Dinner at the OXO Tower, Sneaking up the Shard and Drinks on the Upper Deck

The OXO Tower

The OXO Tower

It used to be the fancy face of the Liebig Extract of Meat Company’s cold store, but like many of the buildings on London’s South Bank the Oxo Tower, named after the manufacturer’s stock cubes, had a bit of makeover and is now home to a bunch of trendy shops and galleries. The Art Deco tower dates to 1929 and was designed by Albert Moore. On the 8th floor of the building there is a rather swish and expensive restaurant, the Oxo Tower Brasserie. Normally its a bit out of our price range, but we got one of those Booktable deals with three courses and a cocktail, that they use to fill the joint in the early evening and at £30 each we thought let’s treat ourselves.

The thames from the Oxo Tower

The Thames from the Oxo Tower

Sadly we could not get an outside table to enjoy the great outdoors, but you can still enjoy the full panorama of London’s riverside through the fully glazed wall. Our table was situated next to the open plan kitchen so we got tantalising glimpses of every tempting  morsel that was passed over to the waiting staff. Our seasonal cocktail, the Sherry Collins arrived as we perused the ‘deal menu’. A blend of lemon vodka, elderflower syrup with a dash of fino sherry and garnished with a sprig of herbs it was very refreshing. I started with the Stilton salad which was a jolly nice confection of cheese, chervil and sultanas, while Mab had the battered Thai chicken. I tried a bit of her ‘posh chicken nugget’, the batter was really crisp and crunchy. For our main we had the comfit of duck, which was served with green lentils and a really nice onion jam. It was very good although it could have been a touch crisper. To finish we both plumped for the Eton Mess with strawberry, meringue and real fruit jam in cream lovely. To drink we had a bottle of the painfully overpriced house white a real rip at £25, but then you are paying for the view.

The Shard

The Shard

Speaking of paying for the view we decided to try the Shangri La Hotel’s cocktail bar in the Shard on the way home. Having sized up the cost of going to the observation deck at  the top for £25 and thought better of it, the Shangri La initially looked better value until we were told that there was a £35 minimum spend. To be honest for £35 I ‘d expect to get totally sloshed,  so we declined, however I did get a picture from the 32nd floor lobby area, so mission accomplished I say, take that forces of international capitalism.

view from the 32nd floor of the Shard

View from the 32nd floor of the Shard

Still fancying a drink on our way back to Tower Gateway Station we popped into the Upper Deck at HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast

Just so that you are nice and confused the Upper Deck isn’t on the old battleship itself, but on a platform above the ticket office on the riverbank.

Tower Bridghe from the Upper Deck

Tower Bridge from the Upper Deck

Drinks are a bit pricey, but not unreasonable given that it’s a rather cool place to watch the sunset over London.

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Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact simon.ball3@btopenworld.com for commercial reuse

 

Little Venice

We took a trip to Bristol last week and London Underground got us to Paddington with time not only for breakfast, but a brief walk along the Regents Canal before our train left.

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The smog full of dust from North Africa imposed a hazy kind of light, but I was delighted to find a couple of red headed pochard dabbling in the murky depths.

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They are pretty little ducks and not that common. Even their eyes are red.

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It had been a long time since I was here last and the area has had a bit of a makeover with some nice looking bars and restaurants, not to mention the odd sculpture.

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This one is called Standing Man by Sean Henry.

However we couldn’t hang about, a really tasty breakfast at the Sloe Bar in Paddington Station beckoned, £8.75 for full English with black pudding and a cafe late included, knocks spots of airport rip off joints.

Cocktails and a Chinese Meal in London’s West End

Last Saturday took us into London’s west end for a bit of shopping and more importantly a slap up feast at Wong Kei in China Town, but first we took a diversion to the old Simpsons of Piccadilly (203-205 Piccadilly) for cocktails on the 5thView cocktail lounge.

View from the Coctail Lounge at the Waterstones bookshop

View from the Cocktail Lounge at the Waterstones bookshop

The old Simpsons is now a monster huge Waterstone’s Bookshop with the 5th floor converted to a cocktail lounge. the photo above was taken back in 20011, the present view is blighted by a bunch of cranes. To be honest the cocktail lounge seems a bit blighted too, the decor is looking decidedly shabby, despite the website’s claims of refurbishment and the service is slow and unknowledgable. As to the cocktails they are I suppose average priced for London at between £7 and £11, but the snacks (£3 for a tiny bowl of nuts) are a bit of a rip. I had a gin sour, it was nothing special, but the £40 bill for the four of us left me feeling a bit sour too.

