Archive for the ‘London’ Category

A short guide to the London Library

October 21, 2017

Given that numbers of membership is falling I offer this post in the spirit of my (surprisingly!) popular Short guide to Southwark jury service to encourage people of letters to join the London Library. Such august institutions (the Library dates back to 1840 and counts a Who’s Who of literary genius among its past and present members) can seem rather intimidating to the outsider and my aim is to acknowledge that the Library definitely has higher expectations of its members’ behaviour than most contemporary libraries (yeah, I’m talking about you, the BL) but also offers delights not to be found anywhere else.

But I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘Isn’t it expensive?’. Well, it’s not cheap. At £510 per annum for old farts and £255 for the under-25s it’s not a negligible sum. However, I hope that I can persuade you, dear reader, that at less than the price of a cup of coffee a day if you’re of an intellectual inclination you get plenty of bang for your buck. I would also point out that if, like me, you’re occasionally outside the perimeter of the academic community membership at Senate House is not cheap, and is far less salubrious than the digs in St James’s Square.

Of course this guide is my own, partial, opinion. Other members will value some services (for example the postal loan system for those outside commuting distance of Central London) that I rarely use if never. So where should one start? Oh yes,

Books

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Books in the idiosyncratic London Library shelving system

Yes, they have books at the London Library. Big deal you might think, I can get books for free at my college/university/Senate House/BL. I have to say, however, that the LL’s collection is outstanding. Its strengths lie in its antiquity and its scope. While not as broad as some (and I emphasise, some) university library collections its acquisition policy is rigorously academic and keeps abreast of the latest scholarship.

As a historian though I value the way in which you can trace the genealogy (to borrow a Foucauldian term) of a subject over time. For example, over the past year I’ve been conducting two research projects. The first, on Marivaux, I’ve discussed elsewhere in these posts. The second, on the history of the West India Committee, was greatly aided by the fact that the library has holdings of first editions by the WIC’s Chairman, published in the 1900s, which I could borrow and peruse in the comfort of my own home while prepping a (failed) application for a research grant.

Having such historic books on open access means that you can serendipitously stumble upon things in the library’s collection that are relevant to your research but of which you may have been entirely ignorant given the focus of most reading lists and scholarship on the up-to-date. And old books smell great. Yes, that’s a thing. The idiosyncratic shelving system is also, once you’ve mastered it, a pleasure to use.

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Old books. You gotta love ’em.

Journals

If you’re a student or hold an academic post you can take the fact that you have on-line access to thousands of journals rather for granted. As someone who has occasionally fallen out of the legit academic community the London Library’s e-library has proved a godsend with university department sized access to essential resources (for me) like JSTOR, the DNB, and the Bibliography of British and Irish Historiography. They also have access to some resources that aren’t on offer elsewhere, such as digital access to the Guardian and Observer archives. If you take a look at what there is in their e-library you’ll probably find plenty to get stuck into that isn’t on my radar.

Magazines

The reading room is a joy for the magazine and journal browser. If you want to keep up with new scholarship there are physical copies of the latest big journals there to consult. If you’re reading for pleasure you can pick up, say, Sight & Sound, Private Eye, the LRB etc etc. Laptops are barred (at the moment) in this room so it really is a place of peace and tranquillity, in which to read or snooze if you’ve an idle hour waiting for an appointment in town.

Desks

Every library member will have a favourite spot, my own is next to Who’s Who? up top in the St. James’s building where people rarely go. Though it can be a bit galling to toil up the stairs and find the desk occupied. Traditionalists will like the old school wooden desks dotted around among the history and literature collections.

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A trad desk by a window that opens. Luxury.

Modernistas my prefer the up-to-date environment to be find in the writing room, the art room or the lightwell in the basement. The point is that you get to choose your writing environment, which will be more intimate and calming than the vast plains of Humanities 1. And the earlier you get to work the likelier you are to find your optimal spot.

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A modern roost overlooking Masons Yard

Librarians

They offer expertise and courtesy. The best of their profession.

