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Discover Stunning Contemporary Art at Halcyon Gallery

 

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DISCOVER STUNNING CONTEMPORARY ART AT HALCYON GALLERY

Halcyon Gallery was founded in 1982 and showcases modern and contemporary art from artists worldwide. It has three locations in London – at 29 New Bond Street (an intimate space), 144-146 New Bond Street (a space covering three levels), and in Harrods.

Halcyon Gallery, 29 New Bond Street, London, W1S 2RL. Phone: 020 7499 450

READ DIVYA SEHGAL'S STORY

In a city like London that is replete with world famous galleries and museums, it’s not often that one ventures to smaller, more specialist ones. But, over the years, Halcyon Gallery in New Bond Street has carved a niche for itself. Like the Tate Modern, it specialises in modern and contemporary art from emerging and established artists. Unlike the Tate Modern, which was founded in 1897, Halcyon Gallery is only 37 years old.

Because of the way shops are situated in New Bond Street – like numbered houses – when you walk into the gallery, it almost feels like you’ve entered the living room of a mansion with large paintings that line the walls and sculptures that dot the floors. Smaller galleries and museums have a more personal feel. There are usually fewer people, as these spaces aren’t as “touristy”, and you get to discover the best contemporary artists. The first time I visited Halcyon Gallery was to see the works of renowned glass blower Dale Chihuly, and I thought it was an apt space for his glass art.

If you want a taste of the art scene beyond the hustle and bustle of the popular, large galleries, Halcyon at 29, New Bond Street is where you should be. Just like its name suggests, it evokes serenity and tranquillity, which indeed is vital to appreciate art.

Feature photograph courtesy Halcyon Gallery

 

 
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Meet The Laughing Cavalier At Hertford House

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MEET THE LAUGHING CAVALIER AT HERTFORD HOUSE

Hertford House is home to the Wallace Collection, a fabulous art collection that belonged to the 4th Marquess of Hertford and his illegitimate son Richard Wallace. It houses Frans Hals’s Laughing Cavalier along with other priceless paintings, intricate furniture, and elaborate helmets. Entry to the museum is free.

The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Square, London W1U 3BN. Phone: 020 7563 9500

READ MAHRUKH MCDONALD'S STORY

George Montagu, the 4th Duke of Manchester had Hertford House built in the late 18th century because the area was good for duck shooting. Today, it’s right in the centre of London, so there’s not a duck in sight!

Tucked away in the corner of Manchester Square, Hertford House is a mansion that is home to the fabulous Wallace Collection. The collection started when the 4th Marquess of Hertford used the building to house his growing art collection. His illegitimate son, Richard Wallace (after whom the collection is named), added to it by bringing his substantial art collection from his Paris home.

In 1897, Richard’s wife, Lady Wallace, bequeathed the Wallace Collection to the nation. It has been open to the public as a museum since 1900 (although it took breaks during both World Wars).

The impressive grand marble staircase that greets you when you enter the building has an intricate cast iron, gilt brass, and lacquer balustrade. The staircase appears to be part of the original building construction, but on closer inspection of the design at the base of the balustrade you will see horns of plenty overflowing with coins and banknotes, showing that it once belonged in a bank in France. It was bought by Richard Wallace in 1871 and installed in Hertford House three years later.

The Great Gallery is the jewel of the Wallace Collection – a massive room full of priceless paintings by famous grand masters. The most famous is Frans Hals’s Laughing Cavalier (1624). Nobody knows who the Laughing Cavalier was and, in fact, he is not even laughing but does have a bit of a smile. Wherever you go in the room, the Laughing Cavalier’s eyes will follow you.

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As you walk through the rooms among the intricately made furniture, you can literally breathe the atmosphere of opulence and luxury. One of the most imposing pieces of furniture is a wardrobe made by Andre-Charles Boulle – who was the most important cabinet maker for Louis XIV – in 1715.

The armoury section contains elaborate helmets worn by the nobility as well as helmets worn by common soldiers who could not afford to buy fancy armour and had to make them out of whatever material they could find. This type of armour is rare, because after the battle was over soldiers usually melted them down to make more useful items such as cooking pots.

The museum is free, and you can walk around it at your own pace, but if you have a couple of hours, the free guided tour by volunteer historians is highly recommended. When you’re done, retreat to the stunning glass-covered courtyard that is a glamorous location for a café/restaurant with tables set among trees and sculptures.

