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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!