John Hawkins



Dr John Hawkins

Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff, home to a huge load of pictures, and my daily blog.

My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.

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Recent Entries:
Camden Passage and New Blazer
Alice in Wonderland
Design for Living
Wednesday
Tuesday
Monday
International Talk Like a Pirate Day
Manze's Noted Eel and Pie House
Horse and Carriage
Belgravia, Lebanon and India
Wednesday
Tuesday
Monday
Den Haag
Zaanse Schans and Amsterdam
Ferry to Holland
Dinner with Tom
Cold Noodles and Oliveto
Okonomiyaki
Avebury
Sunday in South Wales
The Wye Valley
Thursday
Getting Away from Other People
Macaron
Bank Holiday Monday
Marlow Pub Crawl with Andy
Porcini and Truffle and the Italian Feast
Yuka in the UK
Andy in London
Robert and the Whisky Society
Tuesday
Monday
Seven Stars

Camden Passage and New Blazer
[Saturday 25th September 2010]
Partly inspired by some of the excellent costumes in Design for Living the other night (and also some of the better dressed members of the audience) and partly driven by the time of year (i.e. no longer warm enough to wear just a shirt outdoors, but not quite cool enough for a proper winter jacket) I decided I wanted to get something akin to a blazer today.

Also wanted to take a look around some antiques shops - I'd still like to get hold of some nice antique champagne saucers (am bored of the usual flutes) and also rather fancied getting some 1930s style trousers, as worn in Noel Coward's era. So we started out the day with a trip to Camden Passage, near Angel, for a browse around the antiques shops and market stalls there. I was really taken with it - a lot quieter than Portobello Road - and more of the sorts of things I might actually buy. We didn't find quite the right champagne saucers or trousers, but we did buy a handful of mismatched butter knives - a mere 1 each.

After that we headed down towards Jermyn Street to start looking for a jacket / blazer. We pretty much went to every clothes shop on the street, and I tried on quite a few different things. I normally don't like clothes shopping, but really enjoy visits to Jermyn Street - most of the shops are quite old and traditional and the staff are mostly the sort of genuinely well informed gents you'd expect to be working in this sort of clothes shop. I eventually settled on a blazer from Charles Tyrwhitt, which had a nice fit, seemed well made, and was a relatively good price compared to some of the other shops (I tried on at least one which was in excess of 400 - I just can't quite bring myself to spend that sort of money on clothes!). Although ultimately we had to go to the Regent's Street branch to actually buy it, as they didn't have quite the right size in the Jermyn Street branch.

By this time we were quite hungry, afternoon tea seemed appropriate given the time (and my new attire!), but lots of places seemed to be full, so we ended up going for dim sum at good old Royal China instead. This was good as ever, albeit that they seemed to have changed the menu slightly and one or two of the vegetarian dim sum I usually order seemed to have disappeared, plus they'd ran out of ho fun....

Anywho, we rounded off our shopping expedition with a (non alcoholic) drink at the Only Running Footman in Mayfair, as I'd been reading about it recently and wanted to see what it was like. It apparently has some connection with Jeeves and Wooster, and was at one time frequented by the servants of the big houses on Berkeley Square, with a bar divided into two halves, for different ranks of servants.
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Alice in Wonderland
[Friday 24th September]
Watched the new (well, ish) Alice in Wonderland film this evening. It was... OK.
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Design for Living
[Thursday 23rd September 2010]
Having stayed in all week so far (I decided to have a complete break from drinking this week which pretty much precluded any kind of social event) I deemed it would be good to try and do something which would get us out of the flat (but didn't necessarily require any drinking to be involved), and so this afternoon had a look around on the web to see what was on at the theatre.

Was pleased to find a Noel Coward play - Design for Living - was on at the Old Vic, and it seemed easy enough to get tickets at the last minute.

So, I met up with Chie after work, we had a quick pre-theatre dinner (tapas at Meson Don Felippe on The Cut) beforehand, and then headed over to the Old Vic.

