Archive for April, 2008

Foster’s Cafe

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

10, Old Dover Road, SE3

Sodding Blogger is playing up again this morning, refusing to let me load photos, so I thought I’d fall back on a little cafe at the Blackheath Standard that I’m rather fond of.

Despite its name, Fosters is run by an Italian family (or at least it always has Italian staff when I’m in there and there are a selection of touristy plates on the wall with relief pictures of the Tower of Pisa. The Phantom is nothing if not observant…) It’s not as funkliy retro as Gambardella round the corner – the walls are plain white with the woodwork picked out in a strange dusky-puce; the tables and chairs are in that varnished pine that was popular in the 70s and 80s, but I like it just as well as the last-decorated-in-the-50s Gambardella.

The guy who runs Fosters has a bit of the retro about him himself, kitted out in a little cotton cover-all dust jacket and, since the smoking ban, often to be seen taking a sneaky break outside, chatting to passers-by. He disapproves of my coffee choice. The ritual goes like this: I ask for an Americano; he purses his lips and looks at me with all the disgust he can muster at this abomination of the Italian language. He asks if I’m sure I really want it “weak and black.” I say yes. He shuffles off with a pitying look for such a feeble Phantom.

It’s worth the discussion though. It’s good coffee, done with a proper espresso machine. The range of food is very definitely ‘caff’ – and it’s usually very munchable. I am a bit of a fan of their 85p toasted teacakes, but the cooked stuff’s good too. They also have a small range of Italian deli-type stuff – amaretto biscuits, pasta, the odd tin of anchovies etc for purchase as you leave.

Between this one and Gambardella? Not much in it. Depends on how much you like 1950s vintage decor, I guess…

Peninsula Pollution?

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

P and his mates down the pub have been putting on their conspiracy hats…

“I heard a rumour at the pub the other evening… when talk slid along (as it does) to cover various disjointed yet weighty topics, we entered a residential/environmental phase of the discussion. At which point, one of the group asserted that the B&Q on the Peninsula was having problems with pollution leaching up from underneath.

To support this, they referred to the slightly buckling pavement in front of it. This hardly speaks to a “nice” aspect of Greenwich… but I’m certainly interested to know if it’s true or not. I wonder if this is something you might throw out to your wider readership to confirm/deny?”

The Phantom is largely unconvinced. Certainly it all sits on top of a load of ex-industrial nastiness and there is only a ‘cap’ on top of it, but I would really assume (or maybe I should say ‘hope’) that it’s pretty thick (the peninsula doesn’t seem to be any higher than anywhere else but it is build on marshland, so maybe it all evens out.) Those giant retail sheds can’t have much in the way of foundations; I would have thought that the pollution just couldn’t get through there.

I suspect the buckling of the pavement is just down to bad building – and very annoying it is too, if you’re trying to push an already recalcitrant trolley along it. Blackheath Bugle went over just now to see what all the fuss is about and took some pics of the pavement, which Blogger won’t let me upload. Grrr. BB asked in B&Q what was going on with the pavement:

“I asked the cashier about the paving outside, and he said that it was about to be renovated, but he didn’t say why. It’s not just B&Q -all the paving next to the shops there is wonky, and also the tarmacby the bus stops has warped leaving large puddles next to the seats.”

Now, If you’d asked me about the high-rise flats I might be a tiny little more concerned. They must have to have quite deep foundations and I can’t see that the ‘cap’ can be very thick underneath them. But I’m no engineer and my physics sucks. Maybe someone else here has more of a grasp than me (not hard…)

I wouldn’t put it beyond being true. I have an engineer friend who was brought in as an expert on a project up north which was going to build houses on an ex-landfill site that had been landscaped. He refused to sign it off because he was concerned of methane leaks and shifting soil as stuff decomposed, and got sacked from the project. Another ‘expert’ was brought in to rubber-stamp it. If there is something nasty going on there, then I doubt anyone in charge is keen to advertise it, but in the case of B&Q at least, I think we’re pretty safe.

