This article is part of a guide to London from FT Globetrotter
Londoners, here we are again. Lockdown: The Sequel (this time, it’s autumn) premiered last week, and although a majority of people support the measures, it doesn’t make another month of heavy restrictions and limited social contact any easier.
Nevertheless, we’re somewhat better prepared for it. The last lockdown led to a host of expanded offerings from shuttered businesses, new ventures and other discoveries — glimmers of good living that may help carry us through the dark days of November.
Below, FT staff share their top lockdown treasures from the first time around — the new finds to call on again and again, from the best grocery deliveries to newfound chocolate addictions, Italian wine and more.
Well worth a butcher’s . . .
I didn't consider myself much of a meat eater before lockdown but then I discovered the joys of Turner & George. Unpacking cardboard box after cardboard box from this Clerkenwell butcher is the closest I come to imagining myself wielding a cleaver and wearing a bloodstained apron in some Victorian market. Enormous slabs of steak, delicious chicken, sausages for the kids, exotic cuts that were basically just the excuse for a culinary challenge to alleviate family boredom. What’s even better is the knowledge that all of it is ethically reared, supporting small farms and one click away on their slick website. At one point, we were so obsessed that it looked as though we’d have to invest in another freezer. Lockdown 2.0 might provide us with the perfect excuse.
— Alice Fishburn, FT Magazine editor
Yabba dabba do: tiffin time, all the time
One of the comforts during the lockdowns has been food delivery. For me, it has been a guilty pleasure, given the deluge of plastic packaging that typically comes with a delivery.
That is one reason I have enjoyed a new food-delivery company that could be a model for others. Called DabbaDrop, it is modelled on Mumbai’s famous “dabbawala” delivery system in which thousands of metal lunch boxes called tiffins are delivered across the metropolis by bicycle or cart train, in a supply chain so complex it has featured in numerous business studies. I lived and worked in the city, so this drew my eye.
Founded by two Hackney-based women, DabbaDrop delivers a tiffin full of fresh, plant-based Indian curries to your home. For the first visit, you pay for a tiffin tin. Then you swap it over at the next delivery, thus reducing the need for one-use plastic containers. The food is vibrant and excellent, with a different south-Asian regional style offered up each time. DabbaDrop does not offer the spontaneity of going out to a restaurant but it gives you something to look forward at the end of a hard week. It is a subscription model that some restaurants should examine.
— Tony Tassell, Financial Opinion editor
Ripe for the taking: a delicious way to tackle food waste
During the first lockdown, when I signed up to Oddbox — a produce-delivery subscription service that aims to reduce food waste — I was almost disappointed to find that the salvaged and surplus fruit and vegetables I was “rescuing” looked pretty unimpeachable. The only discernible imperfections were the odd nick on a green pepper or bash on a red onion. But this is precisely the point: regulations are so absurdly stringent on fresh produce that 4.5m tonnes of perfectly presentable groceries go to waste in the UK every year, along with all the water and energy used for growing them. The oddness of each Oddbox lies more in its tantalising randomness — among last week’s delights, I took charge of three delicious ripe persimmons, and this week I am looking forward to welcoming a large pomelo into my fruit bowl.
— Rebecca Rose, FT Globetrotter editor
Wines of the times
Before the world’s 7.8bn people had ever uttered the words “Covid-19”, I attended what is now known as a mass gathering: an Italian wine tasting hosted by Swig, a London-based wine merchant. Dozens of wine lovers and lushes packed into a small event space in central London to sample some of the most interesting wines emerging from Italy’s independent producers, from new Tuscan challengers to volcanic blends from Sicily’s Mount Etna region. The wine spittoons dotted around the venue were largely unused. Order forms were handed in faster than you could say salute.
This is exactly Swig’s mission: to connect delicious, undiscovered wines that punch above their weight to “wine lovers, not wine snobs”. The majority are organic or farmed sustainably by family-owned, small-scale producers from around the globe.