The theatre was only about half to two thirds full - not sure why really as I thoroughly enjoyed the play (and I'm very easily bored when it comes to this sort of "cultural" activity). The first act dragged a little bit, but there were a few good lines to prevent it being thoroughly tedious. The second and third acts are much funnier - most of the best lines seem to be had by Leo (played by Andrew Scott, originally played by Coward himself I think) who is much more prominent from the second act onwards. He seemed to perpetually have a look of knavish mischief on his face, which given the very grand and glamorous sets (apartments in Paris, London and New York in each of the acts) and the sharp and witty dialogue, worked rather superbly.

A very enjoyable night out.
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Wednesday
[Wednesday 22nd September]
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Tuesday
[Tuesday 21st September]
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Monday
[Monday 20th September]
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International Talk Like a Pirate Day
[Sunday 19th September 2010]
I was keen to mark International Talk Like a Pirate Day this year and had briefly wracked my brains on where might be an appropriate venue to do so. The answer was relatively quick in being forthcoming though - the Bounty, in the People's Republic of Cockmarsh - a pirate themed pub on a bend in the Thames only accessible on foot, somewhere between Marlow and Maidenhead.

Andy was an obvious choice for a co-conspirator (co-mutineer?) in this enterprise, and so we met up around 3ish in Bourne End, including Andy's Mum as well, before walking the plank (actually, bridge) over the Thames to the Bounty. Arrrrrr! etc.

Oddly there was a sort of pet show going on there this afternoon, complete with a raffle in which Andy won a dog puppet (and I won a mug - feeling like a bit of an imposter I just took the most modest prize on the table). Apart from the usual pirate decor it seemed as though no-one else had come especially to celebrate ITLAPD... but maybe every day is pirate day here.

We stayed a couple of hours, and had a late lunch (or early dinner?) before eventually embarking on a stroll along the Thames to Marlow, which was very pleasant.
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Manze's Noted Eel and Pie House
[Saturday 18th September 2010]
As part of my interest in all things old and traditional in London I had wanted to visit a pie and eel shop for some time, but had always assumed there wouldn't be much point as a vegetarian. So I was delighted to find out recently that Manze's Noted Eel and Pie House - one of the most well known - actually did a vegetarian version of their meat pie. So at the first opportunity (today) we headed over to Bermondsey to visit their original shop, on Tower Bridge Road.

The shop dates back to 1892, but was bought by M. Manze in 1902. As far as I can tell the tiled Victorian interior is entirely original, and, whilst obviously showing slight signs of wear it's quite beautiful. However, it isn't a museum, it's a thriving business, which seemed to be pretty much full of East End pie enthusiasts who I could only assume were regulars. Even when we went, just after 11 (yes, we had pie and mash effectively for breakfast).

It was like stepping into a different world. Living in London you hardly ever meet any genuine Londoners - I don't think anyone I work with is originally from London, and staff working in pubs/restaurants/shops here are invariably from abroad. Nothing wrong with that - I love the cosmopolitan blend you get in London - but it's hard to get a sense of place with no consistent accents, etc. Here though I felt decidedly foreign - in a good way - the same sort of nervous excitement you get when going into a bar or a restaurant in another country... but the staff and the locals were all very friendly. An East Ender in the queue next to us spotted our wide-eyed looks and correctly assumed it was our first time here, he then enthusiastically endorsed an optimal pie to mash ratio, and heartily recommended the application of a large quantity of vinegar. Vinegar on pies seemed a bit improbable, but many of the regulars were doing it.

The menu is gloriously simple - several lines taken up with various ratios of pie and mash (1 pie no mash, 1 pie 1 mash, 1 pie 2 mash, 2 pie 1 mash, 2 pie 2 mash) - I couldn't help but be reminded of Monty Python's Spam sketch. They also do two types of eels - jellied or stewed, and, to my delight, as a foonote at the bottom, the vegetarian pie.

