Green Park, and Piccadilly for lunch

Sunday, 20 May, 2018

I love going to the Galvin restaurants. A few months ago they closed what I think was their original location on Baker Street and customers (including me) got a conciliatory fifty percent off invitation to their Piccadilly location. At first I didn’t think I would make it since Krish is not a fan. Then my friend Caroline let me know she was free for lunch on the 20th. Booked!

Sunday morning dawned warm and bright so I set off as soon as I could, allowing lots of time to get there. For one thing, the Hackney Half Marathon was on. Since 7am the organisers had been outside planting beacons and Road Closed signs. They were very loud, as were the dozens of drivers who came along afterwards when they discovered their way was blocked. Add to this, Krish yelling out of the window for everyone to shut up and it wasn’t the most peaceful of Sunday mornings!

The five way junction closed for the marathon and eerily empty
The five way junction closed for the marathon and eerily empty

So off I set on foot, knowing there were no buses to the station today. I had decided to take the overground and underground for once. I am  not fond of underground travel so this was a challenge for me.

In the end, I got there so quickly it was silly. five super-packed tube stops from Highbury (which is itself only five to ten mins by overground from Hackney Central). I’d decided to wear a dress and some new shoes since Caroline is always impeccably dressed. I thought about throwing my running shoes in a back pack and decided not to carry that into a fancy hotel.

The way to the tube at Highbury is so claustrophobic
The way to the tube at Highbury is so claustrophobic
The platform isn't much better but there was only a one minute wait
The platform isn’t much better but there was only a one minute wait
Escalator Green Park
A major obstacle for me is going down an escalator. I ask people to stand in front of me – vertigo! This is a shot upwards at Green Park

Coming out of the station into Green Park is crazy. Instant green trees everywhere in such an urban area. Green Park leads down through St James’s Park and on to Buckingham Palace. St James’s is my favourite park in central London but today I wasn’t going to get there. Meanwhile, Green Park was resplendently green and dotted with deckchairs – a very amusing British custom.

Stunning entry to the park from the underground at Green Park
Stunning entry to the park from the underground at Green Park
Deckchairs out for the sun worshipers at Green Park
Deckchairs out for the sun worshipers at Green Park

Continue reading “Green Park, and Piccadilly for lunch”

Abney Park, Stoke Newington

Saturday, 19 May, 2018

This morning I watched the Harry and Meghan wedding and enjoyed almost all of it. I will go down as one who found Bishop Curry’s sermon overwhelming and annoying. I enjoyed the cello playing of Sheku Kanneh-Mason, whose career will surely skyrocket now.  Windsor looked beautiful, Meghan was radiant, Harry was besotted and tender.  What more can you ask for?

Wedding watching accomplished and BBC moving on to the FA Cup, I ventured out to Stoke Newington for the Abney Park Open House.

Abney Park Entrance
Abney Park Entrance

Abney Park dates from the early 18th century and  is one of the ‘magnificent seven’ garden cemeteries of London. It’s a woodland memorial park, an arboretum, and a local Nature Reserve, as well as housing events and workshops.  It’s a unique cemetery in that it’s non-denominational, doesn’t have an orderly layout, is as much a park as a cemetery, and has some amazing botanicals. Its 2,500 trees and shrubs were all labelled, and arranged around the perimeter alphabetically, from A for Acer to Z for Zanthoxylum.  This  planting was carefully designed to do as little as possible to change the existing picturesque land.

All of this gives it a ‘wild’ look. The grass and wildflowers are overgrown and the ivy climbs everywhere, sometimes obscuring the graves. If you go to any of the stones along the path edges and peer past, you’ll see other stones and graves further in, hidden by accident or design.  And, although, it’s a cemetery housing many dead, it has a lived-in atmosphere since people wander in here studying the plants, and sit among the graves, picnic, and enjoy music.

I’ll confess to having had a hard time knowing what photos to include here. To me, this the most beautiful cemetery I’ve seen and so forgive the sheer number of images. There are many that I didn’t include.

People enjoying the park
People enjoying the park

While some graves appear to have been placed in some order, others are random and partly obscured, seeming part of the woodland landscape
While some graves appear to have been placed in some order, others are random and partly obscured, seeming part of the woodland landscape

Continue reading “Abney Park, Stoke Newington”

Petticoat Lane Poutine, the back streets of Spitalfields, the market, and Commercial Street life

Sunday 13 May, 2018

For the past two weeks I have eaten the two cheeses that were maturing in the fridge. On the left is the ‘white’ cheese, which had a Cheddar depth and texture. On the right is the ‘blue’ cheese. This didn’t really taste like a blue and had a tart flavour and a more crumbly texture. You can see where the blue veins tried to creep through but didn’t succeed. Regardless, I preferred this one.

