London in lockdown: hidden gems we’ve discovered during quarantine
Forget beach holidays, weekend city breaks or even day trips to the countryside, during lockdown most of us haven’t travelled beyond a five-mile radius of our own homes.
Friends live on the other side of the river? They may just as well be in Sydney at this point… although sadly, being in the same time zone means you can always connect over a confounded Zoom quiz.
Nonetheless, this time spent tramping the streets of our own neighbourhoods – the parts we may have neglected in busier days – has revealed them to us anew.
Thought you knew east London like the back of your hand? Well I bet you didn’t know that the Italian guy down the road was a world-class pizza chef until he got furloughed and started a WhatsApp-based home delivery service.
Maybe strolling in the opposite direction to the Tube has unveiled a secret beauty spot, missed in commuting days. Or it could be that jogging or cycling has revealed some must-visit pubs for when lockdown is finally over.
Here, some of our writers reveal the hidden London gems they never knew were there until disaster struck. With all this on the doorstep will we ever leave the ’hood again?
Cycling through Three Mills Island has been a highlight of lockdown (Kristy Gray)
Cycling in Cody Dock, Trinity Buoy Wharf and Three Mills Island, Royal Docks
Kristy Gray, Homes & Property
Three days before lockdown I bought the first bike I’ve owned since I was a teenager. What took me so long?
By almost completely avoiding roads, I’ve discovered east London’s incredible network of Quietways, canal towpaths and cycle lanes. They’ve led me to the creative quarters of Cody Dock and Trinity Buoy Wharf; through Three Mills Island and park in Bromley-by-Bow; and the new flats, old dockers’ cottages and canal boat communities that line the route all the way to Hackney Marshes.
Cycling through a near-deserted Canary Wharf and exploring the network of docks through to leafy Millwall Park has been surreal and peaceful. We follow ducks most of the way. Closer to home, the Canada geese are back for summer with a gaggle of goslings being raised at the edge of the dock as Emirates Air Line cable cars pass overhead.
Seeing the light at different times of day on the docks, and watching as the Thames transforms at sunset and low tide, provides instant stress relief. It’s something I look forward to now, every day. Although I’m dreading the day when I have to fix my first puncture.
Saturday night pop up pizza delivery service Crusty Palette (Megan Hills)
Crusty Palette, Poplar
Megan Hills, Insider
I’ve fallen in love with Crusty Palette, a homemade Neapolitan-style pizza business run by my neighbours to fundraise for the NHS. Pizzas cost £8-10 and are impeccable, which makes sense as it’s a furlough project by Chef Claudio Illuminati (who works for the Tom Aikens group) and his family.
The boxes are charmingly hand-painted with key workers or cartoon characters. After WhatsApps and a Paypal payment, the pizzas are delivered by Simona and their son who mask up, wear gloves and even don snazzy bow ties.
It runs on Saturdays and they’ve raised more than £600, with local companies including Shipton Mill and Smith & Brock donating ingredients.
Queuing for the best croissants in north London every Wednesday and Saturday at Hart & Lova (Prudence Ivey)
Hart & Lova, South Hampstead
Prudence Ivey, Homes & Property
A lockdown-related work assignment led me to Nextdoor neighbourhood hub (nextdoor.co.uk) and Nextdoor led me to a sweet discovery about the district I’ve lived in for two years. Apparently we have beehives dotted here and in nearby Maida Vale, where my beekeeper neighbour makes local honey, which he has been selling to raise money for NHS charities.
Social distancing has also created queues outside businesses that I’d never noticed before, including Hart & Lova bakery, purveyors of what I now know are the best croissants in north London. It’s currently only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays and joining the back of that queue to mark the start of the weekend has become the true highlight of my week.
Osterley Books is a historic gem (Radhika Aligh)
Osterley Bookshop, Osterley
Radhika Aligh, video news editor
I noticed this historic-looking building on a short detour during my daily walk to a National Trust site. Near stunning Osterley Park, this gem of a shop was part of the first Osterley station, which opened in 1883.
