Friday, 14 March 2014

A Soho singalong

On Tuesday night this week, rather by accident, I did something I've never done before - I took part in a singalong around the old Joanna.

I arrived at the Coach & Horses, Greek Street just as the pianist was starting. She rattled off a few well known tunes - My Old Man, Roll out the Barrel etc but at 7.30pm most people in the pub ignored her.

Photo courtesy of
Only an hour later it was a different story.  Although it turned into a bit of a karaoke session at one point - with groups of work colleagues singing along to tunes from the Jungle Book and Oliver (words provided) - after a short break she was back on the traditional songs.  Soon loads of people were singing along (including me); not needing words to the famous Londony songs. I can't sing that well so really hope she was attracted to our table by the much better voices of @London_nut and his girlfriend A.

We were amazed to discover that Lili Davies - or to give her her stage name, Magic Betty, was from Romania!  She said she had learned all the songs from scratch. I must admit I initially felt a bit cheated. I wanted her to be London born and bred.  However she is very entertaining and I will definitely return.

The Coach and Horses has singalongs around the piano every Tuesday and Saturday at 7.30pm. I expect Saturday evenings will be a different crowd entirely. There are a number of different performers; Magic Betty will next be performing there on Saturday 22nd March.

There are lots of other good reasons to visit the pub. They only serve vegetarian food, upstairs there is a "secret" tea room and they sell at least 5 varieties of pickled egg! (I have to confess I have never eaten a pickled egg - maybe I should try one here.)  Any recommendations for a particular flavour?

The pub has got a fascinating history too and if you want to discover that why not book on my Soho Sunday Pub Themed Stroll - a new public date coming very soon.

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End. 
Details of all her walks are listed here.
To sign up to Joanna's mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
or like on Facebook

Monday, 10 March 2014

New competition - Win 2 places on one of my walks!

Where in London can you find this sculpture?

I posted this picture on Twitter at lunchtime today with that very question.  I've had a couple of re-tweets but no correct answers so wonder if I should give you a clue.

Clue - I found this sculpture on one of the tube strike days when walking between London Bridge and Westminster Bridge on the south side of the river.

Does that help?

First person to respond with the correct answer - either on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments below will win 2 places on one of my walks. I am planning to add some walks into my calendar very soon so watch this space!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Sculptures, Scones & Shh - some of my London discoveries

It's only since qualifying as a tour guide in 2009 that I have realised just how much there is to see and do in London, and how much of it is free.  In the past few years I have discovered Londonist, Ian VisitsTom Tired of London, Tired of Life, and many other London blogs all with ideas of unusual things to do in the capital and of course London Historians which has introduced me to many other London obsessives and I would thoroughly recommend joining.* 

As fast as I discover places I have new ones to add to the list. It's great! These are some of my best finds over the last few years.

Cafes in unexpected places

Whilst studying for my guiding exam in Mayfair one of my first unusual discoveries was that Sotheby's in New Bond Street has a cafe with a very reasonably priced small cream tea.

Their "small tea" consists of a toasted tea cake, a portion of scones with cream and jam and a pot of tea; all for £9.10. With the addition of mini bagels the cost is just over £14 and even with a glass of Champagne you are left with change from £25. It's not the grand affair that you would get at some of the Mayfair hotels - and not as much food - but taking afternoon tea at a hotel with a glass of Champagne you would be looking at least double that!  Sotheby's cafe is only open Monday to Friday - 9.30am-5pm and you do need to book.  Whilst there have a wander around their galleries to see what is coming up for auction.

Also discovered on my exam walk is the cafe within Dover Street Market.  This isn't a market in the usual sense of the word but a very expensive clothes shop selling designer brands. I have to admit when I first visited the shop I found the shop assistants rather scary but now I just head to the lift to make my way to the top floor where the cafe is situated.

The Rose Bakery is the London outpost of a British cafe which opened in Paris in 2002.  It was founded by Rose Carrarini who is sister-in-law to Rei Kawakubo founder of Comme des Garçons the principal designer within Dover Street Market which is probably how the cafe has ended up in this location. Tokyo and Seoul now have Rose Bakeries of their own too.

The cafe is light and airy with a small outside terrace. The food is good too and comprises salads, sandwiches, soups and cakes. It's open every day but it's best to check the opening times first.  I am quite surprised to find that it now has its own page on the DSM website as previously there has been barely anything online; it really is a word of mouth type of place.