The vegetarian pies are cooked to order, so we had a a bit of a wait after ordering, which gave us a chance to soak up the atmosphere a bit. Not only is the decor the same as it was a century ago, I understand the menu is also almost identical (presumably with the exception of the vegetarian pie) - and they said they use almost exactly the same recipes they were using when the shop first opened. Plus presumably given the fact the regulars are "real" Londoners, I'm guessing the clientele is probably pretty similar too, albeit dressed a bit differently nowadays. I can't thnk of anywhere else in London where you could have an experience so consistent with what it was like in Victorian times. Yes there are plenty of Victorian pubs, but the range of drinks available today would be entirely unrecognisable to someone from Victorian times. I suppose the only other thing that comes close would be some of the grand old restaurants like Simpson's or Rules, but I doubt very much either of those are still owned by the same family.

As for the food itself, I thoroughly enjoyed it - really good pastry on the pie, and the mash had a fantastic earthy sort of quality to it (I mean that in a good way!). There was very little messing about - pie, mash and liqour (a kind of parsley sauce) on a plate. Interestingly it reminded me of the food at St. John's. Only this was about five teams cheaper, and with a more attractive interior. And less media types. Not sure Chie was quite as enamoured with her stewed eels - I guess the Japanese have very specific expectations of what eels should be like - but she was keen to come again so she could tried the jellied eels, or maybe the pies. I also had a drink called Sarsaparilla - presumably a kind of Victoria answer to cola - which was rather nice.

I absolutely loved the whole experience - I'd had lunch in Victorian times. Fantastic.


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Horse and Carriage
[Friday 17th September 2010]
Odd picture of a horse and carriage in Central London.
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Belgravia, Lebanon and India
[Thursday 16th September 2010]
A colleague who had works on my previous project was visiting London this week. As he also happened to be a vegetarian, my former team mates in London commissioned me to help entertain him for the evening, and pick somewhere suitable to eat. So I decided to go to the ever reliable Noura, not too far from my office, wherein a very respectable assortment of vegetarian mezze is available. Several people came along in the end, and I introduced a few new people to my favourite foul moudamas (fava bean stew) and the delights of Lebanese coffee.

After dinner I took our guest on a brief tour of Belgravia pubs featuring many of the usual suspects - the Horse and Groom, the Grenadier and the Nag's Head.

We talked a lot about India a lot during the course of the evening (my colleague is originally from there) and it really perked my interest in going there. I think I mainly just love the idea of being in a country where, at least in some regions, vegetarianism is actually the norm. Plus Banaglore sounds like quite an exciting city to visit for the nightlife etc.
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Wednesday
[Wednesday 15th September]
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Tuesday
[Tuesday 14th September]
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Monday
[Monday 13th September]
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Den Haag
[Sunday 12th September 2010]
Chie and I spent the day wandering around Den Haag (including a visit to the Escher museum) whilst Yuka went off to see the maritime museum in Rotterdam. Got the train back to Hoek van Holland in the evening, and the overnight ferry back to the UK from there.
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Zaanse Schans and Amsterdam
[Saturday 11th September 2010]
Arrived by ferry to Hoek van Holland in the morning, got the train from there to Amsterdam, and then headed straight to Zaanse Schans for some windmill spotting. Then back to Amsterdam for the remainder of the afternoon and the evening, before finally getting a train to Den Hague at the end of the day.
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Ferry to Holland
[Friday 10th September 2010]
Taking the overnight ferry (the lovely new Stena Hollandica) form Harwich to Hoek van Holland.
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Dinner with Tom
[Thursday 9th September]
Tom was in London again this week, so tonight we met up for dinner. Decided to go to Shepherd's in Westminster - not sure what Tom made of it, but I rather like the atmosphere here. I always imagine I'm going to be able to overhear some political conversations or at least see some politicians (it's apparently a favourite haunt of MPs), but actually so far never have.

