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South Kensington area guide

Keep busy in SW7 with Time Out's guide to South Kensington's restaurants, bars, museums and things to do

South Kensington is best known for its Museum Mile, one of the most visited parts of London and home to the triumvirate of the Natural History, Science and V&A museums. Where the trek from tube to entrance used to be fairly grim, the experimental landscaping of Exhibition Road – now shared equally between cars and pedestrians – has brought life out on to the streets and created a fitting processional route up to Hyde Park and the Albert Memorial. This distinctly elegant part of the capital has a strong French accent thanks to the nearby Lycée Français and Institut Français. There’s architectural splendour at nearly every turn in this neighbourhood, from the florid Italianate Brompton Oratory Catholic church to the iconic Royal Albert Hall. Besides tourists, French expats and diplomats, South Kensington is home to a sizeable student population (the Royal College of Art, Royal College of Music, Imperial College and numerous language schools are all here) and lots of embassies. There's also a self-styled 'design quarter' around Brompton Road/Fulham Road with a cluster of high-end furniture shops.

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Wright Brothers South Kensington
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Wright Brothers South Kensington

Wow, Orville and Wilbur Wright really branched out once they invented the aeroplane, eh? No, of course not. These Wright Brothers might share the name but they’re from entirely different stock. They run four London seafood restaurants, plus another down in Cornwall, where they’ve also got their own oyster farm to help them source just the right kind of goodies.  It’s clearly working out well for them. This South Ken branch - diddy in comparison to the cavernous Soho and Spitalfields venues - was, on our visit, as busy as a freshly hooked marlin. Service stuttered at first but had bags of charm when it arrived – I reckon they’ve got a pretty good handle on keeping the moneyed locals onside.  First up: a ‘petite’ platter of cockles, whelks, prawns, brown shrimp, oysters, mussels and clams. All exceptional. It was also anything but petite. God only knows what the ‘deluxe’ option looks like – it’s five times the price so presumably five times the size? I’d be amazed if there’s the room to plate it.  Mains are mostly from the sea, and often with some Asian influence. My (excellent) roast crab with ginger, chilli, coriander and coconut milk was fragrant, rich and sweet. My pal’s Dingley Dell pork belly in miso and chilli broth was even better, showing these guys can just as easily turn their hands to turf as surf.  Aviation trivia fans might like to know that Wilbur Wright died not in some Icarus incident (y’know, the guy who flew too close to the sun), but simply from eating s

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Jeff de Bruges
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Jeff de Bruges

This Thurloe Street chocolate shop is a London outpost from leading French chocolatier, Jeff de Bruges. Its South Ken location seems like a pretty good fit for all a part of town sometimes referred to as Paris's 21st arrondissement.  Chocolates play more than a small part, with fancy, intricate creations combining Belgian tradition with French flair. It's not all about the cocoa though - there's an ice cream and frozen yoghurt counter, too. They go all out at Easter and Christmas, so keep an eye out for seasonal goodies. 

Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Bars and pubs

Kosmopol

A Chelsea cocktail bar and club with a Swedish influence. 

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Restaurants in South Kensington

Town House At Kensington Hotel
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Town House At Kensington Hotel

Venue says: “Introducing our new spring menu with delightful twists on old favourites, as well as our afternoon tea.”

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Iddu
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Iddu

It’s hard to imagine a starker contrast in eating cultures than those of Sicily and South Kensington. While Sicilians take unashamed delight in their cuisine, the worried wealthy of SW7 think that most food is as dangerous as a lungful of plutonium-239. Iddu caters for that mindset. The sourdough is seven-grain. Many ingredients are organic. Raw fruit and veg abound. Kale: check. Quinoa: check. Gluten-free rolls: check. But it also bridges the two food cultures brilliantly, with dishes that, though almost embarrassingly healthy, still place pleasure first. Case in point was a ‘raw Aeolian vegetable salad’ – at least a dozen finely sliced varieties, each one packed with flavour, and so fresh I expected to see dirt on them. They were dressed with just superb olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. Another fine salad (tuna and mixed veg) had a different dressing, showing the attention they pay to detail. Even better was the caponata, Sicily’s great aubergine-and-celery-based dish. Iddu’s version is flawless, the veg perfectly cooked and all the complex flavours in balance. (When I told the waitress it was one of the best I had tasted, she cried: ‘But not as good as in Sicily!’) On the whole, portions are not very large. But neither are the prices, given the quality and the location. Alcohol is fairly priced (house wines £5 a glass) and so are cocktails. The service makes you want to kiss it on both cheeks. And to cap it off, Iddu makes irresistible (and authentically Sicilian) b

