Padron peppers

Tapas lunch at Barrafina, London

Barrafina is a mini chain of tapas restaurants in London that have claimed a Michelin star for their owners the Hart brothers. Sam and Eddie.  Their original site on Dean Street was always hard to get a seat at and has recently relocated inside the nearby  Quo Vadis restaurant so I doubt it’s any easier to get into.  However they have other sites and I was looking for a good local lunch to complement an uplifting visit to the British Museum’s Hokusai exhibition when I remembered there was a  Barrafina in Drury Lane.

On a rare rainy day this London summer, we rushed through the street, struggling with the unfamiliar feat of mastering umbrellas against the wind.

Barrafina Drury Lane staff

Just ten minutes from the British Museum we found the corner building that houses Barrafina and walked in, fingers crossed they would have space but uneasy as it was 1pm, slap bang in the middle of the lunchtime trade.  Luck was with us and we were soon on bar stools checking the menu and specials and greeted by the friendly staff.

Lunch was excellent and the wine recommended by another friend was fresh and great for daytime drinking.



Here goes:

I have my favourites in any tapas bar so Pimientos de Padron were essential, alongside Pan con Arbequina Olive Oil and Paletilla Iberica de Bellota.

Barrafina tapas

The ham was really melt in the mouth tasty and the freshly cooked warm bread was perfect for soaking up the rich olive oil with its crunchy salt flakes.

We tried a couple of dishes of the specials board: Broccoli Manchego and Coca Bread Sobrasada.   The broccoli was finely al dente with shavings of manchego, sprinkled with almonds, a good choice and a great way to add in some veg.  The coca bread was less to my liking as it had no clear flavours and the bread was a bit hard, so fine but not stand out like the other dishes.


Although we were getting quite full by now,  we found extra space for the Chorizo Tortilla which was gorgeous.  The perfect mix of fine potato, oozing egg and top quality chorizo made it a perfect final dish.

Our wine was a Taxakoli Ameztoi, a light steely and surprisingly petilliant white which slipped down a treat.

My companion who is heading off to Santander in Spain was charged with finding tapas as good as this so I look forward to the report back!

Check out all the Barrafina branches here.

Disclosure:  I paid for my meal and split the bill with my friend so no freebies here!  Total cost per person was £32.60 including a glass of wine each.

Inuit display

Franklin’s story at the National Maritime Museum

It was one of the hottest days of the year and I was off to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London to explore the story of Franklin, lost in the arctic!

I knew very little about Franklin before I arrived and was keen to find out why this exhibition was subtitled ‘ The Shocking Story of Franklin’s Final Expedition’.   The exhibition takes you through the story of his journey out to final a way through the north-west passage in 1845 and how the months stretched out into years without any news until all hope was finally lost.  But I’m getting  ahead of myself….

North West Passage

Franklin was an experienced explorer and the prize of finding a way through the north-west passage led Britain to send the largest ever expedition in HMS Erebus and Terror led by Franklin.  Trade routes were at the heart of the challenge with fame and fortune awaiting those who were successful.  Arctic exploring was nothing new and the 2 ships, just back from the Antarctic,  set off with extra reinforcing against the ice and 3 years’ of provisions on board as they expected to have to overwinter, stuck in the ice pack.  We learn of life on board this long expeditions when keeping men stuck in the ice was key even to the extent of staging theatre and of course panto!

July 1845 was the last sighting of the expedition by a European and beyond that it was reports by the Inuit people who enabled the story to be pieced together before modern-day researchers found more information about their fate.  It was not unusual to hear no news in those days but two years of silence resulted in a vigorous campaign by Jane Franklin, urging the Admiralty to send out a rescue mission.  Her campaign paid off and over 30 missions set out between 1847 and 1880. The Government were forced to support these missions and even offered a substantial reward, no doubt encouraging the large number of missions launched.  The Franklins were famous and the public’s imagination was caught so much that by 1850  figurines of the couple were for sale, such was the Victorian fascination with exploration!   Jane also wrote very sad letters to her husband in the hope that he was still alive.

