Jack the Ripper the Musical

When I discovered that out local operatic society was putting on a musical based upon a vicious serial killer who horribly mutilated the prostitutes he murdered, I was intrigued to see how it would be done. The tickets were only a tenner so we thought why not make a night of it.

I have to say I actually enjoyed it very much. All of the cast and the band were very good and were obviously having great fun performing, while for an amateur company the costumes, make up and props were excellent. The musical itself was by Ron Pember and Denis de Marne and is mostly set within a Music Hall where the songs and sketches enact the story of the ripper murders. Some quite serious social points about the filth and poverty of the East End and how the working girls of Whitechapel were held in contempt by the upper classes were made, but there were also some laughs to be had. I particularly enjoyed the prostitute and music hall barker’s parody of Queen Victoria and her commissioner of police, while the policemen dressed as women complete with helmets and moustaches was as good as anything the Two Ronnies had ever done. A very naughty touch was the trial where the suspects included a Prince Albert, Duke of Clarence who was wearing a Prince William mask.

What with a couple of very generous glasses of wine from the Lopping Hall bar and a tasty kebab from Loughton BBQ on the walk home we had a super night out for just under £40, so well done Loughton Operatic Society.

Folkies, Goths, German Lager and a Cinema – A Few More Edinburgh Pubs

While we are in Edinburgh it won’t come as a surprise that we like to try visit a few pubs.

Me at the Captains

On Friday night we went to the Banshee Labyrinth in Niddry Street. This is reputed to be Edinburgh’s most haunted pub. Part of this boozer is the subterranean vaults formerly frequented by Edinburgh’s cut throats and thieves, while the rest was part of a house owned by Lord Nicol Edwards, the richest man in Edinburgh. Inside are seven rooms, including three bars and a cinema, and there is regular free live rock music, which keeps Edinburgh’s Goths and rockers happy. We could only stay for one as we had a table booked at Mother India (see Beer and Curry Tapas for details) but I think the Labyrinth will repay a further visit.

Oddly enough the Labyrinth is the sister pub to one we know fairly well, The Black Rose Tavern on Rose Street. This place is much smaller but has a decent choice of music (Zeppelin, REM, Prodigy etc) and hosts an open mike rock karaoke which can be quite funny. Not much of a choice of beer though, unlike The Black Cat (168 Rose Street) which has some excellent ales, including West’s St Mungo lager, which is brewed to German purity laws in Glasgow of all places. It also has an interesting menu which I think makes a future visit quite likely.

On Saturday afternoon we had a drink in The Captain’s Bar in South College Street. We first discovered this boozer during the Festival last year.

The Captain's Bar

It’s quite an eccentric little pub serving McEwans and Deuchars, that still has many of it’s original working features like these taps on the bar.

Just the thing to add water to your whisky at the Captain's Bar

It is also home to a vibrant folk music scene and can get quite packed of an evening. Not far from the Captain’s, in Drummond Street we found the Brass Monkey.

The Brass Monkey

Now this really was the discovery of the weekend. It does not look much from the outside, but we were pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by the strains of AC/DC as we entered and settled down with a pint of Red Stripe and a soup with homemade humous roll combo (£3 ). As we supped our ale we could not but help hearing explosions and gunfire over Mr Jimi Hendrix. It turned out that this pub also has it’s own cinema and was showing From Dusk till Dawn, which was just coming to it’s end. So picture over we popped in for a look and found what must be the most comfortable cinema in the UK.

Comfy sofas at the Brass Monkey's cinema

With sofas lining the walls it has all the comforts of home without the washing up!

Beltane Fire Festival – Edinburgh

It was only a week after taking part in the Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations in Cyprus that we found ourselves at something rather more primal up on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill – the annual Beltane Fire Festival. For anyone who doesn’t know Beltane is a pagan festival that marks the passing of winter, represented by the Holly King into the summer, the time of the Oak King. And it just so happens that Beltane is around the time of Easter making it dead easy for the Christian church to assimilate the pagan festival into it’s own, but that’s another story.

