Clerkenwell and Farringdon are areas of London which don’t have the worldwide fame of other neighbourhoods like Notting Hill or Soho, and I much prefer it that way. It keeps this creative and charming little enclave on London free from the tourist crowds.
Located side by side to the east of Covent Garden, Clerkenwell and Farringdon are home to creative agencies, renowned design houses, world class architecture firms, top restaurants, quirky cocktail bars and hip cafes.
Just to wander the streets of these two neighbourhoods is a treat. Eye-catching art-deco buildings are dotted amongst the beautiful Victorian houses, and independent boutiques are scattered around like little gems to be discovered. The creativity of the people who work in this area of London somehow permeates the air. There is a special vibe to Clerkenwell and Farringdon that has to be experienced to understand it.
And so it is a little reluctantly that I share (below) my little black book of the best of Farringdon and Clerkenwell. I really was tempted to keep this undiscovered area of London all to myself!
First of all, Clerkenwell and Farringdon are two neighbouring neighbourhoods spreading across the inner-east of London. The best tube stations from which to access the area is Farringdon, Barbican or Chancery Lane.
From a visitors point of view, there are four main streets/areas of interest to wander around. First there’s Lamb’s Conduit Street, which is one of London’s most charming and most underrated streets. Lined with independent boutiques selling European and British men’s tailoring, sophisticated gifts, cheeses, and eclectic women’s fashion, this street is as cool as it is visually beautiful.
Then there’s Exmouth Market, a pedestrian street that transforms on weekdays into a food market with stalls selling everything from substantial salads to Mexican delicacies. The street itself also offers some excellent options for eating and drinking the day away.
Leather Lane is a little similar to Exmouth Market, but with a more extensive offering by way of street food. Giant bao buns, burritos from the famous Daddy Donkey, lamb and halloumi… There’s something for everyone.
Smithfield Market lies at the eastern end of Farringdon, and is home to the largest and one of the oldest wholesale meat markets in the UK. If you’re interested in seeing the market in action, arrive by 7am (you can also do tours – see the website). Beyond the market itself, surrounding the square in which is it located is a very London array of bars and restaurants.
There is no shortage of quality, Antipodean style brunch places in Clerkenwell and Farringdon, but my picks would have to be and Caravan on Exmouth Market or Granger & Co which is a five minute walk from Exmouth Market. Both serve up the kind of breakfasts that I would expect in the best of the cafes in Melbourne (and that’s a high bar to reach, in the humble opinion of this coffee-obsessed, brunch-junkie Melbournian).
While the places I’ve listed for brunch all do fabulous lunches too, my favourite lunch spot in Clerkenwell is Modern Pantry on St John’s Square.The light filled dining rooms are beautifully minimal in their decor, but the modern European dishes do all the talking. And on sunny afternoons, nab a spot on the terrace outside. There’s also a pantry store, where you can pick up artisanal preserves, oils etc.
Residents, workers and visitors of Clerkenwell and Farringdon are spoilt for choice when it comes to premium coffee. In no particular order, my picks are:
- Dartbrooke Coffee at 1 Leather Lane is the perfect pit stop for a take away coffee when you’re on the run;
- Prufrock Coffee is a bustling and cosy spot on Leather Lane to sit down and enjoy a coffee or two while you watch the busy creative types who work in the area do their thing;
- Also on Leather Lane there’s the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, which has a similarly buzzy vibe in which to linger over your perfectly made flat white;
- Further afield, and back on Exmouth Market, both Caravan and Exmouth Market Grind do excellent coffee, complete with cool, local crowd whiling the morning away.
- Also part of the Grind string of cafes, there’s Clerkenwell Grind, located where Clerkenwell Road meets Old Street. Not only is the coffee of a suitably high quality, but the interior is also very insta-worthy.
There is no “high street” in Clerkenwell and Farringdon where you might expect to find a string of boutiques to wander in and out of. Rather, the shopping in Clerkenwell is scattered around its back streets. Although difficult to find, they are all worth the effort if you love independent design and unique pieces. And what’s on offer is eclectic, individual and very London:
- Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit is a publisher and book shop which reprints and sells neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. The books are beautifully printed with unique covers and the shop hosts and runs events regularly.
- Further down Lamb’s Conduit is Folk: men’s and women’s fashion consisting of British designed practical basics, beautifully and meticulously made.
- Sublime on St John Street is a very cool little gift shop, also with a small selection of Scandinavian fashion brands to boot.
- Antoni & Alison on Rosebery Avenue (just opposite Exmouth Market and open from midday except on Sundays and Mondays) is a truly unique women’s fashion boutique. Set is a flatiron style building, it has that old school charm, including quirky tea room upstairs. The styles are unique and very London.
- At the top of Leather Lane and around the corner on Clerkenwell Road you’ll find Magma, the ultimate in prints and artwork, magazines and books. Unusual titles on urban and artistic subjects. Well worth a browse.
- Next to Magma is Forest, where you can get some interior inspo from its collection of Scandinavian and Northern European mid-century furniture.
things to do
With all the design houses located in and around Clerkenwell and Farringdon, it’s only natural that there are a few cultural places worth a visit.
Enthusiasts of dance will probably already know about Sadler’s Wells, the world-leading theatre on Rosebery Avenue. It is constantly hosting the best of the best in dance performances in all its forms. Book ahead.
The Charles Dickens Museum is located close to Lamb’s Conduit Street and is worth a visit if you have read and loved any Dickens. For fans only – if you’ve no interest, then you might not find it worth the entrance fee (approx. £9.50 per adult).
The Zaha Hadid gallery on Goswell Road showcases architecture, interiors, furniture, and product design through curated exhibitions. Open Tuesday to Friday from 14:00 to 18:00, it is any architecture and design nerd’s dream gallery.
There’s no shortage of quirky neighbourhood bars, where you’ll find locals and creative types alike imbibing after a long day’s flexi-working.
For an intimate, cosy and very quirky experience, as well as innovative cocktails, my go-to is the cocktail lounge at the Zetter Townhouse on St John’s Square. It’s a cross between a private member’s club vibe with Miss Haversham’s parlour. In the winter, the best spot is in front of the open fire, surrounded by an eclectic collection of keepsakes and ornaments. Maximalist heaven.
If you want to imbibe like a local, Coin Laundry on Exmouth Market is a casual, lively spot for pre-dinner drinks. For something a little similar, Ask for Janice in Smithfield is laid back, buzzy and boasts a serious array of local gins.
Lino is a restaurant hidden away in Bartholomew Close, which has a sophisticated bar at which to sup on pre-dinner cocktails and snacks. It’s an impressive building, formerly a linoleum factory (and also a good dinner spot too).
If cocktails aren’t quite your bag, but you fancy a little cheese board with a glass or two of sublime wine, La Fromagerie on Lamb’s Conduit is the perfect spot to make a bee line to.
Each of the restaurants listed above for breakfast and lunch are also great dinner options. But for something a bit elevated and special, I recommend Luca on St John Street. If you do nothing else in Farringdon and Clerkenwell, go to Luca and order the parmesan chips. They will change your life. Apart from the parmesan chips, Luca describes itself as “British seasonal ingredients through an Italian lens.” The menu is perfect Italian, the interior is sophisticated and polished and the overall experience is a memorable one.
Alternatively, back on Exmouth Market is culinary stalwart Moro. Established in 1997 before Exmouth market became the foodie mecca it is today, Moro is a Spanish restaurant, with strong north African influences. Still going strong. Still delicious.
There you have it, my pick of the highlights of this creative, eclectic an as-yet undiscovered part of London. If you have any other recommendations, leave them in the comments!