Monday, November 30, 2009

Maharaja at the V and A

Maharaja, meaning "Great King", is the title of the V&A's current blockbuster exhibition. I visited with Surbjit who had possibly obtained tickets via Ernst and Young, one of the key sponsors.

It was interesting to learn about the splendour of the Indian royal courts, and to see everything from priceless ancient crafts to custom-ordered Rolls Royces! The maharajas certainly led an interesting life, wore some of the finest moustaches mankind has ever seen, and of course their wealth led to extravagance but also much investment in the arts, with beautiful paintings, jewelry, and of course the finest cricket pitches! Many of the artifacts have been lent from India’s royal collections for the first time.

The exhibition covers early 18th to the mid-20th century, a time when the Maharajas role was changing and of course with British involvement in the Raj (which means rule) affecting social change across Indian society.

Open till 21.30 on Friday, it's not cheap but try to catch the exhibition before it closes on the 17th January.

Monopoly Pub Crawl

Recently I had the opportunity to tick off one of the two great pub crawls in London. One, the Circle Line, remains on the shelf. This time it was the turn of the Monopoly Crawl, that is to say visiting every spot on the popular board game's traditional setting of London.

Organised by Jim Cresswell, the day started at 11am in Elephant and Castle. The requirements for joining in were simple - festive gear but as a minimum - Santa hats. Could I find a Santa hat? No. So ended up buying a small Santa toy from Tescos and pinning that to my jacket.

On the way, late already

Unfortunately Will and I were running late, and on arriving at Elephant and Castle spotted the main crowd getting back on the tube to head to Fenchurch Street. We said hello then dashed out to find a beer! The Elephant and Castle, the traditional starting spot, was closed, however the Rockingham Arms provided a more than suitable replacement, and it was heart-warming to see all the classy types already a pint or two into their morning lagers, lovely!

The Rockingham Arms, our first port of call

There's something repulsive about having alcohol before lunch (or dinner I'd say in most cases), although our pain was eased by there being a fairly respectable set of ales available on tap including several interesting guests.

Time, gentlemen!

Friendly barmaid

First beers of the day: Banks and Taylor's Bat's Hat and Ringwood's Filly Drift.

Cheers! So we had decided on a couple of our own ground rules for the day in addition to the group ones as defined by Mr Cresswell. Firstly - we would take a photo of every pub we went into, as a record of the night. This, I can say from the evidence of the photoset, lasted about 3 pubs before I forgot it!

The next rule was that if a pub didn't have real ale, we would seek out an alternative elsewhere. This rule was broken in pub two, when the dearth of pubs around Fenchurch Street on a Saturday morning meant we ended up in the Isis hotel bar. Newcastle Brown Ale, yuck, and a horrible bank-breaking 9 pounds for two!

Jim (aka Rosie) and Will (aka Matthew)

Remarkably discipline is required to get the whole route in - we had 15-20 minutes in each pub, plus travelling time. No eating, no hanging around, no breaks. To be honest if I were planning it again, I think I'd build in some eating spots and look for late pubs that will let you finish slightly later than 11pm.

The core crowd

So the sensible thing would be to have halves all the way round. Unfortunately for the first ten pubs or so, I found a reason in every place why I should have a pint and switched to halves at the next place. This I was to regret later on in the evening.

Halves already, Herrington!

The Aldgate Exchange

Of course around Aldgate is an old work patch for me, so knowing the area well I pop along to the famous Tubby Isaacs:

This place has been there since 1919 and indeed my Grandfather Cliff remembered it from his days too. Of course it's no longer Tubby himself who runs it, but I believe it has stayed in the family.

What else to have but a pot of their "world famous" jellied eels?! The perfect accompaniment to large amounts of ale!

To the general disgust of the group I tuck in on the tube. Not exactly lining the stomach, plus I notice that the two plastic forks I had been provided with were horribly dirty!

So up to Angel, and the weather is improving as we head round towards King's Cross.


At this stage I realise that a rather grotty pub has been chosen around Euston and so take things into my own hands, steering the group to the marvellous ale paradise that is the Bree Louise.

They have marvellous pies but there's no time for that nonsense today!


Barrels stacked up behind the bar

A local London beer, named after the river Wandle

Ok things are starting to get fuzzy

Will had made the very silly mistake of bringing along a knitted hat that his mother had made for him when he was a mere 1 year old! I naturally had to confiscate it so that he would still have it by the end of the evening!

By now we were in the Betjeman Pub above St Pancras Station, smart and with decent ales. The group seemed to have swelled up and was in fine form.

I found a nice poem on the door to the bathrooms:

And when all the horrible roads are finally done for,
And there's no more petrol left in the world to burn,
Here to the Halt from Salisbury and from Bristol
Steam trains will return.

This is a verse from "Dilton Marsh Halt" by Betjeman.



From here it was tube down to Green Park to tick off the pubs around here, including Mayfair and Park Lane.

This was the stage of the evening where one tends to lose interest in the whole exercise, and I do vaguely remember staying in the Red Lion off St James' and reading the paper, not feeling the urge to troop off after an undignified 15 minutes drinking time!

Pleased to get a Routemaster in on the trip

Into Soho and I'm sorry to report that Will was broken! I hope you'll forgive me but the remainder of the evening is somewhat vague for myself too, but I can report that Will was refused entry to one pub, slept through the others and managed to vomit in one of my favourite pubs, the Ship and Shovel! Of all the grotty pubs we passed through, why oh why in a nice one?!

