Through careful curation, Covent Garden has transformed into a world-class neighbourhood of flagship stores, concept restaurants and cultural curiosities. Whether you desire high-tech, high fashion or dining highs, WC2 is a shopping and dining utopia
[Around this time, London was a building site and lots of its districts were reinventing themselves. I wrote advertorials on Carnaby (as it liked to call itself), Victoria and Kings Cross – as well as this. It was also around this time that we banned the word ‘curated’, to add to ‘iconic’. Both were 2011 buzzwords and overused. So I apologise for using ‘careful curation’ in the sell… although I reckon Capco insisted on it, and it’s their money!]
GQ Promo, 2013
Across the cobbles of Covent Garden, the faint warble of an opera singer can be heard. It’s early evening and the mezzo-soprano – or is it contralto? – drifting from the Royal Opera House adds a relaxed air as we saunter languorously towards the shop fronts of modernist neighbours such as Fred Perry.
Tonight, Covent Garden is gleaming and bright, a paean to cultured city life. Following seven years of stewardship by property owner Capco, Covent Garden’s reimagining is now established. The former fruit’n’veg market is now a district of flagship stores, easy-going bars and concept restaurants.
Covent Garden’s revamp has heralded the arrival of urbane brands. In came Apple, Burberry Brit, Hackett House, Oliver Sweeney and Casio G-Shock, complementing established names such as Paul Smith and Nicole Farhi. And as flagship stores moved in, shoppers arrived. Annually, 44 million visitors sample the buzzy atmosphere of WC2, but now, instead of calling in for a few hours, they stay for the day, a fact made possible by an influx of innovative eateries. The likes of Balthazar, MEATmarket, Jamie’s Union Jacks and Laduree have made Covent Garden their home, while this year, Danish chain Sticks’n’Sushi and Danny Meyer’s burger’n’dogs boutique Shake Shack have increased choice.
So Covent Garden’s rebirth is nearly complete, but beyond the pristine facades, heritage and culture remain. For opera, follow your ears, while art and history can be found at Somerset House, the Courtauld Gallery and the recherché London Transport Museum.
What was once the orchard of Westminster Abbey is now a garden of plenty – a district of stylish brands, cool hang-outs and chic cuisine.
Out to launch
Now meet 2013’s arrivals
Since 2006, more than 60 new brands have moved to the cultured streets and courtyards of Covent Garden, from Chanel and Opening Ceremony to The Moomin Shop (yes, there’s a boutique dedicated to Finnish trolls).
In 2013, further fashion labels and purveyors of fine food arrived. Earlier this summer, new concept Hackett House (37 King Street, WC2) moved into a Georgian pile offering classic Hackett casualwear, suiting, tailoring and a traditional barber.
Last month, Yohji Yamamoto’s stylish sportswear collaboration with Adidas, Y-3 (12 Floral Street, WC2) opened its flagship store, bringing an edgy urbanity to the cosmopolitan Covent Garden mix.
Smart dressing is all well and good, but shoppers can’t survive without sustenance. In February, a Covent Garden coup saw the opening of Balthazar (4-6 Russell Street), the Manhattan-based dining institution that gives a US twist to French dishes.
Meanwhile, twists of a different kind can be found next door at Balthazar Boulangerie, an artisan bakery with an highly alluring aroma.
Mark Rosati, culinary director, Shake Shack
When I arrive, the first thing I do is call in at Andronicas (27b The Market Building, WC2). I love starting the day with a cup of filter coffee. At lunch, Mishkins (25 Catherine Street, WC2 is a modern take on a classic NYC deli. Their Reuben on rye and Brick Lane salt-beef sandwiches are legendary, and their cocktails are great, too. But one of my favourite spots for brunch on the weekends is Balthazar on Russell Street. The room is stunning and the shellfish platters are some of the best in the city.
David Young, head concierge, The Savoy
Start your day with a stroll around Covent Garden’s Piazza and explore new openings on King Street such as Aesop and French fashion brand Sandro with its huge 2,746 sq ft store. In the evening head to the Beaufort Bar at The Savoy (Strand, WC2). Try a Character cocktail, inspired by Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway or Frank Sinatra. Mixologists will garnish your drink at your table.
Chris Bianco, co-founder, Jamie’s Union Jacks
When it comes to cultivating the British tailored look, the recently opened Hackett House in King Street fits the bill. I’ll often pop in if I’m passing, and it has the added attraction of an in-house barber. For afternoon tea, get a table on the balcony overlooking the Piazza at Laduree (1 The Market Building) for flatbreads (a British take on pizza) baked in our wood-fired ovens washed down with locally sourced beer or wine.