London – Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection, London, 15 July 2017 (8)

The Wellcome Collection on the Euston Road is one of my favourite London museums/galleries and is, in my opinion, one of the capital’s most underrated. When one of my friends suggested we visit it after our recent afternoon tea, I happily agreed.

The museum houses a series of unusual objects collected by the Victorian philanthropist, entrepreneur and science patron Henry Wellcome. It’s also home to a permanent collection that explores the human body, science and medicine.

Wellcome Collection, London, 15 July 2017 (7)

Our first stop on arriving was Medicine Now, one of the permanent collections, that explores a series of ideas about medicine and science since the 1930s. The exhibition is filled with lots of interesting objects, including a transparent model of a woman where you can light up different organs in the body. We had great fun learning where the different organs were, some of which weren’t where we expected to find them! There was also a plastinated body slice on display, which was fascinating, and we spent ages debating whether or not it was a man or a woman.

We then had a look around the temporary exhibition, A Museum of Modern Nature, which runs until 8 October 2017. The exhibition features a series of objects, donated by members of the public, that represent what nature means to them. Some of the objects (such as antlers donated by wildlife expert Chris Packham) made perfect sense, others were far more abstract. My favourite item on display was a research chart compiling the daily behaviours of a group of apes and I spent ages poring over the records trying to decode some of the activities featured.

The second permanent collection, Medicine Man, features a series of objects collected by Henry Wellcome on his travels. It’s a curious mix of artifacts that includes a toothbrush that allegedly once belonged to Napoleon, masks from different parts of the world, a lock of George III’s hair, very painful looking Victorian forceps and other medical instruments, and Japanese sex toys.

There’s also a series of paintings – some of which, including one set in purgatory, are downright bizarre. The collection’s eye-opening and fascinating, and there were lots of cries of ‘look at this!’, as well as debates as to what various objects were used for.

Wellcome Collection, London, 15 July 2017 (9)

Before leaving, we headed upstairs to the Reading Room (above). It’s a lovely space, surrounded by bookshelves filled with books you can borrow and read in one of the comfy looking chairs or bean bags, and tables featuring board games. There are also a few paintings and objects on display, including another plastinated body slice. It’s a very relaxing space and I could easily have sat down with a book and settled in for an hour or two.

I’ve been to the Wellcome Collection many times and I never tire of the curiosities on display. Each time I go I find something new I hadn’t noticed before among the quirky and intriguing objects Henry Wellcome collected on his travels. If you’re looking for a museum in London that’s a little different to the norm, add the Wellcome Collection to your itinerary.

Info
Wellcome Collection
183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE
Free
10am-6pm, Tuesday to Sunday, (open until 10pm on Thursdays)

wellcomecollection.org

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London – The Encounter at the National Portrait Gallery

I had a couple of hours to spare before meeting my friends for afternoon tea at Bea’s of Bloosmbury so I headed to my favourite museum/art gallery in London – the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square.

I was keen to see one of the gallery’s temporary exhibitions, The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt, which runs until 22 October. The exhibition features 48 portraits by European Renaissance and Baroque artists such as Hans Holbein the Younger, Rembrandt van Rijn, Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci.

The portraits were all drawn on paper using coloured chalks, pen and ink, or metalpoint, and this simplicity lent an intimacy to the exhibition. The craft and skill on display was incredible, and it might sound silly, but I was struck by how lifelike all the portraits were. They looked like real people as opposed to slightly distorted drawings or caricatures and I felt as though I was seeing a true reflection of what the sitter looked like.

Of all the portraits featured, those by the 16th century Italian artist Annibale Carracci were my favourite. The exhibition featured four portraits that were either drawn by the artist or attributed to the artist – one was of the lutenist Giulio Pedrizzano, while the others were of unknown young men and boys. The portraits were excellent and really seemed to capture the essence of the sitters.

Hans Holbein the Younger is one of my favourite portraitists, largely because I like his portraits from his time at Henry VIII’s court. The exhibition featured seven of his portraits, mostly of unnamed people, but one of the portraits was of John More, the father of Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor Thomas More. The one thing that struck me about Holbein’s portraits was the lifelikeness of the eyes. In one portrait, the eyes looked so true to life they looked like a photograph.

Despite being one of the headline artists, there’s only one portrait by Leonardo da Vinci in the exhibition, but it’s an exceptional piece of portraiture and shows why he’s one of the greatest artists of all time. The portrait is that of a naked man and he’s captured his form perfectly in a deceptively simple drawing.

I really enjoyed The Encounter, it’s a small exhibition (it only took half an hour to see everything) but interesting. The skills showcased by the artists are astonishing and it was great to see such simple, but incredible, works of art. Photos weren’t allowed, which is why there aren’t any accompanying pictures. But if you like portraiture and drawing, and are in London, the exhibition is well worth seeing.

