Clerkenwell area guide

Find the best things to do and see in Clerkenwell, plus ace attractions, pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants

Clerkenwell area guide 2018
Alison Day/flickr

There are plenty of reasons to visit pretty, historic and creative Clerkenwell. Firstly, there are the restaurants, which vary from gastropubs to Michelin-starred marvels. During the week you'll also find streetfood marvels at Exmouth Market as well as nearby Leather Lane. On the drinks front, there are a number of rather special bars and pubs, many of which also offer quality food, too. Plus Clerkenwell in home to numerous museums and attractions worth a trip to. Its historic old buildings play host to a fair few architects and designers - hell, it's even got its own Design Week. And it’s one of the most attrative areas of London to wander around. Sold? Check out our pick of the best things to do in Clerkenwell below. 

RECOMMENDED: London by area

 

Things to do in Clerkenwell

Exmouth Market
Shopping

Exmouth Market

A pedestrianised street that hosts a weekday food market and boasts some stellar permanent restaurants and bars. 

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
Charles Dickens Museum
Museums

Charles Dickens Museum

Discover Dickens's life through displays of his personal belongings, paintings and his writing.

Users say
5 out of 5 stars
Sadler’s Wells
Theatre

Sadler’s Wells

A dazzling complex home to an impressive line-up of local and international dance talent. 

Users say
5 out of 5 stars
The Postal Museum and Mail Rail

The Postal Museum and Mail Rail

Visit for a trip into the history of the Royal Mail and take a ride on the revamped underground Mail Rail.  

Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online

Restaurants in Clerkenwell

St John
Restaurants Book online

St John

Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver’s restaurant – now the heart of a mini-empire with branch, bakery and wine dealership – has been praised to the skies for reacquainting the British with the full possibilities of native produce, and especially anything gutsy and offal-ish. 

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
Moro
Restaurants Book online

Moro

Sam(antha) and Sam Clark’s Exmouth Market restaurant and cookbook set the benchmark for a distinctly British style of Iberian-with-a-North-African-twist Mediterranean cooking, and they’re still in the front rank 15 years later. Devotees (including many affluent older diners as well as the fashionable of Clerkenwell) forgive its quirks, like the difficulty in getting a table, and the noise level produced by the hard-surfaced, vaguely post-industrial decor, which often means conversations must be conducted at a shout. In return, they get bright, attentive service; a spectacular showcase of modern Spanish and Portuguese wines; and vibrantly fresh food that throws out surprising and pleasurable flavours at every turn. Chickpea salad with cherry tomatoes, dill and deep-flavoured morel mushrooms, and prawns, braised peas and wild garlic on toast were memorably unusual starters. Wood-roasted pork was offset in flavour and texture by an amazingly fresh hazelnut picada (like a nut pesto), and chargrilled trout was cleverly balanced by lemon, capers and a bitter note from hispi cabbage. Our only complaint would be that some elements were a little too oily: the olive oil is first-rate, granted, but it can still be over-used. But palates were cleared by an exquisitely sybaritic blood orange and rosewater sorbet.  

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
3 out of 5 stars
Book online
Sushi Tetsu
Restaurants

Sushi Tetsu

Getting a table at this Clerkenwell sushi-ya has been a challenge ever since it opened in summer 2012. Understandably so, as there are only about half a dozen seats and they’re some of the hottest in London right now. In aesthetics and quality, Sushi Tetsu wouldn’t be out of place in a smart Tokyo suburb. Chef Toru Takahashi (ex-Nobu) is centre-stage behind the imposing pale wood counter, where he carefully compacts glistening grains of rice into plump pellets before topping them with shimmering slivers of fish. Each nigiri is inspected with a contemplative look and finished with a dab of soy, sprinkling of sea salt or lick of flame from a blowtorch before being placed on a glossy bamboo leaf in front of the diner. Each piece arrives individually to be eaten by hand. For the full experience, go for the omakase menu, and let the chef choose what’s freshest that day. Just say when you’ve had enough – be warned though, the bill can add up. Highlights of a recent visit included the best boiled prawn nigiri we’ve encountered; blanched on the outside, then split down the middle and blowtorched, it was sweet, smoky and barely cooked through. You need to book well in advance – the website explains the rather complicated procedure – but it’s a treat worth waiting for.  

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
Club Gascon
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Club Gascon

The presence of the three-strong Gascon group (as well as Comptoir Gascon, there’s wine at Le Bar) ensures that a small area of east-central London has a flavour of south-west France. This is the most expensive of the trio, a Michelin-starred sanctuary of haute cuisine. Heavy wooden screens shut out the world; inside is a serene and urbane room of greys and golds with marble panels. Head chef Pascal Aussignac is from Toulouse, and the hallmarks of the area’s cuisine shine through in his food, although it’s given the fancifications this level of restaurant requires. A playful approach means many dishes come with descriptions in inverted commas or feature unusually prepared ingredients. Flavour combinations are bold, which adds to the sense of occasion, and the technique is flawless; perhaps less so the tendency to unorthodox plating. However, everything else was note-perfect.  

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
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Pubs in Clerkenwell

Jerusalem Tavern
Bars and pubs

Jerusalem Tavern

A small pub with a lived-in feel, offering premium-strength IPAs and whisky-accented ale. 

