Hidden Highlights – The Side Streets of Knightsbridge

Knightsbridge is well known for its department store duopoly, Harrods and Harvey Nichols. But there’s a lot more to Knightsbridge than just these two shops. Look down some of the side streets and you’ll find some fascinating smaller shops. Whether you want to push the boat out, or just buy a couple of unusual souvenirs of London, Knightsbridge and neighbouring Chelsea can provide you with hours of fascinating shopping.

Some are high fashion. For instance Anya Hindmarch and Lulu Guinness fight it out for the title of Handbag Queen. Anya Hindmarch’s shop in Pont Street famously sold out of the ‘I’m not a plastic bag‘ shopping bag back in 2007, and this year Anya is launching Tony the Tiger and Cornflakes bags at London Fashion Week. Lulu Guinness, in Ellis Street, has very pop art bags; my favourite is a big black bag with a huge pair of red lips appliquéd to it.

Anya Hindmarch eco-bag

Taste bud tickling is a positive art in Knightsbridge. Rococo Chocolate in Motcomb Street is one of my favourites; where some chocolates can be a bit cloying, Rococo adds flavours with a bit of edge, like jasmine tea, mango and passionfruit, raspberry, or lychee, and floral fondants like lavender, rose, violet and geranium. You can also get “Venus Nipples”, which is worth a giggle – in fact, coffee truffle wrapped in white chocolate, a rather tasty combination. Or you can buy some marzipan, and pretend that you’re being very well behaved because of course, as we all know, marzipan has no calories in at all. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

I used to shop at Partridges, grocers by royal appointment, when it was in Sloane Street – it’s moved to Duke of York Square, off the King’s Road in Chelsea, where it now has a cafe, and holds a food market outside every Saturday. Americans living in London should note that it carries a good stock of American foods including Grahams, Oreos, and Goober Grape (for those who don’t know the latter, I’ll explain: it’s a mix of grape jelly and peanut butter, which should be disgusting but is addictive in 90 percent of cases). As for the selection of olive oils, you could spend all day debating which to get.

Goober Grape

In Denyer Street, again just over the border into Chelsea, Baker & Spice is admittedly fairly dear, but its baked goods – from sourdoughs and rye to loaf cakes and croissants – are delectable. It makes its own jams and preserves, too, including marmalade – though that tends to sell out quickly, since Baker & Spice only uses what’s in season, when it can get it. The shop opens at seven in the morning for breakfast, which narrowly edges out their afternoon tea in my affections; cakes you can get anywhere, but flaky fresh croissants are difficult to find (and I’m sorry, but that’s one area where Pret a Manger just doesn’t score).

Culturally inclined? John Sandoe Books, in Blacklands Terracem just off Sloane Square, has wonderfully knowledgeable staff, who really do read. Ask them what’s the best book on Alexander the Great, or what was the name of that novel about the two Jewish guys in Brooklyn who write anti-fascist superhero comics*, or for a book to help you identify British wild flowers, and they’ll probably be able to come up with an answer. The tiny shop is absolutely packed with books – don’t expect there to be much room to sit down, or even stand up!

John Sandoe Books

Bonhams Knightsbridge is another stop for culture vultures. This auction house is definitely different from Christie’s and Sotheby’s – the entry price is lower and it offers modern collection pieces rather than old masters. You might find pop memorabilia, photography, cinema posters, or costume jewellery; a recent sale of medical and scientific instruments featured some particularly ghastly but evidently highly collectible implements.

And finally, a shop I rather love window shopping but have never been inside; Dragons of Walton Street, which you can recognise by the little toy soldiers painted on the exterior. Dragons offers handpainted furniture for children, as well as a range of rocking horses, and a splendid Georgian dolls’ house. The dolls’ house costs nearly five grand and if you order one, you’ll have to wait ten to twelve weeks for it to be manufactured; fortunately for most of us, the shop also offers more economical delights such as a delightful set of London themed wooden cars at £25, including a black cab and a Routemaster bus. You may not be into Beatrix Potter or Flower Fairies, but I defy you not to crumble faced with a handpainted wooden taxi!

* Michael Chabon – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay

After a tiring day of shopping and fun in Knightsbridge, don’t forget to come back to The Beaufort in time for your complimentary cream tea… especially now that the hotel is offering a free £50 Harrods voucher with your stay.

Photo credits: yamada kazuyukiRVWithTitoCGP Grey