First, an apology. My camera to computer cable thing has gone walkabout, so all the brilliant photos that would otherwise be accompanying this post are sadly absent. Hopefully I’ll find it by the end of this year and then I’ll put them up.
I fancied a stroll in West London, so I set off for Sloane Square and more specifically King’s Road. It’s a part of the world which depending on the current state of affairs in my life polarises my temperament for better or for worse. On one hand the sight of all this luxury and affluence makes me want to think, “the world is in a cracking state of affairs”, but on the other, “why can’t I have some of that?”
Anyway, I digress. A lot has been said of the diffusion of King’s Road into “just another high street”. I agree with the view that it’s definitely become a lot less diverse and with chain shops popping up all over the place, a lot less independent. You wouldn’t find a new version of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood plying their trade here these days.
All of that said, there are still some brilliant boutiques to be found, if you’re prepared to walk a bit. Much has been made of the Oxfam on Shawfield Street (off King’s Road, to the left) for it’s designer togs at knockdown prices. Now, I don’t know if I visited the shop when it had got a poor delivery, but in my opinion it was well, a bit dull. The best buy I could find was a Paul Smith shirt (£30) on the solitary, sad looking “Men’s Fashion” rail. If you really want to find some bargains, head instead to the British Red Cross shop on Old Church Street (by Cineworld, on the left). Here I found shirts by Thomas Pink, Boss, Aquascutum coats and even a pair of Church’s brogues (which, to my annoyance, were two sizes too small).
If you’ve got a bit more money burning a hole in your pocket, I suggest heading to the shop at Terence Conran’s Bluebird. It’s a boutique and clothes shop in the vein of the small Paul Smith outlets, not only stocking some cracking clothes but also books, cakes and quirky toys. I found a good selection of knits, shirts and formalwear by VW, APC, and excluding Dover Street Market, the most well stocked collection of Comme Des Garcons that I’ve seen in London. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, I suggest you visit here because it’s just beautiful to look at.
Shop’s aside, if you’re interested in architecture, King’s Road and the surrounding area is a joy for one’s eyes. If you take the time to walk up and down the little squares that are tucked away either side of the main road, you’ll find some striking architecture, none more so than on Glebe Place. Standing tall amongst a row of standard West London houses (steps down the front, whitewashed, accessible basement, etc) is a house which looks like it should be in one of Tolkein’s books. I took several photos of it, and my words can’t really do it justice, but if you’ve got the time, go and take a look at it for yourselves, because it certainly impressed me.
After all this walking (and to appreciate King’s Road properly, you’ll have to do a lot of it) you’ll no doubt be hungry as I was, and again it has plenty to offer. So far, I’m aware I’ve been painting a picture of King’s Road as a haven of creativity, independence and wonderful escapism. It’s not like that, there are indeed McDonald’s, Starbucks, HMV, etc looming large over the landscape, but that isn’t to say there isn’t plenty of other things either. There’s no point coming here if all you’re going to do is sit in McDonald’s as your gut slowly expands and then panic on the toilet as several pounds of fries, Big Mac and McFlurry all violently exit your body. You can do that anywhere. So don’t waste the money of travelling here if you intend to shop at one of the chains, because you’re missing the point.
Back to eating.
There are plenty of eateries along King’s Road, of varying price and quality. The two which I’ve picked are my favourites because they combine what every poor traveller craves, cheap and good quality. If you want a good filling meal, head to the Stockpot (next to Designer’s Guild and near Cineworld). I’ve known the owners of this place for years, and they’ve never upped the prices, nor changed the quality of the food. For a tenner you could get yourself a couple of beers, a main course (spaghetti vongole is perfect) and a decent pudding, similar to one you’d get in a pub (cake and custard etc).
Number two would be the kebab shop, Ranoush Juice. This is a kebab shop which started on Edgware road, and which I’ve been fond of ever since. When I say kebab shop, it’s not your standard greasy piece of dog meat from down the road. For £6.50 I got a lamb kebab and a beer, and it kept me full well until I got home that evening. It’s a very local atmosphere so expect lots of Lebanese folk to come in barking in their native tongue.
Finally, for general “organised entertainment” there are a few noteworthy things on offer. First, the Royal Court Theatre, right by Sloane Square tube station. Second, the Saatchi Gallery, possibly my favourite art gallery in London. Saatchi allows free reign to the visitor, allowing unlimited amounts of photos to be taken, and entry is entirely gratuit. There are two cinemas on King’s Road, the Cineworld that I’ve already mentioned, but I’d recommend the Chelsea Cinema, situated about halfway down. It’s got a very distinctive front, and although it only shows one film per day, if you plan ahead you can see a film that you want, as well as basking in the more attractive surroundings that independent cinemas bring (it’s part of the Curzon group of cinemas).
So concludes my account of King’s Road. There’s a lot I’ve left out, partially because of quality control reasons, but partially because I’d rather people go and discover the rest for themselves.
If anyone tries to copy this and forward it to the Lonely Planet, don’t because I’ve already sent it to them. Expect to find this in the London Guide at all good bookstores near you.