As heydays go, Carnaby’s was phenomenal and part of the tapestry of the Swinging 60s. For an entire decade, you could eat, drink and be merry alongside music stars including when David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and style icons Brigitte Bardot and Elizabeth Taylor just by hanging out there. And, here’s a fun fact: Paul McCartney met Linda on 15 May at Bag O’ Nails Club, 9 Kingly Street in Carnaby.
Though the Swinging 60s are no longer, the Carnaby area is back in motion with its style of jive. Look upwards on Carnaby Street and see the Shimmer Disc Union Flag and the Rainbow Arch and the Carnaby Street Arch that herald 14 streets with over 100 shops and 60 restaurants, bars and cafés.
Shopping in Carnaby
Start at Great Malborough Street where Liberty looks dapper in its historic Tudor building – six floors made from timbers of two ancient ‘three-decker’ battle ships amounting to 24,000 cubic feet of ships timbers including their decks now being the shop flooring.
Swatch, Sweaty Betty, Ralph Lauren, Levi’s, The North Face, and Timberland have outlets there but it’s Carnaby’s independent boutique shops that shine their light with ingenuity and creativity that makes Carnaby a must-visit.
Annie’s Ibiza on 3 Newburgh Street could not be more distinct. This is where you shop to find the perfect dress to party in. The rails shimmer with flamboyance and sparkle. Annie’s wardrobe is a reflection of her shop which includes some vintage pieces too. Having seen her flair, and the clothes she has curated I would love to meet her.
Being far too bashful (and not skinny enough) I could only admire these one-off and sometimes highly revealing pieces.
There’s more creative fashion at 8 Newburgh Street. Hayley Menzies is probably most famous for her long cardigans and her general use of bold prints and luxurious natural fibres. You will find a highly curated mix of pieces at her beautiful new boutique which she describes contemporary luxury brand creating the vintage of the future.
IKKS Paris has its bright and spacious UK flagship shop on 3 Carnaby Street. The vibe is urban style with a rock and roll attitude. The pieces are stylish and it would be easy to shop here for a complete capsule wardrobe, not just for you, but for all ages from baby to toddler, and teens to adult.
You can almost sense when a tongue is being poked at you. But when it is a shop RS No.9 Carnaby, and the tongue is a huge red sculpture of their logo, well you just have to go in. The flagship store just under the famous Spirit of Soho mural is everything Rolling Stones and every item is exclusive to their rock n’ roll style.
At number 10 is Ksubi. This brand has been around since 1999 and many think of it as Australia’s hottest fashion label. It’s best for teens/early 20s, those years that the rebel attitude suits this fashion. I liked their distressed denim and cross logo.
I nipped into white-washed cavelike Bloobloom boutique at number 24 only to find a deal of a lifetime. They design and sell specs at £99 including an eye test. On top of that they donate a pair to someone in need with each pair they sell. No brainer. Returning soon for my eye test.
Shoes can become an obsession and at Kat Maconie shoe store on 29 Carnaby Street, they must be. You cannot miss them as they are instantly recognisable with dazzling colours, and hardware frames on architectural heels. You cannot be more maximalist. I particularly enjoyed looking at highly colourful tasselled sandals (£330).
The Great Frog on Ganton Street with its black exterior serves as the perfect frame for its skulls and Gothic. It has been there for almost 40 years and has served the likes of Metallica, Iron Maiden and Motorhead among their clients. Their black diamond skull is always associated with London’s avant-garde design
Last but not least, the quality of the local charity store must reflect the area. At 8 Ganton Street is Mind, a permanent store which curates its offering carefully. You’ll find designer clothes which are topped up every day. A great place to find a bargain.
Where to Eat in Carnaby
I had the pleasure of taking breakfast at Dishoom, on Kingly Street, an extraordinarily famous Indian restaurant. Spacious, reminiscent of an Iranian cafe – these were numerous once in Bombay. I went for Kejriwal; two fried eggs on chilli cheese toast instead of the bacon nan roll I was eyeing up.
Lunch: Ugly Dumpling
I made my way to the tiny Ugly Dumpling on Newburgh Street, Carnaby. I spotted its small blue exterior and opened the door to a twee first floor; there are just 16 covers and another 20 on the lower floor. It’s petite but its menu of dumplings is large on Asian flourish. We opted for the New Favourite Menu which included two cheeseburger dumplings, two truffle and mushroom halloumi and courgette and spring roll dumplings. On top of that, we had two lots of chicken satay dumplings. Then as dessert, we had Nutella dumplings! I know.
Dinner: Inko Nito
Inko Nito offers top-notch unconventional Japanese food served tapas style. The environment is lively, the room bright and spacious and perfect for both couples and groups. The centrepiece is a robata grill, where meat is grilled to perfection and served directly. The food was flavoursome and delicious. Liked the cocktails too. Go for the Premium Tasting Menu and get a taste of the best choices.
Drinks and snacks: In Cahoot
Kingly Court has many enticing places, but I found myself going deep underground in a fantasy, disused London train station called Cahoots at 5 Kingly Street. It’s darkish, all very hush hush, invoking 1946. Staff are dressed accordingly and my Winston Curchill cocktail (a tropical number among 10 other signature drinks, beers and wins) was served in a Winston Churchhill lookalike mug. Snacks arrived, sausages, croquettes and other treats.
Here patrons are referred to as London Scoundrels and though I could have stayed in this underground facility, I crossed the road to check out Cahoot premises opposite where live music was playing to channel my inner scoundrel there.
Where to Stay
Karma Sanctum Rock n’ roll hotel with its late-night roof terrace, Michelin-starred restaurant and members club puts the fun in funky. Check out our full review of Karma Sanctum Hotel.
More information: Carnaby.co.uk