About 12,000 gathered on Calton hill to watch the ceremony kick off from the Scottish National Monument (designed by William Henry Playfair as a monument to Scottish soldiers who fell in the Napoleonic Wars, but never completed due to the money running out in 1829).

Fire Festival kicks off at the Scottish National Monument

Accompanied by the massed processional drummers and torchbearers the May Queen’s Court assembled ready to depart and visit the elemental points around the hill before arriving at the domain of the Reds.

Red Fire Dancer

The spirits of misrule who attempt to disrupt the procession with lewd behavior.

Red Fire Dancers

Some lovely lewd behaviour

The old year’s Holly King (note his walking stick which denotes his aged state) is tempted to join the Red fire dancers

The May Queen and the Holly King arrive

as they cavort around to the hypnotic beat of the Red Beastie Drummers.

Red Beastie Drummers

Eventually the Holly King sheds his winter garb and stick and is reborn as the Oak King bringing new fertility and light to the land after the winter, however as we were unable to get close enough to witness that part of the show here is a shot from last year.

The Green Man is reborn

It’s a great show and all the performers are volunteers who design and create their own costumes or lack of them!

Tickets were £6 in advance or £8 on the night.

Sam’s Chop House – Leeds

Aside from clocking the exuberance of Leeds’s Victorian architecture the other week I was also looking for somewhere interesting to eat. I have to admit that, in the town centre, I was beginning to worry that I would be unable to find anything more exciting than chains like Jamie’s Italian or Gaucho.

Then I happened upon this place in South Parade.

Sam’s Chop House

This is Sam’s Chop House, yes it is part of a chain, but only of three. I believe the other two are over the Pennines in Manchester. This particular branch is located in the former offices of the Pearl Assurance Company and I’m sure it makes much better use of the space. Designed by William Bakewell it was completed in 1911 and was one of the first buildings in Leeds to be built of Portland stone.

A quick nose through the menu, packed with traditional British delights like fish and chips, braised pig cheeks and lamb hotpot convinced me it was worth coming back to investigate later that evening. I’m glad we did because the meal we had was quite superb. I started with the pork pie.

Pork Pie

This was served warm with a salad and piccalilli . The pastry was crisp while the meat succulent and juicy, absolutely delicious. My partner had the roast black pudding with lentils and Wensleydale bacon. She let me try a mouthful, it was delightful.

For the main event I went for the corned beef hash. this came with a poached egg and yet another slice of Wensleydale bacon.

Corned Beef Hash

Reputedly ten days in the making the corned beef blended with sauteed potato and creamed onions really was melt in the mouth stuff, absolutely delicious, as was my partner’s lamb hotpot. For desert neither of us could resist the Trio of chocolate. Comprising of a brownie, orange chocolate sorbet and white chocolate cheesecake it was just the thing to round off our night out before wobbling back to the hotel.

Trio of Chocolate

So what’s the damage? Meal for two with coffee £60 service included. We had bought drinks from the bar at pub prices while waiting for the table.

If you ever find yourself in Leeds give it a try and you will discover that British food can be every bit as good as any other cuisine.

Vodka, Tequila and Zapata – Another Edinburgh Night Out

Our second night out in Edinburgh took us to Arcade in Cockburn Street.

Old man's pub downstairs, trendy vodka bar upstairs

I know it’s not much to look at from the outside, but once you get past the old man’s pub downstairs (I’m not knocking old man’s pubs by the way, I’d rather drink in one than a trendy music bar any day) there is a Polish vodka bar up the stairs. This place was stuffed with the local Polish community, which I take as a measure of quality and we were probably the only non Poles drinking there. Since there were five of us the five shots for £10 offer was an absolute bargain too. Sampled were: apple, black currant, bison grass and home made ginger. Much better than fake vodka bar dives like Revolution in my opinion.

Just over the road from Arcade is Viva Mexico.