Feature photograph by Musicartgeek [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Large Drawing room photograph by M.chohan [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

 
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Match Day at the Travellers Tavern

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MATCH DAY AT TRAVELLERS TAVERN

Travellers Tavern is a bar in Belgravia where you can watch football on the television while you drink a pint. If football isn’t your game of choice, you can enjoy your drink in the beer garden instead. Avoid getting a full meal.

Travellers Tavern, 4 Elizabeth Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 9RB. Phone: 020 7730 3957

READ JAMES BLOODWORTH'S STORY

Childhood memories are commonly bound up with sounds, smells, or individuals. Yet one particularly potent recollection of mine revolves around a specific hour of the day – 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon, to be precise.

In contrast to most childhood memories when the sun is forever beating down on green fields and golden sandy beaches, this one is invariably set in winter. I am sat cross-legged on a grey carpet at my grandmother’s house, probably with a jam tart in my hand and a cup of tea perched precariously by my side. The old television set has been fired up, and a moth-eaten presenter has started reading football scores from something mysteriously called the “Vidiprinter”.

That was how you watched football back then. Nowadays sport is a more commercial affair, which means that if you don’t have satellite television at home, a trip to the boozer to watch the match is in order. A favourite place of mine in London is the Travellers Tavern in Victoria, which is an excellent football pub if you can forgive it the missing apostrophe in its name.

I’m letting you in on this secret because I know from experience that finding a place to watch the match is something of a lottery. Choose the wrong venue, and you could end up nursing an unwanted drink in a noisy dive bar, scrolling furtively through football forums on your phone for insider information from those prolific posters who you hope are in the know. Where has a big screen? Which venue won’t be too rammed? Will I be greeted by a wall of hostile stares if I pass through the front doors wearing club colours?

The Travellers Tavern fits the bill because it has not one but five screens. Despite being located near Victoria Coach Station – hours spent aboard cheap coaches lends itself favourably to nursing alcoholic beverages in pubs – the place is rarely so packed that you feel like a sardine squeezed tightly inside an oily tin. This doesn’t betray something ominous – the Tavern hasn’t gained some word-of-mouth reputation for filthy lavatories or a rowdy clientele. It’s merely that there is a glut of pubs in the area, which serves to dilute the crowds somewhat even at peak hours of the day. If football shirts are your thing, then they aren’t likely to be a problem either.

it is a sparsely populated drinking den where the ups and downs of the “beautiful game” hum away in the background with the eccentric ambience of that crackly old television set when you were a kid.

I don’t intend for this to be a hagiographical account, so let me briefly touch on the downsides of the place. First off, if you intend to eat during your visit, know that the food is billed at what are commonly known as “London prices”. With so many tourists about – traipsing through the doors with their union jack flags trailed by suitcases on wheels – who can blame the management for doing what every other establishment in London is doing? Unless you just want a bowl of chips, it is worthwhile going elsewhere for your grub.

Drinks can be a little pricey too – £5 for a pint of Estrella is hardly cheap. But I can’t say I begrudge paying that amount when I feel as if I’m being provided with such agreeable free entertainment.

I understand that football isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I am aware, too, that stepping into a pub in which football fans congregate – an unusual tribe to the uninitiated and not a single tribe at all for those on the inside – can be intimidating.

But the Travellers Tavern isn’t like that. Rather, it is a sparsely populated drinking den where the ups and downs of the “beautiful game” hum away in the background with the eccentric ambience of that crackly old television set when you were a kid. Close your eyes and – for a split second at least – you are your former selff again, sat cross-legged on the carpet in your living room while an autumn mist envelopes everything outside.

 
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History And Half-Pints At The French House

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HISTORY AND HALF-PINTS AT THE FRENCH HOUSE

The French House is a pub in Soho that opened in 1891 (then known as the York Minster). Famous patrons over the decades have included Dylan Thomas, Lucien Freud, and Francis Bacon. It famously serves only half-pints of beer, except on April Fools’ Day. Mobile phones are not allowed on any day of the year.

The French House, 49 Dean Street, Soho, London W1D 5BG. Phone: 20 7437 2477

READ FERNANDO SDRIGOTTI'S STORY

I walked into The French House for the first time a few weeks after moving to London in 2002. I was in Soho with a friend, and we had some time to kill. Maybe the outside of the pub, cluttered with French flags, seemed attractive because I had been living in Paris until very recently. Perhaps it was the Grade II listed building that called us in. Or perhaps we just drifted into the pub aimlessly, like one drifts into many places without much of a thought when wasting time in London.

