Neighbourhoods

Holborn & Bloomsbury

Holborn & Bloomsbury: land of lawyers, literature and Lamb’s Conduit Street. The lines between these two neighbourhoods are often a bit blurry (they’re very close together) and their gems are too often overlooked. It’s easy to think of Holborn as an office-y wasteland of Itsus and Prets, and of Bloomsbury as one big extended campus for the several universities in the area. But, scratch the surface and you’ll uncover a thriving cultural and culinary scene – one that you won’t want to ignore.

Both Bloomsbury & Holborn are home to some of London’s institutions. Over on Lamb’s Conduit Street, you’ll find Ciao Bella, an unforgettably charming Italian restaurant that’s not seen a quiet evening in its 40-year+ life. Some newer spots that feel like a part of the city’s fabric already are the OG Noble Rot, just a stone’s throw from Ciao Bella. And, a short walk away on Gray’s Inn Road, Otto’s, a French restaurant that you’ll struggle to believe hasn’t been around since the dawn of time. 

Besides their restaurants, bars and cafes, Bloomsbury & Holborn are filled with fascinating museums, artsy cinemas and indie shops. The iconic, if quite problematic, British Museum can be found here, as can the time capsule that is Sir John Soane’s Museum. The Curzon in Bloomsbury is one of the best in the city and *the* place to be if you’re into documentaries. And over on Bloomsbury Street, you’ll find the UK’s largest socialist bookshop (Bookmarks) which has existed for more than half a century.

NOBLE ROT

51 Lamb’s Conduit St, London, WC1N 3NB

Mark Andrew and Dan Keeling are the boys behind Noble Rot magazine (think Lucky Peach but all about the wonderful world of wine) and a wine bar and restaurant of the same name, with Stephen Harris of Michelin-starred The Sportsman in Kent in charge of the food. The site on Lamb’s Conduit Street was actually already a wine bar and the building itself dates back to 1700, so there is plenty of cosy charm to the place and it feels as if they’ve been doing their thing here for years already. In the front are tables for drinking and snacks and at the back there is a slightly more formal sit down restaurant. Wine is of course as big a focus as the food and these guys know their stuff so you’re in safe hands. The food menu is the perfect match; big flavoursome dishes but nothing overly complicated or fussy, like pork & walnut terrine, smoked eel with rhubarb & soda bread, braised monkfish with crab bisque, and chocolate mousse cake.

OTTO'S

Despite opening in 2011, Otto’s looks as though it has been on the Gray’s Inn Road for many more years than that. If traditional French dining in a smart setting is your thing, then you’re in the right place. Suited waiters serve familiar French classics like Burgundian ‘Petit Gris’ snails, foie gras, lobster souffle, Dover sole meunière, and tarte tatin, or for particularly hungry diners, the piece de resistance, the canard a la presse, involving a whole duck pressed tableside and served in three courses. This is the kind of place where a meal turns into a multi-hour affair, and Otto makes sure to show his guests a good time, so you’ll want to linger to soak up the experience.

CIAO BELLA

Ciao Bella, Lamb's Conduit Street, London

Ciao Bella is a traditional Italian restaurant in the heart of Bloomsbury, the kind of place where the walls are covered with photos of Sophia Loren, there’s someone playing the piano, the portions are big, and everyone there seems to be celebrating something. The menu of eternal classics is a safe bet – pizza, pasta, gelato; what’s not to like? And so you have the best possible experience, you’ve gotta sit on the terrace for some of the finest people-watching in London.

LA FROMAGERIE

La Fromagerie, 30 Highbury Park, London N5 2AA

French food is practically synonymous with cheese (the smellier the better) and this clutch of three boujie cheese shops is a celebration of all things français. Yes, it all started with the cheese, but the sites are also deli and café all-rounders, selling all the classic charcuterie, gourmet tinned goods (hello Ortiz anchovies), wine and beautiful tableware your little heart could dream of. What’s more, each location – Highbury, Bloomsbury, Marylebone – runs tasting events and one-off dinners. The focus was originally French, but they all sell produce from British and further afield – the only thing you need to know is that if it’s sold at La Fromagerie, it’ll be absolutely delicious. And while you’re there it would be rude to visit without a little glass of French vin, non?

MASTER WEI

Master Wei was born out of the success of owner Wei Guirong’s first restaurant, Xi’an Impression in Highbury, one of London’s favourite Chinese restaurants. Luckily for Master Wei, and despite the pressure and overbearing weight of its older sibling’s hype, it’s another hit. The vibe is laid-back, the interior is pared-down and the menu is a trove of some of those faves you’ll remember from Xi’an Impression (hand-pulled beef biang biang and Xi’an liang pi noodles) alongside new plates (the potato sliver salad and the spicy cumin beef burger). If Xi’an Impression made you fall in love with the region’s food, don’t miss out on Master Wei.

