You don’t have to storm a metaphorical Bastille to enjoy the liberté, egalité and fraternité of the French. London is the equivalent of France’s sixth city: around 400,000 French citizens live here, so it should come as no surprise that from furniture to food via face cream and fashion, the city has plenty to make you feel as Gallic as our European neighbour.
The neighbourhood. London’s French heartland is South Kensington, home to the French Institute, the French Consulate (pictured above), and the city’s main French secondary school the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle (35 Cromwell Road, SW7, lyceefrancais.org.uk). There are other Gallic pockets springing up. Kentish Town has a growing French contingent, drawn by its proximity to St Pancras International and a fast train home. Abbeville Village in Clapham also has a strong French flavour, as do Ealing and Brook Green; all appealingly close to excellent French or bilingual primary schools.
The furniture. For French style interiors, head to Shoreditch, where the Huguenots first settled: Maison Trois Garçons (45 Redchurch Street, E2,maison3garcons.myshopify.com, pictured above) stocks eclectic pieces. Otherwise, look north to Little Paris (39 Park Road, N8, littleparis.co.uk) to find contemporary vintage pieces like Strafor cabinets, Tolix chairs, and Jielde lamps, or go west to furniture makers Grange (74-75 Marylebone High Street, W1, grange-london.com) and The French House (50 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1, thefrenchhouse.net).
The Schools. London has plenty of écoles, collèges and lycées so children can enjoy a French education from the start. The lycée in South Kensington has four feeder schools in Ealing, Fulham, Clapham and South Ken itself. But there are other options. Primary school La Petite École Française (73 Saint Charles Square, W10, lapetiteecolefrancaise.co.uk) is good, as are Collège Français Bilingue de Londres (87 Holmes Road, NW5, cfbl.org.uk, picture above) and École Française de Londres Jacques Prévert (59 Brook Green, W6,ecoleprevert.org.uk).
The cosmetics. Good cosmetics are a key part of the soignée French look. At Frenchologie’s Covent Garden boutique (53 Monmouth Street, WC2,frenchologie.com) you’ll find a comprehensive range of products from Ladurée, Carlota, and Opalis. Meanwhile, Caudalie (39 Monmouth Street, WC2, caudalie.com) sells natural beauty products, created and inspired by the vineyards of Bordeaux, and does excellent facials too.
The clothes. Roland Mouret (8 Carlos Place, W1, rolandmouret.com) and Isabel Marant (29 Bruton Street, W1, isabelmarant.com) host collections in Mayfair. Eric Bompard sells sumptuous cashmere (29 King’s Road, SW3, eric-bompard.com). Robert Clergerie does chic footwear (67 Wigmore Street, W1,robertclergerie.com). A.P.C. (15 Redchurch Street, E2, apc.fr) is known for minimalist design, and Paul & Joe (33 Floral Street, WC2, paulandjoe.com) for its pretty prints.
The food. You don’t have to visit a Michélin starred restaurant to eat good French food, though London has French chefs to thank for many of its stars: Michel Roux Jr at Mayfair favourite Le Gavroche (43 Upper Brook Street, W1,le-gavroche.co.uk), Alexis Gauthier at his restaurant Gauthier Soho (21 Romilly Street, W1, gauthiersoho.co.uk), and Hélène Darroze at the Connaught (Carlos Place, W1, the-connaught.co.uk), to name but three. Beyond that, the city’s boulangeries, charcuteries and fromageries make it a cinch to throw together a croque-monsieur: pick up sourdough bread from Pôilane (46 Elizabeth Street, SW1, poilane.com), cheese from La Cave à Fromage (24-25 Cromwell Place, SW7, la-cave.co.uk), and Dijon mustard from Maille (Piccadilly Arcade, SW1, maille.co.uk). Wash it down with artisanal bubbles from Champagne + Fromage (22 Wellington Street, WC2,frenchbubbles.co.uk, pictured above) or a glass of red wine from 10 Cases’ Cave à Vin (18 Endell Street, WC2, 10cases.co.uk).
The culture. Do you have to go to France for French culture? Pas de tout! Immerse yourself in French literature at La Libraire La Page (7 Harrington Road, SW7, librairielapage.com) or brush up on your Baudelaire at the French Bookshop (28 Bute Street, SW7, frenchbookshop.com). Otherwise, catch the latest French cinema at La Ciné Lumière (17 Queensberry Place, SW7, institut-francais.org.uk). The Courtauld Gallery (Somerset House, WC2, courtauld.ac.uk) has an impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist French art, including Manet, Monet and Gauguin. If you’re in the market to buy work for your home, try the French Art Studio (58 Gloucester Road, SW7, thefrenchartstudio.com) for contemporary French painting, sculpture and photography.
And the celebration. Vraiment, you are as French as you can be in London. It’s time to celebrate, and how better than to crack out the accordion and the wine on Juillet quatorze? The hub of this year’s action is Bastillefest (Borough Market, SE1, bastillefestival.co.uk), the seventh Bastille Day celebrations at Bankside. There’ll be a traditional waiter’s race, games of pétanque, bilingual storytelling, dancing and singing, theatre and music. It’s all for free and carries on way into the night. Vive la France!
Read this as it originally appeared for the London Magazine