Edinburgh – Pandamonium

No it’s not a typo, on Sunday we got to see Tian Tian and Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo.

Oi where’s me bamboo

You have to book a special ticket at the Zoo website to get a slot. It does not cost anymore than a normal Zoo entry (£13.95 adult £9.90 nipper),  but they can be quite hard to get on busy weekends. Our slot was at 3pm and we had timed it perfectly as the male panda Yang Guang (Sunshine) had just woken up having heard the keepers getting his bamboo ready. Pandas strike me as a bit of an evolutionary oddity seeing that they eat  a plant that is both very low in nutrient value and packed full of deady cyanide. They have to spend up to 18 hours asleep everyday just to digest it.

Ah that’s better

Needless to say about the first thing he did when he woke up was to have a massive poo followed by a handstand to rub his arse against the grill. Apparently this is scentmarking his territory and pandas are very territorial beasts.

We then moved outside to see Tian Tian (Sweetie), who was having a kip in her enclosure.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Now another evolutionary quirk about pandas is that the females only come into season for two days a year and when Tian Tian came into season earlier this year Yang Guang only cottoned on to what he was supposed to do by the time it was over. It’s hardly any wonder they are an endangered species!

When Tian Tian is not in season the animals have to be kept in separate enclosures because of their territorial needs. By the time we had finished taking pictures of the comatose Tian Tian, Yang Guang had moved into his external enclosure.

Get your noggin out of the way Mrs there’s some bloke trying to take a photo behind you

Where most of the time was spent hiding behind a tree noshing on bamboo.

Bamboo, my favourite.

It was a great day out and we were really lucky to see one of the pandas being active. The weather was brilliant unlike London where poor old Brenda had her parade rained on.

London Baker Street -The Game is Afoot on the Sherlock Holmes Trail

Just before a bit of snow completely paralysed Olde London Town this weekend, we were off to the West End for an investigation into the realm of the great detective.

London’s most famous street

Baker Street runs from Regent’s Park in the north down to Oxford Street. The tube station was one of the first underground stations in London, opening in 1863 as part of the Metropolitan Railway. When you exit onto Marylebone Road you just can’t miss the nine foot high bronze statue of Sherlock Holmes created by John Doubleday.

You have no choice but to look up to Mr Sherlock Holmes

Unveiled in 1999, it must be one of only a few statues of fictional characters in London. The only other one I can think of is Paddington Bear at Paddington Station.

Turning north into Baker Street we headed for 221B. Now there is not a little controversy over this address, since in the late 19th century when the stories were first published Baker Street only went up to number 100. The higher numbers were allocated in the 1930s after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s death and 221 was given to the headquarters of the Abbey National Building Society, who sensing a great PR opportunity  employed someone to answer the many letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes.

The disputed 221B Baker Street

Then in 1990 the number 221B was assigned to The Sherlock Holmes Museum when the publicity hungry Leader of Westminster Council, Shirley Porter (yes her of the gerrymandering scandal of 1996) unveiled a blue plaque at the Museum’s official opening. Only thing was that the museum was really located between numbers 237 and 241.   I make that 239, so it must have confused the poor postman. An almighty row then broke out between the Abbey National, the Sherlock Holmes Museum and Westminster Council over who should answer the mail of someone who didn’t really exist. This was only really resolved when the Spanish Bank Santander took over Abbey and closed down Abbey’s HQ in a frenzy of corporate asset stripping in 2005.

So we joined the queue outside the museum, never questioning the fact that we were waiting to get into the house of someone from the imagination of an author. Once the friendly Peeler on the door let us in (admission is £6, tickets from the ground floor shop) we climbed the 17 steps to Sherlock Holmes’s sitting room. Now the actual building had been a Victorian lodging house so the recreation of the study with its two windows looking out on Baker Street had been very well imagined, down to the VR picked out on the wall in bullet holes,

Queen Victoria’s royal cypher in bullet holes

the Persian slipper on the mantlepiece for Holmes’s pipe tobacco,  his chemistry set in the corner and of course his violin.

The Great Detective’s violin and chemistry lab

On the table were the famous hat, pipe and magnifying glass, although it’s highly unlikely the Deerstalker would have been worn around town.

The famed Deerstalker, pipe and glass

Next door to the study we found Holmes’s bedroom, and up on the second floor we found those of Dr Watson and their landlady Mrs Hudson. These rooms and those above house various bits of Holmes memorabilia including the head of the hound of the Baskervilles,

Head of the Hound

and some tatty mannequins in posed dioramas of from the stories. Right at the top of the house we found the smallest room.

Yes the Khazi of Sherlock Holmes

Having finished nosing around the house, we had a poke around the ground floor shop and discovered it to be full of old tat.

Leaving the shop we turned south passing the London Beatles Shop, on our way to the Sherlock Holmes Hotel (100 Baker Street) for cocktails. Actually it’s not so strange having s Beatles Shop on Baker street as John Lennon lived at no 96 Baker Street, for a while during the 1960s.