It must have been around three or four in the afternoon, but the tiny bar was already besieged by thirsty punters puffing away (as used to be the tradition until the smoking ban was introduced in 2007 and we discovered pubs actually smelled of wet dog). After waiting for two or three minutes, we managed to order two pints of beer. Here we bumped into the first “eccentricity” of The French House: they only served half-pints, as the barman informed us with the blasé demeanour expected of a London barman. Now this might be akin to a personal affront to the regular British beer drinker — that lesser of evil the half-pint — but we just accepted this without much thought. The second “eccentricity” didn’t take long to arrive. My friend’s mobile phone rang (these were the days when people actually called instead of sending text messages), and he answered. And as soon as this happened, the bartender shouted in our direction, pointing to a sign above written in yellow chalk on a small black wooden board: IN THE INTEREST OF SERIOUS DRINKING AND GOOD CONVERSATION PLEASE DON’T USE YOUR MOBILE PHONE IN THE FRENCH. After our initial shock — this was 2002, but mobile phones were already pretty ubiquitous — we soon realised that people indeed were conversing, an activity also facilitated by the absence of music or a TV set.

This was my first time and not the last one. The French House is one of my usual hangouts in the unusual times I find myself in Central London with time, money, and a thirst to quench. I am pleased to say it hasn’t changed that much in the past 15 years. I am not sure it has changed at all since it opened its doors. The sign warning against mobile phones is still there, not far from a dusty French beret hanging from a pole — reassuring signs that not everything in the Big Smoke is lost.

To have a place that refuses to change and refuses to adapt to a present that many times feels like a defeat is a triumph.

The French House opened in 1891. Back then it was called the York Minster, but it was already known as the French House (or the French Place) by its clientele and the locals. In 1984, the current name was formally adopted after a fire in the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York (also known as York Minster). After the fire, donations for the repair works in the church were sent to the pub by mistake. Now a pub in Britain might be almost a religious institution, but the mixup and the hassle of delivering the donations to their rightful recipients was too much for the landlords. Another, less altruistic, version suggests the reason for the re-baptism lies behind a misplaced order of claret that ended up in the cathedral. In any case, it is hard today to imagine the pub being called anything else but The French House.

The pub has been a favourite of Soho bohemians since its early days. Painters like Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon, writers like Dylan Thomas (who lost a manuscript there) and Malcolm Lowry, big names from the press — including the mother of all agony aunts, Irma Kurtz — have crossed its doors and sat around the bar, in the cosy wooden interior, at one time or another. Even the French resistance in London drank here during WWII — it is said that General Charles Le Gaulle used it as an office. The hundreds of photos hanging on its walls are reminders that one is drinking in an institution, supervised by many a famous, historically relevant, and sometimes even talented drunk. Sometimes it is possible to bump into a contemporary “star”: musicians, actors, persons of unknown talents yet familiar faces. Not that any of the locals would act differently when this happens.

The pub has been a favourite of Soho bohemians since its early days.

The pub continues with the tradition of serving half pints but has recently relaxed, one day a year, on April the first, also known as April Fools’ Day. Not only can you get a “proper” pint that day, if you arrive early – if you are the first – you might get Suggs, the singer from Madness, to pull the pint for you, as is now the tradition. I ignore Suggs’ credentials as a bartender, but his credentials as a musician are equally dubious and, nevertheless, he has sold a few records. And between a pint or another Madness record, I would take the first one without a second thought.

Many things have changed in Soho in recent years. CrossRail, a massive project that will connect London even more and has a massive neural point in Tottenham Court Road, just 100 metres away is the last one to threaten the area. To have a place that refuses to change and refuses to adapt to a present that many times feels like a defeat is a triumph. And it doesn’t matter whether this triumph is served in a small or a large glass.

Feature photograph copyright Lsantilli - stock.adobe.com

 
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The Regency Cafe Proves Old School Is Cool

 

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THE REGENCY CAFE PROVES OLD SCHOOL IS COOL

Voted as the fifth best eating place in London just four years ago, The Recency Cafe is traditional in its décor, menu and – most importantly – prices. Tuck into a glorious full English breakfast while sitting in Daniel Craig’s spot and don’t even think about skipping the bread and butter pudding.