Reward to find Franklin

Franklin figurines

During the years of those missions contacts were made with the Inuit people who had news of sightings of the boats and of starving men dragging sleds across the ice.  Artefacts were found which were clearly European and then in 1859 the Victory Point note confirmed that disaster had struck and that Franklin had died way back in June 1847.   The exhibition has this note on display, understandably not in pristine condition!   It has 2 messages on it, the first says all’s well in May 1847 but the second added in the margins in April 1848 talks of the death of Franklin and desperation of the survivors who were deserting the ship to try to find an overland escape route.

Victory Point note

Tales came back of cannibalism which horrified the public and were largely swept away, not suiting the heroic narrative required at the time.  The exhibition does explore this aspect as well as other possible causes of weakening of the sailors and their deaths.  These include scurvy,  TB, starvation and madness caused by lead poisoning from the newly invented tin cans  used to store food.

Most questions about the fate of this expedition remained unanswered until 2014 when the wreck of the HMS Erebus was found and subsequently HMS Terror was discovered in 2016.    They have had time to research Erebus and its location and contents are beginning to fill in some blanks.  The discovery of the ship’s bell certified this was really HMS Erebus.

HMS Erebus bell

HMS Erebus bell







However the mystery of what really happened to the ships and the 129 strong crew largely remains despite these recent discoveries although with more time to investigate we may find some answers.  This show explores the questions waiting for answers.

The displays are impressive and eye-catching and the sounds effects of arctic wind certainly give some atmosphere.  We learn a good deal about the Inuit, their lifestyle and their strong culture of oral story telling which meant rescuers were told tales of explorers such as Martin Frobisher from back in the 1570s as if they were in the 1800s.

Inuit display

Impressive displays and screens

For more info on the National Maritime Museum check this link.

I took the Thames Clipper back to the centre of London as it’s the best way to get around and enjoy the varied sights of the Thames banks.  A 40 minute ride takes you past the old and the new, from Canary Wharf to the Prospect of Whitby, from The Shard to St Paul’s.  Check out this great river service here.   A couple of shots from the boat:

Prospect of Whitby

Prospect of Whitby

Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf

Disclaimer: the National Maritime Museum is free to is enter but they charge for the special exhibitions. I was invited to preview this show so my ticket was paid for, my views are my own.

Courtauld Gallery

Gilded Interiors at The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection is one of London’s hidden gems, a small and beautiful museum with a wonderful collection of art, porcelain and armoury, housed in a fabulous London town house.  I’ve been to visit many times and thought I was familiar with most items in their collection but their new special exhibition Gilded Interiors highlighted some stunning pieces I’d missed.

In their downstairs exhibition space, which you’ll find after passing the lovely interior covered courtyard restaurant, they have one off collections on specific themes to showcase parts of the larger collection.  Their current one is called Gilded Interiors: French Masterpieces of Gilt Bronze and is a great opportunity to see a number of gilt bronzes together and enjoy them as wonderful pieces of art in their own right, rather than a side piece in a room of paintings.

It has stunning pieces of unbelievable skill and beauty which were made in the late eighteen century.   Gilt bronzes were commissioned by the wealthiest patrons and collected by the likes of Marie Antoinette and even George IV  and although it was all the rage from 1770-1790, it is now often overlooked as I discovered.  Here are a few tasters of what you can see

  1.  A mantel clock made in 1771 by  the master of gilt bronze work Pierre Gouthiere and a rare example as it was signed by him.  The design celebrates the retaking of Avignon, situated on the banks of the river Rhone, using classical themes popular at the time and the detail shows the river flowing out from an urn next to the river god.  The clock, and all the pieces are displayed with splendid lighting, reminding us that the time rooms would have been lit by candles and firelight so gilt bronze would magnify this light.

Courtauld Gallery


Courtauld Gallery


2. This perfume burner is one of the greatest pieces of it time with a masterful snake circling in the centre with naturalistic skin.  Marie Antoinette was very fond of this piece made of bronze and red jasper as she had a superb eye for decorative art.

Courtauld GalleryCourtauld Gallery

3 . These 2 vases from the late 18th century have a very art deco look to me!  These beautiful pieces however hide the story behind gilt bronze, which was made using vaporised mercury, clearly a dangerous method and it could be fatal to the workers.

Courtauld Gallery

4.  This second mantel clock has motifs alluding to love and abundance with Egyptian themes dates from 1781 and originally had a glass cloche to cover it.  The detail of the lion’s foot and cushion’s tassel is impressive.  It’s worth mentioning that gilt bronze is in fact brass, which sounds less posh but it’s just as lovely whichever word is used and in French the same word can be used for both.