Its current owners, Tony and Pennie, bought the space in 1967 and have been serving the community with their book collection ever since.
It is currently closed until June 15 but if you call the number on a sign in the window and ask for something specific that they have in stock, they will sell it to you.
They are also doing a plant exchange – at the moment they want tomato plants so I am planning to take one of mine along to swap for one of their excess squash plants.
I’m so excited to have discovered this piece of history on my doorstep and I know I’ll be spending many post-lockdown weekends perusing books and buying Mother of Pearl buttons — I’ve heard they sell them too!
Looking forward to the pubs of Fleet Street reopening (David Ellis)
The Cheshire Cheese, The Harrow and the Rising Sun pubs, the City
David Ellis, London Indoors/GO London
I live in the City; we don’t have neighbourhoods here. Pre pandemic, the most popular shops in this part of town were Charles Tyrwhitt and TM Lewin, the shirt shops. When lockdown dropped, even the supermarkets shut, though our butcher – the magnificent McKanna Meats – stayed open, becoming the only place with queues.
Still, I’ve uncovered a few hidden gems. The maddening irony is that while they’re no longer hidden, they’re still out of reach, all being pubs.
I’ve crawled Fleet Street’s boozers more often than I remember but, out jogging, have stumbled on countless more. Down Little Essex Street is the Cheshire Cheese, a 1926 baby just a moment from its famous 1666 namesake. The Harrow on Whitefriars looks a must, as does the Rising Sun on Carter Lane. I want to wander into Bow Lane for Williamson’s Tavern.
There are more. May they offer an antidote to all this exercise I’ve been driven to.
The Japanese Garden is a “tiny portal” (Robbie Smith)
Japanese Garden at Hammersmith Park, Shepherd’s Bush
Robbie Smith, The Londoner
When, bored after walking to the Thames 20 days in a row, I decided to explore the less-salubrious parts near me in W12, the last thing I expected to find was a tastefully cultivated Japanese garden.
Well known to BBC staff in nearby White City, and those living by it, this garden at the southern end of the run-of-the-mill, municipal Hammersmith Park was new to me.
It was built, before the high rises, for a Japan-British exhibition in 1910. There are reeds, delicate trees and a stone bridge arched over a pond. It’s like a tiny portal.
Cafe-turned-grocer F Mondays (Emma Clarke)
F Mondays, Brixton
Emma Clarke, SEO
Up on Brixton Hill lies a little coffee shop named F Mondays. Over the years this unassuming café has been a familiar backdrop to my life – to the point I took it for granted. But when the pandemic struck and F Mondays closed its doors, I worried this nasty virus might destroy this place so dear to me.
Walking past a few weeks later I saw the owners had opened up a little grocery store and were offering takeaway coffee at the same time. Before long, I got chatting with an elderly gentleman named Anthony in the queue, who told me he had lived in Brixton all his life.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said, “but isn’t it wonderful how everyone pulls together?” I smiled, and agreed wholeheartedly. It was then that I realised my chat with this total stranger was the first real human interaction I’d had since lockdown began.
In return for supporting our local coffee shop, Anthony and I had been rewarded with companionship and validation.
I’ve always known that Brixton has an unrivalled sense of community but in its new lockdown guise, my old friend F Mondays has shown me just how special it is.
Topiary elements near the wine shop (Harry Fletcher)
Ambler Road elephants, Finsbury Park
Harry Fletcher, London Inside/GO London
“Nature is healing” is a caption that keeps popping up online during lockdown, and it seems to be true in north London.
The duck pond in Finsbury Park, full of new families of ducklings and goslings, isn’t somewhere I’d normally spend an awful lot of time but now my daily walks wouldn’t be the same without it.
The real revelation though has been the herd of topiary elephants I’ve discovered hanging around on Ambler Road by the station, looking majestic in their natural habitat. They’re just around the corner from Oak N4, too, a great wine bar which has been keeping us all in booze during self-isolation.