The Regency Cafe, 17-19 Regency Street, Westminster, London SW1P 4BY. Phone: 020 7821 6596

READ MARTIN DEAN'S STORY

If you hanker for the bygone days of “proper” fry-ups with builders’ tea, sliced bread with butter, and no cracked black pepper, café latte, or avocado anywhere in sight, then The Regency Cafe is one for you. This is a real piece of historic London. Opened in 1946 just after the war and designed in an art deco style, it brings you a no-nonsense menu of traditional British fare, from its famous fry-ups to a selection of classic pies, complete with tinned peas and plenty of other typical trimmings. Stepping inside is like stepping back about three decades: the walls are lined with pictures of Tottenham Hotspur players and vintage newspaper clippings, while the formica tables evoke a vintage vision of London that’s hard to find today.

Thanks to its look, The Regency has been the go-to setting for café scenes in such films as Brighton Rock and Layer Cake – yes, this is where the famous tea-pot beating scene takes place. But it’s not just a novelty: The Regency Cafe was voted London’s fifth best place to eat in 2013, and while the hearty, carb-heavy classics may not be for everyone, it does them very well. The other thing that must be mentioned is the price. The most expensive meal on the menu costs £6.55, so if you’re on a budget, you can eat like a king and still have money for the bus home. But don’t take the bus before trying the homemade bread and butter pudding.

Feature photograph by Adam Bruderer [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

 
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Your Guide To The Best Breakfasts In London

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YOUR GUIDE TO THE BEST BREAKFASTS IN LONDON

WORDS BY THE CITY STORY TEAM

“I went to a restaurant that serves 'breakfast at any time'. So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.”

- Steven Wright

Breakfast. The first and finest meal of the day in London. This is a city that prides itself on-all day breakfasts. A town where eating a fry up at 4 p.m. will be greeted with cheers rather than dirty looks. Luckily for Londoners, the wonderful waves of immigration over the years have brought breakfast specialities from the world over to its streets – allowing us to revel in such delights as Turkish or South Indian morning cuisine alongside the superb native greasy offerings. The best breakfast in London is a debate that never ends and is dependent on where you live, how hungover you are, and what your budget is. Relationships have ended over best breakfast discussions. Plates have been flung. Unlike nutritionists, we truly understand how important the first meal of the day is, so we asked the capital’s breakfast believers for their favourite spots. This is not a complete guide but a discernible compilation, one that highlights the variety and quality on offer to the Londoner.

Arthur’s Café

Arthur’s is no longer a secret thanks to some Guardian journalist writing about it – but it is still the best café for breakfast in Dalston. Arthur’s has been in the same family for decades, and its no-nonsense, no-frills attitude to serving top grub at very reasonable prices puts it high on the best of the best list. You may still get served by Arthur, the oldest of the family and well into his twilight years at 90 years old. He still likes to make sure the people coming into his caff are treated in the right way. His grandson prepares the bread at the front of the café, but be warned: if you want a bacon sandwich you’ll have to get it in the morning as they prove so popular Arthur refuses to serve them after midday. Famously, Arthur’s Café never once shut during The Blitz, and that dogmatic spirit continues to this day. Dalston has developed a lot of gimmicks over recent years, but Arthur’s is steadfastly holding on and making sure that beyond the hype of E8, there’s still something real to visit.

Arthur’s Café, 495 Kingsland Road, Dalston, London E8 4AU

Sam's Cafe in Primrose Hill

Look – you want a north London café that has a jukebox curated by Robert Plant, boasts customers such as Helen Bonham Carter, Dennis Lawson and that bloke out of Supergrass, interior design by Jane Rainey Design (of “Lady Jane”, the Rolling Stones song fame) started by the son of the editor of London Review of Books?

Sam’s Cafe is it. Although it’s a London experience that might make you weep at the price [full English breakfast at £12 (yes twelve whole English pound sterling)], a trip to Sam’s is a treat that is never forgotten.

Sam’s Cafe, 140 Regent's Park Road, London NW1 8XL

Blackbird Bakery

Proper baking. Proper breakfast. These guys don’t mess about – everything in the café is baked from scratch and tastes like it (which means it tastes good, by the way). No preservatives, no “improvers’ – just flour loving goodness. Rolling with things like huevos rancheros, a lip-smackingly good BLT, and a Reuben sandwich, Blackbird do simple really well. They also make sandwiches of your choice to order. Fabulous!

