Westminster - much more textured than the tourists tend to discover
Charlie Burton - Senior Commissioning Editor at GQ
When it comes to totemic landmarks, Westminster has an embarrassment of riches. But those who live there know that its character is much more textured than the tourists tend to discover.
Beyond the hotspots there are endearing streets of Georgian and Queen Anne houses – the kind you might assume had been long vanquished by history. And as buildings once used as offices are increasingly returned to their original purpose as homes, the number of residents is growing.
You can see what attracts them. The area is full of endearing enclaves that have held out against high-street homogeneity. Stroll down Elizabeth Street, for instance, and you’ll find a treasury of eclectic businesses – everything from H.R. Stokes, the oldest personal stationers in London, to Les Senteurs, the independent perfumery, via the characterful boutique of haute-couture milliner Philip Treacy. Or take in the locale around the foodie haven of Tachbrook Street market. Here you’ll encounter well-kept secrets such as Rippon Cheese Stores – the company does much of its trade supplying leading hotels and restaurants, but sells to in-the-know individuals from behind this understated shopfront – and pubs such as the Queen’s Arms that somehow manage to feel like neighbourhood watering holes despite their central location.
The charm is not restricted to such pockets. Westminster as a whole has a wealth of independent eateries, from stalwarts such as the art deco Regency Café, which has provided old-fashionedly British fare to its legions of regulars since 1946, to upscale restaurants such as A. Wong with its recently acquired Michelin star. The latter isn’t some corporate confection, though – it’s a longstanding family business given a new lease of life by the owners’ talented son.
Westminster’s village-like quality is enhanced by its comparative sense of calm. But the area is a stone’s throw from the cut and thrust of London life. After seeing a play you can walk home in 20 minutes; when you wake up on a Saturday morning you can stroll over to Sloane Square for brunch. The vast green spaces of the Royal Parks are on the doorstep, as is the transport hub of Victoria. Although, like many residents, you’ll doubtless prefer to use St. James’s Park tube station. In 20 steps you’ll be on the District and Circle lines and can get anywhere – and hardly a tourist in sight.
Charlie Burton is the Senior Commissioning Editor of GQ, the leading UK men’s lifestyle magazine, and also its technology columnist. He writes monthly commentary on the technology-driven trends that are changing the world and co-edits the publication’s tech reviews. Charlie Burton was formerly the Associate Editor of Wired magazine, the monthly chronicle of disruptive ideas and innovations, to which he continues to contribute articles. His first book, How To Win At Life, a collection of interviews with world experts about the things they do best, is out now. Follow him on Twitter @charlie_burton and Instagram @charlieburtongq