Busting to go to WC

I have a bit of (a weird) obsession with ‘public toilets’ especially historic ones (see previous posts) so I was busting to go to WC at Clapham Common.

I do adore a cheese board, and this one was cheese board/meat board heaven in a heavenly setting.

Sat literally on top of Clapham Common station these converted old toilets perfect that chic shabby look whilst feeling sanitary enough to dive in to the yummy cheeses and meats they specialise in. Lots of dark wood, mirrors and mosaic flooring.  The layout is very good and seats more that you would imagine for a small place.  Even comes completed with curtained booths, perfect for a romantic date.

The night we went, was a scorcher, so it was good to hide underground, however for those who want to enjoy the summer evenings they even have a sizable garden’ area to seat plenty more.

As we sat and enjoyed our wine  (our hostess boasted that they carefully selected the best wines, we ordered the house white, which went down a bit too well) we watched as they chopped charcuterie and cheese and served up plate after plate.  Ours consisted of a range of meats (they did tell us what they were, but I only remember one was rabbit) whatever it was it was exceptionally tasty.  And pretty reasonably priced too.

As far as converted toilets go, this has gone on my ‘favourites’ list.   I am busting to go back, I highly recommend you pay a visit to WC too.

WC From @Telegraph.co.uk

More Info:
www.wcclapham.co.uk

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

 

 

Liberty’s Secret Pub

The Liberty’s of London store is an icon of London, possibly the most beautiful shop in town.

Libertys

Sandwiched between Oxford Circus, Regent’s Street and Carnaby Street, this stunning building fools passers-by,  by its Tudor frontage.  It’s not quite that old, rather it was built  in the 20′s, but the building is still impressive when you realise that the timber came from two ships HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan, look out for the golden ship perched on the top of the building, indicating its nautical connections.

Also note its beautiful mock Tudor chimneys the kind you find on the stunning Hampton Court Palace.  It’s equally impressive inside with its expensive wares, as well as its central Tudor hall, it’s hard to believe the building was designed to be a shop.

If you want to bask in liberty’s splendor some more I highly recommend The Clachan pub, just around the side of Liberty’s on Kingly Street.

clachan

 

This beautiful Victorian pub dates from mid 1890′s (although there has been a pub here since the late 1700′s) and was actually was originally owned by Liberty’s.   Its interior is impressive with its rich wooden decor, carvings, grand mirrors and Victorian tiled floor. It also has an impressive circular bar. It’s an absolute hidden gem, and provides an excellent respite from West End shopping.

… and just so you know..Clachan is Gaelic for ‘meeting place’.

Dates from 1898

Address:

34 Kingly Street
London
W1B 5QH
www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/theclachankinglystreetlondon

Read about some more of London’s fantastic historic pubs at  www.discoveringsecretlondon.co.uk/home/historic-london-pubs

Sunny Days in London

Summer is well and truly on its way, so grab your picnic and check out my guide to London’s best parks.

Regent’s Park
This beautiful park just a short walk from Oxford Street, was built for the Prince Regent in the early 1800s. Today it is still has a very royal feel to it, surrounded by the regents canals and plush regency mansions, its a beautiful respite from the busy city. Particularly make sure you wander through the Avenue Gardens which are very regal and will make you feel like a king.

regents park avenue

Regent’s Park is also the home to London Zoo. If you plan to visit the Zoo, which is the North of the Park, take the zoo canal ride from Little Venice.

Quirky Fact
Regents Park contains a secret garden, The Garden of St John’s Lodge just off the Inner Circle

Primrose Hill
Officially part of Regent’s Park, its so special I just had to add it on separately. This small hill at the very North of Regent’s Park offers the best views in London, and is a beautiful spot for a picnic or bit of sun worshiping. Head down the Hill to Regents Park Road (towards Camden) and enjoy some of Primrose Hill’s cool cafe’s and boutique stores.

Quirky Fact
Primrose Hill is home to numerous notable and famous residents, including Sienna Miller, Rachel Weisz, and Jeremy Clarkson.

Greenwich
Another of my all time favourites, and a great location for London views. You can easily make a day of a visit to Greenwich with it’s quaint market, beautiful Naval College grounds, and the famous Royal Observatory, all overlooking the Thames, and the crazy city CBD. If you don’t have the energy to climb the hill (which I wouldn’t recommend missing out on) it’s just as pleasant to chill out in the grounds of the Naval College overlooking the river.

Quirky Fact
The naval college was once the site of one of London’s most prestigious royal palaces and birth place of Henry VIII.

Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens
A classic must see, stretching all the way from Kensington to Marble Arch, it’s easy to forget your in the city in this beautiful extensive park, surrounded by some of London’s best landmarks including Kensington Palace the Royal Albert Hall, as well as the famous Princess Diana Memorial. The best way to see the extent of it is to jump on a Boris Bike and cycle the park.

