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London tales: Fatima Bhutto

Author Fatima Bhutto

Paul Wetherell
San Lorenzo has a special place in the heart of London's social history. Peter Sellers was an early fan

November 2013

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I trust that, like all travellers flying to London, you are deeply and desperately interested in books. Obviously. There's no finer town for bookshops and libraries than this one right here. You may not come for the weather — don't — or for the soap operas — especially don't — but do come for the books. You'd be silly not to.

London is home to wonderful bookstores — Hatchard's on Piccadilly, which was founded in 1797 and once sold antiquarian books; John Sandoe on the King's Road, where you have to climb over books stacked on the staircase to get to the top floor; Heyward Hill on Curzon Street where Nancy Mitford worked at the till — but Daunts on Marylebone High Street just can't be beaten. It's London's leading travel and literary bookstore by miles. Daunts allows you to browse books by country. And not a continent is thinly shelved. For those otherwise inclined, Daunts is filled with tables groaning under the weight of poetry books — and cookbooks and novels and memoirs — and in the evening, Daunts hosts talks by a range of authors. Go and sit there for hours until they tell you to leave.

After all that reading, you'll be hungry. You'll need somewhere to stop and, if you're lucky, you'll walk to San Lorenzo on Beauchamp Place at the same time that Lorenzo himself is holding court. San Lorenzo, the home of simple but beautiful Italian cuisine, has a special place in the heart of London's social history. Peter Sellers was an early fan of Lorenzo's home cooked fare — not to mention Sophia Loren, who had lunch sent from the restaurant to her at Pinewood Studios where she was filming The Millionairess. The list of those who call San Lorenzo home is long and when you stop by you'll understand why. Come and say happy birthday — San Lorenzo celebrates its 50th birthday this year.

Fine, so you've eaten and your arms are killing you from carrying all those books, but before you go home, stroll through Russell Square and visit the School of Oriental and African Studies. Its library houses one of the world's largest collections of books on Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East — over a million and a half items. And in fact, SOAS happens to be the only institution in all of Europe specialising in those regions. Aung San Suu Kyi and Freya Stark are alumnae. 

Or visit the Brunei gallery for a talk (in December: The Tibetan Buddhist approach to life). I did my Masters at SOAS and if ever you feel like sitting down with a cup of yerba maté and reading Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali, let me assure you, you're in the right place. 

Fatima Bhutto's The Shadow of the Crescent Moon (£14.99, Viking) is out this month. 

Posted by Fatima Bhutto


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