3 top London markets!

My 3 favourite markets in London are Camden, Portobello and Spitalfields. They have a different feel and are in different parts of London but beware, don’t ever try to do more than one in a day or you will have a severe case of market overload!
Let’s go to Camden first. It’s in north London and is made up of several markets that cover a huge area around the Grand Union Canal’s lock which is why you’ll see many references to the lock and this can be another name for the markets. Camden market grows every time I visit and has mushroomed from being some stalls around the canal area to the massive redeveloped Stables area which is full of huge bronze horse statues as it was once a stable and horse hospital. There is always something new and one area which burnt down a couple years ago has been rebuilt and incorporates a fun cafe of Vespas (see photo)
One thing hasn’t changed in all the years I’ve been coming, is Camden fashion’s love of black and leather and outrageous visuals. There are tons of food stalls, clothes stalls, jewellery stalls but most of all clothes stalls. My last visit was rather sad as the news of Amy Winehouse’s death spread through the crowd while we were there and as fellow local, the stall holders felt a great affinity with her.

Camden is full-on over the weekend when they reckon 100,000 people visit, especially on a Sunday, but you can visit during the week tho’ don’t try going in the morning as no one is up! The streets leading to the market are amazing too, trading on the image of Camden of black leather and tattoos – see photo
Photos are: the lock and the market; Vespa cafe; classic shop entry!; Camden fashion; and, the street leading to the market.


Next we are off to east London to Spitalfields market where Sunday is the big day, tho’ again there are some markets during the week but unlike Camden, they are much smaller. On Sunday the square is humming with stalls manned by new designers just starting off with their creations – mostly clothes but other items too. They are always keen to tell you about their work and tell you about the creative process. Of course there are the food stalls and stalls with stuff you’ll see elsewhere but there is still a good selection of one offs. This market has grown recently and is now surrounded by large shops and well known restaurant chains but it has kept its buzz and is a great Sunday out.

There has been a market on this site since 1638 when fish, fowl and roots were sold here. The original market, specialising in wholesale fruit and vegetables was moved to new premises out of central London in 1991 and now it is at the centre of a busy market area. Close by is Brick Lane, Petticoat Lane and Truman Brewery so on a Sunday you can wander from one to the other and experience the amazing range of cultures and styles in London.

A key landmark in the area is the beautiful  Christ church built in the early 1700s which is the first photo. The others show the busy market trading .


Our final stop today is my favourite market because it is round the corner from where I live – Portobello Market. In fashionable west London this market is best visited on Saturday, as the other days of the week are a shadow of the bustle of the main day. The market lines both sides of Portobello Road and it changes character as you move down from antiques at the beginning, to fruit and veg, to general items, to a new designers section, a major second hand clothing section, a farmers market (with a seasonal pop up cinema!) and finally to the north African/Portuguese/Spanish section as you get to Golborne Road. The area where the antiques are is where you see the classic views of the brightly coloured houses that typify the road.

Portobello Road was the setting for Notting Hill the film and we still get lots of visitors trying to find the famous blue door and the travel bookshop. The market is also famous as a favourite Saturday activity for Paddington Bear who lived locally! Trading however dates back to the early 1900 when it was mainly fresh food with the antique traders arriving in the late 1940s and 1950s. 

Photos are: busy market day ; a quieter day with the food stalls and the Electric cinema; the beautiful coloured houses; and, the famous travel bookshop.



I hope you’ve enjoyed my favourite London markets – there are loads more, but that’s for another day.

Bye for now,

Tea tasting, toe tapping and book reading in London!

I know I’m always saying that London offers the most amazing range of experiences, often just on your doorstep and this week’s blog shows that my last 7 days have been no exception. I’ve picked just 3 highlights: tea tasting, book readings and a bit of jazzy fun.

First tea tasting. In Notting Hill a man called Pei Wang has set up the ground floor of his house as a calm refuge to taste and learn about tea. He is absolutely charming and a group of 4 us tried out his Saturday morning one hour tasting event, which is free – amazing! He’s so enthusiastic that it lasted rather more than an hour and we tried 3 lovely new teas, my favourite being Dong Ding Oolong so I bought a whole packet to enjoy at home. He explains all about the teas you taste and can answer any question you may have about the ceremony itself and the teas’ properties including even the right sort of water to use. His knowledge is endless and we learned so much about what seems such a simple drink when you bung a tea bag into a mug! Here it is about taking your time and savouring the tea and choosing one for its taste but also being aware of the benefits that different teas bring to your health.