Courtauld Gallery


5. The elaborate table has more classical motifs with the ionic capitals, taken from Greek architecture, particularly from the Acropolis.  It was made by Etienne Levasseur , one of the finest cabinet makers of his time, using a porphyry top which shines and forms a contrast of colour against the gilt bronze and woods.

These are just a few of the pieces on display until the end of July 2017 in this room but available to see around the Collection at any time.

I was lucky enough to be shown around by the Curator of the exhibition Helen Jacobson but Gilded Interiors is free to visit as is the whole of The Wallace Collection.

Find out more about The Wallace Collection here.

Andy Murray

What’s on this summer in London?

I write a seasonal newsletter with tips about what’s on in London which I send directly to subscribers but my blog readers can enjoy it too.  If you want to subscribe,  go to my website and let me know.  Check out your favourite section: theatre, museums, shopping and fashion, art galleries, foodie stuff, royal palaces and parks, sport or music, it’s all here!

So here you are, my pick of what’s on in London over the summer: Continue reading

Petersham Nurseries

A top lunch at Petersham Nurseries

I love having a birthday as it’s a great excuse for splendid lunches and being treated by friends!  Petersham Nurseries restaurant has been on my list for ages so I was delighted when my friend suggested it.  Formerly the home of Skye Gyngell where she earned a Michelin star before heading to Somerset House to open Spring.  Still a fine restaurant, it is set in the middle of a beautiful plant nursery.

We met at Richmond station, not far out of the centre of London and took a wonderful walk along the Thames to reach this tucked away venue, making it feel like a real hidden treat!

Firstly, the food which I loved.  Once you are seated among the jasmine and bougainvillea,  you are offered an amuse bouche of Bruschetta with Ricotta, Peas, Lemon and Lovage, a fresh earthy variation on the more usual tomato based version of this dish. The bread was lightly toasted and not so crisp as to be hard to eat which can be a problem in less well constructed bruschetta.

Petersham Nurseries

For my starter I chose Grilled Asparagus with Soft Boiled Haye Farm Egg, Proscuitto de Parma and Parmesan, which was light and fresh with a perfect egg.



Petersham Nurseries

I was not familiar with Whiting so checked with our waitress who described it perfectly as a light fish with not too strong a fishy taste so I decided to give it a try. Fillets of Whiting with Petersham Prosecco, Heritage Tomatoes and Sea Aster.   She was right, the dish was beautifully light which suited the hot and sunny day we were enjoying along with a bottle of Petersham white wine.

Petersham Nurseries

There is always space for pudding isn’t there!  However, a sharing option was our best choice and we ordered a Strawberry and Almond Tart with Vanilla Mascarpone.  It had great texture, soft in the tart with a crunch from the almonds and strangely we managed the lot, mascarpone as well!

Petersham Nurseries


The dinner area has that half indoor half outdoor feel, with a profusion of plants, Indian decorative pieces and unfussy furniture.  The view across the room from our table was full of climbing jasmine:

Petersham Nurseries

The bougainvillea in the dining room was a riot of colour:

Petersham Nurseries

A short stroll around the nursery was required to ease our delightful lunch down. It is full of nooks and crannies,  temptingly healthy plants for sale and fabulous displays

I’ve never seen a rose tree like this and I think my face say it all!

Petersham Nurseries

I was really pleased to find out that Petersham Nurseries is a family run business,  a welcome change from the invasion of the chains, some of which are very good but there is nothing quite like a one-off family loved place.

As I was treated to lunch it would be indelicate to mention the price so for this and more about Petersham Nurseries check here !


Canaletto at the Queen’s Gallery

The top holiday souvenir when you were on the Grand Tour in the 18th century was a painting by Canaletto as Venice was considered the cultural centrepiece of such an expedition!  Luckily for those of us without such deep pockets,  the Queen’s Gallery is staging a stunning show called ‘Canaletto & the Art of Venice’ which transports you back to Venice of those days.

