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.

Snakes, Soccer and Soho – Mr Wolfe’s Birthday Bash

It was our friend Mr Wolfe’s special birthday on Saturday so we decided to treat him to a meal out in that there London Town.

New Year's Eve Chinatown

New Year’s Eve Chinatown

It was also a special day in London’s Chinatown. The place was rammed with people doing their last minute shopping to welcome in the Year of the Snake, but as we were up there I did a big shop in the New Loon Moon supermarket (9a Gerrard Street) for spices and other Chinese goodies. Aside from getting a few bits you just can’t get in an ordinary supermarket, things like spices, coconut milk and soy sauce are so much cheaper in Chinatown that its worth lumping them back home on the tube.

Chinese lanterns Chinatown London

Chinese lanterns Chinatown London

Next stop was a swift pint for me and the Captain in the Coach and Horses in Greek Street, while Saucy Wench Mab and the Powder Monkey bought some chocolate coffee beans in London’s most aromatic shop, Old Comption Street’s the Algerian Coffee Shop.

The Coach and Horses, Soho

The Coach and Horses, Soho

Now we’d told Mr Wolfe about the Bodean’s at Tower Hill and were keen for him to discover all the meaty goodness of their smokehouse fare, but Bodean’s do not take bookings so we thought if we try the Soho branch in Poland Street and it’s full, there are plenty of other places to eat. When we arrived the waitress said we could have a table in 45 minutes, fair enough we thought and ordered some drinks. Now that was where it all came undone. drinks ordered (and paid for) we were told to go outside and wait on the seating where the cocktails would be brought to us . This turned out to be a couple of benches on the street where the mouth-watering smell of barbecued meat mingled with that of the rancid dumpster and tramp pee. Bodean’s idea of bringing the drinks to us didn’t quite match ours either, fortunately we heard the waitress hollering our order number from inside and we had to force our way back inside past the by now enormous queue to collect them.

By this time we were a bit cheesed off, especially as it had started to rain so when Mr Wolfe turned up we went across to Wahaca in Wardour Street where we got a table immediately and had a fantastic Mexican meal for about two thirds of what we would have spent in Bodean’s

chorizo and potato quesadilla

chorizo and potato quesadilla Wahaca

Like Bodean’s, Wahaca don’t do reservation, but they don’t expect you to wait on the street if they can’t fit you in immediately. Oh no they give you a bleeper and send you downstairs to the tequila bar, which is where we went after the meal and where we were all severely trounced in a game of table soccer by the Powder Monkey.

Return to the Tower and a Traditional East End Burrito

The weather here in the UK was so grim yesterday that it’s hard to believe that Sunday in London it was like this.

South Bank of Thames from the Tower of London

We had returned to the Tower of London for the girls to get their ice skating session in before the daughter had to return to Edinburgh. I’m fairly familiar with the area around the Tower (back in the 1980s I had a girlfriend who worked at the Tower Hotel) and it is amazing how much the area has changed in recent years. This is particularly so on the South Bank, where the grim facade of warehouses has either been refurbished as fancy shops and restaurants or replaced with quite stunning modern buildings like those in the photo above.

The building that looks a bit like Judge Dredd’s helmet is the seat of the London Assembly, where the comedy Mayor of London Boris Johnson writes endless cheques to bankroll the Olympics. Incidentally Boris is not the Lord Mayor of London, who hosts the big Lord Mayor’s Show in November, but at least he is democratically elected to represent Londoners. The Lord Mayor of London is Head of the City of London Corporation which governs the London financial district that falls more or less within the old city walls, a role that dates back to 1215.

The really high building you can see in the photo is The Shard (well officially the Shard London Bridge) which at 310 metres will be the tallest building in the European Union when it is completed later this year.

The Shard

Designed by Renzo Piano ,who also designed London’s Central Saint Giles development and NEMO in Amsterdam, it will be a mixed commercial and residential building. Apparently Piano knocked up the original design on a napkin over lunch with the developer in Berlin.

Also in the frame above was one of the Thames Clippers that I mentioned in my previous post, so I took a snap as it went by.

Thames Clipper passing the London Assembly Building

The Tower of London has been many things since William the Conqueror founded it as a fortress to keep the local Anglo-Saxons subdued back in 1066. Aside from being a royal palace, a prison and the home of the Royal Mint it also housed the Royal Menagerie which was first referenced in the time of Henry III when the Sheriffs of the City of London were forced to pay four pence a day to feed the King’s polar bear who was kept there. All kinds of beasts were kept at the Tower and in the 18th Century you could save the one and half penny entrance fee by turning up with a dog or a cat to be fed to the lions.

Kendra Haste's Wire Lions at the Tower of London

The last of the creatures were moved to Regents Park in 1835 so aside from the Tower Ravens, the only animals that you will see today are Kendra Haste’s fantastic wire sculptures by the moat.