Also continued in the same theme and visited a couple of Westminster pubs after that - the Westminster Arms and the Red Lion.
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Cold Noodles and Oliveto
[Wednesday 8th September]
I had cold noodles at a noodle place near my office for lunch. I remain unsure as to whether or not cold noodles are really a good idea.

In the evening we took Yuka to Oliveto for dinner. I think she liked it.
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Okonomiyaki
[Tuesday 7th September]
Yuka and Chie made okonomiyaki for dinner tonight. Very nice!
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Avebury
[Monday 6th September 2010]
Given that we'd hire a car, we thought it a waste to just shoot straight back to London today, so decided to go back by way of somewhere interesting. Yuka had already seen Stone Henge on a previous visit to the UK (and I think like most people was a bit underwhelmed - on the other hand I actually rather like it), so today we planned to go to Avebury instead.

This time we were able to drive the full length of the stretch of road that goes through the Wye Valley between Monmouth and Chepstow, which was rather lovely. We stopped off very briefly for a quick look at Tintern Abbey as well.

Stopped off at a pub called appropriately the White Horse somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Wiltshire for a quick lunch (making it three pub lunches, three days running!), before then heading on to Avebury.

I wasn't sure what to make of Avebury. I think part of the reason was that it was a funny sort of weather, plus as a result of still having the rest of the journey back to London ahead of us I wasn't at my most receptive. I imagined it was going to be atmospheric and mysterious, but in the end it didn't seem to have much of an effect on me. Perhaps I need to go again with somebody who knows a bit more about the place.

We made a couple more stops on our way back to London (at least partly because we didn't want to arrive in London when the congestion charge was still in effect) - first at Marlborough - which I remember as being an attractive little market town, but nowadays seems to have the same bland selection of chain stores as everywhere else in the UK - and also in Bray, to go and look at the Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn. It's interesting that these places display their menus on the outside still, as though they ever get casual diners just wandering in off the street.

Finally got back into London some time after 6, and after dropping off the car, headed back home, and had a quiet relaxing evening in.
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Sunday in South Wales
[Sunday 5th September 2010]
Spent the day with Vera and Robin in South Wales.

Had the (now traditional) Sunday lunch at the Bear in Crickhowell. It's usually always good here, although today I have to admit to being a bit disappointed - not with the quality of the food, but just with what the vegetarian option actually was. I'm always a bit baffled by this, when pubs have a Sunday lunch menu, there's absolutely no question that for meat eaters it's going to be some kind of roast meat, often more than one choice, and if it's beef there's going to be a Yorkshire pudding, if it's chicken there's going to be stuffing, if it's pork there's going to be apple sauce, and no matter what it is there will be roast potatoes, gravy and all the other usual trimmings. People go to pubs for Sunday lunch because they want this kind of comforting traditional food - they don't want to be surprised with something exotic and unusual. If there was, let's say, a prawn curry on there, no-one would order it would they? Why then, is the vegetarian option more often than not something which seems to have no place whatsoever on a bill of British fare, or indeed on a table for Sunday lunch? I like pasta, I like curry, I like a stir-fry now and again, and I can even sometimes almost enjoy the ubiquitous pub vegetable lasagne, but I don't want any of these things for Sunday lunch. Today's vegetarian option for Sunday lunch was something involving cous cous, artichokes and goat's cheese. After yesterday's wonderful proper pub food at the Boat, I just couldn't bring myself to eat this.

If any pub proprietors happen to be reading, let me suggest some things that would be a good vegetarian option for Sunday lunch. All of these are to be served with roast potatoes, gravy, and vegetables - we wouldn't object to Yorkshire puddings either (no, the world won't end if they're not served with beef): mushroom and ale pie or mushrooms en croute, toad in the hole with vegetarian sausages, a vegetable pasty, pan hagarty, homity pie, cauliflower (or cauliflower+broccoli) cheese (only if it's really well made though), a roulade made with sage and onion stuffing and spinach, some kind of bean stew (e.g. dried broad beans stewed in cider), or even the mockery inducing nut roast, if done well.