Viva Mexico

Decked out with photos of Emiliano Zapata and the Mexican revolutionaries, this has to be one of the most fun places to eat in Edinburgh. Starters include things like stuffed chilis, bean  or tortilla soup and ceviche (fish cooked in lime juice – delicious) while for the main course you can choose pork, beef or chicken to be made into burritos, fajitas, tacos or chimichangas, you choose. The only drawback is a very limited tequila menu.

So what’s the damage? Starter and main plus beers and tequilas rolled in at £120 for all five of us.

Pilsen Restaurant – The Municipal House, Prague

Pilsen must be my favourite restaurant in Prague. It is also inside one of my favorite buildings in the city, the Municipal House.

The Municipal House

Completed in 1912 the Municipal House is bang in the centre of Prague on Namesti Republiky 5. It was designed by Osvald Polivka and Antonin Balsanek in the Art Nouveau style and it was from here that Czech independence  was declared in 1918. The Art Nouveau scheme continues inside with mural, metal and glass work by several important Czech designers including Alfons Mucha (yes him of the Laurent Perrier champagne labels)

Within the Municipal House is the Smetana Hall (named after Czech composer Bedrich Smetana) and a number of other rooms used for events and conferences, cafes and restaurants and an information centre. Top tip – in  city where public loos often charge, the information centre has a free to pee toilet.

While the ground floor French restaurant is rather expensive the vast cavern in the basement that is Pilsen, is in my opinion very reasonable

The vast cavern of Pilsen

Laid out as a European beer hall, the food is typical hearty Czech fare, stews and roast meat with the ubiquitous dumplings to soak up any gravy

Roast Duck with Red Cabbage

I started with a smoked sausage which tasted a bit like a chip shop saveloy. No disrespect meant to to the sausage at all, I rather like chip shop saveloys and this sausage was mostly meat. For the main course I had the roast duck with red cabbage and dumplings. It was fabulous but vast. Although maybe not quite as big as the pork knuckle that Nick had!

Nick hides behind his knuckle of pig

Of course for the the spirit music is a natural accompaniment to food.

Musical entertainment by Josef Jehlik and Alena Penzenstradlerova

and the house band are the duo Svejk, Josef Jehlik on accordion and Alena Penzenstradlerova on double bass, playing traditional Czech folk songs.

Band master Josef Jehlik takes the salute

So what’s the damage? Four people starters, mains, aperitif and beers about 2400 Czech Crowns, a ridiculous £85 UK for what we had.

Sadly during our visit the American Cocktail bar

Ameriky Bar, Municipal House

in the Municipal House’s basement was closed for refurbishment, which was a shame because it is rather gorgeous inside.

Ameriky Bar, Municipal House

As you can see from the photos from our 2009 visit, it could easily be the place where Poirot does the big reveal.

The Ameriky Bar

Not to mention the fact that they mix a really mean gimlet

Meanest Gimlet in town

Cheers

Prezzo, Epping

We fancied a night out yesterday, but still being a bit skint after Christmas needed to find something on the budget side. Fortunately those nice people at the upmarket pizza and pasta joint Prezzo, had sent us some ‘All pizzas a fiver’ vouchers and as luck would have it there is a branch not far from us in Epping.

The restaurant is situated in the former Thatched House pub in Epping High Street. I think the building itself is about 200 years old and its transformation into a branch of Prezzo has been managed with some taste, nice wooden floors, art prints and so forth. To see the pub as it used to be take a look at the Dead Pubs website here:

http://deadpubs.co.uk/EssexPubs/Epping/thatched.shtml

Yes I know Prezzo is part of a chain, but the food is really very good and with the regular offers that we get e-mailed from them or downloaded from their Facebook page, it is surprisingly economical. On to the food.  We both knew what we wanted and ordered a calzone carne piccante each. The calzone is stuffed with meatballs, chicken, mushrooms, cheese and Bolognese sauce and really tasty. It’s also huge so we declined the offer of desert to waddle off to the car.

What’s the damage? I was pleasantly surprised to find that our vouchers were even valid on a Friday night and with a glass of the house red for me, a side dish of gratinated potatoes and a bottle of fizzy water the bill came to just over £20 for the two of us.

