On… my little black book of London

This morning I woke up early, read some of the delicious THE HATING GAME by Talli Roland, then lost Stone-Paper-Scissors with Fox and was forced to tramp down to the Coffee Plant on Portobello. And now, as I am back in bed slurping in a deliberately-annoying-but-hopefully-endearing way, all I can think is ‘this is the best coffee in the world. I should blog about it’.

And then I thought, fuck it, what about my favourite, essential places in London?


There’s a lot of coffee in the world. And there’s a LOT of bad coffee. I don’t see the point in going to a CostaNeroBucks* when the result is bitter, watery and burnt. (Similarly I really, really don’t see the point in going to a chain bar like All Bar Shit when there’s probably something tiny and unique around the corner, and I’m confounded by the allure of Pizza Express.) I like my coffee rich and full and flavoursome, and those places just can’t offer that.

Anyway, the Coffee Plant is on Portobello Road, about 65 steps from our place, and the coffee is exceptional. The service is middling and the guy who owns it seems to have self-published a book about the 9/11 conspiracy, but it’s all part of the experience. And they sell very nice chocolate-covered cherries.

*Except in summer when it was veh hot and I discovered a love for Frappucinos: icy caffeinated goodness so sweet you can’t even tell how bad the coffee is! Then I discovered the amount of sugar in those fuckers and immediately stopped.


The Grocer On Elgin. I could not have written A GIRL LIKE YOU without this place: I tripped down at about 6pm every night for one of their freshly-made meals (soups, salads, stews, curries…).

The Grocer On Elgin
6 Elgin Crescent
W11 2HX

It also sells very good coffee, but the cups are too small, so Coffee Plant wins.


On the corner of Blenheim and Portobello, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, two delightful women sell flowers at astonishingly low prices.

Now, I never saw the point of buying flowers before, when there seemed no middle ground between a £3.99 bunch of date-raped carnations from Tesco or a £89.99 posy of hand-reared, Oxbridge-educated blooms from a shop called something like ‘Blooming Marvellous’ (sigh). But you can buy 20 huge fat roses, a big bunch of lilies and several hydrangeas from this stall, and still get change from £25, and they last at least a week.

I have no idea what I’m doing with the arranging but I love it.


Books! Those beautiful bastards. I love reading. When I was little, we belonged to three libraries, so I could get the 18 books out a week it took to occupy me. I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up. I think if I’d seen Lutyens & Rubinstein, I’d have wanted to work in it instead.

So, most of you probably buy on Amazon, and one has to admit that the prices are afuckingstonishingly cheap. But if you’re after a good, soul-cheering book browse and genuinely personalised recommendations by people who truly love books – and who isn’t? – you can’t beat Lutyens & Rubinstein. Started by two literary agents about a year ago, I believe the intention was to stock the books they and their friends loved the most in the world… and wow, it works.

As I browse L&R;, I tend to make little gasping sounds of joy when I find the books that have permanently invaded my brain and heart – from Jilly Cooper to Kingsley Amis to Stella Gibbons to Leo Tolstoy to Evelyn Waugh to Nora Ephron to Dodie Smith… all in one delightful, beautiful space. It’s a bit like going to a party with all your best friends from your entire life.

Lutyens & Rubinstein
21 Kensington Park Road
W11 2EU

Daunt is, of course, also a lovely independent bookshop, but they do seem to be dreadful book snobs. Terribly worthy, with less of the joy of reading than the joy of ‘yarse I DO prefer the xx translation, you know, when I went up to Cambridge -’ blahblahblahzzz.


Fine, laugh at me. Call me a princess. But I’m the one that has to look at my hands for about 15 hours a day as I type: I like having good nails. I can do my own, if I must, but for £10 one of the gifted and delightful Nail Spa ladies can do an absolutely amazing file-and-polish. Every now and again I get a manipedi for £40. They’re in Marylebone, Maida Vale and South Kensington, and it’s amazing how, once a week, I manage to have an errand near one of the three.

My colour de jour, and the one that is on the nails taptaptapping away to you right now, is Essie Velvet Voyeur. I also like Gladioli, Hot Coco, Lapis of Luxury, Chinchilly and Sugar Daddy. For my wedding I had Berry Hard on my hands and Mink Muffs on my toes. Yes. Aren’t my conversational skills fascinating? “Do go on,” I can hear you saying, head tilted thoughtfully to the side. “Tell me more about your fingernails.”

The point is: there are a lot of cheap-n-not-that-cheerful places popping up in London these days – Julie’s Nails, I’m talking to you – but they’re pretty dreadful. Nail Spa is dependably great.

Nail Spa

5 Paddington Street
London, W1U 5QF
020 7935 3322

7 Clifton Road
London, W9 1SZ
020 7266 5588

20 Bute Street
London, SW7 3EX
020 7225 2233

Hmm I have been typing for an hour. Let’s see: coffee, food, flowers, nails, books… what else is there that I can recommend?

Clothes? I shop on the high street (Topshop, Zara and ASOS almost entirely, though I do have a penchant for J Brand jeans and dresses from Carven, Maje and Paul & Joe Sister). I get a lot of things altered to fit better, and an old pencil dress can get a new lease of life if you cut six inches off it (I cut six inches off a lot of dresses, come to think of it, I’m quite slutty like that). The place I go for alterations is always, always, always First Tailored. They’re expensive, but worth it. From Zara trousers to my wedding dress to Paul’s wedding suit, the results are consistently exceptional.

They don’t have a website, but it’s
First Tailored Alterations
85 Lower Sloane Street,
SW1W 8DA (7730 1400).
Sloane Square tube. 9am-6pm Mon-Sat.


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5 thoughts on “On… my little black book of London

  1. Sarah

    So nice – as a confirmed NE Londoner, good to have a peek into quality West London places..

    I also find it very cute that you refer to your husband by his surname.

  2. Gemma Burgess

    Well! I haven't actually ever read any other writing books. I am only reading ON WRITING by Stephen King because everyone always talks about it on Twitter, and I'd heard about the adverb thing being in other writing guides from other author blogs (that's why I said 'apparently'… heh), and some of my pals are screenwriters and told me that everyone says it's weak to put adverbs in scripts.

    Anyway I'd highly recommend ON WRITING: it is absolutely delightful, practical and thoughtful advice.

    My first boss made me memorise George Orwell's 6 Rules For Writing:

    1 Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    2 Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    3 If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    4 Never use the passive where you can use the active.
    5 Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    6 Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

    You can read more about them here: http://tinyurl.com/yqbak3

    My own writing guide would be short and simple: Read, Write, Edit, repeat…



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