Little Black Book

Exploring London's Literary Side

by Nicole Gulotta
St. James Park. Photo by Nicole Gulotta.

Eat This Poem, one of Fathom's 24 Best Travel Blogs and Websites, seeks out the best food and fiction in cities around the world. Here's a selection from their London guide, written by Elena Bowes, a writer, culture-vulture, and San Francisco native who moved to London in the late '80s. She's got her finger on the page, so to speak.

LONDON – No literary trip is complete without tucking into a local coffee shop to read or write. With this in mind, contributors are always eager to highlight their favorite bookstores, readings, and literary festivals alongside cozy coffee shops and great restaurants. Elena Bowes is a California expat who has called London home for 25 years, she reached out to Eat This Poem to take readers on a tour of her favorite literary finds in London. Here's a sampling.

Daunt Books. Photo by Nicole Gulotta.


Books for Cooks
4 Blenheim Crescent; +44-020-7221-1992
Notting Hill's famous cookbook shop stocks over 8,000 books where they really do cook the books. Cookbook recipes are tested out in the café in the back and during cooking courses upstairs. This delicious-smelling shop is a must visit for all cookbook junkies.

Lutyens & Rubinstein
21 Kensington Park Rd.; +44-020-7229-1010
Opened in 2009 by literary agents Sarah Lutyens and Felicity Rubenstein, it's two floors stocked with everything from popular novels to reprints of neglected classics. There are also clever bespoke services and award-winning marmalade and honey (season permitting) made by Notting Hill bees kept by Rubenstein's husband.

Daunt Books
83 Marylebone High St.; +44-020-7224-2295
The Marylebone branch of this small chain of bookshops is housed in a sunny, welcoming Edwardian building. The travel section is predictably divided by country, but tucked within each destination are works of fiction, non-fiction, maps, and guides. Interesting authors come to speak every month, and the Hampstead branch leads walking book groups through Hampstead Heath.

John Sandoe
10 Blacklands Terrace, Chelsea; +44-020-7589-9473
This small treasure trove opened in the 1950s and is full of eclectic books piled high in ever corner with the most knowledgeable, approachable staff able to suggest and locate all hidden gems with ease.

Persephone Books
59 Lamb's Conduit St.; +44-020-7242-9292
An independent shop that publishes out of print, unfairly ignored fiction and non-fiction books by women. Their books are famous for their intricately decorated covers.

London Library. Photo courtesty of The London Library.


The London Library
4 St. James Square; +44-020-7930-7705
The London Library feels like a gentlemen's club where silently reading versus chatting is encouraged. There are fifteen miles of bookshelves accessing more than a million books dating back to the 16th century. Past members have included Charles Dickens, T. S. Eliot, and Agatha Christie. Visitors can buy a day ticket for £15, but they need to send an email to the reception desk beforehand — all very proper and oh so British.

The British Library
96 Euston Rd.; +44-330-333-1144
When it comes to size, the British Library wins big. The collection is so vast that if a visitor looked at five items a day, it would take him 80,000 years to view the entire collection. The Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook, and Beatles manuscripts are just a small sampling of the unique books and sacred texts on display.

TomTom Coffee House. Photo by Nicole Gulotta.


TomTom Coffee House
114 Eubury St.; +44-020-7730-1790
Tom's is my local, and I go there every day for the tasty coffee and convivial atmosphere. Both regulars and tourists sit around a large communal table reading newspapers and chatting. Dogs are welcome.

The Attendant
27A Foley St.; +44-0207-637-3794
This coffee shop gets top marks for originality. Set in what was an underground Victorian public bathroom, the Attendant has been lovingly restored and fully cleaned. There are a few remnants from its former life, like the original porcelain urinals which are now coffee benches, and food can be ordered through the old attendant's window. The Attendant in Fitzrovia is a good afternoon pick-me-up place where batches of coffee are ground daily by Caravan and 'cooknies', a combination peanut butter cookie and brownie are on offer. Fitzrovia and neighboring Soho are full of good coffee shops like Kaffeine on Great Titchfield.

Photo courtesy of Olivomare.


10 Lower Belgrave St.; +44-020-7730-9022
A delicious fish restaurant in Belgravia owned by the charming, hard working Sardinian Mauro Sanna, who owns four top-notch eateries and two foodie shops all within a stone's throw of one another. The octopus salad and crab linguini are my staples although everything on the menu is really good.

