Departure lounge ramblings on music, places, climate change and stuff outdoors

London

London has been my home for the last 17 years and it is full of so many amazing places that it is almost impossible for me to settle on a list of favourites. So the following list is likely to be subject to constant change!

Pubs and Clubs

The French House, Soho

A proper old Soho drinkers’ den with a lingering air of decades of dissolution, and a great selection of whiskies.

Gordon’s Wine Bar, Embankment

Down in a cellar next to the Thames at Embankment, this is the place for a great wine list, a decent cheese board, and a great atmosphere.

The Ship, Fitzrovia

A proper pub in the shadow of the BT Tower that still serves a good pint of Bass, my home town staple, and a regular haunt of respective heroes of music and campaign-marketing, Steve Lamacq and Harry.

The Newman Arms, Fitzrovia

A tiny narrow bar, hidden away on Rathbone Street, but distinguished by the top-notch pie and mash it serves upstairs to complement the great beer and proper-pub atmosphere.

Ye Olde Rose and Crown, Walthamstow

The pub that is fast becoming E17’s all purpose entertainment venue, with great beer, a theatre/music venue and a cracking wood-stove pizza on a Friday night.

The Four Sisters, Islington

Top notch cocktails (a nameless vodka/passion fruit example of which I am enjoying at the Four Sisters’ bar as I write) made to order in a beautifully wood-panelled and chandeliered bar, with a relaxed atmosphere and in a clear view of the queue at the Union Chapel so you know when to go in.

Passing Clouds

Wonderful, quirky club in Dalston, run by a collective and specialising in late night reggae and African live music.

Museums and galleries

The British Museum

The place I sneak out to when there is time for a proper lunch break. I’ve been trying to get round the exhibits that make up the ‘History of the World in 100 Objects‘ and still have thirty to go, but it is the ‘hands on tables’ that are the real draw, giving visitors the chance to touch and discuss everything from 200,000 year old hand axes, to the compass of an eighteenth century explorer.

Museum of London in the Docklands

Still my favourite city museum anywhere in the world. When I first moved to London I made a pilgramage once a month, making sure I was the first person in on a weekend morning so that I could get round what I wanted to see in peace. It tells the history of London through the story of the Thames and the docks.

Greenwich Royal Observatory, Cutty Sark, and National Maritime Museum

Where else is there a four billion year old meteorite in the entrance hall – a relic of the very formation of planet Earth? Plus the majestic Longitude clock, Edmund Halley’s telescope, and the best planetarium I have yet to visit (I need to do a proper count, but I reckon I must have surveyed 20 other, inferior planetariums around the world now).

From the Royal Observatory you can also easily get to the stunningly refurbished Cutty Sark, where you can now walk underneath the reconditioned copper-bottomed hull of what was once the fastest ship on the waves, and the endlessly interesting National Maritime Museum.

Cafes

Ray’s Jazz Cafe in Foyles, Charing Cross Road

My regular lunch-time haunt. Great hummus wraps and coconut flapjacks amidst the temptations of London’s finest bookshop.

The Arcola Bar, Dalston

A new Hackney favourite, this is the place for relaxing pint or a coffee

Candidarts cafe, Angel

Finding it up a couple of flights of steep stairs at the back of Angel Tube is half the fun, but it’s worth it feeling of being in a hidden gem, the comfortable old furniture and good, affordable food.

The Poetry Cafe, Covent Garden

A good place to overhear more interesting conversations, as well as grab a sandwich and a beer, and maybe catch some performance poetry downstairs.

Wild & Wood Coffee, New Oxford Street


It feels like what I imagine the original 17th century London coffee shops would have been like: all stone floor, plastered walls and wooden benches, although I don’t have enough information to know if the cracking cake menu would have been as extensive 300 years ago. It’s near enough to the British Museum to combine trips.

Restaurants

Duke of Cambridge, Angel

Still the best organic gastro-pub in London and it serves some cracking pale ales too, with easy access to the Angel moorings on the Regents Canal.

Andrew Edmunds, Soho

A tiny little place crammed into Lexington Street, with rickety tables and a cramped cellar, complimented by the best wine-menu I’ve ever been able to afford and a top-notch menu. Booking is usually required by phone and they don’t take reservations more than one week in advance.

Gem, Highbury

We first visited in their opening week 15 years ago and have been coming back ever since to this ultra-friendly Turkish. Beware the massive portions – we rarely get past the starters.

Skylon, Southbank

Majestically restored to its Festival of Britain grandeur, you can’t beat an evening meal here gazing out across the Thames to the Houses of Parliament.

Sardos, Fitzrovia

A proper white table cloth Sardinian that is a cut above the numerous Fitrovia competition.

Shops

Rough Trade East, Brick Lane

If I could only choose one ‘favourite’ place to list then this would have to be it – the best record shop in London, great live music (Caitlin Rose and British Sea Power in the last couple of weeks alone), Caught By The River books, and decent beer & cake. All in one place. My visits have to be rationed to avoid excessive record buying.,

International Magic Shop, Clerkenwell

I discovered this little shop when I had first moved to London and was wandering about getting lost looking for a decent Saturday afternoon pub. It is, well, magical. Pop in for live card magic.

Foyles, Charing Cross Road

After Rough Trade and Fopp I don’t think any other shop has been the beneficiary of my disposable income. I used to make pilgramages here as a post-grad and picked up a copy of the book that determined my career path for my first decade of work: Ken Livingstone’s first autobiography here – If Voting Changed Anything They’d Abolish It.

Theatres

Arcola, Dalston

London’s first green theatre, run by our endlessly inventive friends Ben and Leyla, is simply the best place for new theatre (as well as a great birthday party venue!)

Kings Head, Highbury

I don’t get here anywhere near as often as it deserves, but the Old Kings Head attracts A-list actors to perform in its tiny backroom theatre, as well as having a fantastic late-night bar, sometimes involving oompah bands perched on the bar.

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