In his Chaya Teahouse you can have afternoon tea or try one of his tea appreciation classes or master classes (with great good) and I guarantee you will feel a million miles away from the hurly burly of your busy life after an hour or so in this tranquil hideaway. I could even manage a trip to the madness of Oxford Street afterwards without too much angst!

Look up Pei Wang at http://www.teanamu.com/. The photos show Pei himself, pouring my tea into delicate cups, his house and the tea tasting table set up for us.

Friday night was World Book Night in Trafalgar Square and I went down to find out what it was all about. The square was all lit up with a large stage set up so we gathered waiting to see what would happen. World Book Night is a major event to encourage more reading and on the next day the organisers were galvanising a huge number of volunteers to give away a million books to get people started! The Friday event was a great part of this celebration of reading as a whole host of top authors and famous folk were reading a small piece from a favourite book and it was captivating. Reading ranged from their own books to Dickens to a piece about a bad hangover, read by our very own Mayor Boris Johnson! I also saw: Alan Bennett, Rupert Everett, DBC Pierre, Sarah Waters, Andrea Levy, Mark Haddon……. all hosted by Graham Norton and here are photos of some of them and the square. It’s in the diary for next year already and I want more – it was such a treat to hear such great readings on a dry but chilly March night surrounded by fellow book fans.

And finally, the toe tapping! Kensington Roof Gardens was the swanky venue for a great jazz night starring Rebecca Poole. The Roof Gardens are just that, being a huge outdoor space on the top of a former department store with Spanish, English and Monet style sections (most famous for their flamingos who were not to be seen on a chilly night) and luckily a large marquee section too so we were indoors. I know Rebecca and she is great fun to go and see with her warm personality, husky jazz voice and great range of songs – her own compositions and covers. We even had a quick twirl together at the end of one song when she joined in the dancing on the floor! I’ve seen her many times and she just gets better and better so keep an eye open for her next show….


Bye for now,



Scary Jack the Ripper…

I had some visitors from Texas who wanted to do a Jack the Ripper tour so much they even booked it before they came to London. We had an afternoon tour and the Jack the Ripper and it was properly scary. We met up for our tour just outside Whitechapel Gallery in the East End and set off in the dark with our wonderful guide. She was from the East End and was a real expert on the topic who researches ‘Jack’ every day so she knows everything there is to know it seems and has her own theory as to who he was. She led us around the sites of the murders for an engrossing two and a half hour tour full of stories about the era, giving us lots of context. It was a very tough area at the time with people living incredibly hard lives and especially the women who were driven to drink and life on the streets. She warned us and then came the grisly details of the murders and even photos of the victims, but these were optional! It was not the sort of thing I would usually do as I’m not keen on the horror stuff but our guide was so knowledgeable that the time just flew by. No photos of this tour as it was a very dark night!

The afternoon before Jack saw a great Indian lunch of very tasty curries at Tayyabs near Whitechapel, a wander up Brick Lane dropping into a wonderful bright cloth shop with such cheery staff, a quick shopping trip in Spitalfields and a nip to the Tate Modern to show them the wonderful Sunflower Seeds by Ai Wei Wei (see blog from 22nd October). We spent time admiring the night lights over the Thames and it was a great photo opportunity. What an afternoon and evening – we all enjoyed it and loved packing so much in.


The run up to Christmas has started and you’ll be seeing the lights and the shops in future blogs but the big Spirit of Christmas Fair took place in Olympia this week. I was helping out a friend who had a stall and we spent a day selling lovely Xmas decorations and high quality candles. It was a busy day and we did well – I thought so anyway! You can see the Olympia room which is great and our very special stall before the customers emptied it…. I treated myself to a proper visit the following day to start my own present shopping as there was no time when we were working to leave the stall even for a minute!


