31 August 2010

Notting Hill caaarnivaaaal!

The last weekend in August must be kept clear in many of our diaries for just one thing - the Notting Hill carnival. Europe's biggest street festival (well Rio is bigger) comes to town and brings in over a million party goers to my neighbourhood. There's a huge parade winding its way through a 3 and half mile route which takes hours as they dance their hearts out. There are loads of trucks with deafening music systems or steel pan bands followed by dancers, many in huge and elaborate costumes, others in very little! The parade is only part of the fun as the other streets are full of food stall, clothes and Caribbean stuff, and the loudest of loud sound stages with a whole range of musical styles but all with massive speakers. Caribbean food has to be eaten - jerk chicken, goat curry and saltfish with ackee are the key dishes, accompanied by plantain, rice and peas. It was the 47th carnival but only my 7th! Here are a bunch of photos which give you a better idea of it all than words can.

One completely contrasting event in last week's diary to tell you about was an evening for Historic Royal Palace members at the Banqueting House. In this amazing venue with its masterpiece of a Rubens ceiling, we were entertained by Nell Gwynn telling of her royal escapades. After a little wine we had a go at 17th century dancing and managed as a set of 8 people to go through a whole rotation of a dance - very proud! This historic place saw the beheading of Charles 1st which was a seismic moment in British history but it's all very lovely now.

It will be a quieter week next week but still plenty to tell you about so see you soon.
Bye for now,

23 August 2010

It was their finest hour...

The highlight of this week was the celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. There was a huge crowd packed around the Cabinet War Rooms to hear a reading of Churchill's famous speech to Parliament with its unforgettable passages. It's always moving to hear his words: 'never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few'. They were read by Robert Hardy who has played Churchill in a TV series a while back. There was a very fast fly past of a Spitfire and Hurricane - very speedy in deed and tricky for photos but I guess that was the point back then! A few veterans were there for a photo call with Vera Lynn alongside a Spitfire replica. The veterans looked amazing for their age and one in particular, Geoffrey Wellum, did a walk about with the crowd, shaking hands (including mine!) and you could just imagine him as a dashing young pilot as he was still all smiles and charm, he's the one at the front of the group photo in case you hadn't guessed...

August has not brought us the wonderful weather that June and July were so generous with , but that has not stopped Londoners putting on their summer events. The good folk of Norfolk Square near Paddington station were not to be put off by a few dark clouds so they set up their summer fete for the children and had a good time. They had all the traditional stalls such as Punch and Judy and some unusual and wonderful ones such as a tall helter skelter and continuing the height theme, there was a group of singers who felt the need to make themselve at least 7 feet tall!

The restaurant report this week covers Marco Pierre White's Kings Road Steakhouse. As usual we were on a special deal thanks to Toptable so there was a reasonably priced set menu with plenty of steak on it, tho my starter of beetroot with goats cheese with walnuts with a wonderful dessert of light cheesecake were worth a mention too. I took up my prize of a free dinner at Fire and Stone during this week and we went to their Covent Garden branch to eat as much as we could in their buzzing jolly room and cheery staff. We managed a shared starter, a large and tasty pizza and a shared brownie which sounds less than it felt at the time.

One final bit of London fun was a trip to Speakers Corner on Sunday morning. There were a
couple of guys drawing considerable crowds with their religious tracts. One was particularly good at engaging with the crowd which was not easy for him as one of the front row was quite a joker and got the crowd laughing. There was some very robust debate about the merits of christianity versus islam and the next crowd were being enlightened about judaism. The speakers just turn up with a set of steps or a chair and set off - a loud voice is definitely needed tho'. It's a great institution and you have to love the freedom to rant!

Bye for now,

16 August 2010

Edinburgh and all those shows....