Anyhow, after lunch Robin took us to visit the gardens of a house, embarrassingly whose name I've forgotten, and we had a pleasant stroll around there for a bit. Spent the rest of the day back at Vera and Robin's house, with the exception of a brief foray out in the car to drive to the top of a very misty Blorenge (small mountain near Abergavenny).
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The Wye Valley
[Saturday 4th September 2010]
Yuka had specially requested to go and visit South Wales while she was in the UK, and so we decided to do that this weekend. As there were three of us we decided it would probably end up more economical to hire a car, so that's what we did.

Picking up the car was a somewhat slow and frustrating process (it seems everyone hires cars on Saturday mornings, but Hertz don't want to lay any extra staff on), but eventually we were on the road. I'd had my heart set on arriving in South Wales in the traditional and rather lovely way - going over the old Severn Bridge, and then driving up the wonderfully scenic stretch of the Wye Valley between Chepstow and Monmouth, culminating in a pub lunch at the Boat Inn. This didn't quite materialise, as rather unfortunately the old Severn Bridge was closed for the day, so instead we had to go a much less scenic route, over the newer Severn bridge, and then back along the motorway a bit - but I was determined to get to the Boat Inn for lunch.

So we just managed to make it to the Boat Inn while they were still serving lunch, and it was utterly fantastic. Dad had worked here briefly in the 1980s, and I have fond memories of walking down the big hill from the house he was living in at the time, and hanging around outside the kitchen until he was finished. I remember being fed weird and wonderful snacks - raw cabbage with soy sauce, still a favourite of mine (Dad explained it as being a Korean dish). Also, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame used to live nearby (in a big house called The Argoed), and would sometimes come to this pub. I remember once as we were leaving in Dad's car, Robert Plant were hovering in the car looking confused about where to park. Dad stopped and rolled down his window and said "there's a spot over there Robert", to which he replied "cheers Nick".

Going back to a pub you have such fond memories of after a long absence can be a perilous endeavour but I'm pleased to report it had barely changed, and is still a great pub today. There was almost a saloon door swinging effect as I entered, and the locals eyed the stupidly overdressed Londoner - fantastic. They had at least three perries behind the bar, and probably more ciders, as well as a large array of beers served directly from the barrel. The food was fantastic too - Chie had the Ploughman's which was everything a Ploughman's should be. I went for the Pan Hagarty - a simple but delicious Welsh dish of potatoes, onions, garlic and cheese (a bit like a Welsh answer to Devon's Homity Pie perhaps). Not a bloody goat's cheese tart in sight - a lot of London pubs could learn a thing or two from the menu.

We sat outside, and with the slight exception of some mildly irritating wasps, the combination of the food, perry, the fantastic location and all the fond memories of the place made it utter bliss.

I had been wanting to take Chie to see some of Offa's Dyke some time now, but whenever we're in South Wales normally we don't get round to it. There's a stretch I particularly like just above Redbrook, over the river from the Boat Inn (and conveniently where the car park is for the pub). So after lunch we took a stroll up the hill, and along the interesting ancient wooded section along the top of the dyke. It's another place I would often come to with Dad - although probably at the time I used to grumble about all the walking a bit - but in hindsight more fond memories.

The Wye valley is a truly lovely part of the world - it was the birthplace of the picturesque movement, which in some ways is attributed with the birth of modern tourism - the idea of going to visit a place just to enjoy the scenery (the Grand Tour that the English aristrocracy would make to France, Italy and Greece was more about education and escaping the social norms of England at the time). I spent a lot of time there as a child as Dad and Vera lived in various parts of it at various times, but it's only really now, returning with a great appreciation of these sorts of things, that I realise just how idyllic it is there.