Then there was one wonderful autumn day out which started in my garden where the Japanese maple was brighter than ever (the close up photo), then we set off for a great Portobello market day. The sun was catching the buildings beautifully with more flaming trees. Lunch was taken at the Electric Brasserie as it’s so hard not too and we had to dodge the cameras filming the Channel 4 programme Seven Days so watch out for me passing quickly by! The leaves have nearly gone but it was a bright and vibrant autumn to remember.
Bye for now,

Party time – the big launch…

It’s been a busy week at It’s Your London not because of tourism but a big charity launch event I was organising. We held a fabulous party at the 20th Century Theatre, known as ‘Notting Hill’s best kept secret’, which used to be an active theatre with non other than Laurence Olivier making an appearance here in 1925! It was built around 1860 and Charles Dickens read his work from the magnificent stage so there were lots of good vibes around. We launched Arts Mentoring (http://www.artsmentoring.wordpress.com/), which is set up to send artists and performers to world with disadvantaged children around the world. The party was a blast with brilliant performances from Nina Conti and Monk, Tiger Lilly, Rebecca Poole, the Parlour Room and Ian Gray and thanks to all these fine folk for their support. Photos at: http://bit.ly/aQwhjZ . Phew – back to tourism….

The Royal College of Arts was holding its graduate exhibition, called ‘Show’, so we went to see what these talent BA and MA students were up to. Some good glass work, some interesting photos but overall not overwhelming – or was it just me?
We’ve had some beautiful weather so after ‘Show’ we wandered around Hyde Park by the Albert Memorial, which along with the Royal Albert Hall was built by Queen Victoria for her dearly loved and much missed consort Prince Albert. The memorial was given a face lift last year and you can see it here sparkling in the sun and fronted by 2 wonderful elephants.


The Victoria and Albert Museum (see the theme here!) is a wonderful place to visit for its permanent collections and special exhibitions. It is described as the world’s largest museum of art and design but it feels much more with amazing new galleries of medieval artifacts and the massive Cast Courts with plaster versions of huge Roman columns. Perhaps these do come under the art and design heading. I love their precious Ardabil carpet, completed in 1540 in Iran, which can only have lights on it for 10 minutes each hour and is one of the finest in the world. The ceramics are breath-taking and there are many contemporary items too, in fact it’s just wonderful and it’s free! To add to the fun on a good day, there’s a courtyard cafe and when we went it was packed with lunchers and paddling children.
A restaurant well worth a mention this week is El Pirata de Tapas on Westbourne Grove and I made yet another return trip as it is one of my local favourites, serving great tasting small plates at reasonable prices and is always packed. Another place worth telling you about is Coffee Plant on Portobello as people are often wandering up and down looking for a decent coffee. Try these guys- it’s not posh looking but the coffee’s good and they are nice people so that can’t be bad.

The football World Cup starts this Friday with England’s first game on Saturday versus the USA so it’ll be very tense and exciting. There’ll be more about how the World Cup hits London in next week’s blog.

Oh yes before I go, of course we need a few more elephants from the Elephant Parade….

Bye for now.


A whole lot of lunching going on…

It’s been a week of lunches and a tea, a theatre trip, the Van Gogh big show, a photo exhibition and a singer. So here goes….

After a bit of lull recently, it was a good week for lunches. It started on Monday with a trip to Raymond Blanc’s new brasserie in the City. This was week one so we got a 50% discount which

really helped the wallet. It’s a good looking place (see these interior and exterior shots) and the food was good but not as special as I hoped from Raymond. The following day saw a trip to Hereford Road, Notting Hill where the menu is very gamey and shellfishy and we loved the potted shrimp and venison pie.


Hibiscus in the West End has 2 Michelin stars and thanks to another special offer *(3 courses and a glass of champagne for £29.50- what a winner) we could relax and enjoy the extra special cuisine. And finally, we took a lovely pot of afternoon tea at the home of fine teas, Fortnum and Mason, in their new Parlour cafe. The stairway is amazing with the butler in this photo and just being there makes you feel posh.

There was culture to be had at the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy which features many of his beautiful painting alongside letters between Vincent and his brother Theo. They chart his early days as a self taught painter and how he honed his craft to the wonderful later work and the support his brother gave him all through. He did most of his great work in about 6 years which is a mind boggling achievement.

At the Lichfield Studios in Notting Hill a marvellous exhibition of photographs by Malick Sidibe. He took photos in his studio of people who popped in to have shots taken in Bamako at the time that Mali was gaining Independence. He also went to night clubs to capture the exuberance of the time. 2 photos on this one – one of the Lichfield Studios and one of a wonderful photo of a woman from the brochure


This week’s theatre trip was to see ‘Polar Bears’ at the Donmar theatre. Great acting and a plot full of questions but few answers which was confirmed when we bumped into Celia Imrie at the bus stop on the way home. She was one of the stars – yes, she agreed it wasn’t very glamorous going home on the 390 to Notting Hill! She asked us whether we thought the lead man had committed the murder – I thought so and Celia said she wasn’t sure. Lovely lady to stop and chat with us.
One final bit of fun in London to report on was the chance to see Rebecca Poole singing at The Commander restaurant in Notting Hill. She does a great smokey jazz show and is certainly one to watch out for in the future.