RONDO LA CAVE

If you’re after natty wine and a real good time, head downstairs at Rondo at The Hoxton, Holborn to Rondo La Cave. The wine bar boasts a banging list, including London’s largest selection of bubbles with wines and ciders like Tempranillo Joven – a red from Rioja, a hazy white fruity Ciello Blanco IGP from Sicily, Angol d’Amig-Scaramúsc from Veneto, a juicy, acidic and tannic Pet Nat Perry Pear Cider, and an electric Grüner Veltliner Smetana from Slobodne. The bar is also running as an incubator space, meaning there’ll be rotating roster of chefs and pop-ups hitting the stoves (Adam Rawson kicked things off with his Cantina Valentina concept) and serving up snacks to go with all that vino. It’s late night VIBES at Rondo La Cave, so you may plan to pop in for one glass but you won’t want to leave.

CAFE DECO

Cafe Deco is the first solo venture from former River Cafe and Rochelle Canteen alum Anna Tobias, and is one of the superstars of the modern British restaurant scene. The menu changes on a weekly basis and you can check their Instagram for an idea of what’ll be making an appearance during your visit. This tiny restaurant/cafe/wine bar has a very much neighbourhood feel – intimate, warm, unfussy – but is far from unexceptional.

REDEMPTION ROASTERS

The Lambs Conduit Street Redemption Roasters is the flagship site of this cafe-cum-social enterprise. Redemption Roasters opened in 2017, serving up coffee using the beans from their own roastery that functions out of a young offender’s institute, providing the detainees with valuable skills in the vibrant coffee market. Besides your morning latte, you can grab some pastries, cakes or lunch here before parking yourself outside to do some Grade-A people-watching.

BLOOMSBURY LANES

London has a disappointingly low number of bowling alleys, but the ones that we do have are very good – quality over quantity, y’know. One such very good bowling alley is Bloomsbury Lanes, an expansive hub of many night-out pursuits. Besides bowling, you can play pool, grab a pizza, sing karaoke and dance to hits from any decade. 

BOOKMARKS

Bookmarks has existed since the 70s, but moved into its Bloomsbury Street location in 1998 where it became and remains the UK’s largest socialist bookshop. Head here for books on politics, economics, trade unionism, labour history, the environment, black struggle, feminism and cuture, as well as kid’s books, merch and novelty items.

THE BRITISH MUSEUM

The British Museum doesn’t need too much of an introduction, it’s the world’s oldest national public museum, after all. It’s an institution steeped in history and a fair share of controversy; it also houses the most comprehensive collection of pieces exploring two million years of human history, art and culture in existence.

CATALYST

Catalyst, Grays Inn Road, Chancery Lane, London

Catalyst is a very sleek coffee shop on Gray’s Inn Road serving up very high-quality small-batch coffee alongside a menu of highly rated food. Expect the likes of eggs kayanas (with fresh tomato and feta on sourdough), avobergines (sourdough bread topped with roasted aubergines & red peppers, avocado, tahini sauce, Coffee Sriracha, Chalkidiki XV olive oil, za’atar and pomegranate molasses) and fish goujons filet (daily fresh fish goujons sandwich with house coleslaw, lettuce and cheese) on the menu. They also host loads of one-off foodie events in collaboration with some of the city’s favourite chefs and brands.

SIR JOHN SOANE'S MUSEUM

Set inside what was the renowned neo-classical architect’s home once upon a time, Sir John Soane’s Museum has been kept exactly as it was when he died in 1837 – a preserved time capsule for anyone who wants to travel almost 200 years back in time. You’ll find Soane’s immense collection of antiques, furniture, sculptures, architectural models and paintings inside, as well as his newly-refurbished Drawing Office (the oldest surviving of its kind). They also host regular exhibitions, talks and ‘Soane Lates’ through which you can learn even more about the history of London and its buildings.

KNOCKBOX COFFEE

Knockbox is a postage stamp-sized coffee shop on a sunny corner of Lamb’s Conduit Street with great coffee and excellent toasties. This is the ideal spot for a latte pre- or post-stroll around the indie boutiques on LCS. And, while it’s quite a tight squeeze inside, there are plenty of outdoor seats. So, on a warm(ish) day, grab a coffee, sit outside and enjoy the rare slice of Central London peace and quiet.

THE FRYER'S DELIGHT

19 Theobalds Rd, London WC1X 8SL

Like stepping into a very bygone era, The Fryer’s Delight is a true London gem. It’s an entirely classic chippie – founded in 1958 by two Italian brothers, Giovanni and Giuseppe Ferdenzi – and everything about it is perfect, from the original fixtures (the checkerboard floor and wood panelling is *chefs’ kiss*) to the pouting, top hat-wearing fish on the sign. The food here is reliably cheap and, crucially, very good. The fish and chips are fried the old-school way, using beef drippings, and, after all these years, still rated among the best in the city.