Wong Kei (41-43 Wardour Street) is a bit of a Soho legend. It’s one of the largest Chinese restaurants in the UK with seating for 500 guests and a reputation for having some of the rudest waiting staff in the UK. Oddly enough this is one of the things that drags people in and although service is shall we say a little brusque it is quick and efficient as diners are processed as quickly as possible to make way for more customers. Personally I found that most welcome, as there is nothing I hate more than having to hang around for the bill and my change. If you are dining as a couple or a small group, be warned that you may end up sharing a table with other diners, a bit like Chartier in Paris.

Wong Kei

Wong Kei

There are some odd things on the menu including deep-fried intestines and chicken with jellyfish, but I went for the vegetarian pancake rolls to start followed by the Sweet and sour chicken with rice. The pancake rolls were delicious, especially with the lethally hot chili and black bean sauce and the chicken was pretty good too. What with a bottle of Pinot Grigio I liked the bill too, when it only came to £58 for the four of us (Cash only no cards).

The building Wong Kei is situated in has an interesting history as it used to belong to theatrical wig maker and costumier Willy Clarkson (1861-1934). You can if you look up to the clock see the words costumier and perruquier on its face. Designed by the architect H M Wakeley, plaques by the restaurant’s door attest to the foundation stone being laid by  Sarah Bernhardt in 1904 and the coping stone by sir Henry Irving the following year. Clarkson occupied the premises until 1940.

Midsummer in Richmond

Okay so this is old news but on Midsummer’s Day we paid a visit to Richmond Park to see how the deer were getting on.

Red Deer Richmond Park

Red Deer Richmond Park

It wasn’t long before we found a herd of red deer. The deer are quite chilled at the moment because the mating season does not kick in until later in the year when things start to get a little more unpredictable and potentially dangerous as we found out back in October 2011

Spot the stag

Spot the stag

If you click to enlarge the photo above you can see that the deer with his head turned to the left has the beginning of a pair of antlers growing from his skull. By October these will be bloody enormous and he will be using them to fight with other stags for possession of these lovely ladies.

Red deer - stag to the left

Red deer – stag to the left

Here he is again on the left.

We also got to see some of the park’s shyer fallow deer. They made a dash through the red deer herd,

Red and fallow deer

Red and fallow deer

and over the road to hide in the undergrowth.

Fallow deer

Fallow deer

As you can see the stags have the beginnings of antlers, although they seem a touch more developed than those of the red deer.

Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact simon.ball3@btopenworld.com for commercial reuse

Classic London Underground Locomotive at the Epping and Ongar Railway

Back in 1994 London Transport closed down the Ongar extension of the Central Line from Epping station, so it wasn’t without a little sense of  irony that we found that the Epping and Ongar Railway, who now operate a heritage railway on the track, had got together with the London Transport Museum to run some very special trains to celebrate the 150th anniversary of London Underground.

Metropolitan No.1 built in 1898

Metropolitan No.1 built in 1898

We’d visited the Epping and Ongar Railway before (read about it here) but the opportunity to ride in a real piece of London’s history was too good to miss. Lots of people had had the same idea and the railway’s fleet of historic buses were all busy moving people from Epping Underground Station to the railway’s start point at North Weald Station.

Classic London Transport RT buses at North Weald Station

Classic London Transport RT buses at North Weald Station

Ready and waiting on the platform wee a variety of historic Metropolitan Line carriages that used to run on the tracks between central London  and stations out in Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Vintage Metropolitan Line carriages

Vintage Metropolitan Line carriages

The star of the show was carriage No.353 which was built in 1892 and ran on the line up to 1906 when it was sold to the Weston, Clevedon  and Portishead Railway.

Carriage 353

Carriage 353

It eventually ended up as a a military tailors workshop before being lovingly restored by the London Transport Museum. We paid a £5 supplement on the day ticket price of £20 to ride in the plush velvet First Class luxury of  what we were told was the Queen’s carriage of No. 353.

Plush velvet interior of Carraige 353

Plush velvet interior of Carriage 353

Taking us to Ongar was an old British Railways locomotive,

British Railways steam locomotive

British Railways steam locomotive

but waiting for us at the other end was Metropolitan No.1, which was going to pull us back to North Weald.

