Monday, 30 November 2009

Caffeine fixes in London

One facet of life here in London is that it is hard to get through it on a daily basis without caffeine. Tea refreshes the soul but Coffee is the substance that grabs a pitchfork, pokes you in the back and propells you through the vicissitudes of the daily grind. Unsurprisingly there are a huge number of places waiting to fulfil one's dark liquid desires and also unsurprisingly a lot are peddling vile forms of the liquid. I'm not going to be snobby about the major chains, at least you know what your over-priced cup of heated liquid will contain. I even have to admit to an embarrassing partiality to Starbuck's gingerbread latte and am therefore not a purist. What has come to pass is that increasingly the cafes originally run by Italians, Cypriots and Spaniards are now employing people who don't seem to have any idea of what a coffee should taste like. I blame the Soviet System, I never had a decent cup of coffee in a soviet country and am old enough to have given it a good try. It is galling to see a perfectly good machine with half decent coffee produce, in the hands of an inexpert barrista, a liquid resembling a scalding cup of Thames water.

Having said that there are a quartet of places that I actively seek out for a glass of the dark stuff and I list them below just in case it is of any use to anyone. Of course this reflects a personal taste, I make no claims to a developed palate as anyone aware of my passion for processed cheese and russian salad will attest. These places serve, I think, good tasty coffee. Thats my reason for putting them in my quartet of caffeinous pleasure.

1. The Monmouth Coffee Shop, Borough Market Branch.

Much loved and well known by Notting Hillite foody trendies, the Monmouth cup of white coffee is a lovely creamy confection. Made with organic whole milk using the individual filter and drip style method (shown in the picture above) its coffee is smooth and unctious. Buying it can however be a mare. The staff are lovely but on a busy day a lot of the customers are complete arses. There is an order, pay and wait at the side system which utterly confuses the middle classes. What do they not understand about this system? why do they stand there like idiots and not move aside? Why do they think that their huge baby-carrier is more important than the crowds of other people in the place? Also they pick up other people's drinks, which leads me to believe that despite their braying self confidence they don't know the difference between a white coffee and a capuccino. Despite all of this, it is still worth going to buy the coffee...thats how good it is.

2. Mezzo Cafe, Grand Parade Green Lanes Haringay

Quite a different clientele to the Monmouth (thankfully), the Mezzo is a turkish run cafe that not only purveys good mezze, crepes and sarnies but has, out back, a covered heated Shisha garden. Green Lanes is not well endowed with coffee establishments, perhaps because it is kebab mile (or two or three miles, who knows, that road goes on forever). A dodgy thoroughfare, it has almost as many random nutters as Brixton which means falling into somewhere nice and relaxed is sometimes a relief. Mezzo is situated just after the Sainsburys heading north, it's coffee is good, and very very cheap: £1.20 at the time of writing for a take-out. Turks know how to make beverages, the clue to the decentness of this coffee is grinding it not long before making it. I drink enough of their coffee to get a free cup every week using their loyalty coffee card. It is hot, strong enough and has a rich medium bitter flavour. I cannot help here but digress and suggest that this is the place for breakfast coffee, accompanied by one of their superb meditteranean breakfasts. I'll digress again and point out that their cheesey boregi are really good. They'll even give you a lollipop when you leave if they like you.

3 Sacred Coffee stall in Kingly court, off Carnaby Street.

Sacred is actually a chain of coffee shops but the only one I ever tend to use is the coffee stand in Kingly Court. This is because my hairdresser is based there and her popularity often means a lot of waiting around. This matters not because the salon, which specialises in retro hair increasingly has the feel of a social club because of the intersecting nature of the 'scenes' the clientele inhabit. Additionally I can consume coffee and read back issues of 'Bizarre' which bizarrely always has at least one photograph of a friend within its covers. I'm not sure why the coffee is good, it just is. Probably because it is well made, it is also organic although I have found that although morally reassuring this does not necessarily improve the flavour. Last time I was there the heavens had just opened and the stand was inundated as Kingly Court is under cover and Carnaby Street isn't. The barista was remarkably speedy and the coffee was as good as it always is. When they have time it often has that swirly pattern thing on top, which I like because I am girly.

On a sunny day you can grab a coffee and sit in the court, which although covered is external. There are not as many good places for coffee in that end of Soho as there could be and this place is within easy reach of both Liberty's and that deranged medina that is the Oxford Circus branch of Top Shop. The neighbouring cafe sells cakes, what more could you want?