Food & Drink

Of course you can’t eat in the stacks. And why would you? If you’re frugal you can eat a packed lunch in the Members’ Room at the top of the building. However, there are plenty of places to go in the vicinity if you want to get refreshed or fed.

Personally, I’m happy to go to Eat for food if I’m aiming to go back to work afterwards, or Waterstone’s Café if I can’t get a seat in there. If it’s booze you’re after The Chequers in Masons Yard is a peerless pub in this part of London. ‘Hearty’ pub food, cheerful barmaids and good beer at a reasonable price for the area. Or if you’re feeling more lizardy why not snaffle along to Royal Opera Arcade?

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The Chequers, perfect for al freso supping in the summer. Cosy in cooler climes.

Events

The Library hosts a full programme of literary events throughout the year. With a good tranche of the leading lights of literature and the arts (for example, incoming President Sir Tim Rice) you won’t need to go to Wye to hear talks by leading writers.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the pluses of joining but I hope that it’s piqued your interest. If you want to dip your toe in the water the Library will arrange for someone to show you around to see if it’s the place for you. I urge you to give it a go and soon, like me, you’ll be putting aside the money for membership week by week.

Go here to see their membership page for details of how to join. If you’re a member of the Library already why not add a comment on your experience of being a member.

#London #Literature

 

Affordable Art Fair

October 19, 2017

I haven’t got round to my full Estorick post yet, in fact I’d like to go back before I tackle it, so in the meantime my art focus falls on the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park. This is my third art bunfight of the year after the RA’s Summer Exhibition and the Venice Biennale (not that I was in any danger of buying anything at that!) and I was there at the invitation of my talented friend, Nick.

Nick Kobyluch – not just a talented artist, also a fine centre back.

I’ll spare his blushes and briefly state that he does fine landscapes that are topographical without being pedantic. See the depiction of Elephant and Castle tube over his shoulder to discover how he finds the ray of sunshine in even the gloomiest London locale.

And the Fair? I’d recommend a visit if you’re in the area. Like all of these kinds of things you can get a bit art blind by the 100th stand but there is plenty of good stuff for the discerning eye. I was most taken with the photographs of delapidated buildings by Dan Oude Elferink. The temptation to take one home was strong but I reckon it best to approach purchases without free wine in the tank and we decided to visit the Ranen Art Gallery at a future date.

Punters queue to bag up their art. We kept a cool head.

Try and get there early if you can as the aisles get tight as the evening progresses, and no one likes tight aisles. As it was two knobhe … err, art fans spilled my drink while looking at the walls rather than where they were going.

A relatively clear aisle, it looks safe for beverages. But watch out, those red trouser guys come out of nowhere.

And is it affordable? Well it’s a relative term isn’t it. Some stands have prints (and originals) for sale at under a monkey but most featured works are four figures and above as far as I could see. So if budget is an issue for you follow the racecourse golden rule and keep your maximum stake in one pocket and your taxi fare home in the other. 

Resto 56 Estorick Café, Highbury

October 10, 2017

I nearly forgot my visit to the Estorick (more of which in another post) as it was a bit of a pit stop but since they brought me the bill I should add it for completism’s sake. And also because the service and food is always excellent.

On this occasion I just stopped by after the exhibition (Arte Povera, recommended) for a quick coffee. So I got an espresso and then was tempted into having a custard tart by the very cheerful waiter. It was too cold to sit outside but now that they have a conservatory style fitting it feels like you’re in the garden anyway. Even if you’re not visiting the collection it’s worth having a pop in to do the crossword or chat with a friend.

Though why you wouldn’t want to look at the art as well I don’t know. It’s one of my favourite places in London.

8/10

#coffee #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 55 Dalla Terra, Covent Garden

October 8, 2017

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We were fortunate enough to have had tickets to Michel Hazavanicius’ latest, Le Redoutable, on Saturday. Contrary to what Jonathan Romney insisted on saying time after time in the Q&A with the director afterwards the film is not a comedy. It has plenty of comic moments (and I mean plenty, though the scenes of Godard repeatedly breaking his glasses, while funny, brought back some painful memories) but at its core it is a tragedy. It describes the quotidian tragedy of a marriage breaking up.

