Ready to get stuck into ‘Olb’rn? Follow our Holborn taxi driver’s guide and we’ll have you eating drinking and hanging out in all the area’s best spots in no time. It’s a funny thing Holborn. Most Londoners know it but ask a group of them exactly how to find it and you’ll probably get four or five different answers. The problem seems to lie less with understanding where it begins and more to understanding where it ends. For the purpose of clarity, we’re going to discuss the area around Holborn tube station stretching up to The British Museum and down as far as Fleet Street. If you aren’t a London local, here’s bit of valuable advice that’ll save you a fortune. Travelling to this London oddity isn’t as taxing as you might imagine. And while many will choose to reach it by tube or bus, if you’re anywhere in central London, chances are you can walk it just as quickly and at zero cost. Like many parts of London, Holborn gets its name from the ‘lost river’ that runs through it. In this instance the river Fleet (it’s still there, it just travels underground these days). The ‘Hol-’ refers to a hollow and the ‘-born’ to a bourne, or river. Much like its geographical boundaries, it’s a name whose enunciation also has long caused confusion. ‘Locals’ will tell you is pronounced with no ‘H’ or ‘U’, although there are precious few who care enough to correct you (it’s no Marylebone!). Addison Lee have been getting Londoners where they need to go since 1975, and with 20,000 successful journeys under our belt every single day, we like to think we’ve really got the hang of it. Which is why our Holborn taxi driver’s guide offers such a unique insight into the area. After all, we’ve been bringing people here for well over thirty years now. So shouldn’t we know the best pubs, bistros, brasseries and bars in the area?
Where to drink
The Square Pig
There are those in Holborn who would regard The Square Pig as more of a gastropub than a place for a decent pint. After all it seems to pride itself on serving an odd medley of ‘Australasian’ dishes and sandwiches throughout the day, but we have to say we were left a little cold by its gastronomic merits. Fortunately for this strangely inviting pub, its qualities as a place to grab a drink really stand up to the test. The owners have managed to make a great fist of turning what could have been a large and vapid space into a an oddly familiar pub, and in an area where friendly hangouts are a bit of a rarity, The Square Pig has triumphed.
30-32 Procter Street, WC1V 6NX
Potter down the slightly strange and incongruous Sicilian Avenue and you’ll find the equally jarring Holborn Whippet. This cosy little boutique craft beer shop has been serving the locals a large selection of ales, lagers and lambics from its glass fronted hideaway for several years now. They specialise in a terrific mix of beers you’ve never heard of and a scattering of some you may have once flirted with. Like any good ale house they also knock out a decent range of burgers, pizzas and snacks to keep their loyal customers going. On a sunny evening you’ll find most people spilling out onto the pedestrianised terrace in front. The whole thing couldn’t feel less in kind with the West End. What a relief!
25-29 Sicilian Ave, WC1A 2QH
If you’ve never been to a Samuel Smith pub before you’re either in for a huge treat or a massive disappointment. The treat comes in the shape of the Princess Louise’s remarkable price list. You won’t know any of the beers, wines or spirits being sold here but just blindly stuff a tenner into the barkeep’s hand and you should find yourself ably satisfied with both the quality of the drink returned and the handful of change that accompanies it. Unlike your local Wetherspoon’s, The Princess Louise also boasts some old world charm. Engraved mirrors, oak panelling and an elaborate carpet all make this a pub in the very British sense of the word.
208 High Holborn, WC1V 7EP
Where to eat
Hakkasan Hanway Place
You may have already heard of Hakkasan. There are now several of these restaurants not just around London but the whole world. This is the original. The very first Hakkasan to take the West End by storm. Opened in 2001 and set deep underground, this outstanding Chinese restaurant is dimly lit with ornate oak screens, an enormous bar and an alluring open kitchen. The food, much like the setting is all very much part of the theatre, and you’ll rarely find a dish that doesn’t live up to the extravagant standards of the brand as a whole. In an area that’s increasingly saturated by chain restaurants, Hakkasan represents a true independent.
8 Hanway Pl, W1T 1HD
Great Queen St
Sitting neatly on the border between Holborn and neighbouring Covent Garden, Great Queen St is widely regarded as the area’s best gastropub. Which is odd, because it’s quite clearly a restaurant. Confusion aside, there are few places in the area which are as enduringly popular as Great Queen St. The food – much like the decor – sits somewhere between French and British. And if you’re lucky you may even snag a prized table out on the rear terrace. Although bookings are recommended. The only place this restaurant fails in its dire basement bar, which probably would have been put to better use as more dining room.
Great Queen St, WC2B 5AA
Holborn Dining Room
We’re going to throw some buzz words at you and see how you respond: delicatessen, art deco dining room, brunch, dinner, terrace, gin bar and cocktails. If any, or all of those piqued your interest, we strongly suggest you hightail it over to the Holborn Dining Room. This much loved local establishment is exactly what you’d hope to find tucked away in central London’s most obscure district. Set almost exclusively around its long and winding bar, this extravagant brasserie is lit up with lipstick red leather sofas, tall stools and sassy corner tables. The food is genuinely delicious and you’ll not find a better place to lunch in central London.
Rosewood London, 252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN
What to do
All Star Lanes
We could easily have recommended All Star Lanes Holborn as a great place to eat or drink but the purist in us felt it better to tell you to come here for bowling first. Set underneath Bloomsbury Place, this vast and intriguing subterranean bowling alley not only boasts a full restaurant, it also has its own charming cocktail bar. And not only that, there’s even a private alley which you can hire out, complete with your own bar. Never has bowling been so sexy, grown-up and outright fun.
Victoria House, Bloomsbury Pl, WC1B 4DA
There are many London museums. They’re pretty much all free to enter and it’s safe to say they’re universally awesome. But none come quite as close to perfection as The British Museum. As not just one of the oldest museums in London, but one of the oldest in the world, it houses some of our species most treasured artifacts. Mummies are considered to be the main attraction but it also plays home to the fabled Rosetta Stone and a number of other jaw dropping exhibits. The queues can be a bit laborious but there’s a reason folk travel from all round the world to visit.
Great Russell St, WC1B 3DG
There’s a certain truth about London museums; they can get a little repetitive and – dare we say it – even a shade monotonous at times. The Hunterian is a museum keen to break that mould. This utterly creepy pathological and zoological museum is the UK’s largest of its kind. There are over 3,500 different individual exhibits inside and – for the most part – they were almost all once alive. Excluding one particular treasure – Winston Churchill’s dentures. Enter at your peril.
Royal College of Surgeons of 35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, WC2A 3PE