Can’t wait for next week. Bye for now,


All the week’s a stage

Life goes in cycles I find and I’m in a wonderful theatre cycle at the moment with 3 plays this week and one tonight which will be in next week’s blog. I’ll go through them as they fell during the week so we can have some photos on the way.


Monday was the Tricycle Theatre (cycles eh!) to see Kwame Kwei-Armah’s new play called ‘Seize the Day’ about the possible election of London’s first black mayor. Hopefully that won’t be too long coming.

Mid week I took a trip out to the Olympic site to see how it was coming on and you can see on the left a photo of the stadium which is taking shape now. It’s a huge building project including a new station, Stratford International which has just opened so of course we had to go there and try out the new high speed train to St Pancras. Just about 8 minutes which is great but I wish they’d kept the original name of ‘javelin train’ – much more fun! At St Pancras we loved the ice sculptures of Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower which celebrate the links to Paris via Eurostar, one of my favourite train journeys and one I’ve taken many times.



Wednesday was music night with great performances from Rebecca Poole and the Cazalets (separately) at the Tabernacle. Always good to see live bands. Rebecca has a great jazz voice but was also doing more rocky numbers this week. The after show drinks at Ravenous were fun too, one of those indoors/outdoors late night venues…. Thursday we were back at the theatre to see ‘Sirens’ at the Canal Cage Theatre. This is a small venue with a 3 hander play with musicians which a friend was producing and it was really well done with strong performances and of course great producing!

Friday was fun with a tour around London in a bright red original Mini thanks to Oli and Robert of Small Car Big City. We zipped around the West End in style with a fun commentary as well. Thanks guys and here you are in the photo!
The big one play-wise was ‘Inherit the Wind’ at the Old Vic starring Kevin Spacey which was fabulous. The huge cast, the beautiful set, the brilliant performances and the sharp and witty script. Seats just 5 rows from the stage added to the fun. I’ve had a very Darwin themed 12 months starting with a trip to the Galapagos and since then I’ve been to various exhibitions and now a play about how his theories have stirred up the world.

Last week I promised you photos of Christmassy cheer so here is one of the windows at Selfridges department store who are famous for their beautiful and elaborate windows and have a team working on them all year to prepare for our delight. 2009’s theme is pantomime and here is ‘boo hiss’ with a fabulous pantomime dame.
No time for food and drink this week so back to restaurant and bar reviews next time!
Bye for now,

Fireworks, fairs and fun evenings

This weekend saw the main fun and games for Bonfire night although the actual night was of course on 5th but as ever we have the nearest weekend for the big events. I went to was at Alexandra Palace which is a great venue as it’s a steep hill so you get the best view of the huge fireworks with suitable musical accompaniment – Star Wars, ET, Doctor Who etc. It was absolutely packed with families having a good scream as the rockets exploded with maximum noise and they almost slipped down the hill in the excitement! I tried my hand at firework photography which is pretty hard so here’s one to give you an idea.

Sunday was the Luxury Travel Fair at the Olympia Exhibition centre so of course I went to that. It was quite quiet and as a friend had a stand at the next door Spirit of Christmas Fair, they let me in and I helped out on their stall for a couple of hours. This was great fun and I even sold a few things for them! Her company is called Floreat and we had beautiful candles, holders, decorations and the like. It was much buzzier in there and I began to feel a bit Christmassy helped by the wonderfully decorated massive hall it was held in – see photo.

One very fun evening was at the Jonathan Wylder Gallery in Knightsbridge. They were showing their fabulous sculptures, many of ballet figures ranging from tiny to life size and paintings, mostly of London. The garden was open and was also a venue for sculpture and was a magical oasis. We were wonderfully entertained by Rebecca Poole’s jazzy tones and I think she is one to watch for the future. Afterwards we adjourned to the famous Motcomb’s bar and restaurant to savour the evening.

Any other restaurants this week? Of course – Mulberry Street in Notting Hill with their 20 inch pizzas and yes they really are that big but between 3 they seem to disappear quite quickly and they do offer them by the slice for the faint hearted! And coffees at the excellent people watching venue of the Kitchen Pantry also in Notting Hill.

Off to meet some business contacts in Pimlico so bye for now.