Over the years I have had a somewhat fickle relationship with London. Initially fuelled by fear and uncertainty, it quickly developed in to a curious infatuation. I was endlessly intrigued by this incongruous jigsaw of mismatched boroughs; in just one day I would experience Soho’s rainbow banners and equally colourful characters and nearby Fitzrovia’s boozers, fringed with the denim-shirt combo media brigade drinking their expense accounts dry. Covent Garden’s glorious piazza was forever throbbing with disorientated tourists, while Chelsea’s princely avenues displayed a clashing throng of young trustafarians, without a care in the world and the sage Chelsea Pensioners, in their scarlet regalia and tricorne hats, marching proudly towards the Thames, full of memories and pride.
As with most relationships, we hit a rocky patch, London and I. I left. I had to: I had unwittingly become a Londoner… and not a good one. Underground I charged defiantly at dawdling strangers, willing them to shift first, my veins erupting with fury when I had to wait a whole minute for the next tube. I was tired of my tiny house, the constant crowds and the endless noise. It had become an unhealthy relationship. The cure? The countryside.
So, here I am, out in the sticks. The air is cleaner, the houses are bigger, the gardens are private, the neighbours have names and the dreaded tube is a distant memory. So, why am I suddenly so curious about my old love, London?
Eager to get back to the capital for a dose of city life, I scoured my old haunts, dismissing every hotel one by one – too small, too noisy, too expensive… Then I stumbled upon Living Rooms, ‘the hotel alternative’. Spread across four esteemed London locations, the company offers the space and feel of a private home, with the services of a top hotel. No brainer. I booked Europa House, in leafy Little Venice – an area of the city that surprisingly, I had never stepped foot in.
Set with one of the area’s grand regency townhouses, Europe House has 13 stylish apartments each of which has access to secure underground parking, a 24-hour concierge and 3-acres of award-winning private gardens. There is also a beauty therapist, masseuse and fitness instructor on-call, oh, and a yoga mat in each bedroom, naturally.
My two-bedroom apartment was surprisingly spacious for a prestigious Zone 2 address, a few stops from glitzy Bond Street. Overlooking the prized gardens, custom furniture and works by Mark Brazier-Jones injected the apartment’s otherwise neutral-palate with a design-led finish. Thanks to the botanically-inspired artworks, soft furnishings and plentiful pot plants, the space felt instantly homely. The light and airy bedrooms were decked out with plumped duvets and crisp linens, the marble bathrooms featured full-sized REN toiletries and the fully-fitted kitchen came stocked with the four essentials that have served me well since leaving home; milk, caffeine, wine and chocolate biscuits. Yes, this would definitely fit the bill.
Snuggled up on the sofa, reading the welcome bumf, I instantly felt a little foolish for not bringing my 2-year old daughter, Rosie. Initially, the idea of bringing a toddler to the capital unnecessarily had seemed ridiculous. However, Europa House has a dedicated kids’ concierge and a playground in the gated garden and five minutes’ walk away jolly narrow boats ferry families straight from Little Venice’s peaceful waters, along Regent’s Canal to London Zoo. My, my London, haven’t we both grown up.
On my lonesome, I decided to do what I always do in a new area: mindlessly wander. I admired the area’s infamous white stucco townhouses with their prominent cornices and the handsome redbrick mansions, the bourgeoning café scene and pristine gardens. Finding fantastic places to eat nearby was a little too easy, if anything – I hadn’t even reached the area’s famed canal when I stumbled upon Clifton Nurseries. Reached via a lengthy path, stemming from a tiny gap in Clifton Villas, this is the verdant sanctuary of locals in-the-know.
London’s oldest nursery, it is famed for having been owned by the infamous Rothschilds for many a moon. As you make your way down the suspense-inducing pathway, the heady scent of hyacinth and the promise of utter escapism hit you. Once through the courtyard, bursting with blooms, statues and novelty topiary (£250 hedge dog, anyone?) various shops and greenhouses await, including their café: The Quince Tree. With an air of Cotswold charm, reminiscent of Daylesford Organic’s Gloucestershire cafe, it serves up an impressive brunch in its buzzy greenhouse and flower-fringed courtyard.
For evening drinks, The Waterway proved a pleasant spot for a canal-side aperitif, with its waterfront terrace providing scenes of chugging barges and St. Mary Magdalene’s commanding spire. A hop, skip and a jump took us to its sister restaurant, The Summerhouse – a popular local seafood restaurant with quality fish, escapist views and an inherently convivial vibe. With a terrace hovering above the Grand Union Canal, the nautical setting and yachtie décor inject this joint with a dose of laidback holiday fun.
Days on, I am still thinking about our sharing platter, which included popcorn shrimp, crispy calamari, smoked salmon and king prawns with aioli and a moreish sweet chilli dipping sauce. My catch of the day was equally delicious: grilled sea bream with truffled leeks and an intriguing hazelnut and tarragon mash. Controversially, my other half went all carnivore on the chef and opted for a fillet steak – another hit.
At the table next to us, a twenty-something woman in a flirty floral ensemble twirled her hair excitedly as her oysters arrived – her suitor, attempting to hide his smug smile as he silently congratulated himself on pulling off a cracking first date. Behind us, a local family watched a colourful boat slip by, chased by a gaggle of geese and next to them, business men cheersed a sealed deal. The Summerhouse, it seemed, had something for everyone. The Eton Mess, a wonderful glob of crunchy meringue, sweet summer strawberries and thick cream, finally finished us off. Not a bad way to go.
Normally, city breaks do exactly that: break me…and my purse. On this occasion I couldn’t help but feel that my exit was a little premature. I hadn’t seen Clifton Road in all of its weekend glory yet, or tired myself out on a canal walk. I hadn’t tried a pasty at Baker and Spice, indulged in the local chocolatery or dined at the much talked about Hero of Maida. I hadn’t even jumped aboard a narrow boat, bound for Regent’s Park or Camden.
As I packed up my stuff, I looked around my apartment: the houses were bigger here, the garden was private and the tube was a distant memory. In fact, I had grown rather fond of the tiny pocket of leafy London. And so, the love story continues…
Europa House offers design-led residences by Living Rooms. It is located at 79a Randolph Avenue, Little Venice, London, W9 1D. Prices start from £185 per night for a 1-bedroom apartment or £250 per night for a 2-bedroom apartment. For more information call 020 724 5924 or visit www.living-rooms.co.uk.