Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Oops!  I completely forgot to include two books in my last post, and they are in two series that I consider indispensable: City Secrets: London and Alastair Sawday's Go Slow: England & Wales.  Do not for a second consider going to England without these!


I thought the most noticeable difference in London in the intervening years since I'd last been there was the quality of the food.  Not only is there simply more diversity, but the overall quality of everything is just a cut above what it once was.  On my last visit I ate (very good) Indian food almost exclusively, but this time I enjoyed a much wider array of choices.  Some standouts:

28 - 50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen  [140 Fetter Lane, EC4 and 15-17 Marylebone Lane, W1].  There are supposed to be symbols for degrees after the 28 and the 50 -- sorry, I haven't figured out how to do these yet -- and they refer to the latitudes between which most of the world's wine grapes are grown.  The name alone hooked me, and even if there wasn't much thought given to the food I'd probably still be a fan.  But as it happens the food -- which is in the French bistro style -- is equally as delicious as the wines on offer, and my meal here was terrific and memorable -- and so were those of my husband, daughter, and friends.  The team behind this venture is Xavier Rousset and Agnar Sverrisson, who met while working under Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons (and who also own Texture at 34 Portman Street, W1,  which earned a Michelin-starred accolade in 2010.)  The chef is Paul Walsh, who worked at Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road, and the manager is Ed Newman, who first met Rousset in 2001 when they worked at the Hotel du Vin.  The 28-50 team "only serve wines we like, that are interesting, drinking well and offer good value" and there are 15 reds and 15 whites offered by the glass, carafe, and bottle.  These change frequently, plus there is a 'collector list' of fine wines from friends who are private collectors -- some of these are rarely seen in restaurants.  

EAT: The Real Food Company chain [100+ locations, seemingly everywhere].  This casual, simple chain wouldn't even be a blip on my radar if we had a North American chain that was as good.  But we don't (though I can't even fathom why) so it stands out.  An EAT outlet is great if you want a quick but good light meal, hot or cold, and moderately priced. The company was founded in 1996 with the aim of offering the best food, soup, and coffee in London at good prices.  I think it's a hit, and EAT was awarded the 2012 honor of 'Best Coffee/Sandwich Shop.'  There is always a good selection of soups and sandwiches as well as drinks, salads, breakfast, and savory pies.

Bibendum Oyster Bar [Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, SW3].  Michelin House was originally built in 1909 and was the showroom for Michelin's offices in London.  The building itself is "worth a detour" and the colorful tiled exterior is a mix of Art Nouveau and Art Deco.  I didn't eat at the Bibendum restaurant but I did enjoy drinks and nibbles in the Oyster Bar, which shares space with a pretty flower stall and is a lovely place to sit down and take a break if you're in the vicinity of Kings Road.  Also, in this same building is the Conran store, which is always fun to explore.  

The Tate Modern restaurant [top floor of the museum, Bankside London, SE1].  The views all around are really the thing here, but the food's quite good and the space is large so there are lots of seats.  There is also a cafe and a bar area, which you walk by to reach the restaurant space, so if you're just in the mood for a sandwich, a beer, or cake and coffee, this might be a better choice -- there's a long counter along huge windows so you still have the views.

-- OK, I now realize I've been working on this post for several days, and as I have a few more to write about London, I've got to wrap this up!  (or it will continue on for days...) So, ever-so-briefly, here are other great places:

St. John Bread and Wine [94-96 Commercial Street]
Beigel Bake [159 Brick Lane, E1] (no web site)
PJ's Bar & Grill [52 Fulham Road]
Golden Hind for fish and chips [73 Marylebone Lane, 2PN] (no web site, but note that lunch is served from noon to 3:00; the staff doesn't start serving again until 6:00 p.m.) 

...and a few places I didn't get to but would very much like to are Bocca di Lupo [12 Archer Street, W1]; Dean Street Townhouse Dining Room [69-71 Dean Street, W1]; St. Pancras Grand restaurant and oyster and champagne bar [Upper Concourse, St. Pancras International Hotel, Euston Road, NW1];and Zafferano [15 Lowndes Street, SW1], Giorgio Locatellli's place in Knightsbridge (I am a big fan of Locatelli's Made in Sicily book (Fourth Estate, 2011) so this is tops on my list for next time). 


