Theo Fennell, the London-based jeweller renowned for his ornate jewels and pieces which border on miniature works of art, knows a thing or two about West London. Fennell and his team of skilled craftsmen have been turning out highly covetable pieces from the brand’s Chelsea flagship for more than four decades – imbuing in him the kind of local knowledge that only time can buy.
This background is evident in his work, each of his pieces possessing a quintessentially British charm and eccentricity. But also in his favourite local haunts, which run the gamut from neighbourhood institutions to quirky independent stores and, of course, the kind of weekend wandering that only a city like London can offer. Here, we present Theo Fennell’s insider’s guide to Chelsea.
John Sandoe Books
Theo says: What a bookshop really should be, a paradise for a browser and run by the most knowledgeable and friendly of people. There are always wonderful surprises and even the most arcane subjects are catered to. It is impossible to leave without a stack of books you had never heard of before you went in.
We say: Undoubtedly one of London’s best independent bookshops, Sandoe’s has been a Chelsea stalwart since 1957. That isn’t, however, to say it hasn’t moved with the times. Along with tomes on everything from architecture and decorative arts to poetry and philosophy, you’ll also find graphic novels and the latest best-selling crime thrillers. Not sure where to start? Download Sandoe’s podcast for insightful talks with big-name authors (and plenty of recommendations), or sign up to the shop’s subscription service and receive books tailored to your preferences on a monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly basis.
Theo says: Another perfect Corbin and King restaurant in a great location and with a constant, good-natured buzz. It has the feel of a local restaurant, relaxed but with wonderful staff, delicious food and an optimistic atmosphere. People are here to enjoy themselves.
We say: Located on a prime position overlooking Sloane Square, Café Colbert has the feel of a grand Parisian eatery handily located in one of London’s most exclusive shopping districts. Some iteration of Colbert has existed since the 1950s and today the restaurant is open from breakfast until post-dinner, making it a reliable option whatever the hour or occasion. Order oysters followed by a classic chopped salad or chicken Paillard and revel in the unrivalled people-watching on offer from the al fresco terrace.
Theo says: I make pathetic attempts to avoid this shop on my way home as I cannot leave without buying things that you never find elsewhere: peanut-brittle cakes, apple and pork sausage rolls, cereal that appears to be made entirely from sugar, maple syrup with the occasional oat thrown in and the sort of sweets you normally only find in shops abroad on holiday. Having gone in for some of the best fresh fruit to be found anywhere, I end up with five packets of obscure but addictive biscuits.
We say: Founded by Sir Richard Shepherd in 1972, this Royal-warranted grocer is still a family-run business supplying the best quality produce, food, and wines from around the world to London’s most discerning foodies. As well as its core offering, each Saturday, Partridge’s hosts an outdoor fine-food market. Attracting some of the UK’s top producers, including Borough Cheese, La Tua Pasta, Maldon Oysters and the Wild Tea Company, this is the place to discover interesting new ingredients and sample some seriously good street food.
The Royal Court Theatre
Theo says: Both upstairs and down, this has seen the debut of some of the most important plays and playwrights over the past 70 years. It is true that you can occasionally find yourself locked into a deeply dull and pretentious piece of nonsense but, far more often, there will be something electrifying and that always makes it worth the gamble.
We say: Known as the writers’ theatre, the Royal Court is London’s leading force for uncovering and supporting the work of emerging playwrights. Opened in 1956, over the previous six decades, the Royal Court has commissioned and produced works by hundreds of writers, many of whom would see their work go on to transfer to major West End or Broadway theatres. In 2020 it also committed to becoming a carbon net-zero venue, while the Royal court also runs numerous youth programmes, community groups and writers workshops.
The Embankment by Cheyne Walk
Theo says: The heart of everything that Chelsea stands for can be found during a wander down the Embankment, along Cheyne Walk and up Tite Street, past Burton Court and up to the King’s Road. Bohemian but chic, amused and quirky there is an assured feeling in Chelsea not to be found in any other town in the world; it is the real deal. Chelsea has watched the coming and going of aesthetes, punks, mods, artists, addicts, eccentrics, and much more besides, with gentle tolerance.
We say: Modern-day Chelsea has the reputation of being the exclusive preserve of the well-heeled and even better connected, so it can be easy to forget its history as a breeding ground for scandalous subcultures, creatives and free spirits. This gorgeous walk, which takes in Chelsea’s grand architecture and enviable homes, as well as its artists’ quarter (home to Whistler, Augustus John, John Singer Sergeant and Oscar Wilde), the Burton Court cricket pavilion and celebrity magnet Cheyne Walk (everyone from George Eliot and Bram Stoker to Mick Jagger and Roman Abramovich has lived here), encapsulates Chelsea in all its multi-faceted glory.