Vegetarian lunch at Honey and Co.

Honey and Co

Honey and Co is a small and colourful Middle Eastern restaurant in a quiet backstreet of Fitzrovia. It was opened by Israeli chefs Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich in 2012 and it focuses on a selection of Middle Eastern classics that are special like you’d expect for chefs of that caliber but never lose the je-ne-sais-quoi of home cooking. Of course, because it’s me we’re talking about, this is not a review that amounts to uninterrupted fangirling, but like any person who truly loves food,  I have one or two things I would have done differently and it all comes from a place of love rather than criticism. I’m not an evil food critic, I feel like I am on the same side as those who make the food. 

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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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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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The Sense of Wonder and Delight #LoveBlog2018

 

I seem to create potential converts by taking people to the Brompton Oratory for Mass, but never would have I thought that someone would ever call that “one of my most romantic gestures”, even though for a long time I have wished that, if I ever found someone crazy enough to want to spend the rest of their life with me, I would get married in that church.
The reason for it is that it is an enchanting building (you can take a virtual tour of it on their website), as well as one of the few places where you can get a NO Mass in Latin said to the East, and more importantly a place infused with deep and tangible sense of the transcendence, like a taste of heaven on earth.

Dorothy Day famously defended the choice to rebuild a grand cathedral in San Francisco following its destruction into a fire saying: “The church has an obligation to feed the poor, and we cannot spend all our money on buildings. However, there are many kinds of hunger. There is a hunger for bread, and we must give people food. But there is also a hunger for beauty – and there are very few beautiful places that the poor can get into. Here is a place of transcendent beauty, and it is as accessible to the homeless in the Tenderloin as it is to the mayor of San Francisco. The Cathedral in San Francisco is one of the few places where the poor can go and sit down and be with God in beauty…”

In my teenage years, I too wondered why we had such rich churches when there were so many social justice issues to deal with. I was Biblically illiterate, and I also had no real understanding of the teaching of the church I was baptised into, especially I was never taught about the real presence despite undergoing catechesis for my first holy communion. I had no idea that the wealth of the Vatican was more perception than reality, but even if that wasn’t the case (and really it is)  had no grasp of the implications, and not only the moral ones that Dorothy Day, someone with the biggest heart for the poor and an attachment to radical politics so far from my own, so beautifully expressed; the beauty on display for the faithful to be reminded of the source of all beauty also attracts people who visit out of interest in the art and donate (or pay entrance fees in places like the Vatican Museums) for the privilege of seeing these things. It may also be the case that the beauty around them will plant a seed for their conversion.

The romantic gesture had more to it than just a beautiful church, and a clumsy attempt to explain what was going on as the choir sang the Creed in Latin, and the whole congregation genuflected in unison as if they had rehearsed a choreography, which made me keenly aware of just what beauty there is in many aspects of the rite of the Mass, especially if you are a spectator and not a participant. As we’ll be in the 3rd week of Lent soon, my favourite part of the liturgical year is coming up (Holy Week). It had a lot to do with me sharing something that is important to me. I have noticed in recent times that a prayer prayed a long time ago had been answered, and I do not mean to be arrogant when I say that people have begun to respond to my faith in different ways ever since.

One of my ex-boyfriends once said that they loved to hear me speaking about history, because I glow when I talk about things I am passionate about. Mr Knightley says the same about both history and my faith, among other things. It is (should I say it?) enchanting. It may make some people clutch their pearls, because they usually associate the word enchanting with magic, thanks to the long history of the word meaning that in quite practical terms, and magic is seen as negative, and for good reason. However, the dictionary definition of magic means: “the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces”. Magic is a pale imitation of the power of miracles. In the book of Exodus, when God sends the ten plagues on Egypt, the first two of them are replicated by Pharaoh’s magicians (Exodus 7–8).

In a world of disbelief, people are more and more seeking fulfilment of the thirst for enchantment in the wrong places, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t find “the sense of wonder or delight” somewhere. That somewhere, for me, is beautiful churches like the Italian Baroque architecture of the Oratory, with its dark and smoky atmosphere and silence that fills it, or grand Gothic and Gothic Revival buildings with their tall arches reaching up for heaven, and the incense-filled rites that take place in them.

