Food & Drink Lifestyle
Aleks Cvetkovic's Mayfair
By Aleks Cvetkovic
Jul 13, 2022
Menswear writer and The Rake's online editor Aleks Cvetkovic takes us on a guided tour of his favourite haunts in London's Mayfair.
I’ve worked in Mayfair for two years now, but I’ve been making sartorial pilgrimages of one form or another to this thoroughly underrated part of town since my father introduced me to the hallowed ground of Jermyn Street aged 13. I was starting to develop an interest in classic men’s style at the time, and had just bought my first suit (it was a washed-out three-button pinstripe from Debenhams as I recall but we all have to start somewhere), and he took me in on the train for a wander around Jermyn Street and Savile Row for a glimpse at gentleman’s nirvana. As you might be able to guess I was immediately hooked on the place.
For some reason, Mayfair seems to get a relatively poor press, people tell me a lot of the time that it’s too boring, or too traditional – but for me that misses the point. I think there’s a sense of discretion and of old-school, establishmentarian elegance about the place, that might not feel particularly ‘post-modern’ or ‘sexy’, but it is – like it or lump it – a cultural institution and one of the oldest and most stylish parts of fair London town. One can sense this very old-fashioned notion of refinement during a quick stroll about the place, which, if you give it a chance, I guarantee will start to draw you in. Permit me to suggest a few spots to visit if you’re willing to have the place win you over.
First up, my port of call nigh on every morning is H. R. Higgins Coffee-Man Ltd. on Duke Street. It’s as delightfully eccentric as it sounds, one of very few independent coffee shops left in the capital, with dark painted walls, antique table-tops and rows upon rows of antique copper coffee pots that line the walls – all of which contributes to an olde-worldy feel that is quite charming. Wander in first thing in Zombie-mode and the rich, dark, fruity smell of the very best freshly ground coffee that money can buy is simply mouth-watering. It is (I think) the only dedicated coffee shop in London with a Royal Warrant and it shows. The service is attentive and warm and the filter coffees are absolutely superb, all especially imported, blended and freshly ground by Higgins’ expert staff.
Of a lunchtime, a quiet few minutes in Mount Street Gardens is always a lovely thing. More secluded and serene than Grosvenor or Berkeley Square, the gardens nestle quietly between some fabulous Victorian apartment blocks in red brick, and there are some intriguing sculptures and quirky palm trees (that again one suspects were a Victorian installation) to admire in your fifteen minutes of thought-gathering.
Just around the corner is a top pub, The Punchbowl, another little Mayfair institution in its own right. One of the oldest pubs in the West End, it is quite frankly everything that one could wish for from a traditional London boozer. It’s again a mahogany paneled affair, with a quirky layout, sticky bar and a marvelous selection of ales and bottled beers. I can also personally vouch for the life-giving properties of the cheese & bacon chips, should you be in need of a restorative bar snack. If you’re up for something more civilised, there are excellent dining rooms upstairs.
For other gentlemen’s comestibles (by which I mean cigars and cheese – not necessarily to be consumed together), Jermyn Street is the place to shop. Davidoff on the corner of Jermyn Street and St James’s is a tobacconist and cigar importer of unparalleled stature. Two years at The Rake develops one’s interest in fine tobacco, and proprietors Edward and Eddie Sahakian are absolute authorities on the subject. Both perfect gentlemen and easily approachable - happy to proffer advice to the novice or seasoned smoker alike. They also have a knack for getting their hands on the latest rare cigar releases, so it’s always worth stopping by if you’re after something special.
Perhaps my favourite guilty pleasure on Jermyn Street though, is Paxton & Whitfield, an absolutely superb cheese monger, which like Davidoff prides itself on being the best of the best in its respective field – with two Royal Warrants to show for it. Here too, one is greeted with a robust and fruity smell upon entering, which draws you in immediately to seemingly endless rows of absolutely exquisite cheeses. Established in 1797, this is a proper culinary British institution, and it takes its work seriously, many of the cheeses that Paxton imports are exceptionally rare, or tricky to source in any great volume and all are of superior quality. Once again, the staff are both knowledgeable and approachable, and on a Saturday afternoon after a stroll through St James’s, twenty minutes of cheese-browsing in there is tantamount to a spiritual experience. Incidentally, if you’ve yet to try the Moliterno al Tartufo (Italian truffled ewe’s cheese) they procure – you must.
And with multiple turns up and down the street accomplished, hopefully weighed down by bags of shopping, the easiest way to wind down and reflect a little on your haul is to quaff a Campari and soda at Franco’s, opposite Davidoff. Another establishment that’s very much a part of Jermyn Street’s DNA, this long-standing Italian restaurant feels reassuringly old school, and although a suitably refined place to eat, it’s also a marvelous spot for a drink. If you can grab a seat out front for a smoke and a tipple, it’s a lovely vantage point to watch the noble folk of Jermyn Street going about their business.
There are of course, a multitude of other fine pastimes and hotspots to choose from in Mayfair, but one hopes that these few choice go-tos are enough to demonstrate that this part of London remains every bit the Drake’s man’s hangout. It’s tasteful, it’s elevated and it’s damnably rakish.