Sunday 30 October 2011

The Minotaur & Pret A Diner at The Old Vic Tunnels

I love the Old Vic Tunnels. The dark, damp and musty brick tunnels hidden beneath Waterloo station make an intriguing blank canvas for events such as The Minotaur to bring it to life. The Minotaur was an exhibition recently held there, comprising of a very curious collection of Minotaur-inspired art from the Lazarides Gallery, and a brilliant pop-up Michelin quality banquet by Kofler & Kompanie called 'Pret A Diner'.

A friend and I went along to the final day of the exhibition last week, and had great fun getting lost in the labyrinth of tunnels, disappearing through arches to hidden dark corners and discovering weird, wonderful and random pieces of art everywhere we turned. In ancient Greek mythology, The Minotaur was a body of a man with the head of a bull.

We feasted our eyes on strange hybrids of dolls heads stuck on sticks; a hanging mobile of bicycle wheels and discarded electric fans; a pilot child with skull helmet and aeroplane wings; a Minotaur made of nails on the cross; an intimate cinema screening peculiar images of eagles and bulls and even a giant ball which on closer inspection revealed thousands of rats, though presumably not real ones! My favourite pieces included a mesmerising, ever-changing image reflecting on a pool of water, and a clever portrait made entirely from chipped plaster.

Housed in one of the tunnels was a lavish banqueting room which had been created for 'Pret A Diner', a very special pop-up dining experience (the only thing letting it down being its unimaginative name.) Diners got a chance to sit at decadently-decorated tables and enjoy a fantastic Michelin-star feast, one of the chefs being Nuno Mendes of Viajante. At £75 per head without wine, this was unfortunately a little out of my financial league, but the organisers were kind enough to let us pop our heads in and absorb the atmosphere, which could have resembled the set for Peter Greenaway's 'The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover'.  Full of enormous candelabras, gorgeous bar staff, extraordinary decor, elaborate fruit displays and a glamorous DJ, I loved every aspect of this pop-up restaurant and just wish I could have had a chance to sample its culinary delights too. Maybe next time...

Once we had taken in every interesting nook and cranny, we found a comfy sofa and enjoyed a drink in the busy bar. It reminded me a bit of Shunt, a wonderful underground bar and arts space which used to be situated in the vaults under London Bridge, but is sadly no more. I wish the Old Vic Tunnels would open their bar to the public permanently as it's such a great vibe and I for one would definitely be a regular. Meanwhile, do keep an eye on the Old Vic Tunnels website, as they host all sorts of brilliant and unusual productions. Also, check the Lazarides Gallery as they put on regular exhibitions and shows at their flagship gallery in the West End.

The Minotaur has ended, but for news on future events, check out the websites below:

Old Vic Tunnels
The Minotaur
Pret a Diner

Sunday 23 October 2011

Westland London, Architectural Emporium

Do you dream of chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Well with winter practically upon us, you may be drawn to cosy evenings drinking wine in front of a log fire. Great idea and you've got the wine, but yikes, no fireplace! What to do... Oh I know, why don't you head over to Westland in Shoreditch. It's an old disused church which is now home to an enormous architectural emporium, full to the brim with all sorts of magnificent artefacts and more fireplaces that you can shake a burning log at.

Westland was first established in the late 1960's when it specialised in sourcing and restoring 18th & 19th century English furniture and decorative ware, which was sold onto dealers, designers and architects. In 1977, it relocated from its original premises in Islington, to the heritage-listed former Church of St Michael in EC2.

As the owner of a small, yet beautiful London flat, I'm not currently in the market for such decadent and enormous splendour, although I do dream of owning a pad grand enough to house such luxuries one day. But Westland isn't just for punters with mansions. Its wonderful museum-like feel makes it a perfect place for anyone to amble around and admire its wares which are displayed throughout the numerous galleries and chapels in the spectacular vaulted interior.

Everywhere you look, there is something intriguing to catch your eye. Be it Gothic, Art Deco, Renaissance or Victorian, there are weird and wonderful items originating from different centuries, different countries and from traditional style to the exotic. The vast collection includes stained-glass windows, wooden plane propellors, antique rocking horses, brass beds, ornate fire grates, grand pianos, decorative screens, giant clocks, gilt mirrors, wooden carvings, chandeliers, marble mantels and old chimney pieces. I even stumbled upon an old casino gaming wheel from Chicago.

If you already can't move for Baroque fireplaces and chandeliers at home, then perhaps you may be interested in one of the elaborate garden ornaments or water fountains which can be found outside. And if you live in Timbuktu? Don't worry, Westland ship far and wide. It's an unusual find in the heart of Shoreditch and I personally like going there just for a mooch. But one day I shall have me a posh fireplace, just you see...

Westland London
St Michael's Church
Leonard Street
020 7739 8094

Thursday 13 October 2011

The Hampshire Hog

You lucky folk in West London, get ready, you're in for a treat. An exciting new pub is about to open its doors. It's called The Hampshire Hog, and it's exciting because not only does it have an enticing twist in the form of an attached pantry, but the 'Governors' behind this new enterprise are none other than those who ran the much-loved and very successful institution which was The Engineer pub in Primrose Hill.

I went to the 'soft opening' for Sunday lunch and was really impressed. Ed, Tamsin and the team have done a fantastic job and paid enormous attention to every detail. It's really homely and has been beautifully and tastefully decorated throughout with mismatched chairs and tables, knick-knacks and fresh flowers. They've even brought their signature purple glasses from The Engineer. There is a huge garden at the back, which will come fully into its own next spring as I hear The Hog (as it will no doubt affectionately be known) is planning on growing its own herbs, veg and may have some resident chickens. There are even blankets provided for those chilly winter days in the garden.

I completely fell in love with the Pantry which has a huge table spread with a multitude of homemade tasty treats including pistachio cake, various type of fresh focaccia, apple tarts, Chelsea buns and colourful salads. The Hog even makes its own jam (I had the blackberry jam on toasted crumpets just this morning). And they're so excited with their brand new juicer, they're experimenting with all sorts of incredible freshly squeezed concotions including beetroot, lettuce, cucumber, carrot and orange.

Starting with a couple of aperitifs, my friend and I enjoyed one of their legendary Bloody Marys and a Hendricks & Ginger Ale served in a jam jar - nice touch. Lunch was fantastic, as we tucked into their infamous scotch eggs, chickpea & tahini soup, roast partridge, perfect steak, lavender-infused chocolate fondant and homemade treacle tart. All of it absolutely spot-on! The wine list is varied and well-priced, and if you've enjoyed a bottle of wine and fancy buying another to take home, then you can buy it at the reduced 'take home' price. What a genius idea!

I think The Hampshire Hog is a knock-out and is without a doubt going to become a firm favourite with locals and non-locals alike. It's very sad to see The Engineer close its doors, but all its best bits have been relocated here, so it hasn't actually gone after all. It's just gone West. Good luck Team Hog!

The Hampshire Hog
227 King Street
London W6 9JT
020 8748 3391

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