Category: The ‘He Who Knows’ Challenge

He who knows set this challenge of things to review around London. This category links them all in.

Finishing the He Who Knows Challenge

When I first arrived in the UK, a friend, referring to himself as “He who knows” challenged me to complete a series of tasks. I never really got around to finishing it, so with a day off in London I tried doing a few of those that proved too difficult to do during the weekend when the whole city pretty much shuts down.

The new Baltic Exchange

The New Baltic Exchange

I have to admit that this part of the challenge was the shortest of them all, with the old Baltic Exchange being replaced with the Gherkin, and the new Baltic Exchange inaccessible to the public. You can’t say that I didn’t try though as I went into the building, and quizzed the security guard about what was really possible – asking about London Open House days, private tours, public tours, any way of obtaining membership in order to get access to the rest of the building. The best I ended up with was a photo of the outside.

The G&T at the Finsbury Circus Lawn Bowls club

Firstly it’s easy to get the lawn bowls club found in Finsbury Circus confused with the Finsbury Bowls Club located only several blocks away. After all, they’ve got almost the same name. After doing some research, I now understand the lawn bowls located in Finsbury Circus actually belongs to the City of London Bowling Club, and has no association with the former one.

Unfortunately none of the pictures I took that day really did much justice to the beauty that is the Finsbury Circus Gardens. I also can’t believe that I had never found this green treasure trove in the middle of the city, especially since I’ve walked around it only a few blocks away when walking between Farringdon and Liverpool Street. The actual lawn bowls green is a small part of the entire gardens, and they have a tiny restaurant and bar on one side looking back out on the green. This is where I sat down to have my Gin and Tonic.

In many ways, it was strange to be here on a day when everyone else seemed dressed up to the nines in suits and all I ever heard was business talk. Even amidst the credit crunch, I couldn’t but help and smile when I heard people taking about certain companies being overvalued, or the request for a certain amount of equity being too high.

I’m glad He Who Knows recommended this place. Compared to the grey stone facades on the buildings surrounding it, the bright green gardens literally stand out as a true oasis from the rest of the city’s hustle and bustle. You can find the Finsbury Circus Gardens in the heart of Finsbury Circus, EC2M 7AB with the closest tube station Moorgate.

Only one more on the list to finish the challenge!

Long Island Ice Teas at Little Italy

The Case: A late night in town
Date: November 9, 2006
Time: Late
Location: Little Italy, 21 Frith St, London, W1D 4RN
Synopsis: Run by the owners of the chic Bar Italia, this modernised Italian bar fronts a classy multi-tiered restaurant serving delicately presented Italian food. The wait staff buzzed around, talking surprisingly quietly to each other in Italian while the three excessively attentive bar tenders execute orders with amazing precision and speed. In contrast, the ladies next to us at the bar leisurely work their way through a couple of bottles of champagne and indulge in the bowls of free olives that sit at the bar. As per the He Who Knows Challenge, we ordered a round of Long Island Ice Teas that arrived in a flash. These versions are slick, served in the proper rounded tall glass and had the perfect balance between being smooth and tasty (as well as toxic). The result was a drink that needed no help and slid down the throat far too quickly.
Atmosphere:Attracting a little bit more of an older crowd, and a certainly better dressed crowd than most other bars I’ve been to, the brightly polished wooden floors and sharp lights set the perfect mood lighting. The elegant dining areas on the multiple floors are filled with white table-clothed tables set perfectly with fine cutlery and glass sets that look like they’re waiting for a fine three course meal to be consumed.
Conclusion: A place that certainly wasn’t getting any emptier as the night wears on and proud to declare their commitment to late nights by keeping open until 6am until Christmas, this place is a great place for drinking some fine drinks at equally fine prices in a quality atmosphere.

Conran Butler’s Wharf Chop House

Butlers Wharf Chop HouseThe last time I had completed any of the “He Who Knows Challenge” was a very long time ago, so I thought it was time to pick one more off the list. This time around I thought it might be good to carry it out with the one other person who is also supposed to complete this challenge, so Ben, Michelle, my sister and I went out for lunch on Saturday to complete this next challenge.

Deciding on which Conran restaurant was the difficult part, with so many in London to choose from, and each offering different types of cuisines and experiences. In the end we picked Butler’s Wharf Chop House and though I wouldn’t necessarily say this restaurant is based on any of most extravagant of Conran’s designs, its decor complements the contemporary English dishes on offer. The booking process was extremely efficient, one morning I submitted a booking form online at about 7am, and at about 9:30am, someone called from the restaurant confirming the reservation.

The pictures on their site do little justice for the restaurant, with one of the highlights really being the wharf-front views, giving terrace diners unobstructed views of Tower Bridge itself. We were fortunate that London gave out what is probably the last summery days we’ll see, really lighting up Tower Bridge and giving us a splendid backdrop for a lazy Saturday lunch.

