Category Archives: London

Witness for the Prosecution Theatre Review, London County Hall

Witness for the Prosecution Theatre Review, London County Hall

Please note: I was given tickets to Witness for the Prosecution in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Last week, I took my Mum with me to see Witness for the Prosecution at London County Hall, a short walk from Waterloo Station (and within a stone’s throw of the London Eye). We were both so excited to see this play, as we’re huge Golden Age mystery fans, and my Mum gave me my first Agatha Christie book when I was about 10 years old (it was Halloween Party – very appropriate as it features a character called Miranda, and my birthday is in October!).

Witness for the Prosecution Theatre Review, London County HallPhilip Franks as Mr Myers QC in Witness for the Prosecution. Image source.

I’d never seen an Agatha Christie play before (now I want to get to The Mousetrap too!), but I already knew the short story of Witness for the Prosecution, which Christie wrote in the 1920s, but later adapted into a play in 1953. A young man, Leonard Vole, stands accused of murdering an elderly lady whom he’d once helped and who subsequently grew fond of him, treating him like a son (and changing her will to leave him her fortune). The case against Vole seems cut-and-dried, but Vole’s defence counsel becomes convinced of his innocence, especially when the testimony of Vole’s vindictive wife hints at a possible plot to ensure her husband is sentenced…. In typical Christie fashion, there is a brilliant twist to the story at the end, which I certainly shan’t give away here, but prepare to be shocked when you see the play for yourself!

Witness for the Prosecution stands out not only for its devilishly clever storyline, but for its courtroom setting.  Everyone in the audience was clearly delighted by the fantastic way the play has been staged by Lucy Bailey at the now disused debating chamber in London County Hall, which is easy to imagine as the Old Bailey, the play’s predominant setting. A sense of occasion is created as soon you arrive at County Hall and sweep up the grand staircase to take your seat in the rows of large leather cushioned pews.

Witness for the Prosecution Theatre Review, London County HallWitness for the Prosecution at London County Hall. Image Credit: Sheila Burnett

Where politicians once hammered out political debates, Leonard Vole’s trial is staged, with legal counsels for the defence and prosecution arguing whether or not he should be found guilty of murder. The impressive setting lends to the theatricality of the cast’s performance, and the audience is made to feel a part of the play, as though we were all spectators in the gallery of a courtroom. Some seats are even positioned so that twelve members of the audience are used as the jurors, which certainly adds a piquancy to your typical theatre experience!

The cast, though small, was strong. I was especially impressed by Richard Clothier and Philip Franks, who played the part of defending and prosecuting barristers perfectly. Their cross-examinations kept the audience spellbound, and they brought a drama and flourish to their speeches that would have made Rumpole proud. Lucy Phelps played a fiery Romaine Vole, and Harry Reid oozed boyish charm as her husband Leonard.

Witness for the Prosecution is an unforgettable courtroom drama and shows Agatha Christie at her very best. I highly recommend it for a fun, different night out in London!

You can book tickets to see Witness for the Prosecution here.

London Culture | Imperium II: Dictator Theatre Review, Gielgud Theatre

London Culture | Imperium II: Dictator Theatre Review, Gielgud Theatre

Please note: I was given tickets to Imperium II: Dictator in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Last Thursday, I settled into my seat at the Gielgud Theatre to watch one of the Imperium plays that are based on the Cicero trilogy of novels by Robert Harris and have been adapted for theatre by Mike Poulton (who was also responsible for the hugely successful adaptations of Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies).

Harris’s trilogy – Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator – follow the rise and fall of Marcus Tullius Cicero, considered one of Rome’s greatest orators and who served as consul in 63BC.  Mike Poulton has condensed and adapted the trilogy of books in to a two-part play, and each section of the play (Part I: Conspirator and Part II: Dictator) may be viewed separately as a stand alone play, although to get a full understanding of the scope of Cicero’s story, it’s best to get tickets to both if possible.

Photo by Ikin Yum. Image source.

I was given tickets to see Part II: Dictator, and I was concerned that I’d be a little lost, having not seen Part I, but fortunately it was easy to pick up the threads of the story from the beginning, and the second half of the tale is a truly gripping rendition of Caesar’s assassination, Mark Antony’s rise to power and Octavian’s scheming ambition, told from the perspectives of Cicero and his faithful servant, Tiro.

