King’s Road – a Luxurious Promenade of Quality
The glittering road is a review of fine food, fashion, feasting, and high art.
King’s Road stands regally upright as an epicentre of wealth, cleanliness and culture in central London. From its grandiose galleries, to its designer shops, and incredible range of world-class interior design stores, spending a day absorbing the sophistication of the place gives an insight into exactly what well managed money can buy. However, it is not just a locale for the uber-rich; it also has a wonderful theatre and cult-film scene, and an intimately classy farmer’s market on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Despite the whitened ease of the grand street, it was not always this way. King’s Road has undergone a whirlwind of a transformation over the last half century. Initially it started off as a stark private road of Charles II to travel efficiently from the Palace of Westminster to Hampton Court. This status was withdrawn in 1830, and naturally businesses and private homes moved onto the convenient road. Almost all of these have been demolished and replaced by more modern businesses, however a few examples of its old 18th-19th century architecture remain at numbers 211-215. Its golden era of cultural influence came in the 1960s-70s and was a centre of counter-culture dominated by hippies and later, by punks. Notably, Vivienne Westwood’s flagship store ‘Let it Rock’ was started there with Malcolm McLaren. It was a favourite hang of The Rolling Stones in the ‘70s, frequenting the iconic Chelsea Drug Store (it’s featured in their track ‘You Can’t Always Get What you Want’). Open 16 hours a day, it housed bars, a chemist, newsstands and record stores. Excitingly, it offered a ‘flying squad’ delivery service, whereby beautiful girls would hand-deliver ordered items riding on flashy motorcycles dressed in purple cat suits. Unfortunately you’ll no longer come across many cat-suited individuals, but you will find a wealth of activities that easily fill a day.
Culture vultures will revel in the assets of cult cinema and theatre held by the area. The Curzon cinema shows international arthouse films in its alluring cherished screens. However, those looking to sit back and enjoy a blockbuster will be grateful for the more conventional Cineworld nearby. The Royal Court Theatre remains a writer’s theatre that focuses more the calibre of scriptwriting than celebrity actors, and has a great deal of influence on world theatre. The smaller Chelsea Theatre makes the most out of its studio setting, and is particularly dedicated to Live Art.
King’s Road has a striking array of excellent shops. Overall, it is best for high-end high-street fashion labels, designer labels, and has a fabulous medley of world-class interior design stores. Those looking to pick up some lasting essentials will be pleased to find Zara, Reiss, AllSaints, Jack Wills and The Kooples all residing there. Those looking for a collectable treat will be thrilled to meander into the likes of Hugo Boss, Ghost, Vivienne Westwood, Philip Treacy, and Gieves & Hawkes on the same street. The interior design shops are the real highlights of the shopping vista: Heal’s provides sleek yet comfortable designs alongside an array of similar, smaller well-rounded stores. However, De Gournay prevails as the reigning herald of quality, stocking the world’s best hand-painted wallpaper, hand-crafted mirrors, porcelain and furniture fabrics. Additionally, there is also the Chelsea Antiques Market open every day except Sundays which contains 120 different shops and stalls.
There are enough restaurants on King’s Road to please even the fussiest of gourmands. All of them share the attribute of beautifully designed dining areas and bars making for a stylish dining experience. The Ivy is perhaps the best known of the King’s Road restaurants, and for good reason. The recently refurbished garden is the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon or pleasant evening with friends. The food is a glamourous rendition of British cuisine to be enjoyed beside its star-studded clientele. The Bluebird has both a formal restaurant and more casual café, specialising in Mediterranean fusion, with a heart Sunday lunch menu and a satisfying brunch option (Mimosas all round!). Chenye Walk Brasserie channels Georgian dining elegance with timeless French cuisine. Poplo Chelsea is fantastic for Tapas enthusiasts (the octopus is particularly good). For those who are interesting more in the act of cooking than eating out, there is a great Farmer’s Market on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings.
The North Star of the area is undoubtedly the Saatchi Gallery. Opened in 1985 so that Charles Saatchi could share is art collection with the public (and shamelessly score some philanthropic brownie points whilst he was at it), the entire collection is regularly rotated and features the new alleged up-and-coming young artists from across the globe. Free to the public, there are always some truly interesting pieces on display and the architecture alone is impressive enough to demand a visit. King’s Road is also a hotbed for smaller high-tier art galleries and you’ll find that there’s about one of these on every block. Notably Tanya Baxter Contemporary sells the best of Asian art, and the Gagliardi Gallery has an excellent mix of international artists and eras.
There is a flourishing nightlife scene along King’s Road. It would be misleading to claim that it is not the domain of a particular type of young, affluent, caravat-ed-and-stiletto-ed individuals. Following this vein, the majority are members-only clubs befitting of their road’s name. Juju is an upscale cocktail and DJ lounge where champagne cocktails are the order of the night. Embargo is a spacious nightclub with a brilliant roof terrace (including spare bar for smokers who are reluctant to leave their much fought-for outdoor seats) and retro lit-up 70s dancefloor. Raffles is the most famous exclusive club on the road and gaining a spot on the guest list beforehand is essential for entry.