Blackbird Bakery, Arch 134, Queens Road, Peckham London, SE15 2ND

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Dishoom

Go to Dishoom and eat the bacon naan!

What's not to like? Spicy, tangy, masala laced bacon and naan. It’s the breakfast you’ve never known you’ve wanted until the day you eat it, and then you want nothing else but this forever more.  Add the faux-Bombay café chalkboard, hand-painted signs, and photos from the ’70s, and Dishoom will charm your pants off. Also, breakfast at Dishoom is probably its least busy time, which, considering the restaurant’s popularity, is something to cherish.

 Dishoom, 7 Boundary Street, London E2 7JE.

Café Z

Cafe Z does the best menemen in the north east. (Editor’s note: Easy now! That’s some contentious claim.) A frying pan of deliciously runny eggs with such a variety of toppings that it puts pizza to shame. Café Z has a lovely vibe, décor, and staff – it’s a veritable institution in Stoke Newington and very popular with the locals.

Café Z, 58 Stoke Newington High Street, London N16 7PB

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Parma

Parma does not mess around. We’re talking meat, meat, and more meat. The greasy fry-up is one of the finest in the south – always cooked and served at optimum, with care and diligence. The kebabs, if you missed getting one on your way home the night before, are well worth giving a go for breakfast. Don’t judge until you’ve done it; it could well be the breakfast that changes your life.

Parma, 412 Kennington Road, London SE11 4PT

Buhler and Co.

It has a really adventurous global brunch menu including Indonesian Gado-gado and a full Indian-inspired veggie fry-up with homemade paratha and paneer – because who doesn't want fried cheese before midday? The coffee is great, as are the bakes – especially the chocolate, halva, and tahini brownie. It also has a back garden for al fresco breakfasts. It gets busy on the weekend, but it's worth queuing for. Afterwards, you can take a stroll up to the picturesque Walthamstow Village and explore this quaint North London neighbourhood.

Buhler and Co., 8 Chingford Road, Walthamstow, London E17 4PJ

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The Rochester Castle

The Rochester Castle on a summer's day after doing a sleep-in shift is utterly perfect. You get that cheap-as-you-can-get Wetherspoons breakfast but in one of the best buildings they own. There are endless refills of coffee, a calorie count on the menu (if you are so inclined to worry), but best of all, if you fancy a pint with your eggs and hash browns, the array of beers on offer will keep you in the pub well past the point of no return.

The Rochester Castle, 145 Stoke Newington High St, Stoke Newington, London N16 0NY

The Regency

Quite possibly the best breakfast atmosphere in London, only rivalled by E Pellici in Bethnal Green (see below). The Regency has a unique queueing system that takes the novice a while to understand. Word to the unwise - don’t take a seat before you’ve ordered your food!

But the food! Oh, the glorious Regency breakfast. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted from a British breakfast – perfectly cooked, great ingredients, on the right side of greasy, served with a shout and a wink. Great value for its central London position (you might also recognise it as a film location for Layer Cake), it’s tremendously popular for a reason. It is for all occasions always: bad news/good news/hangover/after exercise/in love/freshly dumped.

The Regency, 17-19 Regency St, Westminster, London SW1P 4BY, UK

Cabman’s Shelter

You want the best bacon sandwich in London? The Shelter is your spot. Enough said.

Cabman’s Shelter, 23 Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1B

Titbits

Vegans and vegetarians – this is your spot. The breakfast here is stonkingly good, and no animal has been harmed in the process. It’s no fry up, of course, but the bircher muesli is to die for (not literally, that wouldn’t be very vegan now, would it?), and their pastries (croissants etc.) are delicious. It’s a buffet, and you pay by the weight of your plate. What?! Yes, that’s right. Tuck in, veggies! The bonus of being on bankside means the Thames is but a hop skip and jump away – wonderful on a sunny London summer’s day.

Titbits, 124-128 Southwark Street, London SE1 0SW

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Cafe Coco

Cafe Coco serves a decent breakfast, with the bonus that Magculture is next door. Worth it post-Fabric or pre-day out walking in Clerkenwell.

Cafe Coco, 266 St John Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 4PE

Gökyüzü

Hands down the best Turkish breakfast in London. The menemen might be amazing in Café Z, but Gökyüzü has got it all – the mixed mezze is incredible, the English fry-up is impeccable, and the halloumi is perfection. Just find a bus and get on it – you won’t regret it.

