Archive for July, 2016

Review #65 Pennethorne’s, Somerset House

July 27, 2016

Don’t let the saturnine header image put you off, Pennethorne’s is an airy, friendly space in the west wing of Somerset House that can be approached through Chambers’ forbidding Baroquery from the courtyard side or directly from the approach to Waterloo Bridge. What will you find when you get there?

Thirsty customers were already smattered around in the early evening, slugging back cocktails and gin on one of the hottest days of the year. We were in the mood for Prosecco as I’d met a friend to discuss our respective stays in Venice and make tentative plans to go back for the Biennale next year. The menu isn’t extensive and is built for grazing rather than stuffing, which was ideal for what we were after.

We ordered a plate each of meat and cheese which for a total of £25 brings you generous lumps of the good stuff and an imaginative selection of dried meats. A bit more veg might have been welcome, it was mostly of the caper variety, but there was plenty of bread to soak up the booze too. Butter seemed a bit odd but a request for olive oil brought us a good ramekin full.

So all the ingredients were in place for a good hour or two of conversation and it was with surprise that after finishing off the dregs of the bottle we turned to find that room was now bursting at the seams with people chatting, drinking and munching. Recommended.


To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Review #64 San Carlo Cichetti, Covent Garden

July 22, 2016

Prior to going to see the Pet Shop Boys perform at the ROH we were in the market for not dinner exactly but something approaching it. Having managed to avoid getting cichetti in Venice it seemed a bit of catching up on Italian tapas would be in order.

The room on Wellington Street (there’s another branch in Piccadilly) is unexpectedly opulent with faded mirrors (faded to order or actual antiques I couldn’t work out) and marble all over the shop, and waiters in formal uniforms. So quite Venetian in an over the top sort of way but maybe somewhat incongruous if you’re in t-shirt and jeans.

Having tried to conceal how hungry we each of us was from the other we unwittingly went for a carb overload on the ordering front. Bread and olive oil comes as part of the cover charge and on top of that we got a spicy pizza, arancini, calamari, a caprese salad and chilli prawns. The caprese and the prawns (two big ones on a bed of rocket) were a bit on the meagre side but it was a generous helping of calamari and the stand out was a trio of arancini, moist on the inside and crispy on the outside.

There’s quite a mark up on the wine – a smallish glass of bog standard Pinot Grigio came in at over seven quid – but the service was faultless as was the quality of the cooking.

In a way it was very reminiscent of tourist Venice in that most of its clientèle was from Asia or across the pond with locals thin on the ground. Worth going to for a quick early evening bite but not worth making it your main event.


To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here


Review #63 Gaylord Restaurant, Fitzrovia

July 20, 2016

So it’s 34C and the hottest day of the year so far, you’ve just finished a two hour walk in jacket and tie through central London lecturing about death and destruction in 1940s London and you’ve half slaked your thirst with a couple of cold ones in Ed Murrow’s local.


What are your options? I don’t know about you but I had one thing on my mind – curry. And I knew where to get it.

I’ve had my eye on the Gaylord for a while. It looks like a relic of a bygone era, kind of like a luxury Standard Tandoori where you could imagine Imran Khan hanging out with Both in the ’80s after a charity match.I wasn’t disappointed.

We were there before opening time and I think they were having their staff meeting but it didn’t seem to matter as we seated ourselves and sorted out some cold water. Picture windows gave a great view onto the commuters hurrying by in the heat outside while inside the Gaylord the atmosphere was chilled by the air con. Floor to ceiling paintings of various oriental scenes were kitsch without being nauseating.

Poppadoms are served straight up as part of the cover charge (yep, that retro) and I scanned the luxuriously printed menu – each page on its own bit of hardboard. Well, with some mains coming in at £20 plus I could tell I definitely wasn’t in the Standard anymore but then again we were in the heart of expenses land and it was a nicely appointed room.

A shared mixed non-vegetarian starter was a satisfyingly smoky lamb shish, crab cake and various other bits that I wish I’d had to myself they were so good. But then I might not have had enough room for the main event – a ground goat curry. I wasn’t sure if by ground goat they meant a low-altitude rather than a mountain goat but no, this was goat minced and mixed with a perfect blend of spicy heat that I could have eaten another bowl of quite easily. But on the side, mmm, we had a black lentil dal that was the real deal. Thick and rich with butter, perfect for scooping up with crispy brown raita and naan. Even the pilau rice was a cut above.

All in all the food was the best Indian I’ve had in London for quite a long time. Cobras came in at nearly seven quid a pint mind, so you have to pay for the quality. But judging from the fact that the rest of the clientèle was almost entirely South Asian it’s clear that they know their market and deliver the goods.


To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Review #62 Gelateria Paolin, Venice

July 17, 2016

Being hot, tired and hungrythirsty in Venice with an hour to kill before going to a Vivaldi concert (dial-a-cliché I know) we took a couple of seats out front of Gelateria Paolin with a good view not just of some historical Italian’s backside but also of Venetian life passing by. This is what holidays are for, the bits in between the stuff you’re supposed to do.