Metropolitan No.1 steams back to link up with our train

Metropolitan No.1 steams back to link up with our train

Metropolitan No. 1 was built in 1898 and it is the oldest surviving locomotive from the age of steam on London Underground’s Metropolitan Line. We had to change carriages as our special red ticket upgrade was only valid one way and our carriage for the return leg had an interior restored back to World War II complete with air raid instructions.

Air raid instructions

Air raid instructions

and a pre Harry Beck (the guy who designed the classic tube map) map of the Metropolitan Railway.

Metropolitan Line Map

Metropolitan Line Map

Arriving back at North Weald we also got to see the other London Transport steam locomotive L.150 as it got up steam to take the train back up the line, before heading off to Theydon Bois for a few drinks at The Queen Victoria and a curry at the Theydon Bois Balti House.

London Transport L.150 getting up steam

London Transport L.150 getting up steam

It was a fabulous day out so a big thank you to the volunteers at the Epping and Ongar Railway and the people from the London Transport Museum who made this trip back into history possible.

Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact simon.ball3@btopenworld.com for commercial reuse

Daimler Hire Company Garage- Herbrand Street London

Having arrived in Russell Square just a touch to early for my film screening last night I went exploring up Herbrand Street and found this rather magnificent building.

Daimler Hire Building

Daimler Hire Building

Actually it was a rediscovery. I had first come across the Daimler Hire Company Garage six or seven years ago when I emerged blinking into the sunlight from one of those dreadful corporate “fun days” at the Holiday Inn. Having just endured seemingly endless hours of motivational pep talks about why we should aspire to be like Tesco (what’s so great about pricing every independent retailer off the high street?) and having to role play senior managers masturbatory Dragon’s Den and Apprentice fantasies,

I love a bit of Art Deco

I love a bit of Art Deco

discovering the sparkling white Art Deco building with its sweeping curves and verdigris green painted doors and window frames was an instant relief .

The photographs don’t really do Wallis, Gilbert and Partners 1931 building justice, I only had my little Sony Cyber Shot, it was getting dark and it’s hard to frame such a large structure in a narrow London Street. As the name suggests it was at one time the garage for a prestigious car hire firm that supplied luxury chauffeur driven limousines to wealthy customers including Buckingham Palace. In 1958 it was sold to Hertz and ceased trading under the name of Daimler in 1976. The present occupants of the building are McCann Erikson the advertising agency

On the Curve - present owners McCann

On the Curve – present occupants McCann

Architects Wallis, Gilbert and Partners designed several iconic Art Deco buildings including the Hoover Factory in Perivale and London’s Victoria Coach Station.

The Egyptianate way out

The Egyptianate way out

Without such architectural wonders Poirot would be a dull show indeed.

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

 

Bald Coots and Psycho Swans – Welcome to Epping Forest’s Connaught Water

Connaught Water is an artificial lake dug in 1880 to drain some of the forest land near Chingford. Named after Prince Arthur Duke of Connaught and Strathean, the seventh child of Queen Victoria and the First Ranger of Epping Forest. It soon became a local tourist attraction for east end folk who fancied a paddle and then in 1888 a certain Miss Searle was granted permission to hire row boats. The row boats went in the mid 1970s, but it’s still a popular place for people who want to enjoy the birds or walk their dogs.

Mandarin Duck - Connaught Water

Mandarin Duck – Connaught Water

This year the mallards, teal and pochard have been joined by mandarin ducks (find out more about Epping Forest’s mandarins here). I was pretty pleased with this shot of a drake and duck, showing the contrast between the colourful male and the drab female.

Drake and Duck

Drake and Duck

Of course the duck’s less opulent plumage helps to keep her disguised from predators when she is brooding on the nest, but there were no baby mandarins to be seen over the weekend. There were some coot chicks though.

Coot chick

Coot chick

The funny thing about the coot chicks is that with that red colouration around the head you’d quite easily mistake them for young moorhens and you can see where the expression ‘bald as a coot’ comes from too. The Mute swan also had some young.

Mute Mum and Cygnets

Mute Mum and Cygnets

This mum had eight cygnets and very well behaved they were too.

Keep up kids

Keep up kids

Unlike their father. We dubbed him Psycho Swan a couple of years ago when we saw him pick up a coot by the neck and throw it aside in a feeding frenzy, but on Saturday it was one of the Canada geese that had upset him.