Gökyüzü, 26-27 Grand Parade, Harringay, London N4 1LG

Egg Break

West London often gets overlooked for East these days, but the gems are still there if you look hard enough or are rich/fortunate enough to know someone local. Egg Break is one of those gems. As you might expect, it’s heavy on the huevos. The menu has at least 10 different egg options, but the best are probably Levantine eggs (fried eggs, za’atar, and chickpea tabbouleh) or the Calabrian eggs – (scrambled eggs with nduja, onions, and topped with a herb and puffed chickpea salad). Major shout out to the Crab cake with poached eggs, sriracha 12 hollandaise, and spinach too. Delicious!

Egg Break, 30 Uxbridge St, London W8 7TA

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E Pellicci

What can be said about Pellicci’s that hasn’t been said before? Alongside The Regency, this east London institution is vying for the ‘best breakfast in London’ spot. Whilst the fry ups are top notch, it’s the atmosphere that gets you coming back, and back again. It’s been open since 1900 and is still in the same family. The interior is pure old school east London, and the staff have more banter than the Archbishop of Banterbury riding a Bantersaurus Rex to the Banterbus station. It truly is a joy to eat at Pellicis. You can’t chat about London breakfasts with authority of you haven’t been here.

E Pellicii, 332 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 0AG

Mess Cafe

Hackney, glorious Hackney. Under pressure from gentrification left right and centre, communities getting divided, house prices killing the neighbourhood. Somehow, it’s still hanging on. Mess Café is perhaps Hackney in a microcosm. It is incredibly popular with all Hackney types – local kids, dads with daughters, hipsters on a hangover, girls gossiping over milkshakes, old boys reading the Mirror, families, young professionals, musicians, artists, cabbies, builders, teachers – people from all walks of life. Stepping into Mess is like stepping off the street and bringing all the people on the street with you. A true egalitarian space. The fry-ups are strong and the omelettes banging, but whatever you eat, make sure you order the malt milkshake. It’s heaven.

Mess Cafe, 38 Amhurst Road, London E8 1JN

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Jesse’s Café

Everything about Jesse’s is amazing – but the décor is one of its strongest features: all the specials, such as STANDARD BREAKFAST, BREAKFAST SPECIAL, SPOTTED DICK are dotted around the place, installed into the wall. It's just a brilliant greasy, not fussy, the best kind of naughty sausages you can buy, scolding tea, and conversations with strangers.

Jesse’s Café, 68 High Street, Walthamstow, London E17 7LD

Riding House Café

Posh with a capital P.O.S.H, posh! The Riding House Café is a pricey place, but boy, if you’ve got the cash, you’ve got to splash. Set near Regent Street, it’s an elegant destination that’s great for a date the night before or a post-ahem-you-know-what in the morning. The food is superb, and the décor is just as delicious, but with a full English at £14.50, you’ve got to be sure the overdraft is ready. For a cheaper life, have a muesli and a cup of tea and soak up the well to do atmosphere instead.

Riding House Café, 43-51 Great Titchfield Street, Fitzrovia, London W1W 7PQ

With thanks to:

Saskia Wickins, Susannah Otter, Tim Burrows, Natalie Hardwick, Meghna Gupta, Ben Dawes, Farah Chowdhury, Rosh, Dino, Gayle Lazda, Marie Maurer, Shayamal Vallabhji, Paul Case, Ben Southwood, Eli Davies.

 
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No One Dishes Out Posh Spice Like The Cinnamon Club

 

NO ONE DISHES OUT POSH SPICE LIKE THE CINNAMON CLUB

The Cinnamon Club makes it possible to be in two places at once; a magnificent former library with leather chairs and vintage volumes, and a highly celebrated Indian restaurant known across London for it fresh, innovative and sophisticated dishes. If you want to satiate your tandoor cravings in an elegant setting, this is it.

The Cinnamon Club, The Old Westminster Library, Great Smith Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3BU. Phone: 020 7222 2555

READ MARTIN DEAN'S STORY

If you’re a fan of Indian food but haven’t been to The Cinnamon Club yet, it’s about time you treated yourself. London is well known for its fantastic selection of Indian restaurants, and The Cinnamon Club is widely regarded as one of the very best, with its executive chef Vivek Singh considered to be one of the most celebrated modern Indian chefs in Britain. Here you’ll encounter some seriously luxurious Indian dishes, the very best ingredients, the most innovative recipes, and all presented so beautifully you’ll hesitate before you get sucked in. I highly recommend the tandoori saddle of venison, or if you prefer fish — one of The Cinnamon Club’s specialities — try the seared sea bass filled with red lentils and coconut ginger sauce.