After leaving the Wye Valley we then headed on to Vera and Robin's house in Abergavenny, in time for tea, and we remained there for the rest of the day.
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Thursday
[Thursday 2nd September]
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Getting Away from Other People
[Wednesday 1st September]
There was some sort of work offsite this afternoon, I think it was a kind of "treasure hunt" across London. Sounded like fun, but alas I'm far too busy to be having fun during working hours. Some of the people who had been on it had ended up in a pub (The Old Bank of England) so some time after 7 I went and joined them there. I didn't stay long, for some reason I wasn't really enjoying being surrounded by people from work.

So after a bit I snuck around the corner to the Seven Stars, and bathed in it's four-century-old-wondrousness for a while. From there I went on a bit of a meandering stroll, and somehow ended up in St. James's, where I popped into the Red Lion. I was in a decidedly anti-social mood today, having already left the first pub in preference of my own company, I found the Red Lion quite annoying with all it's suit wearing American businessmen talking about which college they went to and which companies they'd worked for. I really just wanted to get away from people altogether - or at least people that reminded me of work, which had become quite stressful of late.
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Macaron
[Tuesday 31st August 2010]
The macarons Chie brought back from Paris.
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Bank Holiday Monday
[Monday 30th August]
Chie, Yuka and Chie's friend Nagi-san had all gone off to Paris for 2 nights over the end of the bank holiday weekend, leaving me in London by myself today. So I ended up doing some work for most of the daytime.

I went out towards the end of the afternoon / early evening for a stroll and to find some dinner, as I didn't really feel like cooking for myself. I decided I rather fancied a return visit to Zilli Green, the vegetarian Italian restaurant in Soho. Whilst the food was very good (tagliatelli with porcini) the experience was a bit awkward - the tables are all very cramped together in the upstairs bit, and I ended up sandwiched between two couples. When my meal arrived one of the ladies said "bon appetit" to me which only made it worse.

Headed home after that, and did a bit more work in the evening.
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Marlow Pub Crawl with Andy
[Sunday 29th August 2010]
Whilst Chie and co. were off enjoying Paris, Andy had invited me over to Marlow for the afternoon to make a thorough exploration of the local pubs.

It's my second time to visit Andy in Marlow, and both times I've been really taken aback by how everybody seems to know everyone else there. In pretty much every pub we went in Andy seemed to know either the owner, the bar staff, or some of the regulars. In one of the pubs, Andy and I were having a conversation, and every time we touched on an area we were a bit unsure about, a disembodied voice from the other side of the pub would interject "it was in 1985", to which Andy would then reply "thanks Phil!".

Whilst the Duke of Cambridge was clearly the friendliest there (presumably as long as you already know some of the locals) my favourite pub in terms of aesthetics was probably the Two Brewers. Very attractive both outside and inside, all low hanging beams etc.
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Porcini and Truffle and the Italian Feast
[Saturday 28th August 2010]
We took Yuka to Borough Market in the morning. We managed to get there early (well, 10 o' clock) which was a big improvement as it seems much less busy at that time than I'm used to it being. Chie's friend Nagi-san would also be arriving from Japan this evening and I had been commissioned to make a welcome dinner. So naturally given the fact that we were at Borough Market, and it was the end of the summer, my mind drew me towards mushrooms.

I managed to find a stall selling some very genuine looking wild mushrooms (in a basket, still with the grass on, freshly picked in Kent that morning apparently). So I picked out some decent looking specimens (a couple of varieties of cep / porcini). Later on, Chie also spotted a stall very quietly selling black truffles from Northern Italy - the guy just had a little jar with a few in on the corner of his stall, no big fuss being made about it at all. I picked up what I thought was a pretty decent size truffle for a relatively reasonable 20.

Also at Borough market I bought a big handful of Samphire, and a bottle of Nyetimber - it's the English sparkling wine which has been winning lots of awards recently, and the one the Queen serves when entertaining foreign dignitaries (well, the French at least).

We headed back to the flat after that, by way of the Waitrose in Belgravia, where we picked up more things for dinner. In the afternoon, Chie went off to the airport to pick up Nagi-san, and I took Yuka out for a walk, through St. James's Park, into St. James's - and showed her some of my favourite places - Jermyn Street, Fortnum and Mason, the Royal Academy of Arts and so on.

