When visiting London, most tourists will feel compelled to follow the trail thousands of tourists have carved out before them: Westminster, Buckingham Palace, The Tower, the Tate... and there's nothing wrong with that, except that it shows nothing of what living in London is all about. With 10 million people living in Greater London (that's the area surrounded by the M25, the UK's busiest motorway), it will come as no surprise that there is more to the Nation's capital than the major sights, overcrowded streets and expensive, if mediocre, eateries. After all, there must be some people who choose their own sanity over the hustle and bustle of inner-city life.
If you, like me, prefer to go down the road less travelled or if this is not you first visit to London and you'd like to explore things you haven't been to before, you may want to rely on a local to tailor-make a day-trip into a less-visited area which is very popular with Londoners. Let me take you to one of the 'burbs for an altogether more relaxing approach to exploring a foreign town and discover a plethora of food shops and restaurants which will allow you to fuel up and soak in the atmosphere in between sights. Welcome, then, to South-West London. More precisely, Richmond and Kingston Upon Thames (one of only two Royal Boroughs in London).
Let's start our journey in Richmond. This is the last stop on the District Line, but a far quicker way to get here is by overground (train) from Waterloo - it only takes 20 minutes. If you're a lover of nature and enjoy exotic plants, you might want to visit Kew Gardens which is only a stone's throw away - but if you love your food like I do, follow me for some fabulous foodie haunts. I will skip the chains (Maison Blanc, Paul, FishWorks) here to introduce the mostly family-run or individual start-ups that provide the silver lining to my "larder". The order is in terms of location, not to indicate any preference of one shop over another.
If you've come to London to stock up on Asian food - and believe me, you're not alone - make a little detour right at the start of our journey: Paya Thai Market is an oriental grocery selling every ingredient imaginable, from everyday cupboard items to spices and fresh fruit and vegetables. They cover Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Malaysian, Indian - you name it, they've got it.
Paya Thai Market
101-103 Kew Road, Richmond TW9 2PN. Tel: 020 8332 2959
Source is a shop right by the station that very much reminds me of an organic deli like you would find it in New York. They have a vast array of international delicacies (oils, vinegars and other preserves, cupboard essentials, sweets, drinks etc) but also sell fruit and veg, fresh pasta, artisanal breads and a great selection of fresh and semi-home-made convenience food, often provided by small, local suppliers.
27d The Quadrant, Richmond, TW9 1DN. Tel: 020 8439 9866
Giuliani's is a great Italian delicatessen very close to the high street. The downstairs shop offers Italian preserves, dried and fresh pasta, a good selection of home-made antipasti, cold meats and cheeses and drinks. There's also a cafe upstairs where you can take your selection of dishes (pasta, caponata etc depending on what's on the blackboard) or freshly prepared paninis, followed by a big cup of frothy cappuccino. I often have a sandwich made to order which I then enjoy while I do some people-watching on Richmond Green just 'round the corner.
1 Duke Street, Richmond TW9 1HP. Tel: 020 8940 1220
Recently voted Time Out's "Best icecream to take away", Danieli's has been a people-magnet ever since it opened last year - and not only on hot days. Tucked away in one of the narrow streets leading from the high street (George Street) to Richmond Green, they make Italian icecream that is far from traditional - the method may be, but the taste? Boy-oh-boy! This is ice-cream like it should be: rich and indulging and without artificial flavouring. Their selection includes the usual suspects (chocolate, vanilla, stracciatella), but the true connoisseur must go for their fruit flavours, even if that's not usually your bag. At Danieli's everything taste like what it says on the tin: banana, mango, but also pear, prune, pink grapefruit... I swear it's like biting into the fruit itself. Unbelievable and irresistable!
16 Brewers Lane, Richmond TW9 1HH. Tel : 020 8739 9807 (open all year round)
With your belly stuffed, you might now want to consider doing some shopping: Kooks Unlimited is my favourite cookery shop. Full to the brim with everything that a serious cook could wish for, you're sure not to go out empty-handed. Be it LeCreuset cookware you're after, vintage preserve jars, professional knives or colourful aprons or just want to pick up some beautiful paper napkins, you're sure to find it here. One part of the shop specialises in baking and offers an incredible array of tins in all shapes and sizes as well as a great selection of cake decorations. Cookbooks and gift items are also available in abundance.
2 Eton Street, Richmond, TW9 1EE. Tel: 020 8332 3030
A bit further along on The Green, again tucked away in a tiny street full of listed buildings housing small, independent shops for gifts (one dedicated to the pet lover), clothes, jewellery and a fantastic shop specialising in children's books, is Richmond's very own chocolatier and patissier. William Curley makes his own chocolates, but also the most delicious and breath-takingly beautiful range of patisserie... (unfortunately they were closed the day I went, so no pictures to drool over!). You can either opt for take-away or enjoy your selection on the one table the have inside - in the summer, more seating is provided on the pedestrianised street out at the front. Don't forget to take some drinking chocolate, a by-product of his art, and hand-made chocolate truffles... divine!
10 Paved Court, Richmond, TW9 1LZ. Tel: 020 8332 3002 (closed Mon, Tue)
It's only a stone's throw from here to the River Thames... this stretch of land is full of bars, pubs and restaurants (one of them on a floating barge, as shown above) and on a sunny day, you won't be able to see the grass from the masses of people lining the river banks! The houses providing the back-drop to this scene are spectacular - the red building is the Town Hall and home to the Museum of Richmond, to the right is Heron's Court, which houses the ebay uk headquarters but also plays host to a Farmer's Market every Saturday.