Info
The Encounter: Drawings from Leondardo to Rembrandt
National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London WC2H 0HE
Adults £8, concessions £6.50, free for members
Until 22 October 2017

npg.org.uk

 

London – Afternoon tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury

Afternoon tea, Bea's of Bloomsbury, London, 15 July 2017 (3)

When my friends suggested we go for afternoon tea for my birthday recently, I jumped at the chance. I love afternoon tea. One of my friends works for a foodie magazine so after asking one of her colleagues where we should go, we had a shortlist of Bea’s of Bloomsbury, the Dean Street Townhouse and the Berkeley Hotel.

I plumped for Bea’s of Bloomsbury as I liked their menu and at £24.50 for a full afternoon tea, it wasn’t too expensive compared to some afternoon teas in the capital – some charge eye-watering sums of money.

Bea’s of Bloomsbury is a small chain of cafés across London specialising in cakes, pastries and afternoon tea. They have outlets in Bloomsbury, St Paul’s, Marylebone, Farringdon and Maida Vale, but we decided to go to the Bloomsbury branch so we could visit the nearby Wellcome Collection afterwards.

The Bloomsbury branch is tiny, so booking is essential as it was pretty much full the entire time we were there. We were welcomed inside, and as the first afternoon tea customers of the day had our choice of tables, so we opted for a table opposite the counter. We all chose the full afternoon tea menu – they also have vegetarian and wheat-free options, as well as menus that include a glass of prosecco or champagne.

Afternoon tea, Bea's of Bloomsbury, London, 15 July 2017 (2)

The food soon arrived – a mouthwatering array of mini brioche rolls filled with: avocado and dukkha spiced yoghurt; parma ham with mascarpone cream, fig relish and honey; egg mayonnaise and cress; and smoked salmon and crème fraiche. Along with plain scones served with jam and clotted cream; a selection of mini cake bites including brownies, blondies and meringues; and a full-sized cupcake each. All was washed down with a giant pot of English breakfast tea.

The brioche rolls were great, if a little messy – some were easy to cut up into bite-sized chunks and eat, others (egg mayo) less so. The smoked salmon and crème fraiche was my favourite as its one of my favourite sandwich combinations. I didn’t like the avocado with dukkha spiced yoghurt as much as it lacked flavour and I found it a little odd and tasteless. Everything else was good though and it was nice to have something different to the standard cucumber and cream cheese.

The scones were lovely and weren’t too big – sometimes the scones are massive and a meal unto themselves, leaving you full before you get to the patisserie. And I enjoyed having a selection of miniature cakes as it meant you could try a little of everything. We just about managed to eat all the mini bites, but had no room left for the cupcakes so we had these boxed up to take away with us.

As it was my birthday, my friends insisted I take them home with me and the cupcakes (chocolate oreo and red velvet) were incredible – beautifully light, moist sponge topped with a buttercream that wasn’t too sickly or sweet.

One of the things that made the experience so good was the friendly and helpful staff. They’d playfully joke with us as they brought out our teas, rolls and cakes, and when we asked for an extra plate or knife, they were happy to help. Great service often makes or breaks these experiences, but I couldn’t fault the staff, and it was a chilled, comfortable place to while away a few hours.

If you’re looking for somewhere to have afternoon tea in London that won’t break the bank, Bea’s of Bloomsbury is a great place to try. It was a lovely, relaxing experience and the food was good. And if you have any suggestions of other places that offer an excellent afternoon tea in London (Brown’s Hotel do a great one, too), please share them in the comments.

Info
Bea’s of Bloomsbury, 44 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8NW
Open Monday-Friday, 7.30am-7pm, Saturday-Sunday 10am-7pm
From £24.50 for full afternoon tea
beas.london

London – The Design Museum and Holland Park

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Last weekend I was in London to catch up with friends and top of our to-do-list was the recently opened Design Museum in Kensington. On arriving in London, instead of taking the tube from Paddington to High Street Kensington, I strolled down to the station via Kensington Gardens.

I’d forgotten how lovely Kensington Gardens can be as I walked past the Italian Gardens, the lake and Kensington Palace. It was late morning so the park was busy with lots of people milling around and admiring the grand palace, but it was nevertheless a pleasant way to start the day.

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After meeting my friends, we headed up Kensington High Street to the Design Museum. The museum, which reopened last November, is situated in the old Commonwealth Institute at the bottom of Holland Park. The first thing that struck me on going inside was the architecture. It’s suitably modern and innovative for a design museum, a mixture of wood, concrete and glass manipulated into eye-catching shapes and forms.

The first exhibition we visited was Designer, Maker, User on the second floor, which looks at the role each one plays in the design experience. The exhibition was really well curated and there were lots of interesting things to look at – from models of towers designed by Zaha Hadid to road signs and a kitchen made entirely from wood.

