A London Shopping Survival Guide

DonQui rather enjoys shopping for food and browsing around book shops but other than that he hates shopping. In this regard he is probably not too dissimilar from most males of various species. His idea of hell on earth is a shopping mall so you will never see him in Westfield nor any other such ghastly place.

What to do then when online shopping does not provide the easy answer and a London shopping trip becomes unavoidable?

 

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First of all DonQui will avoid Oxford Street at all costs. Heaving with tourists and shopaholics it makes an unpleasant experience positively unbearable. This is especially true this time of year when Christmas lights are already up in early November and all the shops are blaring out soppy, truly awful Christmas songs. Perhaps the muzak is supposed to encourage people to buy — but it only makes DonQui want to kick the speakers and gallop off to the nearest pub to calm his nerves.

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When a shopping expedition cannot be avoided he heads for Kings Road.

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Now it does sadden DonQui that the cool shops of the swinging sixties and punk seventies have been replaced by bland chain stores. The Sloanes took over in the eighties and seem never to have left.

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True, Vivienne Westwood’s World’s End is still at — well World’s End. Under various names, it dressed the Sex Pistols and unleashed punk, bondage and pirate fashions. But is no longer the epicentre of current fashion that it once was.

The shop where Mary Quant first brought miniskirts and hot pants the world (thereby earning DonQui’s eternal gratitude) is now a café. Although there is a Mary Quant shop around the corner in York Square the company is now owned by Japanese businessmen.

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The infamous Chelsea Drugstore featured in Clockwork Orange and the Rolling Stones lyrics in You Can’t Always Get What You Want, is now a McDonalds.

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Leaving nostalgia aside for more practical matters, the usual place DonQui starts a canter down Kings Road is at Sloane Square. Not much to hold him there as the various cafés are on the expensive side and not particularly cosy. However the Christmas lights are relatively tasteful and there is no horrid Christmas music. If you fancy a bit of theatre later on the Royal Court has a reputation for putting on new and innovative plays. It brought us the original Rocky Horror Picture Show back in 1973.

On the corner of Sloane Square, Peter Jones department store sells pretty much everything except food (for that there is a Waitrose further down the road). Now DonQui is not a great fan of department stores but this one has nice stuff and is not too crowded. It is part of the John Lewis group, retaining the old name of the original store which was bought up by Mr John Lewis himself back in 1905.

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Opposite Peter Jones is Duke of York Square which has a goodly collection of upmarket chain shops, a large Zara and, more importantly quite a few rather good eateries. The former Duke of York’s Barracks is now home to the Saatchi Gallery for contemporary art.

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On Saturday morning there is a very good food market on the square where DonQui has often gone to pick up various delectables. Sometimes in summer he has combined this with a coffee and croissant sitting outside for breakfast at Partridges. The family run Partridges is a venerable institution reminding DonQui a little of Fortnum and Masons.

From Duke of York Square to the Chelsea Old Town hall there are a wide range of shops ranging from upmarket designers to Marks and Spencer’s.

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If in need of a quick lunch Al Dar is an excellent Lebanese restaurant and/or take-away. DonQui is particularly fond of their lamb shawarma which is made with proper whole pieces of lamb, beautifully spiced.

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Alternatively the Amorino has some really very good all-natural Italian style ice cream just across the road.

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Those with too much money burning a hole in their pocket could drop into Ghost to buy their girlfriend the dress worn by Bond Girl Léa Sedoux in SPECTRE.

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Or, you could sneak down Blacklands Terrace for some respite at John Sandoe’s wonderful independent bookshop, leaving any accompanying Generation X, Y or Z’ers in Jack Wills on the corner.

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Most of the women in DonQui’s life seem rather taken with American import Anthropologie opposite the Trafalgar pub. Left to their own devices they could happily spend hours in there.

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A good tactic is to let them do this and repair to the pub while they try stuff on. One can always join them later to give a verdict on things they are thinking about buying but have not yet made a decision on. Be careful when doing this, a glance at their facial expression will give a clue whether you are supposed to give positive re-assurance or if the female is genuinely unsure and it is safe not to like something she is considering.

The trick to surviving a shopping trip in DonQui’s view, is to intersperse buying stuff in shops with plentiful stop offs at pubs or cafés

IMG_5904.jpgA little bit off Kings Road, down Smith Street, is one of DonQui’s favourite watering holes in the area.  Part of the Geronimo Inns group, the Phoenix is a great drinking pub with comfortable bar area and a few seats outside. It also has pretty good food.

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Once, a few months back, when enjoying a drink outside, DonQui was entertained by a filming going on in the street.

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Further down Kings Road and tucked away on a back street (Britten Street) is The Builders Arms. Another Geronimo outlet it is more of a gastro pub with food being the main attraction. Another very good gastro pub with a descent bar area is the Pigs Ear down Old Church Street past the Red Cross charity shop for the price conscious shopper and Manolo Blahnik for anything but.

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If you want an unfussy old fashioned boozer you will need to go the Chelsea Potter.

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Kings Road is especially blessed with good cafés from the excellent French imports like Pauls and Le Pain Quotidien to home grown ones.

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Recently DonQui stopped off for a coffee and croissant at the Chelsea Quarter and found it very good indeed.

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A good place for a lunch stop is the Chelsea Farmers Market just around the corner on Sidney Street — but don’t expect to find any Chelsea farmers there. They became extinct many years ago. Instead you will find a couple of good eateries — especially an excellent pizzeria. The restaurants are mostly geared to alfresco dining so it is much better in summer.

From the Chelsea Old town hall to World’s End the big chains gradually give way to some more independents as well as some very ordinary places such as Tesco, a post office and several charity shops. The charity shops along and just off King’s Road are very good places to pick up brand new stuff at knock down prices. The many more money than sense inhabitants of Chelsea will often offload their unwanted purchases here and the charity shops have cottoned onto it — shipping in their best stuff from elsewhere to stock the Kings Road outlets. Red Cross and Oxfam are particularly good.

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Vivianne Westwood’s wonky World’s End shop with its backwards running clock, the World’s End pub and World’s End nurseries mark what is surely the end of Kings Road. The road does apparently carry on a bit further but DonQui is fairly certain that if you go beyond the World’s End pub nothing much good will come from it. It may be that you will fall off the edge of the world, or possibly end up in Fulham — which is more or less the same thing.

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