It’s the examination of Cicero’s complex personality – a mix of vanity, insecurity, profound intelligence and theatricality – and the focus on the political machinations of Rome that make these plays stand out and provide a fresh outlook on the well trodden path of Rome’s ancient history. Although Cicero’s prose had an incredible impact on the significant writers, thinkers and politicians of the Renaissance, he is a character that has been surprisingly little seen in popular culture. Shakespeare, of course, concentrated on Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, giving only a few lines to Cicero, but the Imperium plays show the vital role Cicero enacted within Roman politics.

His is a story that lends itself well to the theatre: Cicero was a brilliant performer, making his orations a spectacle that could draw a remarkable crowd, and the Royal Shakespeare Company has done a tremendous job at bringing to life the intrigues, ambitions and politics of his extraordinary career. The cast was extremely strong, and there were several exemplary performances. Critics have lauded Richard McCabe’s performance as Cicero as ‘career-defining,’ and he gave a magnificent portrayal of Cicero’s complicated character: in one moment the thoughtful philosopher, in the next a pompous and boastful orator.

Richard McCabe as Cicero. Image source.

For all his faults, however, Cicero’s utter conviction in the rule of law and his commitment to the sanctity of free politics and free speech, for which he ultimately sacrificed his life, is undeniably noble and strikes a chord in today’s world of turbulent politics.

If you fancy a memorable night involving great story-telling and remarkable acting, then I highly suggest seeing one or both of the Imperium plays, or tickets to one would make a wonderful gift for any history/politics buffs in your life. I’m now tempted to book tickets to see Part I, even though it means watching the story back to front, as I’m sure it would be wonderful!

You can book tickets to see both the Imperium Plays, Conspirator and Dictator, here.

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of Maida

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of MaidaSunday Roast at The Hero of Maida

Two questions I get asked with increasing regularity are: ‘where should I go for Afternoon Tea in London?’ and ‘which is your favourite place for a Sunday roast dinner?’

Afternoon Tea and a proper English Sunday roast are two quintessentially British meals that are delicious, steeped in tradition and certainly shouldn’t be missed by anyone visiting the UK. To my mind, a highlight of the weekend is always a roast dinner, but I’ve mainly lived in apartments with tiny kitchens, so it’s not a meal I often cook myself. Over the years, then, I’ve enjoyed tracking down some of the very best Sunday roasts in London. Many of my favourite pubs in Hampstead do an excellent roast, but a few weeks ago, when my Dad was visiting, we went to a pub in Maida Vale that soared straight to the top of my list.

The Hero of Maida is a beautifully restored Victorian pub that opened earlier in the spring, and its menu is overseen by the chef Henry Harris (formerly of Racine). The pub is a short walk from Warwick Avenue tube station, located on a quiet street in the heart of Little Venice. A walk along the canal would be a great way to work off those Yorkshire puddings after your meal!

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of Maida

Downstairs is the bustling bar – a stylish space with exposed brick accents, wooden floors and a gallery wall. We arrived on a hot day, so the large doors were thrown open to let in a refreshing breeze. As I’d booked a table in advance, we were seated in the dining room upstairs, which was quieter and air conditioned (much appreciated, as it was one of the warmest days of the year!).

We quenched our thirst with glasses of Pimms (Mum and me) and a beer (Dad) as we looked at the menu.

My Dad (who’s Canadian) makes a point of enjoying English sausages and beer whenever he’s in the UK, as he says they’re the very best! A Sunday roast is generally on his list too, so it was no surprise that all three of us ordered the Roast Beef.

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of Maida

Oh my! Aside from my Mum’s cooking, this was definitely the best roast dinner I’ve ever had! Our beef was beautifully pink and succulent, and I loved that the sides arrived served in sharing platters, so we could all help ourselves, which made it feel more like a family meal at home. The gravy and horseradish sauce provisions were extremely plentiful, with extra jugs of gravy provided, and we all got a second serving of Yorkshire puddings (beautifully light, not in the least dry). We all enjoyed the selection of sides, which were very traditional: roast potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli cheese, cabbage and roasted root vegetables.