4 The Wolseley, Green Park

Often this London institution is jammed, but sometimes in the morning, the afternoon or on weekdays the little patisserie section on the left of the main entrance has plenty of space. I'm fond of the Wolseley for it's opulance, hum of life and democratic principles. The coffee at the Wolseley is different from my other choices being more of a traditional filter style jobbie. It does come with room temperature cream and is served, as it should be, in a silver pot. I know they are silver or silver plated because I have seen the pot for sale, and it is expensive. This is coffee to go with cakes (I'd recommend one of their eclairs) and it is therefore appropriate for it to be a somewhat more ascetic brew. The coffee is high quality, my only complaint is that it could be hotter, but I am not sure that it should be. I simply like my coffee hot. This is definitely the place to bring relatives if they are in town and want coffee. I wouldn't recommend the afternoon tea at the Wolseley, the fodder and cha is good but being a glamorous noisy barn it always feels as if you should be hurling your scone at your neigbouring diners. Coffee in the patisserie is better, it is a calming experience. Often you see businessmen on a weekday morning, scanning their papers, sipping their coffee. If the Wolseley is heaving Richeloux also serve an equally tasty pot of coffee, they just cannot compete on looks or atmosphere, although their faux oriental decor has its charm.

A very good guide to coffee haunts nationally can be found here:

Monmouth coffee's website is under construction .

Sacred Coffee's website:

Mezzo restaurant cafe website:

Details on the Wolseley:

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Red Legs drinks too much nitespot review # 1

The Garden Ladder Green Lanes

Lord knows I have my problems with North London, the bit of London, given a choice that I would least like to live. However the bearded one lives there as do several other splendid friends so the place does have it's compensations and some must like it. It is thus I find myself drinking, copiously on occassion, in Green Lanes. Green Lanes is not well endowed with good drinking holes. The Salisbury is a big beautiful old gin palace but lacks character and is poorly run, one cannot enjoy a tipple without being accosted by gentlemen selling deeveedees. The Beaconsfield is a pleasant old style boozer with a nice landlady and a sweet but grumpy pub dog, Tip. However being a footie pub it is not good for me as I hate flat screens full of deranged men bouncing around like excitable gnats... The Garden Ladder is therefore a godsend. The decor is eclectic reflecting the fact that this is very much the owners' labour of love and they are often working at the bar along with their friendly staff.

The place has lots of positive negatives: no television screens, no fruit machines and absolutely no children (oh joy!). The food is good, the Sunday Carvery a post-boozey Saturday night necessity and the cocktails a bit too moreish for my own good. The clientele are eclectic: vintage girleys, post-punks, goths, crusties, local drinkers, bluff Norf London geezers and the occassional drag queen rub along nicely, in fact sometimes very nicely. The place is way out in Haringay but if you are in the Bermuda triangle that consists of Finsbury Park-Muswell Hill-Manor House (it's an isosceles Bermuda triangle) its a nice local. Even if it is in North London. You are also spoilt for kebabs if you decide to eat after closing time...
Details can be found here:

The owners.

Interior view.

The bar.

Club recommendation: Chocks Hawaii.

If any of you are wondering what to do this coming Saturday those ladies over at The Fox Presents are having another of their excellent vintagey boogylicious nights in Old Street. Redlegs has been to two of these events and is saddened to miss this one. It's friendly, good value and stylish but not, as we say in Sarf London 'up itself'.

See here:

Pip! Pip!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

vintage style dresses on the high street

When I returned from Asia I found, regrettably, that 'vintage' or rather my much loved jumble bargains had become trendy. The jumble sale itself seemed to have disappeared in favour of Ebay, no more elbow duelling with determined elderly ladies or fantastic earrings for 20p. Whilst it is good to see old clothes being valued and not thrown away it has left me bereft of my usual sources. Additionally, whilst it is rightly up to people how they wear their clothes, there is a nasty fairy hiding inside me that wants to jump out and thump Kate Moss wannabes wearing uncared for vintage 50's tulle with Ugg boots. Even worse are Hoxtonites who have cut up (or in their words 'deconstructed') lovely old rayon 40's dresses. The only thing that cheers me is the fact that so many of these women are being ripped off by the likes of Rellik and charged a fortune for crappy old 60's crimpolene and vile 70's nylon.

The problem remains however that the prices for the vintage I want to wear with a hat and heels are now beyond my means. Especially as vintage clothes also come complete with challenges: difficulties of sizing, moth nibbles and that unique, not entirely pleasant smell of damp. I like reproduction clothing, but the difficulty is that when I wear a Stop Staring dress everyone recognises it, nice in a way but I cannot help feeling profoundly unoriginal. New companies and designers keep on appearing to fill this demand but their clothes are often as expensive as the vintage versions.

