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.

DSCN0308

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

 

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

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

 

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!

My Old Dutch – London WC1

For as long as I can remember the My Old Dutch Pancake House has been a fixture in High Holborn (132 High Holborn to be precise), but up until this weekend I had never ventured inside the place. I fancied trying somewhere different, but economic on Saturday night when Mab remembered that she used to eat here when she was an impoverished student at the Middlesex Hospital.

An old windmill at My Old Dutch

An old windmill tile at My Old Dutch

So after a few drinks at the Holborn Whippet (a marvelous little boozer in Sicilian Avenue serving craft beers like Adnams Oyester Stout) we decamped to the rustic Dutch splendour of My Old Dutch. The place was absolutely stuffed (mostly with students from London University and UCL, but with a good few tourists as well) so it was just as well that we had made a reservation. The restaurant is on two levels and our table was on the ‘quiet’ ground floor. Downstairs was a bit more rowdy with a bunch of Irish lads celebrating st Patrick’s Day.

We started off with a Dutch sharing platter for two.

Sharing Platter

Sharing Platter

This came with six bitteballen (Dutch meatballs), two slabs of deep-fried cheese, a selection of Edam and gouda cheese and some twists of smoked salmon accompanied with a sour cream and a mustard dip. This high cholesterol treat slipped down a treat even if I did burn the inside of my mouth with a hasty bite of thermonuclear bitteballen. For anyone expecting the mustard dip to be a bland continental affair, think again it’s made with English mustard so expect a bit of a kick.

Then the pancakes arrived.

Good heavens they are massive

Good heavens they are massive

They arrived on massive Delft plates covering them right up to the rim. They looked a bit like pizzas’ only they were on a Dutch pancake rather than a bread base. I had the Hot Dutch,

Hot Dutch

Hot Dutch

a wonderful confection of pepperoni, chorizo, cheese, red chili and tomato. Hot and spicy it reminded me of the Vesuvio pizza that I had enjoyed so much at the El Toro Steakhouse in Salou only with a pancake base that contrary to what I had feared worked really well. I also sample Mab’s ‘build your own’ pancake with chicken, spinach, cheese and chili which was quite nice too. Much to my surprise although the pancake base looks very insubstantial by the time we had munched our way through the main course we were too stuffed to even contemplate a sweet one for dessert!

My Old Dutch has only a very limited wine list, but it does have a good selection of Belgian Beers including Fruli strawberry ale and the draft Heineken at £3.40 a pint is cheaper than most nearby pubs.

So what’s the damage? We paid £97.76 for four people with starters, mains, a potato wedge side, a bottle of Cabernet, two pints and Malteasers shake (just imagine slamming Malteasers in a blender with some ice cream) . Price includes optional service charge.

Would we go back? Yes it has a good ambience, it’s not that expensive and there are lots more things on the menu that I fancy trying. They also do a loyalty card – buy nine pancakes the next one is free!

There are also branches of My Old Dutch at Kensington and Chelsea.

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.

Some Gulls Will

Eat all kind of horrible things out of the mud from the exposed bed of the Thames at low tide.

Juvenile Herring Gulls

Juvenile Herring Gulls

We spotted two species of gull from London’s South Bank on Saturday. I was rather pleased with this picture I took of a juvenile herring gull at the extreme range of my camera lens. curiously there were no adult herring gulls to be seen, just the kids hanging out in the hope of scoring the odd sandwich crust.

Juvenile Herring Gull

Juvenile Herring Gull

The herring gulls were seriously outnumbered by the black headed gulls.

Black Headed Gull

Black Headed Gull

Who are still in their winter plumage so the only trace of the distinctive brown head is the spot behind the eye. The only other birds to be seen down by the river were London’s ever-present feral pigeons and a few carrion crows. We left them to whatever disgusting things they were eating and went to Wahaca.

Old Holborn

We were up in the West End of Old London Town over the weekend. As we exited Chancery Road tube station I spotted this well-known building.

Staple Inn

Staple Inn

This is Staple Inn, which dates back to 1585. It used to be the Wool Staple, where wool brought into London was weighed and taxed, today it is home to the Institute of Actuaries, with some shops on the ground floor.

More people probably have a picture of this building about their house than of any other London landmark, though it won’t be in a photo album or hanging from the wall. No it will be on the lid of that quarter ounce Old Holborn tobacco tin in the kitchen drawer, the garage or the shed, you know the one that is full of old screws, fuses and nails. Even people who have never smoked will probably have one, well either that or a Golden Virginia tin!