The Queen’s Gallery in London holds the world’s finest collection of paintings and drawings by Canaletto thanks to George lll’ s timely purchase of a library and associated works from Joseph Smith, who had fallen on hard times.  George was a keen bibliophile and  included in his purchase of Smith’s library in 1762 were a Vermeer, Venetian masters and a large number of Canaletto’s paintings, prints and drawings. An unknown figure to me, Smith’s story was fascinating as he was an art dealer, Canaletto’s agent and the British Consul in Venice who supported Canaletto, bought his work and commissioning paintings when Canaletto had fallen out of the spotlight.  Smith rebuilt his own finances after he lost his library, began collecting again and lived to the age of 96 when his collection took up 3 days of sales at Christie’s,  I do wonder what was in those sales…

Back to Canaletto and the exhibition.   We learn about Venice in the 18th century when its political power was ebbing away but economically it was still strong, thriving on income from the Grand Tour visitors, particularly the British.  Canaletto’s paintings became how Venice was seen and understood by the world. Born in 1697 in Venice as  Bernardo Canal,  he was a stage painter and an accomplished draughtsman which can be seen in the precision of his buildings. Accuracy was not always as precise as we assume, as he was prone to moving scenes around to give a better composition than the scene before him.

In the first room of the exhibition we are hit immediately by the brilliance of 2 of his finest works, classic views of the Grand Canal where regattas and festivals are taking place with Venetians and boats decked out in their finery.




I was particularly taken with this set of 6  drawings of the Grand Canal, unusually not made as preliminary works but are the finished works in their own right. They are pen, pencil and ink drawings, showing his customary attention to detail and a quality of penmanship that was much admired in his day.


Here’s a close up of the drawing from the bottom right hand corner of the set.


The main gallery has 2 major series of Canaletto’s work and a substantial room is required to give them space to breathe and been seen as whole series.  One of these is his 12 piece set of paintings of the Grand Canal, through which the viewer can travel along the canal, enjoying the views on the way.


Here’s a closer view of the bottom right hand painting of this magnificent series.  We were told a fun story by the wonderful curator,  Lucy Whitaker, who showed us around the exhibition, giving us context and insights along with her passion for this artist.  One of the series of 12 showed  Joseph Smith’s canal side palazzo which was redecorated while the series was being created, so he asked Canaletto to repaint that section to show off his updated palazzo.  The perks of being a patron.,,,


On the opposite wall is a series of 5 paintings depicting Rome, which were new to me.   Fashion had moved on and the Grand Tour was not so popular and times were hard for Canaletto so Smith commissioned this Rome series to given him some income. Canaletto had been there some years before so he did not return but painted this beautiful set from memory, previous drawings and used the work of others.  The sights of ancient Rome leap off the canvas and were one of many highlights of the show for me.


We know that Canaletto moved to England and painted fine views of the Thames after his time in Venice but that’s another story, and another show. This one is about Canaletto, Venice and Joseph Smith. It is well worth a visit to see a show that has so much more than I have been able to cover here.

For full details about the exhibition and the Queen’s Gallery click here.

Full disclosure: I was invited to preview this exhibition and therefore, as is customary, my entry ticket was provided.

Charterhouse, London

Visiting Charterhouse London for the first time

As someone who is always out and about in London, the chance to visit somewhere for the first time is a real treat.  Why have I not been there before? Well, despite being on this site since 1348 this is the first time the public have been allowed inside Charterhouse.

Opening up after so many closed centuries was a major event so who better to do the honours than Her Majesty The Queen, as is proudly proclaimed on this stone:

Charterhouse, London

The Charterhouse began life as a burial ground for plague victims in 1348 when the Black Death decimated the population by about 50%, a staggering thought.  In 1371 a Carthusian monastery was founded on this site and this is when the name Charterhouse is first used.  Fast forward through to Henry Vlll who dissolved the monasteries and these buildings become a home for rich Tudor noblemen and a place to host royal events.

Charterhouse, London

The gardens


Charthouse. London

Arriving at Charterhouse









The year 1611 was when it all changed for Charterhouse as Thomas Sutton bought the existing house to set up a charity school and almshouses, an extraordinary act of philanthropy, guaranteed by his will which left his fortune to Charterhouse rather than his family, a source of great disappointment to them!  To acknowledge his contribution, there is an enormous and elaborate memorial to him in the chapel and a closer look at the plaque describes him as a ‘gent’ which I rather liked.