Looking out from The Chop HouseThe menu is straightforward with set prices for both a two or three course meal and a reasonable variety of dishes to choose from in all courses (in addition to the daily specials). Certain dishes have supplementary fees and you can order side dishes at an additional price if you like. We all ordered different things so it was great we could compare and contrast the different dishes. We started the lunch by ordering two courses, leaving ourselves to see how rich or substantial each dish might be before placing the dessert order. Even though each dish was reasonably sized, we all decided at the end of the main course to order dessert and I think we were all pleased we did.

Here’s a list of the things that I ordered (and apologise that I didn’t take a picture of the entire menu so the detail is not as accurate as it could have been):

I really enjoyed the afternoon spent with everyone, and the great weather really set a wonderful backdrop for the great conversation despite all the tourists walking by. I certainly couldn’t afford to do this every week but it is definitely a great place to indulge for a special occasion.

Details: Butler’s Wharf Chop House
Found On: Butlers Wharf Building, 36e Shad Thames, London SE1 2YE
Contactable On: 020 7403 3403 or via their website
Highlights: Contemporary and extremely high quality English cuisine served in affable surroundings looking out at Tower Bridge and the Thames. The food was delicious and extremely well prepared boosted by an extensive wine list and the experience from reservation to finishing up was excellent.
Improvements: It would be nice to have the current menu on offer up to date on their website.
The Kua Rating: 9 out of 10

The Leadenhall Fishmonger

A few weeks ago, before embarking on my trip to the other side of the world and back again, I actually had a Friday off to do a few things around London and meant that I could finally get to the Leadenhall markets that are only open during the weekday. Located in the heart of the Bank area of London, most things are only really happening during the week because this is when all the bankers are actually at work and when most businesses can solicit business.

The Leadenhall markets are a fantastic collection of stores all covered by a glass roof walkway and paved with cobblestones. Modern stores and chains abound here such as Pizza Express and Starbucks but don’t let that discourage you from looking at the small boutique stores just around. Part of the entire He Who Knows challenge required a visit to the Leadenhall Fishmonger (HS Lindwood) who can be found in the main heart numbered 6 & 7.

LeadenHallFishmonger2.jpg

I think it was perhaps the time at which I visited (sometime around 2pm) but there wasn’t much going on at this Fishmonger. The staff members were starting to hose the place down though they still had some types of fish. It’s a large store and worth browsing though it seems quite familiar to several other fishmongers I’ve visited including the two major ones I know of in Notting Hill Gate Chalmers & Gray Fishmongers and The Fish Shop just around the corner. Though I can’t recommend trekking across London just to go to this particular fishmonger, I can recommend dropping into any good English one if you enjoy your fish as it is worth having a chat with the fishmonger and getting a fresher piece of fish.

A Canyon Breakfast

What a great day it was yesterday to go down to Richmond and have breakfast at Canyon. Canyon is a restaurant that He Who Knows suggested, and even though technically not part of the Challenge, thought I would check it out. With bright sun and blue skies heralding in a great London Sunday, Richmond by the river is a great place to go out and have breakfast.

You can find Canyon by the riverside at Richmond and is a very popular place with the locals. It appears to be quite kid friendly from the number of little bodies that were seated yesterday. I suggest going fairly early unless you have a booking as most of the good tables go quite quickly and the staff are likely to turn you away. The restaurant itself does not have a great vantage point like a number of the other places have of the river, but its clean cut white tablecloths and modern décor put on a very calming atmosphere to dine in.

Vegetarian Breakfast at CanyonThe service was quite good and I never found it in your face like many other places are. It seems that the staff monitored the tables quite well from afar and prompted at the right points during the meal to ask if we wanted another coffee, without interrupting the flow of conversation. They serve a delicious soft sweet bread with butter when you sit down, but this place comes highly recommended for its eggs Benedict, which Ben said “were the best ones he’s ever had.” I was left quite full from the vegetarian breakfast that I found nice and not greasy in the slightest. The hash brown (it’s thought of differently here in the UK) was flavourful and filling, the mushrooms well cooked, the eggs were nice and creamy and there was not an excess of beans overflowing the entire plate.

Canyon has a lot going for it, with lots of style and a great location. I can understand why some people consider it overly pricey, and I found the staff who served us were friendly and polite unlike the pretentious mob I had been warned about after reading a number of reviews (but we could have been lucky). It is a bit of a classier dining place than a number of the outdoor cafes, but what it does, it does well.

Details: Canyon
Found On: The Towpath, Riverside, Richmond, TW10 6UJ
Contactable On: 020 8948 2944
Highlights: Excellent quality food, great service, nice location
Room for improvement: Not the best value for money
The Kua Rating: 7.5 out of 10

The Cow

For the “He Who Knows” Challenge, I’ve been yet to visit a Conran restaurant, so this Thursday I did the next best thing and visited The Cow, a restaurant run by Tom Conran, the son of the more famous Sir Terence Conran. I have been meaning to go this one for quite some time, as it’s only a twenty minute walk from where I live but I just hadn’t put in the effort.

The Cow

The Cow is a gastropub with the bottom floor hosting an oyster bar and a tiny private dining room upstairs set with about eight white-clothed tables. Like most pubs anywhere, the bottom floor can get quite smokey and so we decided to eat upstairs in the dining room (although note that people are allowed to smoke there as well). I highly recommend that you book in advance as its popularity ensures that locals always fill the small number of tables most nights of the week.

