London Secret Spots: Battersea Flower Station

I often feel overwhelmed by the Insta suggestions of London hotspots. There’s always a new cake shop with gorgeous interiors, or a fun market with foodie treats and vintage goodies, or parks in full, autumnal bloom or the latest brunch spot with the perfect avo toast… The list is endless. The trick is to find the places that aren’t being raved about, but certainly deserve to be.

Admittedly, my London finds always revolve around food. I love trawling the Internet for where I need to be eating brunch on Saturday, or where my next photogenic cup of tea and slice of cake will be coming from. So, I’m not quite sure when I became the sort of person that thinks whiling away the weekend at a garden centre is the sign of a good time – but apparently I have.

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Battersea Flower Station is a quirky alleyway come garden centre, hidden between Winders Road and Battersea Park Road. It’s not big (though remarkably long!) but they have everything – the ‘pot shop’, seeds, herbs, window boxes, garden plants, house plants and a gorgeous florist hidden at the very end.

It is like an Aladdin’s cave, complete with bunting strung up overhead and illuminated by fairy lights. As I said, I am not really one to be enthused by a garden center, but you just don’t know what you will next stumble across – and surely everyone loves a good bouquet of flowers? If I am honest, I thought it would be a lesser-known alternative to Petersham Nurseries (the garden center meets cafe meets restaurant meets celeb hang out that I wrote all about here). It’s not. I was misled by the cake on their Instagram page (they’d recently held a Macmillan Cake Morning), but it’s not like Battersea won’t provide some cake – so no need to go without. And as for the prentending to be green-fingered plant shopping part of Petersham, I reckon this is even better. A bit more rustic (though not too much – we are still in London), and a lot more fun.

So if you are after something a little different, pop down to Battersea Flower Station. It feels like a long, very thin slice of calm in the middle of mad Battersea – completely bizarre, but also wonderful. Just don’t tell too many people. This place is worth keeping a secret.

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Exploring Richmond Park

The temperature has seriously dropped here in London over the past few days. Out of nowhere, winter has arrived. It’s raining, it’s freezing and the Christmas lights haven’t even been turned on yet to cheer the whole situation up.

It’s so much easier to be enthusiastic about being outside in autumn. It’s chilly but only a little (enough to make you think ‘ooh it’s a bit nippy’ but then move on) and the world looks stunning in its autumnal colours. Winter though, it’s almost not even worth leaving the house. Only for minimal amounts of time when you absolutely have to.

But I’m trying to hold on to that autumnal spirit of adventure rather than give in to the temptation to hibernate. So Tiarnan and I set off to Richmond last weekend for breakfast and to explore Richmond Park. Because even though we live so nearby, I’ve never properly walked around, admired the deer and enjoyed it before.

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We started with breakfast at Muriel’s Kitchen, which is quickly becoming one of my favourite London breakfast spots. They have branches in South Kensington, Soho and Richmond which recreate the warmth and cosiness of a family kitchen. All of their restaurants are beautiful and entirely unique, and the food is fresh and beyond delicious. Highly recommend!

We had a quick look around the shops because I can’t bear to see a high street of shops and not venture in to at least one (or maybe several). And Richmond has a wonderful higgledy-piggledy high street that seems like it should belong to a village rather than London. I was a little caught off guard that all of the shops have already cracked out the Christmas decorations, but I guess that Bonfire Night is over so it’s time to eat mince pies and deck the halls. But still, I admired everything (and made mental lists of what I want to buy for others, and myself…) but it still felt a little too early to commit to any purchases.

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But anyway, the main attraction – Richmond Park. It really is an incredibly sight, one minute you are walking through the residential streets of London and the next you are in an enormous, sprawling deer park. It’s hard to miss the deer, but if you don’t want to get too close you don’t have to. But they are the most amazing, calming presence, just minding their own business as you mind yours.

The red deer in particular really are a sight to behold. Red deer are the fourth largest deer species and the stags are enormous. But again, they are so peaceful and calm. You can get relatively close, stop and take pictures and they will just gaze back at you. Amazing. And they are as much a resident of London as I am…!

So if you are visiting London, take a trip out of central to Richmond Park. Or if you are a Londoner, there’s nowhere better for some fresh air and a walk. It’s getting cold, but Richmond Park is definitely worth it.

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West London Weekends: Petersham Nurseries

Petersham Nurseries is the furthest away you will ever feel from London, while still in London.

