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A merry maritime in Greenwich

A merry maritime in Greenwich

By on Jul 1, 2014 in Commentary, Drink, English, Food, London, Real ale, Restaurants, Reviews, Travel | 0 comments

Oh England. England, England, England, with your soggy summers and bitterly disappointing football scores, we do still love you. And what better way to remind ourselves of just how much we love you than to pay a visit to a royal borough to experience your heritage and parks in all their rich green lush splendidness, to seek out some hidden gem of gastronomic delight in a tavern where we might replenish our spirits by feasting on seasonal fare, slaking our thirsts with an extensive wine list and chugging down a selection of hand-pumped ales? No better way. For some inspiration on visiting Greenwich for a day out, one might consider taking the ferry boat from Westminster pier so as to soak in the sights along the way. It’s a great way to see parts of London you might not usually get to witness, and there is also a guide on board to talk you through some of the history and points of interest. Once at the historic naval heart of Britain that is Greenwich, there is a raft of things to see and do. You can visit the National Maritime museum and learn about England’s rich maritime past, or the Royal Observatory and planetarium to learn about star charting, and pop off on a voyage through the universe. I’m rather intrigued by the show “Back to the moon for good” which chronicles the efforts of teams to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, for which they must land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, navigate 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to Earth. “This global competition is designed to spark imagination and inspire a renewed commitment to space exploration, not by governments or countries – but by the citizens of the world.” Of course there is the legendary Cutty Sark, a Grade 1 listed dry docked clipper vessel with a fascinating history. As wikipedia tells us: “Willis considered that the bow shape of Tweed was responsible for its notable performance, and this form seems to have been adopted for Cutty Sark. Linton, however, felt that the stern was too barrel-shaped and so gave Cutty Sark a squarer stern with less tumblehome. The broader stern increased the buoyancy of the rear of the ship, making it...

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King of King’s (Road) and Cadogan.

King of King’s (Road) and Cadogan.

By on May 29, 2014 in Cocktails, Drink, Food, Interior design, London, Real ale, Restaurants | 0 comments

In which Philip King, 1st King of Streatham is reunited with an old Earl. Many many moons ago, far far back in the distant past in the year of our Lord 1992, I ventured up to The King’s Road, Chelsea, with a crumpled tenner in my student duffle jacket pocket and high hopes of achieving a pleasant level of inebriation, perchance to impress one of the many damsels I had spotted earlier in the day as they shopped for designer threads amongst the many boutiques in this highly fashionable district. My partner in crime was a dashing fellow inebriate, and together we headed straight for a tavern by the name of The Cadogan Arms, as it had a right regal ring to it, what with having been a tavern since 1869 and named after the first Earl of Cadogan. Faded, jaded décor featured crimson flock wallpaper, wonky wall mounted lampshades with velveteen trim and plump little tassles, scrappy printed portraits of huntsmen and women on horseback gallivanting over hills and dales. It was very much of its time, in that the renaissance of pubs bars and restaurants had yet to take hold of London. To experience walking to the bar was akin to experiencing being a fly glued to fly paper as one’s feet stuck to the floor; meanwhile everything had a habit of creaking as though on the film set of a Hammer horror movie, but we didn’t care because the booze was cheap and the bands and the beat-up juke box made a vaguely pleasing racket as I recall.  Suffice it to say, this has all changed dramatically now, since the site was taken over and renovated some time ago by the same brains behind The Jugged Hare, a praiseworthy establishment over Barbican way. Whopping windows now provide a vista onto the ever busy King’s Road. Inside, the scheme evokes a sort of highland refectory, with woodiness abounding, a curious assortment of huntsman’s spoils adorning the walls and overall there is a feeling of everything being pared back. It’s unfussy, yet with enough touches to make it quaint and quirky. I took a pint of Jugged Hare IPA, brewed especially for the group by some indie craft...

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Tootle on to Tooley Street

Tootle on to Tooley Street

By on Apr 24, 2014 in Commentary, Food, London, Restaurants, Reviews, Travel | 0 comments

We in the West are privileged. Very much so. In global terms, it’s almost obscene how privileged many of us are. We have employment opportunities galore, good quality housing, sanitation, water and praise be, we have plenty of food. Or at least most of us do. There is of course a percentage of people who at some point in their lives will struggle to break even, and may reach as far down as rock bottom. No job, possibly no home to live in, and little prospect of finding housing or work. It’s a frightening thought, and one I’ve personally faced; however I was fortunate enough to have family who helped me to pick up the pieces. Not everybody is so fortunate. So what on earth does this have to do with a restaurant review? To put it simply, Brigade bar and bistro is a social enterprise which trains and supports jobless and homeless people, equipping them with kitchen skills, life skills and jobs in the exciting world of catering. So much more than just a place to eat; Brigade is an eaterie where one can take satisfaction in the knowledge that the proceeds from your dining experience are helping to drive social change and improve the lives of individuals less fortunate than ourselves, it’s a shining beacon in a sea of gratuitously self-satisfied gluttons who make it their business to simply gorge and waffle (I’m blushing by this point, being both gorger and waffler).  The food is outstanding too. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the skills these apprentices are taught are somehow sub-standard, or that ingredients are processed to cut costs; this is certainly not the case. As bistros go, Brigade is what you might call high end, with a relaxed, casual feel, and a buzz that you won’t find in a formal restaurant, owed in part to the open plan theatre kitchen and a bar section that runs directly alongside the main space. I couldn’t find fault in any single aspect of the decor, the service, the menu, the food and drink or the prices. The group of fellow writers I dined with had similarly positive experiences with their dishes, and were also enamoured by the venue and principles...

