5 Tips to Get Back in the Saddle

Woman on bike

I’m off on holiday, so I’m excited to have Catherine Ellis of Hill & Ellis as a guest blogger this week. I had my first grown-up bike as early as when I was 3 (my great uncle loved to splurge, I guess…) and while I was still in Central London it was not unusual to see me in the saddle (including cycling the whole of Hyde Park in one afternoon on a Boris bike). You know me, though, I’ve never been one for the sportsy aesthetic, more like the “going to a market in Paris” one, and that’s why I fell in love with this brand. Today, we talk about how to get me (and you, if you’re in the same boat as me) back on the saddle. 

With cycling in the spotlight are you planning to get back in the saddle? Here’s what you need to know.

The revival of cycling over recent months has been both unmissable and unstoppable, with many taking up cycling during lockdown for their daily exercise, followed by people swapping public transport in favour of a bike when commuting to work. Numbers are likely to increase further as the government invests in cycling infrastructure, as well as recently offering the £50 bike service voucher scheme to encourage people to get back in the saddle and get fitter.

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Afternoon Tea at Brown’s Brasserie

Afternoon Tea (Brown's)

I’ve loved Brown’s since I had breakfast in the Oxford one many moons ago. It’s a mid-price range place that covers your needs from breakfast to dinner and looks really nice inside without being stuffy and pretentious. It’s a smart casual place, which is what you need when you want to have a good time without putting in the effort to dress up. We had a couple of gift cards that came from family members that insist they need to buy Christmas presents, and it was a very welcome compromise. Back in the time before lockdown, we have attempted to go for an evening meal at the Mayfair branch after Mass at Farm Street, since the worse-half was, at the time, reading Brideshead Revisited after two years of me pleading for it to happen.

Mayfair is still closed, and I was itching for a change of pace even if it came at the cost of wearing an uncomfortable mask that makes me cough and get a headache, so we decided to turn it around and have an early afternoon tea at the Victoria branch instead, before Mass at the Oratory. It’s a quiet hidden spot in Cardinal Place, or at least it was at the time. We passed by the Botanist on Sloane Square on our way back to the station and you’d think Covid-19 was never a thing judging by how packed it was. It was still well attended and lively, even with the social distancing measures, and the staff was courteous, so it never felt like living in some kind of dystopia. 

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Micro-living: the good, the bad and the ugly

Small Loft Flat

A few days ago, a British politician made a comment about how poor people should buy 2kg bags of fresh potatoes instead of the more expensive and smaller bags of frozen ready-cut chips, and it got me thinking about how many people have no idea what life at the bottom is really like. This is not, however, a post about that. If you’d like to read more on that, you can find a lot of thoughtful pieces on the Steel Magnificat blog on Patheos Catholic. Living in small spaces is an urban thing that transcends class: nowadays, London houseshares in zone 1-2 come for a minimum of £800-£1000 per month per room depending on area. You can’t pay that much if you are earning a retail wage. Even the houses that are large by city standards are not that big when you think of how much space you’d get in the countryside. The cost of a zone 1 flat can buy you a French castle. In fact, Savills has a few going right now for the cost of a 2-bedroom flat in Battersea, let alone a 5 million+ Chelsea penthouse. 

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My Decluttering and Organising Philosophy

Empty Flat

Decluttering is one of the words on everybody’s lips, especially now we are in lockdown and so spending more time at home…which means not only we are more likely to have our mood affected by the environment around us, but also because, for some of us, the extra time on our hands has given us a chance to tackle the big jobs that are always left behind. I am a right mess, mostly due to chronic illnesses making it difficult to keep on top of housekeeping at all times, but I think that’s what makes me a worthy guide on the subject. Too many decluttering gurus are really neat people who enjoy cleaning (and to be fair, I enjoy it too because it gives me a sense of accomplishment and I love to let out anger on a dirty oven). I am someone who had to find ways to cope with doing the bare minimum but manage to live in tiny urban spaces (by choice, I am more of a minimalist than people think…).

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Dine like Oscar Wilde: where to find “fin de siècle” architecture in London

Drawing Room with period furniture

It is no surprise that I am a foodie. It is also no surprise that I like to eat in beautiful surroundings, be it taking a picnic to the grounds of a castle in Derbyshire or a restaurant I wish I had decorated myself. Most people are used to me being obsessed with the 18th century, but another period in history that I love (for its arts, architecture and literature) is the fin de siècle, or for the English-speaking audience the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and the beginning of the Edwardian age. While it is very much a Parisian thing, and this love for it goes back to spending hours reading Verlaine and the other poets in my French Literature textbooks as a teenager, there is plenty of it in England, and in particularly London, too.
The very first design of this blog incorporated a famous quote from The Picture of Dorian Gray, “The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer”, and I have talked about my love of Oscar Wilde before, although maybe never to the extent of my youth, when you would really have thought I must be an elective descendant at best, reincarnation at worst (it’s still in there somewhere!).