It is bizarre. We hopped off the bus, rounded the corner and suddenly we were transported to the countryside. There was a dirt track. There were fields. There was a cute little church. There was mud. And of course I was entirely unprepared and had dressed completely inappropriately in my brand new pink suede trainers. So I spent the entire jaunt prancing around puddles like a real townie. But no matter. Besides the puddles, mud and other non-London elements, there was also cake. Which is why we are all gathered here today, obviously.

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Petersham Nurseries is a garden centre meets antique and gifts shop meets restaurant meets tea rooms. It is a total delight. You can browse the plants like you actually have a garden to plant them in, frolic in the gift shop and then have a slice of homemade cake. Their food is seasonal so the menus are ever changing. And the cakes are exactly like you’d bake at home but more inventive and, let’s be honest here, better. The banana bread was excellent and they had interesting offerings like an elderberry drizzle cake and even gluten free chocolate cake.

The tearoom is in a glasshouse and the plants surround you, so you really couldn’t feel further from London. Petersham Nurseries say they are a refuge from the city, and they really are. They have a huge selection of plants and a big site, so you could browse all afternoon before having a cup of tea and slice of cake.

Being London’s answer to countryside, it obviously isn’t a particularly warm place to spend an afternoon. But wrap up, wear something appropriate on your feet and don’t leave before you’ve tried the banana bread. It is truly like no other place I have found in London.

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London’s Prettiest Cupcakes: Peggy Porshcen

WELCOME… to London’s most Instagrammable cupcake shop. With pastel pink walls, beautifully designed cupcakes and an enormous flower garland crowning the door, this is a very hard one to beat.

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The Peggy Porschen parlour has become somewhat legendary on Instagram. The marble table tops, feats of sugar craft and general pink-ness were enough to make it so, but the flower garland is what really attracts the attention. Based in London’s Belgravia, this hub of pink on the corner is impossible to miss.

And miss it you should not. You’ll get some beautiful pictures, but fortunately this place really does taste as good as it looks. You need a sweet tooth, but the selection of ready to eat cupcakes, layer cakes and confectionary are delicious.

We visited on an unseasonably hot day and with tables spilling out onto the street, it was the perfect pit stop for pink lemonade and people watching. And cupcakes of course. It’s a little out of the way but certainly worth it.

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London Cupcakes: Crumbs & Doilies

To say Soho is a busy place would an obvious (and rather stupid) statement. But today I have a quiet little corner right at its very centre for you, and they serve London’s best cupcakes.

Crumbs & Doilies is quite easy to miss, hidden down a little cobbled street from Kingly Court, but you absolutely musn’t miss it. The shop is only small but the selection of cupcakes, cakes and brownies is enormous, with inventive flavours and excellent coffee.

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Crumbs & Doilies is the mastermind of Cupcake Jemma who shares all of her baking genius on YouTube and she’s just released The Cake Book with over 50 recipes. Crumbs & Doilies also have a Saturday stand on the Kings Road and deliver their cakes all over London. Using just the finest ingredients and no weird additives, preservatives or short-cuts, there are over 40 flavours of cupcake to choose from and the selection is changing all the time.

If you can make it to the shop in Kingly Court, it feels like a calm, cupcake oasis in the middle of the Soho hubub. For the huge selection that they have on offer it seems a little small in the shop but the flavours are always incredibly inventive and varied, and if you really can’t decide they have selection boxes that you can fill to enjoy at home. And if cupcakes aren’t your favourite sweet treat, there are plenty of others to choose from. From tiffin to rocky road to shortbreads and brownies, there really is something for everyone. Wash all that down with some excellent coffee and you’ll never want to leave.

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New on the Block: Farmacy, Notting Hill

There’s a new kid on the block in Notting Hill, and it’s one of my favourite recent discoveries.

Farmacy opened just last month on Westbourne Grove. It is open throughout the day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and already causing a bit of a stir. Their philosophy is ‘clean indulgence’ – something I’m very willing to get on board with.

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Their menus are all about healthy choice comfort foods, no rabbit leaves here. It is incredibly rare that I look up a health restaurant’s menu online and decide I’d rather go for dinner than brunch. I’m all about the healthy brunches – homemade granola, smoothies and (if all else fails) avo on toast – but Farmacy’s evening menu was unmissable.

The menu is still a little small and rather pricey, but with delicious options such spelt sourdough pizzas, a clean curry and the Farmacy “burger”, I was willing to forgive those drawbacks. I opted for the porcini mushroom spelt pasta, which was delicious. If you’ve never tried spelt pasta before, then definitely do. It doesn’t have the grainy texture of other wholewheat pastas, but remains all the health benefits.

