Thursday, November 1, 2012
Wow, Hurricane Sandy. Not much else to say. But it is at least partially responsible for the time that has gone by between my last post and this one. Rather than focus on what happened, I far prefer to focus on what is happening, and I admit I also prefer to continue thinking and writing about London! So continuing on, I have a few more posts on London, and then I'll move on to the enormous list I have on other subjects.
Here are some great shops I spent time in in London that I really recommend:
*Labour and Wait [85 Redchurch Street, E2 / www.labourandwait.co.uk] is a small shop a short jog from Brick Lane and it waves the British flag for great and well-made hardware and home items as well as clothing. Everything here is functional and useful but also very attractive, and everything but perhaps two or three items is made in Britain. Good for gifts, for yourself and others.
*L'Artisan du Chocolat [89 Lower Sloane Street, SW1 / www.artisanduchocolat.com] also waves a British flag, for British chocolate! Chef Gordon Ramsay has described L'Artisan as "the Bentley of chocolate," and I can confirm that the No. 1 Salted Caramels -- a dark chocolate shell coated in cocoa powder with a liquid filling of salt and caramel -- is one of the ten best culinary items I've ever put in my mouth. You can buy these in a small container for 13 pounds 50, and in larger sizes: 48 pieces for 25 pounds and 108 pieces for 55 pounds. Plus there is a liquid salted caramel sauce for 7 pounds 99. I'm certain the other chocolates are delicious, but I didn't get past the caramels.
*Rococo Chocolates [5 Motcomb Street, / www.rococochocolates.com] is a lovely shop in Chelsea co-founded by Chantal Cody, who I first read about in Mort Rosenblum's fascinating book Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light (North Point Press, 2004). "Once bitten, truly smitten" is the store's slogan, and it's accurate! Cody is the author of her own book, Real Chocolate (Rizzoli, 2003), which I also enjoyed, and she started the Campaign for Real Chocolate. There's a selection of bar chocolates that feature appealing flavors and pretty paper wrappers (I particularly liked the cardamom organic dark chocolate artisan bar) and there are lots of boxed assortments, like the Union Jack and signature Rococo below:
*A. Gold [42 Brushfield Street, E1 / www.agold.co.uk] is a charming shop that specializes in British culinary and grocery items. The owners are Safia and Ian Thomas, but the shop's name comes from its original owner, Amelia Gold, a Hungarian Jewish hatmaker. You can also get a good cup of coffee here -- no foam! -- and it's great fun to walk around slowly and see some English specialties you may have thought no longer existed.
*Topshop [flagship address at 214 Oxford Street in the West End / www.topshop.com] and Jack Wills [72 Kings Road, SW3 / www.jackwills.com] I have to mention because my 14-year-old daughter loved these British clothing stores, and if you are visiting London with teenaged girls they might like them, too. Topshop is much more of a sensory-overload experience, but there is an EAT cafe downstairs so companions who want to escape the frenzy can comfortably wait here.
*Lastly, a word about the Royal Warrant: a number of retailers in England who are official Royal Warrant holders, and you'll know when you pass such a shop because you'll see the royal seals displayed in windows or on storefronts. In order to be nominated for the honor (by members of the royal family), the supplier must have served the royal family for five consecutive years. According to Eugenia Bell in her wonderful book The Traditional Shops and Restaurants of London (mentioned in a previous post), the first known example of a royal warrant was in 1155, when Henry II gave the Weavers Company a Royal Charter to provide cloth to the royal household. Bell notes that it isn't just shops that are warranted: "along with the outfitters, gunmakers, and supermarkets preferred by the royal family, there are suppliers of everything from parasols to Christmas crackers." Once a supplier has been nominated, the Warrant is signed and approved by the Lord Chamberlain, secretary of the royal household in an act of "loyalty for loyalty."
Apparently Queen Victoria handed out more than 2,000 Warrants in her sixty-four-year reign, and of these many still retain the honor, including Fortnum & Mason and R. Twining.