The Seven Dials is one of those quaint old city spaces that is there, in the middle of a larger cultural area, and you don’t really realize what it is and how connected it is to everything until you walk. I have said before, walking is the way to put the pieces of the puzzle together. I remember the first time I walked from the area around Tottenham Court Underground Station and New Bond Street to Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait Gallery. It was amazing to me how many things I encountered along the way and just how livable and walkable this city really is.
I have to add, before I really got to know London, I used to say that London is just too big and spread out. I did not want to live here and I did not understand how anyone could prefer it to Paris. Well, after about a year of getting to know this city on my frequent visits and living here a short time I do love London. My heart will always be in France, Paris could easily be my home, but I have found London to be much better than I ever anticipated. I have found areas like the Seven Dials to wander around.
This gem that I speak of, The Seven Dials, is actually the center of the wheel with spokes pointing out in different directions. I associate it with Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Charring Cross Road and High Holborn. Going through the Seven Dials I recently realized how quickly one can go from Drury Lane or High Holborn to China Town or Leicester Square. You can easily go to Shaftesbury and the Theater District. Depending on the route you take from the center of the wheel, you are able to reach the differing areas very easily.
Within the Seven Dials there are a myriad of restaurants and shops. A couple of favorites are Belgo and the Hawksmoor. There is also an excellent fish n chips restaurant, the Rock N Sole Plaice. This is my husband’s favorite fish n chips.
Belgo is a fun Belgian Restaurant and unique dining experience. It is located at 50 Earlham St., there are two other locations in Bromley and Clapham around London, but I believe this is the main location. The wait staff dress in monk attire and the restaurant is underground. You either take the stairs or ride the freight elevator down into the restaurant. It is not elegant, but very cozy with great atmosphere. The main fare is mussels (moules) served many ways. We love these, and I have tried four of the preparations. I savored each one and always take them with the fries and either a Belgian house beer or a glass of rosé. They also have superb roast chicken with the choice of several types of seasoning. I have been with friends who have had a myriad of other dishes and there were no complaints. The other quaint option at Belgo is the sampling of schnaps. They have options from one to thirty-two. We have actually seen tables order the thirty-two board of shots. We have investigated the four shot variety and found the choices quite enjoyable. I intend to try more when I return. Price point for this restaurant is low to medium for London. I would recommend the lunch set menu or the Beat the Clock dinner special. But even at menu price it is a value all around for food and atmosphere.
The Hawksmoor is hands down THE Steak place in London. It is located at 11 Langley Street. There are locations at Guildhall and Spitalfields around London, but this is central. They have hand cut beef and it is sumptuous. My husband went on a quest for a good steak in London and after many failed attempts, do not go to the Angus Steakhouses unless you order the ribs, he found wonderful cuts of beef at the Hawksmoor. It too is underground. It is an elegant and cozy atmosphere with dark wood and low lighting. But it is not pretentious or over the top. It also has a fantastic bar. You can sit in the bar and have dinner if you do not want to sit in the dining room. This is a restaurant that one needs a reservation, so book as soon as you know you want to go. They fill up fast and do not be surprised when they tell you that you have a time limit on your table. We ran out of time one night and were shuffled, very graciously, to the bar. They have an excellent wine and drink list. They also have some seafood options as well. The appetizers and side dishes are sharable and I recommend sharing so you don’t fill up on those, try spinach and chips, they are both good options. I have heard the desserts are amazing, but have not had room at the end of a meal to partake in dessert, only coffee. This restaurant is not inexpensive, so understand this is a $$$ experience, but an incredibly satisfying experience. I have never walked out hungry or had a bad meal. It is a pleasant and a worthy people watching experience as well.
Rock n Sole is the fish n chips restaurant of choice for my husband. It is located on the corner of Endell Street and Shorts Gardens. You need to ask for cod and always have the chips. I like the mushy peas but my husband is not a fan. You can sit outside under umbrellas to get the full people watching experience, or you can take away. We have taken away many times and I cannot recall right now if I have actually taken the time to sit and eat there. It is always busy and there are no reservations, so just get in the queue and prepare to order.
If you need a treat while in the area there is a Scoop ice cream shop on Shorts Gardens between Neal and Endell streets. There is often a line out the door and you will need to queue, but it is really good ice cream. There are other scoop locations around London. I know there is one near South Kensington Tube Station. But that area is a whole other post. Love it too!
The most wonderful treat is to step into the Neil’s Yard Dairy Store and smell the fresh cheese. It is located on Shorts Gardens between Neil St. and the center of the Seven Dials round. You can taste the cheeses before you buy. It is an excellent place to pick up some cheese and bread for a snack, picnic, or to take home. Another location, and my favorite, is at the Borough Market. This location is accessible to so many people and is a brilliant location as well.
The shops are not all necessarily unique to Seven Dials but they have many trendy shops to move through, they have Miss Sixty, Sephora, Nike, Urban Outfitters, Aldo and some small boutique shops as well. It is truly a booming area and unique in its own way.
It is a wonderful place to people watch because of the location and the connections to various areas. There are business people, tourists, and a good mix of young and old people. I really love to sit in the open window at the Starbucks at the corner of Shorts Gardens and Neal St. and watch life go by. It is a bit like looking into a movie. You see all the action unfolding and you are set apart as the viewer. At this Starbucks I have encountered backpackers, business people, students, and others just passing through. I have taken up a stool there in several seasons. It has been a refuge from the cold in winter, a respite from the rain and wind in spring, and a cover from the summer sun. This Starbucks more than any other has shaped an experience in this city because of its location. A close second would be the Starbucks in Webster Groves, MO. That too is another blog in and of itself. If you ever find yourself in St. Louis, please visit Webster Groves.
Historically, Seven Dials was established in the 1690’s by Thomas Neale. It was designed to be able to fit as many houses as possible in the area. His aspiration was to build an upscale area in Covent Garden near the Piazza area, but it became quite the opposite. Slums took over and it was a less than desirable area for quite some time. It has seen a colorful array of inhabitants, many immigrants, and establishments, many gin shops and pubs. Dickens wrote of the Seven Dials and the quarreling drunks in the streets. The same Sundial monument of today in the center of the round was commissioned and constructed in the early 1690’s. Over time in the 19th and 20th centuries the area has changed and more businesses have moved into the area. It has become a cultural hub. Two notable plaques can be found in the area around the dials. One is the place where Brian Epstein had his recording studio, the other was the home and Animation Studio of Monty Python. This area is a historical gem and well worth a visit.