Under the shade of the Paolin’s awning we drank cold draught lager and watched tourists stroll by, kids play football, street sellers begin to pack away their wares. A couple of old dears sucked on ciggies and gossipped at the table across from us while pecking at cold bits of melon and speck. Buskers were at a safe enough distance not to ruin the mood.

Given the heat gelato would have been the logical option but I needed a salt top up from sweating around all day and we went for two pizzette – one a plain margerita, the other with spicy sausage. Both were on good, crispy bread and the perfect size for an evening snack. A fresh green salad arrived undressed but with balsamic, olive oil and pepper on the side so that we could do our own.

After demolishing another chilled one it was time to move on to the gig. If only they’d served beer there too I might have made it past the interval.


To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here


Review #61 Antica Locanda Montin

July 13, 2016

Recommended by the eldest child Locanda Montin was a perfect place for a late lunch. In a quiet garden we dined on sea bass and spaghetti alle vongole with a bit of Prosecco and Pinot Grigio for fluids.

The spaghetti was al dente and had a generous helping of Poseidon’s bounty in the form of delicious cockles. I could have stayed there all day but we had art to see.


To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Review #60 The Gilbert Scott, St Pancras

July 10, 2016

With a wedding anniversary to celebrate we were lured to the Gilbert Scott by the Hix-a-like table d’hôte menu of £29 for three courses. The GS has proved a reliable venue for celebrations in the past and didn’t disappoint on this occasion either.

The room had its critics when it first opened but I like it a lot – high ceilings, restrained artworks and plenty of room so that you can talk among yourselves without feeling crowded in. The service too is exceptionally good and in the past has extended to accommodating eccentric dress among its clientèle without a blink of an eye.

But how about the food? The restaurant specialises in seasonal British food and it does it exceptionally well. Everything at our table was cooked and sauced to perfection though for those looking for a bargain you will have to stump up for a few sides – one extra helping of chips and broccoli (at £6 a pop mind you) was just about enough for two rather than four.

There’s a monster wine list with booze up to the squillions a bottle but value is to be had too if you look carefully. So in a head to head with Hix I’d say that they both offer a similar proposition – a £29 per head headline price that will double once you’ve added in an apéritif, vino and sides. But that’s ok because as a place to go for a treat the Gilbert Scott is hard to beat.


To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Chichester and Arundel

July 7, 2016

Having spent a few days away from London I would normally have returned to my desk with a slew of reviews to do from the place that I’ve been. But on this occasion that isn’t the case as I was away for a conference of the Society for the Study of French History. So this piece is more of a reflection on that conference, a sidestep into my own little obsession of going to galleries and then a thought upon a moment of touching serendipity in a church.

It was my first time at the SSFH conf, presenting a paper that I’d previously given in Middlesborough but this time to a group far more likely to be more interested in the French than sporting aspect of my research. As usual it taught me the value of presenting to an audience whose specialism lies beyond one’s own. My co-pannelists (Will Pooley and Russell Stephens,  both of whose papers were very good (and you can’t say that about everything you go to at a conference)) were talking about witchcraft and nineteenth century political cartoons so could hardly have been farther from my own field of early twentieth century sports culture. Yet in a sparsely attended session (it was the last of the conference after all) the discussion ranged freely enough to spark a few ideas that wouldn’t have occurred to me with that outside input. And I now know a shitload about witch trials and phallic imagery in the reign of Napoleon III. Result!

The other good thing about conferences (apart from the socialising, or maybe as part of it) is that it can clear the mind of applying for jobs and getting rejected, writing but ever feeling that you’re not writing enough and teaching but worrying that you haven’t given your students all that you could or should. Because by talking to other early career researchers, and I mean talking to them not reading their angsty tweets and blogs, you feel more normal about your own angst and setbacks. 

But of course much as I love conferences I do also like to get out of them and wander around. By contrast to Middlesbrough Chichester seems to be suffering from no economic dislocation, even in the early days of B****t. And this shows in the gallery attendance at Pallant House. It was solidly busy on a warm Sunday afternoon with families, young couples retirees and wannabe flaneurs like me. 

Deservedly so. The twentieth century art collection is outstanding, with my own favourite being a Patrick Caulfield room kitschly mysterious and entirely covetable. The temporary exhibition of work by Christopher Wood deserved more of my attention than I had the energy to give. So well worth 10 quid for entry.

But talking to a local who was back for the conference she said that she wouldn’t be going because she didn’t think she had enough time free to justify spending that kind of money. Which again reinforced my opinion that such galleries should mitigate the entry charge by extending the ticket for a year, as they do in Queen’s Gallery and the London Transport Museum. This would maintain revenue while also encouraging multiple visits by Chichester residents, thus resolving that conundrum about how to find a balance between earning the tourist bucks without fleecing the locals. But if you’re in the area go there – it’s worth ten quid.

And also go to the Cathedral, which is free. Preparing for my paper I sat in the nave while the organist went through a quite challenging repertoire of what sounded like Messaien to my untrained ear. And then on the way out I saw this:-

It inspired the final poem of Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings (go here for a reading of the poem by Larkin himself) one of the few collections poetry that I know well. And very apposite in the week of my own wedding anniversary. A good omen.

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