I'm gonna getcha

I’m gonna getcha

The poor goose wasn’t safe on land or water!

Connaught water is about a mile from Chingford with limited parking.

Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact simon.ball3@btopenworld.com for commercial reuse

I Take a Walk with Dinosaurs in London’s Own Jurassic Park

No matter what way you look at them dinosaurs are pretty cool. Let’s face it what isn’t to like about things that are big and dangerous, but have been dead for so long that they could never have eaten you or any of your family!

Gwwwr

Grrrrrrrrr

What I find even more fascinating is how science has tried to make sense of these creatures since their discovery only 200 or so years ago. It was relatively easy to reconstruct the marine reptiles that Mary Anning first excavated in Lyme Regis.

Crystal Palace's Marine reptiles

Crystal Palace’s Marine reptiles

The sediments of the early ocean had preserved complete skeletons of the creatures and in some deposits in Germany even the outline of the animals’s bodies, but it was more problematic with the fragmentary remains of the first terrestrial dinosaurs that were found in the UK. All the early palaeontologists had to go on were the skeletal plans of existing reptiles like crocodiles and monitors, so the early reconstructions were of creatures that scuttled through the undergrowth on splayed legs, dragging their bellies along the ground.

Got any fish? Icthyosaur -Crystal Palace

Got any fish? ichthyosaur Crystal Palace

By the mid 19th century Richard Owen (the man who invented the name dinosaur) had worked out from the thighbones of creatures like Iguanodon and Megalosaurus, that they actually stood upright on straight legs like an elephant or a rhino. These new-found ideas about what these creatures looked like really fired the public’s imagination. So much so that when the Crystal Palace Company decided to relocate the 1851 Great Exhibition buildings from Kensington to Sydenham Hill, they hired the sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins to populate one of the ornamental lakes with replicas of these prehistoric creatures.

Pterodactyl - Crystal Palace

Pterodactyl – Crystal Palace

Waterhouse worked with Richard Owen to ensure that when his models were finally unveiled in 1854 they were as accurate as possible, although compared to the more graceful creatures that we know these animals to have been now, some of Owen’s reconstructions still look like lumbering beasts.

The mighty Megalosaurus

The mighty Megalosaurus

And as for the horn on Iguanadon’s nose we now know it’s really a spiky thumb,

Iguanadons - Crystal Palace

Iguanodon – Crystal Palace

that might have been used to poke hie enemies in the eye.

In Jurassic Park Dr Alan Grant was rather alarmed when he discovered some of these,

Icthysaurus 5but I think that particular egg may have belonged to one of these present day descendents of the dinosaurs.

Greylag goose - Crystal Palace

Greylag goose – Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace is easy to reach from central London with frequent London Overground services and mainline trains from London Bridge.

All aboard graphic at Crystal Palace Railway Station

All aboard graphic at Crystal Palace Railway Station

Just take a right into the park on exiting the station and follow the path past the athletics stadium to reach the lake.

Labyrinthodon

Labyrinthodon

Emanuel Peruvian Restaurant – South East London

There’s nothing Shipscook’s Stuff likes better than a food adventure and Saturday night saw us venture into London’s south-east in search of a little piece of Peru. Peruvian food was supposed to be the new big thing last year and although it didn’t quite catch on in the way that Mexican has, London now has a number of Peruvian restaurants. Most of the ones in town are pretty expensive, but when we got a recommendation from a Peruvian pal about a little place in Elephant and Castle with the best roast chicken in town we just had to investigate.

Finding the place was the first part of the adventure, since living north of the river Elephant and Castle is somewhere we’d rarely ventured to before. (The name is derived from an old coaching inn mentioned in Shakespeare. It had a sign with an elephant and howdah, which was the emblem of the cutlers who used elephant ivory for the handles of knives and spoons. So sadly it isn’t a corruption of The Infanta de Castile the name reputably given to a another boozer founded by a returning Peninsula War veteran by local residents). However once we’d orientated ourselves at the roundabout we soon found Amelia Street just off the Walworth Road.

Emanuel is situated in the basement of a budget hotel. Once inside we shown to our table by a very pretty waitress and using our rubbish fractured Spanish explained that we had phoned through earlier in the week to book a roast chicken dinner for four, although only three of us could make it (If you want the chicken it’s essential to give them notice). She then explained that no we would not need any starters (although from the menu they did look intriguing) presented us with a bottle of alarming coloured Inca Kola which was included in the £25.99 price.