Quirky Fact
The famous Marble Arch at the Oxford Street End of the Park was once Arch entrance to Buckingham Palace, but was deemed unsuitable for the royal residence and moved to park instead.

Hampstead Heath
The beautiful Hampstead Heath, is a great relaxing spot, on the side of the quaint Hampstead village, and another great spot for a London view, as the park is London’s highest point. It makes a great escape from the city. It also contains some great walks and there are out door pools as well as historic London houses, such as Ivenforth House, and Kenwood.

hampstead heath

Quirky Fact
For a spooky pint, head to the Spainards Inn, one of London’s most haunted pubs. Which is reputedly haunted by famous Highwayman Dick Turpin, among others.

If you liked this read this:

Top Markets of London

Drinks with a view

Walk the Thames

The secret histories of London’s pubs

London’s busy streets echo with footfall and voices and the rush of traffic and in our heads-down-get-to-work minds, we can be forgive for focusing on the practical and the convenient.

But,beneath the hubbub,secret worlds abound. One such world contains the Inns, Taverns and Pubs of London past.

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Step off the beaten track and you will be rewarded with treasure galore.

Many are the Londoners who tell me they have walked past that building or that alleyway or that turning a hundred times but have never ventured within.

As London has grown over the centuries,the Pubs,often tucked away have remained and are living testament to our desire for company,laughter and alcohol.

Just a few examples of London Pubs waiting behind the scenes are stunning Gin Palaces, a subterranean wine bar-London’s oldest,the Pub that is a Pawnbrokers, banks and coffee houses hat became Pubs, Pubs that Dickens and even Shakespeare drank in,the Pub in 2 halves,the Pub from A Tale of 2 Cities and so much more.

But you need to know where to seek these treasures.

An American once said,”I thought I was an alcoholic,until I went to London” because there are thousands of Pubs to choose from ranging through style and century.

To know London Pubs is to know London.

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Vic Norman runs Dragon and Flagon London Pub Tours.  He is passionate about London, its History and in particular, its wonderful collection of old Pubs.

“No visit to London is complete without sampling a drink (or two) in a traditional London Tavern”.

Join Vic on his next tour on 10th May for the Strand and & Globlet Tour  go to  www.londonpubtours.weebly.com for details of this and other tours.

 

Drinks with a view

With a shortage of space on the ground in our ever expanding city, many restaurants and bars are taking to the skies. And with it come some great views.

Here is our quick guide to top drinks with a view in London

Tate modern Restaurant

This iconic London building has a great top floor restaurant and coffee shop directly opposite beautiful st Paul’s Cathedral. Check out their website for deals when you combine a visit to their current exhibition and a meal. If you want a great view without the expense of dinner, you can also visit their café, which also enjoys the same fab views.
Nearest Station: St Paul’s

Maddison Restaurant & Bar St Pauls

Another great Paul’s viewing spot is the brand new Maddison Restaurant and bar, located at the brand new OneExchange. Situated on the top of this new shopping haven, with its comfy sofa seats and slopping windows, it’s the perfect spot to take in a sunset over the city.
Nearest Station: St Pauls

Sushi Samba

This Fabulous restaurant is located on the 38/39th floor of Heron Tower, London’s third tallest building. Aside from impressive glassy décor, and astounding views (it overlooks the Gherkin and Tower Bridge) and two outdoor terraces it also offers a fun mixture of Sushi and South American cuisine and makes for a great fun night out.
Nearest Station: Liverpool St

Paramount Bar

One of my favourites is situated in the heart of the west over 3 floors (30-33) of Centre Point Tower, the main bar and restaurant on levels 30 & 33m you can take your cocktail up to the viewing platform on level 33 to take in the 360° panoramic views of the city.
Nearest Station: Tottenham Court Road

Tattasall Castle

Not so high up and no so expensive, but still with great views, is the Tattashall Castle. This old passenger ferry now lives out its retirement on the banks of the Thames, opposite the London Eye complete with bars both inside and on the deck. It makes a great little spot for a pint or two in the summer. You can see all the way up the Thames from Parliament to up to St Paul’s.
Nearest Station: Embankment

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Best New View in Town

Mayfair Secrets

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Gems of Portobello Road

The world famous Portobello Road Market, or Notting Hill Markets makes a great morning out, but what is there to do there? You’ll find so much at the markets and I’ve put together my top things to look out for on Portobello Road.

Portobello Road Market

 

Normally I’m keen to avoid tourist hotspots and find the hidden and secret, so I surprised even myself with a trip to Portobello Road Market recently and am surprising myself even more by posting a blog on it.

