Tag Archives: Covent Garden

PJ’s Saves the Day as Ford Motors in

Mike Bradley

THE A-Lister above all others, a Maitre d from heaven and the hotel that flattered to deceive – it could only happen in London.

Business trips to the capital are mixed with pleasure as often as possible and this week’s was no exception. Meetings, meetings, theatre, meetings, shopping, meetings, cinema and food.

But relax, my contributions will always be a business-free affair and we’ll begin with lunch on day one. PJ’s in Covent Garden, one of the most atmospheric, quirky and delightfully relaxing restaurants I have visited in years, fed two of us rather well for under £35. The food was delivered without the usual ‘London 30 minute lull’ designed to make you add another expensive soft drink to your bill, was hot on arrival, generous in proportion and cooked to perfection.

But PJ’s dazzling jewel in the crown is without doubt its maitre d and to observe this rarest of breeds – a true professional at work – was an added bonus.

Attentive without an invasion of personal space, polite without the usual front of staff pretence and professional beyond belief: I doff my metaphorical Northern cap to you sir and will return soon.

Star-spotting in the West End

London’s A-Z List

Later that evening, and at my girlfriend’s request I must add, we walked to the Noel Coward Theatre via Leicester Square in the hope of catching a glimpse of, well I didn’t really catch that bit to be honest. Being a sports fan I’m as far removed from the cult of celebrity as humanly possible, but I’m a modern man and my breed are happy to indulge their girlfriend’s star-spotting fascination.
We weren’t alone. All forms of human life from all corners of the globe were present, incorrect and noisy. Hysterical even. And present in huge numbers. I gathered they were there in the biting rain and wind to see, meet, touch, who knows, perhaps an A-Lister along with any number of Z-listers associated with whatever film second rate film was being premiered. However we duly found a position at the very front of the barriers no less but some distance from the hallowed carpet on which whatever ‘celebs’ were expected to tread.

I was underwhelmed, never having understood the fascination with actors, actresses’ and autograph hunting.

Anxious to get take my seat at the Noel Coward for what would be a mesmerising performance of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, my misery lifted when the first expensive car with ridiculous blacked-out windows (I thought they were illegal?) swept in to view 50 yards or more away. My mood brightened further still when I realised whoever exited would not be visiting the untidy, writhing mass of bodies that threatened to engulf me as we were well beyond their line of vision and I began to visualise the rather more sedate, and classier surroundings of one of the West End’s more beautiful theatres.

Sadly my joy was short-lived as to his eternal credit a figure resembling Rod Stewart’s father began working the crowd like the seasoned pro I was constantly being told he was.

It was an odd affair, as each member of the by now rabid crowd only became placated when Mr Big Time scribbled his name on whatever was being thrust rather ungraciously in front of  him. In a clinical display of efficiency, he was always on the move, avoiding eye contact with the baying mob preferring to scribble his name in one direction while looking ahead at the next autograph stalker’s paltry offering.

He never posed for a picture, he was on the move. He appeared in front of you for a second you clicked your camera or phone he kept on moving.  You missed? Tough. You struck gold? Well you’ll certainly have something to chatter about for a few weeks won’t you.

As he inched closer my excited girlfriend entered a Zen-like calm adding the name of Harrison Ford to her ever-growing list of celebrity encounters. OK fair play, a man approaching 70 shouldn’t have to be a paid up member of ‘meet-a-mob’ but he was and by now had been scribbling his name for almost 45 minutes and that, in this day and age of celebrity greed, is impressive by anybody’s standards.

Shaking Indiana’s Hand

Meanwhile my mind was tried in vain to fathom why nobody offered Indiana their hand or, heaven forbid, engaged him in conversation? Was this against star watching protocol? Who cares. He was almost upon us, marker pen in right hand and appeared surprised, almost bemused, to be caught in my sniper-like stare. I held no photograph, a camera was absent too. I witnessed his eyes narrow in suspicion as my hand went out to meet his. We were so close we could have performed the air-kiss. My hand remained outstretched, our eyes locked together.

The view from the Umi

He stood still for the first time since he emerged from the tranquillity of his car. His pen effortlessly switched sides, we shook hands, I asked how he was –  our hands tightly gripped. He stopped. Nodded. All around the crowd hushed, he looked surprised, almost bewildered. A strange encounter for us both. Our grips released,

he walked on, unsure what had just happened. My girlfriend laughed the laugh of one who had witnessed what would have been unimaginable an hour beforehand –  her boyfriend caught squarely in the world of celebrity. I was left to come to terms with my new found admiration for quite probably the greatest A-Lister in the world.

The hotel that flattered to deceive? Well, a visit there left me angry that I hadn’t seen the warning signs, especially the one that hits you straight between the eyes with the force of a thousand guidebooks and begins, ‘if something sounds too good to be true…’

It was billed as a new concept and the Umi labels itself as one of the top London 3 star hotels. In my opinion it isn’t. It reminded me of a freshly painted, yet still musty and tired around the edges backpackers’ hostel, there wasn’t even a view which may have earned itself some fine words from this particular visitor.

The ominous looking stain...

Still at least my washbasin, for some reason positioned in the bedroom as opposed to the bathroom, came with a stain rather reminiscent of Munch’s ‘The Scream.’

How appropriate.

And finally my review of Angelina Jolie’s ‘The Tourist’ will be brief. Only pay to watch this if you are soon to become a first-time visitor to Venice which looks stunning when featured. Jolie, did not.

