The British Library

The British LibraryAs part of the He Who Knows Challenge, I was asked to visit the extension to the British Library. On Saturday I arrived there only to find out that the extension won’t be finished until sometime (most likely the end) next year. Having visited the place though, I thought I would walk around and see what it contained.

The British Library can be found halfway along Euston Street between the Euston Street and the Kings Cross tube stations. According to a pamphlet from the British Library the library has:

  • 11 reading room providing over 1200 places for readers
  • 4 deep basements, which house the bulk of the collections on more than 200 miles of shelving
  • An online catalogue and mechanical book handling system providing rapid ordering and access between basement stores and reading rooms
  • It covers over 1.2 million square foot on 9 floors above ground and 5 below
  • Its basement floors are especially tall; making the entire building equivalent of a normal 17 storey building sunk 8 stories into the ground

The insides and outsides of the library have been well architected. Outside a lusciously green garden surrounds a nice courtyard with seating and in the middle is a giant statue of Newton, created in 1995 by a grant given to the library. When you walk in you are greeted by a large information stand, behind which, you can see the initial five floors all centered around the collection amassed in the Kings Library. Unlike most libraries you visit, you first need to register as a reader to access any of the floors with actual books, and given the nature of the library’s extensive and history collection I can completely understand. As I didn’t happen to have any proof of address in the UK on me, all I could do was really just walk around.

There are still several things that are accessible to the normal tourist though, and this includes the gallery containing scrolls, books and writings throughout time. Amongst the more famous ones, I managed to see the Magna Carte and several hand written copies of the Qur’an. As a visitor to the library you can also see the richness of the books contained in the Kings Library, visibly shown through glass windows on shelves and only accessible by staff members.

It is a pretty impressive place and I would be keen to join as a reader and see what things you get access to.

The Kua Rating: 7 out of 10 (I didn’t get a chance to form an opinion on the books or the extension)

Caffeine at Bar Italia

Coffee at Bar ItaliaAfter catching up with people from work for Dim Sum today (think of Yum Cha for all you Aussies), I was going to head to Bar Italia to have a coffee. Everyone seemed to be in the mood for a bit of a coffee break so we all headed there together. Located in the heart of Soho, Bar Italia attracts all sorts of people for its food, drink and buzzing atmosphere. It is located just opposite Ronnie Scott’s (the most well known Jazz club in London apparently), and has plenty of tables and chairs lining the pavement.

While Monmouth has been the most popular coffee for those in the office (and I’m yet to have a bad one from there), Bar Italia’s coffee is actually quite comparable and was well prepared. Their hot chocolate the same standard as Amato’s (it’s powdered stuff) but, I was told by one of people who had it, that it was pretty decent. It seems like a place where people go to people watch, as many of them sit on one side of the table, simply facing the street instead of each other.

The street Bar Italia is located on is not as busy as other streets in Soho, but still has its fair share of people walking around and seeing the sights. It is right next to the bar/restaurant Little Italy (which is currently closed – sorry He Who Knows but I won’t be able to do a review for now). The food offerings, looking at the small menu, appeared fairly good but seeing as we just ate lunch, I was in no big rush to try anything. It’s a great little café, located on a great street and manages to serve really good coffee.

Details:Bar Italia
Found on: 22 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4RF
Contactable on: 020 7437 4520
Highlights: Great coffee and is great for those that are into a slightly buzzing atmosphere and potential for lots of people watching,
Room for improvement:I’m not too sure it would be too pleasant sitting outside on the pavement during bad weather, and it’s unfortunately a little small inside.
The Kua Rating: 7 out of 10

The Kua Newspaper of Choice is… The Times

To be honest, newspapers don’t really do that much for me, especially when I had a big choice between two back home. I find that most newspapers are very similar when scanning for content, with the major difference being really in the attitude of the editorials and columnists, of which no newspaper available in Brisbane really did anything for me.

Like most things in London, the offerings of newspapers can be overwhelming with newspapers and magazines catering to all types of people and markets. The hotel I was staying at prior to moving into my place in Bayswater offered two of London’s most popular newspapers, The Daily Telegraph and The Times. Out of the two, I must admit that I most frequently picked up The Times, not necessarily for its content, but more for its practical nature. When space is at a premium, be it crammed inside a tube, on a bus or even at your breakfast table, The Times’ more compact form factor wins any time.

A For Amato

AmataoOn the way to Maoz for lunch on Friday, I stumbled across Amato, one of the places I was asked to review by He Who Knows. I thought that even though a hot chocolate would be nice after lunch, I was too full from the falafel pita to even consider it. I did however end up going much later in the afternoon and let’s just say that I wasn’t disappointed.

Looking in from the outside, the decor and shop front gives little indication that this cafe offers that much, but do not be put off by the store’s appearance. If anything, the wide assortment of cakes, biscuits, the other afternoon team and the buzz of the people inside should give you an indication that this place is actually pretty good. It seems that quite a number of people go there by themselves just to indulge in a coffee or tea and a slice of cake. I, on the other hand, had a mission to complete and so promptly ordered a hot chocolate to have in.

