17 December 2015

Christmas lights in London 2105

It's that time of year again when London comes to life with festive lights in all the major shopping areas. I've been out and about checking them out for you and my view on 2015 is that some new ones are great, some areas have kept with old favourites which is no bad thing  but some of the major shops have not made much effort this year and one major street is just not up to our high standards. 

Carnaby Street's 2015 offering wins as usual, it's fun, it suits the street and is new and fresh and even looks good before it's completely dark!

Carnaby Street

A Carnaby Street side street
Carnaby Street 

Trafalgar Square hosts the Christmas tree sent each year by the people of Norway to express their ongoing thanks for our support during the 2nd World War. This year it's been a bit battered by a storm which hit the capital just after it went up, so it's slightly crooked but as lovely as ever, especially when reflected in the fountains. 

Trafalgar Square

Oxford Street has stuck with it's massive baubles which works well for them and I was pleased to see that South Molton Street have kept with their elegant blue arches.
Oxford Street at the Selfridges end

South Molton Street

Covent Garden has gone for enormous mistletoe this year which I liked and had some fun to it and they have kept their enormous Christmas tree and the striking silver reindeer.

Giant mistletoe in Covent Garden

Covent Garden's tree

Covent Garden's silver reindeer

This year's big disappointment is Regent Street where they have replaced their successful reindeer antlers with the 12 days of Christmas with small shiny triangles which are too small to bring much light and large circles with projected video animations which I couldn't quite fathom and the circles are not always lit on both sides.  Apologies for a poor photo to match!

Regent Street 
The Strand has joined in this year with a jolly look in blue which brightens up this part of the city: 

The Strand

Two of our major stores, Selfridges and John Lewis, usually have inventive and playful festive window displays but this year they are unimpressive and so have not made this gallery of the light show of 2015. 

London hosts ice rinks outside many of the famous landmarks such as the Tower of London and Somerset House, and the Natural History's rink is one of my favourite sights especially when the kids have a go. 

Skating a the Natural History Museum

Finally, I visited the posh shopping streets of Mayfair to see their lovely display, again kept from last year, of delicate, feathery lights. 



I hope you enjoyed this visit to London at Christmas, it's a great time of year to come here and even the shorter days are a bonus as you can see the festive lights from late afternoon onwards before enjoying a mulled wine in a cosy bar. 

Bye for now,


11 December 2015

Lunch at .... J Sheekey, London

Where to find a good lunch in London is a fun but possibly daunting challenge. There are said to be over 5,000 restaurants in London ranging from the corner cafe to the best in the world and every price point that goes with that. Then you have the choice of almost any cuisine you can think of and London boasts having many of the world's top chefs to add to your decision making woes. 

So, here's another post in my series of 'lunch at...' to help you.  I usually put my disclaimer at the end but here it is to let you know that this is an independent review and my visit was paid for by me!  Today I'm featuring J Sheekey, a famous London fish restaurant, dating back to the 1890 when it started life as a market stall selling oysters. It is now a London institution, a well loved part of the dining scene here and, in a wonderful nod to its past, has an oyster bar where we took our lunch, alongside a main restaurant room. 

Arriving down the small pedestrian thoroughfare the exterior is impressive and enticing and yet my dining companions claimed to have walked past the red canopies and wooden tables on several occasions without even noticing this fine establishment. The location is really handy for Covent Garden but more importantly for the nearby theatres and galleries. 

Sheekey's impressive entrance 

We met early and were among the first there but very soon the place was packed and it was clear these were regulars, comfortable in their usual seats, tucking into familiar fare. This was our first visit and we had chosen the Oyster Bar section as it's a bit cheaper than their main room but still offers a good choice of dishes.  

The Oyster Bar

My lunch group, a regular bunch of diners, are not easy to please so I was relieved that they finished their plates and reported back in very positive terms. The highlight were the Deep Fried Goujons with tartare sauce, meaty, tasty with a crispy coating. I had the Sheekey's Fish Pie which was a great winter dish with plenty of fish filling including good salmon chunks. 

Sheekey's Fish Pie

The Cornish Fish Stew was another winner and the extra portion of thin chips (Pommes Allumettes) disappeared right away. Our fourth member of the party had the Seared Scallops as she was not so hungry and loved the chilli and garlic sauce they were in. 

Cornish Fish Stew
Irresistible chips 

Sadly we were under time pressures so could not try out any of the desserts but I would definitely go back and indulge myself another time. 

Our dishes cost between £11.25 and £13.75 which we felt was very fair for the quality of the food and the surroundings as well as the good service.

For more information about this restaurant click here.

