst of the morning’s deliveries, the hush is broken, but I’m happy; happy that I’m in a city with somewhere like this: all these restaurants, bars, shops.

 

 All those possibilities. That morning, it seemed the streets held a little magic in them, too. There’s a lot of life in Seven Dials, a lot to explore. Here’s how I do it. 

Days need settling into; I’m not someone who ever manages to get a head start. If it’s a Saturday, and my Friday night has been the ideal – ribeye at Hawksmoor Seven Dials and a river of red wine – coff ee is the day’s fi rst must, a sharpener for edges dulled by a late night. Few places are better than Monmouth Coff ee which, with its heavy paint, black frontage and white copperplate logo, always reminds me of old newspaper clippings. 

Their coffee is laid out like sweets in a sweetshop, for those really into it, but staff keep it simple when all that’s needed is a double espresso to pull the mind together. Then to St. JOHN Bakery. People rightly adore the doughnuts, but I like the almond croissants best; on that first bite, the sugar puff s up into a little ball, invariably coating the nose, and I feel like a child.

On weekends, treats are everything. Perhaps I should hate fast food, but I don’t.

Especially not when fried chicken comes out the way it does at Chick ‘n’ Sours. ‘The Colonel’ is their simplest dish, but it’s also perfectly execxuted. This is the fl avour I imagine when I crave comfort food. If I’ve come in the evening instead, I’ll gleefully pair it with a mezcal shot. I’m not much into puddings but the canelés at Jacob the Angel, two minutes away, always take me back to a weekend in Bordeaux. 

Neal’s Yard, with its blue-and orange-painted window frames and all the noise of glasses chinking and people chattering, is almost endlessly enjoyable. For a glass of wine, Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels is a fail-safe – I’ve never guessed their ‘mystery bottle’, but if you do, it’s free. Still, the fun is in the trying. 

A new favourite though is Casanova & Daughters, across the yard. A simpler aff air, the wine list is short, which I love; it’s not hard to choose, and whatever you do will be good. Much of the list is organic and the producers are small, often independent and all Sicilian. 

Evenings in the yard always seen to bubble merrily; it is somewhere to unwind. Squeezing into award-winning restaurant The Barbary is difficult – they’ve only room for 24, all around a horseshoe bar. People are right to rave about the breads, beetroots and the delicious date syrup. The pata negra neck, all smoke and tenderness, is conversation-stoppingly good. The h Club is perfect for a late-night cocktail; the bartenders here are attentive, and happy to stir up just about anything. 

 

 

 

The Donmar Warehouse on Earlham Street is a powerful little place, a small theatre that has long punched far out of its weight class, putting on innovative, interesting pieces. Before an evening’s show, I rate Tredwells for their theatre menu. At £30 for three courses, it’s a steal for a chance to try Chantelle Nicholson’s modern British cooking. 

Walking home, I always like to stop by the Crown & Anchor. It is a happy place and has been pouring pints since 1904. I like that it’s still there, generations of drinkers later, a rare unchanged thing in the heart of a shape-shifting city. If it’s open, I’ll go in. If not, I’ll head home, past the Freud Bar, laughing at memories that I’m too old to make anymore.

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