Beautiful Bloomsbury Gems

I love Bloomsbury, there is so much to it and here are two little secret Bloomsbury gems.

Check out the gorgeous Norfolk Arms, a pub/restaurant with a fantastic atmosphere and menu.

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Its a great little place for tapassy Sunday roast style quality food. with it’s Victoriania style decor, and its deli items hanging in the window, it has plenty of outdoor seating for some al fresco dining. If you visit on a weekend it’s recommended to book a table to avoid disappointment.

And if the yummy Norfolk Arms menu wasn’t enough for you, cross the road for some comedy history!

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…as just across the road is THE black book store from the cult tv series (13 Leigh Street).

If you’re a fan, these are two Bloomsbury gems you don’t want to miss.

Norfolk Arms
23 Leigh Street
WC1H 9EP
www.norfolkarms.co.uk

 

Discover more historic London pubs

 

 

Mayfair Secrets

Between Bond Street and Piccadilly are a series of luscious lanes full of London secrets and treasures.

South Molton Street

From Bond Street Station head down South Molton Street (located in next to One shopping centre) Today south Molton street boasts of classy shops on a lovely pedestrian street, although was originally known as Poverty lane, reflecting the nature of the neighbourhood of the time. At the end you reach Brook Street and you will find here homes of two of the world’s greatest musicians.

Number 25 is home to the genius composer George Handel. German born, this world renowned composer lived here in London in the 1700s, and it was during his time here that he became a British citizen. It was whilst he lived here that he composed some of his most famous operas, including his masterpiece ‘Messiah’, many of which were performed at the nearby Her Majesties Theatre in Haymarket (today the long running home of Phantom of the Opera) as well as the Covent Garden opera houses. He also composed music for Royal coronations..

Handle lived until his 70s when his health declined and he died. Today he lies buried in Westminster Abbey. His house has been turned into a museum dedicated to him, entrance is just £6 and the museum holds regular talks and performances, and is definitely worth a visit.

Just next door to Handel’s home is that of another great performer, look out for the blue plaque marking Jimi Hendrix’s London flat. (23 Brook Street). It is said that Jimi loved living here in the 60s and he described it as the only real home he ever had. Today there is a secret door way adjoining the Handel House and the Hendrix house and whilst it can’t be accessed by the public it is used by the Handel museum as offices and storage.

Just next to these two famous homes you will find two of London’s luscious lanes. One of which is Avery Row, the other Lancashire Court. These twisty turny lanes seem out of place, but actually they follow the route of one of London’s famous lost waterways The Tyburn.

Lancashire Court

Avery Row, still following the Tyburn, the row takes its name from the bricklayer who cleverly paved over the waterway to make the streets. Avery row is a cute cobbled lane full of bespoke shops, cafes and a pub or two. Lancashire Court is delightful and a great little place to grab a classy bite to eat– it looks like a back street to no-where but inside there it’s a maze of cute shops and exclusive restaurants. In the summer it could easily be mistaken for a cutsie cobbled alley in a Mediterranean town, with everyone sat outside enjoying their dinner (a great little spot for to impress a date).

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Top Markets of London

Check out my quick guide to the top 5 Markets in London

Portobello Road

This famous market in classy Notting Hill  boasts of the world’s largest antiques market, as well as numerous bric-a-brac stalls and yummy organic, and international food stalls.  It started life as small country lane with a few traders serving the local farming community.  In the late 1800s there was a housing boom in the area, and with it the market expanded to the vibrant bustling market we see today.  Its fame has even spread as far as Hollywood, and it’s featured in numerous films, most famously Nottting Hill.   It is a favourite of tourists and celebrities who visit to shop at its many stalls and watch its talented live musicians on every corner.

Quirky fact: George Orwell live at 22 Portobello Road in the 1920s, whilst researching his book Down and Out in Paris and London. His house is today marked by a Blue Plaque
Nearest station: Notting Hill Gate or Ladbroke Grove Station

Borough Market
If its food you’re after a visit to the culinary heaven that is Borough Market is a must!  There has been a food market here since the 1300s.  Today it is a great place to visit and sample every kind of food you can imagine, and you are guaranteed to get fresh quality food.  Its not just a tourist attraction but this market serves many award winning London restaurants and chefs including Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey

Quirky fact: The rounded Victorian Globe pub in Borough Market was the  setting of  Bridget Jones home, in the famous movie.
Nearest station:  London Bridge or Borough

Covent Garden
Probably the most famous market in London, Covent Garden is a beautiful covered market.  You will mainly find arts and crafts, and artistic souvenir items here but at any time of the day its well worth a visit for its vibrant atmosphere. There is plenty to see and do there.  There is always a street performer to entertain you, there is also the impressive London transport museum or of a evening you can attend a performance at the Royal Opera House.  Or you can just sit back and soak up the atmosphere in one of the many piazza cafes.

Quirky fact: London’s frist female public toilet was situated on near by Bedford Street in the 1850s. The guys toilet was located a few miles down the road at Fleet Street.
Nearest Station: Covent Garden or Charring Cross

Camden Market
For culture, check out the very alternative Camden Market.  A short walk from Camden Station, Camden Lock Markets nestled on the side of the Regents Canals is well worth a visit.  Once inside be sure to venture deep into the market and loose yourself in the old Stables. The twisty turny lanes of The Stables are reminiscent of a Moroccan souk.  Look out (or rather you can’t miss) the incredible, incredibly large, horse sculptures dotted around.  Be sure also to get something to eat here or across the road (opposite Camden Lock Market entrance), where you can grab a bite and sit at your leisure on an old moped, over looking the canals.

