The Ultimate Guide To London’s Most Exclusive 'Hood

If you thought South Kensington was just for tourists, you’d be mistaken. Sure, it has its fair share of iconic museums – V&A, Natural History and Science namely – but there are a swathe of restaurants, bars, and boutiques that aren’t on the tourist maps, and are definitely worth a visit. What gives South Ken its je ne sais quoi is its French expatriate community (due mainly to the presence of the highly regarded Lycée Français) and accompanying speciality shops. Need a reason to visit South Ken? Here are nine: From a club named after the Iron Lady to the smelliest cheese shop in SW7, we round up our favourites.
3 Cromwell Road
A winning South Ken Saturday: Take an amble around the Natural History Museum for a spot of dinosaur-ogling by day, and by night, hop over the road to 3 Cromwell Road, the latest party palace from Howard Spooner (he of Dukebox and Mahiki). 3 Cromwell Road occupies three floors (restaurant, bar, and club) of a Georgian townhouse, offering varying levels of party-hardness. Feast on steak frites in The Drawing Room, a Great Gatsby-inspired restaurant, sip cocktails in the apothecary-themed Back Room, or dance until dawn in the neon-decorated Basement.
3 Cromwell Road, Lodnon, SW7 2HR; 020 3397 7838.
To the untrained eye, D&Me may seem like a designer bijou boutique (albeit expertly edited). But a seasoned few know about the vintage treasure trove hidden downstairs. Owner Marcelle Symons curates her own brand, One Vintage – a collection of redesigned vintage treasures that sell out the moment they hit NET-A-PORTER – alongside the likes of vintage Chanel. The result? A marabou-laced, rainbow-coloured fantasy wardrobe to rival Cher Horowitz’.
D&Me, Brompton Road, London, SW3 2DY; 020 7589 2728.
Le Columbier
A guide to South Kensington – the city’s Petite France, and home to the Lycée and consequently a large population of French expatriates – wouldn’t be complete without a classic French bistro. Le Columbier, nestled between South Ken and Chelsea, is exemplary. The Filet de Boeuf defies adequate praise, but “out of this world” comes pretty close. And there are enough classic deserts to keep the sweet-toothed Francophiles happy – Crêpes Suzettes, Crème Brûlée, et al.
Le Colombier, 145 Dovehouse Street, London, SW3 6LB; 020 7351 1155.
Muriel's Kitchen
The cheerfully fronted Muriel’s Kitchen may be adjoined to South Kensington station but tourist trap it ain’t (although inevitably, it does attract a few museum-goers). This independent restaurant was modelled on the kitchen of owner Charlotte’s grandmother, Muriel – think copper pans hanging from the ceiling, fresh white flowers and rustic, wooden tables. With everything made on site using locally-grown fruit and veg, the menu changes monthly. Order a selection of the delicious side salads for a healthy feast.
Muriel's Kitchen, 1-3 Pelham Street, London, SW7 2ND; 020 7589 3511.
Photo: Courtesy of Le Columbier; Muriel's; The Exchange
Robert Frew
If you like the smell of old books, Robert Frew is your kind of place. This little shop selling antiquarian books, maps, and prints is like the well-read grandfather’s study you never had. It’s treasure trove of beautiful maps, illustrated tomes, and leather-bound classics, are all sourced by owner Mr. Frew, who’s been trading since 1975. Current finds include a first edition of Live and Let Die and an illustrated, limited edition of Arabian Nights – two very good reasons to put your kindle down.
Robert Frew, 8 Thurloe Place, London, SW7 2RX; 020 7590 6650.
La Cave à Fromage
You know you’ve happened upon a good cheese shop when you can smell it before you walk through the door. La Cave à Fromage is a cheese lover’s dream and rightly so – owners Eric Charriaux and Amnon Paldi sell to the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Michel Roux through their wholesale business, Premier Cheese. There aren’t many seats but those who snaffle one will be able to indulge in (affordable) wine, bread and, of course, a whole lot of cheese. Pick up a smelly blue or two before heading to nearby Hyde Park.
La Cave à Fromage, 24-25 Cromwell Place, London, SW7 2LD; 020 7581 1804.
The Exchange
When the well-heeled ladies of South Kensington and nearby Gloucester Road clear out their wardrobes, they go to The Exchange. This expertly edited consignment shop – which has two locations, each a 15- minute walk from South Ken station – is full to the brim with designer pieces, some barely worn. Look out for the vintage Chanel jackets and second-hand Louboutins.
The Exchange, 72 Gloucester Road, London, SW7 4QT; 020 7052 0028.
For a type of cheese you won’t find in La Cave à Fromage, head to Maggie’s. South Kensington’s ‘80s-themed night club is named after Margaret Thatcher and there are bizarre and hilarious tributes throughout, not least the recordings of The Iron Lady’s famous speeches on a loop in the loos. Sip a Piña Colada (complete with paper umbrella) at a Rubik's Cube-shaped table, or make some shapes to an exclusively ‘80s soundtrack. Shoulder pads optional but welcomed.
Maggie's, 329 Fulham Road, London, SW10 9QL; 020 7352 8512.
Shavata Brow Studio
Shavata Singh is the undisputed queen of brows. The brow guru already has studios within department stores all over the U.K., but this month saw the launch of her first stand-alone salon in London’s Beauchamp Place. A stone’s throw from South Kensington tube station, Shavata Brow Studio is your one-stop shop for brows and beyond. Choose your perfect pair from the ingenious Brow Menu – after all, they are framing the windows to your soul…
Shavata Brow Studio, 60 Beauchamp Place, London, SW3 1NZ; 0207 112 8990.
Photo: Courtesy of Shavarta; 3 Cromwell; Maggies

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