The white and the (failed) blue cheeses. Both delicious!
The white and the (failed) blue cheeses. Both delicious!

They looked good on the cold plates of food we choose for dinner on many nights. Those and the burratas from Gallo Nero are always popular options.

A cold plate and a burrata
A cold plate and a burrata

On Friday I made the trip into Spitalfields in search of photos and poutine. I’d been putting it off for weeks. I love the 67 bus route that takes me from Dalston and then before it hits Bishopsgate, turns along Commercial Street towards its Aldgate destination. It’s quieter than Bishopsgate and takes me to the more interesting views from Commercial Street.

From Commercial Street, I can see the Walkie Talkie, and the Gherkin rapidly being crowded in by the new towers under construction
From Commercial Street, I can see the Walkie Talkie, and the Gherkin rapidly being crowded in by the new towers under construction

Poutine is these days considered the national dish of Canada. Canadians may not agree but it’s certainly iconic. French fries are covered in cheese curds (never mature cheese) and the whole thing is doused in gravy. The curds stay more or less whole but some melt or become partially melted. It’s an artery-clogging treat, one I don’t have more than once a year.

The view along Wentworth Street from Commercial Street
The view along Wentworth Street from Commercial Street

On the corner of Wentworth Street at Commercial Street once a week you can find The Poutinerie stand. These guys make the real thing. Others merely imitate. They also attract quite a queue. I joined the back of it.

Paul, one of the owners, serves up the poutine in a cardboard carton. He tells me that they are doing well after those first difficult years. Now they are survivors, outlasting all the other food trucks in the areas they visit. A traditional poutine (meat or vegetarian gravy) will cost you £5, the one with rib meat will cost £8-10.

It’s a huge portion. I know I can’t eat it all but I’ll do my best. I try some of the Ribman sauce they are famous for. It’s spicy and delicious. All I can do is dig in and hope for someone to share it with next time, about year from now.

Balancing my poutine and my phone so I can still take photos I head down Toynbee Street. This street has an elaborate history in an area  considered “the worst parish… inhabited mostly by a criminal population” consisting of “wretched streets and foul alleys full of houses that are desolation without and squalour within”.

Foxes are a frequent subject for street art - this one on Toynbee Street
Foxes are a frequent subject for street art – this one on Toynbee Street

Also on Toynbee Street there’s a row of derelict houses. I would look at these on many walks and think there was nowhere uglier in all of Spitalfields. Ironically, some years later, John told me that ancestors had lived here.  (See John’s note below.) I wonder if they were still OK to look at then and not yet descended to the ugly mess they are now.  They’ve stood derelict all the time I’ve seen them. There are great plans to regenerate this area so perhaps I will see them gone one day.

Derelict homes on Toynbee Street
Derelict homes on Toynbee Street
A common sight - a photo shoot on Brune Street
A common sight – a photo shoot on Brune Street, with its modern backdrop

From here I headed into Spitalfields Market hoping to find mugs for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding – a request from my friend, Judy. I looked and looked and didn’t find any. Not ready to give up quite yet. Spitalfields Market is changing so much now. Gone are the crowded, independent merchants’ stalls and, in their place, modern modular units = stark, clean, and missing the character of the old market. Everything changes.

Two views of the new stalls of Spitalfield Market
Two views of the new stalls of Spitalfield Market

What does remain outside of the market is a lovely street marker. If you look around the area you’ll see many of these roundels, each depicting what was going on in the vicinity. This one shows fruit which would have been sold here originally.

Pavement marker for Spitalfields Market
Roundel for Spitalfields Market – apples and pears
The crowd outside The Ten Bells, Commercial Street
The crowd outside The Ten Bells, Commercial Street
One piece by Mr Cenz, whose work is frequently seen in the neighbourhood
One piece by Mr Cenz, whose work is frequently seen in the neighbourhood
Vew from Spital Square to the Gherkin
View from Spital Square to the Gherkin – love the greenery
Laugh of the day, Spital Square
Laugh of the day, Spital Square

Notes from John about my ancestral connections with Spitalfields (many!):
Regarding your blog and Toynbee Street (originally Shepherd Street):
In and around 1881 the Willings, both from Amsterdam, who I think had been in England since their mid teens, lived at 13 Shepherd Street. If I understand the history of the area correctly, the buildings were put up about 1850 with six floors. Some were removed for the Holland Estate, an early council development in the late 1920s. In 1963 the top floors were removed from the remaining buildings, perhaps because they were not structurally sound at that height. The Willings, when they first lived there, were in their early twenties. Their address when they married in Princes (later Princelet) Street synagogue in September 1880 was on neighbouring Freeman Street. Sophie was born in 1888 on neighbouring Tilley Street. All these streets were in the Tenterground, which had a large Dutch immigrant population, and had only one entry through a large stone arch at White’s Row.