If you walk further along the river upstream, you'll arrive at fabulous spot for a weekend brunch: Canyon's food is not consistenly overwhelming and the prices may seems steep, but their brunch is a treat and they're very welcoming to families with kids - and the location certainly can't be beaten! It is just behind a quay from where you can take a boat either back into London (the trip to Westminster takes 2 hours following the many river bends) or to Hampton Court, which will should be your next stop. If you prefer to have firm ground under your feet, take the R68 bus instead - it's only half an hour away.
The Riverside, near Richmond Bridge, Richmond TW10 6UJ. Tel: 020 8948 2944
Hampton Court is one of the most amazing palaces in the UK that are accessible to the public. The first buildings date back to 1236, but the main wings were built in 16th and 17th centuries. For 200 years it was the centre of court life and river leading to it is lined with impressive mansions built for the various mistresses the Kings supported over the centuries. Ham House and Marble Hill House, for example, are both open to visitors and the latter, just like Hampton Court itself, play host to great outdoor picnic concerts in the summer, where you can enjoy your food and a bottle of champagne while listening to Eric Clapton and the like.
Hampton Court Palace
East Molesey, Surrey, KT8 9AU, Info line Tel: +44 (0)870 752 7777
(Nearest Station: British Rail from Waterloo, Hampton Court Station)
From Hampton Court, walk around the gardens downstream to reach Kingston Upon Thames. There's little trace that would suggest that this was the site where the Norman Kings were being crowned in the 10th century or so, but it is a lively market town with all the usual high street shops and restaurants you would find in so many London districts. Proceed on to Norbiton (by train or bus, just 5 minutes away) where you will find one of the best fishmonger's in the area:
Jarvis is a tiny shop, but they select the freshest and most seasonal fish, plus smoke their own salmon which, I can say without hesitation, is the best I have ever had. They're part of the fish!group which also has a restaurant and shop at the Borough Market. It was only upon my research today that I realised (despite months of discussing fish with him almost every week and sharing the occasional joke) that the owner is Tony Allan, a chef known in Britain as TV celebrity of Tony and Giorgio (Locatelli) who also has several restaurants in London. (I should probaby watch more TV ;-))This should not distract from the fact that this is a very friendly, family-run fishmonger's who've been around for 60 years and some of who's staff have been in the business for more than 30. They're knowledgable and enthusiastic and going there is always an experience.
I do realise that as a visitor, you might not have much interest in buying fresh fish, but they have a fabulous small fish & chips shop next door (fish!kitchen) and this is certainly the freshest and best quality fish & chips to be had by a long run. We like to drop in for a quick meal after work when we're too tired to cook - their menu is short, but the fish is incredibly fresh and is prepared simply, but to top standard: personal favourites include the mussels, scallops wrapped in pancetta and massive king prawns on a skewer. So if you're feeling hungry again now, drop in for a fish fix.
Jarvis Fishmonger's and Fish!Kitchen
56-58 Coombe Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, KT2 7AF. Tel: 020 8546 2886 (Mon - Sat only)
Nearest BR station: Norbiton
If you'd rather continue your stroll into Richmond Park, maybe you'll consider picking up some nosh for a picnic on the grass. Antonio owns and runs the Sicilian delicatessen Sud Ovest next door to Jarvis. He is only open Thursday - Saturday as he runs a catering business for the rest of the week. This is where I go for my eggs, which are imported for Italy - their yolks are so incrediby orange that they seem unrelated to the supermarket variety and they taste just like they used to from my Nan's farm. These must be eggs laid by chicken that roam around freely and feed on a proper diet of corn and other cereals. Pick up a great variety of olives, artisanal bread, some salume and mozzarella and a selection of home-made salads and antipasti - apparently, Antonio's lasagne al forno is to die for...
54 Coombe Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, KT2 7AF. Tel: 020 8549 0084 (open Thurs - Friday only)
Nearest BR station: Norbiton
From there, it's just a 10-minute walk to what must be Europe's largest park, spanning 1000 ha of grass- and woodland between Richmond, Kingston and Putney. From its highest point, you can spot the City skyline, but the most impressive views you will have are of the animals - there are around 650 free-roaming deer in Richmond Park and they quietly co-exist with the many people of the surrounding neighbourhoods who come to the park to cycle, run, play sports, go for a walk or enjoy a picnic. They're not shy at all and you'll be able to walk quite close to them - but stay away in the mating season, when they get easily upset and will defend their territory.
If you walk right through the park and exit at Sheen Gate, you are very close to one of London's finest Gastro Pubs - the Victoria. This the perfect spot to finish off your day before heading back into town... unless you want to spend the night in one or their beautiful five bedrooms.
10 West Temple Sheen, London SW14 7RT.Tel 020 8876 4238
This post is a contribution to the "Food Destinations" initiative organised by Maki in Switzerland, who so kindly sent me a box of Japanese goodies recently. I have deliberately chosen NOT to write about my beloved Borough Market or any of the food recommendations you'll get in guidebooks... this is the area I live in and I hope you'll love it's great shops and attractions as much as I do. If you want to check out insider tips for destinations around the globe, you should check out the round-up on I was just really very hungry...