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Covent Garden area guide

What to see, do, eat, drink and more in London’s glitzy district of theatres, shops and restaurants

Gavin Anderson

High on every tourist’s visiting agenda, Covent Garden offers a mixed bag of restaurants (including some great fine dining options), shops, hotels and more. The area is synonymous with the Royal Opera House, hosts daily alfresco entertainment at its central piazza, and is surrounded by a plethora of famous theatres. Chain stores have moved in, but it’s still a nice place to stroll – if you can catch it early on a fine morning.

The best bits of Covent Garden

15 reasons to go to Monmouth Street, WC2
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15 reasons to go to Monmouth Street, WC2

‘Monmouth Street has still remained the burial-place of the fashions,’ Charles Dickens proclaimed in ‘Sketches by Boz’, ‘and such, to judge from all present appearances, it will remain until there are no more fashions to bury.’ That was in 1836, but if Chuck D could see it today, he’d have to eat his words. Monmouth Street is now about 70 percent fashion and beauty boutiques – most of them independent, all of them great. The rest of this axis of Seven Dials is mostly for the foodies, with non-chain restaurants, cafés and shops selling all kinds of edible treats plus the street’s namesake caffeine mecca Monmouth Coffee. The first sundial pillar at Seven Dials, right in the middle of Monmouth Street, had to be demolished in June 1773 because London mobs used it as a meeting place. At the time it was one of the most dangerous streets in London, with a reputation for petty crime and murder. The area provided inspiration for William Hogarth’s famous engraving ‘Gin Lane’, a depraved street scene full of gin-fuelled Londoners causing mayhem.  Today, cobbled streets and listed buildings remain, and, with the mobs long gone, the sundial was rebuilt in 1989. The vibe is now indie haven in the West End. Oh, and we could totally imagine Dickens picking out a chic greyscale wardrobe in French-inspired boutique LOFT Design By. Drink this   A photo posted by . (@luffypiece) on Oct 9, 2016 at 1:19pm PDT An expertly roasted cup of the brown stuff from Monmouth Coffee: the ori

Five historical things to look out for in... Covent Garden
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Five historical things to look out for in... Covent Garden

In medieval times, Covent Garden was owned by Westminster Abbey – hence the original name, Convent Garden. But skip forward to the seventeenth century and Inigo Jones's original plans for fancy homes for the wealthy had become a place of gambling dens, brothels – and a fruit and veg market. Despite it now being a bit of a tourist trap, here are five curiosities you may not have noticed in the area before.  Photo by Look Up London 1. Punch and Judy plaque, Covent Garden Piazza  Look directly at St Paul's Church and you'll spot a plaque that commemorates what Samuel Pepys saw – an 'Italian puppet play' – on this spot in 1662. The authentic Neapolitan characters were Pulcinella and Joan (who morphed into the famous Punch and Judy) but before we get too nostalgic, like most fairytales, the original story was horribly violent. The show was an endless series of Punch beating up Judy – so not exactly family-friendly entertainment. Photo by Look Up London   2. Mysterious ears, Floral Street The next time you're at a loose end on Floral Street, have a look for one of Tim Fishlock's Covent Garden Ears. Several are rumoured to be dotted around the area, but there are definitely two to be found on this street. They're perfect casts of the artist's own ears but other than that very little is known why they're there – presumably so people can make the same 'the walls have ears' gag on repeat.   Photo by Look Up London 3. Bridge, Floral Street Built in 2003 by Wilkinso

Restaurants in Covent Garden

Balthazar
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Balthazar

In early 2013, Keith McNally’s much-anticipated NYC import Balthazar finally opened, and London got to see what this Manhattan interpretation of a French brasserie was actually like. The response was positive, and for weeks afterwards it was hard to get a table. Chef Robert Reid has tinkered little with the nostalgic transatlantic menu, and we loved signature dishes such as the onion soup (grilled gruyère lid on thick country bread, immersed in a rich and sweet chicken stock); duck shepherd’s pie was another powerfully flavoured treat. More recently, some of the gloss seems to have worn off (though service remains prompt and friendly). The cheeseburger, no bargain at £17, was a chunky patty but had little flavour, and needed more than the limited, bland trimmings to give it an oomph that might have justified the price tag. A pleasant gruyère and herb omelette tasted as though it had lingered a little too long at the pass. Best was pavlova (one of several delightfully retro desserts) – it may not have looked like a classic version (the meringue sat on the fruit, rather than the other way round), but it tasted good. Bread, from master baker Jon Rolfe, is a must-try. Balthazar London mimics the New York original perfectly, with red awnings, red leather banquettes, giant antiqued mirrored walls and mosaic floors, but to British eyes, the decor can look a little too close to any old chain brasserie.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Chick 'n' Sours
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Chick 'n' Sours