Bye for now,

29 November 2015

Dutch life and great satire at the Queen's Gallery London

The Royal Collection is the British Royal Family's art collection and is one of the largest and most important in the world. This holds so many pieces that only a fraction can be on display at any one time in the royal palaces across the UK. The Queen's Gallery holds exhibitions throughout the year, curated to show a different range of these precious works. 

Their new exhibitions bring together Dutch art and Georgian caricatures  linked by kings George lll and lV who were art collectors and the subject of the cartoons. The Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer' presents 27 of the Royal Collection's finest Dutch paintings. My eye is always drawn to Rembrandt's paintings, there's something about his use of light to illuminate faces that is so powerful. I was rewarded with several in this show:

Rembrandt's Rabbi with a Cap. 

Rembrandt's Agatha Bas
Rembrandt's An Old Woman called the Artist's Mother

Desmond Shaw Taylor, the curator, explained how they had chosen to use plain walls, popular at the time, to display key painting in one of the exhibition rooms which certainly contrasts with the lush blue of the walls in the other display room.

Unusual plain grey walls 
We saw popular painters from the 17th and 18th century such as Gerrit Dou, Peter Bruegel the Elder and Jan Steen as well as Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch who both took Dutch genre painting to a new level of brilliance.  Genre paintings capture everyday life, ordinary scenes and these painters bring extraordinary detail to their work. 

Pieter de Hooch
Johannes Vermeer

Both George lll and lV were keen collectors, paying high prices to secure these works as well as Sevres porcelain and fine French furniture, examples of which are on display around the rooms. 

The accompanying exhibition at the Queen's Gallery is High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson showcases the brilliant work of Thomas who was one of the most popular and wittiest caricaturists of Georgian Britain, poking fun at the kings who collected the fine works we've just seen as well as the politics, fashions and mores of the time. Rowlandson was inspired by Dutch art and although seen to be a cartoonist was a fine artist as this exhibition shows. 

From showing the public criticism the Prince of Wales for his drunken behaviour during his father George lll's illness to laughing at the misfortunes of the Duke of York, these drawings give us a great insight into the gossip of the time. I loved the drawing of the Duke of York, who had been caught up in a huge love scandal and had to resign amid the public humiliation of his love letters being published. Here he is pleading with a whale that had been found in the Thames to help keep him out the headlines which feels very modern! 

The Prince of Wales dancing at his father's sick bed
Pleading with the whale to keep distracting attention from the Duke

This cartoon lampoons the Duchess of Devonshire who was rumoured to be trading kisses for votes at a time when canvassing outside of ones family was considered unseemly for a woman. Here in this cartoon which was damaging to her reputation, she is kissing a butcher.  Given our own political scandals of votes for cash in parliament, these again feels very contemporary. 

'Most Approved Method of Securing Votes

His sense of humour shines through and the man himself was great company and a popular man in society which makes for an enjoyable exhibition.  He went to the Royal Academy school and his skill shines through.

One of the things I love about the Queen's Gallery is their education room where they bring fun and interest for younger visitors. One example of how they do this is shown below where they have picked out a section of painting to encourage the viewer to look at the detail not just the overall impression of a work.  Here the game in the corner of the painting is highlighted, something I had missed in the main gallery. 

The exhibitions are on until 14th February 2016 and for more information click here.

Bye for now,

Disclaimer:  I was invited to visit the gallery for free and the curator tour was part of this.

13 November 2015

Lunch at ..... Corrigan's in Mayfair

Anyone who follows me on Twitter (@itsyourlondon) will know that I'm often to be found out and about trying new restaurants and bars, so I thought I catch my blog readers up on a few good venues I've enjoyed lately.  So I'm starting a new series of short pieces, a whistle stop tour around some places I have checked out for you. 

Mayfair can be a worrying place to have a meal as the prices tend to be aimed at the larger wallet. However, many of the fine dining venues offer a set lunch which is affordable and allows us ordinary folk to mix with those who have no concerns about a heart stopping bill at the end of a meal.

Corrigan's has a good looking exterior on a very smart street just in sight of Hyde Park. The friendly staff welcomed us and no sooner had I sat down before Richard Corrigan himself walked past into the kitchen, so we felt assured of a good meal.  

I have a weakness for good warm bread with soft creamy butter so they had me right away with these lovely nutty loaves in mini flower pots. 

The starter of 'Rooftop salmon tartare, oyster mayonnaise and pomegrante was light, flavoursome and very pretty. 

 A second starter was the 'Ribble Valley duck croquette with glazed plum', the fruit giving the duck a clean taste in contrast with the rich but light duck. 

I was in the mood for meat so went for the 'Confit Middlewhite pork belly, kale and apple sauce'.  For my palate the kale was a little sharp but the pork was soft and tasty with some crispy crackling but not the sort that takes your teeth with it!