Finally, we head for the last pub.. the Nell Gwynne off the Strand. A nice tucked away place, I hadn't visited before, but I do approve. The core crowd were here already, was good to be back together again after 12 hours of non-stop drinking!

In remarkably good form!

And with that, it is done. Never again I will say! It was an effort, it was fun, I am grateful to Mr Cresswell for organising, and now I can say, it is over!

Bed time

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Swan and Edgar

Swan and Edgar Pub

Recently visited what used to be The Feathers in Linhope Street NW1, tucked away between Baker Street and Marylebone. Now named The Swan and Edgar it has adopted a literary theme, with a bar literally propped up with books.


Stopped in originally on a crawl of the area several years ago - the appeal was that it was supposed to be one of London's smallest pubs, and at the time it indeed was, with the bar occupying a much larger part of the small room, or so as I remember.


A nice Hungarian girl serves us. It is Tuesday evening and fairly quiet, but the crowd are a nice mix. They have an ale on tap - Spitfire, but with no clip on the pump people could be forgiven for not realising and defaulting to lagers.

Bar close up

Apparently punters are always trying to pull the books out from under the bar - one would imagine they would protect them with perspex or something, but they are simply piled up!

Scrabble tiled toilet

Next interesting aspect is the toilet, where the floor is lined with scrabble tiles! The quiltwork seat coverings are hand-made by the landlord's Russian interior designer girlfriend, and chairs are wrapped in newspapers!

Their nibbles are great simple pub food, with yummy sharing platters, mini Cumberland sausages etc.

Overall, a recommended stop-over if you're in the area!

You Don't Have a Clue - Röyksopp

Anneli Drecker

Ah the sweet bliss of Röyksopp! The Norwegian duo played Shepherd's Bush Empire last week, supported by their vocalists Robyn and Anneli Drecker.


Here's, err, as much of the set list as I can remember, there may be some I missed:

1. Royksopp Forever
2. This Must Be It
3. The Girl and the Robot
4. So Easy
5. What Else Is There?
5. Happy Up Here
6. Tricky Tricky
7. Eple
8. Poor Leno

What a set list, eh? I couldn't make it much better if I designed it myself.

Another crazy costume

The room darkened before the duo of Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge, aka Röyksopp entered, one of them wearing a huge plastic spherical astronaut style helmet on his head. They opened with the instrumental "Röyksopp Forever" which cut into "This Must Be It", one of my favourites from the new album Junior. To my delight, Anneli Drecker appeared, wearing a strange costume, which turned out to be the theme of the party, with her wearing different costumes all the way through.


It really made the gig having Anneli and Robyn there with their incredible vocals. If anything I was amazed that what they produced was so close to the album versions, with only minor improvisation except for intros and banter. It was clear that the Röyksopp duo were really having a good time, although they described the gig as "sweaty" on their blog later!

Do you recognise this beat?

They introduced a song by saying “Maybe you remember this rhythm… it goes like this” and started drumming on the drum pads.. within seconds the audience twigged that it was the rhythm of Eple, one of their classics, and the audience went wild!

Torbjørn Brundtland


The encores were of a new song that I didn't recognise and seemed to be the weakest song of the evening, and of course the classic Poor Leno, the same way they ended years ago when I saw them at Marble Hill.

Overall the gig was fantastic and a fantastic repost to those who claim that Röyksopp is just ambient chillout. This is dance music through and through, and the Empire full of people getting down to it was confirmation enough!

Röyksopp forever!
(PS Photos were "borrowed" from Crazybobbles without permission, sorry!)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jerk City

Tried out a Jamaican restaurant for the first time last night. The choice was a place I've passed many times before at the top of Wardour Street - Jerk City. There is Savannah Jerk a couple of doors down which looked a bit smarter but was quieter. I was slightly confused about which one used to be Mr Jerk, but according to TimeOut I subsequently learnt that "When business partners split in 2006, Mr Jerk was renamed Jerk City and The Original Mr Jerk rocked up next door. It changed name to Savannah Jerk in early 2009, following a change of ownership, but the chef and the menu remain the same."

Cash only this evening, their card machine was out of action, but soon we'd ordered some recommendations from the friendly girl behind the counter:

"Jerk" - their speciality, which was Jerk Chicken. The chicken was tasty, and doused in what tasted like chilli ketchup (the "Jerk Sauce"?). The choice of accompaniment was either plain rice or "Rice and Peas", which is not, as one would expect, just "Rice and Peas" but instead rice cooked in coconut milk and spices, and the peas are actually kidney beans. Apparently this is nicknamed the Jamaican "Coat of Arms".

Mutton aka Goat Curry with Hard Vegetables. The Mutton was amazingly tender and not fatty, in a delicious spicy curry sauce, and for a side the "Hard" vegetables, which consisted of Cassava, pounded and prepared to make bammy, a heavy but tasty starch cake, Plantain, a strange-tasting member of the banana family, and what seemed to be hairy potato.

Both dishes came with salad too, presumably which was the purpose of there being a bottle of salad cream on each table, along with the obligatory chilli sauces.

Drinks? No beer unfortunately, but instead "Guinness Punch", which tasted remarkably similar to Baileys - a large cup of that felt extremely naughty!

Overall a good experience, and about 20 pounds for two good-sized mains and drinks. I'd go back!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Shibuya in London

How exciting! After months of construction, Oxford Circus has been converted to a Shibuya (Tokyo) style crossing.

The only thing that worries me is that unlike Japan, here no one pays any attention to Green Man or Red Man, so how often are people going to get run over?!

In other news, I've just spent bloomin' ages sorting out birthdays in my Outlook. No more contacts in dodgy time zones or repeating every 12 years!