It’s a sunny Saturday morning and after stocking up on kale juice, manchego and flaxseed at Borough Market, I’m on my way to a contemporary glass-blowing studio nearby, followed by Zandra Rhodes’ Fashion and Textile Museum. All thanks to Zena Alkayat’s handy tips on the best of Bermondsey Street. Alkayat’s London Villages presents 30 unique and vibrant enclaves or ‘villages’ within our esteemed capital city. These are divided up into five larger areas; Central, North, South, East and West; giving the reader an easily navigable guide around some of London’s most intimate and diverse quarters.
Each village is expertly introduced with a one page narrative, describing its distinctive flavour, strong community spirit and gradual evolution to become the place it is today. Kim Lightbody’s accompanying photographs are charming, while Jenny Seddon’s maps of each village are beautifully crafted and present a charming and vivid picture of each neighbourhood, its main attractions and star highlights.
As someone who for one reason or another tends not to venture too far outside the realms of my local cafés, galleries and markets, I read this book with every intention of spending my forthcoming weekends getting lost in parts of London I knew only from bus route maps and property reviews. I discovered trendy Exmouth Market, with its classic tale of urban gentrification, beautiful landscaped gardens and tasty Mediterranean restaurants and small eateries. (Try Caravan for a lively local buzz and delicious sharing plates). Shepherd Market is also worth a visit; come evening, the raucous mood recalls the former annual ‘May Fair’, when gamblers, drinkers and all night revellers would party here in its insalubrious streets.
Alkayat has included my personal favourite here, Chelsea Green, which I love because it has remained a peaceful, secret little village, thus appealing to older and younger Chelsea residents alike. Don’t miss Chelsea Toys with its array of nostalgic wooden toys and Jane Asher’s party cakes emporium. Or for a taste of Thameside London, head to Barnes Village for one of the biggest summer fetes in London or the annual bonfire party.
Freelance writer Alkayat is clearly knowledgeable on her subject – her first book, Tea and Cake London was extremely well received, offering a tantalising array of the best places for a teatime treat in the capital. Her latest foray is a natural and broader extension, showing off her expert knowledge of the capital with well-selected quintessential favourites amongst a few fantastic hidden gems that I will certainly be returning to again.
It’s impossible here to delve into all 30 locations, but I urge you to buy a copy of Alkayat’s book which you should slip into your bag for those moments you feel like a bit of a wander about town and some solid recommendations, be it cinemas, parks, markets or gift shops. Although London Villages merely scratches the surface of the areas the author describes, it is a reliable and faithful guide which makes a superb present and keepsake for even the most knowledgeable Londoner. Book in hand, all you need is a Boris bicycle, picnic rug and slight autumn breeze blowing in your hair to experience village-hopping without ever leaving the capital.
London Villages by Zena Alkayat is available to buy online here.