Breaking Down The Boroughs: Clerkenwell
There’s a lot to be said about a capital city like London. Mostly, I have found myself over the past 6 years just wandering around in total confusion. It’s a seemingly big city with an even bigger personality. As an American in London, I first found myself hittin’ up those usual spots, touristy, blatant, boring venues. Then when I stopped being so fascinated with the façade that is the metropolis and opened my eyes to the wonders underneath, I found a treasure trove of awesomeness…to put it mildly.
Hats off to the other bloggers who are able to sum up London in one big blog post, dust off their hands, and drop the mic…but I’m thinking the best way to break it down is by neighbourhood. What better neighbourhood to start with than Clerkenwell—my ‘hood.
Clerkenwell has quite the past and present. Back in the day it was home to different trades such as cork, watches (remnants of which you can still see in the area), and the notorious ladies of the night. The latter was even featured in Shakespeare's Henry IV which makes reference to the now named Turnmill Street and its brothels--how entrepreneurial. Subsequently the borough also became a hot bed of politics and supposedly hosted a meeting between Lenin and Stalin at the pub the Crown Tavern (which has excellent outdoor seating by the way).
Clerkenwell's main feature is also, of course, Smithfield Meat Market. Surprisingly, Smithfield, before it was a market, was the spot where suspected witches were hanged--I hope they got their revenge! Today it offers up the most cost effective and sustainable meats to the majority of restaurants in the city. I'd highly recommend going for an early morning tour which you can sign up for online. It's fascinating to walk around the huge, cold refrigerated halls looking at all the meats coming in from the massive trucks, directly from the farms.
Things have definitely changed slightly. It’s still rocking its monastic history with the Order of St. John and Priory in the centre of town. However, it is now the home to designers and showrooms from everything like the late Alexander McQueen to Toto, the Japanese toilets. Every summer Clerkwenell runs the Design Week where they open up the showrooms to the public and tradespeople for free. It's a great time to grab a free cocktail and pretend like you have money to buy bespoke hardwood floors and abstract art.
Slightly more cool, in my opinion, is the water source that runs underneath the streets. This is where the 'Well' part comes from. It’s said this water makes the most legit beverages and was apparently carried near and far for distillation into gins and eau de vies. If you stay in the Zetter hotel, off of Clerkwenwell Road, they apparently have their own well and the water served is all from the subterranean stream! Who knows...
Today I find myself always coming back to Clerkenwell, both due to the fact I live here and for the fact that’s it’s just full of awesome places to eat. There’s an abundance of restaurants, pubs, and bars to taste test out. If someone was visiting for a day, here’s where I’d tell them to eat!
Exmouth Market, easily located in between Farringdon and Angel stations is a great shout for bustling lunch choices. There’s a mix of vendors offering up everything from the famous Northern Spanish Moro to Indian or even a little Mother Clucker fried chicken action. Right behind the market is Spa Fields, the perfect park to go and chill in with your food as you watch all the doggos trot on by, wanting to make friends with your pad thai.
Right near Farringdon station by Hatton Garden you’ll find Leather Lane. It’s home to Prufrock coffee and one of the Craft beer pubs, but also a huge range of street food choices and restaurants alike. Here you will find one of the first food trucks to hit London a few years back, Daddy Donkey, serving up delicious burritos from their brick and mortar location and quesadillas from the food truck located right outside. Why not pre-order and pick up your food from their handy dandy window too! Right outside Daddy Donkey you’ll also find a few tables and chairs to sit back and relax on a sunny day. Jerkkies is also a favourite when I have a goat curry and rice and pea craving, which, to be fair, is very often. Flavour explosion!
My favourite meal. Follow these steps to have the perfect evening—every time! I’d start with a drink from Exmouth Arms which always has a great selection of rotating lagers, ales, saisons, and then some and a (not so secret) speakeasy in the back on some nights! Then I like to head to Sharwarma by Berber & Q which serves up the BEST middle eastern dips, breads, and roasted lamb I’ve had in London. Special shout out to the roasted cauliflower drizzled in tahini and pomegranate molasses topped with dehydrated rose petals and exploding with moreish deliciousness! Mouth. Watering. As. I. Type.
Alternative plan, specifically for a Tuesday, is to first pop into Borough Wines and pick up a nice bottle for you and your plus one to share. I never know what I want beyond ‘Medium bodied and red’, which is plenty of information for the guys who work there to suggest a cracking bottle for you. Then head to Foxlow (my love!) on St. John’s street for free corkage Tuesday!
I like to start with an Old Fashioned or one of their ‘Five Pound Drop’ cocktails served everyday from 5-7. In my opinion the white negroni is the perfect aperitif—slightly bitter, slightly sweet, alcoholic and gets your taste buds ZINGED for your dinner.
Need a little something something to go with your cocktail? You’re in luck because the anchovy crisps are amazing. Please do not underestimate what I’m about to say…these are the best salty perfect morsels of snacks you will ever taste. I LOVE THEM and if you don’t, then just save them for me!
Foxlow, being the sister restaurant to amazing Hawksmoor, does the big cuts of beef you’d expect but also some amazing fried chicken with habanero vinegar! Steak and chicken are my two go-tos when I’m there, but they cater to pescatarians and vegetarians alike! Side wise, hit up the tarragon mushrooms and fries! Then to end, the Bourbon Sticky Toffee Pudding. You won’t regret it and you’ll welcome the calorific intake when juxtaposed with the amount of joy that will ediblely enter your life.
To round off your night, a post dinner night cap at the Zetter Townhouse. It looks like some quirky old library that might still be slightly haunted by that funny drunk uncle we all had. However, they make some killer bespoke cocktails, some of them get lit on FIRE. Even with diabetes on both sides of my genetic line, I WILL order the fresh madelines with orange blossom cream. I mean how can you not?! Overall, it’s a pretty romantic place to cosy up with your date or to just kick back with a pal and reminisce about those anchovy crisps! #PerfectNight. You’re welcome.