Inca Kola

Inca Kola

It looked even more radioactive in the glass.

glowy fizzy goodness

glowy fizzy goodness

but it tasted great. I haven’t a clue what its supposed to be flavoured with, but the taste reminded me of the pineapple cube sweets I used to buy on the way home from school back in the 1960s and Juicy Fruit chewing gum. Anyhing that tastes this good is probably very bad for you!

Complete with a huge salad, three sauces and a mountain of chips the chicken finally arrived.

Best chicken and chips ever

Best chicken and chips ever

The four chicken quarters were perfectly cooked with the naturally secret blend of herbs and spices imparting a really wonderful flavour, the blend certainly included chili. As if there wasn’t enough chili in the spice rub the chili sauce was almost thermonuclear and as for the chips, they were delicious especially the ones at the bottom of the plate that had steeped in the chicken juices.

To be honest the meal would easily have done four people (as it is indeed intended for), but the three of us ate every scrap, it was fabulous.

So what’s the damage? Complete with a bottle of Spanish white, a whopping bargain £40.45!

Emanuel is at 18 Amelia Street, London SE17, nearest tube Elephant and Castle or catch the 35 from Liverpool Street or London Bridge mainline. To book a chicken dinner call 020 3556 0670. Cash only no credit cards!

Saturday on the South Bank

London’s South Bank has moved on a long way since I were a lad. Back when everything was in black and white it didn’t really matter that the Brutalist structures of the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth hall and the Hayward Gallery (which were about the only leisure developments on the south side of the river) were a drab grey. It sort of matched the monochrome world of the early sixties. Forget about the Beatles, David Hemmings and the Shrimp, this was the London of decaying warehouses and bomb damage.

It’s much more fun now, so with a few spare hours I took a wander down from Waterloo past the South Bank Centre, the National Theatre and the Oxo Tower to the Tate Modern.

The Tate Modern

The Tate Modern

I have said before that for the architects of the modern era power stations fulfilled the role of the cathedral in terms of grandeur and spectacle. The Bankside Power station that now houses the Tate Modern’s collection is no exception to that, despite being designed as late as the 1950s. Architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott had a bit of previous here, he had designed Liverpool Cathedral and the rather magnificent Battersea Power Station that is finally being redeveloped a bit further down the Thames. Scott who also designed the classic red GPO phone booth, died in 1960 so he didn’t get to see the building he designed finished. Power generation ended here in 1981 and I do think that the idea to convert the old temple of power into a modern temple of art was really quite brilliant.

I was toying with the idea of visiting the Lichtenstein exhibition that had just opened there, but the queues were so massive that I think I will put that off for another day, maybe midweek to avoid the crowds. The galleries were still pretty busy, with Guardianista parents allowing their little Brunos and Kumquats, who are evidently bored stupid, to express themselves  everywhere. Still I had a good wander around enjoying the Dalis, Ernsts and the odd Gilbert and George. I didn’t bother with any photos as the reproductions in art books are so much better, but the view over the Thames from the coffee shop terrace is pretty cool.

St Paul's and the wobbly Bridge from the Tate Modern

St Paul’s and the wobbly Bridge from the Tate Modern

There is a fancy restaurant on the top floor overlooking the Thames which I must try sometime.

Having had my fill of art I wandered back towards the South Bank’s Wahaca to meet, Mab, the Captain and the Powder Monkey. By the National theatre I discovered this bronze statue of Laurence Olivier as Hamlet. Having just written an article about his tempestuous relationship with the lovely Vivien Leigh I had to take a snap despite the poor light.

Laurence Olivier by Connor

Laurence Olivier by Connor

And best of all he didn’t want a fiver unlike the living statues who were frightening the kids further on down the bank.

The South Bank Wahaca has been built out of old shipping containers  and provides a welcome splash of colour against the drab concrete of the National Theatre.

Wahaca South Bank

Wahaca South Bank

The menu is a bit more limited that the branches in Soho, Fitzrovia and Docklands, but we still had a great meal. The only things that let this branch down in my opinion were the lack of the usual tortilla chips and salsa garnish with the main courses and the fact that the Reza Lasagna from the specials board, despite being very tasty came in a positively tiny portion for something that cost over a fiver.