The radical politics of May ’68 in Paris act as a backdrop to the couple’s growing apart but it is gender politics that inform the moral of the film. Godard’s wife, Anne Wiasemsky, realises that the revolution that would enable her to attain personal autonomy is not Maoist but feminist. She isn’t oppressed by the capitalist system exemplified by the movie business in which she works. Rather she’s oppressed by a husband who while seeking to liberate himself from that system acts as just as much of an authority figure as the despised CdG when it comes to the domestic environment.

So we had a lot to discuss as we searched for somewhere civilised to eat in the West End on a Saturday night. Italian, French or Russian (that came out of nowehere!) was the request and we wandered up to Covent Garden and took a chance on Dalla Terra as it didn’t look too busy. Giving the eyeballs to a sharp elbowed couple who tried to jump ahead of us it was gratifying to see them stuck on high stools at a sharing table while we got a more lizardly spot by the window.

Geoff reflected on the fact that there’s no elegant way to eat on a high stool and then peered at Denize through the gloom of the restaurant. He wondered if she too was finding it difficult to read the menu in the stygian darkness. 

‘Yes’, said Denize, ‘It is a bit dark isn’t it?’

‘And the music.’ ‘Too loud.’ ‘I agree.’ ‘It’s like a nightclub.’ ‘Full of old people.’ I thought they were young.’ ‘It’s relative.’

We looked at the menu, which wasn’t extensive but did have what we were looking for – a high quality planche of meat ‘n’ cheese. We got that with a bowl of very, very good olives alongside. In the glass a bottle of Pinot Grigio (for a whiff of Venezia) that was rou. 

The service was excellent given that they were pretty full and we got stuck into the bits. Meat in a satisfying range of varieties, one of them good and spicy. The cheese was outstanding and for roughage there was a rather meagre slathering of sun-dried tomatoes and aubergine. No salad. Always a controversial issue.

Geoff surveyed the plate and realised that there was not to be any salad. The last time he’d been to a restaurant with Denize and there was no salad it had caused a minor breakdown in marital relations as he really likes La Fabrica and knows that they give you plenty of vegetables even if there’s no salad per se on the menu.

You know Geoff thinks that I’m obsessed by the salad but in fact he’s the one who brings it up every time there’s no salad on the menu, and even sometimes when there is. And is it unreasonable to ask a restaurant to make a small salad when you know that they have the ingredients in the kitchen?

‘It doesn’t look like we’re going to get any salad.’ ‘ …’ ‘I’ll go to the loo.’

The big drawback to Della Terra is that it’s severely underbogged for a busy Saturday night. There was already one feller waiting for the sole trap when I got there and I think whoever was in there was squeezing out a dead otter so I thought it best to hang on till home and return to collect the bill.

It wasn’t an awful lot of food for thirty quid a head and the music made it quite difficult to talk to one another. However, I reckon it’s worth returning to Dalla Terra as a daytime venue as the wine and food was excellent and would be ideal for when you’re pooped from artlooking/shopping and wanted an idle hour chatting or reading a book. 

7/10

#food #london

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

 

 

 

 

 

Bram Bogart at Vigo Gallery

September 20, 2017

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It feels a long time since I wrote about something other than food on here. Not because I’ve been culturally droughted of late, I’ve just been writing other things. I’m also preparing a fairly chunky piece recommending membership of the London Library in the semi-flippant style of my Southwark Jury Service post.

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An old-fashioned desk in the London Library. I think someone stole my laptop?! Just kidding.

So this is a quick post to recommend the Bram Bogart show at Dering Street’s Vigo Gallery. This isn’t the first time that I’ve written about Vigo; due to a family connection it’s a gallery whose fortunes I follow more closely than most. However, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t flag up things that they do that I think a wider public might enjoy. As I’ve said before the private galleries of London are an intellectual resource that is underused by those not in the art world but who have an interest in culture.