But truth be told, it’s a hit with the tourists because it’s a hit! There is something very quaint about the whole area, the colourful houses, the history the movie fame, as well as the quirky pubs, and street corner musicians sharing their live talent. And Portobello Road contains many hidden gems.

So here are my top hidden gems of Portobello road market.

My first top secret London tip is how to get there;  most people visit via Notting Hill Gate (On the Central Line). But it is also easily accessed by Ladbroke Grove station (Hammersmith & City Line) and it’s just a short 5 minute walk away (and happily crowdless).

Music Arts & Antiques

Not so much a gem you can take a picture of, but interesting facts to know. The market has been going over 100 years. It originally started life as a few stalls on Portobello lane. In the 1860s many of the houses were built and the market grew in size, even then marketers started to sell bric-a-brac, fashion and the food stalls popped up. It was also around this time that street performers were first seen on the markets. Today the market is world famous, not only for its stalls but for its music and arts, with  quality up and coming musicians on every corner, and its 100 year old Electric cinema (a great place to catch a movie complete with armchair viewing). The Electric even hosts its own film festival every August.

A bite to eat: 
The Ladbroke Grove end is mainly for food; fruit, veg etc. And it’s here you will find a number of great artisan cafes and food stalls; check out the German food van for a traditional currywurst (my personal favourite). For a stylish coffee check out Talkhouse Coffee at No 275 a great stop off for quality coffee and breakfast. Or how about lunch at the quirky (real) Sicilian Cafe Arancina – at the Notting Hill end.  This family owned place makes a great real pizza and the cafe comes complete with a very cool, bright orange Italiano car in the window.

That blue door

The famous blue door of Portobello found its fame in the movie Notting Hill – you know the one where Rhys Ifans  answers the door in his undies to the awaiting paparazzi. Today is no different; spend a moment or two by 280 Westbourne Park Road (corner of Portobello Road) and you’ll see the tourist paparazzi snapping away within minutes.  It’s the treasure of many a tourist’s visit. Interestingly enough the blue door house was home to Notting Hill’s writer/director Richard Curtis who lived here at the time. He is also the writer of many many great British comedies including Blackadder, Mr Bean, Bridget Jones.. the list is endless.

The other blue door

At the other end of Portobello Road (the Notting Hill end) is another more unassuming blue door, and former home to another great British writer, one Eric Arthur Blair, better known to the world as Mr George Orwell. The famous former policeman spent a year in here whilst exploring London life. It was during this time that he would dress as a tramp and wander in the east London slums, researching life what life was like for the London underclasses. After a year here, he moved to Paris and there completed his famous account of this London experience in Down & Out in Paris and London.

 

Orwell may have been surprised to learn that his plush London home itself became a slum after his death. In the 50s Portobello Road and the Notting Hill area fell so far as to be considered one of the most deprived areas in London.  It was also the scene of serious race riots in both the 50s & 70s . Today the area is very much transformed, and is one of the most expensive and exclusive areas of London. Orwell’s former home itself recently went on the market for a mere £2750,000.

Portobello Gold

They say you find gold at the end of the rainbow, well there is gold at the end of Portobello Road (well more in the middle). This little pub is very easy (very easy) to miss in the hustle and bustle of the market, so much that even the door is hard to find behind the crowd of market stalls. But once inside you find an oasis of calm. The upper level at the back looks like a plush tropical conservatory surrounded by huge summery palms (some over 20 years old!). If this isn’t quaint enough for you, check out their rooftop terrace, with stunning views over Kensington. You will also find cosy little tables on set on different levels.  It’s very quaint, and a perfect little gem to escape shopping madness.  I highly recommend you find this secret hidden gem.

Portabello Road Market is open Monday to Saturday 9am – 6pm (until 1pm on Wednesday)

It can be reached by Ladbroke Grove Station or Notting Hill Gate

 

If you liked that read this:

Top 5 Markets of London

The Other Mr Selfridge

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!

A Very Christmassy London

I’ve said it before, but I love the film Love Actually! What I love about it (actually) is because it celebrates, and magnifies London at it’s finest; a very Christmassy London. There aren’t many times in Winter when you can fall in love with this cold, grey and misty city, but at Christmas it comes alive, with sparkle, and colour and excitement. I think Queen Victoria was thinking ahead to her beloved London in future years when she brought home the German traditions of Christmas. And now, I for one, am like a kid at Christmas (excuse the pun) when I hear that first Christmas carol, see that first crane putting up the tinsel on the high street, there is nothing like it. And if you’re not a Londoner, or have never been I would recommend the Christmas season, is a good time, to fall in love with this enchanting city.

So out of all the festivities; the Southbank German Markets, the Carols in Trafalgar square alongside the traditional Norwegian giant Christmas tree, to the crazy surreal winter wonderland in Hyde park, I have scanned the many events and complied a list of the top 5, some classic, some topsecret London hidden gems and even some fictional ones for the wish list (?!)