Tom's Kitchen
27 Cale St.; +44-0207-349-0202
This is my ideal breakfast/brunch spot in the heart of Chelsea. With its long wooden tables, open kitchen and wood-burning stove, the restaurant serves up simple, seasonal, freshly sourced dishes. For breakfast, there's Eggs Royale with smoked salmon or crisp Belgian waffles with carmelized apples, cinnamon cream, and maple syrup. Being a Californian at heart, I usually get the homemade granola, berries and Greek yogurt.

21-22 Warwick St.; +44-020-7494-9584
Ottolenghi's first foray into the restaurant world resides in Nopi (North of Piccadilly). With an accent on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, the chic eatery serves a variety of healthy dishes with loads of flavor. Situated in the West End's Theaterland, Nopi is a good place to go before seeing a show. Diners can sit on the more formal ground floor (marble and brass galore) or eat at a long canteen table in the more casual space overlooking an open kitchen.

Various locations; +44-020-3227-4999
Not a week goes by without me dropping into my favorite London deli for some delicious salad, blueberry crumble muffin, or café mocha. And if I'm at home, their cookbooks are my kitchen bible.

Bocca di Lupo
12 Archer St.; +44-020-7734-2223
In the heart of Soho is a small Italian trattoria with only 14 tables and a buzzy bar/chef's counter at the front. The food is delicious Italian with lots of homemade goodies, including the pasta, sausages, salami and focaccia. Save some room at the end of the meal for Gelupo (same talented owners) across the street serving delicious homemade gelato. I'm partial to the rich chocolate sorbet although there are plenty of innovative flavors (ricotta or vanilla and saffron). Booking is essential.

The River Cafe
Rainville Rd.; +44-020-7386-4200
This restaurant is perfect for special occasions like a birthday or an anniversary. It's a bit out of town in Hammersmith with a garden overlooking the river, so ideal for summer dining. The River Café opened in 1987 in a disused oil storage facility that was modified by architect Lord Rogers, husband of one of the River Café founders, Ruth Rogers. Ten years later this simple, unpretentious trattoria won a Michelin star. Several successful chefs (Jessica Boncutter of Bar Jules in San Francisco and April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig in New York City) trained at the River Café. Specialties include the John Dory smoked in the restaurant's own wood stove, wild mushroom risotto, lemon almond cake, and the divine chocolate cake called Nemesis.

Weird and wonderful plants hidden in the city. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Physic Garden.


Chelsea Physic Garden
66 Royal Hospital Rd.; +44-020-7352-5646
A quiet sanctum by the river Thames in central London. On a sunny day there's no better place to get lost in a book on a bench with the café nearby for refreshment breaks.

Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey
20 Dean's Yard; +44-020-7222-5152
Several great writers have been buried here, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Lord Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. There are also several memorials to other greats from Jane Austen to Henry James to Lord Byron.

Bibliotherapists at the School of Life
70 Marchmont St.; +44-020-7833-1010
Bespoke literary prescriptions are offered to clients after consulting with them about their reading habits and goals. The bibliotherapist tries to guide clients to books that will enchant, enrich and inspire them, often by suggesting new literary directions." They have recently published The Novel Cure: An A–Z of Literary Remedies.

Taking a break from the festivities. Photo courtesy of Hay Festival.


Hay Festival
An annual festival at the end of May where writers, thinkers, film-makers, historians, poets, and environmentalists converge in the bookish town of Hay in the Black Mountains in Wales. The full list of speakers will be published in April, but a few luminaries who have graced the fest in the past include Judi Dench, Stephen Fry, Arianna Huffington, and Tony Morrison.

Local Bookstores
Daunt Books
and Lutyens & Rubinstein host a variety of readings throughout the year.


1. Favorite view: London has so many pretty views, but for sheer panorama mixed with history, climb up the 528-steps to the viewing platform in St Paul's Cathedral. Or for something less strenuous but still scenic, amble across the Millennium Bridge to Tate Modern. Then take the lift to level 6 and admire St Paul's beyond the Thames River from Tate's floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

2. Favorite place to write: My cozy office at home, the only noise, my snoozing pug Antoinette.

3. Favorite museum: It's a toss up between Tate Modern and the Victoria & Albert. They both host frequent thought-provoking, beautiful shows. The V&A gift shop is good for original presents.

4. Favorite coffee shop: Tomtom Coffee House on Elisabeth Street in Belgravia.

5. Favorite thing about London: I love the diversity of London. I'm never bored. It's ancient yet modern, grand yet intimate, dynamic yet tranquil. London is packed with charming neighborhoods, terrific museums, delicious restaurants, and peaceful parks. Plus the British capital is an ideal hub from which to visit other European destinations.

This guide was edited and condensed from a guide that originally appeared on Eat This Poem and is printed here with permission.

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