For those landing in London and wanting to plunge right in, SideStory is your new go-to. The travel-concierge service, which launched last July, organises individual tours with experts from the creative fields – an art critic, a documentary photographer, a food and drink editor, a fashion stylist, a graffiti artist and an interior designer, among others.
Each experience costs in the region of £300, lasts for around three hours and will be tailored to your specific interests. For example, art insider Joshua (it’s a first-names-only type of operation), who works with Christie’s, Sotheby’s and the Tate, could meet you at the Royal Academy before guiding you round the galleries of Mayfair. Hannah, former fashion director of Tatler, could give you a “Well Crafted” tour of St James’s longstanding tailoring ateliers, whisking you behind the scenes of celebrated shirtmakers and milliners. Meanwhile, international photographer Stuart’s (first picture) area of expertise is the city’s East End, where he grew up; explore Brick Lane (second picture) – from its anarchist bookshop (last firebombed by neo-Nazis only a year ago) to the synagogue-turned-mosque, to the shadowy Huguenot silk-weavers’ townhouses – with added information on photo-framing techniques or how to take a light reading on the hop.
When I met with Stuart we walked up Hoxton Street into F Cooke’s pie and mash shop, family-run since the 1900s. Inside, Joe still puts sawdust on the floor, originally done for spitting eel bones into. The menu has changed to accommodate contemporary eating habits by offering a vegan pie option, but homemade jellied eels remain.
Sipping mugs of tea with Joe as he recounts how his fraternal feud over their Broadway Market pie shop ended up at the Royal Courts of Justice is an experience you can have only through an insider introduction. Access has always been a privilege, and in a globalised world local idiosyncrasies are increasingly hard to find.
SideStory was set up by Rachael Moloney, who helped launch Wallpaper* City Guides, and Giovanni Donaldson, former corporate development director at Virgin Group, and is now in partnership with hotel booking service Mr & Mrs Smith. It also donates a percentage of its profits to a charity of each insider’s choosing – a human touch that’s present in every interaction with the service.