Is London really ‘All That’? Or can we learn something from the Germans?

cologne river

London’s My Lobster went on a bit of a trip recently. This trip was to the far away land of Germany, specifically to the awesome city that is Cologne. Living in London, we (mostly) all think that this is THE city to be in – London has it all, doesn’t it? When people gawp at the fact we have chosen to live in one of the world’s most expensive cities, one overwhelmed by tourists, high rents and delayed trains, we brush off their ignorance. Sometimes, it takes a visit to a completely different place, in this case, Cologne, to look at London in a new light. I think we could learn a thing or two from our German counterparts….

 

Cologne vs London

 

Train prices:

London: 40 min train ride from London Liverpool Street to Stanstead airport: £22 (return)

Cologne: Half-hour train ride from Cologne city centre to Bonn/Koln airport: €2.80 (one way)

 

Beer/Bar Etiquette

London: queue for approx. 30 mins at the bar, elbowing punters en route, to pay a fiver for a mediocre pint.

Cologne: in the Brauhaus, people come to your table with beer, and simply tally on your beer mat how much you’ve drunk (at a rate of about €1.70 for (an admittedly small) 0.2l Kolsch right out of the brewery)

 

Live Jazz

London: approx. £10 entry to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Cologne: free jazz every night at Papa Joe’s Jazz-Lokal, with all drinks being a couple of euros more expensive than other places in order to cover costs

 

Supermarket Booze

London: £7-8 for a bottle of fizz

Cologne: €5 for a pretty decent bottle of Prosecco

 

Student Love

London: about 10% discount for those of us slaving away at uni, and paying £9,000 a year tuition fees.

Cologne: consistently discounted entry prices at all museums, galleries etc. (some at nearly 50% off regular adult price). Oh, and university here is FREE people!

 

Perhaps London could take a leaf out of Cologne’s book. Of course, I’m in no way advocating that we Londoners immediately start sporting Lederhosen or having sausages on the menu at near every restaurant (note: this is not being stereotypical, these things actually happen in Cologne), but maybe if transport was cheaper, pubs were more chilled, people were more trustworthy and education was free we wouldn’t get that look of shock, horror and disbelief from non-Londoners when we say we live in London. Instead, they would say ‘well aren’t you lucky, living in a place with such good principles and ideas. One might say, slightly German?’ I wait with bated breath…

 

P.S. further comparison in the area of stairs: if you think that Covent Garden station is a bit hard work with their 193 stairs, try the Cologne cathedral – 533 steps up a narrow spiral staircase (not pretty when you meet a school trip coming down when you are attempting the epic journey upwards). TFL, do not take on this idea for future tube stations.

The Ship Tavern: a Gin Den in Central

An old-school pub with a fabulous gin selection? This place has got it covered….

ship tavern

 

Step outside Holborn Station, and head towards the Wetherspoons, that reliable, cheap, generic chain where you can pretty much guarantee to get a drink that won’t break the bank. Aim for this vaguely satisfactory but not hugely awe-inspiring establishment, and then just before you get there, step off the beaten track. Take a left down an admittedly dodgy looking alley and you will find a beacon of Real Pubbiness staring at you in the face: The Ship Tavern.

On a weekday past 5pm, there are crowds of savvy city workers who know of this hidden gem hanging around outside The Ship, but don’t let that put you off from venturing inside. In fact, see it as a sign of The Ship’s success as a Proper Pub. This is a cosy place to have a decent pint or a civilised glass of wine; an unpretentious inn which has not submitted to the Gourmet Gastro-Pub overhaul that many seem to go for these days (although, admittedly, the food on the next table looked pretty decent). What is particularly special about this place, though, is their crazy selection of gins. This is not the sort of place where you can simply ask for a G+T. If you do, be prepared to answer to a barrage of interrogations – which gin, which tonic, and which additions to your beverage – you’d like, and make you wish you’d gone to the bar with more of a rounded gin-based knowledge. Of course, you could just go for the gin of the day, which so far has not disappointed.

It is much more exciting, however, if you peruse the gin list and choose from the large selection of different gins with various additions, to see what takes your fancy (from experience, though, this may take a while). I opted for the ‘Brockmans’ which was served with sliced strawberries, blueberries and blackberries – a wise choice if I do say so myself .(I would have taken a picture of the impressive drink, but it is a testament to how good it was that I was distracted in the drinking of said drink rather than joining in on the ‘fashionable’ trend these days of instagramming/snapchatting anything that passes ones lips).

Whether best served with orange peel, grapefruit wedges, fresh berries or various herbs, these people know what goes best with each gin, and advise this on the list (and then go ahead and adorn your drink). Served in gorgeous wide glasses, these are, I reckon, some of the best gin and tonics on offer in the city. If you want to bag a table in the office rush, however, I’d keep this gem a secret.

http://www.theshiptavern.co.uk/

 

 

 

Covent Garden and Christmas in November

lights 2

‘Christmas’ and all that comes with it, the songs, the madness, the big brands and the adverts, seems to be creeping earlier each year.

As soon as November rolled along, Oxford Street and Regent Street went into Christmas mode – entirely prematurely if you ask me. By mid-December, the novelty and excitement of all things Christmas will have worn off, and no doubt the tune of Mariah’s ‘All I Want for Christmas’ will be a grating sound on tired ears.