If there’s a god of fried chicken, Chick ’n’ Sours is His greatest gift. Born into a city awash with chicken shops in 2015, the first, Dalston-based branch of this restaurant ruffled all the right feathers with their cocktails and game-changing KFC (that’s Korean Fried Chicken, but you knew that). Now, just over a year and a half later and we’ve been blessed with the Second Coming: a new branch of Chick ’n’ Sours has landed near Covent Garden. And trust me, this one’s every bit as barnstorming as the first. Set in a basement off Seven Dials, the vibe is somewhere between house party and Prohibition speakeasy. It works. There’s a liquor bar in the middle, a playlist of absolute bangers (when has jamming to The Human League at lunchtime ever felt this right?), and the chicken comes served on granny’s best china plates. By the time I’d tasted my first sour – fruity, sharp and packing a powerful tequila punch – I was pretty much ready to go out. That was until the speciality K-Pop burger arrived, at which point I realised that no amount of Friday Feeling was tempting me away from this table. Impossibly juicy and over four inches tall, the K-Pop is a burger worth getting your hands dirty for. That batter, for starters. Chef and owner Carl Clarke double-fries his birds in rapeseed oil like the Koreans do, to achieve a properly luxurious crunch without any of the oiliness of a late-night Chicken Cottage binge. What really made this bird sing, though, was its acidity: the bun is dr

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Flesh & Buns
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Flesh & Buns

How did food get quite so rock ’n’ roll? This summer London’s teeming with ‘gourmet’ fast food joints, rooftop pop-up bars, night food markets and street food vendors. This new wave of edgier eateries are changing the game for restaurateurs too – crisp tablecloths and prim service are out, industrial-chic décors and young, liberally pierced and tattooed staff are in. One chef who’s at the fore of the latest trends is Ross Shonhan. His first solo venture, Bone Daddies, is a self-styled ‘rock and roll’ ramen joint that opened just last year. It’s still making a big noise, literally, with New York-style Japanese noodle dishes and the sound system cranked up loud enough to make conversation a challenge. Hidden in a capacious Covent Garden basement, Shonhan’s second venture is no less modish. Once again he’s taken influence from the Big Apple for his East Asian eats, with a side order of loud rock music. As for the décor and staff: see above. This time the focus of the menu is hirata buns. A US interpretation of a Taiwanese street food, the sweet and fluffy dough is folded then steamed before being brought to the table. Diners then stuff these pockets with their choice of ‘flesh’. These are the signature dish, and a must-try. Mustard miso and a few slices of subtly pickled apple were a perfect foil for tender pulled pork. Crisp-skinned grilled sea bass was also skilfully cooked and served with a fresh tomato salsa. Small plates include sushi rolls, contemporary sashimi and tem

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Café Murano Covent Garden
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Café Murano Covent Garden

Opened in 2013, Café Murano in St James’s is a marble and dark leather affair. This new Covent Garden branch is a more relaxed version, and well suited to the bustle of the ‘Opera Quarter’.  Downstairs brims with lively post-work/pre-theatre conversation; upstairs is airy and calm, offering more opportunities to interact with the friendly, professional staff. This is chef Angela Hartnett’s second spin-off of her Michelin-starred Murano in Mayfair.  Hartnett’s style of Italian cooking wins hearts for its big flavours and minds for its just-so technique. In her kitchen, peasant classics such as braised lamb shoulder with Tuscan beans and celery reach delicious new heights: the tenderness of the meat a testament to slow-cooking mastery.   There are plenty of winning dishes on the menu here, ranging from small cicchetti to large secondi, and prices allowing for a modest meal or an indulgent feast. Broad bean and rosemary arancini are basically little parmesan bombs, while the melt-in-the-mouth veal tartare – rightly the pride of the house – is lightly dressed in a delicate tuna sauce with caper berries.  Some other suggestions: firmly textured caponata with aubergine and green olives; delicate, fresh tagliatelle Bolognese with minced lamb and veal; or push the boat out with an intensely tender rabbit leg, summer onions, chilli and pecorino (more of that slow cooking). The wine list has picks from small Italian producers starting at £22, with 500ml carafes for £13. House-made

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Covent Garden highlights

Cheap eats in Covent Garden
Restaurants

Cheap eats in Covent Garden

Finding somewhere decent to eat on a budget isn’t always easy in central London, but if you know where to look, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into in the Covent Garden area. From British to Japanese, Indian or vegetarian have a look at our top picks below. Do you agree with our choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.