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A Corinthian column

A Corinthian column

By on Feb 3, 2014 in Commentary, Hotels, Interior design, London, Luxury, Reviews, Travel | 0 comments

Shooting off this last set-piece in the Alexx in Londonland montage, I feel a twinge of nostalgic whimsy coupled with the sensation of watching a rolling epic grand narrative. Closing sequences of an elegiac movie play out whilst I lie, “beached in the offering of a private diary of deferred potential” as a puffed up tutor once put it in reference to a project I surfed around for some time before eventual completion in a series of water works; that is to say, writing based around the concept of water as a vehicle for expression. Those were heady days of cerebral, abstract and conceptual horseplay in the sticks of the shire of Devon and we were all young and helplessly hopeful, way way back in the mid to late nineties. We hop skip and prance our way from one scene to the next in the meandering story lines of our little lives. At best we can seek to determine the meter and stanza, leaving crucial aspects such as plot to divine or unseen forces. We can’t write the script because fate writes it for us; rather we might daub paint on the set, bash out a couple of rousing numbers, hoping with vainglory to get our names in the credits that flash past the viewer’s eyes at the end of it all. Corinthia was the inspiration for this theatrically filmic musing, by virtue of the grand sweeps and ornate embellishments that characterize her interior, evoking vintage Hollywood stage-set glamour, which by the tiniest flick of a switch in the imagination can transform you from Dave and Sarah of Beckenham into Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, or Bogart and Bacall. As with many of the places I am fortunate enough to muse about, one could easily argue such thoughts and expressions are essentially redundant, as accolades have already rolled in since their reopening as a luxury hotel in 2009. In spite of the pristine elegance it now displays, the restoration and improvements have been entirely sympathetic, in preserving the ornate fabric of the building as it was when originally built as the Metropole in 1885. The hotel became synonymous with high society living, hosting debutante balls and soirees that attracted many...

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Qbic

Qbic

By on Jan 4, 2014 in Commentary, Hotels, Interior design, London, Reviews | 0 comments

Qbic positions itself as something of a revolutionary concept, grazing gently at the border where boutique hotel meets upmarket youth hostel, with a Dutch signature ethos centred around environmental awareness and community engagement. I had encountered their launch literature whilst searching for new and interesting places to stay, and thought it would be a nice idea to show my guest another part of town, as Whitechapel in the East End is somewhat more “real” than the City or Selsdon Park. In a bid to show London in it’s true colours yet without too much grit and grime, Qbic hit the mark. Our arrival happily coincided with one of various launch events which was attended by a stellar smattering of foodie press journos and bloggers, as well as entrepreneurs and luminaries from the food community including bagel and cake bakers and the gent responsible for launching Street Feast, East London’s pop-up answer to our equivalent of what the rest of the world calls street food. The event was branded “Future of Food” and as well as showcasing the venue, it also hosted food and drink from a range of producers and suppliers all within a fairly narrow radius of the hotel. I was particularly impressed by Pip & Nut’s warming honey cinnamon cashew nut butter and Sacred’s London gin with notes of cardamom: an excellent tipple. To the right as you enter is a spacious lounge area with a quirky-cool retro-meets-modern feel to it: 50’s and 60’s Dutch furniture spread about to evoke a homely feel, an open fireplace, a vending machine that dispenses booze right around the clock (yes I did predictably get excited about this) and an open-plan kitchen and breakfast bar space, faced by a wall of windows onto Altab Ali park square opposite. The panel discussion obviously focused on the future of food in London and at one point they were asked to consider which trends might surface in 2014. Further variations on the doughnut such as the cronut (hybrid of croissant and donut) and the dosant (a doughnut spliced with a croissant) were discussed. Blending foods seems a pretty hilarious method of evolving a culinary craft, but it made for playful chatter, adding a touch of...

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Diciannove? Yes, she did a Nove.

Diciannove? Yes, she did a Nove.

By on Jan 2, 2014 in Adventure, Cocktails, Italian, London, Real ale, Restaurants, Travel | 0 comments

After browsing through the many artefacts at the Victoria & Albert museum, including the legendary Ardabil carpet and Dale Chihuly’s mind-bendingly intricate glass sculptures, we returned to Blackfriars and had a quick tipple in the Black Friar, an art nouveau pub, notable for it’s ornate sculpted and carved friezes, and which rather conveniently has a great range of very well kept cask ales. Then we crossed back to Crowne Plaza to pay a return visit to the beautiful Voltaire bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. This particular invention is a quirky little number created in partnership with Temple Spa; it’s a gin based drink containing grapefruit juice, thyme, rosemary sugar and lemon, and was a perfect aperitif, even including a tube of soothing foot balm which was much needed after all the walking. As tempted as I was to kick off my boots there and then in the bar and start applying the lotion, I resisted the urge, instead heading to the recently renovated and re-launched Diciannove. From the very moment we arrived, service was warm, attentive and friendly, and I noticed this to be the case not only with us, but with every table that was being attended to. It struck me the effectiveness of good service really can’t be under-estimated as it adds to the overall atmosphere, in part because nobody feels ignored or frustrated. I remember my days working as a waiter and event organiser fondly, as it would often be the case that you could turn around a person’s bad mood from the moment they walk in, lending a kind and sympathetic ear, finding out and fetching exactly what they require in a timely fashion and by simply smiling in spite of their frustration at the cruel world responsible for delivering them to you in this state of angst. This chrysalis of perfection becomes their safe haven, and you are their protector for a brief while. As we were staying in the hotel that night we figured on staying at Diciannove for the duration, so rather than seeking to wolf a meal down in two courses, we opted to share a range of smaller dishes. After a round of delicious freshly baked breads and infused oils came thinly rolled classic Neapolitan...

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