Hidden sculptures

I thought I knew Mayfair pretty well having studied there for my guiding exam, based my course project on it and been guiding through it since qualifying.  So I was very surprised last year (when taking a short-cut) to discover a set of 3 sculptures commemorating the famous photographer Terence Donovan close to his old studio. These 3 sculptures - depicting the photographer, the model (Twiggy) and a shopper who has stumbled across the "photo shoot" - really are in deepest Mayfair.

The sculptures are by Neal French and can be found in Bourdon Place which is parallel with Grosvenor Hill and Grosvenor Street.  Incidentally Brown's Hotel in Albemarle Street nearby have named their bar after him - Donovan's - where they display some of his photographs; the more risqué photos can be found in the "Naughty Corner"! (See my blog post here about Browns' Bloody Mary.)

Both my Belgravia and St James's walks also include hidden sculptures - some of these are so tucked away I sometimes wonder if the only people to see them are those on my walks!
Just around the corner from the Mayfair sculptures can be found another favourite place - Hedonism Wines - an amazing shop, really worth visiting. 

My favourite small house museum

The next place I am going to share in this post isn't in Mayfair; in fact it's not even in Westminster but in Hammersmith.

Some time ago I signed up to receive email newsletters from London Shh, Small Historic Houses which keep me updated about museums such as the Handel House Museum, the Benjamin Franklin Museum and, a new one on me 7 Hammersmith Terrace, home to Emery Walker. I am ashamed to say that not only had I not heard of the museum but I had no knowledge of typographer and printer Emery Walker either.  When I discovered that 7 Hammersmith Terrace is the last Arts and Craft interior left in Britain and that it is practically untouched I had to visit. I took the opportunity in May 2012 to arrange a visit for the Westminster Guides and I have to say we were all practically blown away by the interior.

Emery Walker was a friend and colleague to William Morris and because of this the house contains many Morris originals - wallpaper, wall hangings even William Morris lino. The architect Philip Webb was also a friend and left his possessions to Walker and these are also to be found throughout the house. There is so much more than this though - it is like a time capsule. The house has remained virtually unaltered because Walker left the house to his daughter who in turn left it to her companion who then formed a trust to preserve it for the future. More details about the house can be found on the excellent Londonphile blog.

I have been to many historic houses over the years and am sometimes dismayed that the houses are bare and lacking in possessions; I have now been completely spoiled with this one and would thoroughly recommend a visit. Each tour is limited to 8 people so you do need to book in advance.  They are currently looking for volunteers to help out this summer so if you live in the area maybe you could help.

A walk along the Thames afterwards with lunch at the Dove is a great way to complete your visit to Hammersmith.

A hidden church

Lastly, this unusual shaped church is a recent find and I hope to include it in a mainly pub-themed walk around Fitzrovia soon.

This is only a small selection of places I have discovered in the past 5 years or so and I'm continuing to discover more many of which will end up on one of my walks. All my walks include hidden tea shops, pubs and anything else I may have discovered along the way together with of course the historical narrative.

Further afield

This post is just about London but there's so much more to discover in the rest of the country. I've just nominated a couple of my hidden London favourites on this map but you may want to look at what else has been suggested around the country or even add some yourself.

*London Historians hold a monthly pub meet for members and non-members alike. It's held upstairs at the Windsor Castle pub, Francis Street SW1 from 6.30pm usually until closing time on the first Wednesday of every month - next one is Wednesday 5th February. There's no obligation to join if you go along and it's just a social so turn up any time. Maybe see you there!

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End. 
Details of all her walks are listed here.
To sign up to Joanna's mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
or like on Facebook

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Random Acts of Kindness in WC2

I am sure it was via Twitter that I kept seeing the area of St Martin's Courtyard cropping up. As a Westminster Guide I was ashamed to say I didn't recognise the street so set out earlier this week (in the rain!) with a mission to find it.

It turns out that St Martin's Courtyard is a new name for Slingsby Place - an enclave bordered by Mercer Street, Long Acre and St Martin's Lane in Covent Garden.

Within it can be found a number of shops, bars and restaurants.  Some of the shops were unfortunately out of my price range but there are a number of restaurants that look worth visiting.

There is another reason to visit as from now until Christmas Eve the Courtyard have a special Random Acts of Kindness event where random shoppers, diners and even browsers are given amazing prizes such as a meal, a makeover or a wine tasting! Definitely worth dropping in if you're nearby.

And tonight from 5pm to 7pm (Thursday 19th December) and this coming Saturday there will be live music and mulled wine too.