The dining room is extremely petite. Its tables are close enough together to be able to hear side conversations but with enough room that it doesn’t feel like you’re sharing your table. The one page menu is short but has enough variety amongst the starters, mains, sides and desserts to leave you satisfied and as typical as anything associated with the Conran name, has a fair amount of seafood.

I shared a starter of smoked eel and potato and bacon salad. There was a decent amount of eel and the smoky flavour definitely came through. The salad accompanying it was quite good as well although the dressing had an excess of horseradish that really overpowered the dish at times. I followed this with the main of roast halibut, leeks, laverbread served with an orange butter sauce that was perfectly cooked. The leeks, though softened still had form and the laverbread went well with the sweet and firm flesh of the fish but I did find the orange flavour in the sauce did not come through very potently. My dessert was a prune and armagnac crème brulee that really hit the spot at the end of the meal and was not excessively rich or sweet.

For people that want a nice meal, The Cow offers a great experience in terms of both service and food quality although you can find better gastropub affair at other places. The wine list is extensive, the staff appeared to be very knowledgeable, and service was quite good. I would not exactly make it my local place but definitely a place to indulge.

Details: The Cow
Found On: 89 Westbourne Park Road, W2 5QH
Contactable On: 020 7221 0021
Highlights: Pleasant service, great quality food, extensive wine menu, wide selection of Oysters
Room for improvement: Not fantastic value for money, and could do with a bigger dining area.
The Kua Rating: 8.5 out of 10

The Pret-A-Manager Experience

The Pret A Manager ExperienceAs part of the “He Who Knows” challenge, one of the simplest tasks has been to go and describe the Pret-A-Manager experience, but to be honest, I have never really stepped into one for anything other than a bottle of water until this weekend. Of all of the places I have worked and visited so far, there has always been something more enticing than what any massive retail chain has been able to offer me. Having said that, this weekend, I decided to stop in and finally see what all the fuss was about and fully immerse myself in the Pret-A-Manager experience.

When you walk in, like most cafes or takeaway joints that prepare freshly made sandwiches, the choice at Pret can be overwhelming. Pret specialises in freshly pre-packaged food including but not limited to sandwiches, wraps, baguettes, muffins, croissants, and a variety of slices or cakes for dessert. They also prepare fresh coffee and also offer a variety of sides including crisps (chips for those back home) and the standard assortment of drinks.

With food preparation generally taken care of much earlier in advance, Pret also seems to have the process of serving customers well thought out. In the ten minutes that I spent observing them, three people, including those making coffee, seemed to be doing an excellent service by English standards getting through at least 30 people during a ten minute period. You are either handed a plastic bag for take away or a silver platter for eating in, which you have to load your food into/on to and carry to the small circular tables and high chairs more suited for faster eating and less conversing without evidently being too obvious.

Some people appeared to enter just for the coffee, but it did not appear at the same level as those that follow the Starbucks or Café Nero chains on every corner. I was quite pleased with my lunch consisting of a cup of Italian Meatball soup accompanied with some soup bread, followed by a cup of fresh yogurt, crunchy granola and honey all washed down with a bottle of still water with a trace of lime. Although I would not rate Pret cheap food, you definitely get better food than you would at any fast food joint.

I would not go out of my way to visit a Pret with all of the other hidden offerings London can provide, but if you have a choice between McDonalds, Burger King or Pret, definitely hit the latter one.

The Kua Rating: 7 out of 10

It’s Official, I’m a Researcher!

British Library Reader CardLast week’s attempt at checking out the British Library had been thwarted by the fact that you need to join as a reader before you could enter any of the reading rooms. This week I was more prepared with:

  • A proof of signature (my passport); and
  • A proof of residency (my bank statement)

After you fill out an online application form detailing things such as what research project you are working on, what resources you have tried, what other libraries you have visited and what your book reading list is, you are given a brief introduction to the library by a New Reader Admissions Officer. Soon after you are issued with a card and are on your way to accessing pretty much, as its website states, “The World’s Knowledge” made available from over 200 miles of books, journals and other archived media and information.

With the ability to get access to the reading rooms, I headed to the software section (it is what I said my research project was on) and it just so happened to be the top floor. It is extremely surreal entering the reading rooms, almost like another world. You must adhere to strict rules when entering the rooms such as you cannot bring coats, bags, food or drink and anything taken in must be carried around in zip-lock carry bags they provide. Internet access is provided for free from many terminals and Wi-Fi is available upon request and with payment. The top floor looks out on all of the other floors, and it is simply breath taking to see all the other researchers sitting in the well spaced and almost luxurious cubicles with a wealth of information at their finger tips.

Pretty much any book in the archive can be requested, although some may be better to ask for in advance with the retrieval process taking up to 70 minutes. A quick scan of their catalogue has pretty much every book I would ever want and the books on the shelves seemed quite up to date as well.

The library is an amazing place and is definitely well worth signing up.

The Kua Rating: 9 out of 10