Wednesday, 15 September 2010


Just a quickie to say I'll be out like a light for the next two weeks but I figured I'd give you fine people a taste of what to expect in my next post...

And also just say how feverishly I'm anticipating the release of Casey Affleck's directorial debut in the form of alleged 'Hollywood flameout' Joaquin Phoenix documentary I'm Still Here. Initial internet reviews seem to suggest a largely shallow, hot mess...but if any scene approaches anything like the mildly disturbing hilarity of Phoenix's Letterman performance 18 months ago, that alone should be worth the price of admission. Not mentioning the two sexual harassment lawsuits brought against Affleck by female crew members working on the film, apparently settled out of court. Wonder what Affleck's wife and Joaquin's sister Summer Phoenix makes of all this?

That was then...

This is now...whose been attending the Vincent Gallo Charm School? 

Last 3 images courtesy of Google

Monday, 13 September 2010


I first read about the concept of private restaurants popping up in hipster New York apartments about a year ago. These were usually established by innovative Manhattan chefs over the stress of professional kitchens and wanting to create a more intimate, friendly and authentic atmosphere in which to serve up their delicious food. The idea of attending a private address to share a meal with a group of strangers seemed a terribly avant garde (darling) antidote not only to the American Psycho excesses of 80s New York but also the increasing inter-personal alienation the internet appears to have fostered in more recent times.

There are a few private supperclubs in London, Ms. Marmite Lover's Kilburn enterprise offering the most creative menus (we just missed the July 14th Bastille Day French extravaganza) within a cosy, friendly atmosphere. Upon arrival at the secret Kilburn address, we were immediately ushered out onto our vibrant host's balcony overlooking her luxuriously overgrown garden (above) for a 'Bitter Underground' bespoke gin and tonic. The balmy, candlelit evening darkened as our appetites sharpened from the inviting aromas wafting from the kitchen ('non-business end' pictured below).

First course was a succulent tortellini stuffed with fragrant cheeses in a deliciously creamy mushroom sauce. Following on from that came delicate parcels of roasted salmon individually wrapped and tied up with string, accompanying mouth-watering, slow-roasted cherry tomatoes and plump, textured, buttered and salted new potatoes. The potatoes arrived after I had finished my main, illustrating exactly the charm of the private restaurant - sometimes things are haphazard and less than perfect, making the experience all the more interesting. A generous selection of gloriously pungent cheeses then arrived (below top - personally selected by MML during her trip across the channel earlier in the week), followed by a spectacular 21 egg pavlova crumbled into the fabulously English pudding known as Eton Mess (below bottom).

Check out this post on our lovely host and chef Ms Marmite Lover's (below) blog for a full outline of the evening's menu.

Our fellow diners for the evening included a very friendly, corporate (but nice!) couple (pictured below top - working for Shell and Nestle respectively) whose names I'm afraid now escape me. Two separate groups of birthday parties full of posh young ladies and gentlemen (below bottom) made up the numbers for a full house of around 20 diners. This was the one disappointment of the evening - as the two birthday groups already had their friends around them they seemed less inclined to indulge in some good old fashioned awkward dinner party conversation with strangers, which was in one sense the point of the whole evening. In any case, who is Ms Marmite Lover to knock back block bookings...

Overall, the evening was genuinely a very enjoyable affair and certainly recommended if you're after a novel experience for your Saturday night.

At the end this little soldier was stuck with the washing up!!

Monday, 6 September 2010


I've been meaning to post about the delightful Petersham Nurseries for months now, after heading down to Richmond back in May or June one Sunday and spending an invigorating few hours in these magical horticultural surroundings. Accessed from Richmond via a scenic Thames-side pathway and a narrow, leafy, back alley entrance, the nursery complex includes steamy, fertile greenhouses (above), a pretty outdoor cafe serving the most delicious organic fare, gallery space (below), garden shop and teahouse (below bottom).

The nurseries offer a complete gardening experience beyond just the choice of which seedlings to buy for your pathetic London window box. An extensive range of new and antique garden furniture and accessories are on display (below), from the bourgeois-est of wellies and ornate outdoor table settings to beautiful quality ceramics. These are all housed within a fragrant, balmy setting - ferns and exotic shrubbery running wild throughout the old greenhouse buildings.

Australian head chef Skye Gyngell's food at the Petersham cafe consists of simple, healthy fare of the highest quality organic ingredients. The cafe has won multiple food awards and offers a range of delicious freshly baked cakes and ground coffee as well as interesting quirks such as the strawberry, raspberry and red wine sorbet. Its a casual self service, the food precariously balanced upon antique wooden trays (below) as you weave your way around Richmond's yummy mummies, their moneyed up masters of the universe husbands and their 'bohemian' litters of children and horny dogs. 

