London’s Seven Dials
So, in this article I head on down to London’s West End in search of a bit of ‘me’ time amongst the hubbub of Seven Dials. This little known enclave is a gem of a place to hang out, eat or even get a haircut. Full of interesting characters and some brilliant shops it pretty much ticks all the boxes for a grand day out.
Sometimes when life gets too hectic and all around is doom and gloom the best thing for a man about town is to take some time out. After a very busy schedule for more months than I care to remember I decided to a ‘me’ day. Not wishing to restrict myself to a spa hotel I decided my focus of hedonism would be that enclave of style and cool in central London called Seven Dials. Next to theatreland and on the edge of Covent Garden it couldn’t be more central.
Being a ‘me’ day I rose late and skipped breakfast, very wise as things turned out. I lunched at the new kid on the block (or should that be yard)? Native in Neal’s Yard, this place is very cool, nobody knows about it yet.
Native is homage to all things foraged and wild. The menu reads like a botanic reference book and a guide to the glorious twelfth. Run by Imogen and Ivan this troglodyte nirvana (it’s mostly underground) had a couple of ‘pick me ups’ before I got stuck into the food. Sage apple old fashioned anyone? The food was exceptional, it’s a small plates ting here but that great for sharing. I can recommend wood pigeon kebab with a beetroot hummus and harissa; the pig’s head croquettes with burn apple béarnaise were showstoppers (these are just starters).
Nothing makes it to the plate unless it’s fresh and in season. The vibe here is chilled with scrubbed wooden tables and low ceilings. Light and bright despite being subterranean it is the perfect place to loose oneself of an afternoon. The food continued with Longhorn onglet steak some lemon sole and a surprise (in a really good way) slow roast cauliflower. My goodness how brilliant did that dish taste. They didn’t slouch on the desserts either, blackcurrant leaf ice cream with strawberries and coriander honeycomb take your fancy? Or how about the world’s greatest super food sea buckthorn and cider brandy syllabub with apple and a gingersnap? The food at Native is some of the best I’ve tasted this year, simple as that.
Replete and feeling fairly chilled my next port of call was in true ‘me’ day fashion to get my hair sorted. Now I am a man of ‘reduced’ coverage so going to the barber until recently has been a variation of sitting in an uncomfortable chair and hearing a load buzzing noise for about two minutes and being relieved of enough money to buy a pizza. This was about to change as I strolled into Murdock’s 18 Monmouth Street. The old world charm of barbers of yester year is seamlessly fused with the requirements of the modern gent. In short I felt very at home immediately. Gavin a master barber (don’t you just love that title) had a gentle chatter passing no really controversial opinions but without seeming benign. He told me that he gets told the strangest and intimate details of some of his clients. Alas professional barber etiquette prevented him telling me anything really juicy.
So as well as passing as a confessional you have a beer or whisky if the mood takes you, read the latest GQ or Esquire (pristine copies I might add not the scuffed bent offerings you find elsewhere). This is old school with hat stands, cut throat razors, Parquette flooring and all the barbers are wearing waistcoats and have a swish of efficiency about them, not unlike being an episode of Peaky Blinders but without the blood.
I left Murdock’s ironically feeling a few inches taller than when I walked in despite have a super smart hair cut and an array of products expertly applied to my head. Murdock has its own range of shampoos, conditioners, beard oil, you name it they make it and more importantly use it on you when you visit.
As I wandered down Monmouth Street towards St. Martin’s Lane I felt the need for a little afternoon tea. Timber Yard was the place to go I’d been told. They offer a plethora of coffees but I was after a perfect pot of Earl Grey and maybe a slice of something. They didn’t disappoint. A teapot of tea arrived with a digital timer to let me pour my perfect cup just how I like it and a sinful (but oh so delicious) deep-fried crodough – a cross between a croissant and a doughnut. These are bad for you, but believe me so good at the same time.
