29 October 2010

Making cocktails, tasting cocktails!

The highlight of the last week was a Cocktail History Masterclass at The Lonsdale. Jim Wrigley gave an amazingly informative talk from behind the bar at the rather fabulous Lonsdale in Notting Hill. They've just been refurbished and are on a mission to get us all to go and hang out there and I was invited to a special press event, but snuck in somehow! We had a great evening and Jim's history lesson went way back to the 1500s. His talk was interspersed with cocktail making from the period he was telling us about, , when he took one person out of the crowd to work on some cocktails for tasting - you'll not be surprised to hear that I had a go and we mixed and stirred a tasty brew! Some of the cocktails were a bit potent but after several tastings, I confirmed that my usual tipple was indeed my favourite and I will stick to the trusty cosmopolitan. The venue was a bit dark and I didn't want to use the flash too much so here are a few slightly grainy photos to give you an idea of the bar and the mixing fun.

The Affordable Art Fair was my last visit of October's burst of wonderful art shows in London which hit town every autumn. Their view of affordable is under £3,000 and there was a surprising stall selling some very big names, just under the limit including Damian Hirst and you'll see the others on the photo. It was set in a starry night ceiling designed big tent in the middle of Battersea Park and as we went on the preview night there was a glass or two of free wine to help the purchasing. We particularly enjoyed some lovely Cornish paintings and some beautiful glass and chatted to a few friends on stalls or wandering around. Sad to know the main art season is over....

A new restaurant opened just round the corner from me on Westbourne Grove (Notting Hill again!) so we dropped in to test out Cote and really like it, as do many others judging from the full tables. It's an all day French brasserie serving mid range priced good food and I can recommend the fillet steak with thin chips! We've had a bit of rain lately so here's the good looking exterior on a wet evening but it still looks good.

Bye for now,

22 October 2010

Just one word - chocolate!

London was the best place enjoy National Chocolate Week 2010 and Vinopolis was chocolate central! They are normally the home of wine but for one week they were hosting Chocolate Unwrapped where the major chocolatiers were exhibiting and some giving talks. There were tasting opportunities at each stall and extraordinary choc sculptures of steam trains and even shoes! Some stalls were offering competitions and raffles and I won a signed copy of Working with Chocolate by Mark Tilling in an Action Against Hunger charity raffle so watch out for some splendid sweet making by yours truly! One of the talks was given by Paul A Young who was really entertaining and handed out tasters such as marmite truffles which were surprisingly good. His top tip was to put salt into your chocolate mix as it soops up the flavour - give it a go. Photos are of: Paul A Young himself; some of the sculptures; a beautiful displays of cacao pods; and, the finished product all lined up and ready to eat. All that chocolate before noon was a real challenge!

One other big excitement was our visit to Ai Wei Wei's new exhibit at the Tate Modern where he has installed over 100 million painted porcelain sunflower seeds. Originally it was to be an interactive event with visitors walking in amongst the 'seeds' but it was decided that the resulting porcelain dust was too dangerous for us and now we can only watch from the sidelines and hold a single seed handed around. Rather sad for the artist I'm sure. It is a truly impressive sight and the accompanying film gives more insight into the work. It raises questions about mass productions, the 'made in China' label we are so familiar with and issues of individuality as each seed is different from the millions of others, each painted by hand. The seeds themselves hark back to the famines under Mao when sunflower seeds were the only food for many citizens. The photos give you the full view of the Turbine Hall with its grey carpet of seeds and a close up of the seeds themselves.

That's all for this week's blog as it's late going to 'press' -sorry about that.

Bye for now,

11 October 2010

The ayes to the right!