My Dad ordered a spectacular red wine, which paired perfectly with the meal, it’s full-bodied smoothness standing up robustly to the richness of our beef.  We raised a glass to our lovely long weekend together and my Mum’s return to good health.

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of Maida

Despite feeling rather on the stuffed side, none of us could resist a glance at the dessert menu. I gave way to temptation when ‘lemon posset and blueberry trifle’ caught my eye, Mum plumped for an Eton Mess (it’s hard to resist English strawberries this time of year!), and Dad chose two cheeses as a savoury end to his meal. Dessert was just as delectable as our mains, and we lingered over our plates as we finished the last of our wine and chatted.

Honestly, that’s a Sunday roast that’ll be hard to beat!

London Culture | Tartuffe Theatre Review, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Tartuffe Theatre Review

Please note: I was given tickets to Tartuffe in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Last Friday, I went to the Theatre Royal Haymarket to watch Tartuffe, a modern bilingual adaptation of Molière’s famous 17th Century satirical play. Directed by Gérald Garutti and adapted by Christopher Hampton, this version of Tartuffe is set in modern day California. A wealthy Frenchman, Orgon, moves to L.A. with his family and there falls under thrall of Tartuffe, a trickster who uses his dominant personality and professed Christian faith to exercise an alarming power over the bewitched Orgon. Although Orgon and his mother fall entirely under the spell of Tartuffe, the rest of Orgon’s family are dismayed and disgusted by the outsider, and they seek to unmask his true nature to Orgon.

Tartuffe boasts an impressive cast, and there were standout performances from Audrey Fleurot (Elmire) and Paul Anderson (Tartuffe). Audrey Fleurot plays Orgon’s beautiful, intelligent wife Elmire. It is only Elmire that proves a match for Tartuffe, as she uses her physical attractions to trick him into compromising himself and betraying his true character. Audrey Fleurot plays Elmire with a cool aloofness mixed with sly humour; the perfect temptress as she poses artfully in figure-hugging dresses. Anderson brings an edge of menace and narcissism to Tartuffe that belies his cheerful drawl and subdued clothing. He broods over the stage from a slightly raised cube, giving him an omniscient-like presence that is felt even before he first appears.

I thought the bilingual production was the most interesting aspect of this adaptation, although I sometimes found the subtitles distracting, as it was difficult to keep my eyes on both the subtitle screen and the actors. The characters (excepting Tartuffe, who speaks only English), constantly switch between French and English. Orgon’s daughter and son, part of the more Americanised younger generation, prefer speaking English, whereas their mother and father instinctively break into French. It is a further sign of Tartuffe’s hold over Orgon that he always addresses him in English.

The use of French pays homage to the play’s influence in French culture and allows bilingual viewers to appreciate Molière’s rhyming couplets. Language, fittingly, is at the heart of this play: it is Tartuffe’s smooth talking, his ability to disarm his enemies by putting forward persuasive arguments, that makes him so dangerous. This is a play in which language is rarely candid: people constantly say one thing yet mean another. No one better than Tartuffe understands the disingenuousness of people’s words; he cannot trust Elmire’s speeches, but insists she must physically prove to him her love. Ultimately, it is not a slip of the tongue that betrays Tartuffe’s hypocrisy, but his own bodily desires.

The famous final speech by the Officer, originally a suspiciously hyperbolic monologue in praise of King Louis XIV, has been changed to reflect Trumpian America. The speech is a fantastic example of subversive double entendre, drawing wry laughter from the audience.

An evening out seeing Tartuffe at the theatre would make a fantastic start to any weekend, especially if you’re a Francophile like me!

Tartuffe is showing until 28th July at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. You can buy tickets here.

 

Annabel Bird Shares Her Secret Seven London

Secret Seven London with Annabel Bird of Bleak House London, a luxury lifestyle brand

An Insider’s Guide to London

This post is part of my Secret Seven London series, where I ask my favourite London instagrammers to share their top seven London locations that are a little off the beaten track.

