Confession: Holland Park doesn’t normally get me excited. Once you’ve seen one stucco-fronted Victorian mansion flanked by a parliament of 4×4’s with personalised number plates, you’ve seen them all. But Clarendon Cross is interesting enough to drag me away from my regular haunts in Notting Hill. It’s like a mini village square, with its wrought-iron benches and cherry blossom trees popular with the local gang of starling birds.
Start in Summerill & Bishop. I promise you’ll love it, even if kitchenware isn’t normally your thing. You’re greeted with the silky, refined smell of very expensive incense, and such an enthusiastic “hello” from owners June or Bernadette that you might have to look over your shoulder to make sure they’re not talking to someone behind you that they actually know! The duo are best friends and have been running this unbelievably beautiful shop since I was a kid. I believe the official date is 1994.
There’s no insipid background muzak here. Instead, there’s conversation. “So how’s everything going?” “What are you up to this weekend?” “Been watching Attenborough’s new series on the BBC? Oh isn’t it marvellous!” It’s a change from the usual dreary “can I help you with anything?” followed by a 180-degree U-turn executed sharper than Jenson Button in his Renaultsport Mégane when you say you’re just browsing, I’ll tell you.
When I was young, I was too scared to touch anything, but now I love rifling through the baskets of vintage tablecloths (the motto here is if you wouldn’t hang it on your wall as art, it’s not worthy of your table) and inspecting the glass jam jars with painted cherries for lids (one will set you back £55), bone china cat tins with detachable heads and Venetian cutlery sets. The displays are always fabulous. Last time I went, there were dried roses hanging from the ceiling.
It’s possible to book the cookery space next door for a private dinner with your friends, and they also run cookery classes, dinner party hosting workshops and all manner of other things, from flower arranging to calligraphy. Check the calendar online for upcoming events.
Diagonal to Summerill & Bishop is The Cross, a lifestyle shop run by a Central Saint Martins grad and one of the original London boutiques: cashmere cardigans bristle for space against inflated lamps with smiley faces; the floor space is crushed with Persian cushions and Peruvian-style rainbow rugs; on the tables you’ll find coffee books about the queen, hand-sewn dolls, or a porcelain owl maybe. I always make a beeline for the jewellery and stationery, partly because I am on a budget, but also because the pieces are always so quirky and colourful.
L Maison next door, which opened last year, is also worth a snoop. I go there for my Aromatherapy Associates fix, but they also do some very fine reproduction 18th-century crystal and handmade curtains. They also stock outlandish abstract canvases by local artist Jane Procter, who is inspired by the colours of the English garden; they are definitely worth a look.
At number 8 you’ll find the Lacey Contemporary gallery (open 10am-6pm Monday to Friday and 11am-5pm Saturday), a relatively new space that appeals to me because the pieces tend to be quite vivacious and vibrant. It’s mainly British artists here, but there’s usually have a little collection of ‘emerging’ art from far-off places too, including Africa and remotest Aboriginal Australia. Think hallucinogenic Songline paintings and sculptures carved from bark.
The Temple Gallery (Monday to Friday 10am-6pm) is at number 6; this emporium of ancient icons has been here since the Fifties. You’ll find Buddha statues dating back to the 2nd century, bronzen tantric crowns from Nepal, rare Russian Renaissance crosses and Byzantine copper antiquities.
Also take a quick look inside the Piano Nobile gallery, which normally has an intriguing, well-annotated exhibition going on (and as with all the other galleries on Clarendon Cross, it’s always free). The last time I visited there was a stirring display of post-war figurative paintings.
If you’re in need of breakfast, a snack or something to drink, normally I’d say pop into Julie’s – though it’s currently being refurbished and reopening in the spring of 2017. It’s a neighbourhood institution that was popular with the hippy set in the Sixties; inside is a honeycomb of rooms furnished with pew pits, stained-glass, medieval banquet furniture and Indian carvings. It’s always been a nice, affordable place for brunch; I hope the salmon and pea fishcakes are still on the menu when it reopens..!
Until Julie’s reopens, the Cowshed spa’s country kitchen-inspired cafe is the only place for a pitstop, though note it closes at 3pm. The almond and marmalade biscuits are really good, and they do sandwiches and soup too. Of course, if you’re inclined you can always book a mani-pedi, though I haven’t had a treatment here myself.
One last treat at Clarendon Cross is the striking red-brick building right at the top of the street, as if you’re turning into Clarendon Road. It used to be a Victorian brick kiln. In the Fifties it was a wholesaler and manufacturing outfit. It was recently converted into a home inspired by a Manhattan loft, complete with 700-bottle wine cellar. Asking price: £8.5 million. Maybe not then.