Thursday, September 20, 2012

London Resources

I am often asked to share the resources I use to plan trips, so when a friend recently asked me what I perused for London, I thought I would also share the list here, especially since I want to enthuse about  a terrific series of fold-out map/guides I discovered a few months ago from Herb Lester Associates in the UK:

 In addition to these two pictured just above, there are maps on Writing London, An Uncle's Guide to London, Clandestine London, London; You Are Here, and others on New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Glasgow.  Each is reasonably priced (4 pounds) and each is filled with a number of less obvious things to see and do.  I now have almost all of these and I love them and I think you will, too.

In a similar vein, Indagare has recently introduced its own Mapped Out series -- the editions on London and Paris are for families while Rome, Venice, and Vienna, are just for adults.  These are all in keeping with the high standards members and fans of Indagare have come to expect, and they combine some of the obvious sites with distinctive, lesser-known suggestions.  You can purchase the whole series for $55 or each is available individually for $12.95.   

Moving along,I should mention that for this particular trip, I only consulted one traditional guidebook (Fodor's London) as I've been to London twice before and I didn't feel I was in great need of that kind of a resource; rather, I wanted more specific, focused books, like these:
Both of these are, to my mind, 100% indispensable.  London A to Z (remember, the z is pronounced 'zed') is somewhat the equivalent of the Plan de Paris (if you're unfamiliar with le Plan, read 'According to Plan: Maps of Paris' by Catharine Reynolds in my Paris book, in which she states that "In Paris, map toting is no newcomer's proclamation of ignorance.  The most knowledgeable taxi drivers cannot know each of the city's 6,417 streets offhand; instead they pack copies of Paris par Arrondissement in their glove compartments.")

This is the book that's a compilation of walks offered by the excellent urban walking tour company (the world's oldest), London Walks.  More about the book and the company to follow in an upcoming post!

  Different from London Stories, this National Geographic Traveler guide of walks was also quite helpful and good. 

The Traditional Shops and Restaurants of London is an interesting and wonderful little guide that steered me to some shops and places to eat I would otherwise have missed.  Author Eugenia Bell also revealed lots of new details about places I already knew about.  Really wonderful.  

Again, as with the Traditional Shops and Restaurants book above, I learned about a ton of great places to eat and shop as well as places to stay.  This is really packed with suggestions, not only by author Saska Graville but by a handful of notable Londoners.

 The Luxe guides have attitude, and you have to sign on to this attitude in order to get the most out of these fold-out, pocket-sized, light-as-a-feather guides.  The tone is not only opinionated but witty and occasionally brutal (and sometimes annoying, like when TTFN stands for 'Ta-ta for Now').  But the retail suggestions and places to eat and drink are spot-on, the itineraries provide structure and are worthwhile, and the short-listed art and cultural recommendations are valid.  Full Stop.

The Louis Vuitton European Cities boxed set of books, published annually every Fall, routinely includes London in its assortment, and the 2012 edition was, as always, enlightening, succinct, and wonderful.  I'm not including an image here, sorry, because those I found featured the entire boxed set and not one of the individual book I used.  But I have found this set to be invaluable year after year.  The individual volumes are not sold separately, however -- you have to buy the whole set -- and there seems to be a rather small-ish print run so if you're interested in buying one you have to act quickly. 
 Both of these eating guides are terrific!  The Time Out guide is hugely helpful when you need to search for places by neighborhood.

And for my companion reading, I really enjoyed -- and highly recommend -- the following:

...and this is a typical type of research list for me, no matter where I'm going.  If you've read my books you know that I am a huge proponent of James Pope-Hennessy's book Aspects of Provence, in which he writes, "if one is to get best value out of places visited, some skeletal knowledge of their history if necessary...Sight-seeing is by no means the only object of a journey, but it is as unintelligent as it is lazy not to equip ourselves to understand the sights we see."   More London (and Cotswolds) notes to follow!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Imperial War Museum, London

Copyright (c) Imperial War Museum, Catalog No. IWM PST 3108
The Cabinet Room, (c) Imperial War Museum, Photograph Reeve Photography, Cambridge, Limited

The 'Beauty Chorus' - Telephones in the Central Map Room, (c) Imperial War Museum, Photograph Reeve Photography, Cambridge, Limited 

I know I just enthused about Churchill in my last post, but I just can't help writing about him again, specifically about the Churchill Cabinet War Rooms in London.

I'd last visited the War Rooms about fifteen years ago, and it was the highlight of my London trip then and was so again this time.  Then there wasn't a Churchill Museum in the middle of the whole complex, but now there is, and what an excellent museum it is!