London is full of beautiful destinations to explore, and I’m always so excited when I uncover a new gem, so I hope my readers will find this series as inspirational as I do! Get ready to fill your Little Black Book with some of London’s best kept secrets…

Annabel Bird’s Secret Seven London

Annabel Bird (@bleakhouse.london) with her dog, Edward

I’m so pleased that the lovely Annabel Bird has agreed to share her Secret Seven London with Miranda’s Notebook readers. Annabel is a fellow North-West London resident, and she lives in Primrose Hill with her family and beloved Welsh Terrier, Edward (who even has his own instagram account!).

Annabel is the founder of Bleak House London, a luxury online lifestyle shop that’s perfect for city-dwellers who love nothing better than planning weekend escapes to the country. Annabel handpicks and designs a range of good quality fashion and homeware products, as well as practical, but stylish accessories for your canine best friend.

Every month, Annabel and her husband send out their fantastic newsletter, The Red Book, which contains suggested walks and helpful tips for making the most of London and the surrounding countryside. You can subscribe to The Red Book here, and you can also read editions of The Red Book on Annabel’s online magazine-style blog.

I was so interested to read Annabel’s top seven London destinations, which are a brilliant mix of vegetarian-friendly restaurants and places to escape the cacophony of the city:

1/ Kenwood Ladies’ Pond, Hampstead Heath

I have been swimming at the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond in the summer for a long time, but last year I decided to swim through the winter. I’ve swam every week for a whole year now and it’s been one of the most magical, thrilling and challenging experiences of my life.

2/ The Everyman Cinema, Kings Cross

One of the reasons I love living in London is that it has the best of everything. Cinemas are no exception, and the recently opened Everyman at Kings Cross is the nicest cinema I’ve ever visited. Forget fold down-seats and buckets of Coca Cola, here you can snuggle up on a velvet sofa with your other half and drink prosecco to your heart’s content.

3/ Honey & Co, Fitzrovia

This cute little restaurant in Fitzrovia is great for us vegetarians. Sharing mezze and rose wine with a bunch of girlfriends is one of my favourite ways to while away a lunchtime.

4/ Padella, Borough Market

Borough Market is one of London’s oldest markets – it’s been there for more than a thousand years. The market is a gastronomic delight, and top of the tree for me is Padella: ridiculously cheap, ridiculously delicious, ridiculously busy. There is always a queue around the block to get a table, and I love that the restaurant shuts in the afternoon so the pasta can be made for the evening. You can’t get much fresher than that!

5/ Petersham Nurseries, Richmond

If I want a good walk and to feel like I’ve left London without actually quitting the city, I walk from Richmond to Petersham Nurseries for lunch. It’s the most beautiful garden centre you could imagine, and I am building up quite a collection of their wonderful Indian terracotta pots. Happily, the restaurant and the cafe are both dog friendly.

6/ Odette’s, Primrose Hill

Along with The Ivy, Odette’s is my favourite restaurant for those special occasion meals. It’s perfect for an anniversary, a birthday or sometimes just a random Thursday night when you need a bit of cheering up. This little Welsh outpost has the ideal mix of excellent food, great service and a lovely interior.

7/ Inner Temple Gardens

My husband works on Chancery Lane, and if I’m in town I’ll sometimes meet him for a low-key picnic in Temple Gardens. We grab a sandwich from Pret-a-Manger and sit under the beautiful trees and forget the 21st century exists.

~

keep up with Annabel’s website, bloginstagram and pinterest.

connect with me on Instagram at @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase

Note: all photographs excepting header image provided by Annabel Bird

You may also like to read my other Secret Seven London post with Talitha McQueen.

London Culture | Theatre Review of Consent by Nina Raine

consent by nina raine

Please note: I was given complimentary tickets for Consent in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

On the day Harvey Weinstein was arrested and charged with rape and several counts of sexual abuse, I sat in the Harold Pinter theatre waiting for the curtain to rise on Consent, a play by Nina Raine. Originally a sellout success at the National Theatre in 2017, Consent is now showing at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End. Since the play’s initial staging in 2017, it is not too dramatic to say that the world has changed, and Raine has reportedly been unsure of the play’s reception in today’s #MeToo era.