I had great fun in Edinburgh on my annual trip to Scotland to enjoy the Festival Fringe- the world's largest arts festival. It's only four and half to five hours train ride to Edinburgh through some lovely scenery including views across Durham and the cathedral, Berwick and the coast. You have to go in August as that's when Edinburgh goes mad with at least 4 festivals at once and well over 2000 shows to chose from. The big challenge is how many to fit into one visit without getting overload and the trick is to mix up comedy, theatre and musical shows during the day. There are shows on all day and late into the night and we managed to get to 8 in all (1 play, 2 music plays, 4 comedians and 1 singer) plus a book reading by Fatima Bhutto and a recording of a radio show - would have been 9 but one theatrical piece over ran badly which was annoying and hard to work out how it happened. The radio show was cut short due to a fire alarm but was good fun with Fred McCauley interviewing a range of comedians from new comers like Paul Sinha to pros like Ardal O'Hanlon, Adam Hills Paul Merton. The photos are of the famous purple Udderbelly tent, 2 views of the wonderful castle and skyline and one of a restaurant - they have a Restaurant in the Sky where a platform is hoisted up on a crane and meals and drinks served with a fabulous view. The view of the skyline was taken from Oloroso's bar, set atop a building on George Street it is a great place to take a breather from the shows and enjoy great views and snacks. It's a place we'd wanted to go to for years but the weather had not been quite good enough but this year there was sunshine almost all the time and Edinburgh looked gorgeous. Our other good eatery was the Dome, a converted bank with a magnificent domed ceiling where no expense was spared and which is now a great setting for Sunday lunch.

I didn't spend much time in London this week but did have time for one cultural excursion to the Camille Silvry exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. He (despite the expectations set by the name) was a French photographer who set up a portrait studio in Bayswater, just near where I live, and developed techniques that we marvelled. The photo which forms part of the brochure in this photo, is a combination of 4 different shots, merged seamlessly to give the clear figures in the foreground against the murky fog behind. He had a great sense of the theatrical and he became well loved of the London theatre scene and photographed many stars of the time as well as working under the patronage of Queen Victoria which gave him access to the upper reaches of society. His 10 year burst of creativity sadly ended in an asylum but left an amazing legacy. We revived ourselves at the excellent National Cafe where a light snack a glass of wine was the perfect accompaniment.
One more restaurant moment to mention was another great lunch at the Electric Brasserie - steak frites and a glass of red makes me feel Parisien and happy with the world!
Bye for now,

10 August 2010

Classical music, rain and bin bags!

London - so varied, so interesting, such unpredictable weather! I like to think it's always sunny in London but we do have rain or our parks wouldn't be so lovely and green. This week's wet highlight was Kenwood - a series of open air picnic concerts set in the lovely surroundings of Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath. We went for the summer proms featuring Vivaldi's Four Seasons which turned out to be accurate as we had sun, cold and the most amazing downpour I've been out in for a very long time. We were half way through the picnic when the heavens opened on us and despite enormous amounts of plastic we were soaked to the knickers! No photos of this as the camera was safely away in one of the few dry sections of the bag. Being British we 'kept calm and carried on', sat it out, finished the picnic and enjoyed the concert tho' sitting in damp clothes is not my favourite feeling. Here's a photo of the venue just before the rain.....

Trafalgar Square was hosting a pop-up maze with blue plaques all around inside the maze telling visitors all about the West End. It wasn't large enough to get lost in but was good fun and in the middle were singers from Dover Street jazz and I read that there were different performers each day. Just a bit of fun and why not. A couple of photos to give you the idea, one on the inside and one of the famous lions taken in the queue - yes of course there's a queue - surely part of the fun!

It was classical music week with a trip to the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall where we saw Elgar and Vaughan Williams performed by the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. It's a beautiful venue and I love to hear music there. It was good to see it full as the Proms are a fabulous national treasure from the BBC - the world's largest classical music festival with over 70 concerts spread over 3 months every summer. 'Prommers' queue on the day (queueing again!) for standing tickets at just £5 which makes it brilliantly accessible for the less well off but hardy folk. Luckily for me we had box tickets as I'm too short and too lazy to stand for a couple of hours! Here's a photo of the inside of the wonderful hall, taken just after the performance finished in case you were thinking I'd taken in mid symphony which would be a major Proms crime...