Crossing Points Again

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Pat’s irritated by the new crossing points that seem to be sprouting up all over the east end of Greenwich. She says

“I mentioned recently the new crossing points on Woolwich Road and have since noticed more on the Charlton side of the tracks. I now see that they have sprouted what appears to be solar panels! Can this be right? I might be showing my lack of green credentials here but I would have thought that the amount of expenditure to create dropped pavements, build island structures and erect signage would far outway any benefit gained by a few small panels at any time in the near (or distant) future.

Or maybe someone can put me right and tell me they are disguised speed cameras or mobile phone masts, perhaps they are monitering for alien contact!”

I don’t think that speed cameras are allowed to be disguised. I’m sure I remember the car lobby finding some way of not only getting them not disguised but actually making them obvious – which is why they all wear yellow jackets. Not sure how they wangled that one but I confess to using the loophole myself from time to time. All car drivers know where speed cameras are and adjust their driving accordingly. Frankly, in my humble, the only speed cameras that really work are those average-speed jobs – they’re scary. Oh – and the cameras in the Limehouse link which mean that traffic crawls through it at 30 mph.

So no, I don’t think that it’s speed cameras, and the alien contact is out. We already have Glenister Green for that. So I have no idea what the solar panels are for. Do they have LED lights?

Hmm. The expense. I guess it comes out of the roads budget and I guess if it makes walking a bit safer so we have more pedestrians then it could be argued that getting people out of cars is saving the planet. It’s a feeble guess, I know. Anyone got any other thoughts?

Underground Greenwich (7) Charlton House

Monday, April 28th, 2008

I’ve been reading my Stone again and am delighted to say that underground tunnels seem to be everywhere round here, not just Greenwich and Blackheath.

Not that this one is particularly exciting – given the ancientness and grandness of Charlton House, I would have hoped for something better – but hey – an underground tunnel is an underground tunnel – and who knows – there may be more exciting ones yet to be discovered.

This one, apparently, runs from the house, under Inigo Jones’s arch, across the road and out towards the flats. It’s about five feet high, and is ‘oval.’ John Stone actually went down it about 100 years ago – he reckons it runs “about 100 yards.”

Although it’s pretty big – and certainly could be used for clandestine rendezvous, the locking up of innocent maidens, smugglers’ loot and the hiding of nobles in the civil war, etc, the truth, sadly, is much more prosaic – it was just a conduit, taking the water away from Charlton House down the hill. Apparently it still has the house drain in it.

I don’t think it’s get-in-able any more and I can’t find any other reference to it. A shame, really. Maybe one of the Friends of Charlton House can furnish me with some more info…

Phantom Favourite Front Gardens (8)

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Trinity Grove, SE10

We haven’t had a fave front garden for ages – mainly because nobody’s place looks much cop in the winter months, but now the sun is beginning to peep shyly from behind the black clouds, The Phantom is once again on the rove, looking for things to delight a jaded eye…

Trinity Grove is less a favourite front garden than a favourite front street of mine. This is clearly a road whose residents not only adore living there, but actually like living with each other. Virtually every house has something outside it – a pot, a window box, a tub, a trough. And what’s so great about it is that this is despite not one of those little houses actually having a front garden to decorate.

Perhaps it’s the very narrowness of the street (cars could go down it, and it has yellow lines that imply that they do – but it really isn’t wide enough), perhaps it’s the fact that there’s only a handful of the tiny Georgian/early Victorian terraces left clinging to the rock of West Greenwich’s extraordinary topography, the rest having been cleared for flats further down the hill, that promotes the impression I get that this street really is a little self-contained neighbourhood.

If you walk round the back of the western ones, their back gardens just drop away down Greenwich’s equivalent of Cheddar Gorge (we are, after all, in Maidenstone Hill/ Blackheath Cavern territory here) so the front gardens take on an even more important aspect as outdoor spaces. I imagine neighbours sitting out here together with a glass of wine or a giant bowl of rich pasta of a summer evening, gathred around the bench by the little street goddess on the corner, chewing the fat, gossiping about the antics of the Big Town far away down the hill.

