London – The Charterhouse

The Charterhouse in London

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

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The Ginstitute

Portobello Road Gin

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
£120 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

London – 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