Along the Albert Embankment wall of St Thomas’ Hospital, directly over the Thames to the Houses of Parliament is an incredible piece of public guerrilla art.
Hand painted on the wall are thousands upon thousands of red and pink hearts, each one representing a victim of the Covid pandemic. Some have the names of individuals written in, there are other hearts drawn by family members, messages have been appended.
Dishoom does the ‘Indian Cafe’ experience very well indeed, and if you’re prepared to queue, serves some great tasting food and impressive cocktails. But if you want the echt rather than the ersatz, then head on over to the Somerset House side of the Strand and try and find the India Club Restaurant.
It must be 30 years since I was last here, but climbing the two floors – past the India Club bar and the Strand Continental Hotel reception on the first floor – and stepped into the room again, it was if I’d never been away. The brown Formica tables and the wooden chairs are almost certainly the exact ones I sat in in the 1980s (and probably the originals from the restaurant’s opening in the 1940s). The waiters were too young to be the same, but their white jackets and their welcome was exactly how I remember it.
Forget your hipster bars and street art tours, single estate coffee and craft beer, upcycled furniture and bleeding edge fashions, the most compelling reason to visit Brick Lane is the Beigel Bake.
Open 24 hours and selling 3,000 beigels a day (as well as platzels, rye bread, chollah, cakes and impossibly retro custard slices), it’s been around since 1976 when brothers Asher and Sammy Cohen stopped working for another brother at the Beigel Shop two doors down, and branched out on their own.
(The Beigel Shop is still going, but, although older, doesn’t match the Beigel Bake. It also is the perpetrator of the almost blasphemous ‘rainbow beigel’.)
Forget those glorified bread rolls that you buy in the supermarket, eschew the polythene-wrapped ‘New York Bagel Co’ bagels, and get the real kosher deal – the dough balls boiled before baking to give a sweet, chewy dense circle with a crisp crust.
I’m having a coffee in the last of the Soho coffee bars.
An absurd statement on the face of it; there are probably more places to get a coffee in Soho now than at any time in the past.
But I’m talking about the Bar Italia, a place that justifies the label ‘Soho Institution’ and a world away from your chai lattes and skinny decaffs.
Here you’ll still find the waistcoated waiters (all Italian), a gleaming Gaggia machine and polished brass till. The picture of Rocky Marciano is still behind the bar, the Italian flags, football trophies and the last of the Christmas pannetone hang from the ceiling. It’s the closest you’ll get to a true Italian bar this side of Palermo.
Postcodes! Now there’s a topic to get the blood racing.
It was sparked by seeing the sign above, with “W14” tagged onto the original street sign.
We can date this to almost 100 years ago, during the first world war, when London sub-divided the previous postal districts (N, E, SW, SE, W and so on) by adding numbers. This from the Postal Museum website:
[They] were introduced to assist women sorters who had largely taken over sorting work from the men who had gone to war and so did not have the knowledge and experience those men had acquired over the years. The sub-districts were each given a serial number. These formed a suffix to the district’s initials and were allocated in sequence. For example the Eastern District Office was E1, Bethnal Green was E2, Bow was E3, and so on.
[Update: the good news, if you read the comments below, is that Bradley’s is safe until at least 2018. So even I might get around to visiting it again.]
[update 2: the not good news. the lockdown threatens the survival of the Bar. Jan de Vries has a fundraiser here to try and keep it going] Hanway Street, a narrow little cut-through (that hardly anyone actually uses to cut through) between Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, has just been bought by developers, and that means another of London’s institutions will be swept away.
That is Bradley’s Spanish Bar, a place that I haven’t been in for nearly 20 years, but which has huge, fond memories of when I worked in Covent Garden and Soho in the late ’80s and early ’90s.