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Maitre Choux
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Maitre Choux

Our love affair with cupcakes, cronuts and flash-in-the pan whoopee whatevers is over. So what’s the new-new thing? Pimped-up éclairs. Recently opened patisserie Maître Choux is dedicated to choux pastry – éclairs, profiteroles and the baked sugar-crusted buns known as chouquettes. Master pâtissier Joakim Prat is from Biarritz in south-west France, and has a career that sounds as much of a sugar rush as the pastries he now sells. His puddings previously graced plates at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.  Prat can perform miracles with a piping bag. He doesn’t do big fat éclairs of the kind that strain at the seams with gallons of whipped cream. The ones sold here, about a dozen varieties, are slender pastry fingers, notable for their couture good looks and fabulous fillings, which include blush-pink raspberry cream scented with rosewater, pastel-hued pistachio, salted caramel, and a lemon éclair crowned with burnished meringue. Until recently chocolate éclairs and profiteroles were the big girl’s blouse of pastries, but Japan is in the grip of a choux revolution. ‘Shu creams’ (custardy filled profiteroles) are all the rage in Tokyo.   At this choux shop, no frills are wasted on decor. There are no love seats, gilded mirrors or pretty pastry boxes tied up with ribbon. Any bling is provided by the coiffured, high-roller clientele, most of whom are blessed with big wallets and tiny waists. It’s no surprise that each éclair will set you back around a fiver. 

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Cambio de Tercio
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Cambio de Tercio

This is tapas – but not as you might know it. Cambio de Tercio is the high-end big brother to two neighbouring Spanish restaurants. Apparently, it’s where Rafael Nadal eats whenever he’s in town, and is best known for its modern take on classic Spanish tapas. Tortilla was an el Bulli homage in a martini glass (potato foam, warm egg yolk, crisp onion shards), and eight-hour roast tomatoes were decorated with a charming vine of micro-leaves and pearls of basil ‘caviar’ that exploded against the deeply candied tomatoes. Main courses were just as innovative: grilled skate melted into soft burgos morcilla with a playful orange vinaigrette, while dark, tender oxtail came with a light apple sauce and even lighter lemon thyme foam. A ‘cambio de tercio’ is when bullfights take a radical change of direction or move into the next phase. Unfortunately, the final phase of our meal took a less impressive turn, as desserts failed to meet expectations. Manchego cheesecake sounded interesting, but lacked the punch of aged sheep’s cheese, and the ‘perfume’ of fruit and jasmine was little more than a fancy fruit salad. Otherwise, the food was outstanding – but perhaps order one more tapa and skip dessert.  

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Things to do in South Kensington

Albert Memorial
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Albert Memorial

‘I would rather not be made the prominent feature of such a monument,’ was Prince Albert’s reported response when the subject of his commemoration arose. Hard, then, to imagine what Queen Victoria's husband would have made of this extraordinary thing, unveiled 15 years after his death. Created by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the memorial centres around a gilded Albert holding a catalogue of the 1851 Great Exhibition, guarded on four corners by the continents of Africa, America, Asia and Europe. The pillars are crowned with bronze statues of the sciences, and the frieze at the base depicts major artists, architects and musicians. Officially called the 'Prince Consort National Memorial', it is one of London’s most dramatic monuments. Tours take place on the first Sunday of every month.