Amazing by the time that I had walked into the place, gave my order, and finally pulled up a table and chair, my hot chocolate appeared out of nowhere. I was blown over by the size of the cup that arrived, about the same size as a mugaccino from back home. I mistakenly took a quick sip and found myself gagging at what seemed like dirty water. A quick dip of the spoon however seemed to indicate that a nice slurry of real chocolate laid like a sunken treasure and you only had to stir the waters to bring out the drink’s full potential. After finishing off the hot chocolate I was glad that I hadn’t ordered a slice of cake but was the hot chocolate worth the £2.50. I definitely say yes.

Details: Amato
Found on: 14 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TH
Contactable on: 020 7734 5733
Highlights: A to-die-for hot chocolate that was actually real chocolate, with a nice atmosphere and a wide selection of cakes and afternoon tea delicacies.
Room for improvement: None that I could think of
The Kua Rating: 9 out of 10

An Introduction to the “He Who Knows” Challenge

Just like my mate, Ben, we’ve both been challenged by a colleague at a common former employer of ours. This mutual colleague of ours has spent a fair amount of time in London, and going by the moniker, ‘He Who Knows’, has requested the following:

I submit a challenge to you young Kua. I would like a Kua-rating on the following.

  • The hot chocolate at Amato.
  • The espresso at Bar Italia.
  • The G&T at the Finsbury Circus Lawn Bowls club.
  • The little Italy Long Island Iced Teas.
  • The Conran restaurants.
  • The extension to the British Library.
  • The new Baltic Exchange.
  • The Kua newspaper of choice.
  • The pret-a-manger experience.
  • The Leadenhall fishmonger.
  • The Boro markets.
  • The Evensong at Southwick cathedral.

Can you succeed where others have failed ?

Not one to back down from a challenge, I intend on properly getting around to all of the places and giving them the proper review. There are no guarantees on how fast I’ll get around to doing these, but I can assure you that each one will be appropriately reviewed in due time. Watch this space.

To Market, To Market

Update: Summary added for the ‘He Who Knows’ Challenge

The Borough MarketsLocated just outside the London Bridge Underground station, you will easily stumble across London’s Borough Markets, with the closest thing back home in Brisbane being the farmer’s markets organized by Jan Power. I had high expectations for these markets, having read about this place sometime last year at The Passionate Cook’s food blog, and after visiting can say that I was definitely not disappointed.

The only way that I can succinctly describe the markets is that it is distinctly London. Unlike the powerhouse markets back home where you can walk up one side and down the other, the Borough markets can be difficult to navigate. Just like the city that hosts it, the markets comprise of winding paths connecting all the stalls seemingly held together by the swarms of people from all over the world that flow through them all. Admittedly the markets are not as big as I was first anticipating, consisting of about 70 stalls and a handful of stores, but the quality and variety of food and produce available certainly make up for it.

The offerings of food is amazing and had I actually had a kitchen to return home to yesterday, probably would have come away with much more than I did. Stretching further than just typical farmer markets fare, the markets have pretty much everything you would need for any pretty fine dinner, and listing them all here would not really give justice to what the markets really do offer, but you can find huge varieties of fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, poultry, meat, game, jams, cheese, wines, breads, cakes, chocolates and just so much more.

Whats Up Doc?One of London’s premium coffee stores, Monmouth, has a double presence here with a small stall in the heart of the markets fuelling the crowd’s almost frenzied movements with shots of caffeine, and the more permanent fixture on the street just opposite the markets. The more permanent fixture is so popular, that like all busy pubs in the city, that it has people cascading onto the streets, all standing around chatting and drinking coffee out of proper cups and saucers. Neil’s Yard Diary, well known for its quality cheese products also has a physical store just next to Monmouth but was so busy inside I didn’t feel up to pushing my way through to its delightful offerings (especially where there is one just a street away from work).

It should be fairly obvious to a person new to London that meat and meat products play a big game in British food fares (or is that just London?). Amongst the many meat products on offer, I saw a much wide variety of things including fresh Haggish, Black Pudding, pies, sausages, rabbits hanging, wild boar, pheasants and an amazing amount of cured, smoked or dried meats. I was thoroughly impressed by one particular store, the name currently eluding me that had four or five legs of cured pork meat each held by a single vice all on a large long bench. At the request of a customer, attendants would shave off fresh slices of what looked like prosciutto or parma-ham, with a long blade to be carefully layered on sheets of plastic.

Feeling like I couldn’t come away from the markets without making a purchase, but unable to really buy anything that useful (my hotel room doesn’t have a bar-fridge or anything) I decided to pick up a punnet of fresh raspberries to snack on, and a small bottle of oak-smoked garlic butter to give to my sister.

The markets are only open from noon until 6pm on Friday and then 9am to pm on Saturday. Crowds on a Saturday are thin early on, but increase in density pretty quickly. There are plenty of things that you can still pick up, even if you don’t live in London (fresh coverture chocolates, cakes, croissants, sweets, berries, coffee, etc) and even though the markets are on the southeast side of London, it is extremely easy to get to. It’s definitely a place I will be visiting regularly.

Details: The Borough Markets (Location)
Found on: 8 Southwark Street, SE1
Highlights: Fantastic variety of food, nice atmosphere and great variety, and the potential to see Jamie Oliver walking around.
Room for improvement: Crowds and people with strollers make it difficult getting around to all the stalls and combined with the winding paths may make it difficult for you to return to that stall you may want to revisit.
The Kua Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (I’m impressed but I haven’t visited any of other London’s market offerings)