Where to shop
Shopping

Where to shop

Covent Garden is brimming with fashion boutiques and vintage stores. Home to fashion favourites such as Rokit, Orla Kiely and Opening Ceremony, as well as a smattering of beauty and skincare stores, Covent Garden is a real shopping destination for the fashion forward - and with amazing new shops like Farrell and Y-3 popping up, there's more reason than ever to stop by this evolving shopping destination.Think we've missed a shopping gem in Covent Garden? Let us know in the comment box below.

Covent Garden's best pubs
Bars and pubs

Covent Garden's best pubs

Covent Garden boasts an array of pubs ranging from traditional (like Cross Keys) to modern (Porterhouse). The area is home to one of London's oldest pubs, The Lamb and Flag. Use our guide to discover WC2's best watering holes. Think we've missed a great pub in Covent Garden? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions. And don't forget to check out our guide to Covent Garden's best bars.

Covent Garden's best bars
Bars and pubs

Covent Garden's best bars

Cabaret, live music and some of the city's best cocktails - Covent Garden has it all. Try the raunchy fun of cabaret bar Cellar Door, or hang out at relaxed wine bar Bedford & Strand. The area's drinking scene is diverse, so check out more of our picks of the best places for after-hours drinks in the area. Think we've missed a great bar in Covent Garden? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions. And don't forget to read our guide to Covent Garden pubs.

See a play in the West End

Top 10 West End theatre shows
Theatre

Top 10 West End theatre shows

Make sure you're booking for the best of the season with our critics' guide to the ten most recommended West End theatre shows on right now. The list will be updated weekly as new West End plays and musicals open and old ones close.

Cheap West End theatre tickets
Theatre

Cheap West End theatre tickets

Unless the show is very hot or the run is short, you should be able to shop around and get discounted tickets to any West End show via third party sellers like our own Time Out theatre tickets service and TKTS.  Cheap seats aren't guaranteed to be great seats but many big shows release excellent day tickets on the day of performance, generally at a cheap rate, available from the box office only. See below for show-by-show info on day tickets and Time Out's best West End offers.

Hotels in Covent Garden

St Martins Lane Hotel

St Martins Lane Hotel

So, you grab a golden hand sticking out of a wall and a door opens to the buzz of a party on the other side. Close it again, look around and the reception area of St Martins Lane Hotel carries on as normal – serene with super-hip staff gliding around, clothed in black, there to help when needed, almost invisible when not. And then, of course, you go back to the golden hand because that party on the other side is The Blind Spot – a hidden cocktail bar in the heart of the establishment. Downside? Drinks are markedly more expensive than other bars in the area. Upside? You know your room is only stumbling distance away. Rooms, while we are on the subject, aren’t particularly on the huge side – Philippe Starck has done well to create a stylish, minimalist design that gives a feeling of space where there isn’t any – here, less really is more. Dominating the space, big and comfy beds with marshmallow-like pillows coax you to sleep – but not before you play with the mood lighting’s colours and dimmers. Tiled bathrooms that are long, thin and sparse still manage to exude luxury. Squeezed between the West End and Covent Garden, outside offers an inexhaustible list of shops, bars, galleries, theatres and restaurants all within walking distance – it’s a struggle to think of anywhere better to make base camp. But before you even walk out through the revolving doors, look behind you to one of the capital’s destination restaurants – Asia de Cuba. A bustling, noisy experience of exceptiona

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The Hospital Club
Hotels

The Hospital Club

Opened in an eighteenth-century hospital building as a club for creative people, Covent Garden’s Hospital Club features 15 rooms across a range of categories, including the windowless but well-designed Sleeper. All feature high-quality toiletries, artworks, upscale retro tech and an‘erotic minibar’ full of high-fashion sex toys.

