London has more than its fair share of identical high street chains – you can’t turn a corner in the city without stumbling upon an endless conveyor belt of Starbucks and Prets. But it’s also a place to indulge in some of life’s more niche concerns. Whether you wish to peruse the wares of a very particular whim or worship at the retail altar of your favourite obsession, London has a shop to suit. Very, very into smart-casual waistcoats? There’ll be a place for that. Devoted your life to the pursuit of the perfect mustard? Just let us consult our map.
We know one man’s door knob collection is another (wo)man’s barrel-aged whisky, so here’s our pick of London’s most niche, specialist and unusual shops.
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This legendary umbrella shop has stood on the corner of New Oxford Street for more than 150 years and still retains some of its original Victorian fittings. Its contents have barely changed in that time either: housing probably the most comprehensive array of rain-avoiders and walking sticks you could hope to find. It’s an old-fashioned gem.
“What on earth could Books for Cooks stock?!” We hear you ask. Well, contrary to popular belief, they actually do a great line in herbal... Of course, we jest. They are a shop dedicated to selling cookbooks. But the niche Notting Hill space also puts its money where its mouth is, serving up some of the specially chosen recipes IRL in a cafe out the back.
Loved and loathed in equal measure, the humble ukulele is a polarising little fellow. If you fall squarely in the former camp, however, then you’d do well to pay a visit to Cheshire Street’s Duke of Uke. A music shop dedicated entirely to the instrument, the off-Brick Lane space also hosts lessons and performance events. It’s like a match.com advert - but in real life.
If you’ve ever spent a little bit too long in Camden Market, you might think that trilbies are a bit of a one-size-fits-all operation. You would, however, be sorely mistaken. Peruse the aisles of Soho milliners Laird Hatters and you’ll find a whole world of options to adorn your bonce. They also do a line in flat caps and the like, but trilbies are their main bag. And lord knows there’s a lot of them.
A stone’s throw from Carnaby Street – aka mod mecca – lies Sherry’s: a shop so devoted to the cause it may as well have a pop-up Paul Weller manning the door. Stocking polo shirts, Crombie-style coats and other such essentials, it’s the only place in London to go if your aesthetic basically peaked in 1979.
Vape shops and cafés might be popping up all over the place these days, but if you’re determined to indulge in a more old-school form of nicotine inhalation then James J. Fox is one of the few places left to cater to your needs. A high-end cigar shop near Bond Street that opened in London back in 1947, it’s received a whopping eight Royal Warrants in its time.
Written more than 150 years ago in 1865, the adventures of Alice and her madcap array of new pals are still as popular as ever – as evidenced by places like Alice Through The Looking Glass. Located near Leicester Square, this isn’t your bog standard, cutesy souvenir shop. No, this is for SERIOUS fans. Stocking rare collectables, first editions and ‘unique objects of desire’, it’s a place to fall down the rabbit hole and fully embrace Lewis Carroll’s fantasy world.
For the true aesthete, the devil’s in the detail. Portobello Road institution Chloe Alberry understand this and that’s why they’ve devoted their store to the most humble home accessory of them all: the doorknob. While door decoration for most is a mere afterthought, here it’s elevated to the level of royalty. From ornate porcelain affairs to bejewelled handles, you really can get your hands on anything.
From the Southbank Centre’s recent Adventures In Moominland exhibition to Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Tove Jansson (their creator) retrospective, there’s been something of a resurgence for the hippopotamus-esque fairytale Finns recently. If you too have been swept up in Moomin-mania all over again, then head to Covent Garden’s dedicated Moomin shop.
Large-scale conventions like Hyper Japan and Comic-Con storm into town every year, but if you’re mad about manga you’ll want a more frequent fix. Japan Craft’s Manga Store in Camden Market aims to fill that gap. Stocking shelves upon shelves of the Japanese comics, it’s a brief glimpse into the hugely popular medium.
Not everything in this crazy, mixed up world can be a riot of glitz and glamour. Sometimes, you just need practicality. Sometimes, you just need a very specific design cut into a rubber stamp. In those moments, head to Blade near Holborn. It very much does what it says on the tin (or on the stamp, as it were).
The window of Essex Road taxidermist Get Stuffed is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but if you’re in the market for an entire zoo’s worth of former animals, then you’re in luck. For the past 40 years, they’ve been the capital’s premier taxidermy specialists, offering repairs to your own pieces as well as new (relatively speaking) items to purchase. In the shop, foxes and deer sidle up to penguins and bears – it would truly be a beautifully utopian thing, if they weren’t all deceased.
There are all sorts of shops that cater to the needs of the living, but what about the requirements of the undead? Enter, Hoxton Street Monster Supplies: London’s only retail outlet for those not of this world. Stocking clothes, ‘edibles’ and potions for monsters of all kinds, it’s the number one place to purchase ‘children’s tinned fear’ in the capital, bar none. And those edibles? They’re definitely not just sweets. No way.
Fancy yourself a regular James Bond, but don’t know where to get the kit? Spymaster could be the answer. Located in Bloomsbury, it’s a genuinely-quite-hardcore operation, stocking everything from bulletproof vests and surveillance equipment to heavy duty vehicles in which to carry out your spying. Make an appointment online first to see their wares. After all, they’ll know if you try and sneak in uninvited.
Is there anything more Shoreditch than a boutique dedicated to cactuses? They’re widely thought of as plants for people who don’t have the time, space or energy to actually look after real plants, a tiny attempt at domesticity in a spiky, painful wrapper. In fact, you might be surprised at how demanding simple succulents can actually be, but, hey, you can probably keep one alive for at least a month, eh?
If you're keen as mustard for, er... mustard, then take a trip to Picadilly Arcade, where fancy pants shop Maille has an entire boutique dedicated to the yellow stuff. As well as oh-so-desirable posh pots, they also have the tangy condiment on tap. So if you're the kind of person who eats it by the pint, then welcome to heaven.
Turn out of Clissold Park and you might find yourself stumbling upon a very nostalgic corner of London. On Mountgrove Road, past coffee shops and off licenses (and back in time through several decades to your childhood) lives a shop entirely dedicated to Sylvanian Families: those little fuzzy animals that we all loved so much. It’s safe in the Sylvanian Families shop. The modern world can’t hurt you anymore.