Consent is an intelligent, thought-provoking play with laugh-out loud witty dialogue; what makes it more provocative to today’s audience is the ambiguity Raine spins around her characters and their actions. She deliberately delves into the grey area that surrounds ‘he said / she said’ type accusations, casting the audience as judge and jury: who is to be believed? And does justice give way to whoever can spin the most convincing argument?

The play follows a group of upper middle-class barristers and their tangled love lives. At the start of the play, one of the barristers, Jake, is revealed as a serial cheater: his wife Rachel finds out, is devastated, and threatens divorce and sole custody of their child. This domestic upheaval triggers another in the lives of their friends, Kitty and Edward: old wounds resurface, and another marriage falls apart at the seams.

Whilst drama plays out in the barristers’ domestic lives, another takes centre stage in the courtroom: a woman attempts to get her assailant sentenced for rape, but her testimony is torn to shreds, leaving her distraught. Another, more murky, rape accusation is made later in the play, when Kitty accuses her husband of marital rape. Is she telling the truth, or is she motivated by a desire for revenge after his affair?

During the interval, as I leant back in my seat, I overheard a young woman chatting about one of the characters to a friend. ‘I just don’t understand,’ she said, a frown of bewilderment clear in her voice, ‘how there could be any sympathy for someone who cheats on his wife like that. Why would anyone take his side?’ She blatantly thought any signs of sympathy for a serial cheater were wholly unrealistic. Ironically, in the second half of the play, it is serial-cheater Jake who stands up for Kitty and condemns her husband’s actions: ‘if she said no, then it’s rape,’ he states unequivocally. Part of the strength of Consent lies in Raine’s ability to write complicated characters: no one is portrayed as either wholly bad, or wholly good, and sometimes unlikely alliances are formed. Rachel disagrees with Jake and sides with Edward, doubting that Kitty is speaking the full truth.

Indeed, no character in Consent is able to hold the moral high ground for long. In the play, both wives are unfaithful too, but they are motivated by revenge, wishing to wound their philandering husbands. By the end of the play, the women end up back with their spouses, having been begged for forgiveness.

Female forgiveness is a central theme to the play: Edward continually tells Kitty she must forgive him, begging her on his knees, suggesting there is no point to his remorse if forgiveness does not follow. Even the women’s seemingly unselfish forgiveness is questionable, however. Is their pardon freely given, or is their choice to give their marriage another chance born of necessity mixed with convenience? Consent illustrates how the law cannot be relied upon for justice for women. When Kitty seeks the advice of a lawyer over gaining custody of her child, she’s told that any accusation she makes of domestic abuse against herself by her husband will not be taken into account when the court considers custody matters. Her husband, however, plots accusations of mental instability, bringing up her post-natal depression to undermine her parental responisbility.

It is only the men in the play, too, that are shown as successful within their work. Edward and Jake engage in convoluted discussions at which the women roll their eyes or simply observe in silence. The men take over the stage with their linguistic fencing matches, studded with legalese, each clearly intoxicated by the sound of his own voice, and the power he has to win an argument. The women, in contrast, are either ineffectual or absent from their jobs: Kitty is on maternity leave, her friend Zara has trouble landing an acting role, and Rachel gets shushed when she tries to put forward her advice as a barrister. The lack of professional success in the women’s lives also raises the question of how much their ‘forgiveness’ is financially motivated. If they were able to easily support themselves and their children, would they be so willing to take back their erring partners?

In Consent, it is the women who are forced to compromise, whilst the men get away with their behaviour: lying, cheating, even rape. Edward does learn to say ‘I’m sorry,’ by the end (formerly he would only say ‘I apologise,’ thus admitting no personal guilt or liability), but by that point you’re definitely thinking ‘sorry’ doesn’t really cut it.

Consent is an exceptional play; it leaves you questioning your assumptions, probing your understanding of moral grey areas and asking yourself where you would fall on the sides of the arguments put forward. I would have appreciated a more empowering ending for Consent’s female leads, and I would love to see fewer plays about male barristers behaving badly, and more about female lawyers changing the world. It’s plays like Consent, however, that highlight the need for a fairer system in which women can navigate their own lives on an equal footing with men. Although Consent shows women accepting their lot rather than defying the status quo, it will hopefully inspire others to demand their right for freer choices and greater independence in the future.