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Christmas Pudding Race

If you missed out on signing up for the Great Christmas Pudding Race, it’s not too late to join in the fun.

The race starts at 11:15am on December 4, where teams (dressed in appropriately Christmassy attire) will battle it out to get their Christmas puddings past the finish line in tact.

It’s kicking off at Covent Garden Market and is in aid for Cancer Research UK, so not only is it worth a watch for the silly costumes, but it’s for a good cause too.

Nearest Tubes: Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Charing Cross

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Great Christmas Pudding Race

Christmas is all about giving, right? So why not do something good and have fun at the same time?

The Great Christmas Pudding Race is taking place on December 4 in Covent Garden Market in aid of Cancer Research UK.

If you want to get involved, you need to register a team of up to 6 people on the website – then get training! Don’t forget to start thinking about your costume – fancy dress is strongly encouraged!

Of course, it’s free to watch the madness unfold if you don’t want to take part.

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Celebrate Spring!

Two fun things to have a gander at this weekend if you’re ignoring the rain and embracing Spring!

Covent Garden May Fayre

Punch and Judy, clowning and dancing happening at this festival.  It starts at 11:30am and is at St. Paul’s Church on Bedford Street in Covent Garden on Sunday.

Nearest Tube: Covent Garden

Morris Men Day of Dance

Celebrate tradition and head down to Trafalgar Square on Saturday – 200 Morris Dancers are coming together at to show off their merrimient from 10am.  There’ll be groups around the area, including Westminster Abbey and Chinatown, but everyone’s meeting up again at 5pm in Trafalgar for a mass dance off.

A sight to be seen, I’m sure!

Nearest Tube: Charing Cross

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Real Food Market

The Real Food Market returns to Covent Garden this weekend.

There are tons of stalls to tickle your tastebuds, including those selling fudge, soup, tea, cupcakes and olives.

The market will run from 10:30am-6pm every Saturday, and the best bit is, between 3pm-4pm there’ll be free tasting sessions (for this weekend only).

Nearest Tube: Covent Garden

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Green Park and a Short Tour of Central London

I’ve been in London for a week now and last week I met up with an old school friend in Green Park for a picnic.  Funnily enough, on Monday I had a text from two other friends suggesting the same thing, so I went back (slightly more prepared in terms of picnic food, too).

I know picnicking in the park isn’t an original idea; far from it, I would imagine, but it was free (or cheap if you consider the cost of the food) and the park really is a great one.  As the official website states: ‘Green Park is quite different to its neighbour St James’s Park.  It is more peaceful, with mature trees and grassland’.  (http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/green_park/) Considering it’s surrounded by quite busy roads (Piccadilly, for one) it really is surprising about how quiet it is there.  My friends and I pondered more than once about how you could forget you’re even in the centre of London.

Built in 1668 as a deer park, it overlooks Buckingham Palace, which was built much later in 1837.  On both occasions I was there, the park was quite busy – not so surprising for a Sunday afternoon, but perhaps more so on a Tuesday afternoon just after lunch.  One of the nice things about the park is that there are deck chairs for hire, too.  There are also public toilets located at the Tube station which is quite handy and saves you having to try and find a pub or cafe nearby, as well as a small cafe serving refreshments.

Yesterday, I had a spontaneous visit into Central London again, this time to meet a friend in Holborn.  We wandered over to Covent Garden, one of my favourite places to stroll round (apart from having to dodge all the tourists, particularly in summer).

This area of town is great to while away an afternoon; there are enough shops to look around, lots of lovely cafes and street stalls  – Dinner Jackets has been there for ages, located by the Transport Museum and they do a mean jacket potato – and more often than not, there are street artists performing magic tricks or miming to the delight of passers by.  (Or not if you’re my friend Adam, who gets freaked out by the street statue performers)

Street Performer in Covent Garden

Street Performer in Covent Garden

One of my other recommendations is to walk up Neal Street to find Neal’s Yard, a small courtyard tucked away but offering an array of shops and cafes (Neal’s Yard Remedies probably the most famous), most with a vegetarian focus.

Here’s a tip – I ordered a hot chocolate with ginger, (which was one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had and was GBP2.50) from Neal’s Yard Salad Bar, but if you order it to take out rather than sit in you’ll save yourself a pound, and you can still sit in the courtyard, just on the central green benches rather than the proper tables.  People watching there was a good way to spend half an hour or so.

Neal's Yard

Neal's Yard

We also went to check out the Central Perk pop-up down Carnaby Street, but the queue was HUGE (it rivalled the line outside Topshop at it’s NYC opening) so we instead had a look round Kingly Court, which I’d never seen before.  A three-storey courtyard conversion it has loads of quirky shops and a great cupcake place in there.  Wish You Were Here, a load of pop-up shops from New York’s Lower East Side have taken over some of the shops, so they’re worth a look too.  Whether you can afford to buy anything on a budget is another matter…

Finally, I treated myself to some dinner at the Diner on Ganton Street (just off Carnaby Street) – it wasn’t so great for my budget, but the food was very good.  I went for some authentic cheese fries to remind me of my time Stateside;  it also doubles up as a bar later on in the evening.

One thing to note: Central London is quite easy to get around on foot.  The Tube stations are generally much closer than they look on the map, so there’s no need to get public transport between a lot of places  – Leicester Square and Covent Garden are down the street from each other, for example.

This is great if you’re on a budget!

Until next time….

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