Charterhouse, London

Thomas Sutton’s memorial

Charterhouse, London

Plaque to a ‘gent’

Thomas’s school, Charterhouse became one of the most famous and sought after schools in the country and had to move out to Surrey in 1872 to have more space and the Merchant Taylor School moved in.  They subsequently moved out in 1933 for the same reasons.  Sutton also bequeathed sufficient cash to provide for 80 Brothers who could be ‘either decrepit or old captaynes either at sea or at land, maimed or disabled soldiers, merchants fallen on hard times, those ruined by shipwreck of other calamity’.  The Brothers remained after the school left and the community of Brothers are the current residents of Charterhouse, although they are not seafarers and the like but and soon some will  even be women! Brothers need to be over 60 and in need of support for the rest of their lives.

Fully restored after a direct hit by an incendiary bomb in 1941 the decision was taken to open up the site for visitors to enjoy the chapel, to learn its history through the buildings, the plaques and a small museum . The Brothers offer tours or you can just wander around as the helpful volunteers will happily tell you the stories behind what you are seeing.

Entering through the modern reception and shop area, you are soon into the old building with an ancient feel thanks to the stone flag stones. Here you can see plaques to former pupils John Wesley, William Makepeace Thackeray and Robert Baden-Powell.

Charterhouse, London

A memorial which caught my eye consisted of panels telling the story of each sad loss due to battle or developing fever after injury, often in far flung places, namely India and The Crimea.  They were ‘charging the Seiks’ as part ot the Light Dragoons, dying by the first shot fired in the seige of Delhi, or worn out by sickness and fatigue.The Havelock family paid for the memorial so figure largely but other are mentioned too, including one 17 year old who died in the mutiny of Allahabad.

Charterhouse London




The chapel is the centre piece of the visit,  with grand stained glass windows, an rich altar screen,  and a magnificent organ, dating from 1841, in a somewhat strange layout with sections seemingly bolted on due to the need to expand the chapel as time went on. The school boys had their own section, with the carefully positioned Schoolmaster’s seat so he could keep a stern eye on them.


The museum houses items from the days of the Charterhouse school giving insights into the life of the boys and the frequent use of the cane to restore order for crimes including ‘outrageous cheek to monitors’!  You can see what they ate and explore the everyday life at Charterhouse then and now. The museum invites you back in time to understand the centuries of history on this site and culminates in a skeleton of a young man who died of the Black Death, which was  found during the recent Crossrail excavations, taking us back to the very start of Charterhouse’s story.

There is more to see if you take the full guided tour for which there is a charge but on this occasion we explored the free entry areas which offers plenty to enjoy.  The restoration project which was completed in partnership with the Museum of London bring a new museum to London and a fascinating visit.

No museum visit is complete without a good cafe and Thackeray’s cafe next door is on my recommended list for tea, sandwiches and cakes.

Charterhouse, London

Thackeray’s cafe

Learn more about visiting Charterhouse here.

Full disclosure:  I visited as a private individual.  Entry is free.

St James's Park

What’s on in London Spring 2017

Here’s my seasonal newsletter which goes out to Friends of It’s Your London but I like to share it on my blog as well.  Enjoy!


Here’s your spring 2017 newsletter giving you a taster of the exciting events coming up in the next 3 months in our capital. If you want to hear more about anything listed, or any other things you may have heard about, do send me an email ( and I’ll get right back to you. Continue reading

Poster for Imagine Moscow

Imagine Moscow at London’s Design Museum

London’s Design Museum moved home last year and set up its stall in  wonderful, newly refurbished premises in Kensington. I wrote about my visit to their opening events here.

I was intrigued when I received the invitation to their latest exhibition, called Imagine Moscow, an exhibition which explores six Moscow architectural landmarks from the 1920s and 1930s that were never built! However, it turned out to be interesting, surprising and offered some visionary designs which would have resulted in a modern, dramatic city had they come to fruition. From large-scale projects to classic propaganda material, there is plenty to see and enjoy. Continue reading

It’s good to be back in London

‘I’ve been building a school in Malawi’ usually provokes a raised eyebrow when people ask where I’ve been this year. The eyebrow is due to my appearance as a short, slim, city type who is definitely not in the first flush of youth! I say yes, I’ve been digging foundations and laying bricks with a team of local Malawian builders and that hard work and determination make up for size for most jobs. Continue reading