But seeing as we, the little Londoners who are powerless in the face of the capital’s decision on when Christmas should start, can’t do anything about it, we may as well try and enjoy the (way too early) festivities.

lights 1

 

Last night I wandered down to Covent Garden’s piazza, for the switching on of the famous lights. Not a length of tinsel in sight, these decorations are tasteful and magical; moving projections of snowflakes and giant mistletoe make for a cracking display. I must admit, the giant reindeer, the old fashioned lanterns and the glitzy disco balls alongside a comforting waft of mulled wine gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling.

reindeer

A Harrods Christmas pop-up shop has even opened next to the Royal Opera House; ridiculously Christmassy to walk around, despite the fact that even the chocolate coins are more than a student budget can stretch, and could easily get you a pint in Wetherspoons. For the next few days, Covent Garden is hosting their first Mulled Wine Festival, which is worth checking out if you fancy a hot cup of Glogg or a spiced cider. They even have micro-pigs to pet – insanely cute and a real crowd-drawer. Not sure how related to Mulled Wine these little things are, though. Unless someone tries to keep them warm and wraps the pigs in blankets (warning: keep away from any ovens).

For a slightly early Christmassy feeling, a shopping trip less daunting than the infamous Oxford Street, and an excuse to check out the many cafes, pubs and bars around one of London’s prettiest areas, I would put the lights in Covent Garden on your ‘To Do’ list asap.

DISCLAIMER: London’s My Lobster does not take responsibility for any over-consumption of mulled wine, or any overspending on super-cute Christmas baubles.

London in a Day

Only got one day in the big bad city? Don’t waste it getting mowed down by school trips and tourists, seeing the obvious attractions (that you’ve probably seen before) or being disappointed by mediocre meals. Check out my suggestions for when time is tight…

spitalSpitalfields Market

24 Hours in London

London is about far more than Big Ben, the London Eye, M+M world and Piccadilly Circus. Away from the black cabs and tourist traps, avoiding the Steakhouses and Starbucks that litter the streets, there is a London with quirky cafes, hidden museums, historical pubs and scintillating stories. But is it possible to get a taste of this underground-London in only 24 hours?

A sensible starting place would be Liverpool Street; a perfect doorway to the city. Begin with a hearty breakfast at the Bishopsgate Kitchen (if chorizo hash or eggs Benedict appeals), people-watch by way of the café’s glass front , and pick from a selection of teas to set you up for the day ahead. Old Spitalfields, which is right outside, is a haven of crafts and creatives; depending on the day, this could be the home of a rotating flea market, vintage record sale, or art stalls. For a peek at Hipster Central, take a nose up Brick Lane, and try on a couple of 70’s outfits in Rokit if you’re feeling brave.

A tube journey to Charing Cross will site you in the perfect location for a free lunchtime concert at St Martins in the Fields, where a spot of classical tunage will add some cultural scope to your day. Heading up to Covent Garden from here is a short walk, and allows you to take in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and the ever-changing Fourth Plinth. The BP Portrait Award Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is a chance to absorb a variety artwork without trekking around the entire place if time is tight. By this time, I imagine a nibble might be in order: sample an array of salads, divine cakes and bakes (ginger and salted caramel loaf, anyone?) proper coffee and friendly staff at Black Penny Café to fuel you up for further exploring.

Explorers keen on bizarre Korean and Japanese nik-naks should have a deco in Artbox, a crazy stationary shop off Neal’s Yard where you can buy a notebook unlike any other to jot down your memories of the day. At Holborn, step back in time with a trip to Sir John Soane’s Museum (free), where worldly treasures and an insanely cool picture room (authentic Hogarths, and opening walls) is enough to make you feel as if you are in a novel. The first Tuesday of each month offers an evening candlelit tour of the place, which, trust me, is definitely worth a half hour queue (and surely queueing is part of the London initiation?)

A swift pint in The Princess Louise, a pub with nooks and crannies that are ever appearing provides the ideal precursor to an imaginative cocktail at Merchant House, where jazz music and a speakeasy feel accompany concoctions featuring everything from chamomile tea to chocolate bitters. Sit back in the vintage Chesterfield sofas, soak up the Mad Men vibe: exhausted, satisfied, enlightened and enthused, you’ll wish you had more than a day to spend in the Capital of Capitals.

The Cross Keys, Covent Garden – A Proper Pub

cross keys

This man, this white-shirted individual making his way into The Cross Keys, has the right idea. He’s after a pint in a Proper Pub, and that’s what he is bloomin’ well going to get… Follow his lead, people.

When I stumbled across it on one of my walks through the awesomeness that is Covent Garden, its clear to see why ‘The Secret Garden’ came to mind when I saw  The Cross Keys. The flowers and plants on the pub front immediately caught my eye – in the city centre, a bit of greenery is always welcome – and the fact that it is slightly withdrawn from the crazy tourist part of Covent Garden, made me want to try out this boozer.

If you’re after a pub that’s a little off the beaten track, and usually a fair bit quieter than the ones on the main drag or right by the market, The Cross Keys is indeed a winner. The inside feels a little like a fairy glen: eclectic objects hang from the ceiling and fairy lights are draped throughout. The drinks on offer are pretty varied and at a reasonable price, especially for this part of London (expect two drinks to set you back around £8). This is a real find (not to blow my own trumpet) and I would put this little gem on your ‘To Do Booze’ list asap.

The Cross Keys, 31 Endell Street, London WC2H 9BA, http://www.crosskeyscoventgarden.com/