The Sherlock Holmes Hotel

The Sherlock Holmes Hotel is very swish, a doorkeeper even ushered us in from the cold to the warmth of the cocktail bar where we settled down for drink. Cocktails are between £7 and £8 a go, plus a service charge, so we only stayed for one. I had a Sherlock’s Manhattan, not sure if Holmes ever tried one, but it was very pleasant.

Cocktails at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel

A bit more attuned to my budget was The Barley Mow (8 Dorset Street, just off Baker Street).

Yeah I know the Y has dropped off

What a discovery, this is alleged to be the oldest pub in Marylebone and inside it still has the Victorian drinking booths that seat up to six people (at a squeeze) in secrecy. It also had a fine array of real ales including a hand drawn milk stout, just like Guinness but without the fizz. Added to that friendly bar staff and no music it goes on my list of London’s top pubs.

By the time we left it was getting quite cold, so we hotfooted it to The Royal China Club (40-42 Baker Street) for an early dinner. Here’s a confession I’d booked the wrong restaurant, there is another Royal China further down Baker Street, which was the place recommended to us by one of Mab’s friends. The Royal China Club is the sort of restaurant where the fish tanks are not just for decoration, which I’m not knocking, but it may have been a bit pricier than we expected. However we still managed a meal of Dim Sung followed by a main course with rice and a bottle of indifferent wine for about £100 for three. The prawn dim sung were nothing special, but the lamb buns and the puff pastry pork were fabulous. The Szechuan Chicken I had as a main was wonderful, as was Mab’s Golden Fried Crispy Chicken. For dessert we tried the ice cream dim sung, stretchy uncooked dim sung dough with a vanilla ice cream centre, very nice if a little strange.

It was as much as we could do to waddle down Baker Street to get the tube from Bond Street Station before the snow came down.

Chinese Style Creamy Chicken Curry

I threw this little beauty together last night.

Creamy Chicken Curry

It’s quite a good dish to use up whatever leftover veg you may have in the house.

So into some hot oil goes one chopped onion, four cloves of smashed up garlic, a finger sized bit of chopped ginger and two green chilis. Once the onions had softened off a bit in went some green pepper and a diced up chicken breast with two teaspoons full of Chinese Five Spice powder.

Once the chicken was sealed, as I didn’t have any rice wine or sherry in the house, in went a splash of white vermouth to lift the caramalised juices from the pan and a bunch of sliced mushrooms and three teaspoons of Chinese curry powder. A good splash of dark soy sauce will draw the liquor out of the mushrooms before adding enough water to almost cover the contents of the pan, put it back on the heat and chuck in a chicken stock cube and some green beans.

Let the liquid reduce and shortly before serving add a pot of creme fraiche to give it that nice creamyness. Serve on a bed of rice.

It will also work with any other meat or seafood, leeks or peas are good too.

Saturday Night on the South Bank

When I was a kid and indeed a young adult the South Bank of the Thames was a bit of a dump. It’s been a bit poshed up in the last couple of years and is now quite a cool place to hang out of the evening.

On Saturday night we had a booking at Dim T, the Asian fusion restaurant overlooking the London Assembly building and Tower Bridge.

View from upstairs at Dim T

Dim T is sandwiched between a branch of Strada (a pretty good general pizza and pasta chain, but this one has a great view over HMS Belfast and the Tower of London) and that overpriced South American joint Gaucho. I hadn’t eaten in Dim T before, but I had heard some promising reports of it. To start we had edamame beans and prawn crackers followed by four baskets of dim sum. By fortunate serendipity we kicked off with the prawn and scallop, then the spicy prawn, the spicy beef and then the wasabi and chicken which were the best of the lot and not unbearably hot either. I followed up with sweet and sour chicken Hong Kong style and stir fried noodles. Now don’t get me wrong, because I love that toxic orange sweet and sour that you get from lots of Chinese places, but this was beautifully subtle in flavour without the violent colouring. My friends katsu curry and green Thai curry were also very flavoursome too.

Jasmine Flower Tea

Complete with drinks, wine and desert the bill only came to £95, which given the location was pretty good value.

Still the night was young so after having given up on getting served at All Bar One we headed for the Most Bar, which is under Tower Bridge with a a great view across the river. I’m surprised that more people don’t know about this this place. It has a good selection of beers and the very friendly eastern European staff can mix a fearsome cocktail, like this strawberry Caipirinha.

Strawberry Caipinha

Apparently the space the bar occupies used to be the coal store for the engines that raised Tower Bridge, ~I think a bar is a much better use of space.

Chinese Style Prawn Bruschetta

Ever wondered what to do with one of those pots of Hoisin sauce left over from a supermarket crispy Chinese duck pack.

Chinese Style Prawn Bruschetta

First slice and toast some nice crusty bread and set aside.

Then into a frying pan with some oil, add a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, some chopped chilis and of of those small packs of bacon bits. Chuck in a packet of small prawns, two teaspoons of Chinese curry powder, two teaspoons of Chinese chili sauce and the Hoisin sauce. Reduce liquid and chuck in some frozen peas. after a couple of minutes spoon onto the bread and eat.

 

Will serve four as a starter.