A Francophile’s guide to... Kensington
Discover the French connections in this chic London borough
Visitors to the France Show, taking place at the Olympia exhibition centre in January, will find themselves in the heart of London’s French Quarter. Huddled around the French Embassy in South Kensington (tel: 0207 073 1000, www.ambafrance-uk.org) is a hoard of Gallic institutions, Paris-style pavement cafés and bistros, and French bookshops. Not only is the area home to the UK’s biggest French expatriate community, it is also the go-to place for Francophiles looking for la belle vie on home soil.
Early arrivals may well bump into a few immaculately dressed French mothers dropping their children off at the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle in Cromwell Road. Just round the corner, in a listed art-deco building, the Institut Français (tel: 0207 871 3515, www.institut-francais.org.uk) is the French government’s centre for culture. As well as running language courses and screening art-house films at the Ciné Lumière, the institute organises talks, debates and wine tasting evenings. There is even a bistro on site.
Find more French culture on tap at The French Bookshop (tel: 0207 584 2840, www.frenchbookshop.com) which stocks every type of Gallic tome and hosts talks from well-known authors. The Librarie La Plage (tel: 0207 589 5991, www.librairielapage.com) is a similar vein of French bookseller.
After picking up a copy of Le Monde from the newsagents, head to Bute Street to eavesdrop on French conversation over a croissant at pavement cafés such as Raison d’ Être (no. 18, tel: 0207 584 5008) and the pâtisserie Bonne Bouche (no. 22, tel: 0207 584 9839). For dinner, try the vaunted brasserie Racine (tel: 0207 584 4477, www.racine-restaurant.com) that rewards early birds with a three-course prix-fixe for £19.50 up to 7.30pm, or the old-school bistro Le Colombier (tel: 0207 351 1155, www.le-colombier-restaurant.co.uk) for seafood and terrace seating.
Those hankering for further evening entertainment will find the Cirque de Soleil performing its new spectacle Kooza at the Royal Albert Hall from 6 January to 8 February (tel: 0845 401 5045 , www.royalalberthall.com).
The France Show is taking place from 23-25 January. See the show’swebsite for more information: www.thefranceshow.com