Itinerary Location: Fitzrovia | Duration: 7 Hours
Fitzrovia sounds like the kind of neighbourhood that might have a rich, storied history; associations with kings of centuries past, a playground for the landed gentry, or an intellectual nucleus for philosophers of the Enlightenment.
Actually, it only really became a thing in the 1930s.
Well, obviously people had been living and working there for many, many years. But it was mainly referred to by its big streets – Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street, Great Titchfield Street – rather than an actual neighbourhood. Apparently, the name was coined by the poet M. J. Tambimuttu, who arrived in London from Sri Lanka in 1938 and joined the bohemian literary circle that spent considerable amounts of time in the Fitzroy Tavern. He called them the Fitzrovians, and their home, Fitzrovia.
Then he moved to New York, everyone forgot about it again, and it wasn’t until the 70s that the name was revived, and finally stuck.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Fitzrovia has kind of been the runt of the litter when it comes to Central London’s neighbourhoods, overshadowed by artsy Bloomsbury, louche Soho, and upmarket Marylebone. It still tends to be forgotten about. So this itinerary has been lovingly curated to show off the area’s best bits, and prove that Fitzrovia is a highly enjoyable place to while away an afternoon: one which involves a couple of galleries showcasing art forms that weren’t previously considered art forms; a historic pub; some legendary wonton; and precisely 533 mosaic stars.
We begin at:
➊ LANTANA FITZROVIA | 11am
Today’s about taking it easy, so stroll along to Lantana on the charming, pedestrianised Charlotte Place for a leisurely 11am. Nobody knows how to start the day better than the Aussies, so take a leaf out of the Antipodean brunch playbook and start the day with wild mushrooms & crispy shallots on toast; BBQ brisket hash with pickled jalapeños; or a little pear & coffee cream French toast (made with some outrageously good croissant bread). They serve brunch here every day of the week, but on weekends it’s taken up a notch with the additional option of limitless coffee, fruit juice, or mimosas. Pick your poison, and kick back for the next hour and a half (at an outside table, if the weather’s feeling Antipodean too). After which, it’s time to head to…
➋ THE CARTOON MUSEUM | 12:30pm
Er, quirky London museum alert. Despite being one of the city’s little-known galleries, The Cartoon Museum has a big collection: over 6,000 artworks and 8,000 books, all drawn by British artists over the last 300-odd years. The main gallery gives you a potted history of this under-appreciated art form, from caricatures by Hogarth to original editions of the Beano; Punch’s famous political cartoons to modern satire and 60s superhero comics. There’s always one or two temporary exhibitions on, too – currently you can relive the heady days of Boris Johnson’s tenure through satirical cartoons (though we can’t imagine what they’d be referring to), and check out the surreal imaginary contraptions of W. Heath Robinson.
➌ FITZROVIA CHAPEL | 2pm
By this point, you might be starting to feel a bit peckish again, so from here, head back left along Wells Street to retrace your steps towards Charlotte Street. But if you just so happen to be following this itinerary on a Wednesday, take the opportunity to duck between the two massive new buildings opposite Berners Street. You’ll soon emerge onto a shaded open square, with a small doorway tucked into a red brick building on your left. Go through that doorway, and you’ll discover one of the most beautiful hidden spots in central London: Fitzrovia Chapel.
Before the new development went up, this site was home to the Middlesex Hospital for nearly 250 years. The one part to survive the wrecking ball was the hospital’s chapel, now deconsecrated but home to occasional performances and exhibitions. On Wednesdays, it’s free to pop your head in to look around and soak up the soaring vaulted ceilings, every inch covered with gold mosaic tiles and shimmering stars.
➍ POON’S WONTONERIA | 2:30pm
Carrying on back along Goodge Street, turn right onto Charlotte Street, a relatively quiet little street which seems to have wrangled more than its fair share of excellent restaurants. It would be pretty much impossible to get round all of them in a year, let alone a day. But if you somehow did manage to exhaust all the options? You can always return to No 23, right next door to Carousel, the restaurant which hosts guest chefs from around the world for weekly residencies. No 23 is their slightly more permanent wing, a 16 seater space which they let out to roving food outfits for a few months at a time.
Currently, that food outfit is Poon’s Wontoneria, a dumpling-focussed pop-up from Amy Poon, who – no biggie – has the legacy of what was probably London’s best loved Chinese restaurant of all time resting on her shoulders. Her parents’ Covent Garden eatery closed after 30 years in the biz with a Michelin star and a crowd of fans to its name, and since she was old enough to take on the mantle, Amy’s brought the place back to life through a series of pop-ups, supperclubs and more. Now, she’s here on Charlotte Street until early May with her ‘wontoneria’, hawking bowls of silky dumplings (packed with prawn, chicken, pork or veg), slicked with a lip-smacking chilli vinegar made to the Poon family recipe. It’s the kind of pure joy you just can’t bottle (except they have, and you can buy some to take home with you).
Take a stool up at the counter, or grab a bowl to go, then it’s onwards to our next stop…
➎ THE PHOTOGRAPHERS’ GALLERY | 3:30pm
The Photographers’ Gallery was founded by Sue Davies back in 1971, and was radical in its intentions to showcase photography as artwork on a par with painting and sculpture (which seems pretty radical to us now). Over 50 years (and a move to a much bigger venue) later, it’s a thriving gallery that stages exhibitions of all kinds, from retrospectives of big name photographers to prize shows celebrating emerging young artists. Unlike other London galleries, your ticket will net you entry to all their current exhibitions, so there’ll be plenty for you to explore (and it’s a pinch cheaper if you book ahead online).
➏ FITZROY TAVERN | 5pm
Time to wind up at the neighbourhood’s namesake, the Fitzroy Tavern. It’s stood here in one form or another since 1883, and history is etched across its walls – quite literally; stop to read any of the news clippings and posters that have been framed over the years and you’ll get an insight into the pub’s most rambunctious period in the 20s and 30s. Former patrons include the poet Dylan Thomas, the occultist Aleister Crowley, the author George Orwell, artist Nina Hamnett, and lady going by the name of Tiger Woman who used to drink Champagne from a saucer on the floor.
Besides its bohemian history, the Fitzroy Tavern also lays claim to being one of the most atmospheric pubs in London. After a refurb a few years ago, it was restored to its Victorian glory – which essentially means the place is now a warren of wood panelling and glass screens, which divide the floor into a handful of cosy little private booths. The perfect spot for a pint, a debrief, and a saucer of Champagne.
And if you’re not ready to bid farewell to Fitzrovia just yet? See off the day in pure decadence, Italian-style at Circolo Popolare, or British-style at Berners Tavern…
➊ Lantana Fitzrovia | 13 Charlotte Place, London W1T 1SN
➋ The Cartoon Museum | 63 Wells Street, London W1A 3AE
➌ Fitzrovia Chapel | 2 Pearson Square, London W1T 3BF | Open Weds 11am-5pm
➍ Poon’s Wontoneria | No 23 Charlotte Street, London | Open Tues-Sat 12-3pm
➎ The Photographers’ Gallery | 16-18 Ramillies Street, W1F 7LW | Closed 20th February – 2nd March
➏ The Fitzroy Tavern | 16 Charlotte Street, London W1T 2LY
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