One of my local galleries was holding their Summer 2010 Collection which was very interesting. Salon Contemporary on Westbourne Grove showcase the best of new British talent in this annual event in its 4th year now and new graduates get to show their work in the trendy gallery. It was invite only and was absolutely packed. The most eye catching was Hye Young Ku who works with bin bags and combines a static piece with performances and the photos shows her is in her bin bag bed creation within which she sang short sets. Salon Gallery has regularly changing exhibitions and is an important champion of new work. They also initiated a great new local initiative, First Wednesdays, where local galleries and fashion shops open late on the first Wednesday of the month (it was in the name I guess!) which just makes Notting Hill even better

Eating and drinking this week - my fabulous picnic at Kenwood was a highlight! I love putting together my picnic with its massive over-catering and plenty of hot food. Also a trip to the refurbished Chepstow in Notting Hill and Smithy's Wine Bar in Kings Cross where the Dover Sole was very highly recommended.
Here's hoping for no rain as I'm off to the Edinburgh Fringe this weekend!
Bye for now.

2 August 2010

Laughs, tears and being very full up!

Read on to see what was happening in my London week: Carnaval del Pueblo fizzing, bike scheme starting, pizza opening, Spurs losing, comedy giggling, restaurant visiting and Toy Story!

Carnaval del Pueblo is a huge Latin American festival held in Burgess Park, south London and was indeed huge with 3 large sound stages, endless, endless food stalls, over 100,000 people dancing and picnicing and stalls selling all things Latin American and of course face painting! The festival is in its 10th year and is great fun - I even got to park nearby which was amazingly lucky. I should of course have cycled as London's new cycle scheme started this weekend. We have new shining bike stands everywhere and once you've registered you can use a bike for your journey, taking it from one bike stand and returning it to another. I'll have a go v soon but in the meantime loved this photo of the bikes all parked and ready to go the night before it all started.

The very friendly people at Fire and Stone pizzas kindly invited me to their pre-opening session for London bloggers at the new Shoreditch branch. They gave us a demo of how they make their pizzas and bases and enthused about their emphasis on fresh ingredients from good suppliers. The kitchen had been fired up with it's pizza oven and pizza kept appearing so we tasted a slice - well several actually, then we were given the chance to make a pizza ourselves! Not as foolish as it sounds as we chose a one off their menu and assembled the ingredients on the base with the help of one of the chefs, so no too much room for making a mess of it. There was a competition for the one that looked most like it should have and somehow I won so here is a photo of me with my fabulous 'Marrakech' (all their pizzas are named after towns and use typical ingredients from that place). The bases are different from normal dough as they have to carry quite a weight of toppings and are very tasty I must say. A fun morning and felt immensely full afterwards as we also had to taste the puddings - 'had to', yes, would have been rude not too so for those who like to drool over food photos, here's a pudding one - yummy brownie. Got a doggey bag - had to eat it - still feeling full - all my own fault.....

We've all moved on from the World Cup (as quickly as possible!) and it's pre-season friendly time so I went to see Spurs play Villa Real courtesy of some complementary tickets which was just as well because a 4-1 loss didn't feel very friendly. Spurs's ground is not the best looking or easy to get to and there is talk of them trying to take on the Olympic stadium after 2012 which would be good except that the team is Tottenham Hotspurs not Straford Spurs! One photo of Spurs almost scoring a 2nd goal....

Kings Place is a new-ish arts venue near Kings Cross and was the venue for pre-Edinburgh comedy at the weekend - the wonderful Chris Addison from The Thick of It. He did a great set and is up there with my other favourites now. I'm off to the Edinburgh Fringe in a couple of weeks so I'm looking forward to getting a few new comedy names on that list. Kings Place has a canal side setting with bar and restaurant and hosts a great range of events and exhibitions throughout the year. It's easy to get to except at the moment when the tube lines I use seem to be closed for renovation just when I want to use them - thank goodness for buses.

Restaurants this week included Camino near Kings Place - really good tapas and the bar was absolutely rammed with people who'd clearly been there for some time but no trouble at all.

And finally, Toy Story 3 - absolutely loved it and just held back a tear as they headed into the fire..... Genius story, scripting, technical brilliance and witty too. We went to the Electric Cinema to see it so we had the added loveliness of super comfy spacious seats and a bottle of wine.

Next week is shaping up - a trip to the Proms and a Kenwood picnic concert if the weather holds up.

Bye for now,

Sue http://www.itsyourlondon.co.uk/