I ventured away from Brent Cross and survived

When faced with a shopping spree on the other side of London, Sandy Rashty reached for her passport

By Sandy Rashty, May 9, 2014
The Royal Park Hotel:  view over tree-lined Westbourne Terrace

The Royal Park Hotel: view over tree-lined Westbourne Terrace

For a Jewish girl who has lived in London her whole life, all my shopping, sporting and general out-and-about activities have been confined to the north-west of the capital.

Like many members of the community, I prefer to spend my free time in local areas where there is parking, rather than travelling to places that may be just a few tube-stops away.

But ever since I became acquainted with a Kat and Ella personal shopping assistant, all that has changed.

My transformation started when I spent a night at The Royal Park Hotel in Hyde Park, a former mid-19th century townhouse, known for it’s traditionally English but themed tea-time spreads. Themes are based on whatever happens to be going on and on this occasion I enjoyed a fashion theme and noshed on shoe and lip-shaped cakes. Cute.

The Kat and Ella guide promised the two of us (I was there with a sprightly Leicester lass) an insight into the hand-made jewellery stalls, hidden vintage shops and antiques peddlers at Portabello Market.

The Kat and Ella shopper asked a few questions to get a feel for our tastes, but I questioned whether a walk through puddles in a world of non-returnable goods would compare to the indoor comfort offered by my beloved Brent Cross Shopping Centre. And sure enough, it was drizzling.

As I desperately zipped-up and clutched onto my handbag, I pushed through hoardes of tourists carrying overgrown cameras, feeling quite annoyed.

Sandy enjoyed  East End’s Columbia flower market — even in the rain

Sandy enjoyed East End’s Columbia flower market — even in the rain

The sight of a living statue dressed as Charlie Chaplin, waving over as I walked into a stall, was surreal — and despite myself, I was entertained.

But then the worst happened. In the midst of human traffic, I became disconnected from my guide.

Surprisingly, that was no bother, probably because I had come across a Greek lady selling silver and gold jewellery. I was particularly distracted by an unusual charm bracelet. The Greek vendor clocked my interest and went in for the sale.

Immediately, I had to hone in my Tel Aviv Carmel market bargaining skills. She won, but I was happy. I left with the beautiful silver cuff bracelet that I am wearing as I write this.

It occurred to me that my mother and grandmother would love gazing upon the lines of trilby hats, second-hand candelabras and vintage specs if only they would venture here.

As the weather improved, so did my mood.

The smell of street-food — from falafel to curry and paella — was so tempting that at that moment, it made no sense to eat lunch any other way.

Trekking up-and-down a hill as well as weaving in-and-out of stalls isn’t for everyone and this is something that Neal’s Yard Remedies know all too well.

They offer exhausted shoppers quick bursts of organic-product-infused relaxation. I reasoned that it would be a shame to pass-up such an opportunity, so I opted for the deep-tissue back massage.

Reinvigorated and still alone, I made my way past the shops revered by the likes of Kate Moss and Fearne Cotton. They offer piles of second-hand Manolo Blahnik shoes, Chanel bags and Burberry trenches.

Around the corner I spotted a parade of shops that was more up my street — they offer seats, sales assistants and changing rooms — and what’s more, the shops aren’t found in Brent Cross.

I stumbled across American retailer Club Monaco and after an enjoyable hour of rummaging, I bagged a navy polka-dot jumpsuit.

The highlight of the day was a trip to Columbia Road Flower Market. The rain only added to the fresh scent of flowers — something I never thought I would enjoy. I bought a beautiful long-stemmed orchid — which retails for about £15 in north-west London — for a measly £5. I spotted a pot of hydrangeas for £10 — and bought two. Three weeks later, the purple flowers are still blossoming outside my family home.

I have vowed never again to buy a bunch of tulips from Marks & Spencer for £8 — it’s a criminal waste when London offers such blooming alternatives.

Soaking wet, I travelled to the final stop — a photographer’s studio in Notting Hill for a creative tutorial. David Brook is a fashion and street photographer who specialises in outdoor shots and profile pictures of celebrities. His mission was to teach me how to take a photograph. As it was pouring he suggested I strike a pose as he explained the tricks of the trade. I explained that sultry poses, often posted on Facebook or taken at simchahs, make me recoil with embarrassment. So he took personality-laden alternatives.

Once I got past the physical distance, the problematic parking, the getting lost and even the rain — I realised that some things are certainly worth the trek.


STAY: The Royal Park boutique hotel.

Rooms from £180-£420

Tel: 020 7479 6600


GUIDE: Kat and Ella offer bespoke day trails. A guide takes you through the city for the day on a whirlwind tour. The cost is £100 per person based on a party of four.
They also offer creative street photography tutorials

Tel: 0207 193 1456


Last updated: 9:55pm, July 3 2014