When I first moved to London, I asked a friend where I should live. She told me that if she could do it all over again, she would live in Hampstead. Now that I’ve been in London for six years, I sometimes wonder what I would tell someone if they asked me the same question. Usually I find myself leaning towards a particular neighborhood in central London: Clerkenwell.
In fact, I love Clerkenwell so much that when a new aparthotel called Supercity invites me to have a two-night staycation in the neighborhood, I jump at the chance to see what it would be like to live there. Off I go to The Rosebery, their shiny new property on Rosebery Avenue in Clerkenwell.
I arrive on a sunny afternoon and check into my apartment. It’s a one-bedroom with a large living room and kitchen, and a bathroom off the main hall. Windows line the front wall, illuminating the sleek contemporary furnishings, and out the bedroom I have a view of the City skyscrapers and St Paul’s Cathedral. Apart from a fan that’s a bit squeaky and an LCD panel for the lights and heat that doesn’t seem to do what I tell it to, it’s a great place to stay.
I set up my laptop at the desk in the living room and connect to the free WiFi, but I can’t bring myself to get any work done. Clerkenwell is calling, and I want to go explore.
I head outside and cross Farringdon Road, making my way to Exmouth Market. The street and its outdoor market are some of the best places to eat in Clerkenwell. From Santore, with its delicious pizzas, to Hummus Bros, where I stop for an afternoon snack of ful medames with fluffy pita, it is teeming with great restaurants, cafes, and outdoor market stalls.
As I walk around, I also discover a hidden gem near Exmouth Market. Down a little alley, I find a pretty park full of delicate flowers and adorable dogs. Maybe I will move to Clerkenwell after all.
Not far from the park, I discover another of the neighborhood’s highlights. The Clerkenwell Collection invites me for a glass of wine and a tour of their shop, which sells everything from handbags to bespoke suits. I particularly like the accessories from Elvis & Kresse, which are made from reclaimed materials.
And speaking of shops, I discover the great food market on Leather Lane, where I pick up a halloumi wrap from Victus & Bibo and can’t believe how good it is (no wonder there’s a massive queue). Behind the stall is Prufrock, one of the best coffee shops in Clerkenwell, and I get a latte to savor as I walk over to Smithfield Market.
On the way I pass The Bleeding Heart Tavern, a place I once discovered on a taxi tour of London. East of it is Cowcross Street, which is packed with great restaurants and pubs.
At the end of Cowcross Street I come to Smithfield. It is a massive Victorian meat market that somehow managed to survive in central London when all of its counterparts moved away from the city center. By the time I get there, the market is empty (all of the trading takes place in the wee hours of the morning), but I can still admire its Victorian metalwork and read about its history.
The most interesting bits are that Scottish hero William Wallace was executed here, and that in the early 19th century, men used to come to Smithfield Market to sell their unwanted wives. Yikes…
While Smithfield may have once been a scary place (for rebellious Scots and women, anyway), it is now surrounded by some of the best restaurants in London. From Club Gascon to the south, to the cozy Fox & Anchor pub to the north, from Michelin-starred St John, to perennial favorite The Modern Pantry, and new-and-noteworthy Foxlow, there is no shortage of great places to eat (and that’s to say nothing of little secret bars like Tart and the Zetter Townhouse Bar).
After my day of sightseeing, I head to one such restaurant in Clerkenwell for dinner. I have been invited to Bird of Smithfield, a new multi-story dining and drinking establishment near Smithfield Market, to try the cuisine of chef Alan Bird, formerly of The Ivy.
My dinner starts out on a positive note in a cozy first-floor dining room with friendly service. It’s pouring rain outside and I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be than a warm room full of good food and wine.
The starter of scallops with Jerusalem artichokes, pears, and bacon is comforting and then some, with rich flavors complimenting one another in a sinfully delicious way. I can’t help but order the special of the night for my main, the 28-day dry aged South Devon sirloin beef with Bearnaise sauce, which is juicy and rare and perfect for keeping me warm as the raindrops lash at the window panes.
No comforting winter meal would be complete without chocolate, so I dive into a divine sea salt caramel and Cru Virunga crackling pot and finish off the last of my Valpolicella with it. The meal has been a winner, and as I walk downstairs and exit through the bar, I’m tempted to stay all evening.
But my room at The Rosebery calls, and I’m glad it does. Warm and dry, it lulls me through the night and gets me ready for my continued exploration of the neighborhood. One the best things about Clerkenwell and nearby Farringdon is the history, and I love discovering it as I walk through the area.
In addition to Smithfield Market, there are pretty historic churches tucked away behind stone arches, and secret gardens like that of the Museum of the Order of St John.
I could spend all day walking through Clerkenwell, but my staycation is coming to an end. I check out of The Rosebery and start home, all the while knowing that the past two days have confirmed my original thought: if someone asked me where to live in London, I would definitely say Clerkenwell.