And my absolute favourite bit? This old claw-and-ball-foot bath, filled to the brim with whatever’s in season and surrounded by honesuckle. It’s not quite up to speed yet, but visit it in the summer and you’ll be enchanted.

I’ve wanted to feature Trinity Grove for ages, but because it’s such a narrow street and because I’m such a rubbish photographer, I was totally unable to get any kind of pic that did it justice. Happily Benedict has come to my rescue with these fabbo shots.

More Fave Front Gardens to come, but in the meanwhile I’d say Trinity Grove really merits a walk one warm summer evening. Enjoy…

Treasures of Tudor England

Friday, April 25th, 2008

The Sixteen, Royal Naval Chapel, last night (sorry…)

It’s officially called the 2008 “Choral Pilgrimage,” but I couldn’t bring myself to use a title that square on one of my posts. Why do classical artists have to continually shoot themselves in the foot by being so bloomin’ po-faced all the time? I guess it’s worse the other way – Nigel Kennedy with his ‘punk’ hairdo; a bunch of girls singing opera having to call themselves ‘babes’ to get gigs, but surely there’s some kind of middle ground where classical music (and early classical music at that) can be cool.

Not that this was going to bother The Sixteen – arguably the country’s best adult choral group just now. The place was heaving – clearly sold out, despite top-whack tickets shifting for thirty five quid a pop. And it wasn’t all old crusties either, there were people of all ages (I’m guessing the proximity of Trinity College had something to do with it) so probably I’m the only person who thought the title cringe-making.

I’d been desperate to go to this concert since I read about it in the ORNC listings (pick yourself up a leaflet in the Visitor Centre – it’s not all face-painting for the under-fives.) Quite apart from the facts that I love early music, and that I love choral music and that The Sixteen are so very well-respected, it was the setting as much as anything that I liked the idea of. After all, short of performing in the ORNC car park (directly on top of Henry VII’s chapel) they couldn’t get much closer to the probable original setting for this gorgeous, home-grown sacred music. This stuff needs to be heard somewhere with a big acoustic; with high ceilings and wides aisles, somewhere you can feast your eyes as well as your ears during the event, so the car park was out, but the Naval Chapel was perfect.

I’d heard there was going to be a talk before the event and I rather hoped it would be a tying-in of the concert with Greenwich’s past as a Tudor palace – considering we were sitting on top of it and all. It wasn’t – it was the choir’s two second basses who did a sort of classical equivalent of “the making of…” which worked rather well. They seemed relaxed and cheery, not too stiff, ‘interviewing’ each other – “So, what’s your favourite moment in the second movement, then, George?” – and they told us good bits to look out for, which for a Phantom who hadn’t actually heard of any of the three composers (for the classicists among you, Parsons, White and Tye) was very useful. Clearly the cheeky boys of the choir, they were fun to look out for later (in the very few moments I wasn’t totally transported to somewhere that may or may not have been the Tudor idea of heaven.)
What can I say? It was sublime. Of course you’ve got to be into that twisty-turny, mellifluous sound that the Tudors liked so much (think Spem in Alium in miniature.) The music washes over rather than confronts and little patterns and motifs are repeated in different voices, resounding through the Naval Chapel and my phantsmagorical mind.
I sat back and looked at that fabulous ceiling (hence the pic, taken by Stevie, clearly lying on his back, though not actually during the concert, of course. A bit anachronistic, but the only bit of Tudor Greenwich that’s left is either the undercroft or the water-house-thingy at the vicarage and neither of them seemed quite right) and allowed the music to filter through me. I knew none of it, yet it was all somehow familiar. Perhaps it was the fact that most of it was in the only bits of Latin I know.
The Sixteen are Discipline personified (though there was just the faintest glimmer of a smirk on their faces as they arrived back on stage after the interval. What do early musicians make jokes about? Rommelpot players, presumably…) Their timing is exquisite, their voices, ditto. A pal of mine who’s in that world tells me the group’s fiendishly difficult to get into, and I could tell that. Each of them was clearly hand-picked (even if some of their tailcoats weren’t…) Of course I’d have like to see them all dressed in the original kit, but I guess they’d consider that to be play-acting or not taking the material seriously. A shame. I like a nice ruff as much as the next phantom.
Of course this was just a one-off, but given that the place was packed, I suspect they’ll be back. Keep an eye out in the programme, and don’t be put off by the name ‘Choral Pilgrimage.’ In the meanwhile, you could always reproduce the effect by buying a CD ,sticking it on your walkman and pacing around the chapel, looking up at the ceiling. Or, even lazier, just look really closely at Stevie’s pic on the screen…

