Away from the hustle and bustle of the West End and Covent Garden is the upmarket Seven Dials area. Set in the London Borough of Camden, this one-of-a-kind destination is hidden within plain sight of the heart of the capital – just a ten-minute walk from thriving Leicester Square.
Everything here is set at a slower pace, and it is the perfect place for all the family. Browse the beautiful boutique stores selling clothes, perfume, chocolates and bespoke gifts you won’t find anywhere else, at your leisure – and all the major names are here too as well as innovative pop-up installations and art. With over 90 shops just in this one area and around 50 contemporary cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs you can easily spend two days here and still not cover everything.
Perfect to visit with your whole family or just with your best friend, at this time of the year Seven Dials takes on a whole new magic. The streets are filled with beautiful art installations and Christmas lights and wreaths that make for the most wonderful escape. Luxury Lifestyle Magazine journalist Donna Richardson found out for herself on a recent visit.
The first port of call for anyone visiting Seven Dials is the stunning Neal’s Yard. Tourists flock from miles around to visit the picturesque courtyard which is one of the most ‘Insta-worthy’ spots in the capital. Among the eclectic mix of brightly painted shops is a blue plaque marking the location of the studio where they filmed Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
A prime spot to admire this Mediterranean-esque historical spot and enjoy some of the most wholesome food in London is 26 Grains. Alex Hely-Hutchinson’s travels to Denmark is the reason de etre for this wonderful hygge eaterie which is just as delicious as the food it serves.
Alex fell in love with the Danish way of life, inspired by the quality of seasonal eating that pervades their culture, and the city’s love of porridge in the colder months. On returning to London, aged 24, Alex launched her first pop-up selling porridge pots to commuters, which marked the beginning of 26 Grains. Opening at 8am, commuters and early rising tourists can start the day right with a hearty and nutritious warming bowl of porridge flavoured with cinnamon and pear.
However, the best time to linger over their mouth-watering meals in the splendid surroundings is at lunchtime. With a menu brimming with options opt for the wholesome stew bursting with superfoods like legumes, kale, garlic and tomato, with whole-grain sour dough croutons, infused with a mild sprinkling of sea salt to enhance the flavours. All this is accompanied by sourdough bread. Alternatively, you could try the salmon platter with pepper, pomegranate, dill and gherkin and a dollop of crème fraiche.
Not only is the food delicious, but the coffee is also divine, brewed from a selection of the finest beans from around the world in a delicious blend. It is a fully allergen-friendly place ideal for those with milk intolerances, like my daughter, and drinks can be made with oat milk. I have to say that the coffee is the tastiest I have had in a long time. This is a great place to spend time with your best friend admiring the beautiful courtyard and putting the world to rights. The small outside seating area is wonderful and welcomes children and dogs.
While in Neal’s Yard, stop off for a drink at Casanova and Daughters and stock up on some Italian cured meats at this Sicilian grocery store. If you are staying longer there is also a wine bar and restaurant where you can unwind with family at the long convivial table upstairs, or at the terrace as the antipasti tasting plates flow for your delectation. Enjoy a glass of wine and all the tasting plates, a simple, fun and authentic way to taste Sicily at its finest.
After an international career in the circus as a slack-rope walker, Mr Casanova returned to his Sicilian roots. He is now collaborating with small local producers (Marco, Lisa, Mario, Vito…) from the west coast to select and grow the finest Sicilian products. Casanova’s unique range of olive oils is appreciated by some of the best chefs in Paris and London. Each type of oil is the culmination of a careful and bespoke process of olive cultivation and selection.
Turn the corner into Neal Street and stop by Blooming Good Scents, a family-run florist run by Christine and her daughter Hayley who have been in business for over 25 years. The High Holborn-based florist currently has a popup store in Neal’s Yard, Seven Dials for the festive period selling beautiful, fresh flower bouquets, festive floral arrangements and garlands for Christmas parties. Floristry runs in the family, Christine’s mother arranged flowers for Julie Andrews when she starred in My Fair Lady. They will make you an amazing bouquet or wreath to cherish your visit to this special place.
