Thursday, 23 October 2014

Open House London 2014

This is a very overdue post as it seems like forever since Open House London took place (it was actually 20 and 21 September) but I feel at the moment like everything is getting on top of me a bit and when I haven't been working (there have been a few rather late nights in the office this month) I've been studying as my postgraduate course has now started in earnest. So blogging has had to take a bit of a back seat to my real life. But, better late than never, right? Hopefully. 

I love Open House London and although I do worry that it has now become a bit of a victim of its own success as queues have started to spiral out of control for the more popular venues, it still draws me back in every year with the promise of previously undiscovered London gems. So, here's a little rundown of the buildings I snooped around this year (and if you want to see the places I visited last year, read my blog post here). Oh and if you have no clue what I'm going on about, you can read more about the annual event here.

Lloyd's Register Building

The Lloyd's Register building, located on Fenchurch Street is one that I have walked past many times and always been intrigued by. The brief glimpse through the courtyard and the tree growing in the middle of it through to the glass and metal structure beyond always had me curious to know what was inside and so we joined the small but growing queue.

Once inside, we found ourselves in the glass and steel lobby of the Richards Rogers building which was added in 2000 to the original Collcutt Edwardian building (completed in 1901). It really is a juxtaposition of the old and the new, two buildings from different eras joined together like a Fiji mermaid to form one building, slightly at odds with itself. 

Although the Rogers part is modern and light, it's the Collcutt building which surprised and impressed me the most. Stained glass and marble sculptures are found around every corner and every aspect of the building has clearly been done by craftsmen with real attention to detail.

Ascending the marble staircase there is a gorgeous round stained glass window depicting a ship.

The General Committee Room is stunning with its barrel-vaulted ceiling and painted panels depicting nautical and maritime symbols. Below this gorgeous roof are curved tables which host meetings of the General Advisory Committee.

St Botolph without Aldgate Church

I'm not entirely sure whether St Botolph without Aldgate was supposed to be part of Open House London this year as I couldn't find it in the guide but they had banners out as we walked by so we decided to pop in, especially as I've walked past it many times before. The church dates back to at least 1115 but has been rebuilt and restored several times over the years.

Inside, the church is light and open with a gallery running around three sides of the church. At the front, panels using a method of batik are hung with the Tree of Life taking centre place between panels with angels holding Alpha and Omega. 

When we visited there was a woman playing the piano and I began to recognise a slower piano version of Go West by the Pet Shop Boys, which was certainly not what I was expecting to hear but which was a pleasant surprise.

Lloyd's of London

All Londoners will (or should) know the Lloyd's building, it's the steel inside-out building on the Leadenhall and though now dwarfed (both in terms of size and Open House London visitor demand) by the Cheesegrater across the road, it remains a solid draw for visitors over the Open House weekend every year. This wasn't the first time I'd been inside the Lloyd's building as I'd previously visited for Open House two years ago but it was one of my favourites and so I took the chance to visit again. The building is designed by Richard Rogers and is designed to have things like the pipework and lifts on the outside of the building which creates an open and minimalist space inside.

The atrium is the centrepiece of the building which is flooded with natural light from the glass roof. Escalators connect the first few floors but beyond that the other floors can only be accessed by lifts.

One of the most interesting things I find about the Lloyd's building is the Loss Book which had traditionally been a place for the gathering of intelligence and record keeping regarding ships lost to the seas. Although it is no longer an active tool in this electronic age, the Loss Book continues to record the few marine losses that occur. Non-marine losses are not recorded. Although it is no longer the prime source of information on marine losses, they are still recorded here in keeping with tradition. When I visited two years ago the most recent entry was that of the Costa Concordia, this time it was the MV Sewol, the Korean ferry that sank in April.

The Lutine Bell in the atrium was apparently carried on board the French frigate La Lutine which surrendered to the British at Toulon in 1793. Six years later the ship sank off the Dutch coast carrying a cargo of gold and silver bullion. The cargo was insured by Lloyd’s underwriters who paid the claim in full. After numerous salvage attempts the bell was retrieved, hung in the underwriting room and was rung when news of overdue ships was received - once for bad news, twice for good.

The building is in a great location for views across to other iconic buildings like the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie.

From the upper floors of the Lloyd's building we could see the queue for the Cheesegrater and were quite glad we weren't spending hours in it (even though I imagine the view was amazing).

The view outside across to buildings like St Paul's Cathedral is fantastic, but the view down into the atrium is amazing too!

Cabbie shelters

If you've walked around certain parts of London (near Temple, Russell Square or maybe Embankment for example), you may have seen some off little green huts and wondered what they are. Well, they're Cabbie Shelters.

Originally established in 1875, they were designed to allow cab drivers to have somewhere to obtain a hot drink and meal and to shelter from inclement weather as by law they could not leave the cab stand while their cab was there. A charity was set up, the Cabmen's Shelter fund which paid for the running of shelters. Although the shelters aren't large (no longer than a horse and cart) they house small kitchens and an area that seats up to 13 men. There were originally over 60 of these shelters, but now only 13 remain and although entrance is usually reserved for cabbies, you can purchase drinks and hot food from them at reasonable prices. Open House London was the perfect chance to squeeze inside one and sample a cup of tea cabbie-style.

Wilton's Music Hall

Wilton's Music Hall wasn't entirely new for me as I'd previously visited their Mahogany Bar for a work social but this was the perfect chance to have a nose around at the Music Hall itself. Located in East London (the closest tube being Tower Hill or Shadwell on the DLR), it's not somewhere you'd stumble across unless you knew it was there but it's well worth a visit.