Bugger Blogger

Friday, April 25th, 2008

Folks – can you see this? I’m having some problems with Blogger – it’s not uploading pics and sundry people have complained they can’t see the front page at all. Would someone drop me a line to let me know if I’m actually writing for any reason whatsoever here?

Top Tips

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

I notice that the Government is just about to launch a review into the way that restaurants handle tipping to waiting staff. It ranges from the mildly cross-making Pizza Express keeping 8% for administration charges (to which I say sort-of fair enough) to the boycott-inducing Carluccios who keep all the gratuities to top up the minimum wage – which is frankly disgraceful. In between these companies there are all sorts of versions – some of which, I am sure, actually allow the waiters to keep their tips.

I have long asked in every restaurant I eat in what their policy for tipping is – and usually end up sending the bill back with a request to remove the ‘service charge’ from the bill, to pay in cash. But even this could be futile.

According to the BBC Website not even paying cash tips helps ensure it goes to the people who have served you and added service charges sometimes go nowhere near the staff at all in some cases. Now there is the system where the tips are shared by the whole kitchen – which is another issue – but even so, some restaurant owners divvy it up and include themselves in the share-out.

So I think it’s about time we named and shamed in Greenwich. I’ll start.

Greenwich Inc. I got so fed up with the staff telling me that they never saw their tips that I called a manager over one day and asked him to explain. He told me that it went towards a company incentive scheme, whatever that is.

Now excuse me – but I am not here to subsidise Greenwich Inc for trying to bribe their staff to arrive on time, help with the washing up, stay late to sweep the floors etc. I am paying a tip to a particular person who has given me good service. Swiping my money to use for another purpose is not acceptable.

Of course it’s more acceptable that making up the already pathetic minimum wage with tips a la Carluccios (yes I am still banging on about him…) but it’s still extremely poor.

BUT – and this is a big but. I don’t believe that Greenwich Inc are in any way lone villains here. And I want you lot to help me out.

When you go into a restaurant in Greenwich, I want you to ask the staff what happens to your tips – preferably a) those included in the bill as service charges, b) those that you add on as part of your credit card payment if you don’t have any cash on you and c) cash tips.

Then report back here. And folks – do sign up to hear updates on the comments. We need to work on this together. To find out which eateries need to be avoided from now on (thank God we don’t have a Carluccios – and he seemed such a nice, roly-poly sort of man, too…) those we need to give cash at, those we can safely tip within the service charge or a credit card option – and those lovely restarants/cafes who actually give a damn about their staff. I especially want to know about them. This should be a positive, not a negative thing.

By the way. Legend has it that the word “tip” comes from an acronym “To Insure Promptness.” Maybe that’s why some of our service is so damn slow…

Greenwich Pier

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

I’m having a grumpy time with Blogger this morning; it’s refusing to upload any pictures – and I have some great ones for you. So I’m writing a equally grumpy post about something Dazza’s brought to my attention.

Let’s create a context for this. We have a World Heritage Site here, that people get so sensitive about that they moan when someone wants to place Ferris wheel in the grounds of the ORNC for a few months in the summer. A world heritage site based on the area’s history.

