Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Today I am ... a Kensingtonian

I’ve recently pimped up my living arrangements and moved to South Kensington, thanks to a remarkable stroke of luck and a timely offer from a lovely friend.

While it marks the end of a long and fruitful era living with my beloved girl housemate and honourary ‘wife’, it also means I bid farewell to our other fellow inhabitant – that’s right, no more car batteries on the kitchen counter or random piles of rubble on the sofa.

So over the last weekend, I’ve been enjoying that rare and indulgent pleasure one gets every few years or so of exploring a brand new neighbourhood - with its new streets, new local pubs, new corner shop, new Tube line – knowing that all of these things will soon become part of my familiar, everyday routine.

I was eyed suspiciously by passers-by as I arrived at my new place of residence, struggling up the stairs with all my worldly possessions stuffed into bin-liners and shoe boxes, feeling wildly out of place on the street and no doubt looking like some kind of Dick Whittington-esque squatter.

On my first Saturday in Kensington, I opened the curtains to glorious blue skies and decided it was time for a wander. I turned onto Gloucester Road towards Palace Gate, and immediately felt I’d been transported from my doorstep into the South of France, thanks to the wide, straight boulevards, late-opening shops, abundant cafes and patisseries and gleaming white embassies. (And, of course, lots of French people).

Then, as if on cue, the number 9 bus came past – one of the original London buses that still has people hanging off the pack and handing their change to the bus conductor – reminding me that I could only be in London.

Image: copyright Jon Sparkie
Even before relocating from Battersea, I’d long harboured a soft-spot for a day out in Kensington. When you need a new outfit but can’t face Oxford Street-induced rage, Kensington High Street is a remarkably civilised alternative. If you’ve got out-of-town visitors to entertain, the area provides a ‘just touristy enough’ experience that’s far more leisurely than crowd-surfing in the West End or Buckingham Palace.

The day would typically start with voyeuristically checking out our ‘lottery win’ houses for a peek at how the other half live. For cute, pastel cottages on sun-dappled cobbled streets, wander through any of the Kensington Mews. If your tastes are more ostentatious, take a walk down the high-security Kensington Palace Gardens, the UK's richest street, to play ‘spot the embassy’ – it’s always amusing to see Russia and France trying to outdo each other in a global version of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses.’

Mews in Kensington. From lurotbrand.com
Next on the list is a visit to the famous Roof Gardens, a magical 1.5 acre secret garden on top of Marks and Spencers, hidden from view from the high street. A blinging VIP club by night, it’s surprisingly quiet during the daytime (assuming its not booked out for weddings), when flamingos and ducklings frolic in the freeflowing stream and you can bask in the Moorish garden, based on the Alahambra in Spain, or the Tudor garden where the scent of lavender and wisteria perfumes the air.

Kensington Roof Gardens, from beenthere-donethat.org

When you can face returning back to ground level, you don’t need to come back down to earth. Instead, enter food heaven – aka Whole Foods Market on the high street. It’s like a theme park for foodies, with tantalising displays of chocolates, cheeses, salads and exotic ingredients. By all means try the free samples, but be in no doubt – you came here for cake. The Oktobercake, to be exact; it’s like a huge Fererro Rocher, covered in silky chocolate ganache.

Then take your bags of Whole Foods goodies down the road and sit on the steps of the Albert Memorial, watching the sun go down as buskers, tourists and rollerbladers pass you by, in front of the dramatic backdrop of the Royal Albert Hall.

No doubt I still have much to experience as my Kensington initiation continues. I’m particularly looking forward to the Ballgowns exhibition at the V&A Museum, and the 360 degree production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in Kensington Gardens.

However I’m also excited about the less glamourous but equally important discoveries that any self-respecting resident should know, like the nearest patch of grass for sunbathing, the shortcut to the supermarket, and the best local deli for a blow-out Sunday brunch...

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