Sometimes the High Street throws up good alternatives. I love my Jasmine Guinness cherry- print rockabilly style dress. Recently I bought her navy blue day dress featuring fabric with a little peach coloured pattern which has an 'atomic' feel to it. The combination of navy and dusty pink is also very retro. The tie belt is far too long but anyone with basic sewing skills (ie not me!) could shorten it and attach a vintage buckle quite easily. Her sleeves to be snug but other than that I love the cut and the crepe like fabric. It has been mistaken for a genuine vintage item even though in truth it is a hybrid of 40's cut with 50's pattern and 30's detailing.

The other shop that seems currently to have some dresses with a distinct vintage feel is Laura Ashley. I also recently bought a good emerald green embellished dress from Phase Eight that had a late 40's feel about it with a fitted draped waist and sweetheart neckline. Coast also have an elegant long navy crepe de chine like dark blue evening gown that is pure 30's in stock. Although the price is steep it might crop up in the new year sales and it is nice to see something in such a classic colour. Coast dresses are manufactured for giants so a seamstress would probably be needed by most to shorten the hem.

Coast long floaty navy blue 30's style gown with embroidered front.

Laura Ashley 30's style grey silk gown (I want this one!)

Laura Ashley classic 50's style gown.

Laura Ashley 40's style gown

Jasmine Guinness Zita dress.

All of these dresses are currently available, I love the grey Laura Ashley one and may well buy it. Jasmine Guinness sells through Littlewoods and Very.

Monday, 23 November 2009

oh la la! French frolics in Fleet and pictures.

A little bit of France in rainy London

The New Sheridan Party took place last Saturday. Despite losing a few of our favourite members to the Rythm Riot plenty of others braved the gales and driving rain to make it to the Punch Tavern. Actually the stormy night made what is one of the most attractive pubs in London even more welcoming, and once through the door one was greeted by Torquil de Arbuthnot, replendent in waiters garb. In fact the committee were all dressed as waiters, I should watch out next time you visit your favourite bistro. The interior was mirrored and full of the twinkling of candles and, later on, gentlemen's monocles. One of the greatest pleasures of the night was watching the flamboyant guests arrive in small groups, shaking the rain off.
The entertainment of the night included Marcel Lucont, a French styled comedian who had nice line in droll dry wit and a dislike of the London Tube system. In addition the lovely Maria Trevis warbled her way through a selection of French, and not so French ditties, teasing and involving the crowd (always a brave move at the NSC). In the games room onion battle, a variation on the game 'orange battle' popularised by the Burlesque Brunchers was played. Pinning the legs on the frog, well a frog of distinctly non-French origin anyway, kept things going. The raffle was keenly followed and to celebrate the club's anniversary the 'Northern Contingent' represented by Mr Rupert Bell presented the committee with a monster sized French Fancy.

It was a splendid night. Attendees were as ever eclectic yet stylish, berets, can-can ruffles, plus-fours, corsetry, feathers and uniforms, napoleonic or otherwise were much in evidence. The New Sheridan Club bi annual parties are small, perfectly formed and in my experience of London's night life unique. Antique victorian ankle boots, hand sewn ruffles, rainy tits, rogue moustaches and absinthe induced languor were all in evidence.
The pictures below give some indication of the flavour of the event. Hopefully I will see everyone again at the Chap ball for a bit of seasonal fop-anarchism...

Claudia and Krista discussing X factor...(no not really)
Bon vivants!
Mr Rupert Bell

The cure and Jessie

Its that gentleman again.....
Baron and Baroness of Bermondsey

Pretty ladies

Liberty, fraternity and crisps...
Oi! who nicked my tickler?!
Suave guests...
Hmm, not sure if I'd want to run into this lot on a dark night in Montmartre..
Laurence tells JJ about his plans for world Alpaca domination
The Earl of Waveney points at Catherines drink...
Grace certainly can-can as Chuckles and Harry indicate..
The committee in their pinniesMr Arbuthnot .

More photographs can be seen on the NSC flickr page here:

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Fantastic french shenanigans this Saturday!