And the Belgian artist Bram Bogart is a case in point. Bogart developed as an artist after World War Two and was part of the move of Arte Povera (which reminds me I should get to the Estorick sometime) towards simplicity of colour and radical interventions on the plane of the canvas. While some, like Fontana, went in for slashing the canvas in order to break the surface Bogart treats the canvas as a basis for sculptural creations, pushing the paint out towards the viewer in a more extreme version of, say, Van Gogh’s heavy impasto.

The works collected in the two rooms at Vigo come from a later stage in Bogart’s career when he had moved away from the minimalist colours of AP and embraced vibrant colours, mixing paint with glue to achieve billowing effects on the canvas. If you visit the show, and I hope you will, you’ll be met with a riot of colour that would elevate even the lowest spirits crushed by a combination of a rotten global outlook, the cruel chill of September in London and the very hell that is trying to walk on Oxford or Regent Street.

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Bram Bogart, ‘Zonzucht’

You can see the sculptural aspect to his work in the above photo but as ever I advise you to see these works in the flesh if you can. Taking photographs of paintings really is the most redundant thing in the world. If you want a record of something write about it, or pull a more professional image down from the net for your personal use. Unless you want to illustrate a hurriedly written blogpost of course! But do go to the Vigo if you can, they have an excellent booklet to accompany the show which talks far more articulately about Bogart’s work than I can!

#Art #London

Resto 54 Mildred’s, Dalston

September 18, 2017

A bit off my usual track to meet an old family friend in Dalston. Mildred’s is in the new(-ish) development round the back of the Overground in what some (not me) might consider a rather soulless building. The room is bright and cheerful and we were given a slightly awkward round table in the corner to sit at. While it wasn’t ideal for three from a seating point of view its smallness did mean that conversation was easy enough.

Mildred’s is veggie-vegan but there’s a great variety of food, enough that a chap of a carnivorous nature can be easily satisfied. To start I had gyoza with chilli sauce. The menu didn’t explain what was inside them and I couldn’t tell specifically from the taste but they were delicious. Five in a portion is pretty generous too. For main a Sri Lankan curry was the curry of the year so far. Coconut, crunchy brown rice and a punchy sambal sauce in a ramekin on the side to spice it to your preference. I whacked in the whole lot and enjoyed. Chunks of butternut squash and beans made it nice and filling.

House white at £21 a bottle was delicious (Hoopoe if  my memory is correct) and the service throughout was attentive without being intrusive. I’m sure there are more ‘authentic’ (whatever that means) vegan places around the area but I’d thoroughly recommend Mildred’s to veggie and non-veggie friends alike. The fact that they were pretty busy on a Sunday night shows that I’m not alone in my opinion.

8/10

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 47 The Keeper’s House, Piccadilly

August 28, 2017

Having lunched at Caravan, I was rather improbably dining in The Keeper’s House later the same evening. Sometimes the most banal days turn epic. Hence my memory of the meal is sketchy, especially given a couple of days of August Bank Holiday (one of which drinking Gamma Ray in the hottest car park in London) occurring since we ate.

The room is down the warren of corridors off the main body of Burlington House. But it’s worth the trip. As you’d expect there’s a selection of artworks on the walls to occupy the eye if you’ve had enough of looking at your fellow diners. There was a smattering of these but it wasn’t difficult to get a table on a Friday night.

The food is solid high-end stuff. Pea soup was a decent warm up, then a bit of fish for main (I don’t remember the brand of fish … hake? No. Umm, possibly salmon) was good too. The new potatoes on the side were perfectly cooked (not always the case) and the best thing I’d eaten all day. The only disappointment was an underwhelming pistachio ice cream.

There’s stiff competition round these parts for this kind of food at this kind of price (plus £25 for most mains) but I kind of liked it’s dungeon-y vibe and could be tempted back for a post-show scoff. Matisse is definitely worth the trip, even if (like me) you feel a bit Matissed out from a holiday in Paris.

7/10

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

 

Resto 46 Caravan, Kings Cross

August 27, 2017

For once it was actually too hot to eat comfortably outside in London so we were looking for a shady place for lunch in King’s Cross. Caravan’s terrace was rammed but there was plenty of room inside where we squeezed in between a lone office worker and a group of mums and tots. It’s that kind of place.