Back at the flat I commenced work on what was probably one of the best meals I have ever made - a multiple course Italian feast. Rather idiotically we didn't take any pictures of any of it - I was too busy cooking, and Chie was too busy entertaining our guests. Anyway, here's the menu:

Mozzarella, tomato, fig and caperberry salad.

Bruschetta with Kent ceps in a light white wine, garlic and herb sauce.

Spinach and ricotta ravioli topped with samphire and truffle oil.

Black truffle risotto

It was, in no uncertain terms, spectacular. The stars were just all in alignment - even the risotto (which lacked the constant attention it normally requires as I was trying to make it at the same time as the previous course) came out perfectly. The Nyetimer was an excellent accompaniment too.

I think our guests were suitably impressed, even though I do say so myself.
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Yuka in the UK
[Friday 27th August]
Yuka, Chie's sister, arrived in the UK today, and would be staying with us for the next three weeks. She works on a ship, which means whilst on the ship she often has to work for weeks on end without an days off, but correspondingly she then gets extended shore leave when she's not on the ship.

Assuming she'd probably be tired, we didn't make any big plans for tonight, so just went to our ever reliable tapas place (Goya) for dinner. The three of us sat at the bar, and that seemed to go down rather well.
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Andy in London
[Thursday 26th August]
Andy had some administrivia that he needed to sort out in London this afternoon, so we met up for a late lunch, which then turned into me saying sod it and taking the afternoon off. So we'd started off at the Horse and Groom in Belgravia, and I proposed we go on a short jaunt from there to St. James's, on the way taking in three lions (one golden, two red) and a Bag O' Nails. We rounded off the evening with dinner at Great Queen Street.
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Robert and the Whisky Society
[Wednesday 25th August]
Robert, a former colleague, had got in touch recently to ask for suggestions for an interesting and unusual whisky to buy for his Dad. It occurred to me the best way to solve this would be to take Robert to the Whisky Society, where we could try a few, and he could choose for himself. I also managed to persuade a couple of people from work to join us in this venture.

That led to a very pleasant and civilised evening at the Society, wherein we also had dinner.
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Tuesday
[Tuesday 24th August]
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Monday
[Monday 23rd August]
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Seven Stars
[Sunday 22nd August 2010]
Chie went off to see a friend in the afternoon, so I went on a pilgrimage to the Seven Stars, having yesterday determined it was the oldest pub in London. On the off chance I let my friend Al know I was heading there, and as a pleasing bit of serendipity it turned out he had been doing a chocolate making course (?!) just around the corner, so along with girlfriend Charlotte he joined me for a drink there.

I ended up staying quite a while, wallowing in the history of the place, which was all the more satisfying for having spent all that time yesterday researching it (including finding all the landlords and landladies in the census returns), and particularly as it felt like I'd uncovered something that wasn't widely known.

Even without it's historical credentials, the Seven Stars is a great pub - I get the impression it attracts a lot of regulars (not common for this part of London), even on the weekends - so it's not just the typical nearest-pub-to-the-office-for-an-after-work-pint sort of place. Plus the landlady, Roxy Beaujolais, is something of a celebrity in her own right - she is partly credited for the rise in quality of pub food across the country in the last few decades - but reassuringly her own pub is still very much a pub, not a restaurant in disguise (although I am led to believe the food is very well regarded too). It's a genuine free house, sadly something of a dying breed in London. How many pubs in London are there where you actually know who the landlord / landlady is? I can only think of a handful. A lot of the pubs I go to don't seem to have the same staff two visits in a row. There's something immensely comforting about knowing when you go to a particular pub, that you'll be greeted by a particular face. That's what great pubs should be - an expression of the landlord's character. Unfortunately, most pubs these days are just a function of some corporate operational parameters.

Long live the Seven Stars.
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