Once the girls had finished at the ice rink we hopped on the tube to Stratford to have lunch at Wahaca in the Westfield Centre.

Pure Evil's artwork at Wahaca Westfield Stratford

Each branch of Wahaca has graphics by a local artist, Stratford’s are by street artist Pure Evil. I particularly liked the Day of the Dead style Pearly Kings and Queens on the toilet doors merging Mexican and London iconography, but people would quite rightly think it a bit strange for me to take a camera into the loo, so I contented myself with a picture of the cats at the bar.

Bar at Wahaca Stratford.

As usual the food was brilliant, I had a Chicken Tinga Burrito and a couple of Pacifico beers,

Chicken Tinga Burrito

and went home well happy.

Westfield Stratford – It isn’t all bad

“Do you fancy going to Wahaca for lunch?”.

Well it doesn’t take much in the way of temptation to get me into one of Thomasina Meirs‘s Mexican street food restaurants, even if it is at London’s newest shopping (I’m male so I don’t do hanging around in shops, OK bookshops maybe and food shops) complex Westfield Stratford City, so I grabbed my scarf and coat and toddled off down to the tube station.

On the Bridge over the Railway on our way to Westfield

Somewhat confusingly this is the second Westfield Shopping Centre in London. The first to be built was in West London. This one isn’t, it’s in Stratford, East London, never to be confused with Shakespeare’s Stratford upon Avon, as that will inevitably lead to disappointment. Westfield Stratford City only opened a couple of months ago and is packed full of big name retailers like Marks and Spencers and John Lewis, as well as some perhaps more unexpected ones like Getty Images, with their huge photographic archive on sale. There’s even a West Ham United Shop, which is topical given the fuss and bother over their anticipated move into the nearby Olympic Stadium once the Games are over.

Now as I mentioned, Stratford is also the site of London’s Olympic Park and from the foot bridge over Stratford’s railway station you can get a good view of Anish Kapoor’s Orbit towering over the park. This 115 metre tall piece of public art is the tallest sculpture in the UK. (It was only after I had taken the photo that we discovered an entrance to Stratford Station in the complex so we needn’t have used the bridge to get there, but then we’d have missed the view).

Anish Kapoor’s Orbit

Westfield Stratford turned out to be a lot nicer than I expected. It isn’t just a huge mall constantly recycling the same air over again. Yes there are some enclosed bits, but a large part of it is open air and there are some decent restaurants, even if they are branches of chains like Wahaca, Yo Sushi or Jamie’s Italian. The meal in Westfield’s Wahaca was every bit as good as the branches in Soho and Canary Wharf and not bad value at £66 for burritos, a couple of side dishes and beer or water for the four of us. Despite the excellence of the burritos, on leaving the restaurant I felt a pang of regret, since right next door was a branch of the Brazilian meat on a skewer joint Cabana. Still I suppose that is somewhere to enjoy on our next visit.

Olympic Stadium as seen from Westfield

Olympic Stadium as seen from Westfield

So hunger satisfied, I left my companions to their shopping and headed home. On leaving the tube station I discovered that our local fire fighters had opened a grotto in the Fire Station to raise a few bob for charity and entertain the local kids.

Santa sets up shop in Loughton Fire Station

What a fantastic group of people they are, not just extraordinarily brave and resourceful, but thoughtful with it.

Indoor Chili Update – Wahaca Chilis still Going Strong and Gay Hussar Doing Well

Thanks to those lovely people at Wahaca we have had free chilis all summer long.  The original plants have long outgrown the kitchen window sill and are now sitting by the French windows in the lounge to catch the best of the winter sunshine.

Wahacca Chilis Still Fruiting

They are still in flower and fruiting even if they are getting a bit spindly. They have been joined recently by a Scotch Bonnet plant that I grew from some seeds scavenged from a supermarket pack.

Scotch Bonnet Bush

It’s a much sturdier plant and although this one has yet to flower, the one in the kitchen has just come into bloom, so with a bit of luck we shall have some of those red hot little peppers in time for Christmas.

Back in the kitchen I have a small crop of chilis grown from the seeds collected from the chili pods used as table decorations in the Gay Hussar.

Gay Hussar Chilis

These have a much more subtle flavour, you can even eat them raw chopped through a salad. I just hope we are not too late in the year for them to produce a fine crop of little fruits.

Indian Tapas, Tequila and Beer – Another Night Out in Soho

As we had adults Saturday night this weekend, we decided to try out the new Indian tapas restaurant Imli, in Soho’s Wardour Street. Arriving in London’s west end a wee bit early we headed off to the Nordic Bar for a quick drink before meeting up with Mr Wolfe in the tequila bar downstairs at Wahaca.