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Slaughtered Lamb
Music

Slaughtered Lamb

A popular spot with a large and busy bar, an impressive array of taps and an expansive main room.

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Users say
3 out of 5 stars
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Bars in Clerkenwell

Oriole
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Oriole

This is the second time I’ve found myself twitching on the RSPB’s website. But it had to be done because the team behind celebrated City cocktail spot Nightjar (as in the squat, nocturnal songbird) have gone and opened another avian-named bar, this one in Smithfield. This particular species is an enigmatic creature with exotic green and yellow plumage, so we’re in no doubt: Oriole is Nightjar’s showy little sister.  Oriole bears some of the same ‘speakeasy’ hallmarks. It’s already impossible to get a table at short notice and we were held at the door until radioed in, when a golden curtain was pulled back to reveal a darkened staircase. It is a lovely curtain, though. And there is a certain theatricality to entering this beauty of a basement bar. Flashes of on-theme jade and gold in leather and fur furnishings punctuate the room, while a stunning print of a tropical, palm-tree-covered landscape adorns one of the walls.  Naturally, a drink here comes at quite a cost. There’s a cover charge for jazz – dearer than it is at Nightjar and harder to avoid, since the music here kicks off at 8.30pm (though it is free on Monday and Tuesday). We also found fault with the bar food: a tempting menu shows promise, but black truffle croquettes (£5) had a sad, gloopy texture and sea bass ceviche (£6.50) lacked depth of flavour. But, of course, you come here for the drinks – and they are so on the money, with cocktails as creative as any you’ll find in London. They’re set out across three

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell Cocktail Lounge
Bars and pubs Book online

The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell Cocktail Lounge

Venue says: “Afternoon tea has landed in Clerkenwell! Try Aunt Wilhelmina’s dainty 'Traditional Tea' or Uncle Seymour’s heartier ‘Gentleman’s Tea’.”

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
Hester’s Hideout
Bars and pubs Buy tickets

Hester’s Hideout

If you needed proof that London’s cabaret scene is alive and (positively) kicking, take a trip to Hester’s Hideout under Paesan restaurant at the bottom of Exmouth Market. The entrance is now via the restaurant and not through the ‘trader’s entrance’, a pale green door to the side. As you descend a small staircase, a ’30s jazz tune fills the air to get the atmosphere going. There are three huge booths and various seating options; I was assured they can squeeze 100 punters in the place, but I’d say that would be an act worthy of the weird and wonderful burlesque artists and contortionists they host for raucous Friday and Saturday night shows. The real stars of this particular hideout are the pre-made cocktails – ‘concoctions’ and ‘potions’, according to the menu – that the Brazilian bar manager, David, produces. He’s researched long-lost recipes and then refined them. Bread and Salt included a thick, butter-washed gin and gave me the feeling I’d been dipping rosemary bread into fine olive oil. The Milk of the Poppy had the consistency of milk of magnesia and a powerful whisky kick that led to a sweet walnut after-taste. And Hester’s Cream Soda carried a vanilla flavour that lingered, unlike the imperceptible gin also in the mix. It was master mixology and we savoured every drop. Classics are also available on request; a negroni was as good as they come, but the sazerac was a touch over-diluted for my taste. Their quirky cocktail creations are the way to go, and should match

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
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Vinoteca
Bars and pubs Book online

Vinoteca

The original Vinoteca in Farringdon is full to-heaving most nights, so it’s no surprise they have kept their winning formula for this second branch: it’s a wine shop as well as a restaurant, the visual focus being the full-wall display of wine bottles. There aren’t many places in the capital where you can order a glass of müller-thurgau from Slovakia or Arbois Traminer from Jura – or you can choose something equally pleasing from the 285-strong list to take home (at shop retail prices); the enthusiastic staff are happy to make recommendations. Each of the dishes on the modish, frequently changing Modern European menu (smoked mackerel salad, parmesan pancake filled with wild mushrooms) comes with a suggested wine by the glass. The food doesn’t play second fiddle to the wine here, though. Even if you’re just here for drinks, you’ll need to nibble something (licence laws) but small bar snacks (£2-£4) are available.

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
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Hotels in Clerkenwell

The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell

The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell

The eccentrically decked-out Georgian residence of a fictional great aunt – but with room service, Egyptian cotton sheets and killer cocktails.

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Check prices
Rookery

Rookery

A boutique time-warp in the depths of Clerkenwell, full of four-poster beds, antiques and one very proud house cat.

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Check prices
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The perfect weekend in Clerkenwell

Eat: Sosharu
Restaurants Book online

Eat: Sosharu

Indulge at Jason Atherton's take on modern Japanese where every plate is a thing of beauty. 

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
Drink: The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell Cocktail Lounge
Bars and pubs Book online

Drink: The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell Cocktail Lounge

Venue says: “Afternoon tea has landed in Clerkenwell! Try Aunt Wilhelmina’s dainty 'Traditional Tea' or Uncle Seymour’s heartier ‘Gentleman’s Tea’.”

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
Explore: Exmouth Market
Shopping

Explore: Exmouth Market

Find stalls, cute shops and great food on this small, pedestrianised street. 

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
Visit: Sadler’s Wells
Theatre

Visit: Sadler’s Wells

Catch one of the eclectic and often critically acclaimed shows at this dazzling home of dancing talent. 

Users say
5 out of 5 stars