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.