Pizza Express, Coptic Street (Bloomsbury)
A view of the Pizza Express on Coptic Street, London
















Hidden in the area most famous for being the home of the Bloomsbury group and the British Museum, this corner building (between Coptic Street and Little Russell Street) was once the home of the Dairy Supply Company. Built in 1888 by architect R.P. Whellock, the dairy is partly preserved not only in the outdoors structure of the building, but also in the interiors of the restaurant, with the original round windows and tiles giving an original touch to what is a chain that looks the same wherever you visit a branch.

📷 copyright Ghostly Tom’s Travel

Bibendum and Bibendum Oyster House at Michelin House (Chelsea)

Long distance picture of Michelin House in Chelsea















The Grade II listed 1911 building by François Espinasse, with features that are Art Nouveau and features that are to be Art Deco and images that betray its past as the UK home of French tyre giant Michelin even if you had no idea that Bibendum is the nickname of the Michelin Man. The architectural features are more visible from the Oyster Bar than the restaurant, but since the restaurant is run by Claude Bose and you walk through the ground floor to reach it I thought it’d still deserve a mention. While Chelsea isn’t lacking in good architecture, Bibendum’s fish soup is lush.

Byron Proper Hamburger, Strand (Covent Garden)
Interiors of Grade II listed building turned into Byron burger restaurant













American food in the former home of the Adelphi Theatre’s restaurant, who would have thought it? Enjoy the burger chain favoured by the previous tenant of no 11 Downing Street the night before a budget and enjoy the reflected light from the massive mirrors, golden mosaic ceilings and (modern) chandeliers of this Grade II listed 1887 building by Spencer Chadwick for the Gatti Brothers.

Leadenhall Market, Gracechurch Street (the City)
Central arcade, Leadenhall Market













While the Leaky Cauldron is not, alas, an option, there are plenty of good eateries (and drinks retailers!) at this historic covered market. While the market itself dates back to the late Middle Ages, the current arcades were designed in 1881 by Sir Horace Jones.  Catch Fine Wine Wednesdays at Amathus for discounts on selected wines, including cases, and it’s really worth getting a privilege card if you work in the area (more discounts than just Pizza Express!). The Old Tom’s Bar is almost a best kept secret at the market, but it’s worth looking for because of the original 19th century tiles incorporated into their decor.

Granaio at the Criterion Restaurant (Piccadilly)
Neo-Byzantine interiors of upmarket restaurant in Piccadilly, London, the Criterion.













If you, like me, are a sucker for the adorableness of Charles Edwards as Michael Gregson, you know this interior inside out from too many re-viewings of Downton Abbey rather than expensive eggs on toast at Savini (reopened this past summer as rustic Italian restaurant Granaio). The 1873 neo-byzantine opulent building by Thomas Verity is one of the oldest restaurants in the world, the setting of the first meeting of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson and the meeting place of many meetings of female suffrage organisations so, while slightly early for the scope of this post, I think it deserves a mention.

Harrods Food Halls and Tea Rooms (Knightsbridge)
Harrods Food Hall












With 23 restaurants covering a variety of cuisines, this 1884 building (completed in 1905) by Charles William Stephens had seen walking into its doors Oscar Wilde himself among other contemporaries and celebrities of later years (including members of the Royal Family), and still shows features of the day in what is the floor the least affected by the most recent ownership. The food court isn’t as tacky as the rest, but if you can’t bear to stop for a bite to eat just have a wander around (be aware it’s very busy) and leave with some of their amazing dates with candied fruit and Christmas presents for easily impressed relations you don’t really like that much. The tea room on the 4th floor, based in the old Georgian Restaurant, is also worth a visit, if only for the stunning open ceiling.

The Langham Hotel (Marylebone)
Exteriors of the Langham Hotel















While the building by John Giles was completed in 1865, and it’s in an earlier style than this post, I thought it fitting to round up the list with a restaurant that has a real life connection to Oscar Wilde. At the restaurant of this hotel, he had lunch with the publisher that commissioned the story that would then become the Portrait of Dorian Gray. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not only meeting the same person (Joseph Marshall Stoddart) at the same lunch, but also set A Scandal in Bohemia and the Sign of Four in part at the Langham. The interiors are mostly exquisite and they have their own tea if you’d rather have an afternoon feast than dinner. I really recommend the Artesian cocktail bar, but the interior there is a modern take that may not suit everybody’s taste (you’ll forget it if you drink enough).

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