A big event in my week was a tour of the inside of the Houses of Parliament. A pre-booked 75 minute tour led by a very well versed Blue Badge Guide (Noel) took us into the very heart of this extraordinary building. I've been meaning to do this for ages so we very pleased to finally poke my nose inside this seat of power. You can visit any Saturday at the moment as they are trialling Saturday opening in addition to the usual summer recess visiting days. You can walk through the route that the Queen takes when she opens Parliament past amazingly ornate decoration, huge paintings and numerous statues. The interior of the building was designed to tell the story of the country and, as the guide said, you could study the contents and designs for years. We spent some time in the House of Lords, resplendent in gold and red and then in the less flamboyant House of Commons in green. We saw where they vote in new laws, the 2 rooms to the right and left where the 'ayes' (the yes's) and the 'noes' (the no's) go and heard tell of the rush to get all the MPs into the house in time for the vote.The tour concludes in the Westminster Hall, an impressive and precious remainder of the original Palace of Westminster, built in 1097 with changes made in 1245, but which burned down in 1834. The building you see now is a Victoria edifice except for this huge Hall. which now used for receptions and layings in state - you may have seen pictures of the Queen Mother's coffin there as the most recent. You can't take pictures during the tour, just of the hall so you have to remember the rest! I've added an exterior shot across the Thames as it's one of the great sights of London.

It's a big time of year in London for art lovers with so many fairs and exhibitions and Hyde Park didn't want to be left out so has set up a few of pieces from Anish Kapoor to delight us. The main piece is wonderful - a curved mirror which sits amoung the trees and reflects back toward Kensington Palace and catches the viewer in shot (yes that's me with the camera!). The reverse is concave and reflects one back upside down. Kids and adults alike were having great fun with this work - what more can you ask from an artist? He's also got a reflective witch's hat in the park. I'm sure that's not the real title but that's what it looked like to me! As you can see from the photos it was a wonderfully sunny October day in the park and the deck chairs were full and many visitors had arrived on the new 'Boris bikes'. These are bikes you can hire by the half hour from stands all across the centre of London. At the moment you have to subscribe online to use them but they plan to offer the option to just turn up and hire one and hopefully that will come in very soon as I want to have a go! Lots of photos posted in to try to show you the Kapoor work and a day in the park.

My weekend continued the art theme with a visit to Palace Art Fair, held in the wonderful Bishops Palace in Fulham, followed by Art London held in the grounds of the Royal Chelsea Hospital. We saw some good stuff, some hideous stuff but mostly enjoyed the browsing and the sunshine.
Bye for now,

3 October 2010

Champagne pub tour and a pop up cinema

Highlight of the week was the champagne pub tour courtesy of Geronimo Inns so yes all paid for this group but the write up is all me! We started at the Phoenix in Victoria for a little champers to get us in the mood then a fun ride to Battersea in an old routemaster - do love these fab old buses. More champagne on the bus and on arrival at the Prince Albert. They'd done up the upstairs room in their Christmas look and it almost got me festive even tho' it's only October. The theme here is dogs as it's next to the park and near the dogs home so the wall paper is all doggy and many drinkers in the main room had brought their four legged friends out with them. Then back on the bus to two more pubs - the Northcote in Clapham and the Elgin on Ladbroke Grove, just near me. Lots more champagne on the bus rides so photos only from the early part of the evening. (Our transport, the Xmas table and the wall paper at the Prince Albert) These pubs are good and I'm not someone who chooses a pub over a bar but I did like them.

Some films to report on - firstly The Town and Made in Dagenham. Luckily I have a friend who belongs to the swanky Hospital Club who have a private screening room so the watching experience is delightful! The Town was a bank heist story which was gripping and Made in Dagenham was a slice of industrial history from 1968 and the campaign for equal pay for women at Ford's Dagenham factory told with verve and humour. Both are worth a look.

On this film theme, one great local addition I forgot to mention recently is the Notting Hill pop up cinema on Portobello Road. They were showing shorts as part of the Notting Hill Film Festival til last week and it seems to be staying - I really hope so as it looks amazingly funky and fun - see photos! I went a special showing of Michael Winner's 1963 film West 11 which was great and very moody. Michael himself turned up to do a Q&A afterwards so here's a photo of him at the podium.

Restaurants visited this week included Le Cafe Anglais in Bayswater which has just been refurbished and they had a 25% off special in their new oyster bar and cafe section so that was an offer not to be missed. Sunday lunch was very good and we got some respite from the week long rain and the sun streamed through the big windows as we were leaving. Recommended are the steak and the fish pie, reasonably priced even at normal prices. Run by Rowley Leigh the food is bound to be good and we even had a close up magician visit out table and, as ever, I had no idea how he did the tricks!

Bye for now,