It isn’t hard to guess how the Seven Dials area of London’s West End got its curious name.

For a massive clue, stand at the foot of the landmark Sundial Pillar and spin around. Fanning out are seven streets, like spokes on a wheel, bounding grand frontages, tapered into triangles – like a neatly carved cheese – or pieces in a game of Trivial Pursuit. There’s nothing trivial, though, about what’s on offer in this secluded and cosy part of town – squeezed by the honey pots of Soho, Covent Garden and Leicester Square, yet so much more chic, hip and refined than its neighbours.

Those streets were laid out by by Thomas Neal MP in the early 1690s. Incidentally, Neal also helped develop Shadwell and East Smithfield out east, along with Tunbridge Wells. He was also a big cheese in the American colonies, came up with the precursor for the Bank of England and invented a pair of dice to prevent cheating at gaming. His name lives on in one of his thoroughfares, Neal Street, and in Neals Yard – best known now as home to Neal’s Yard Remedies, which began life as a shop set up by Romy Fraser in the quirky yard at the start of the 80s, selling herbs, toiletries, remedies and oils, and going on to conquer the world.

Brightly-painted Neals Yard, with its cool street art, is still an alternative, free-thinking spot, home to astrologers and new age traders along with healthy food. And, as I discovered to my delight last Saturday night, one can even learn to tango dance – for free, though you might need a drink or two to find your feet.

That creative vibe spills over into the neighbouring cafes, bars and shops –which are almost all small, independent traders selling gorgeous covetable items that you never knew you needed – but, again as I found out, you really do.

While designed as a rival to Covent Garden, and very lovely today, Seven Dials wasn’t always so salubrious. For a period this was once a notorious slum – a bottle’s throw from the infamous Gin Lane, depicted by the artist William Hogarth.

Gin houses once occupied all the frontages facing the monument. One of those is now the more rarefied Radisson Blu Edwardian, embraced by Mercer and Monmouth streets.

While harmoniously fitting into its historic setting, there are few hints as to its gin palace past – though an excellent drop of the hard stuff is served in its superlative cocktails – my favourite being the Valencian: a tantalising concoction of gin and orange over crushed ice and served in a chilled copper cup which left my fingers tingling as much as my tastebuds.

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The attached Monmouth Kitchen restaurant is a minimalist dream of dark bricks, industrial lamps and ridiculously good-looking staff and specialises in Spanish and Peruvian tapas. These are not like the tapas you may have tried on holiday or your local Spanish eatery, though. Expect beautifully presented portions of lobster salad with chilli lemon dressing; wild boar and apple sausage with poussin and pork slider; seared scallop salad with rocoto dressing; and sea bass ceviche with avocado. Each is a culinary masterpiece; a taste explosion. The tip is to go for three each – no starters – and share.

The Radisson is by far the best place to stay, being in the heart of the action. And Christmas is a great time to visit Seven Dials, with its gorgeous decorations and fun events.

Pick up gifts at the Seven Dials Pop-Up shop –where British tea and floristry expert Tregothnan showcases its wares.

The Neal Street store is filled with edible hand-tied herbal bouquets, chilli wreaths, fresh plucked teas, candles, decorations and festive produce including Cornish Manuka honey and Kea plum jam.

We sipped refreshing samples of black Cornish tea there on a crisp morning – amazed when told by the shop assistant that it was in fact the product of a tea estate in Cornwall – England’s only one.

Between now and December 8, the shop is also hosting a series of craft workshops, where you’ll be able to try your hand at bauble calligraphy, bespoke cracker rolling, fashion illustration or Christmas cocktail and wreath making. Be inspired by the surroundings and put some creative style back into Christmas.

The Oxford Times:

THE DETAILS:

STAY: Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel. This beautiful boutique-style hotel also has family rooms. radissonblu-edwardian.com

EAT: The Monmouth Kitchen for contemporary Spanish and Peruvian wonders. monmouthkitchen.co.uk

MAKE: The Pop-up shop is at at 37 Neal Street. Craft workshops run from 6.30-7.30pm. Register, and get more info at sevendials.co.ukhttp://www.sevendials.co.uk

Boutique shopping in the West End's hippest quarter

A short walk from Oxford Street, but a world away from its crowds and faceless stores, the Seven Dials of London is hip, beautiful and offers the kind of boutique shopping – and great pubs, cafes and restaurants – which make snapping up festive gifts a joy.

Here are just a few of our favourites:

Sonos – 21 Earlham Street: An international sound system brand, aiming to get music filling your whole house. They create unique speaker systems and integrate this with the newest technology to change the way people listen to music.

Happy Socks – 62 Neal Street: Snap up high quality socks and underwear from classic paisley to dots and stripes. The brand offers an almost endless variety of models, designs and collections –all intended to put a smile on your face.

Tregothnan – 37 Neal Street: Tregothnan have taken over the Seven Dials Christmas Pop-Up, selling British grown tea and bespoke wreaths made to order.

Tatty Devine – 44 Monmouth Street: This independent British company designs and micro-manufactures original jewellery. They’re most famous for fun and playful acrylic jewellery, but you will also discover pieces made from fabric, wood, leather, enamel, and anything else that’s caught their eye.

Nixon – 31 Neal Street: Nixon’s team-designed, custom-built watches and accessories are sold in the best boardsport, fashion and speciality retailers in over 90 countries around the world. The new shop brings to life the brand’s action-sports heritage and features the Nixon customisation bar, which allows customers to create their own one-of-a-kind watch.

Laura Lee – 42 Monmouth Street: Laura’s handmade jewellery allows you to create your own individual story by layering her eclectic mix of charms, trinkets and gemstones.

Duke and Dexter – 16 Earlham Street: This British-born footwear label specialises in premium loafers and features a bespoke bar where customers can design a completely personalised pair of D&Ds.

B1866 – 36 Earlham Street: This is the only place in the world where you will find the whole Brooks England collection. It offers stylish, modern and urban bicycles, saddles, accessories, helmets, backpacks and bags to get you on your bike.

The Oxford Times: