Marylebone - a true urban village in the heart of the capital
Discovering the hidden gems of London has developed into a fascinating pastime of mine. Each time I visit our esteemed capital, there's been an exciting and unique new area to stay and explore.
Of course, there's all the usual visitor attractions, but the places that have intrigued most me over the past few years have been those tucked-away community hubs bursting with their own character and charm.
After jaunts to Soho and Seven Dials, next on the 'to do' list was Marylebone Village, somewhere I have been on many occasions, but only after passing 'Go' as the dog on a British Monopoly board.
The real Marylebone nestles in the heart of London just a few minutes' walk from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, but unlike its surrounding area this 'true urban village' has a much more peaceful feel.
Don't be fooled though, because despite the tranquillity there are many thriving shops, restaurants and bars which my wife and I were excited to discover.
Arriving at The Marylebone Hotel in the comfort of a cab, we were immediately given the five-star treatment by the dapper-looking bell boys who picked up our bags and escorted us through the doors.
With 257 bedrooms and several refined suites, including ones with covered terraces, the hotel is renowned for its understated luxury.
Our suite featured a cosy pillow-top bed, Nespresso coffee-maker, two wall-mounted televisions along with the lavish touch of a marble bathroom with heated floor.
The Marylebone provides the perfect base as all the village's exciting retail and food offerings are within walking distance, so there's no excuse for getting lost.
The hotel boasts a great food offering of its own in the hip 108 Brasserie, which serves modern locally-sourced cuisine as well as a delicious breakfast, while the 108 Salon is the ideal place to relax over an elegant afternoon tea.
It's also popular with business-types thanks to the numerous state-of-the-art meeting rooms, some of which can transform into party venues.
Guests are invited to use the adjoining Third Space health and leisure club and we chose to unwind by taking part in an 'Exhale' meditation class, which was the best way to de-stress our aching muscles before putting on the evening glad rags.
Marylebone is a haven for food-lovers and there was nowhere better to start our mini-tour of eateries than with a lunch date at bustling eastern Mediterranean restaurant Delamina.
Greeted by friendly manager Marco, the restaurant prides itself on serving healthy flavourful dishes such as the popular 'Jaffa-Tel Aviv style' and crowd-pleasing 'fried egg on hand-pulled turkey shawarma', which can be washed down with a bottle of Palestinian wine.
In the evening, pre-dinner drinks were enjoyed at Orrery, a restaurant and bar in a converted stable block with roof terrace, where we sampled some of their finest cocktails including the Cosmopolitan, Kir Royale and Belvedere, which was a mix of vodka, mint, elderflower and splash of Moet champagne.
Feeling tipsy, it was time to line the stomach with a meal at Italian restaurant La Brasseria, where they serve dishes oozing Italian culture and class such as the carpaccio and mushroom ravioli and aubergine parmigiana, as well as a host of authentic pizza and pasta favourites.
A little bit of theatre came with dessert as the Baked Alaska we shared was lit up at the table. It's also worth noting that La Brasseria boasts London's only Italian-specialised sommelier, who was on hand to pair the perfect wines with our sumptuous dishes.
The following morning took on an activity of a different kind as we honed our limited cookery skills making chocolate and macaroons in a real Italian kitchen.
The four-hour masterclass at La Cucina Caldesi was run by head chef and baking supremo Stefano who guided us through all the steps and techniques used to make the tasty treats.
With a light lunch and wine included, as well as our own cotton apron and recipe pack to take away, this course is a must for those with a sweet tooth.
Shopping is focussed around Marylebone High Street, with a unique blend of famous brands and small independent stores conveniently dotted around.
At KJ's Laundry, I knew the wallet would make an appearance as my wife rustled her way through the stylish items from the latest fashion collections of designer favourites including Samantha Sung and Sessun.
Food-wise you have to venture to Moxon Street where the Ginger Pig butcher's sells the most delicious sausage rolls and scotch eggs you will ever taste and where La Fromagerie showcases London's finest farmhouse and artisanal cheeses in its temperature-controlled walk-in cheese room.
Pop over the road to luxury chocolatier Rococo, where you'll find a mouth-watering selection of expertly-crafted confectioneries from salted caramel seagull eggs and dusted scorched almonds to sticky toffee pudding gourmet fudge and white chocolate pistachios.
With full bellies and 'not so perfect' macaroons in hand, our trip was over, but if you're looking for something slightly different on your next London visit, Marylebone Village should certainly be on the list.
The new My Independent Marylebone campaign celebrates all the independent stores in Marylebone Village. For more information click here. Please note: This trip took place before the coronavirus pandemic.