And remember that our great grandfather Charles Simmons sold produce at Spitalfields Market. At that time it hadn’t expanded to the west yet, so if we divide the present space into a west, middle, and east section, his stall would have been in the east one.

Bethnal Green Disaster Memorial

Wednesday, 10 May, 2018

I was born in Bethnal Green Hospital, which isn’t there any more. I grew up on Lessada Street in Bethnal Green, also not there any more.

I heard little bits of a story about how people were crushed at Bethnal Green tube station four years before I was born. As an adult I heard more about it. It was considered the worst civilian disasters of our time, worse than Hillsborough or Aberfan, with 173 deaths, 62 of whom were children.

Bethnal Green underground station (I think not yet ready for trains since it opened officially in 1946) was used as a shelter and on the evening of 3rd March, 1943 people were heading there after an air raid siren was heard. Suddenly a new sound was heard and people panicked and rushed down the 19 dark, wet steps. A woman holding a child tripped and fell and others followed, with bodies falling on top of other bodies, five or six deep. They were crushed or suffocated within ten to fifteen seconds.

Here’s a first-hand account of the tragedy. 

They’ve been talking about a memorial for many years and finally it was erected.  I passed it several times on days I couldn’t stop but last week I found the time on a lovely, sunny day.

The steps down to the Bethnal Green underground station
The steps down to the Bethnal Green underground station

Artist taking a selfie with her creation. I think this may become a cafe in Museum Gardens, Bethnal Green
Artist taking a selfie with her creation. I think this may become a cafe in Museum Gardens, Bethnal Green

It's peaceful by the memorial in Bethnal Green Gardens
It’s peaceful by the memorial in Bethnal Green Gardens

Visitors – Shoreditch, Skygarden, Marylebone…and…

Friday, 4 May, 2018

My friend, Virginia (Jinni), and her husband Dave are visiting London. This means a lot of guiding and walking.  Most of what I see is familiar but I do sometimes spot something new and that’s always a nice suprise!

On Monday, I met them for a local walk around for groceries. Instead of the fish and chip dinner I thought we might have we went to a pasta place close to their hotel. To my mind, the Italians tend to undercook ravioli. At least, I know that it’s supposed to be al dente and that’s fine but I think I prefer my ravioli and pasta a bit more tender than that. Doesn’t have to be soft but … yes, tender. It’s made me more determined to make a little of my own. After making it with a machine and with a rolling pin, I say the machine wins for the thinner, more tender, dough.

We started our walk near Arnold Circus (my usual route). The middle garden area was looking like Spring was taking hold. A nice oasis in busy Shoreditch.

Arnold Circus gazebo
Arnold Circus gazebo

We aren’t wimps but let’s say we are getting older. We stopped in The London Tea Exchange on Brick Lane. The server comes to your table and asks what you’re looking for and then choose a few options for you to smell and consider.  I chose the Green tea with Rose. It was very fragrant and refreshing. I was already starting to feel the warmer weather after the past several wet and cold ones. Five pounds well spent? Hmmm.

Rose green tea
Rose green tea at the Tea Exchange
Dave and Jin spotted this building name - I had never noticed it!
Dave and Jin spotted this building name – I had never noticed it!

I had booked three spaces at Ottolenghi so we arrived and ordered our dinner.  The prices have gone up – no surprise – my cold main and two salads was £18.80. I enjoyed it but thought I might have got the end of the roast since it wasn’t as rare as it used to be. Still, I made good choices – with Roasted butternut squash with nigella yoghurt, grilled spring onion and green chilli, Green beans, red endive with miso tahini and toasted sesame, and the fillet of beef.

Lunch at Ottolenghi
Lunch at Ottolenghi

I had been trying for over a week to get some spaces at Skygarden. It was definitely frustrating me. On Monday morning I was ready to grab spots for Tuesday and stupidly was waiting for something to show up while still on the April calendar. When I figured out what I was doing wrong, it was too late, no spots. Still, I knew that cancellation spots turned up if you keep checking and to my surprise as we left Ottolenghi, five spots showed for 3pm. I quickly selected three spots and prayed I’d been on time. I was! It was 2:20pm.

Every time I go to Skygarden now I think I don’t need to come back, but there I was and, despite the dull sky, I took a few photos for posterity!

The Tower,Tower Bridge, and City Hall
The Tower, Tower Bridge, and City Hall
The Shard and London Bridge Hospital
The Shard and London Bridge Hospital
Looking west with St Pauls, and the Eye around the bend in the river
Looking west with St Pauls 

Continue reading “Visitors – Shoreditch, Skygarden, Marylebone…and…”