Wilton's Music Hall is apparently the world's oldest surviving Grand Music Hall, having been converted from a concert room to a music hall in 1850. Although it fell derelict and suffered structural damage from 1956 onwards, since 2004 it has produced a programme of work encompassing music, theatre and dance. Both the bar and the Hall itself are strewn with fairy lights and despite the fact that works have been carried out to deal with structural issues, the place retains a wonderful untouched air about it. 

They run regular history tours, details of which you can find here and of course, the bar is a great place for a drink or two.

The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret 

On the Sunday we were having lunch at the Masterchef restaurant, which was in Southwark and so I checked the guide for places around there that we could visit before heading to lunch. A lot of places weren't open on Sunday but one that was was the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret which intrigued me. For my History GCSE course we actually covered topics that weren't wars – The American West and Medicine Through Time and much as my history teacher made the whole subject slightly tortuous for me, I did really enjoy learning about aspects of history that didn't involve trenches or ghettos. 

The Old Operating Theatre brought to life all of the things that I learnt all those years ago. Located in St Thomas' Church, on the original site of St Thomas' Hospital, the Museum is accessed via a very narrow spiral staircase, you ascend into a giftshop (which is always a good start for anywhere for me) before climbing a further set of stairs up into the herb-perfumed air of the wooden attic. 

Here in the Herb Garett you get to learn about the different uses that herbs were put to in curing various ailments and they are displayed alongside a whole host of other objects that might have been used by the apothecary.

In 1822 part of the roof garret was converted into an operating theatre which in operation before anaesthetics and antiseptics were used. Surrounding the operating area were rows where students could stand and watch the surgeons operate. The risk of death was considerable and undergoing surgery was definitely not a first resort for a patient.

The Museum is open every day and adult admission is £6.50, you can find more information here.

Did you go anywhere for Open House London? Is there anywhere you'd recommend I go next year?

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Sunday, 19 October 2014

Typing Room at the Town Hall Hotel

Although it's only just up the road from me, I never made it to Viajante which was Nuno Mendes' restaurant located in the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green before he quit in February for Chiltern Firehouse. The space was opened up earlier this year as Typing Room with backing from Jason Atherton and with Lee Westcott as Executive Chef.

The restaurant itself is located in and derives its name from the old Town Hall's typing room. Even with its deep grey green walls, the place feels light and airy and there's a beautiful unfussy simplicity to the venue. After arriving and being relieved of our coats we were shown to our table and offered an aperitif menu. The kitchen is open and from where I was sat I could watch the chefs at work.

In addition to five course and seven course tasting menus (with optional wine pairings), they offer a lunch menu with two choices for each course. As it was only lunch time (had it been dinner, we might have chosen differently), we chose to order from the lunch menu. One thing I was particularly impressed with though was that they have vegetarian and pescetarian tasting menus available on request and so my boyfriend was quickly presented with a pescetarian menu. I know most places will substitute dishes on request but it was nice that those things had been thought of in advance.

Rather than have starters we chose two 'snacks' from a choice of three (I was slightly tempted to order all three but didn't in the end). These tiny little morsels came presented on a fairly large sharing board and when they arrived I did feel like I should have ordered all three to balance the board out a bit. The first were crispy fish skin, smoked cod, oyster and dill. Unbelievably pretty little things, the fish skin was like a thin rice cracker on which blobs of puree sat. This was fishy but well balanced and not overpowering, the textures worked well together.

Normally if I'm having profiteroles they are not especially high class affairs and generally come smothered in chocolate sauce but these savoury courgette and basil profiteroles with black olive savoury versions made for an interesting alternative.

Next up was a bit of a surprise in the form of  sourdough bread served with whipped Marmite butter and barley. Now I think my boyfriend and I, despite never having tried Marmite, had put ourselves firmly in the 'hate it' camp. However, we gamely tried it and either the Marmite butter has only the slightest hint of Marmite or we do actually like it. I suspect it's the former but either way, served with wonderfully warm sourdough bread this was delicious and we fought over who got the lion's share.

My boyfriend's main was the roast salt cod, octopus and ratatouille. He was particularly sceptical about the octopus when he read about it on the menu, apparently he was once in Spain or somewhere and somehow ended up with a dish which involved some sort of octopus and said it tasted exactly as you'd imagine it would - a bit like chewing a rubber band, a rubber band with suction cups. This octopus though was a beautiful soft cross-section and my boyfriend loved it. Curled ribbons of courgette lay next to a sort of ratatouille millefeuille. I was allowed a tiny bite of everything and it was light and delicious.

My choice of main was the lamb breast with squash and ginger. Lamb wouldn't usually be my first choice of meat but it just might be if done like this. Although I didn't get a hit of the ginger from the dish, the components came together in a wonderfully rich dish.

We'd opted for different desserts, my boyfriend's choice was the honey, yoghurt and cep. I'm not even sure that I can describe this. For a dessert it was earthy and fresh and natural. Very unusual.

For dessert I ordered the cheese selection which came with homemade chutney and a selection of bread and some crisp breads. Before bringing the cheese board, the waiter asked whether there was anything in particular that I wanted or whether I just wanted a selection. I told him that I liked blue cheese but that otherwise I was just happy with a selection. I can't remember now what each of them were but it was a great selection and reluctant as I was to share, we both tucked into this and loved the homemade chutney.

Following our meal we headed across the corridor to enjoy a post-dinner drink at Peg and Patriot (more on which here).

A two course lunch at the Typing Room comes to £24 and a three course lunch, £29. Tasting menus start from £60. You can make a reservation here. I'd thoroughly recommend you do!

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