So if you’re looking for tranquility Caravan is not the place to come. The music is loud, the ceiling is cavernous and the chatter rattles of the stripped brick walls. Which is a long-winded way to say that there was a good atmosphere.

You can share small plates or go for mains but in the end we both plumped for pizza with a shared rocket salad. When I ordered boquerones the server asked me if I knew what they were. I did but I couldn’t remember. I knew I liked them. When I saw them I remembered that they were slivery anchovies from scoffing them elsewhere. The pizza had a good crispy base but not in Paesano’s class. (I think Paesano might have ruined every pizza I ever eat by totally outclassing the field. )The salad was good but with a little bit too much oil in the dressing for my taste. A pint of Camden Pale was a good thing.

So I’d put Vagabond above Dishoom but below Grain Store on this strip. At around twenty quid a head it’s mid-range and a useful place to go if you want a bit wider menu than you’d get in Pizza Express.  But only if you’re in the area.

7/10

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 38 St John Bread & Wine, Spitalfields

August 8, 2017

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To my shame I only became a client of St. John in 2017. My first visit was a literary lunch at their Bermondsey branch but that was a freebie so not subject to the rules.  Such was the excellence that day that when my friend suggested we try out SJB&W for a late supper I was very happy indeed.

It being late-ish on a Monday trade wasn’t brisk but that didn’t matter. The room is stripped back yet homely, you feel that everything about the design has been thought through but not in a twattish Soho way. The menu is pleasingly brief – around a dozen or so small sharing plates and then half a dozen bigger ones with a couple of specials on the board. I could have eaten anything or everything on there – St John is the place to go if you want to get out of a dining rut.

Famously, offal is king at St John and we had sweetbreads (I wanted to lick the plate the gravy was so good) from that side of things. But the veg is good too, kohlrabi was beautifully crispy crunchy. I was wishing I’d got one to myself. Half a mackerel with horseradish and beetroot made me want to cry with pleasure. Cheese to finish off was a bit of a bridge too far but I managed to squeeze some down.

Service too was outstanding. From our table I could see the chefs at work in the kitchen and at one point observed them debating the state of the pig skin. The waitress brought the dish to the table and told us that the chef wasn’t happy with the level of crunch: we wouldn’t be charged for them but they left it to us to try it out and see what we thought. I thought they tasted delicious, especially dipped in a sauce that was like a pumped up HP (and I don’t mean that as a criticism, HP sauce is the sauce of the gods). They were however chewy as hell so chapeau to the chef, he called it right. I was still glad we had them though.

The wine list is extensive and reasonably priced – we had a bottle Alsatian white at around 26 quid followed by a beautifully deep glass of Cahors red with the fromage. It was one of those evenings where everything went right; even the error added texture. I’ll be back.

Oh, and the bread! I want to go back as soon as I can please.

9/10

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 37 Walnut, Finsbury Park

August 2, 2017

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I was disappointed to find that the previous occupant of this site had closed a couple of months ago when I  was in search of my usual post-seminar, pre-quiz meal of pizza, Nastro and rocket salad. What had put paid to the outfit I’m not sure as there always seemed to be a steady enough stream of customers. I’m hoping that Walnut, the new restaurant, endures as this was an excellent meal.

It being early evening it was pretty quiet. The room hasn’t been altered much except the seating is now a mixture of café style and more formal dining (though not overly so). We warmed up with a round of cocktails (£5 in happy hour, worth doing as a post-work wind down on their own) while we had a look at the menu.

The selection on offer is big enough without making your brain ache. I went for the starter special of razor clam (one of my favourite things) in a salad with bacon. The clams weren’t drowned out by the salty bacon and the whole thing was despatched very quickly. The main of hake was perfectly cooked with plenty of crispy green beans propping it up. We shared some noticeably good chips (truffle and parmesan gave them a bit of oomph) and I wished I’d had a bowl to myself.

Alongside this a bottle of Pinot Gris was delicious and reasonably priced for the quality. Did we have room for dessert? Probably but we also had an eye on meeting friends down the road so we got the bill. Service was friendly without being too chummy and we left happy. Recommended.

8/10

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

 


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