Little Venice, shabby chic in London

We were in London last weekend for the Chelsea flower show and instead of fighting the crowds around Oxford street, we decided to check out this Little Venice that we have heard so much about.

Little Venice is in Maida Vale, slightly west for Regent’s Park and north for Chelsea, get off at the Warwick Avenue underground station. Bicycle rental right outside the tube station make touring the area fun and easy.  We stayed at the aged Colonnade hotel, which is ripe for renovation and contributes the shabby to this chic area. The staff is friendly but you get a Fawlty Towers feeling about the place with their over-sized and oddly regal hotel uniforms. It was many a year ago I last saw the hotel manager with bedroom curtain style epaulets on his suit.

If you are staying at the hotel, skip the breakfast starting at 15 pounds and go around the corner to Toast. Toast is a local coffee shop with a great variety of baked goods, fresh sandwiches and home toasted granola. There are three other options, not more than a few meters away and I am sure one of them has an English breakfast.

The hotel’s restaurant was a surprise with a French waiter, an Italian bartender and a Spanish chef they manage to create an inviting atmosphere and produce interesting tapas dishes. My dessert was curry ice cream with truffles, something I would have been very impressed with had not the ice crystals still been on the truffles. We had three courses and a bottle of red for around 70 pounds.

If you are looking for a gastronomic experience in a casual environment, you can visit Gordan Ramsey’s Warrington which is just down the street. We had an excellent meal but were seated between two large groups of Norwegians, which can never be recommended when the drinks are free.  Three courses and a bottle of wine for around 130 pounds.

The highlight of the area is The Prince Alfred, we avoided their restaurant the Formosa because of the mixed reviews but after chatting with pub manager we regretted this decision. The atmosphere was great with wooden paneling and some conflicting stories about the divisions between areas of the pub, which had no less than 4 entrances. Wood and glass walls divide the pub into sections and we were told by locals, that the largest section was for Prince Alfred himself and his cronies. The manager refuted this claim saying that the largest area was for the working girls, second largest was for blue-collar workers. What the last two sections were for we never found out. Thankfully, they didn’t have a section just for tourists or we never would have got the low down on the pub.

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As far as sightseeing goes, the man-made 2 meter deep canal is the main attraction. Jason’s Trip offers round-trip to Camden Lock cruising through the Regent’s Park, passed the London Zoo and some very fine houses to boot. We saw someone important jogging with his entourage and learned some interesting facts on the tour.

I wish we would have had time to go off in Camden and check out the newly rebuilt market. Last time we were here it was just days before the big fire and I haven’t seen it since.  But just another excuse to come back to Little Venice, I guess.

4 responses to “Little Venice, shabby chic in London

  1. great photos! did you do any thrift shopping while there? my husband and i just booked tickets to London for september. we are planning on staying at the Mennonite Centre in London – the main purpose of our visit is actually to go to Scotland but flights from Canada to England were much cheaper. we’ll probably do a few days in London and i’d love to hit a charity shop there if i could. plan to do some of that in Edinburgh too (any suggestions?) we might have to do that canal tour too!

    • For me London is about luxury, we usually visit Harrods, Liberty and speciality shops. I have heard good things about Oxfam shops but never been there. Enjoy your trip! The British are so wonderful and polite. They seemed especially pleased to see tourists this visit.

  2. I used to live in London (many eons ago) and had no idea there was a Little Venice (perhaps it’s less than 30 years old?). It sounds perfect, though, and I love your suggestions for places to eat.

    • The whole area is very stately Victorian homes and the Regent’s canal was built in the 1802 to ease transport in the city. I think it was pretty posh for a long time but now these homes have been divided into flats – expensive flats. There are gastro pubs and cupcake bakeries everywhere so now it’s trendy. Let’s hope the trendiness won’t ruin it.

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