The nurseries offer a wonderful respite when the grime of London gets too much...come down and squeeze their lemons!!


I wanted to do a separate post about my lovely boutique hotel in Whitby - La Rosa - as it was such a quirky, eccentric bolthole combining an intriguing historical pedigree (C.S. Lewis had stayed in my room) with decadent vintage interiors (below).

The La Rosa enterprise initially opened in 2004 with a vintage caravan site, enabling people to glam it up in charmingly retro caravans stuffed full of vintage wares, while endorsing a recycled, environmentally-friendly ethos. The campsite proved so popular two years in a row, it was impossible to book a summer pitch and I had to cut my losses and settle for the hotel experience instead. Which was, of course, fabulous.  

The two pictures above show the rickety old front drawing room, chock full of vintage finds harking back to the pre-war years and beyond. The focal point of this charming room was the huge dining table complete with delicious homemade sweetmeats...providing an atmospheric space for guests to indulge in a decadent afternoon tea whilst taking in the views over Whitby harbour towards the East Cliff. 

Above shows some random interior styling of the underground restaurant area of the hotel which was closed during my visit but I snuck down to take a few pics anyway. Below was my famous 'Lewis' room (based on an idea of what the author's study may have been like) - with stunning sea views, a working vintage telescope and loads of fantastic old scientific objects, like the ancient medical chart strung up on the wall. The bed was divinely cosy and the slightly eccentric boiled eggs and cheese scone breakfast delivered up to the door of a morning in a wicker basket provided an unusual touch. Each of La Rosa's eight rooms are decorated according to a different theme - the little glimpses I caught of some of the other rooms looking even more sumptuous than mine....

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


Ever since I read Bram Stoker's 1897 novel 'Dracula' I had wanted to visit the pretty North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby. The small fishing port - romantically positioned between a sometimes tragic North Sea (a teenager drowning off Whitby's cruel waters the week after my departure) and the Brontesque Yorkshire Dales - features in the book as the eerie village in which the dastardly Count sucks the life out of poor Lucy Westenra before jumping the overnight sleeper to King's Cross. Stoker visited the town a number of times, his account of Dracula's dramatic arrival reputed to be based on a real incident in which the ship Demetrius ran aground on Whitby's shore...its gruesome cargo of occupied coffins discovered by the local townsfolk in the first morning light.

The modern Whitby still manages to maintain a romantic atmosphere, the ruined skeleton of its clifftop abbey (below bottom - destroyed by Vikings in 867) dramatically silhouetted high above the harbour. The East Cliff's atmospheric old cemetery and the historic, jagged-roofed fisherman's cottages underneath endow the restless shore with a sense of mystery, danger and a strange other worldliness (below top). 'Romanian gypsy' fortune-teller Lee Esther Alita Lee had set up shop along the main drag (below middle) and thankfully the usual seaside tackiness characteristic of most dreary British seaside towns was kept to a minimum. The old lady was charming, not tacky oirright?

Another of Whitby's many charms (apart from the replica of James Cook's ship Endeavour which almost brought up me breakfast - above) was this fantastic little fully functioning smokehouse (below). A real tourist crowdpleaser, the business still produced many a fine fishy product from authentically smoked fresh salmon to a divine kipper pate, as eaten by crusty old seadawgs. A local hefty chap spent his days shovelling sawdust onto the smokehouse fire, creating the thick black tar dripping from the walls like the devil's viscous oil and posing like a trained monkey for tourist photos and entranced children alike.

In tribute to the town's whaling heritage, Whitby also displayed its nautical history and power by fashioning a curious archway on top of the West Cliff from an enormous whale-bone jaw (below). The original structure was erected around those quaint pre-Greenpeace/Peta times of 1863, the current structure an Alaskan donation dating from 2003. This esoteric little statement again adds to the unique charm and ambience of this delightful seaside town and helps illustrate why Whitby attracted writers, artists and intrepid seafarers of the past as well as goths, folk festival hippies and all manner of tourists alike in the modern age.

Lastly, I just had to add this link for a classic 80s video for one of my dear, dear readers who is a HUGE Mick Hucknall fan (you know who you are...however I will refrain from publically shaming you, 'Ban-Ki Moon')!
The song is Simply Red's melancholy 1986 dirge 'Holding Back the Years', the video shot in Whitby, featuring many scenes of the pretty harbour, abbey and cemetery, as well as a youthful cameo from old Primrose Hill caner Sadie Frost. Enjoy, 'Ban-Ki'...