Among the every day and iconic objects on display were wellies, Game Boys and Philippe Starck’s famous lemon squeezer. I especially enjoyed the display of posters by the Italian manufacturer Olivetti and the technology, which brought back lots of memories.

We squealed and gasped as we reminisced over the seemingly ancient pieces of technology we used to own, such as the Walkman, Sega Mega Drive, Nokia mobile and old Apple Mac computers.

The only downside to the exhibition was it was teeming with people and there was so much to look at, it was a sensory overload and hard to know where to look. But it was a fun trip down memory lane and it’s crazy to think that so many items from my childhood are now museum pieces!

We then stopped by another exhibition about how technology could be used to support an ageing population. I’m not sure how feasible some of the designs were in practice, but it was intriguing to see the innovative ideas and I’d be interested to see whether any of them take off. All in all, the Design Museum was fun, but if you’re not going to the paid-for exhibitions, it doesn’t take long to get round it all.

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After our tour of the museum, we made our way up through Holland Park and had lunch at the café there. I love Holland Park, I always think it’s underrated, and I’d love it if they did more to restore the area around old Holland House as it was looking rather sad and forlorn. It’s such a pretty park, and if you get away from some of the more popular areas (the beautiful Kyoto Garden, above, and the café), it’s quite peaceful.

We stopped by the Kyoto Garden on our way through the park to see the water feature and meet the peacocks and fish who call it home.

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We then carried on walking all the way up to Notting Hill and Portobello Road. We all used to work around Portobello Road, so we had a great time revisiting some of our old haunts –magazine emporium Rococo; Mr Christian’s deli (home to London’s best sandwiches); quirky interiors shop Graham & Green: and Pedlars, an eclectic gift shop and café.

But our final destination was the Lisboa Patisserie on Goldborne Road (above). The teeny Portuguese café sells the best pastel de nata in London and when we arrived the queue was out the door. But the creamy custard tarts were, as always, well worth the wait! A perfect end to a great nostalgia-fest in West London.

Info
The Design Museum
224-238 Kensington High Street, London W8 6AG

Free
Open 10am-6pm, daily
designmuseum.org

Lisboa Patisserie
57 Goldborne Road, London W10 5NR
Pastel de nata £1.25 each

London – The Charterhouse

Last Friday, the Charterhouse, near Smithfield Market in London, opened to visitors for the first time in its 700+ year history. I’d walked past the medieval manor many times when I lived in London, always dying to have a peek inside, so when I was in London yesterday, my friends and I decided it was time to have a look around.

The Charterhouse dates back to the mid-14th century when the area was used as a burial ground for victims of the Black Death. In 1371, a Carthusian monastery was built on the site and it remained a monastery until the reformation when it was turned into a grand Tudor house.

In 1611, Sir Thomas Sutton bought the house and decreed in his will that it should become an almshouse for 80 destitute, old or disabled men, as well as a boys’ school. Today, it’s still an almshouse – its residents are called Brothers, and last year, it decided to admit women for the first time.

The Charterhouse offers £10 tours at set times of the day around the Great Hall, Great Chamber, Wash-house Court and Master’s Court. You can also book a two-hour behind-the-scenes tour with one of the Brothers, which costs £15, in advance online. Unfortunately we arrived late in the day so we weren’t able to go on a tour, but we still took the opportunity to have a look around the Charterhouse’s museum.

The museum is housed in two long narrow corridors and takes visitors back in time through the estate’s history from the present day to the Black Death. The museum was really interesting, if a little cramped due to its narrowness – it was a tight squeeze at times trying to get past the other people.

But I really enjoyed learning about the Charterhouse’s history, especially some of its colourful past brothers and its illustrious list of governors, such as Queen Victoria and Oliver Cromwell. There were also some intriguing artefacts on display, including lovely pieces of old wooden furniture (age unknown) and a skeleton of a plague victim. After touring the museum, we had a look around the chapel, too – a small, charming space.

The Charterhouse’s opening is still in its infancy and it will officially open to the public later this year. A café is also due to open in February. The Charterhouse museum was fascinating and it has whetted my appetite to further explore this intriguing piece of London’s history and I’d love to go back at a later date for a full tour with one of the Brothers.

Info
The Charterhouse, Charterhouse Square, London EC1M 6AN
Free
11am-4.45pm, Tuesday to Sunday
thecharterhouse.org

The Ginstitute

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Gin has never been my tipple of choice, I’m more of a rum and tequila girl, but when one of my friends asked if I fancied spending an afternoon making my own gin, I jumped at the chance.

The Ginstitute experience at The Portobello Star in London’s Notting Hill is essentially a three-hour masterclass in gin – an hour-long history of the spirit, followed by a gin making tutorial.