When the first lockdown was announced and Londoners began hoarding loo roll, my partner and I instead turned to our tasting notes and Swig’s home-delivery service. Our social lives may have experienced a drought but we did not go thirsty. This time around we’ve done the same. These are the rainy days that a good Brunello is saved for.
— Niki Blasina, FT Globetrotter deputy editor
Choc and awe
Lockdown 1 involved cheese from Neal’s Yard, pomegranates from Natoora and Lockdown Lobsters.
But lately I’ve gone off boiling creatures and I’ve moved on from fruit and cheese. To Tony’s Chocolonely. It’s not exactly a secret brand but it’s a mind-bending revelation to me.
Until September, I was too grown-up for chocolate, especially milk chocolate, which always struck me as particularly infantile. And then I met Tony’s. I don’t know why I bought a bar. But I did. Their bars are huge too — it’s a commitment.
And I’m hooked. While most chocolate is plastic-y, a mouthful of Tony’s is a cascade of sweet caresses. My favourite is Milk Caramel Sea Salt (milk, yes — my eyes are open), though I think I love them all. At present, I am on a bar and a half a day — beginning usually at 4pm when I make my pilgrimage to the shop up the road — but there’s room for more.
— Alexander Gilmour, Food & Drink editor
Jump(suits) for joy
I realised, during week two of lockdown, that I did not share the joys of WFH tracksuit and leggings culture. I’m not saying I wanted to put on a pencil skirt and heels to walk from my bed to my desk, but a modicum of dressing for the day was called for.
I found the middle ground of smart yet comfortable outfits in LF Markey’s long sleeve Danny boiler suits (£180). Ex-Burberry designer Louise Markey opened her light-filled 700 sq ft, double fronted shop in Dalston, just round the corner from my house, last year — though clearly buying online was the way to go during lockdown. Far from workman’s garb, the British designer’s boilersuits are feminine and tailored, with a nipped in waist; smart, reassuringly weighty zips, and made up in an array of luxe fabrics and chic colours. If I was left to my own devices, I’d wear mine in thick forest green cotton, dusty pink corduroy and indigo denim in rotation. In my dreams, I'd add the cobalt, navy, mustard and lilac . . .
— Beatrice Hodgkin, How To Spend It deputy editor
The word service: a children’s bookshop keeping the story going
Keeping a special-interest shop running in 2020: a Herculean task?
It’s one that multi-award-winning children’s bookshop Tales on Moon Lane in south-east London is tackling with pluck and aplomb. Co-managers Kathlyn Crocker and Leah Chin offer what is surely the key ingredient to making any small indie successful: phenomenal customer service. “Christmas is our most exciting time of the year,” says Crocker when I speak to her the day before lockdown. “People arrive with a long list and ask us to find, say, an amazing book for a nine-year-old who’s into history. We love that challenge.”
In March, they found new ways to keep the conversations going — you could email them for personal recommendations (one of the most enjoyable email threads I’ve ever engaged in) and place orders for delivery, which arrive on foot or by bike if you are local. This time they’re adding to that with Zoom calls to walk customers around the shop, and collection times that tie in with school runs.
— Lauren Hadden, How To Spend It commissioning editor
Different strokes: wild swimming in the Thames
Imagine an inland lake with a beach, fringed with fragrant pine trees and under an hour’s journey from London, where you can swim freely beneath dazzling turquoise dragonflies. A day trip on a sunny day to Frensham Great Pond, near Farnham, brings back distant memories of summer holidays in France. During lockdown, Frensham was deluged by visitors, with queues sometimes trailing half a mile up the road. The water is shallow, so it’s safe for children. But it is prone to blue-green algae, at which point swimming is curtailed.
One hot June afternoon, having worked through 30C heat, I drove to the lake, only to discover it was closed because of algae. Desperate for an outdoor swim — anywhere — I did some rapid research and ended up driving along the M3 to a place called Chertsey Meads on the edge of the Thames. There, I discovered to my utter delight that you can swim freely among the ducks. This is not a place for children or weak swimmers (or, in this second lockdown, the cold-water averse). The Thames floor shelves dramatically only a few metres from the bank; you can duck-dive to see a multitude of fish and there are large boats ploughing up and down the river. But for the intrepid, cautious, adult swimmer, this was a stunning discovery.