Thursday 19 December, 5pm-7pm  –  English National Opera Community Choir
Saturday 21 December, 2pm-4pm –  Roo Savill

There are also some fabulous Christmas decorations! Worth another wander I think!

The location of St Martin's Courtyard can be found on this link.

Find out more on Twitter from @smccoventgarden or follow the hashtag #RAOK.

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End.  Details of all her bookable private walks are listed here and upcoming public walks are here.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Road to Recovery & Better Health!

Injuring my foot in June this year whilst on a walk in Walthamstow was not a good thing to happen to a tour guide. I cancelled walks, I gave away walks to other guiding colleagues and did what the doctor ordered (mostly) which was to rest. Without a car not walking at all was impossible but I did try. Instead of walking from Victoria to Westminster Abbey or Liverpool Street to London Bridge for my various temping assignments (in my other job as a legal secretary) I took the bus. Nordic walking in Epping Forest is (still) on hold.

I am still guiding - in fact the next week is quite busy with a number of Christmas Lights walks - but I'm trying to be sensible in between as I'm still not fully recovered.

This sedentary lifestyle has of course had an adverse effect on my weight which has shot up in the last few months. I don't usually watch my weight but the fact that I can't get into quite a few of my clothes tells me all I need to know.

I have also got myself into a bit of an unhealthy lifestyle - drinking a bit too much, having a few too many late nights and then not able to get up in the morning, missing breakfast and grabbing a croissant on the way. Not good. I have known for a while that things need to change but haven't done anything about it.

So when I received an invite to a Healthy Eating Class at the Underground Cookery School organised by simplyhealth I thought this was perfect timing and would hopefully be the catalyst for me to start changing my diet and lifestyle.

On arrival at the School's base in City Road near Old Street we were offered a choice of carrot or orange juice. Strangely I have never tried carrot juice so I had to go for this. It turned out to be a mixture of not just carrots but celery and spinach and I have to say was delicious. I am seriously considering buying a juicer now!

Photo courtesy of the Underground Cookery School

I have never yet included a recipe on a blogpost but this was so delicious I have to share it!

To make about a pint of juice:

450g carrots (skin left on)
1 stick celery
small handful of flat leaf parsley
large handful of spinach
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

The next part of the event was a talk entitled "Eat Yourself Young" by nutritionist Kate Cook. This was a real eye opener. I recognised lots of bad habits I had got into mostly caused by a lack of sleep and the knock-on effects the next day.  I have also never really thought of the long-term effects on my body. Kate told us that "Genes load the gun but lifestyle pulls the trigger". That really made me think.

One of the keys to a healthy lifestyle is to keep your blood sugar level well balanced. I was amazed to discover how much sugar is in a glass of orange juice; it's much better for your body to drink the aforementioned vegetable juice than the usual fruit juices.

Kate's reference to The Numskulls who used to appear in the Beano made me laugh but it brought the point home; showing how your body is affected when your blood sugar level is raised.

Kate emphasised that it's much better to slowly change your diet to a good one than to diet off and on. She did encouragingly say that it's impossible to change your way of life overnight; it will take time.

More of Kate's advice can be found on this post by simplyhealth the hosts of the event.

The next part of the day was to do prepare and cook our meal. The menu was:

We were split into groups and my group's first task was to fillet a mackerel. This was nowhere near as hard as anticipated.

After washing my hands my next task was to peel some pears. I was slow but I was methodical.  However I completely failed at the third task which was to de-bone a chicken. It probably didn't help that I was feeling a bit under the weather and was standing next to the cooker but I started to feel a bit unwell at the thought of pulling the chicken apart and had to abandon this and watch from a safe distance.

The last (and best) part of the day was to eat the meal we had helped to prepare. I am there - honest! I was at the far end of the table and can just about see my turquoise clad arm!

The highlight for me was the pan fried chicken with puy lentils which had a spicy kick and was absolutely delicious. I definitely want to cook it for myself - minus the de-boning part of course.

The recipe to this dish can be found here. If you want to make it spicy the ratio is half a large red chilli de-seeded per portion.

I have recipes for all the items on the menu above so please feel free to ask me if you would like any of them.

What an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday; I learned so much and hope to start putting it all into practice soon. I am also planning to ask my GP to refer me to a podiatrist so I can find out what is wrong with my foot and get fully back to my normal energetic self.

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End.  Details of all her bookable private walks are listed here and upcoming public walks are here.