I have often walked past the Nordic Bar in Fitzrovia’s Newman Street (no. 25) and thought “I really must try that place”, but never got around to it before. Situated in a basement, it’s pretty dark inside and the black walls don’t help to brighten the place up. Draft beers are Tuborg and that bloody awful Carlsberg, which isn’t very imaginative since they are both made by the same Danish brewer, but there are beers and ciders from other parts of Scandinavia in bottles as well as a selection of Swedish vodka. Prices are what you’d expect from a London pub so quite a lot cheaper than a real Scandinavian pub!

Next stop was the tequila bar downstairs at Wahaca where we met up with Mr Wolfe and tried the smoky Forever Oax reposado mescal with a Pacifico beer chaser, which went down well with some nachos and guacamole. We had just enough time to savour an old Marguay reposado tequila before legging it across Wardour Street to Imli (167-169) where our table was ready.

There has been a fair bit of noise about this place bringing the concept of tapas to Indian food recently, but Mother India in Edinburgh and Glasgow got there first. Still Imli’s menu is packed full of really tempting stuff. We took the easy option of going for the set menu B at £25.95 (there is a set menu A at £19.95 which is pretty much the same only minus some of the meat dishes). The first stuff to arrive were a grilled spicy chicken salad dressed with honey and ginger, Aloo Matar Tikki Ragda – a potato and pea cake served with a red onion and tamarind chutney and some deep fried spicy squid, all beautifully presented and quite delicious.

The next course to arrive was honey grilled duck on a bed of turmeric mash. although a bit on the small side it was really, really good and I could have eaten much more of it. This was followed by lamb rogon josh, plus a creamy curry of mushroom, baby corn and spinach and a Bombay alloo, accompanied with pulao rice, plain and cheese naans. Again all very nice. Finally a home-made fig and ginger ice cream finished off the meal perfectly. All in the food was very good and as with Mother India the smaller portions ensured that while nobody went hungry there was not any waste.

On the down side the drinks are a bit pricy (large Cobra about £7), there are no little extras like heated towels or even an after dinner mint after the meal and a 12.5% service charge is added to your final bill. I think that’s a bit cheeky given the extortionate price of the booze. On balance though it was a good night out despite the four of us all walking out £45 lighter.

There was only one thing left to do, so cutting down Old Comption Street we just had time for a couple of pints in The Coach and Horses before getting the tube home.

Wahaca’s Mexican Street Kitchen – Canary Wharf

The Mexican summer for Shipscooksstuff continued tonight at Canada Square in Canary Wharf, where the brand spanking new Wahaca Mexican Street Kitchen  is parked up bringing Mexican street food to the well heeled streets of London’s Docklands. The kitchen is in a refurbished 1958 Citroen HY van complete with a charcoal grill and for today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) to celebrate its debut the burritos are being given away free.

Handily Canary Wharf is only a slight diversion on the way home for us on the Docklands Light Railway. As soon as we got out into the open air from the station we could smell the delicious aroma of the grilled and stewed meat so it didn’t take long to find the Citroen and as fortune would have it the queue wasn’t too long.

The Wahacca Street Kitchen in Action

My steak burrito was rolled fresh in front of me with rice, black beans, salad, salsa, guacamole and crema. It was pretty much perfect both in size and content, Mab had the pibel pork and there were also chicken and veggie options available.

Now I suppose the question is which was better the Wahaca or the Poncho No.8 burrito? Well if Wahaca were a fast food takeaway they’d just about have the edge in my opinion, the spice and heat of the chili salsa is just that bit more fiery. On price the Wahaca burritos will be £5.50 so a bit cheaper than Poncho’s. They are both good though.

Anyhow full of burrito we headed home and I took the opportunity to snap the Olympic stadium from the DLR train as we passed the Olympic Park at Stratford.

Olympic Stadium from the DLR

Along with the huge Anish Kapoor sculpture that is going up along side it.

Anish Kapoor Sculpture part done

Mexican Food Made Simple

Those lovely people at Wahaca, my favourite Mexican restaurant invited me to a preview of Founder Tommi Miers’s new Mexican cookery show this evening. The show called Mexican Food Made Simple starts on Channel 5 tomorrow (that’s Tuesday 5 July) at 7.30 pm. In the show Tommi visits a mescal distiller, cooks a neat chile, mashes up a guacomole and makes a tequila laced sorbet, as well as having an encounter with a pork scratching the size of ….well a pig really.

Great entertainment, some neat ideas for guacamole, fabulous passion fruit margaritas so thanks guys for inviting me to your party.

Just for Oli here is my herb window complete with some overhanging Wahaca chilis.

Shipscook's indoor herb garden

Wahaca Chili update

So far we have had two nice big chili peppers on the plants grown from the seeds that our favourite Mexican street food restaurant Wahaca gave us, this is one of them here

The soon to be doomed chili

He has just given his life to spice up some onion soup and very good it was too, but do not despair chili fans for there are lots of tiny chilis bursting out of the little white flowers like these.

Chilis the next generation

so it looks like we are going to have a very hot summer.