HONEY & CO

Honey & Co moved out of its long-time home on Warren Street in 2022 and moved into a larger site on Lamb’s Conduit Street shortly after. You’d think this would make it easier to get a table, but no, Honey & Co is still fully booked most days – and for good reason. The restaurant’s Middle Eastern menu is truly top-tier; Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer (the husband and wife team behind Honey & Co) have previously worked at Ottolenghi and NOPI, so they know their stuff. Start your day off right with shakshuka or scrambled eggs with merguez sausages, or swing by later to try their seasonal lunch and dinner menus. And if you manage to leave without buying at least one of the cakes on the counter, you’re better people than us.

FOLK

49 Lamb's Conduit Street, London

Founded by Cathal McAteer, London-based label Folk launched back in 2001 and after making a name for themselves in menswear, the brand dived into the world of womenswear in 2012. You can shop both ranges on Lamb’s Conduit Street, where there’s a Folk mens and a Folk womens store just a couple of doors apart (plus there’s another mens store in Shoreditch). Known for its pared-down aesthetic, Folk brings together high quality fabrics and considered detailing to create an understated style that focuses on shape and colour. Instead of following seasonal trends, Folk design high-quality timeless pieces that will stay in your wardrobe for years.

CURZON BLOOMSBURY

Opened in the 1970s as part of the original construction of The Brunswick Centre (which now boasts shops, restaurants and cafes) and refurbished in 2014, the Curzon Bloomsbury is one of the oldest and best places to watch movies in the capital. The six screens all have reclining seats, Sony 4k projectors and Dolby Atmos sound, with a programme that includes the best of arthouse and world cinema. It’s also home to Bertha DocHouse, a screen that’s solely dedicated to documentaries, hosting premieres, docu seasons and filmmaker Q&As.

DAPUR

Forget the same old sandwiches and head to Dapur for a proper lunch. The small Holborn cafe, run by Sharizah Hashim, showcases real deal, halal, home-cooked Malaysian food, with dishes like nasi lemak, lamb rendang, stir fry courgette with glass noodles, kale with coconut milk, nasi goreng and aubergine green sambal on the daily changing menu. It’s only open from 11am – 3pm on weekdays, so don’t get caught out!

1+1 ROUGAMO

For authentic Chinese food in Bloomsbury, you can’t go wrong with 1+1 Rougamo. Of course, you’ll be able to grab rougamo here (the clue’s in the name), a popular street food sandwich made with spiced pork – sometimes referred to as a ‘Chinese hamburger’. Go for a classic braised pork rougamo, or choose from the likes of beef, crispy fried duck or vegetables. If that’s not what you’re in the mood for, they’ve also got a range of traditional Xi’anese noodle dishes to choose from – and you don’t wanna miss the dumplings with sour soup.

BANH MI AHA!

While Banh Mi Aha!’s speciality is (you guessed it) banh mi, these guys are masters of Vietnamese street food of all shapes and sizes. Anyone lucky enough to have this place as your local lunch spot should definitely take advantage of their meal deals which could get you a banh mi, bowl of pho, rice box or vermicelli noodle dish plus a side of summer rolls and a drink – Tesco could never. There’s a lot more to explore on their extensive menu, so if you’re a fan of Vietnamese street food, prepare to become a regular.

PITTED OLIVE

A classic Turkish deli, Pitted Olive is where to go for some really good gözleme, borek, meze and more. Everything is freshly handmade in-store – you can even watch the process yourself. Choose to dine in or take your pastry to go, but if you’re going to stick around, make sure to pair your food with some Turkish tea for a properly authentic meal.

HOLBORN DINING ROOM

A gin bar, a glorious terrace, a pie room: the Holborn Dining Room’s got it all. Set inside a carefully restored Edwardian-era building, on the ground floor of the Rosewood Hotel, the HDR has a tremendously grand feel. But, while it makes a lot of sense to spend a special occasion here, it’s still just as suitable for a excellently executed breakfast on any given weekday or the perfect dry martini after work. Of course, you have to try the pies, whether seated in the private Pie Room or taken away via the Pie Hole for an envious office lunch.

THE HOXTON, HOLBORN

199-206 High Holborn, London

The second hotel in The Hoxton series opened in Holborn in 2014. There are 174 rooms, which come in four different categories. All rooms have black-out curtains and super comfy beds so be sure to double set your alarm… And with the usual Hox perks including one hour of free phone calls worldwide, super fast free WiFi, a breakfast bag filled with snacks and a fridge with free water and fresh milk, you’ll never wanna leave. Downstairs there’s also a restaurant and bar, nail salon, a coffee shop in the form of Holborn Grind and Chicken Shop. Yes, The Hoxton, Holborn ticks all our boxes.

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NOVELTY AUTOMATION

An unlikely museum tucked away on an unlikely Holborn side street, Novelty Automation is one of the city’s most criminally unsung gems. Part arcade, part art gallery, the space is filled with (as the name suggests) novelty automata, various coin-operated machines designed to amuse and/or bemuse the user. This is one of those places that you don’t want to read up about too much before going so we’re not going to give too much away, but we’ll let the names of some of the machines do the talking: ‘Pet or Meat’, ‘Autofrisk’ and ‘Money Laundering’, to name a few.

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