Quirky Fact:  Be sure to check out he Hawley Arms pub just the other side of the railway bridge. This pub was the famous hang out  Amy Winehouse, as well as playing impromptu gigs, she was known to occasionally get behind the bar and pull pints for punters.
Nearest Station: Camden Town or Chalk Farm

Greenwich Market
For all things quirky combined with a great day out, head over the beautiful Greenwich and Greenwich Market.  This quaint market sells bespoke items among other things hand crafted jewellery, gifts beauty products, and even stylish gift foods.  Aside from the market it is worth exploring historic Greenwich  check out  the restored Cutty Sark, or wander around the stunning historic Royal Naval College, or head up the hill to the Greenwich Observatory to enjoy stunning views of the city.  A day out to Greenwich is an absolute must for any visitor or resident of London.

Quirky fact: check out the Thames Foot  Tunnel. Is the last remaining Victorian pedestrian  tunnel left under the Thames.  This eerie damp tunnel was opened in 1902.  Entrance just next to the Cutty Sark.
Nearest Station: Greenwich Cutty Sark or Greenwich

A load of old wax

I have the privilege of working in London. As I sit at my desk I gaze out across the roof tops of London, out to the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye, even as far as The Shard. Then I swing my chair round and out the window I see the Emerald Dome that is… Madame Tussauds (well technically it’s actually the Planetarium).

I have to say if there is one thing that irritates me about London it’s the obsession with Madame Tussauds; I just don’t get it! Every day I see it, come rain, come shine, queues and queues of people crowding to get in. Why would anyone come all the way to London just to see a bunch of wax figures, worse than that, have their pictures taken with a bunch of wax figures. It wouldn’t be be so bad, but it’s a rather expensive tourist attraction, at £28 (adult). It’s just a load of all wax; wouldn’t you rather get up close and personal with the real thing? And, this being London, there is plenty of opportunity for that. It’s not too hard to cross paths with celebrities in London, I used to bump into Ricky Gervais every day on my way to work a few years ago, they’re everywhere, you just need to know where to look.

A good place to start is with a little research. Leicester Square regularly hosts film premiers, google what’s coming up there. Then there are back stage doors, with over 40 West End theatres, there are plenty to choose from and always a host of big names making their début. The backstage door is a classic for celebrity spotting, they have to leave the theatre at some point. I still remember the day my sister won her long waited for kiss from Christian Slater at a backstage door (I was so embarrassed I was hiding behind the bins across the road – camera in hand to capture the moment of course).

Then there is knowing the right areas, and then it’s as easy as hanging out at a pub on a sunny day or a stroll down the high street. Primrose Hill is a quaint little area of London (close to Regents Park/Camden – and also home to some great London views from the hill itself), many a trendy celeb lives down here such as Chris Martin, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law. Camden down the road is also a classic celebrity haunt; up until recently it was a well known fact that you didn’t need to spend too long over your pint in any Camden pub before coming across the diva of soul herself Amy Winehouse (RIP Amy). Or why not head down to Richmond on Thames on a Sunday afternoon for a movie, because that’s what Brad Pitt and his brood are currently doing every Sunday.

If you are satisfied in seeing wax-like-lifeless celebrities but would prefer to save yourself £30 then make you’re way down to Highgate cemetery, resting place for lots of history’s greats such Karl Marx, writers George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) and Douglas Adams, cinema revolutionist Carl Mayer, Charles Dickens’s family, and that TV hero Jeremy Beadle! (you might have to be English to appreciate that one). And if the showbiz names on graves doesn’t impress you the graves themselves might, the Cemetery is well known for it’s impressive Victorian, and Gothic architecture.

Night life is also another must for celebrity spotting. One very famous haunt is The Ivy restaurant near Covent Garden. You’ll be unimpressed by the exterior, but inside, those walls have seen much that the newspapers haven’t. You will have to wait outside to see the celebrities though, as it’s impossible to get a table here unless you have an Oscar on you or £100k in your pocket.

If you want meet some royals forget the palaces and make your way down to Mahiki in Mayfair, a favourite night club of the Princes (before Marriage tamed William). And yet again you will need to have married a prince to get through the door here (or afford a drink!).

Just up the road is the Punchbowl Pub, a beautiful Georgian pub with original features, owned by none other than Madonna & Guy Ritchie (well almost, Guy gained full custody of Punchbowl in the divorce a few years ago). With a stream of celebrities through the doors, it’s a little more authentic and historical than Mahiki. But be warned the pub was investigated by authorities a few years ago for charging tourists higher prices than the regulars.

So you see there are plenty of places to get your photo snapped with a celebrity, and so much more to London than Madame Tussauds.

Of course as much as I complain about the institution that is Madame Tussauds, I actually have a lot of respect for the woman herself. She was a revolutionary business woman of her time. In the early days she led a travelling show of her wax works having gained her skill sculpting death masks of those killed in the guillotine in France. It was the freak-show of it’s time (hmm well I guess not too much has changed since then) later her work progressed as important people (Kings and dignities) began asking for their image to be preserved in 3d, the oldest of these models is the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ waxwork modelled on French Madame Du Barry (Louix XV’s mistress) back in 1763. Eventually she settled her show for a brief while round the corner on Baker street then moved to the building that now is Madame Tussauads today, a building designed and purposed for the show, a business that has gone on successfully for over 200 years and stretched world wide. That’s quite an entrepreneurial spirit for a woman of that time, and an inspiration. Donald Trump would be so proud of her.

So next you walk past Tussauds and see her image emblazoned on the side (it’s the one that looks like the backside of a penny), be inspired by a woman who knew how start a successful business, …then just keep on walking past, with your £30 safe inside your wallet!