With laptops around me, the Clash playing in the background this was hipster central, definitely a place to hang, as they say. The decors cool too with modern furniture mixed with retro chairs and scrubbed wooden tables. Service was delightful (they bring tea to your table) where does that happen in a world of franchised look the sames?
After perusing the independent shops and more welcome brands like Camper, American Apparel and Dr Martens etc I felt like I was in some secret village where all the things I desired were and nobody knew about it. Heaven. Seven Dials is packed with so many good shops I think I’ll have to return. All this walking was of course taking its toll on my feeble frame so in the true spirit of the ‘me’ day I headed back to Neal’s Yard for a spot of relaxation.
Dolly Garton at Neal’s Yard Remedies is the go to pair of hands you need to entrust with your back. After a short interview about what essential oils I liked and disliked (like most men I had no idea that I might dislike an essential oil), turns out I’m not very keen on juniper but I adore bergamot. It was down to work (for Dolly at least) as for the next 50 minutes she saw to it that I was pummeled, stretched, rubbed, soothed and generally given a good going over with her magic hands. I would say that this was a key moment in the day that made me realise that this is what it’s all about. Rest and relaxation in a busy city is a necessity we all need every once in a while.
Restored and rejuvenated I left Neal’s Yard and found my way to Shaftsbury Avenue to the über cool and hip Tally Joe’s. It’s a cocktail bar of sorts although they offer food as well. With a simple concept of the drinks already mixed in hip pocket bottles (as they do in India) and each order comes with a specific snack you’re good to go. My Nizam’s punch was made of rum, lime; turmeric honey syrup, biryani oil and tonic water came with charminar chana jor garam. These spicy gram crisps and boiled black gram hit the spot. They are a nod to the snack sold outside the Charminar monument in Hyderabad. The Old Delhi No.6 was a vodka based, zesty little number with orange and lime – the cheesy pakora chat that came with it was fiery and very good. Just the sort of snacking that sets you up for a good dinner.
So my final call of the night was to what is turning out to be one of the capital’s hot openings this summer. Tucked away in Neal’s Yard (they do seen to have all the luck in this yard) without a sign only a name on the threshold is Barbary. It’s wise to prepare yourself for a visit here. It’s busy, really busy. With only 24 seats and no bookings taken it has a line of people snaking around the horseshoe bar sipping drinks waiting for their turn to sit.
But don’t let this put you off its part of the charm and vibe of the place. And I think that if they did have a booking system you’d have to wait months for a stool. The food is from the same stable as its sister (or should that be mother) restaurant The Palomar. North African meets The Middle East. And for the theatre of you couldn’t get better, all the cooking is done in front of you.
The Barbary Coast was once known for it pirates and I think that some of the chefs here have taken to this in a big way wearing ‘argh matey’ beards, they clearly have a connected team working here, all flows well from the madness the other side of the bar. The menu is short with categories like baking and grinding, land, sea and earth and heaven for desserts (obviously). All the food was superb and with zero waiter miles totally fresh and hot. The breads are all worth ago and come with dips and bits to mix with them. The lamb cutlet Zulu arrived on fire and had a tremendous amount of flavour and spice. The smoked salmon Pharaoh style was beautifully judges and the roasted aubergine ‘Sharabik’ style a perfect side. This place is not only a great place to eat (or stand and watch others eat as you wait your turn) it is fantastic fun, what casual dining is all about, it’s noisy, the smell will drive you wild and it’s full of London’s hippest cool dudes you ever likely to find under one roof and that include the manager Tulisa who’s always on hand if you have any questions about the food.
The simple conclusion to my day of ‘me’ is that I should do this more often. Ladies are always doing it, spa this, hairdressers that, nail bars etc, so why not have some fun? It was a great day only limited by consumption abilities, that is to say had my stomach not given in I would have carried on for a few more hours. Seven Dials has such a high concentration of ‘fun’ possibilities I think I’m going to make this a regular thing.
I think the next time I engage in such a hedonistic outing I’ll prepare ahead of time by not eating the previous day. Everywhere I ate or drank was top notch, you’ll thank me for the advice – enjoy!