Aside from the exceptional food, The Cinnamon Club really delivers with its setting. It’s a five-minute walk from London’s most celebrated landmarks: Westminster Abbey, Methodist Central Hall and the Houses of Parliament. The restaurant itself is housed in the Grade II listed former Westminster Library, an absolutely magnificent space with book-lined walls, parquet floors and a real sense of grandeur.

All these factors make The Cinnamon Club the ideal place for a meal if you’re visiting London or showing friends around, and want to combine a bit of sightseeing with a very memorable dining experience. Be sure to stop at the library bar for a cocktail before you eat, to make the most of the atmosphere.

Feature photograph copyright  vm2002 - stock.adobe.com

 
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Up The Stairs To India Club

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UP THE STAIRS TO INDIA CLUB

India Club is an Indian restaurant at the Hotel Strand Continental. Established in 1946, it is rich in India and Britain’s history and was a haunt for the Indian Independence League, a group of people working towards the overthrow of the British Empire in India. An online campaign to save India Club from shutting down has garnered over 10,000 signatures.

India Club, 143 Strand, London WC2R 1JA

READ KABIR TANEJA'S STORY

Walking down the streets of London is an oddly cathartic exercise; the monarchical architecture mixed with a whiff of a former grand empire hangover stirred in a tinge of grey in the sky is not the worst setting to find yourself in. And, like many streets, the Strand, home to the fashionable likes of the Savoy Hotel and the neoclassical design achievement that is Somerset House, is no different.

These buildings, however, often have the least inviting and dingy entry staircases. Dark, narrow, poorly lit pathways to historical haunts of the rich, famous, and powerful (once so anyway). It is here, off the Strand, that India Club, housed at the Hotel Strand Continental, has been welcoming its clientele since 1946, a year before India’s independence. A shattered sign welcomes us, myself accompanied, fittingly, by a group of men and women from the world of tweeds and elbow-patches who study South Asian politics, history, and diplomacy.

There are some restaurants that do not exist just for the food and, as odd as it may sound, India Club is a towering example of that.

While climbing up itself you immediately get a sense of why this place is important. Ideated by diplomat extraordinaire V.K. Krishna Menon, the right hand man of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the first serving High Commissioner of independent India to the United Kingdom, the atmosphere of the pub on the first floor and restaurant on the second, which is visibly struggling with its identity between modernity and history, is palpable. I was told many of the tables were from the 1940s, that Nehru himself and Lady Mountbatten were founding members, and that, despite the urban legend, one Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (who was not a Mahatma yet) never actually visited India Club. The restaurant was also a haunt for the Indian Independence League, a group of people working towards the overthrow of the British Empire in India, and hosted the likes of economist Harold Lasky and famous philosopher Bertrand Russell, who was a staunch supporter of Indian independence.

India Club has crème walls and historical carpentry, and the beer selection celebrating the “Indianness” stops short of just Kingfisher and Cobra, with the latter only masquerading its sub-continental roots, as the company was founded in the west London borough of Fulham. We decided to go with the set menu, which included dal, gobhi, chicken curry, dry mutton, and assorted rotis, parathas and naans (I refuse to write “naan bread” as I have never ordered a “Fish of the sea” & “Chips of the potato” in London before). As we waited for our food, with some BYOB wine already available, one thing that stood out at the Club was just how chirpy it was, packed and loud, very unlike most restaurants one would visit in this city. As our food started to come in, the waiters reminded me of ones from the iconic Taj Palace hotel in Mumbai, who had been at the same place for decades but were proud of their establishment, never hesitating from dropping stories of their own experiences.

I was told many of the tables were from the 1940s, that Nehru himself and Lady Mountbatten were founding members.

The food itself was average at best. I could see both the chicken and mutton having a disappointing end to their tenure as members of the fauna by ending up as Indian dishes customised to British tastes, borderline spicy with little uniqueness and characteristics. Perhaps the members of the Indian League would have been slightly disappointed with such gentrification of taste, specifically when another legend that walks around the floors of this piece of history goes that Menon brought in the first chef from Tanjore (now known as Thanjavur) in Tamil Nadu to recreate popular South Indian delicacies – at affordable prices, of course. Rasam, it is said, was the most popular item on the menu back then.