While the history of gin was fascinating (I had no idea there was so much drama attached to it), it was the gin making that I really enjoyed. During our tutorial, we sampled and learned all about the different botanicals that can be used in gins and that when combined, give each gin its own distinct flavour. Botanicals included citruses such as lemon peel, smokier flavours such as celery salt, spices such as cinnamon, florals such as rose and then random stuff like asparagus.

To make your own gin, you start off with a base of Portobello Road’s signature gin, then choose your preferred botanicals to add to it – the idea is to choose a mix (no more than seven) from across the spectrum, making sure to include one from each of the four groups eg one floral, one citrus, etc. The gin instructor then takes your choices and adds a bit of each one to create your own unique gin.

What surprised me most was how different everybody’s custom-made gin tasted. There were seven of us in our group and each gin was markedly different. My gin, according to my far more knowledgeable friend, apparently tastes quite similar to Hendrick’s.

Throughout the experience, we were furnished with a constant, flowing and very welcome supply of gin with a gin and tonic on arrival, followed by a Tom Collins (delicious; gin, lemon, sugar and soda water), followed by another gin and tonic, then another Tom Collins, and at the end, a gin martini…

We left The Ginstitute very happy (having stayed on afterwards for more gin cocktails in The Portobello Star) armed with two bottles of gin and some tonic. What’s more, The Ginstitute keeps a record of the gin you made, so you can order more bottles in the future.

The whole experience was great fun and one I’d definitely recommend, especially if you’re looking for something special and a little bit different to do. I certainly came away with a new found respect and appreciation of gin. Cheers!

Info
The Ginstitute, The Portobello Star, 171 Portobello Road, London W11 2DY
£110 per person (includes five cocktails and two bottles of gin)
theginstitute.com

 

 

Sunken Cities

The latest in a series of blockbuster exhibitions from the British Museum, Sunken Cities is a spectacular display of ancient Egyptian artefacts uncovered from the Mediterranean Sea, as well as objects from the British Museum’s collection and leading Egyptian museums. The artefacts were discovered during the underwater excavation of two long-lost Egyptian cities, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, which were once at the mouth of the Nile before being submerged by the sea.

When you walk into the exhibition the first thing you see is an enormously tall sculpture of the Egyptian god Hapy that was raised from the sea off Egypt’s coast. It’s jaw dropping and hard to wrap your head around the fact that until recently it had spent thousands of years, forgotten, under the Mediterranean Sea. Remarkably, 95% of the two submerged cities have yet to be excavated, so who knows what awe-inducing treasures are waiting to be discovered.

Many of the objects are perfectly preserved and if you’d told me they’d been manufactured a week ago, I probably would have believed you. They include pieces of pottery, the giant sculptures alluded to above, teensy delicate items of jewellery, gleaming coins and scarabs (turns out they’re not only beetle shaped). The other thing that struck me was how intricate some of the carving on the artefacts is, the fineness of the images etched into these objects is incredible.

I also learned an awful lot about ancient Egyptian culture from the exhibition, including the fascinating myths around Osiris, Isis and Seth. In a nutshell, Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth, then his wife Isis scooped up his body parts and had him mummified, making Osiris the first mummy. Osiris was then resurrected, becoming the god of the underworld.

All in all, a superb exhibition and highly recommended.

Info
Sunken Cities, British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG
Until 27 November 2016
Adults £16.50, under-16s free
britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/sunken_cities.aspx

Tapas Brindisa

I stumbled across this great little restaurant in Soho, London last night when out with two of my friends. They were in the mood for some tapas and despite it being almost 8pm and a Saturday night, they were able to squeeze us in.

Tapas Brindisa in Soho is one of a small chain of tapas restaurants in London and it definitely hit the spot. Like many Soho restaurants, it’s small and busy, and we were perched on a high bench alongside another group of diners, but despite this I barely noticed them and it proved to be a relaxed and unhurried dining experience.

Our biggest problem turned out to be trying to decide which of the many delicious sounding dishes to order and we spent about 15 minutes just debating what to go for. On the advice of our waitress, we picked three plates each – this turned out to be a bit too much and seven or eight plates between the three of us would have been plenty, especially as we decided we couldn’t possibly go without dessert.

The food was great, as was the wine. The highlights included the Courgette and Manchego Salad, which was light, tasty and a perfect combination of salty cheese, sweetly dressed salad leaves and earthy walnuts; the scrumptious and very meaty Grilled Smoked Chorizo on Toast; and the unusual Deep Fried Monte Enebro, a slice of goats cheese on toast with honey on top. The only criticism I’d make was that the deep fried salt cod profiteroles could have packed more punch, they were a little bland when eaten alongside so many other perfectly-executed dishes. But that’s a small criticism and we had no problem devouring them. Highly recommended.

Tapas Brindisa Soho, 46 Broadwick Street, London W1F 7AF
brindisatapaskitchens.com