Clerkenwell has managed to hang on to its old-time charm and welcoming village atmosphere. Particularly around Clerkenwell Green and Exmouth Market — a pedestrian thoroughfare with lively outdoor cafés and fine restaurants. The area is rich in heritage and history, with attractive Georgian squares and architecturally striking churches. Charles Dickens, who lived nearby used many of Clerkenwell’s streets as settings in his novels. The Eagle, in Farringdon Road, is cited as London's first gastropub.
There’s great lunchtime street food from all corners of the globe to be had at the entrance to Exmouth Market. Head down the pedestrianised street itself and you’re spoiled for choice of restaurants. Medcalf serves fantastic meaty food in a buzzy space. The Spanish-Moroccan eaterie Moro, and its younger sister, the tapas bar Morito, are always worth a visit. Elsewhere, the wonderful Bistrot Bruno Loubet is in The Zetter Hotel, while Le Café du Marche is just the spot for a romantic dinner. This is gastro pub central — try The Eagle, The Peasant or The Easton.
Back on Exmouth Market again, head for Café Kick, a European-style bar, which serves tapas-style nibbles and glorious cocktails. Just off Clerkenwell Green, The Three Kings is a quirky, fun little pub in the shadow of St James Church. Across the road, The Crown (where Lenin and Stalin are said to have met) is particularly pleasant when the sun shines and you can get a seat outside. The Harlequin is a tiny-but-inviting old pub with sofas, an open fire and a small garden.
Clerkenwell’s streets brim with historical and literary references. The area was once known as ‘Little Italy’ due to the number of Italian residents working here in the watch and cloth trades. Nowadays, there’s an Italian scooter shop, a wonderful deli, and Italian-looking churches on Exmouth Market (Our Most Holy Redeemer of Clerkenwell) and the Clerkenwell Road (St Peter’s). Charles Dickens used Clerkenwell Green for the scene in Oliver Twist where Fagin and the Artful Dodger introduce Oliver to the world of pickpocketing. And he banked at the Finsbury Savings Bank on Sekforde Street.
Past and present come together near the 800-year-old Smithfield meat market, where you’ll also find the fashionable night clubs Fabric and Turnmills. There are comedy nights at Play Bar, the Queen’s Head and Upstairs at the Betsey Trotwood. Other local attractions include the jewellery centre at Hatton Garden and ghost hunts round the old courthouse and the former House of Detention. Or if you fancy a quick round, visit Urban Golf, where you can tackle 52 of the world’s best golf courses on high-tech simulators.
Clerkenwell is teeming with small watch shops, large furniture stores and independent boutiques. Pick up gorgeous shoes, bags and vintage scarves at Lie Down I Think I Love You. Bagman & Robin sells one-off handbags and belts. Furniture and home store Viaduct is the sole UK agent for the leading European companies Driade, e15, Maarten Van Severen, MDF Italia, Montis, and xO. Drop into Lesley Craze for contemporary jewellery design and an interesting gallery shop. They’ll even do special commissions for you.
Arts & Culture
The fascinating Museum of the Order of St John is housed a the 16th century gatehouse, once the entrance to the Priory of Clerkenwell. For a spot of contemporary art, try Rokeby, Fold or Frameless Gallery. The Magnum Photo Gallery on Gee Street exhibits spectacular photography from the world-renowned agency. And there’s yet more superb photography on show at Host Gallery, which focuses on photo journalism — from classical black-and-white reportage to contemporary mixed media. Clerkenwell is said to have more designers per square metre than anywhere in the world, and they all come together for the annual Clerkenwell Design Week in May.