For info on menus and locations see:

http://www.prezzorestaurants.co.uk/

Wahaca and Chilis

One of my favourite restaurants is Wahaca. There are about four branches in London and so far we have tried the one in Docklands at Canary Wharf and the one in Wardour Street in the west end. Wahaca is the brainchild of telly chef Thomasina Miers and the theme is Mexican street food like burritos, quesadillas, tamales

chorizo and potato quesadilla

and the slow cooked pibel pork

Pibel pork

Food is cooked fresh and arrives when it is ready, so don’t expect the dining experience to be structured or pretentious, expect it to be fun. Aside from the food there is a good selection of Mexican beer and tequila and for a mere £10.60 we normally take a tequila experience each with a glass of blanco, reposado and anejo tequilas and a sangrita (orange, tomato and pomegranate juice).

tequila experience

Best enjoyed with some of these amazingly light pork scratchings and guacamole.

Puffy pork scratchings

And for desert some of the best churros and chocolate in London

Churros and chocolate

What’s also cool is that they give you this.

Chili seeds

Which looks like a book of matches but is in fact a book of chili seeds to grow at home like these little sprouts

Sprouting chili peppers

Which grow into these

Chili plants

No fruit yet but will keep you posted, for more info about Wahaca use the link to the right.

The Coach and Horses, Soho

Yesterday I took a walk through the west end of London and passed three pubs called the Coach and Horses between Tottenham Court Road and Marble Arch, none of which were the infamous boozer that we were in on Saturday night.

Our Coach and Horses is at the bottom of Greek Street.

The Coach and Horses

This is the boozer that was immortalised when the bar was recreated as a stage set for Keith Waterhouse’s play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell starring Peter O’Toole as the former Spectator journalist. It is also the place where Private Eye hold their fortnightly lunches and was once managed by Norman Balon who had the reputation of being the rudest landlord in Britain.

Walking into the coach is like taking a trip back in time to the 1970s. The names of beers long gone, but not mourned like Double Diamond and Skol are backlit through the bar furniture and there are no video games or a jukebox, but there is a piano that becomes the focal point for the evenings entertainment when Betty takes charge. Firm favourites include My Old Man, She’ll be coming Round the Mountain, When the Saints go Marching in and Purple Rain.

Betty on the keys

Fortunately the Coach now serves decent beer like Fullers London Pride and Starapramen and some of the most amazing bar snacks like these pork scratchings the size 0f nachos

Pork scratchings

Not to mention the home made Scotch eggs and sausage rolls

Bar snacks at The Coach and Horses

Little wonder it’s one of my favourite pubs in London then.

Cheers

Saturday Night in Soho

With no kids around we treated ourselves to a night out in London’s Soho.

First stop was the French House for a glass of vino.

The French House

This is a great little boozer in Dean Street, much beloved of media and theatrical types. It has a great story which I will detail in a later post. We stayed for one then moved on to the borders of Chinatown for a drink in De Hems of Macclesfield Street.

De Hems, Chinatown

Considering De Hems makes a big song and dance about its Dutch heritage (more about this in a forthcoming post)  it is a bit disappointing that they did not have any Dutch gin, but the pint of ‘German’ lager went down OK.

Next stop was Private Eye‘s local The Coach and Horses. This is a great little boozer (which I will yet again go into details about in another post) and we were lucky enough to arrive as Betty was tickling the ivories

Betty at the Coach and Horses

For a Saturday night I think the Coach is hard to beat, there are few pubs in London with as much atmosphere. So after a rousing “Oh Susana!” and “She’ll be coming Round the Mountain”  we left for our dinner reservation at The Gay Hussar at the top of Greek Street.

The Hussar is one of my favourite London restaurants, it has a fascinating history (again more on that later) and the Hungarian cuisine is second to none. I had chilled wild cherry soup followed by venison goulash and a somloi gulaska (rum, cream and walnut) for desert. complete with wine and a palenka (lets not mince words Hungarian firewater) the damage came to £40 each, which wasn’t bad at all.

A top night out