You can book tickets for Consent here. The play runs until mid August.

 

Talitha McQueen Shares Her Secret Seven London

Talitha McQueen's Secret Seven London

I’m so pleased to be starting a new series on Miranda’s Notebook, where I ask my favourite London instagrammers to share their top seven London locations that are a little off the beaten track.

London is full of beautiful destinations to explore, and I’m always so excited when I uncover a new gem, so I hope my readers will find this series as inspirational as I do! Get ready to fill your Little Black Book with some of London’s best kept secrets…

Talitha McQueen’s Secret Seven London

Talitha McQueen (@rubyandb)

I’m so delighted that my lovely friend Talitha is kicking off my Secret Seven London column with seven fantastic recommendations. I first met Talitha on a press trip to Paris, and I’ve followed her gorgeous instagram account ever since.

Talitha is an Australian turned Londoner, who loves capturing the city’s prettiest destinations, from old-fashioned shopping arcades to peaceful parks. Talitha is a mum of three, an incredible photographer and an inspirational business woman. She runs her successful Etsy shop, Ruby and B, where she sells prints and other products that feature her signature romantic shots of London, New York and Paris.

Talitha also writes a blog about her family life and London adventures, and she recently shared a fantastic guide to capturing wisteria in Kensington. You can follow along Talitha’s gorgeous wisteria shots and showcase your own using her #wisteriawanders hashtag.

Here are Talitha’s Secret Seven London Destinations:

1. The Wallace Collection

This museum isn’t a well known tourist spot, so it is often quiet and lovely to wander through. The Wallace Collection hosts an amazing assortment of art and ceramics, but I also go for the interiors and the stunning conservatory where you can enjoy tea and scones.

2. St Dunstan in the East

A few minutes walk from London Bridge are the ruins of this gorgeous church. I love the way nature is reclaiming the area, and it’s a stunning place in Autumn when the leaves are golden.

3. The Horniman Museum and Gardens

Located in Forest Hill, this fantastic museum has an aquarium and mini farm, so it’s great for children as well. I go for the stunning Victorian conservatory and the farmers’ market held most weekends.

4. Dulwich Picture Gallery and Dulwich Village

Dulwich Village is a delightful little area that has a wonderful gallery and a really beautiful park too.

5. Peckham Common

The Japanese Garden within Peckham Common is just stunning in Spring. Take a picnic and sit under the cherry blossoms. You may even spot some ducklings!

6. Nunhead Cemetery

This little known cemetery is a must visit if you’re a fan of gothic architecture. The gothic Anglican chapel is beautiful, and there are also spectacular views over London to St Paul’s Cathedral.

7. Columbia Road Flower Market

My absolute favourite way to spend a Sunday is at Columbia Road. Get there early to avoid the crowds and be sure to stop at Lily Vanilli for a cupcake.

~

keep up with Talitha’s website, shop, instagram, facebook, pinterest and twitter

connect with me on Instagram at @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase

Note: all photographs excepting header image provided by Talitha McQueen

London Culture | From Omega to Charleston Exhibition

London Culture | From Omega to Charleston Exhibition

Last weekend, I strolled through the pretty streets of Holland Park (mercifully quiet for a sunny Saturday) to the Piano Nobile Gallery to see their exhibition, From Omega to Charleston. The exhibition explores the creative partnership between Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and shows some of the artwork they created from the years 1910-1934.

Vanessa Bell, sister to Virginia Woolf, was a prominent member of the Bloomsbury Group and a talented artist. The painter Duncan Grant was an important influence on her life and work, and they eventually lived together at Charleston, Vanessa’s home in East Sussex.

The Piano Nobile Gallery exhibition has brought together rarely seen works by Grant and Bell held in private collections, some pieces on loan from Charleston and a few items for sale (prices on request). The exhibition ends on Saturday, so I thought I’d share some highlights for those who won’t be able to make it (although if you are in the area, I highly encourage you to go!).

The gem of the show is the incredible display of the Famous Women Dinner Service that Bell and Grant produced in the early 1930s.

A whole wall in the gallery is hung with the 50 plates, depicting  famous women through the ages, such as Queen Victoria, Anna Pavlova, Greta Garbo and Jane Austen. Half of the plates were painted by Bell and half by Grant on Wedgwood creamware blanks.