Today’s blog post has been part of the Love Blog Challenge 2018 on the subject “Enchantment”. Find the rest of the series here.

Flowers and graphic saying the titles of the challenge

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A night out with #MegaMysteryBus

Megabus in Portman Square from the front

Sherlock Holmes, Megabus and 26 bloggers trying to save London from Moriarty: the recipe for a fun night out.
My only experience with the company, which, if you somehow have missed its iconic blue coaches and jolly yellow-shirted conductor Sid, runs travel services from all over the country to London, and vice versa, had not been the greatest, but I am the biggest sucker for mystery games so I had to say an enthusiastic yes to the invitation to be part of the lucky first 26 on the #MegaMysteryBus. I’m so glad I did. Now, we’re talking about around 3 years ago, but I did not remember the coach I was on en route to Liverpool to be so spacious and comfortable, and I’m a big fan of companies which keep improving themselves, so I would definitely travel by Megabus in the future. In fact, I find the time we spent on the coach was not enough to enjoy just how comfy the seats are (I had spent the whole day wandering around the Surface Design Show, and if it wasn’t for the adrenaline of a competition I’d have gladly napped between stops, which were Portman Square to Westminster, Westminster to Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden back to Portman Square).

The game itself was really impressive, as there was something for everyone as well as enough to make my £27000 history degree worth it: it had a scavenger’s hunt that required some displays of creativity, an observation game with visual clues about the location and questions to answer, some guessing games, video challenges, photo challenges and some challenges to get clues out of Sherlock Holmes himself, Inspector Lestrade and a criminal putting into danger the patrons at Covent Garden piazza, who have enjoyed the spectacle of a some very competitive people running around shouting things that made no sense unless you knew it was part of a game. Some lucky people even had a chance to be part of the game, but I can’t say more without giving away the clues!

Group of ladies playing a mystery game in Trafalgar Square

While there was something for the talents and interests of everyone, the game is organised in a way that the team needs to stick together and work together, which fostered a great sense of camaraderie among us, thanks to a shared competitiveness that had us finish second out of four, which isn’t the result I was hoping for (especially given the 2 weeks down with tonsillitis that followed!) but it’s still decent and I’m proud of our work. It was a very diverse group of bloggers, some I was familiar from other events or Twitter and some I had never met before, and it’s a great way to bring together people who would have likely never met each other if they had not been randomly put together in these teams, and I think that’s really lovely. It would be so lovely also to do it with people you don’t know if you just moved to London, or want more friends, or have no friends who like to do mystery games, but it’s also a great idea for parties of all kind so I hope this becomes a thing, and that when it does it can be booked either way. (Please Megabus, it would be brilliant!)

We were joined by some company representatives (as well as the lovely team behind Search Laboratory who were responsible for the organisation, and feeding us lovely food-blogger-approved nibbles and wine at the Radisson Blue where the night began and ended – a perfect event as usual!), who really enjoyed to watch us running around (quite literally) trying to get things done on strict timelines because time is precious when there is a city to be saved from an evil mastermind trying to blow us all up, so I’m thankful to M&S for the cute but practical new loafers I wore on the night. They talk about how much they enjoyed it too on the Megabus blog. I think it makes the company quite forward-looking to organise a thing like this, and I’m not saying that because they bought me off with LoveHearts (although there were LoveHearts in our goodie bags so they totally bought my forever love with LoveHearts). They are the market leaders in budget inter-city coach travel, with fares from £1 plus 50p booking fees, free wifi on all coaches and tickets including a 20kg baggage allowance, covering over 90 locations in the UK alone, which makes them the ideal company for young people (and anyone travelling on a budget) anyway, but having them throw such a fun night out has definitely changed my perception of them. Budget doesn’t have to be a dirty word!

Megabus in front of St Margaret's Church Westminster seen from the side

Not all journeys with Megabus will involve an actual Sherlock Holmes-themed adventure, but with the low cost and availability of destinations they can become a part of your adventures around the country, discovering sights unseen and local food in places far away instead of just being students’ preferred method of going back home from their university town! (I still think the #MegaMysteryBus needs to become a thing)

All pictures in the post are courtesy of Matt Chappell and Search Laboratory. 

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