While I admired the history, constantly thinking about the prominence that must have sat through these tables that we don’t know about, from politicians, generals, writers, spooks, and everything in between, I tuned back in to what my friends were discussing. “This place may close down soon,” one said while pointing towards leaflets pasted on the entry wall asking for support for the India Club. The building’s leaseholder turns out, is exploring options to strip the building from inside and convert it into a modern hotel. This ongoing saga has given India Club a lot of press, both in India and Britain, with an online campaign even managing to garner more than 10,000 signatures in support of maintaining it for what it stands today, a working piece of history. There are some restaurants that do not exist just for the food and, as odd as it may sound, India Club is a towering example of that. Its charm and perseverance of existence is an ode to one of the most important chapters of British and Indian history, and while the food is passable as far as bang for your quid goes, the experience and education is just priceless.

Feature photograph copyright solomonjee - stock.adobe.com

 
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Green Park Is Both Raw And Royal

 

green park london

GREEN PARK IS BOTH RAW AND ROYAL

If you’re early for your appointment with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, make sure to take a minor detour via Green Park. The most unmanicured (in the best possible way) of all the Royal Parks, this is the ideal spot for a quick escape from the urban jungle.

Green Park, London SW1A 1BW. Phone: 0300 061 2350

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Green Park is one of London’s best known Royal Parks, and while it’s often overlooked in favour of the larger Hyde Park, or St. James’ Park with its enormous population of squirrels, ducks, and swans, Green Park is without a doubt the most sedate and quietly majestic of them all. If you’re a visitor to London looking for Buckingham Palace, you’ll probably have caught the tube to Green Park station and walked along its main avenue to reach the palace. But if you take a bit of time to wander off the main pathway and among the enormous London plane trees, you’ll discover an epic expanse of tranquil green space.

Part of Green Park’s charm is its relative wildness compared to the other central London parks. Rumour has it that King Charles II’s wife insisted he have all the flowers removed from Green Park after she caught him gathering blooms here to give to another woman. True or not, the park has managed to avoid any formal planted flower beds, being carpeted instead in yellow daffodils and wildflowers in the springtime, giving you the feeling of wandering through more of a country meadow than a city park.

Though the park is scattered with many statues and memorials – the most striking being the beautifully designed fountain of the Canada Memorial – you can enjoy the feeling of suspension outside of city life. There’s nothing but the occasional glint of the golden angel atop the magnificent Victoria Memorial through the trees to remind you that there’s civilisation somewhere beyond.

Feature photo by Diliff (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

 
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Methodist Central Hall Is Westminster’s Other Architectural Marvel

 

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METHODIST CENTRAL HALL IS WESTMINSTER'S OTHER ARCHITECTURAL MARVEL

Church, conference venue, concert hall – the Methodist Central Hall is all that and more. If you’re in the vicinity, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the unsung hero of Westminster, walk through the historical halls and grab a cup of tea at the tiny café.

Methodist Central Hall, Storey's Gate, Westminster, London SW1H 9NH. Phone: 020 7654 3809

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While everybody flocks to Westminster for the iconic sights like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, lesser-known but equally magnificent structures like Methodist Central Hall are often overlooked. But unlike those other three iconic sights, guided tours of Methodist Central Hall are completely free. You can just ask at reception, although it’s worth calling up in advance to book a tour as it’s quite popular.

This grand Viennese Baroque domed building, housing the largest European domed ceiling of its kind, opened in 1912 to honour the centenary of Methodism founder John Wesley’s death. Since then its enormous hall has been a popular location for major political speakers and assemblies: it hosted the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in 1946, and has witnessed speeches by Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and many others.

The hall is a masterpiece of architecture and design, with a sweeping grand staircase built to replicate that of the Paris Opera and an extraordinary organ with 4,731 pipes. Today it’s primarily used as a conference venue and church, but it does host occasional concerts and significant speakers, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the events calendar. If you’re visiting the Westminster sites, it’s definitely worth doing a tour: you can even pick up some lunch, a quick cup of tea, and free Wi-Fi at the Wesley Café inside.

Feature photo by Mark Ahsmann (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons