Archive for June, 2009

Newbie Food Recommendations

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Neil asks:

“We’ve just moved to Greenwich – and we love it. Church bells chiming the time, the park, the river, the university, the museums. Don’t tell anyone else how nice it is! (your secret is safe with me… TGP)

One thing we’re struggling with though is finding a special restaurant – eg for birthdays, anniversaries etc.

We tried The Hill which had an ok atmosphere with nice staff but poor delivery of the actual food.

We’ve also tried a few pubs & cafĂ©’s but need guidance – can you recommend anything? – even if it’s a short drive away – we live just around the corner from The Feathers – which is actually the best place we’ve found so far.

We like any kind of cuisine – although my wife especially likes sushi / oriental – like Royal China in Canary Wharf or Moshi Moshi in Waitrose in Canary Wharf. We have a three and a half year old, so family friendly recommendations are best.”

The Phantom replies:

I’m answering this one here as I’m sure everyone else will have recommendations too.

Firstly, I’d say you’re in pretty safe hands at the Feathers. The food is good, service friendly and the atmosphere nice and local, despite its close proximity to the park.

I also like the Vanbrugh Tavern, which went up even further in my estimation the other day when I wasn’t drinking and very miserable about it. The bar lady made a huge effort to make my lime and soda into an interesting drink – with real, pulped limes, umbrellas, stirrers – you name it. Camp as Christmas and I loved it. There was so much food on my plate it was spilling over. Sadly they don’t seem to have resolved the dispute with the neighbours over the pub garden yet, so most of it is immaculately cared for – and roped off.

The Yacht in Crane Street is good for pies, and although I’ve heard the odd ‘not as good as it was’ tale recently, I’ve not noticed any real drop in quality myself. Best for winter, as no balconies onto the Thames. I also like the pies at the Nevada St Deli but it’s not really ‘celebration’ stuff…

For slightly upper-market fare, I recommend the marvellous Guildford, run by lovely French people with excellent, slightly pricey food and a very good garden.

I like Inside, too, which, being just outside the tourist triangle, can afford to cater just to locals – and get them to return again and again.

Depending on how authentic your wife likes her sushi, Ginza is definitely the Japanese place to go to in Greenwich. It looks unpromising from the outside and is at the ‘wrong’ end of Woolwich Road – but the food and the welcome are always fantastic. Japanese friends tell me it’s not wildly authentic, but who cares when the food’s as good as this?

Other places that deserve a nod are Kum Luang (enjoyable Thai food and a good fallback for Christmas parties as lots of room) – Mr Chung for Chinese and Ghurkas Inn for curry. For decent takeaway fish and chips, you’ll do a lot worse than The Golden Chippy.

Further afield, I have a couple of recommendations. Buenos Aires Cafe in Blackheath is fabulous, but you need to book well in advance. The service can be, ahem, quirky, but the food is superb. Not really one for kiddies.

My favourite Chinese restaurant round here is actually in Woolwich, believe it or not. Favourite Inn is round the back of the station, on the dodgiest-looking street imaginable. The place doesn’t look much – but the food is great and the service mother-hen like.

But for a real blow-out, second-mortgage celebration, try the Spread Eagle. A controversial choice, I know, but I have to say the decor is excellent (worth going for the art collection alone…) and the food very good indeed. It’s a place where you would feel like you were celebrating something important, and that counts for a lot.

I could go on – but I’m not going to. Other people will have their two penn’orth to add in – and there’s always the Eating Out section on the blog…

World Heritage Building Site

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Thanks to everyone who sent me the news that Greenwich Hospital Trust have applied for permission to shift the market to the Old Royal Naval College’s grounds for a couple of years before the magic 2012.

I guess that in itself that doesn’t bother me too much – it’s temporary – and as long as they replace the turf afterwards, it probably won’t do much harm in the long term.

But Rod and I have been wondering about what all this concurrent building work – which everyone’s doing at the same time as nobody wants to be the one who waits until 2013 to spruce up their shop window – is going to do to us as a World Heritage Site.

As Rod points out, Dresden has just been stripped of its WHS status because it built a four-lane bridge a mile from the town centre. UNESCO points out that the city failed to preserve its “outstanding universal value as inscribed.” It’s only the second time that a site has been declassified (the other was in Oman) but it proves that however heavy-hearted it may be to do it, UNESCO is prepared to use the knife.

Whatever we think of World Heritage Sites, to be listed as one is a privilege and it does bring in revenue we wouldn’t have otherwise – not least from tourism.

Let’s just take a peek at what Greenwich will look like in 2010, and you tell me – if you were a foreign tourist, would you visit this World Heritage Site? (I’m not going to count anything outside the WHS, like the ‘new heart for East Greenwich,’ which in the past year has had nothing more than its signs replaced as the government department changed its name. Again…)

  • The Old Royal Naval College – partially closed due to building work. The creation of the new Discovery Centre (and brewery) has seen large amounts of scaffolding and hoardings in the grounds for some time now.
  • The Cutty Sark – in shreds – and, worryingly, with no end in sight.
  • Cutty Sark Gardens – apparently there is to be a refurb here too, which is why the market couldn’t move here.
  • Greenwich Pier – in a complete state of hideousness, having sold off a historic waiting room and a new, not-very-heritage-friendly building to be erected in its place. The sellers reckoned the Victorian waiting room was unusable and unsaveable. Try telling that to the guys at St Kitts. UNESCO might be tempted to agree with our friends in the Caribbean, who have bought it to restore.
  • Greenwich Market – closed, a total building site. Demolition of Edwardian buildings.
  • Greenwich Village Market – closed – demolition in progress for new building, which may or may not be a paragon of architecture.
  • National Maritime Museum – Demolition in progress of Victorian buildings in preparation for the new Sammy Ofer Wing.

Tell me – just how does all this add up to our being a strong contender for keeping WHS status? I know the building work itself is temporary. But I worry that each faction thinks it’s only them that’s pulling down old buildings, only them that’s making a mess of their little bit of Greenwich. We can only keep our fingers crossed for those 2010 horsey trials in the park…

Water Music

Friday, June 26th, 2009

It’s Handel’s 250th Anniversary this year. Part of the Greenwich and Docklands Festival involves a son et lumiere ‘Water Music.’

I thought I’d better go last night before the ‘Water’ part became a little too real (the weather forecast’s dreadful for tonight and tomorrow) and – yes, I’m glad I went. With the odd reservation.

IMHO the lumiere bit is much better than the son. Presumably there’s no funding for a straight rendition of a 250 year-old work, so a new piece was composed and played, a bit too straight-faced.

Now, I’m generally fine with avant-garde music, and this was okay – tinging and bonging, sirens and low-notes played on the tuba, pretending to be ships’ horns. But it never really sounded ‘fresh.’ In fact, for me it only began to blossom in the rare moments when they played snatches of Handel’s original.
It all felt a bit – well – ‘cliched-contemporary’ to me – the sort of sounds I’d expect from someone trying to re-interpret the Thames, London’s history and Handel’s classic without sounding uncool to his mates. There were some frankly unnecessary spoken bits, which smacked of wanting to ‘appeal to the kids’ by including asinine comments made by – who? I have no idea who was speaking or, indeed, why.
I positively squirmed when members of the band started humming the famous bits – it felt like taking the piss out of a distinguished old gentleman.

What I will give it is that it was beautifully played. Trinity College is one of the best in the country – and its sheer class shone through last night. These guys were professional in the extreme – especially given that that lumiere must have created some interesting conditions to play in. They played incredibly well.

Which brings me onto the lumiere – worth making the effort to go to this event for on its own. It was great fun. Mainly watery images – taps and waves, bubbles and jets, mixed in with old paintings, silhouettes and cartoons. Wonderful.
I do recommend this. As you’ll have surmised, I wasn’t particularly jazzed with the music – it just felt like it was trying too hard. But the event as a whole was great. I mean – anything that starts at 10.00pm and has flashing lights has that little extra excitement value for a sad Phantom like me. And it’s certainly worth the entrance fee ;-)

Bring something to sit on, a woolly (however warm it is earlier) and a book to read if you’re going to get there early to secure a good place. A mac might be a good idea too, tonight. Oh – and bring your camera – as virtually everyone last night seemed to have done. There will be a LOT of photos flying round the web. And I see no harm in joining them.

As I left, I could see the fireworks from the other big event, over at Millwall Dock on the Isle of Dogs. If it’s not totally bogging with rain tonight…


Friday, June 26th, 2009

Well – he made it to Greenwich once – to wave – which is my excuse for being sad on here today. But fifty gigs was always going to be too much for someone so very weak. I didn’t have a ticket for the tour. I assumed the chances of my actually seeing him were slim – that he’d just pull out after a couple of dates through exhaustion – I didn’t expect the guy to die. No one expects superstars to die.

Hell. I grew up with Michael Jackson. Not literally, of course. That would be silly. But I don’t remember a time in my childhood without him. My sister bought the presciently-titled Off The Wall and she seemed so grown up. It’s still my favourite Jackson album.

This is off-topic so I’m going to stop before the Michael-isn’t-really-dead conspiracy theories begin. But however nutty he was in later life, whatever he may or may not have done to others – and himself, however dodgy one or two of his later songs might have been, he was an important part of my younger childhood. I’ll remember him as the happy little black kid from the Jackson Five, not the sad little ‘white’ kid walled up in Neverland.

Dwarf Orchard Pictures

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Have you noticed that there are virtually no pictures of the Dwarf Orchard? I don’t just mean on the internet, I mean full-stop. I’ve ploughed through books old and new and – zilch. Not even old photos or drawings of how it would have been in its heyday.

I’m not saying there aren’t any – just that I can’t find them. I think I found two online. When that little flurry of work that started back in the spring began (which, if any of the organisers are reading, many of us couldn’t make because it was on a weekday, not because we didn’t care…) I had hoped for a few in the local papers.

Now admittedly I don’t get the local papers, so I have to either look at other people’s or go to the library, and, hands up, I don’t always bother (I know, I know, I’m missing thrills and excitement beyond imagination…) but the only pics I saw were closeups of the people doing the clearing, which is nice, but…

Maybe there isn’t much to see, maybe it looks exactly the same as every other bit of abandoned formal garden gone back to nature (the best of those, BTW, is the fabulous Warley Place in Essex, about a 25 minute drive away near Brentwood – where wild flowers and creepers have almost entirely consumed the crumbling mansion, leaving tantalising, ferny caves, mosaic-ed floors, sunken rooms and my favourite walled garden ever – seventy/thirty wild/formal.) But I still want to know what’s behind those walls.
I’m sure I was once sent some plans of what they intend for the place – but I can’t find them. One thing I read was that it was going back, as far as possible, to being formal, another that it was being turned into the dreaded ‘community garden.’ Anyone who’s ever been to Warley might make the argument to more or less leave it as it is, controlled chaos.

Julia lives opposite, and promised to send me some pics, taken from pretty much literally over the wall. We have her to thank for these first images of what’s inside what has to be Greenwich Park’s most secret area.

For the moment, these are the best we’ll get. There’s definitely been some clearing; I don’t know if it’s still going on or it’s stalled (hope not…) I would like to know if there’s anything of the original left – bits of masonry – very old fruit trees – formal plants gone wild – hard to see from these pics, lovely as they are.

Did anyone join in with the volunteers in the Spring? I’d love to know what’s there, what’s planned, what’s happening…

Kid-Free Festival

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Daniel asks:

“Should I be as pissed off as I am that children have to pay full price for the Greenwich Beer and Jazz festival? I was really looking forward to a lazy Saturday afternoon with my family and some friends – but having to pay full price for my pair of four year-olds, and our friends’ children seems a little excessive.

Now if they were students or OAPs they would get a pound off!”

I can only think of one reason why kiddies will be expected to pay the same as adults – that it’s a way of limiting the amount of children that will be at what, despite its being held outdoors, is essentially an adult event.

Now – it makes no odds to me. I went last year for curiosity’s sake but I won’t be doing it again. I’m sure its great for real ale enthusiasts, but it’s no fun for people who don’t drink beer – there are better events for children and Phantoms. My suggestion would be the shindigs at the Greenwich and Docklands Festival, many of which are family friendly – see you there.

But hey. That’s my reading of the pricing policy. Is it correct? I don’t know. Is it right? You tell me. But since last year, if memory serves, sold out, it’s a seller’s market. You organises the festival, you takes your choice as to whether you can afford to lose the family market.

Oh hell. I have a horrid feeling I have just opened the Floodgates of Flame.

Play nicely with the other folks, now…

Not At Risk. No, Really. Honest.

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

According to a survey by English Heritage released today, one in seven conservation areas in London are ‘at risk’ – mainly from “neglect, decay or damaging change.”

You know the sort of thing – dodgy extensions, icky ‘improvements,’ street clutter, the wholesale paving-over of front gardens, giant advertisement hoardings, nasty front dormers, yada, yada. EH’s biggest bugbear is plastic windows and doors.

“Hm,” I thought to myself. “I can think of a few ‘additions’ to some local conservation areas. I’ll look up the results and see just how bad we are…”

Hold onto your hats, folks. Greenwich is squeaky-clean.

What? Not a single conservation area in the whole of Greenwich borough at risk? Heavens. What paragons of heritage preservation we must be after all. I must have just been imagining that front-dormer in Humber Road…

It was only when I looked a little further, that I started to smell a rat. English Heritage got their results by contacting councils and asking them if there was anything wrong with their lovely conservation areas. Simon Thurley, (CEO of EH) was “delighted that 75% responded…”

Let’s look at the possible meanings of our own fair borough’s omission from the list.

Number One. The Bucolic Greenwich Scenario. We really do have completely healthy conservation areas, every development in these spots is utterly gorgeous to look at and we live in an Arcadian Dream.

Aw, c’mon. It’s possible…

Number Two. The Oops-I-knew-there-was-something-I-meant-to-do Scenario. Greenwich Council couldn’t be bothered forgot to fill in the form. Well – at least they’re not alone – a quarter of councils did the same thing.

Number Three. The Nothing-to-see-here Scenario. Surely Greenwich Council wouldn’t lie about the state of our conservation areas? After all we’re not at any kind of risk of losing our World Heritage status, are we.

Nah. It’s got to be Number One. It’s just got to be.

What’s your favourite ‘addition’ to a conservation area? Remember it has to be a conservation area, so sadly my all-time favourite conversion, to adjoining properties on the corner of Halstow and Chevening Roads – so extraordinary that it’s made its way into a Harper Collins book on period property, and worth making a special trip just to witness (sorry – I’ve never had my camera whenever I’ve been that way), doesn’t count…

Faded Greenwich

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

A new occasional series today, completely inspired by – and, indeed, a shameless homage to the very wonderful Faded London which never seems to make it over this way, so I don’t feel too bad about borrowing the idea, whilst at the same time urging you to enjoy the original…

Faded London, for those of you that don’t already know it, is all about ghost signs. Those wonderful old (usually advertising) painted slogans on walls that have, after 100 years or so, almost faded to nothing.

We have quite a few round here, but I’m not going to blow them all at once. This is mainly because I haven’t got around to photographing them all yet. Or, actually, any of them – I never seem to have a camera with me when I see them. So I’m starting with the only one I have a picture of so far.

Moores, who apparently sold hosiery to the ladies of Westcombe Park on the corner of Humber Road and Westcombe Hill, was happily situated in that the shop had a giant blind wall, ideal for a giant advert.

Selling calicoes, curtains and linens, and, I’m sure, loads of other stuff that’s now totally disappeared, it was clearly (or maybe I should say unclearly) a useful store – the kind of which has all but disappeared now. I was in Romford market recently chatting to a fabric seller who used to have a shop in Trafalgar Road. He told me about the variety of retailers Greenwich used to have. It was a depressing conversation.

I know nothing about Moores- when it was operative, when it died or who owned it, though Neil Rhind says that it was a Farmer Moore who sold his land to John Julius Angerstein in the early 19th Century – maybe it was one of his relatives set up in trade.

I’ll add to this series as and when I get around to taking some more pics. In the meanwhile I’m always happy to hear about stuff I might not already know…

Flaming June

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

A simple post today, courtesy of Stevie (well, ok, the bland one above’s by me…) When I visited Rangers House Rose Garden a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t quite ready, but with the warm weather we’ve been having, things have come on apace.

I don’t know what any of these particular roses are, but at the south end of the path, there’s a plan with all the varieties listed, even down to the ones in the stone urns.
So – get on out there, stand in the middle, near that little meadow-y part that has the big tree (the one that often has little memorials underneath it…) and breath deeply, folks.
Different to Wednesday’s limes, but just as heady. We Londoners have to enjoy pleasant smells while we can – they don’t come along too often…

Pratt By Name…

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Today, folks, I bring you the reason I was pouring over old maps on Monday. I managed to get myself very confused indeed over a bit in Henry Richardson’s history of Greenwich.

In it he talks about all the fabulous improvements made in the early part of the 19th Century (most of which were actually pretty good…) but from the maps I was looking at I had some trouble working out exactly what he was talking about in the following story. I think I’ve worked it out…

“The most recent improvement” he talks about was the happy result of an ‘accident,’ though it is interesting to note that the redevelopment idea was not in any way a new concept…

The middle of Greenwich was an absolute bottleneck in the 1820s – houses were all crammed in on top of each other, hanging over each other and generally getting in the way of traffic. Stockwell Street was a major thoroughfare and it all converged on Church Street in one big unholy mess.

Enter one Mr Pratt. He was a grocer, whose premises communicated with those of a Mr Teulon, and the Mitre Tavern. On Tuesday, February 10th, 1829, a fire broke out in Mr Pratt’s shop. It spread quickly, and destroyed pretty much everything, with the exception of a few buildings at the back of the pub.

A meeting was held in the Vestry to discuss this ‘terrible accident,’ where it was unanimously decided to purchase the freehold from none other than Sir John Roan’s charity (Greenwich has always been carved up between several very powerful charities – and remains so to this day…) The tenants were bought-out too.

Richardson alludes to “protracted discussions” – not least about the power of the Charity feoffees (great word, eh…) to actually sell the land. In the end it was decided that one house would be rebuilt – a public house, the Mitre Tavern – which, of course, is still with us. I don’t know whether the lease-money still goes to the charity.

The rest of the land was carved up to make St Alfege’s churchyard bigger, allowing “the throwing open of that splendid edifice to public view” – but also (and more pressingly) extra room “for the interment of the parishioners…” Perhaps the most important thing that happened was the widening of the road around the church so there was more room to directly enter Nelson Street.

Don’t bother, btw, looking for the impressive “iron pedestal with three lamps, which was fixed Feb. 26th 1833″ and “imparts a handsome appearance to the centre of the town.” I went specially to find it and it eluded me – replaced by the traffic lights, which can’t really be regarded in the same terms…

So was Mr Pratt actually as butter-fingered as it’s made out? He was presumably not left out of pocket by the loss of his premises, and enjoyed the gratitude of the local parish. And let’s face it, accidental fires in inconvenient buildings are a time-honoured tradition that continues even today.

Richardson’s not telling…