Make your own signature scent at Experimental Perfume Club, Monmouth Street
With so many shops one can spend hours in the streets surrounding Neal’s Yard, but what better way to treat yourself than to make your own scent? A unique workshop in the art of making perfume, during an hour long consultation, I was given a full appreciation of the delicate art of perfumery and the chance to blend my own scent. Experimental Perfume Club is a flagship shop in Seven Dials. Enter the world of potions and learn this ancient art for a truly unique and luxury experience.
The concept was invented by master perfumer Emmanuelle who chose 15 signature scents that can be blended together to make your own unique perfume. Treat yourself or a loved one as this day out is perfect for stressed-out mums while dad takes the kids to look at some of the many pop-up art installations.
In-store, one is educated on the basics of perfume by the perfumer and guided to different scents and their properties. After smelling each one, you are asked to rank them. My personal favourites were frankincense, jasmine and rose, and I was not too keen on the amber and musks. Coffee is nearby to neutralise the palette when it all became too intense. With so many different combinations it was difficult to choose as each one smelt so good, but as I began to learn and appreciate the way that scents are blended I began to understand a bit more about the art of perfumery.
It was such an engaging and informative session and I loved making my own special blend of perfume. All the time I was guided by my nose and the advice of the excellent perfumer Maria. Once the scents were selected she worked her magic in blending it to make a complex scent, which I named after my daughter Amelia. This is a perfect way to spend a morning and to take away a luxury bespoke scent which you will remember your visit by. What’s more, once you have selected your signature scent you can recreate it for half the price if you bring back your bottle, providing a great way to help the environment.
After a morning shopping until you drop, one has to visit the iconic Banksy exhibition featuring a handpicked selection of the artist’s original works. Prints, screen prints, sculptures, canvasses and other unique pieces from 1997 – 2008 are on show, ranging from the iconic ‘Girl and Balloon’, ‘Flower Thrower’ and ‘Rude Copper’ to artworks rarely seen by the public. Many of which were first exhibited in the now notorious exhibition Barely Legal staged in Los Angeles in 2006.
Internationally renowned yet ‘unknown’ Banksy’s identity is one of the best-kept secrets of all time, only revealed to his team, which reminds me of the responsibilities and secrets super heroes/villains keep, and also both loved, hated and very much misunderstood. Banksy started the Bristol Street art scene, which has always been one of the foremost areas within the art and culture history in Britain.
This enigmatic street artist rose to notoriety in the early nineties and is now one of the most celebrated artists of his generation, appealing to a mass audience for his anti-establishment and political street art. He pokes fun at the mockery that is the fine art industry and how paintings can sell for millions, while his own artworks can also fetch six-figure sums. Yet the irony is that he is also an accomplished fine artist who can paint himself.
Some of this 80-piece eye-pleasing extravaganza is the original artist’s proofs and would be worth millions of pounds. What really inspired me was the more detailed pieces, Banksy truly shows his high-level skill, and what some would call fine art. For instance, his ‘stained glass cathedral window prayer boy’ shows exemplary technique, whilst the ‘crude oil’ exhibition displays the talent of a magnitude rarely seen. For Banksy to have altered the original masters such as Claude Monet, and Vincent Van Gogh to name just two in such a magnificent manner I’d find any hard-nosed critique in art not to find a single piece of his amazing collection of works to appreciate fully.
Although Banksy is both loved and hated in a sometimes snobbish art world, those who think he is a simple street artist with limited talent are way off and he should be given the opportunity for all to enjoy. One of the best things about Banksy is his ability to perform artistic satire. His stunts like the automatic shredding of the original artwork for Girl with a Balloon upon selling it at auction and most recently selling a blank canvas are brilliant. This means he is loved and loathed in equal measure.
The exhibition is truly awe-inspiring making visitors think about issues like the environment, society, art and equality. Some of his thought arousing works inspire you to question your reality and the people in charge and leave you with a feeling of intense passion.
The Art of Banksy, which has toured from Melbourne to Miami, has some of the finest privately-owned artworks from the artist’s career and were bought by collectors who want the works of art to be seen. It is all so wonderfully done and Seven Dials is the perfect place to set such a thrilling exhibition in this dynamic neighbourhood.