Here are a few of my favourites:

 From Omega to Charleston

Aren’t they beautiful? The Famous Women Dinner Service was a joint project for Grant  and Bell, which they began in 1932, commissioned by the  director of the National Gallery, Kenneth Clark. When Clark died, his widow Nolwen de Janzé-Rice took the plates to France. After her death, the collection was sold at auction in Germany, and its whereabouts  remained unknown for years, until the plates were purchased by a private collector and returned to Britain. Now, the plates are available through Piano Nobile and are being publicly shown for the first time.

The collection is priced at a whopping £1million, but there is hope that Charleston will be able to acquire them, as the plates are being held on reserve to give Charleston a chance to raise funds. I do very much hope they will end up somewhere that the public will be able to view them.

Last weekend, I strolled through the pretty streets of Holland Park (mercifully quiet for a sunny Saturday) to the Piano Nobile Gallery to see their exhibition, From Omega to Charleston.

There were also several beautiful paintings by Bell and Grant on display, as well as different ceramics, painted furniture and an embroidered footstool.

I was delighted to get the chance to see this small, but fascinating exhibition, and now I want to plan another trip to Charleston!

~

Get in touch on instagram: @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase

The Best of London Set Menus | Sardine, Hoxton

Sardine Hoxton | London RestaurantsPart of a series in which I bring you the best set menus on offer in London.

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending an event at Daunt Books, with Signe Johansen in conversation with Diana Henry about the latter’s just-released cookbook, How to Eat a Peach. Diana’s new book is based on her love for menus; not fancy, slaving for hours in the kitchen affairs, but simple dishes thoughtfully put together to create unforgettable gatherings around a table. It’s just the sort of cookbook I most enjoy: chatty, imbued with a strong love for culture, travel and literature (all of which influence Diana’s menus), and with recipes that inspire, rather than intimidate.

I also share a passion for a truly great menu, and not only for those served by the home cook, but also when dining out. I mean in particular the set menu. Set menus have so often enabled me to try the very best of local cuisine when traveling, and – always friendly to a limited budget – have been my ticket into many of London’s pricier foodie destinations. I love the element of surprise in a set menu, which are changed daily in the best places. The lack of a great deal of choice never bothers me: I like the fact that a limited range generally pushes me to try something new.

Before attending the How to Eat a Peach Event, I’d enjoyed just such a brilliant set menu at Sardine in Hoxton (there was a wonderful moment of serendipity during Diana’s talk when she mentioned Sardine as one of her favourite restaurants in London!). It was a particularly wet day, and, as the strong gusts of wind tried to tug the umbrella from my hand while I walked the 15 minute stretch from Old Street Underground Station, the thought of Sardine’s southern French dishes spurred me to hurry even more.

Sardine didn’t appear particularly prepossessing from the outside. Ironically, it looks directly onto a large McDonald’s, and road works have currently dug up the street in front of the restaurant, so it’s caged in by cones and trucks. As I neared the door, though, a delicious smell filled the sidewalk, which promised plenty of gastronomical delights in store. I met my friend, and we walked in and were shown to our table. 

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Being in a celebratory mood, we ordered two Lillet Spritzers and chinked our glasses, before turning our attention to the menu. Sardine’s set menu is available Monday-Friday 12-3pm and 6pm-7pm. It’s terrific value with two courses £16 and three £20, and I was told by the attentive waitress that they update it regularly, depending on the season and what looks particularly good in the markets. The food is unpretentious, relying on the best quality ingredients to make each dish shine, and is inspired by the South of France.

Our starters arrived quickly: radicchio, radishes, creme fraiche and herbs for me, and purple sprouting broccoli with anchoïade (a classic Provençal dip, made with anchovies, good olive oil, white wine vinegar and garlic) for my friend.

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Every bite of my dish was a tribute to the fresh vitality of spring. The bitterness of the radicchio balanced well against the peppery sweetness of the raw radishes, and the perfectly seasoned creme fraiche provided just the right touch of richness. I didn’t taste the broccoli, but was assured it was exceptionally tasty.

