Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Book Club, Leonard Street, central London


One of many self-consciously hip places to hang out in Shoreditch, The Book Club is dominated by a large loft-style space with tables laid out canteen style. Cartoons are scrawled on the white-washed brick walls and light floods in through the large windows and from the ranks of hanging lights above. A side room is given over to a ping pong table, overlooked by dozens of table tennis bats hanging on a wall. The varied lunch menu includes a Ploughman's Lunch, quiche, burgers,  risotto and even mackerel fillets.  If you want to revisit your childhood, you can also get a fish finger sandwich (£7.50) in bloomer bread with lettuce, tartare sauce and chunky chips. It is filling, but a bit dry. You have to go to the counter to order your food, where you can help yourself to a glass of cucumber-flavoured water. With many of the punters touting laptops, the Book Club has an industrious vibe. 7/10

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Passion Play, Duke of York Theatre, St. Martin's Lane, central London


Intense, moving and entertaining, Passion Play is a powerful portrayal of the impact of a mid-life crisis, temptation and adultery on the middle aged. Written by Peter Nichols and first performed in 1981, the play depicts the tensions and contradictory impulses that can tear at a relationship when one, or both, spouses resort to deception and deceit to fulfil unrealised dreams and desires. Nichols makes clever use of alter-egos to create an extraordinary intensity - at times you have four actors on stage playing the two main characters, James and Eleanor: Emotionally-charged one-liners fly in all directions.  Although the plot is reasonably predictable, the script can sparkle. James' alter-ego, Jim, has some great lines and the playwright has a lot of fun contrasting what Jim thinks James should do with what he actually does.

While the first half has many comic moments, the second half is much darker and it tugs hard at your emotions. However, the plot does gets a little melodramatic towards the end, as Eleanor fumbles a suicide attempt and her alter-ego packs her bags and leaves home. Moreover, James' early naivety and Eleanor's total disintegration don't quite ring true - it is hard to believe that two charismatic and artistic people have led such insular lives up until the events in the play. You might also wonder why their children don't intervene when Eleanor falls apart. Still, these are minor quibbles.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Cycle route 4, Chelsea to Maidenhead, west London


A long distance route from London to Fishguard in Wales, cycle route 4 follows the Thames west out of the capital. You can pick up route 4 on Chelsea Bridge and follow it along the north bank of the river, winding through Fulham and down to Putney Bridge. From here the distinctive blue signs become less frequent and harder to spot. It is easy to go wrong, so you need to be on your toes. The route now hugs the south bank of the Thames before cutting down through Barnes to Richmond Park. Frustratingly, it isn't signposted through this sprawling and scenic green space, but you want to exit via Ham Gate and then ride west to the Thames. From here, you spend many miles criss-crossing a meandering, quintessentially English stretch of the Thames, populated by rowers, pleasure boats, lock-keepers and walkers. The tow path can be pretty bumpy and the going slow, but the luscious scenery makes up for the rocky ride.  You pass through the history of Hampton Court and the maze of reservoirs around East and West Moseley.

The Two Brewers, Park Street, Windsor, Berkshire

A bastion of taste, The Two Brewers has resisted the tourist tack that has overwhelmed much of Windsor. In a superb location at the end of a quiet historic street opening into Windsor Great Park, this handsome old pub has hanging baskets overflowing with flowers, a period lamppost and a row of tables outside, well place to catch the sun. Inside, the walls are covered in ancient framed photos and advertising posters. Wooden floorboards and distinguished leather furniture add to the timeless atmosphere.  For a pub, the food is imaginative and the ingredients are good. The pulled pork, with barbecue coleslaw, in ciabatta is succulent and satisfying. About £8, it is served on a solid wooden chopping board and comes with some chunky, tasty chips in a boxy metal grill pan. There is London Pride and other ales on tap, plus a few lagers, Aspalls Suffolk Cyder and Stowford Press. This fine old pub seems to be in good hands. 8/10  

Friday, 19 July 2013

Timber! limber up on the South Bank, central London

The grizzly lumberjacks of Timber! juggle axes on the South Bank in an promo for the circus show.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Middle Temple, central London


Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court which have the exclusive right to call law students to be barristers.

The Blue Trees, Festival Gardens, near St. Paul's Cathedral, central London



"By colouring the trees blue, we want people to stop and notice these beautiful trees, which are so often taken for granted”, says Sharon Johnson, chief executive of Trees for Cities. “There has been a decline in urban trees over the last decade, and the threat from disease is on the increase.  Over 80% of the population will live in cities by 2050.  We urgently need to protect and plant more trees to help foster a sense of well being and happiness in our cities".

Sunday, 14 July 2013

HMS Belfast, the Thames

A veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War, HMS Belfast is a light cruiser ship moored near Tower Bridge.  Under the auspices of the Imperial War Museum, it is open to the public

Wagamama, South Bank, central London


On a summer Saturday evening, this warehouse-style branch of Wagamama can have a queue out the door. With a location on the South Bank and keenly-priced Japanese food, Wagamama pulls in plenty of tourists. Still it turns over tables fast, so you probably won't have to wait long. However, there doesn't feel like there is much air con inside and the tap water seems to be rationed - you get small glasses rather than large jugs.  Moreover, Tiger beer is about £7 for a 640ml bottle. Still, the typically funky young staff help create a good vibe, mixing fast service with banter. The menu offers a good mix of curries, teppanyaki, donburi (big bowls of rice with meat and vegetables), ramen and salads. Moreover, the main courses, such as cha han and yaki udon, start at about £8 and the kids menu is great value and fairly healthy. Unfortunately, the food isn't anything to write home about - the salmon teriyaki with soba noodles (about £11), for example, can be overcooked. Still, this is a lively pit stop for a fast family meal on the hoof. 7/10

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Ightham Mote, Ivy Hatch, Sevenoaks, Kent


Andy Murray made Wimbledon finals day a fine time to visit this popular National Trust property, which can get over-run on a Sunday. When the middle classes are glued to the TV, there is room to breathe and admire the flashy flowers in the verdant grounds of this moated medieval manor house. Even in glorious sunshine, only a handful of visitors may be chilling out on the banked lawn, while a couple of families eat leisurely picnics on the banks of the brook that threads its way through the gardens. On the marked walks from the car park, you may not encounter another soul.

Friday, 5 July 2013

The London Gay Big Band, Royal Festival Hall, central London

The London Gay Big Band, in an appropriately jovial mood, get the Royal Festival Hall swinging and dancing on a steamy Friday afternoon