For those not rioting on the South Coast this weekend, an alternative. The New Sheridan Parties are unique. Bringing together a diverse combination of night people, chaps, stray steampunks,vintage mavens and assorted reprobates under one small charming roof. The events include parlour games, performances, a special menu, a tongue in cheek theme and are guaranteed to be free of Peaches Geldof look-a-likes and crap club music. Always somewhere to sit and natter, lots to drink and not crammed, underground yet friendly, bohemian but not pretentious and one of the best opportunities around to dress to the nines. This years theme is of entente cordiale, the 'Yes We Can Can' party. Full details can be found here : , held this Saturday the 21st, at the Punch Tavern. Below is a small selection of pictures from last years Christmas 'Kredit Krunch Kabaret' held at the same venue. All welcome, but in le bleu jeans or sports shoes you may feel silly.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Terroirism...Wine bar in Covent Garden

Well, not so much Covent Garden as, behind the Strand, diagonal from Trafalgar Square, a spit from the National Portrait Gallery and in front of the cop shop; 5 William IV Street WC2 to be precise. Very handy in fact and rather tucked away. Not that this prevents it from being crowded. The first time I went, on weekday, we were only just squeezed in front of the zinc bar, on a Saturday the bar remained packed but there was the odd table. I was taken by a wine obsessed friend from University days, now a top barrister and we proceeded to drink the best part of 3 bottles of wine, leaving us just capable of getting off our bar stools. In my case I did manage to flag a cab, and turned up, very merry at the bearded one's home waving the remainder of a bottle of red (which the staff insisted I take) around like a captured roman standard. My companion was found by his wife, the following morning, fully dressed on the sofa.

The reasons for this were, in no particular order: the quality of the wine, the chumminess of the staff and the moreishness of the nibbles. I visited it again and was once more impressed. It sells by the glass, and the bottle an interesting range of wines, largely by small growers in France and Alsace. Unsurprising as it is owned by the wine merchants Caves de Pyrenes who supply many famous restaurants. For those avoiding the dreaded sulphides or of an ecological bent many were organic. But the wines are clearly chosen for taste, rather than trendiness. They are served in simple yet not too sparse surrounding in stylist unusual glasses. My champagne came in something that seemed to be a compromise between a flute and a balloon. Snack wise I recommend the fresh anchovies on toast, the duck rillettes and the duck scratchings (I like eating quackers). There is a fuller menu that looks tasty but so far being the lusch I am I have not been able to tear myself away from the zinc bar.

It is nice to have a choice other than the redoubtable cork and bottle in the area if you want some decent wine, something that the pubs in the area rarely supply. It has a friendly relaxed atmosphere. When you go the staff castigate you for leaving, telling you that wherever you are going the wine won't be as good, they are probably right.

Terroirs Wine Bar:

War Exhibition at the Fine Art Society

We were kindly invited to this exhibition by Dr Jonathan Black whose scholarly endeavours have added greatly to the subject of British art in the 20's, 30's and 40's. This commercial exhibition is timely, and enhanced by the loan of certain pieces to compliment the works for sale.

Although not large it has a representative selection of works from both wars. I was struck by the fact that the works are not as expensive as other genre subjects might be, although Jonathan assured me that a core of dedicated collectors kept prices decent. It is perhaps understandable that the well heeled should not want images redolent of war in their front rooms. On the other hand as, particularly during the Great War, Western Art was going through a radical period the

stylistic originality of the work is striking. Perhaps in regard to that war the conflict itself was new and terrible with the arrival or modern, total, industrialised warfare. The influence of various 'isms' can be clearly seen, with futurist, vorticist and surrealist elements clearly detectable.

The gallery was generous with their champagne and it was interesting to observe the art world at work, or rather the dealers world. There were many people we had seen before at events that Jonathan had been involved in, academics from Kingston, those interested in the period. It was curious walking to the fine arts soc via Cork Street, quite a few other galleries had openings and I recalled the amount of free wine and nibbles I had obtained in the past by shamelessly entering as a student and looking confident. Art still seems to be a popular investment even in these challenged times. Certainly if I had won the lottery I would have happily bought this startling Wadsworth print of a dazzle camouflaged ship, Jaggers superb maquette or

Nevinsons intriguing lithograph of a barrage balloon.

Alas there seems to be an unwritten rule that people like me who would spend their money on fine art, fine wine and rescuing old buildings or supporting libraries never do win.

Anyone who is in the West End anytime over the next few weeks can pop in and have a look at this exhibition which is a short walk from Regents Street and Green Park. It certainly won't be as draining or as crowded as the larger public alternatives.

Details of the exhibition can be found here:

Redlegs recommends the following hostelries and food spots in the area:

Wolseley for afternoon tea or evening Wiener Schnitzel:

L'Autre for the Polish bit of the menu, the game and the ambience:

Market Tavern for pub grub and decent prosecco:

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Dracula Society Bram Stoker Dinner.

The man himself .......