But before I bring you the top 5, I just have to bring you my most miserable (sadly) Christmassy bit of London (interestingly Love Actually also omitted this one actually). Disappointingly my Christmassy London low is Regent Street. Every year, someone (usually Disney) decide to trash this beautiful royal promenade by sticking up the latest Hollywood animation tacky light show. I’m sure it’s lovely for the kids, but a little disappointing if you ask me. Let us move on quickly.

So top 5 Christmassy London!!!

NUMBER 5…

 Covent Garden…Actually this almost made a low, I remember in previous years it’s been impressively decorated, larger than life; remember the gigantic Christmas tree that contained a Santa’s grotto, the edible ‘Ferrero Tree’ or last year’s Kissmas Tree . So this year, it felt a little lost and a empty I was just about to walk away when I noticed something out the corner of my eye… the LARGEST baubles in the universe. Yes, it clawed its way back into the top 5 with these novelty gigantic Xmas tree decos hanging in the market place. So big they wouldn’t have even made it on to Trafalgar’s Norwegian tree. I love it, worth a visit for those alone.

NUMBER 4…

Number 4 is a classic! Oxford Street! If you accept there will be crowds and chaos, Oxford street after dark (i.e. after 4pm) is simply magical (and much more classic than it’s Regents Street neighbour). Head down to the Bond Street end, and you have the major department stores battling out for X factor of Sparkle (this year a close battle between Selfridge’s (no surprises) and M&S (who also battled it out on the opening night with fireworks and sparkles from both). Then just around the corner, you have arty, classy St Christopher’s place (you know it’s my favourite). All of these were worthy enough for their place in Love Actually!

…And a big shout out for Westminster Council for the quick tidy up of Crossrail clutter (fellow Londoners, you know what I’m talking about!)

NUMBER 3… is the fictional entry (I know you were wondering weren’t you?) Fictional because every time I see it I think “You would make such a lovely Christmas Tree”. As I gaze out my window after dark I see it’s twinkling red and green lights, all it needs is some giant tinsel and and massive star on top (maybe Covent Garden could help). So I’ve already written to Santa asking for it to come true, I’m hoping to wake up Christmas morning….

Yes Number 3 is THE SHARD, and as one tweeter put it perfectly ‘The Shard is like a giant Christmas Tree for all of London’ ..Beat that for size Trafalgar Square.

NUMBER 2…

Top end of my list at No 2 is a secret gem, tucked away a short walk from the Christmas chaos of Oxford street is Store Street, and the delightful South Crescent. There is something about this building that is completely enchanting and mysterious, it looks modern yet old. And at this time of year it comes alive as they dress it up like a Christmas gift, like the secret it is. Known as ‘The Imagination Galley’ this is a gorgeous building inside and out, fashioned into an exclusive gallery/conference venue. But if you’re not privileged enough to get inside, but still hungry for for a bit of culture/architecture check out The Building Centre next door. No this is not the place to buy Uncle Ted his DIY pressies, but rather, it’s a great venue/gallery celebrating architecture (and not so exclusive as it’s imaginative neighbour) they host regular events and seminars for those interested in all things building. And if you peer through the window, by the entrance they have a Fab scale model of London City – and just for the Christmas season they’ve sprinkled it with icing sugar (ok so I made that up, but it’s a another great idea?!)

If all that sounds a bit too cultural and you just want to escape the Christmas crowds, then do stop off anyway. Because right opposite South Crescent is the yummy Busaba Thai (best Thai chain in London Guaranteed!!); you can sit and gaze at the pretty lights from the comfort of your dinner plate!

NUMBER 1….

Top of my list, straight from Love Actually, I am totally in love with …. drum roll…. Somerset House Tiffany Ice Skating. …Well all Christmassy ice skating in London, actually. Somehow they just know how to pick the most beautiful locations, Somerset house being one of them. In the beautiful square court yard with the Tiffany (..hear all the girls sigh) Christmas Tree, I’m sure this historic building on the Thames was made for this moment. It’s like walking, gliding into a romantic Jane Austen picture book… But if Tiffany’s doesn’t do it for you, how about historical Tower of London rink? Or the beautiful Victorian Natural History Museum, or for something more modern there’s the Canary Wharf rink – keep an eye on your shares, on the ice . Or if you want to escape the London madness altogether head over to the stunning Hampton Court.

Just be warned though, ice-skating is the top of most people’s lists, and you will most likely need to book ahead. But the good news is most rinks run through beyond the Christmas period until January.

So there you have it my Christmassy London top 5. It only happens once a year, enjoy every moment, every sparkle. But if that’s really not enough Christmassy London for you, I recommend you buy a copy of Love Actually, it will last a lot longer (that’s what I do, actually, and I love it … actually!)