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Science Museum

Science Museum

The Science Museum features seven floors of educational and entertaining exhibits, including the Apollo 10 command module and a flight simulator. The Wellcome Wing showcases developments in contemporary science, medicine and technology. The Medical History Gallery in the museum's attic contains a substantial collection of medical history treasures. Pattern Pod introduces under-eights to the importance of patterns in contemporary science and Launch Pad is a popular hands-on gallery where children can explore basic scientific principles. Exhibits in the Exploring Space galleries include the three-metre-high, 600kg Spacelab 2 X-ray telescope that was flown on British space missions and full-scale models of the Huygens Titan probe and Beagle 2 Mars Lander. The Clockmakers' Collection, previously held at the Guildhall, will move to the museum on October 23 2015. It's the oldest display of clocks and watches in the world, with most of the 1250 exhibits dating from between 1600 and 1850. The museum’s in-house IMAX cinema shows scientific films in 3D, allowing visitors to be surrounded by space or submerged in the depths of the ocean. Tickets start at £11 for adults and £9 for children, and booking is recommended. The shop is worth checking out for its wacky toys, while the Dana Centre is the Science Museum’s adults-only centre for free lectures and performance events on contemporary scientific issues (www.danacentre.org.uk).  See more of London's best museums

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Bars and pubs in South Kensington

The Hour Glass
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The Hour Glass

In the posh-shop-big-museum nexus around South Kensington, a nice old pub with nice old tiles has been scrubbed up by a couple of lads who own the nearby Brompton Food Market: a grocer, butcher, deli and fishmonger. So as you’d expect, food is a major part of their new venture, but they’ve had the sense to make sure the Hour Glass remains a pub at heart. So the ground floor is a pleasant spot with plenty of standing, leaning and sitting room to enjoy an ale. Beer lovers needn’t waste their time with the stuff in the fridge, but there were a couple of decent ones on tap, including an American Pale Ale from Portobello Brewing Co (£4.45 a pint); maybe a G&T or glass of wine would be more appropriate. There’s a solid selection of proper bar snacks too, including Cumberland scotch eggs and pork pies.  And it’s upstairs that the real food action happens, in a handsome dining room with sparkling glasses and linen crisp and white as a Royal Hospital counterpane. Some tables have a jolly view out over Brompton Road, and up here diners can tuck into British dishes that are served with real attention to detail: chips like crispy ingots, flatiron steak dotted with roasted marrow, wood pigeon with pickled quince and black pudding. The Hour Glass is maybe more successful as a pub-with-food than a plain old pub, but the separate eating space makes it a great spot for a pint anyway. 

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

Favoured at various times by both Charles Dickens and DH Lawrence, this splendid pub is packed tight on summer evenings, the front terrace and wide main bar area filled with professional blokes chugging Adnams Broadside while their female equivalents put bottles of sancerre on expenses. Solicitors can – indeed, do – celebrate a successful case with a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But despite the stereotypes, the Anglesea has always had more aura than the average South Kensington hostelry. Perhaps it’s the erotic painting of Fifi, the ghost that roams its cellar; perhaps it’s the link with the Great Train Robbery, allegedly planned here. On quieter winter lunchtimes, it’s the ideal place for a quality foreign lager (Kirin, Bitburger) and a heart-to-heart over a plate of squid linguine at one of the bottle-green banquettes overlooked by random portraits.

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

Hiding behind the unappetising nickname of the Cod, this neighbourhood pub has been scrubbed up to meet the 21st century, with cream walls, spot lighting and varnished pine furniture ticking most of the modern-boozer boxes. Pictures of carefree cricketers and jolly huntsmen hint at the Admiral Codrington’s former Sloane Ranger reputation, but these days, it’s better known for the unpretentious pub menu on offer in the adjacent restaurant. If the draught ales aren’t to your taste, the 30-strong wine list can be enjoyed by diners and drinkers alike, with bottles from around £15. The unusually well heated courtyard is relished by smokers in the winter months.

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Bars and pubs

Meursault

In the basement beneath big-brother restaurant l’Etranger is Meursault, which replaces the former Opal Bar. The menu shares the same Franco-Japanese approach as l’Etranger, but the emphasis is on more casual dining, with the likes of sashimi or ‘tartare’ sharing platters of wagyu or charolais beef, or raw tuna with caviar. The food, from the same kitchen as l’Etranger, is as well rendered as it is upstairs. Insider’s tip: Meursault’s wine-pairing menu (£49 per person, including wine) is a good-value alternative to dining upstairs – although the low ceilinged, bunker-like space lacks the luxe feeling of the ground-floor establishment. As a wine bar, though, this place is hard to beat, because it has the same outstanding wine list as L’Etranger.

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