My dining companions preferred a fish main course and chose the 'Cornish seafood grill with rouille' which had a good range of fish, full of flavour and perfectly cooked with a light green salad.

Luckily we had saved a small space in order to check out a couple of the puddings which we ordered for the table. The 'Chocolate cheesecake, chantilly cream' managed to silence one of our group, always a sign that the chocolate has hit the spot. 

The 'Fine apple tart' was unexpected visually as we thought a flat classic French tart was coming but this version was full of good apple and the tart was light and flaky. 

A final treat was a baking dish straight out of the oven to accompany our coffees with the freshest Madeleines I've had the pleasure of tasting for a long time. 

Our bill was modest given the surroundings and the quality of the food as their Seasonal Lunch Menu is £25 for 2 courses and £29 for 3 courses.  Drinks were expensive but we were not looking for more than a glass each as it was lunchtime. 

I highly recommend this restaurant although I cannot guarantee Richard Corrigan will be overseeing your meal!

For more information about the restaurant click here to their website. 

Full disclosure:  I booked this restaurant myself and we all paid for our own meals. This was not a press trip but just a great lunch out with friends!

Bye for now,

23 October 2015

4 horses and 100,000 balloons in London!

You don't expect to 4 horses to appear in the river Thames nor to find 100,000 balloons in Covent Garden but then London is always coming up with the unexpected to keep us guessing.  

Public art is one of London's great strengths and my only complaint is that sometimes it is too short lived, it's gone before we realise we need to rush to see it and I'm going to show you two perfect examples of this in today's blog post. 

The Totally Thames Festival lasted all of September and saw a range of events and exhibitions of all things Thames related. You could enjoy all manner of river races, Tall Ships, concerts inside the Tower of London and a night of poetry readings celebrating wild swimming!  It was the horses that really caught my attention. I read about 4 life sized horse statues that had appeared on the foreshore at Vauxhall, a piece entitled The Rising Tide,  so I set off, at low tide, to find them and learn more.  

Skirting round the outside of MI6, much loved of the Bond franchise and not at all secret, I took the slipway normally used by the Duck tours boats, down to the river. My timing was spot on as the Thames was at low tide so there was no danger of falling in and drowning - I'm not being dramatic, I just can't swim! However, despite a helpful warning from the man guarding the slipway, I managed to step on the softer area of the foreshore and spent the rest of the day walking nonchalantly around London with one foot covered in grey mud!

One very muddy foot

Turning my attention back to the horses I was amazed how powerful they were. The Rising Tide is a piece by Jason deCaires Taylor, an underwater sculptor.  The artist is known for his focus on conservation and climate change and these themes are clearly explored.

Each horse is a life size shire horse with their wonderful large hooves and powerful bodies There are 4, a number that may be a nod to the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. Placing them within sight of Parliament seems to ask questions of lawmakers, questions which the sculptor feels they are ignoring, choosing instead to make damaging deals and compromising policies. 

It was a delight to be able to wander around the horses and see them from all angles, to get so close you could touch them without guards telling you to keep away. Photographers, both the iphone folk and those with tripods, were there in big numbers, taking away their own digital memories. A passing beach comber was rather non-plussed by horses and crowds appearing on his regular patch but showed us a few pieces of metal he had found, including a very worn coin and a belt buckle which he dated as Victorian.

The head of the horses has been replaced by the head of an oil well pump giving them an eerie futuristic look.  Two of the horses have male figures, looking like business men or politician whereas the other two carry children giving us the contrast of those with responsibility for what is happening now and the hope for the future. 

Horse with an oil well pump in place of a head

As the tide comes in the figures are submerged until the heads alone are above the waves and I would have loved to have seen this dramatic sight but after a month, the horses and their riders moved on and we are left with the fleeting memory of this wonderful work.

The thousands of shoppers who crowd into Covent Garden were treated to another short lived art installation when balloons outnumbered people for just one month. 

100,000 white balloons, each one of a different size, floated delicately under the Victorian roof of the South Hall. French artist Charles Petillon created a work called Heartbeat to delight and intrigue visitors. Pulses of light run through the balloons making the experience of viewing them rather hypnotic and symbolising the beating heart of the market, now and stretching back into its past. 

I loved the fragility of the balloons that become almost solid in such numbers and how the light changed so much even in the hour that I was there. Each time I looked back at the roof I saw a different colour, a new shape, almost like watching clouds change and reform. 

For those who like to know the behind the scenes info, the balloons were blown up by people, 25 of them who spent 5 nights and a lot of puff to make sure there were 100,000 perfectly filled balloon to form this work.  

Now, both art installations have gone and we look forward to whatever comes next. London is full of surprises but sometimes you have to be quick or you miss them, passing moments in a city of such enduring history. 

Bye for now,