— Jim Pickard, chief political correspondent
The dreamiest supermarket in west London
Supermarket of Dreams is long on dreams and short on what normally constitutes a supermarket. Therein lies its delight. Unwieldy trolleys, endless aisles and household bleach have no place in this small store with a neon-pink sign in Holland Park. It has fast become a neighbourhood favourite since it launched as a pop-up in July. Supermarket of Dreams is part of the same group as Notting Hill Fish + Meat — owned by Chris D’Sylva — and the word locally is that it’s here to stay. “We want to try and be a convenience store for the area,” says Riccardo Ambrosio, store manager.
A range of brands is brought under one roof: meat from HG Walter; store-cupboard “essentials” like zaatar and sumac from Ottolenghi; and fresh fruit and vegetables from Natoora. But it’s the Biramisu that is one of the most popular items, says Ambrosio — a quirky take on the classic Italian dessert that replaces the coffee with Guinness.
Many of the staff are chefs and managers from top restaurants like The Ledbury (a casualty of the pandemic) and Chiltern Firehouse. As well as in-house creations, there are collaborations with restaurants such as Patty & Bun (burgers), Jikoni (Asian with a twist) and Bubala (Middle Eastern) to offer a series of heat-at-home meal boxes — perfect for when you can’t be bothered to cook.
A branch recently opened in St John’s Wood and now Supermarket of Dreams is looking to partner with up-and-coming restaurants: “We want to bring the east London restaurant scene to west London,” says Ambrosio. Back in the store, the music is always good, the team is always smiling and the coffee by Allpress is the best I’ve found in this neck of the woods. I like to sit with a cortado on the wooden benches outside, admiring the majestic London plane trees on Holland Park Avenue and watching what remains of the world go by.
— Harriet Agnew, news editor, companies desk
Ethical edibles: sustainably sourced, chef-quality groceries to your door
Scenes at supermarkets during the first lockdown are all too familiar now: hours-long queues, nearly naked shelves and panicky shoppers clambering for the last packets of pasta. Grocery delivery was seemingly a better option, but procuring an Ocado slot quickly became 2020’s version of Glasto tickets. Wait hours to access the site — or find someone with VIP entry.
This frustration led me to ordering produce through Natoora, a food supplier to some of the best restaurants in London. When hospitality businesses were shuttered, Natoora launched a home-delivery service for culinary mortals. Chef-quality, sustainably sourced fruit and veg, dairy, charcuterie and store-cupboard essentials can be selected through its app and delivered to your home the next day, arriving ripe and ready to eat as would be required by a restaurant kitchen.
The pricing is generally on par with premium ranges at major supermarkets, though some items are more expensive (£3.50 for six eggs, for example), but spending a bit extra for consistently excellent quality goods from small- scale growers who offer transparency around the farming process — and for an entirely recyclable, plastic-free shop — tastes like a good investment to me.
— Niki Blasina, FT Globetrotter deputy editor
Discovering a sylvan secret in Dulwich
During the height of the first lockdown, I found myself dreaming about the countryside of my childhood every night. The woody smells, the squelching mud, the blissful absence of sirens shrieking a constant reminder about just how dire things were. It all seemed so unobtainable — until, that is, someone mentioned Dulwich Wood. Originally part of the medieval Great North Wood (despite its south London location), it is now a rare bit of proper woodland in the middle of a city. On my first visit, I wanted to cry. But instead I walked and walked and contemplated building a den that we could move into until everything was over.
— Alice Fishburn, FT Magazine editor
Aah, bistro . . . brought to your kitchen
Peckham’s Levan restaurant — feted by critics, loved by locals — has excelled this year at conjuring some of the highlights of its inventive and supremely comforting bistro-style menu into south London homes.