On Saturday 7 November Redlegs attended this dinner, held annually by the Dracula Society to celebrate the birthday of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. Although a member of this society I have been unable to attend many of its events. This time the date was felicitous and we tidied ourselves up and headed into the West End, travelling on perhaps the only running tube line of the day. The bearded one was wearing his favourite Prince of Wales check suit, the devil winter coat munching moths of haringay having decided to eat the trousers from his dinner suit. The North London moth genus obviously has a taste for the high life: barathea and cashmere.

I was a member of the Dracula Society in the early 80's and briefly on the committee, however the late 80's saw my life descend into a bit of a tragi-comedy (yes a man was involved) and I felt I had let them down by having to leave. The intervening years saw no lessening of my interest in the Gothic but time abroad left me out of the loop so there are many books, programmes, plays and films I have missed. I have always, in any case, lacked the obsessive nature of the true fan being easily distracted. When I returned to London I picked up some gothic/supernatural connections notably giving lectures for Treadwells on demons and demon hunters and even dipping my toe into the water by presenting a short talk on vampires and modernity for the NSC. However the year before last I ran, quite by accident, into Katherine, Dracula Society member and someone I had always liked. She did a fine job of persuading me to rejoin, and I did so...finding the fact that most did not recall me to be possibly a good thing. Fortunately this is one of those societies, unlike some I could mention, where you are not required to know the name of Bram Stoker's Bootmaker or Conan Doyle's grandmother's favourite ice cream flavour to feel at home. It's more a case of being a 'fellow traveller', which is I feel a better basis on which to form an association. It also contributes to a wider diversity of membership. The society remains however stoutly vampirical, if such a thing is possible and this was made clear at the society dinner by the presence of a both a framed image of Mr Stoker and a chair draped with a cape, worn in a Hammer movie, and donated, at least I believe so, by Christopher Lee.

The Cape.

The event was held in Courtroom 1, a function room above Browns Restaurant in St Martins Lane. The building used to be a court and the restaurant company had wisely decided to retain the trappings including a gavel and judges wig. It was an elegant venue, and of course being in a theatrical area suited, Bram Stoker having spent much of his life working for the famous actor, Henry Irving. We don't actually know most of the members very well but I was pleased to see a few familiar faces and we were lucky enough to be sat at the 'Jonathan Harker' table with the charming Jenny and Colin who were down for the weekend. The bearded one was much taken with his place card which featured an image of Max Shreck as Nosferatu. Mine was some Hammer vampette writhing on a bed, which is not unlike me when I wake up without a cup of tea on a Sunday morning...
There were three guests who were receiving prizes from the Society. Mark Gatiss won the Hamilton Deane Award for his screenplay for 'Crooked House' which aired on the beeb last December. A series of three short stories all connected by one spooky house the short stories were an affectionate homage to the kind of classic spooky programming we saw at lot more of in the past. Mr Gatiss was a flirty charming man sporting splendid mutton chops and very pleasant company. Mr Gatiss is pictured below left .

The Children of the Night Award was won by Dublin based author Brian J Showers for his collection of short stories The Bleeding Horse, and other ghost stories which I have not read but will look out for. The special guest was Damien Thomas, an actor who had been an actual Hammer Count (Count Karnstein from Hammer's Twins of Evil). A softly spoken man he seemed somewhat bemused at being feted for a part he no doubt sees as distant in his past but gamely shared his own supernatural experience; a possible sighting of a UFO from an aeroplane window. Below is Mr Thomas playing with the cape on Saturday and as Karnstein in Twins of Evil.

The dinner included a quiz, which I didn't have high hopes for, and indeed did rather poorly at. The bearded one resorted to quips, but his handwriting was perhaps a bit of a challenge. We were not alone, Shirley Temple being the favoured answer to most of the questions. The evening finished with a toast to Bram Stoker and naturally, to his creation, the Count.

Dinners such as this, which was well organised by Julia Kruk and the Society Committee are a pleasure. From experience however, they are hard work to organise and it is reassuring that some still have the energy to do so. It is also worrying that literary societies are becoming increasingly 'grey'. I wonder if this is because the advent of the digital world has meant that subscribing to a user group, existing in second life, haunting the social networking sites and role playing games are so much cheaper and easier than actually getting dressed up, and going out to a meeting, pub or like this, a dinner. If so it is a shame as actually meeting a diverse group of people with shared interests, in the flesh as this event showed, is so much more rewarding.

Details of the Dracula Society:

Mark Gatiss at the Hampstead Theatre over Christmas in spooky play Darker Shores:


Related Posts with Thumbnails