Victoria Station is not a good introduction to this part of London – the concourse bustling with comings and goings can be overwhelming. The pretty townhouses on Buckingham Palace Road outside are overshadowed by the constant growl of traffic and pedestrians pushing past with suitcases as they traverse between the rail and coach stations. Take a moment, though, to stray a little further and you’ll find pleasant, leafy streets, boutique stores and creative hubs. You just have to know where to look.
Elizabeth Street is touted as one of London’s prettiest streets. It’s history dates back to the 1860s and its fortunes have much to do with The Grosvenor Estate – large swathes of Belgravia are still owned by the Grosvenor Group, with the Duke of Westminster as its figurehead. With that kind of pedigree and financial backing, it can afford to doll itself up.
The neighbourhood is composed of more than 300 niche boutiques and businesses, offering, well…pretty much everything, from flash scents and fine wine to a store specialising in dog and cat outfits. I’m not kidding.
Many of the interesting little boutiques and businesses have elaborately dressed windows, with flowers entwined around the windows and doorways. Some shops update their flowers quarterly, some do temporary arrangements for special events, and others do pop-up floral art when they have a reason, so it’s worth visiting more than once.
Peggy Porschen is the first to catch the eye, with its pink façade and doorway framed by pastel-hued toadstools. The theme continues inside, where the décor is as sweet as the cakes on display. It’s a bit like stepping into a sweet-toothed fairy tale. My pick is the Banoffee cupcake, with chocolate chips, fresh banana and a hidden layer of toffee sauce. Drooling yet?
Across the road is Jo Loves, created by Jo Malone, where the Fragrance Brasserie Bar beckons. Here, you can indulge in a Fragrance Tapas experience that sees you immersed in scents and stories, ranging from No 42 The Flower Shop, the scent that represents this street, to Smoked Plum and Leather, the scent of a ranch in Montana. Shower gel is prepared in a cocktail shaker and poured into a martini glass for your olfactory pleasure; bath cologne is warmed within a tagine and released via a cloud of scented steam. The Fragrance Tapas is guaranteed to leave you smelling divine for the rest of the day, at the very least.
If you’re into sweet treats, Olivogelo, a short way back towards the coach station on the less quaint end of the street, should be on your hit list. This Sardinian gelateria dishes up delicious homemade ice creams, frozen yoghurts and sorbets. The blueberry frozen yoghurt is to die for or if you’re looking for something truly unusual, try the Sardinian nougat ice-cream.
Alternatively, Poilâne bakery (founded in 1932 on the fashionable rue du Cherche-Midi in Paris) opened its first London shop a short distance from Jo Loves. The bread here is freshly baked on the premises every day in wood-heated ovens and the typical French patisserie items are all present in abundance.
Dotted along the street, there are boutiques waiting to dress you from head to toe – literally – from hat designer extraordinaire Phillip Treacy, bespoke lingerie at Luna Mae London and contemporary jewellery at De Vroomen to Italian-designed boots at Stivaleria Cavallin – and everything in-between.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll need a coffee about now. Baker & Spice a short way past Poilane is a good choice. If you haven’t stuffed your face with cupcakes and ice-cream, this is a good lunch choice too, with delicious Mediterranean-influenced salads and sandwiches and a worthy all-day lunch menu.
Once you’ve wandered the length of Elizabeth Street, it’s worth moving one block over to Eccleston Street and dropping into Re:Mind Meditation Studio for a slice of zen. Now, I’m not really one for meditation – my mind is far too busy for that – but the Re:Sound sessions are something different. This unusual class sees a practitioner playing the gong harmonically for the duration. It feels like serenity is transmitted through the sound vibrations. If that’s too calm, you could always try the Re:Wild class. I have no idea what it is, but it is apparently designed for you to: “discover the nature within you and connect to your inner animal.” I think my inner animal is a sloth.
Practically next door to Re:Mind, Eccleston Yards is a new (Grosvenor-owned) hot spot for funky brands focussed on creativity, wellness, and food. This includes high-tech tailors Tailor Made, which uses a 3D body scanner housed in a ‘smart glass’ booth and oversized touch screens positioned throughout the store so customers can browse the latest collections, put together mood boards and email to themselves, and get a perfectly fitting suit. There’s also a well-stocked bar at the back of the store with Japanese whiskies and East London distilled gins. It’s worth talking about tailoring just for a tipple.
Barry’s Bootcamp is here if you’re into pain – this is said to be the hardest workout in the world. My experience here left me unable to lift my arms for two days. I’m sure they were toned though. There’s also the option of getting sweaty at Hotpod Yoga. You can paint mindfully at MasterPeace, have your gait analysed at Run and Become (can it make me faster?); check out the lastest from emerging designers at concept store 50m; have a blow dry at SMUK London, an eco-friendly hair, beauty and lifestyle studio founded by Danish Celebrity Stylist and Make-Up artist Miabella Ristorp; or buy more doggie fashion at OverGlam. You can also just chill in the square and admire the Frida Kahlo mural, although this will soon be replaced with a thankyou mural dedicated to the NHS and key workers.
If you haven’t munched your way here, the Jones Family Kitchen, sibling to Shoreditch's Jones Family Project was listed as the Top Steakhouse in London (2019) by Steak Society. I had a Josper-grilled Longhorn sirloin steak with a delectable black garlic chimichurri sauce and a bowl of English Greens with chilli, sesame and soy just to check the quality. It was so worthwhile.
A Night at the Theatre
There are a couple of theatres in the vicinity, too. The Apollo Victoria Theatre, Victoria Palace Theatre and The Other Palace Theatre are all in the area but with Covid-19 putting a halt on live performances, who knows when actors will once again be treading the boards.
In close proximity to the theatres, you can find Big Ben’s sibling, Little Ben. It’s not going to blow your mind – the cast iron miniature clock tower is a different colour and much smaller than the real thing, but it’s one of Victoria’s most distinctive landmarks. Big Ben is out of commission anyway due to necessary restoration work, not due to finish until 2021. Little Ben makes for a reasonable replacement for a London clock tower selfie.
Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the UK’s sovereigns since 1837. is only a short walk from here. Although access is restricted to just two months between dates in July and September, it’s worth admiring its external grandeur and the stoic faces of the palace guards through the wrought iron fence on the perimeter.
The Queen’s Gallery, on the other hand, is open every day. It’s is run by the Royal Collection Trust, a department of the Royal Household employed to take care of the official collection of artworks owned by the Royal Family. It houses artefacts given as gifts by other world leaders from Ecuador to China, paintings by artists like Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci, and a host of curios from around the world.
Where to Stay
f you’re looking to splurge, The Goring hotel stands out from the crowd, but it does sit firmly on the luxury end of the scale. It’s been around since 1910 and is something of a wonder, from the Linley designed (and Michelin-starred) Dining Room to the artistry of the hand-woven Gainsborough Silks that adorn the walls. The Goring Gardens are one of the largest private gardens in the capital and are a fine spot for afternoon tea.
If your budget is more modest, the Eccleston Square Hotel is a hidden gem. Billed as one of the most technologically advanced boutique hotels in the world, the rooms are comfortable, well-designed and cleverly connected. The staff are welcoming and there's a free mini-bar if you book direct.