I commute to Victoria station every day. It’s something I’ve had to accept as a part of life – like the inertia of British politics, PPI calls, and Ant and Dec. Victoria is like a vast, polluted dodge ball field – except it’s human zombies armed with knackered wheelie bags that spray at you from all directions, not the spongy round missiles from school. I always joke that dying and becoming a ghost wouldn’t be that big a change, as people try and walk through me like I’m Casper the sodding non-flesh spectre every rush hour anyway.
It’s crazy that thirty seconds down the road is one of the quietest and most beautiful cavalcades of independent boutiques and quirky dessert joints in London. Meet grubby, dumpy, alcohol-sodden Victoria’s secret, unassuming, elegant daughter, Elizabeth, who also happens to have a sweet tooth.
Elizabeth Street is the one on the left after the Victoria Library. If you’re peckish for something sugary, forget the Sainsbury’s in the station or the chain coffee shops on the main thoroughfares; check out Elizabeth Street instead. I suggest you start with Dominique Ansel Bakery at numbers 17-21. This is a deeply strange but very delicious bakery that has been exported from New York, with waiters in black bow ties, and white butcher-tiled walls.
If it’s after 3pm get a cookie shot. This is a cookie shaped into a shot glass, with a glug of Tahitian milk in the middle (£4). It’s your milk-and-cookie-studded childhood sprinkled with vanilla-infused hipster dust. Regulars also come here for the Cronuts – a cross between a croissant and a donut – with the flaking butteriness of the former and the pungent doughy denseness of the latter (£4).
I also rate Peggy Porschen Cakes further up on the same side of the street, at the crossroads with Ebury Street. It may have borrowed its colour palette from Miss Piggy’s wardrobe, but the cakes are delicious and interesting: I tend to get a slice of the champagne and strawberry cake to go when I’m feeling naughty, but they do other flavours too, like salted caramel, and lemon, raspberry and rose. I love how, instead of offering just cuppas and coffee with the cakes, they also have mini bottles of Moët & Chandon pink champagne.
Up for some retail therapy? Check out Tabitha Webb at number 43 on the same side of the road for colourful silk shirts and flattering wrap dresses, perfect for work. Sadly, TW is normally out of my budget, with many items well over £100, but they do 50% off during the sales, which is when I like to take a peek.
At this point, I’d say cross the road for Vicki Sarge, the costume jeweller at number 38. The door is sometimes locked but just knock; one of the ladies, who are all lovely, will let you in.
It’s a carnival of hot pink perspex necklaces, diamante-encrusted rings made of sanded-down shells, and earrings fashioned from neon jewels and 24kt gold. It’s not cheap: there’s a Carousel Bejewelled Cuff Bracelet I have my eye on that is £171. But, maybe one day, eh.
Jo Loves is a perfume store at number 42. It’s like stepping inside a fat, scented candle – you immediately get enveloped in its clobbering sweet, citrusy smell. There are some interesting perfume scents here, from Pomelo to Fresh Sweet Peas, and you can combine your favourites to make your own. But my favourite buys are the truffle body lotion and mango and Thai lime bath cologne.
Poilâne, the French bakery at number 46 ( still on the other side of the road) is deathly silent and smells of crust, yeast and walnuts. It seems to to get less attention from the savvy Elizabeth Street shoppers after a food fix, but this is a shame. Think biscottis in the shape of forks and spoons, syrup-glazed galettes, boastfully bloated fresh round loafs, and pungent, crunchy sourdough bread. They also do personalisation, so there’s great potential here to buy an unusual edible gift for a colleague or friend.
Cross the road again to check out Philip Treacy – a bespoke hat shop at number 69 that delivers me endless joy, even though I currently have no aspirations to buy a hat for thousands of pounds. Think Liza Minelli-inspired sequin numbers, hats that resemble magenta satellite dishes, and gold hats with masks over the eyes and squigly horns – as well as some thoroughly sensible choices for Ascot Ladies Day.
If Jo Loves wasn’t enough of a heavily-incensed antidote to the fumes and vaping pedestrians of Victoria, then Les Senteurs is also a really welcoming little independent perfume store at number 71. Once you’ve been here, you’ll never want to go to the smelly department in Selfridges again. They specialise in Italian and French perfumes, both the big brands and wonderful ones you’ve never heard of that smell of bark and citrus and cinnamon. It’s so calm here and the staff so enthusiastic I could spend a whole hour here just sniffing everything.
My final recommendations for Elizabeth Street are restaurants: Olivocarne at number 61 is a fantastic meat-focused Sicilian gaff with white table cloths and rather odd faux-primitive animal artwork on the walls. I come for the chicken livers sauteed in balsamic vinegar (£10.80) and porcedu – slow-roasted suckling pig with Sicilian roast potatoes (£27.50). It’s also a nice place for an aperitivo; order the prosecco with peach puree (£8.50).
Ebury Restaurant and Wine Bar at the crossroads with Ebury Street is also cracking place for a date, with its floral trompe l’oeil murals and cosy tables in nooks cordoned off with wooden screens. They do a nice brunch at weekends. The dinner menu is mainly classical fare. Think sausage and seed mustard mash and highland venison paddling in ox tongue sauce.