Uncharacteristically, I’d gone for the vegetarian option when choosing my main course: artichoke, spinach, white beans and aioli. It wasn’t a choice I regretted, though! I was amazed by the robustness of flavour from such a simple dish, and it was a real treat to have artichoke. I had a nibble of my friend’s choice too – simply described as ‘braised lamb and lentils’ on the menu, but we both agreed it was one of the tastiest lamb dishes we’ve ever been served.

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Although the dessert choice for the set menu was tempting (poached pears and nougat parfait), I couldn’t resist suggesting we go off piste when I saw tarte tatin on the à la carte. I always find tarte tatin is a good test of a restaurant, and to my mind it’s one of those desserts that’s classic for a reason: when done well, it’s perfection.

I took advantage of the fifteen minute wait to prepare our tarte to observe my surroundings a little more closely. I liked Sardine’s communal, comfortable feel, with its open plan kitchen, showing off stacks of glazed clay bowls and gleaming pots and pans. There’s a long communal table that stretches the length of the dining area, with other tables clustered around the walls. The sandy tones of the decor, offset by grey and mixed with pops of orange and blue and darker browns, reminded me of the café au lait coloured buildings and brightly painted shutters that I’d seen in the towns I’d explored on my last visit to Provence.

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Our tarte tatin arrived on the table, ice-cream and caramel oozing into the cracks of the pastry and pooling on to the plate as we cut into it, slicing it up and helping ourselves to quarters. Is there anything that beats an exceptional tarte tatin shared with a friend on a cold, wet day? To my mind, it’s hard to better the combination of caramelised apple, hot pastry and vanilla ice-cream.

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Finishing our meal with chamomile tea and coffee, we chatted into the late afternoon, and then made our way back to the tube, where even severe delays on the Metropolitan line couldn’t upset my contented spirit.

London Stories | A Trip to Godiva, Covent Garden

London Stories | A Trip to Godiva Covent Garden

Godiva has always been one of my special treats. One of my favourite things to do (a habit started as a teenager!) is to choose just two of their truffles, have them tied up in a little bag, and then enjoy each small bite whilst reading a magazine and a cup of tea. I was certainly delighted, then, to be offered a Godiva gift voucher in exchange for a blog post about my shopping spoils at the Godiva Covent Garden branch.

London Stories | A Trip to Godiva, Covent Garden

My voucher was certainly enough to get me far more than two truffles, and a lot of the joy in my expedition was in deciding what treats to get for friends and family. Of course, I wanted to get a big box of chocolates for my Mum, but I also had a friend’s birthday in mind, as well as stocking up on some useful hostess gifts.

London Stories | A Trip to Godiva, Covent Garden

There was so much to tempt, I spent a lot of time dithering! In the end though, I settled for the Chocolate Truffle Delight Gift Box for my friend’s birthday, three boxes of milk chocolate biscuits for hostess gifts, or be stashed away for when friends pop by for tea, and a gold box of hand-selected truffles for my Mum. I couldn’t resist a cone of chocolate-dipped strawberries, which are only available in the shops, for myself! The strawberries have tiny, Hercule Poirot-like chocolate moustaches, in a nod to Godiva’s Belgian roots. Isn’t that adorable?! I think the Great Detective would have approved – he had a sweet tooth after all!

London Stories | A Trip to Godiva, Covent Garden

After my shopping, I decided to have a wander around more of Covent Garden, which was still dressed up in all its Christmas glory (is it Scrooge-like of me to feel Christmas decorations look rather tired after the 6th?!).  I stopped by Aesop to pick up a new cleanser, and then headed to Petersham Nurseries for a cup of tea and to admire their flowers.

When I got home, I unpacked all my purchases, stopping to take a few photos, of course!

I hope my friend will like her chocolate box – isn’t the blue and pink pretty? And here’s a shot of some of the truffles I chose for my Mum (who’s being very generous with sharing them! ).

I like the chocolates with little bows on especially – they’re so pretty, as well as being delicious! If you’re a fan of coconut, I particularly recommend the yellow ones….

Thanks very much to Godiva for the fun afternoon out!

Find Godiva on Instagram at:
@govidauk #alwaysgodiva #godivauk