Check out the best hotels near Covent Garden

The perfect weekend in Covent Garden

Caffeinate: Monmouth Coffee Company
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Caffeinate: Monmouth Coffee Company

Kickstart your day with some of the best coffee in London

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
Browse: Stanfords
Shopping

Browse: Stanfords

While away an afternoon in exotic lands at this specialist travel bookshop and map seller

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
Explore: London Transport Museum
Museums

Explore: London Transport Museum

Learn about London’s fascinating transport history – and future – through interactive experiences

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 5 out of 5 stars
Drink: Cross Keys
Bars and pubs

Drink: Cross Keys

Sip a pint on the cheap at an endearing, authentically old-school London pub

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 3 out of 5 stars

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Dishoom
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Dishoom

A swish Bombay brasserie in the style of the old post-colonial 'Irani cafés' of Bombay, Dishoom is filled with retro design features: whirring ceiling fans, low-level lighting and walls adorned with vintage Indian magazine advertising. The look is certainly distinctive, but the effect can be so slick when compared to the real thing that the venue can feel rather soulless and corporate. This doesn’t stop the design-conscious and Indophile thronging here through the day, from breakfast (for sausage nan rolls with chilli jam) to dinner (for the stir-fries and tandoori grills). The main attraction though is the menu, loosely styled on Irani café food with birianis, bhel (crunchy puffed rice with tangy tamarind chutney) and even pau bhaji (toasted white bread rolls with a spicy vegetable stew as a filling). Our black dal was exemplary, and the lamb biriani suitably moist. We particuarly like the endlessly refilled house chai (Indian-style tea), but the other drinks are interesting too – excellent lassi concoctions, good wines by the glass, even  the soft drinks Limca and Thums Up in glass bottles imported from Mumbai. Queues are common in the evening (bookings are taken for breakfast and lunch, but only for groups at dinner), though the basement bar helps make the wait more than bearable.  

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Monmouth Coffee Company
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Monmouth Coffee Company

Founded 30 years ago, Monmouth sets itself daunting standards for quality and ethical trading, and meets them consistently. This is pre-eminently a place for single-estate and co-operative coffees. You’ll always be able to find a good Kenyan coffee here, and Central and South America are represented by excellent ranges. Founder Anita Le Roy is an industry leader in the campaign to help growers improve quality and earn higher prices. The original shop-café in Covent Garden is tiny and cosy; the Borough space is larger and serves fabulously moreish cakes and savouries to enjoy with your fine brew.

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
Neal's Yard Dairy
Shopping

Neal's Yard Dairy

A thoroughly British shop with a traditional French attitude to cheese retailing in that, like an affineur, Neal’s Yard buys from small farms and creameries in Britain and Ireland, and matures the cheeses in its own cellars until they're ready to sell in peak condition. It’s best to walk in and ask what’s good today – you’ll be given various tasters by the well-trained staff. Also on sale are oat cakes, English apples (in season) and top-drawer books on cheese and other food. Around Christmas-time, the queue for stilton and Montgomery’s cheddar often runs down the street, so it's just as well the company also has a sizeable shop just off Borough Market. As featured in the 100 best shops in London

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
London Transport Museum
Museums

London Transport Museum

From the entertaining entrance, where audiovisual recordings of transport systems in New York, Tokyo, Paris, Shanghai and New Delhi, as well as London, are shown on screens, you are whisked by lift to the second floor – and back to 1800. The capital's first licensed public transport was the sedan chair, an example of which is on show, but the gorgeous horse-drawn omnibus, from 1805, its painted, flower-bordered designs announcing still-familiar routes, is a bigger draw. Progress leads you ever onwards, to the building of our first passenger railway – from London Bridge to Greenwich in 1833. The first floor of the London Transport Museum holds perhaps the most exciting displays, including the first underground engine (steam-powered) and a wooden Metropolitan Railway coach (converted to electricity in 1901); one of several exhibits you can board. Frank Pick, the man responsible for rolling out the London Underground brand and giving each line its own character and ensuring the emblematic bar and circle logo became an intrinsic part of London's visual identity, to the extent it now signifies 'tube station' without the need for words, is the focus of the design display. London Transport's posters – by the likes of Abram Games, Graham Sutherland and Ivon Hitchens – are on show throughout museum. Many are design icons, though none is greater than Harry Beck's original tube map. A family play zone for children aged 0-7, All Aboard, features a fleet of mini vehicles to climb into a

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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