Seven Dials Market
Seven Dials Market is a funky venue opposite the Banksy exhibition projecting urban vibes within a vibrant building that used to be home to a banana warehouse. Stride through Cucumber Alley past a variety of pop-up stalls selling everything from jewellery to boutique clothing. Above is a glass roof and the hall is fringed by a huge Douglas fir-slatted gallery. Follow the sound of 90s R and B music downstairs where a DJ spins the decks in the food court.
The ambience is laid back and chilled and your nostrils are teased by the smell of delicious cuisine. Here, you’ll find street food and world fusion with 13 juicy micro restaurants all under one roof. Choose from Indian curries, truffle burgers, Japanese ramen bowls and fried chicken or pizza and even a vegan Mexican restaurant among others. The brand new From The Ashes barbecue serves delicious and tender meat which melts in the mouth and the authentic Keralan curries are delicious.
The excellent downstairs bar runs along the back wall and serves draft ales, ciders and wine to enjoy alongside your food while Bar Nana upstairs mirrors its offering. Things get lively around lunch and dusk when the DJ plays. Around 7pm is the ideal time to visit for cocktails and you can see the bar staff prepare their signature Hennessy Punch Down, with crème de fraiche, peach liqueur, vanilla and lime and pineapple juice or one of the other standard cocktails.
We were given the royal treatment by Faye, the bar manager, whose showmanship in cocktail making and attention to detail was second to none. Tables are usually on demand, but as special guests we were reserved a top table overlooking the food court. Faye ensured that the cocktails flowed as we sampled the delicious range of food.
One of the most refined ways to spend time here is at the Pick and Cheese restaurant which consists of an innovative cheese conveyor belt like the style of traditional sushi bars. This dominates the back wall of the upstairs of Seven Dials Market and is quite a spectacle to behold.
Cheese aficionados will love this swanky place, serving delicious cuts of the finest fromage from around the British Isles. Each cut is paired with a sweet accompaniment to bring out the flavour of the cheese. Both are encased beneath a glass dome with a ticket number corresponding to the menu. As you taste each cheese you can review the taste like a true connoisseur heightening the experience. A pencil and beside the plate to allow one to jot down their observations.
Plates begin at £2.95 and go up to £5.95 and there is no limit so the only thing you need to do is to eat with your eyes and then select your preferred plate and let the bill pile up. With so many options – 27 plates and approximately 30 wines – to enhance the experience, you are spoiled for choice. Owner Matthew Carver started the concept with food trucks and now owns three restaurants and a shop in London on Colmere Road, where you can buy cheese and chutney. Pick and Cheese in Seven Dials opened in 2019 and provides an elegant balance to the more urban and retro vibe of the other vendors and adds a touch of class. With seating for 72 outside you hardly feel like you are in central London.
Covent Garden is a five-minute walk away and this hidden gem has so much to offer from shops, food, art and culture. In the heart of the West End, Seven Dials has even more entertainment on offer with its own Theatreland. The area is home to independent production house Donmar Warehouse, the best place to discover up-and-coming talent. Visit the 251-seat, not-for-profit theatre or catch award-winning West End shows at the Grade II listed Cambridge Theatre currently showcasing Matilda The Musical. It is situated around the corner from the West End which boasts even more to choose from.
Where to stay
Seven Dials has three first-class hotels in its reach, so you are spoilt for choice. Covent Garden Hotel is a five-star hotel in Monmouth Street, just around the corner from the West End, a short walk away from the Royal Opera House and surrounded by some 21 theatres. The hotel is part of Tim and Kit Kemp’s Firmdale Hotels and is a place where you can rest after a busy day’s shopping.
You can also choose the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Hotel a luxury boutique setting in Seven Dials. Discover a sense of home in their inviting rooms and suites, and relax with a book in the urban living room on the ground floor. Alternatively, choose to stay at the Z Hotel in nearby Covent Garden.
Overall, a visit to Seven Dials is one you can never forget and I plan to go back in the summer to explore more of it. It really was the most wonderful way to spend the build up to Christmas and a great way to start the new year!