The War Rooms are one of five UK sites that make up the Imperial War Museums (the other four are the HMS Belfast, the IWM London, IWM Duxford, and IWM North in Manchester).   The Cabinet Rooms were a group of underground offices in Whitehall that were the nerve center of Britain's war effort.  Two of the images above -- which I scanned from postcards I bought in the museum shop -- are from the Central Map Room and the Cabinet Room (these are my favorite rooms).  The rooms in the wartime bunker were fully operational on 27 August, 1939, one week before Britain declared war on Germany.  The Cabinet met here 115 times, most often during the Blitz, and the rooms were in use 24 hours a day until 16 August, 1945, when the lights were turned out in the Map Room.  In 1984, the Rooms were opened to the public, and in 2005 the interactive Churchill Museum was opened.

The Humble Pie poster above (which I also scanned from a postcard) is one of a number produced by the British Ministry of Information at the beginning of the Second World War. Probably the most famous poster is the one featuring the phrase, 'Keep Calm and Carry On,' which is now seen everywhere.  I saw a ceramic mug in the Cotswolds with the phrase, 'Now Panic and Freak Out,' which I love and I stupidly didn't buy it (and now wish I had!).  

Lastly, I have just discovered that Gretchen Rubin, author of one of my most favorite books, The Happiness Project (HarperCollins,) also wrote a book entitled Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill: A Brief Account of a Long Life (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2004).  I can't believe I didn't know about this until now, but I'm going to make up for it by reading it just as soon as I finish Spitalfields Life (more about this book and this London East End neighborhood in an upcoming post).  To quote from the publisher's description of the book, Rubin analyzes contrasting views of Churchill: "he was an alcoholic, he was not; he was an anachronism, he was a visionary; he was a racist; he was a humanitarian; he was the most quotable man in the history of the English language, he was a bore."  I'm anxious to begin reading! 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Just back from a holiday in London and all my upcoming posts will be devoted to this great city (and the Cotswolds).  But first, before I went across the Pond, I caught the really excellent exhibit, 'Churchill: The Power of Words,' at the Morgan Library.  It's only on until the 23rd of September so if you live in the metropolitan New York area or you'll be visiting, try really hard to see it -- you won't regret it!

The exhibit highlights more than 50 years of Churchill's life (1874-1965) and features handwritten letters, speaking notes, personal and official correspondence, public statements, and recordings from some of his noteworthy speeches and broadcasts.  All of this material is from the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge and Chartwell, Churchill's home in Kent, and there have been rare opportunities to see these documents even in England. In a small, semi-enclosed room visitors can also sit down and watch black-and-white broadcasts Churchill made to members of Parliament as well as to British and American audiences.  A highlight for me is the framed award for Churchill's Honorary Citizenship of the United States.  As stated in The Morgan's calendar of events, "Sir Winston Churchill's impact upon the twentieth century is difficult to overestimate."  Writer Edward Rothstein reviewed the exhibition for The New York Times (8 June, 2012) and noted that the show demonstrates why attempts to displace Churchill from a central position in recent history are misguided.  "Flaws and failings are plentiful in individual lives, as in cultures and civilizations, but there are more important things deserving recognition: traditions that run deep and wide, that justly inspire advocacy and allegiance and that might even lead, as Churchill promises, to "broad, sunlit uplands."  It's a truly moving show.

The Morgan Library and the Churchill Archives Centre have also created a terrific website, DiscoverChurchill.org.  Though it's meant to be aimed at a younger audience and educators, the site is packed with facts, quotes, and links all presented in a lively format that will be of interest to those who are already Churchill fans and those who aren't yet.  There are great recommendations for 'Things to Do, See, and Read'; 'Places to Visit'; and 'What Else?'  It was from these that I learned about the The Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States, based in New York, that I intend to learn more about.  

A unique book I discovered in the bookstore is Churchill Style: The Art of Being Winston Churchill by Barry Singer, foreword by Michael Korda (Abrams).  One of the first facts I learned when I read this book's Introduction is that Singer is the proprietor of a bookstore called Chartwell Booksellers, also in New York (so now I have two New York City organizations to investigate!).  This is not at all like any other book about Churchill that's ever been published.  It is, in Singer's words, a portrait that's "both more infinite and more intimate than the standard view of Churchill.  It reveals a man who nurtured himself by partaking in a sparkling, continuous toast to all that life had to offer."

Both the exhibit and the book are hugely worthwhile.