Covent Garden in Autumn

Neal's Yard Manolis Kanakis

This part of London, one of the main tourist draws, isn’t a place I often get to. It’s too full of people generally lolling about, gazing at the living statues, sipping coffee in the Piazza. But on a visit last week I noticed a very nice transformation at the 'wrong’ end of Long Acre.

Suddenly, this formerly rather quiet end leading away from the Neal Street area (which is brimming with trendy shops) now has many interesting shops and an excellent chocolate place. The Belgian Daskalidès offers a lovely, quiet café in the basement for gourmand chocolate, snacks, and cute chocolate presents. Machiavelli, next door, tempts with gorgeous Italian snacks and foods to buy, while Le Deuxieme offers superb value French cuisine. At £20.12 for three courses, who can resist? (Only someone who has just eaten their way down the street.) The Real Greek, opposite, caters for Greek food fans, just before you reach the big shopping temptations like the huge Zara or the super-sized All Saints. Even Patisserie Valerie and Costa have dressed themselves into cozy little vests, with chairs more comfortable than usual and music levels that allow a chat.

Moving along to Endell Street, we have the Cross Keys Pub, the kind of place you bring your friends: small, stylishly old, and real. And The 10 Cases is exactly the opposite: cool and suave. There is something for everyone here.

The Piazza itself has also changed. While Brasserie Blanc now offers the best view of the market and good food at reasonable prices, Ladurée, the Parisian super-expensive patisserie until now only present near Harrods, seemed devoid of customers. Only when I looked inside on this warm, sunny, autumn day did I see mostly Arabic-looking customers hanging out. At £1.40 a macaroon, maybe Covent Garden isn’t quite ready for Laduree yet.

Meanwhile, the outside Piazza plays host to the same Chinese musicians I’ve known for years, but it's still amazing what intriguing sounds they make on a Du Xian Qin or a Sheny, the oldest stringed instruments in the world. Yearning sounds linger in the air...until you hit the next musical offering.

Inside the Piazza offers amazing goodies, a market brimming with inventive gifts. And the wonderful band Oopsie Manuska, a seven-piece classical combo pleased the shoppers to no end, playing beautifully while gallivanting around the crowd. Pity that the pub wasn’t allowing the Hola Paella customers to sit in their space - the perfume from their big pans was simply too tempting to settle for a pie.

Then came a clown doing funny things with passers by, stalking them and imitating their walks. And all of this with Paolo Conte’s 'It’s Wonderful' ringing in our ears. Who would have thought we'd be thinking that about Covent Garden?