Arguably the most important part of a WHS is the way people first see it. And for many – the romantics among our visitors – that’s the view as they arrive by boat.

Now. We’re all agreed that what we currently have is a mess. And a bloomin’ confusing mess at that – trying to work out where to get a boat from must be a minefield for a visitor (well- it certainly was for a Phantom.) A once-grand pier (I would show you a pic if I could upload any) has deteriorated to a building site. But let’s just look at what Greenwich’s powers-that-be have got Conran & Partners to design for us – click here to see it.

Is this the finished product? Is this what we’re getting? Are they proud of that?

Conran boasts:

“Over the past 20 years our buildings have made a significant difference to their surroundings.”

They fail to mention whether this difference is actually a positive one or just a ‘difference’ in the same way that we use ‘interesting’ to describe First Base’s plans for The Heart of East Greenwich. So will it make a ‘significant difference’ to Greenwich? You’re darn tootin’.

It’s apparently based on traditional “palette” of boat-building materials – copper, glass and wood – but to me it looks more like a bunch of the rusty old containers that clutter boat yards today.

Copper? Copper? I’m a big fan of copper – it keeps the slugs off my hostas – but apart from the sheer cost of the stuff these days pushing this project into overspend-freefall, large areas of copper weather really badly. They patinate to a mellow bluey-green, yes, but that’s after long years of streaky browny-green gunk, though at least we could plant some giant hostas around it to cover it up in the meanwhile. Do architects never think about what will happen to their projects in ten year’s time? Presumably not – they just move onto the next cash cow.

And the language:

“The amorphous shape of the buildings is moulded between these view axes.” What the bloody hell does that mean? “Three new pavillions…” What do YOU think of when the word ‘Pavillion’ is bandied about? I’ll wager it’s not this.

Now I’m not suggesting we go for some dreadful faux-Victorian pastiche (even though we have a REAL Victorian waiting room there that is considered ‘too old’ to renovate – so we’re sending it to the West Indies where – wait for it – they’ll be renovating it) but please – can’t we have something that doesn’t look like a giant brown cardboard box? Modern architecture doesn’t have to be awful – there’s some great stuff around. It’s just not in Greenwich (though I confess to being a bit of a fan of Will Alsop’s (thanks Deb) stingray-shaped tube station on the Peninsula.)

Some might argue that I haven’t studied the plans – I don’t seem to be able to find any more to look at. But this is Impact Architecture. It’s to be viewed from a distance, like Sir Christopher Wren’s iconic Hospital. Indeed alongside Wren’s masterpiece. And in my opinion it just doesn’t hold up as a vista – as a building to be enjoyed by The World as part of its Heritage.

Thanks Dazza, for sending me the link – but you just depressed the hell out of me.

New Restaurant on the Thames

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Chris asks:

“I live at Anchor Iron Wharf next to the old Power Station and was wondering is you can give me an update on what is the happening the glass fronted restaurant owned by Frank Dowling, I believe it is going to be called the viewpoint bar, local intelligence suggests it was meant to be open in Jan of this year, but as you are probably fully aware it has remained an empty shell ever since I moved in as the first resident over 5 years ago.”

The Phantom replies:

Curiously (and sadly, too – I think they could do with all the PR they can get and, contrary to popular belief, I am not totally anti-Inc) I am not part of Greenwich Inc’s network of marketing contacts so I guess I have about as much idea as you about what’s going on there, Chris. I certainly don’t think it would be a disaster – after all, it’s an empty space just now; they’re not taking over someone else’s place and it would be good to get something in there (I’m curious about that bit of land in front, btw – is it really theirs to slap a ‘private’ sign on, or has it been appropriated? I think we should be told.) I think it’s somewhere that could be quite good, if they get it right.

I don’t, incidentally, think the Cutty Sark pub is in any danger – it has a loyal clientele and any new place would attract its own custom.

Certainly at the moment there seems to be a big fat zero on the activity meter at – what did you call it – the Viewpoint Bar. I would hope that something will happen soon – either that or that they get off the pot…