London Neighbourhood Guide: Clerkenwell & Farringdon
Situated under the shadow of the Barbican and a stone’s throw from High Holborn, Faringdon and Clerkenwell is one of London's oldest areas.
Steeped in history and home to heritage townhouses, storied markets, churches and cathedrals, this central-eastern pocket also has an incredible offering of trendy restaurants, pubs and coffee shops. London resident and contributor Brian Mulcahy takes a trip into the ‘Soho of the East’.
In Dickensian times, Farringdon was notoriously the meeting point for London’s pickpockets; period townhouse The Rookery channels yesteryear charm – minus the petty crime, but natch. Rooms are fitted out in traditional Georgian decor, wood panelling and antique furniture, replete with four-poster beds. For a quirkier take on the traditional, try The Zetter Townhouse, a 13-room boutique romp (and famous cocktail bar), blending vintage with a dash of modern functionality.
Standing on a site that’s been used as a market for more than 800 years, London’s largest meat market Smithfield is a must-go for the travelling locavore. Should the meat make your stomach churn, focus instead on the marvellous Victorian architecture – truly a sight to behold.
Perfectly perched opposite Smithfield Market is one of Farringdon’s best breakfast spots, Ask for Janice. It’s delicious and low-key fare that represents the best of new British cuisine: seasonal, fresh and local. If you get the avocado toast, be sure to ask for a poached egg on top.
Over on Doughty Street is the Charles Dickens Museum, occupying the scribe’s former London residence from where he wrote Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers. Small and contained, the museum is a brilliant snapshot of the man whose work defined an era; go for the guided audio tour for insider details.
Along Leather Lane, you’ll find a week-day market with stalls and food trucks repping a variety of cuisines from Korean and Vietnamese to Caribbean and Spanish. On a nice day, order lunch and beeline to the lovely, historic patch of green that is Gray’s Inn Gardens. If alfresco ain’t your style, try one of the restaurants that line Leather Lane: Kin for tastebud-tingling Thai street flaves or Tongue and Brisket for a delicious salt-beef on rye or smoked salmon sarnie.
It might be the legal and financial hub of London, but shopportunity abounds in this part of town. Seek out the ‘Lady tailor of Clerkenwell’ Susannah Hall Tailors for a custom whistle for him or her, and browse Clerkenwell’s furniture and design stores, including the Zaha Hadid Design Gallery, showcasing limited-edition furniture, installations and artworks. Magma on Clerkenwell Rd does a neat line in coffee table books, edgy magazines, stationery and art prints and lest we forget, there is, of course, Hatton Garden, London’s famed jewellery district, stocking every bling and bauble imaginable.
Looking for a mid-retail flop? Mosey over to Prufrock Coffee for an expertly made brew (their baristas are the sommeliers of coffee). Situated opposite a small park, the appropriately named Bench is an intimate coffeehouse offering single origin java and afternoon tea.
Should you have a thirst for something stronger, Clerkenwell has no shortage of libation stations. Located in a building dating back to 1720, The Jerusalem Tavern is regarded as Clerkenwell’s best pub, while recently revamped The Crown Tavern still has a laid-back pub feel. Popular with the after-work crowd, The Hat & Tun places you in the thick of it, while self-proclaimed five-star dive bar Pimp Shuei has arcade games, kung fu movies on rotation and Asian-inspired cocktails.
Round out the day with a perch at celeb chef Jason Atherton backed Sosharu. Riffing on a Japanese izakaya, this Nippon-tinged den specialises in seasonal small plates, while basement bar 7 Tales serves an incredible selection of cocktails and 50 varieties of sake. For something a little simpler, Apulia is on hand for soul-soothing, southern Italian cuisine just like Nonna used to make – Allora!
Heading to the Old Smoke? Don't forget to bag yourself a copy of the brand-new LUXE London…
Brian is a quintessential TCK whose studies have taken him to the US and London, but Hong Kong will always be home. Currently studying for an MA, his dissertation explores notions of Hong Kong identity via Hong Kong literature. The Web and Social Media Editor for PEN Hong Kong, Brian also freelances for local publications.
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