Adam MacLean champions a corner of SW3 as London's most fragrant. Do you agree? Or can you think of somewhere of more pleasurable bouquet?
Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge is barely 200 metres long, yet I think it ought to be awarded a prize as the most aromatic street in London.
It begins, and it ends, with shisha. If you were to associate just one smell with the street, it would be that. The mix of apple, strawberry and more exotic flavours wafts from cafes, delighting the nose. Spend a little longer, though, and many other smells linger in the evening air, commingling with English, French and Arabic voices.
Barbeque meats grilling in sumac mix with the outpourings from the perfumerie as it closes up shop. Cigarette smoke and aftershave hang over pub tables.
Absence, too, can be a good thing. There is no dust in the air here; exhaust fumes and road oil do not reach me. Freshness pervades, helped, in no small part, I am sure, by the plants. Hanging pots line the gables, reflecting the Mediterranean and beyond. Jasmine and lavender intoxicate me.
I admit, I ride the length of this street twice a day as a part of my commute, and with familiarity does come pleasure. Yet this place is still special. In the mornings the scene is quite different. With eating and drinking yet to begin, the smells are sharper. Mornings are cleaning times; windows scrubbed and floors sloshed. I taste detergent in the air. It reminds me of all that it not sweet; it reminds me of the other side. I come to anticipate the morning bitterness just as I do the evening sweetness. They balance one another.
“Shop where royalty and celebrities shop” promises the street's website. Go for that if it takes your fancy. But I urge you to go for the subtleties, the scents beneath the surface.
Sometimes, it is this quality of richness that London so possesses that overwhelms me. There’s too much of it all. But when I allow myself the pleasure of paying attention – it doesn’t matter to what – a new peace amid the vast diversity opens up, and I bask and wallow in it.
By Adam MacLean.