Five minutes after banging the beef bourguignon in the oven to reheat, we reflected that the only tricky bit was attempting to recreate the restaurant’s hip vibe of glamorous semi-iniquity in a brightly lit kitchen. We dimmed the lights and got on with it — a meltingly good caramelised onion brioche and chicken-liver parfait starter was waiting as consolation for the lack of people-watching. The sharing menu is £59 for two, with generous portions — we are greedy and still kept half the tarte Tatin for leftovers the next day.
— Lauren Hadden, HTSI commissioning editor
Pasta la vista — straight out of Borough Market
Back when the FT was headquartered on the Southbank — and it was normal to go to the office — my favourite Friday tradition was to grab fresh pasta for lunch from a tiny Italian market stall tucked away in Borough Market.
While lunch from the market is no longer an option, I’ve enjoyed the same meal at home: La Tua delivers its reasonably priced fresh pasta with a suggested sauce pairing directly to your door. During the first lockdown, sharing the joys of my favourite lunchtime treat with my partner provided a much-needed lift to the week, and now we can aim to taste the entire menu — a new goal for this second lockdown.
Customers have several options to choose from, ranging from boxes for two, family-sized (for six people) and the “Lockdown Box” that includes 36 portions (the pasta has a shelf life of up to 20 days depending on type and except for the gluten-free gnocchi is suitable for freezing). Delivery is free for orders over £30, and with choices such as linguine with lemon butter and truffle burrata (£7.50 for two portions), pappardelle with wild boar ragu (£9) or mushroom tortelloni with garlic and parsley butter (£8), it is very easy to make the minimum.
— Aislinn McGurk, senior product manager
The cake’s in the post, from Bermondsey with love
Lucy Burton, a Bermondsey-based baker, typically specialises in organic bespoke wedding cakes, but the pandemic has driven her into the brownie market too. In March she started offering brownies, blondies and slab cakes by post to encourage people to stay at home, and sold nearly 900 boxes from April to September. She offered a rotating menu of flavours such as salted-caramel brownies and raspberry and white-chocolate blondies.
During the lockdown I sent her brownies by post to friends to celebrate birthdays from afar. A personalised note and candle was included with each box, and Lucy packaged it all beautifully.
With lockdown restrictions in place again and the holidays coming up, she’s restarted the service and is taking orders for Christmas — her festive menu includes eggnog blondies and peppermint dark chocolate with crushed candy-cane brownies. Prices range from £15 to £30.
— Nick Ramsbottom, software engineer
Predictive texts: the website that can read you like a book
My top lockdown discovery is The Storygraph, an independent, London-based, black-owned business that makes amazingly accurate book recommendations.
The platform was founded by Nadia Odunayo, and its goal is to help people find the perfect book to read based on their mood, favourite topics or genres.
Customers submit their reading preferences to The Storygraph via an online survey, and in return are provided with high-quality, personal book recommendations. It’s also possible to export data from Amazon’s Goodreads and import it into The Storygraph for a quick start. In addition to tracking the books you've read and would like to read, a reading-stats section also collects your preferences so you can more accurately specify what appeals to you according to themes such as “reflective”, “hopeful” and “mysterious”.
I became a regular user when lockdown hit and I was desperate for more screen-free leisure time. The great recommendations have helped me hit the sweet spot of regular reading.
— Tatiana Stantonian, senior engineer
Burgess Park: a breath of fresh air
As I live in a not-so-spacious Elephant and Castle apartment, Burgess Park was a lifeline throughout the summer lockdown, providing clean air, a lazy late-evening stroll and a hint of normality.
More recently, it has taken on a crisp, refreshing form, displaying attractive autumnal colours. The largest park in Southwark, with a lake teeming with wildlife, it’s the perfect spot for a brisk morning outing. If something more fast-paced is required, butterfly symbols marked out on the pathways illustrate an ideal 5k route for joggers.
Now a regular attendee, I shall certainly be making use of the space as we go through another period of isolation. Fresh air, flora and fauna are the perfect antidote.
— Thomas Smith, creative artworker
What was your best London lockdown discovery that you’ll be rolling out again for the sequel? Tell us in the comments — a selection of answers will be published
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