They also have a really interesting drinks menu (again, I’m never particularly fascinated by drinks menus, my interest can only be slightly piqued by cocktails). I went for the lemon-aid, an alkalising lemon juice, apple syrup and coconut water. It was amazing. I’m normally a bit scared of those kind of lemon drinks, as often they are too sharp. This was nice and sweet, but not sugary, as well as being healthy.

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If you’re in the area be sure to swing by (and don’t under any circumstances miss the lemon-aid!).

London’s Farm Shop: Daylesford

Being in a city doesn’t mean you can’t have farm fresh food.

Last Saturday the sun put in a very decent appearance in London (hallelujah!) so to bask in the warmth and find a delicious breakfast, Tiarnan and I took to the streets of Notting Hill.

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Westbourne Grove is a little like the Portobello Road’s big sister. Slightly more refined and much less crowded, it offers an escape from the never ending throng of tourists. Don’t get me wrong, wandering down the Portobello Road is one of my favourite activities but sometimes you don’t want to fight the crowds. Westbourne Grove has plenty of delicious breakfast options, but we settled for Daylesford.

Daylesford is essentially a farm shop given the London makeover. You won’t see any muddy wellies there, but plenty of farm fresh food. It began as an organic farm in Staffordshire and is now one of the most sustainable farms in the UK, with another one in the Cotswolds as well as various London greengrocers and restaurants. They also have a cookery school and hold various events throughout the year including supper clubs, masterclasses and a summer festival.

Daylesford’s menu is made up of fresh, seasonal produce from the farm’s market garden, cheese and bread from the creamery and bakery and meat from their animals. And if you eat something you really love, it’s pretty likely you can pop into the farmshop and buy it to take home with you.

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Sunday Brunching: Farm Girl

The perfect Sunday always involves pancakes. And today I’ve got a stylish little brunch spot for you all which lets you indulge entirely guilt-free.

In prime location on the Portobello Road, Farm Girl cafe opened last summer to bring the Aussie cafe culture to the heart of Notting Hill. Set back from the main market drag with a cute little courtyard terrace it is hard to stumble upon, but if you do you’re in for a treat.

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Their menu is a health nut’s dream, but Farm Girl puts a nutritional twist on the naughty dishes we all know and love. Their signature offering is a coconut BLT which replaces the bacon with coconut flesh (and tastes convincingly bacon-y, so I am told).

We opted for brunch though, as that really is the star menu. With the classic avocado toast, açai bowl and eggs almost any way amongst others, it’s a tricky choice but we couldn’t miss the buckwheat berry pancakes. They’re refined sugar free (so no munching guilt here) but entirely heavenly.

So soak up the sun at the candy pink courtyard tables or sink into the squishy sofa benches and stay all day, Farm Girl is welcoming, cosy and surprisingly quiet for the heart of Notting Hill. You’ll probably have to queue, but it is definitely worth it.

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Columbia Road Flower Market

Is there anything better than sunshine and flowers?

Columbia Road Flower Market is the place to be in East London on a Sunday. The street comes alive with an endless stream of florists and the crowd packs itself in, all in search of the perfect bunch. From teeny tiny succulents, to enormous house plants and romantic blooms, they have everything – and all at incredible prices!

The market absolutely bursts with atmosphere, with stall holders crying their wares as you squeeze through to grab the best bunch. The street also has some amazing independent shops, with plenty of gardening tools, home accessories, artwork and cafes to keep you busy once you’ve found your blooms. And all of this in the sunshine makes for a pretty perfect Sunday.

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Bank Holiday Brunching: 26 Grains

It’s been a little while since I last ventured into London on the blog, but today I’m making up for it with a great recommendation.

With the bank holiday weekend happily freeing up a sunny Friday, I decided it was about time I started ticking off some of my London bucket list. Neal’s Yard is a colourful corner of Covent Garden, tightly packed with health food eateries and, of course, Neal’s Yard Remedies. It’s only small, but there’s more than enough to keep you occupied.

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For this trip though, we had to sample London’s prettiest porridge. Absolutely dominating Instagram, 26 Grains is a teeny tiny little health cafe serving wholesome, grain based dishes. Don’t be put off by the health side though, everything they serve is ridiculously delicious.

They aren’t limited to enormous bowls of steaming porridge either. As they source their fruit and veg from local producers, their menu changes seasonally. Currently they have an enormous array of porridges (sweet and savoury) as well as bircher muesli, a winter smoothie bowl and lunch bowls if you’ve already had breakfast. They aren’t preachy about health either, and will enquire whether you want almond or whole milk in your coffee (a nice touch, I thought). Definitely worth skipping the main drag of Covent Garden for.

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