London

LONDON, ENGLAND

RESTAURANTS

Manna - England’s oldest vegetarian dinner restaurant, offering vegetarian and vegan fine dining near Camden. Reservations are essential.

Ethos - Vegan and Vegetarian Buffet, very central.

Zumbura - Vegetarian options in this authentic Indian place south of the river.

Inspiral - Vegan, raw food cafe by Camden Lock.

Amico Bio - Vegetarian, Italian and organic.

 

TOURS & ATTRACTIONS

The Holi One Festival - A colourful, joyous music festival taking place in August near Wembley.

The Ghost Bus Tour - A theatrical sightseeing tour showing the darker side of London while providing a piece of comedy horror theatre onboard a classic 1960s Routemaster bus.

The Science Museum Exhibition Space - The two best photographic galleries in London, often showing highlights from the impressive Royal Photographic Society collection.

Somerset House Exhibition Space - Another interesting place to view free photography exhibitions.

The British Library Exhibition Space

The Shard - The highest building in the city offering wide ranging views of the River Thames and Central London from it's public platforms.

The London Eye - More great views.

ZSL London Zoo - No standard zoo, the enclosures are large and your entrance fees go towards vital animal conservation work around the world.

The British Museum - A superb collection of art and historical artifacts, not to be missed.

See London By Night Tour - Sightseeing by Bus.

The Photographers Gallery - On paper this is a great gallery; in reality we'd say it's worth a quick visit but not before the other galleries we've listed.

 

HOTELS

London is the most visited city in the world and this surfeit of travellers is reflected in the often aloof attitude of the capitals' hoteliers. We contacted over 300 of them with a few questions and received very little in the way of a polite answer, and certainly nothing worth printing. We've no doubt that there are decent hoteliers in London, but for now we're not in a position to recommend any.

Without a doubt the best place to view quality photography exhibitions in the world at the moment - we saw six first class shows in just one week - London can also seem a hard place to capture if you're looking for something apart from the stereotyped images of Beefeaters and Buck Palace.

 

It's not that many of the better known attractions aren't worth doing - the views from The Shard and The London Eye are sublime, for instance, and we'd recommend visitors check out both - but trying to take a photo that'll capture something of what you're feeling about a particular place gets much trickier if that place is rammed full of tourists and seemingly all about the money (unless you're the sort who's simply ticking off experiences on their bucket list, in which case you'll get what you need for Instagram and Snapchat, no matter the circumstance). For this reason London is a place that, perhaps even more than Athens, Rome or Florence, repays the photographer working with alternative processes. The long time exposures of the pinhole will soon take care of the crowds, and the less than pin sharp results may well echo the primal excitement and wonder you felt the moment you first learnt of London, and decided you wanted to go there yourself.

 

Based on our own experiences our advice to you is to try to include as many of the following into your London trip;

  • Visit the Science Museum and the V&A next door. Both of these impressive museums are creative hubs, have something for all the family and are free to enter.
  • Spend time in local markets, the best of which are Borough, Spitalfields and Camden. Covent Garden is also ok if you don't mind things getting a little more touristy.
  • Take a bus tour early in your stay, its a great way to orientate youself. If you fancy doing the city sites by public transport the best bus routes are Number 24 (Pimlico to Hampstead Heath) which takes in Victoria, Westminster Cathedral, Whitehall, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square and Camden Town, Number 11 (Fulham to Liverpool Street) from which you'll see the King's Road, Belgravia, Westminster Cathedral, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, the Strand, the Royal Courts of Justice, Fleet Street towards London's financial district, known as the City or 'Square Mile'. St Paul’s Cathedral and the Bank of England, and Number 9 (Aldwych to Hammersmith) which passes the Strand, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, Green Park, the Ritz Hotel. Knightsbridge, Harrods, the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gardens and Holland Park.

  • Visit Somerset House. Many of the art and photography shows are free and there are also regular paid events that are actually worth going to. Another four spaces that host interesting exhibitions are The Wellcome Foundation, Tate Britain, The National Portrait Gallery and The British Library (they're rarely focused on photography as far as we know but they're always fascinating and well put together).
  • The British Museum is a must, and don't forget to check out the drawing rooms on the upper level which often holds superb, free exhibitions. Another wonderful aspect of this museum is that if you want to see a particular artifact and it's not on display - not unusual, there's as many items in storage as there are on show - you can make an appointment to view it privately in the vaults.
  • Check out the listings at http://www.timeout.com/london/art to see what shows are on at the time of your visit. Also check this link; http://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/sightseeing/tourist-attraction/gallery/photographic-galleries
  • The Holi One festival isn't for everybody but if you're into dance music and the festival vibe then wrap your camera up in a protective plastic bag and prepare to get some cracking photos of young Londoners at their most colourful.
  • St James Park has a great variety of birds living around it's pond, including very bold pelicans (hide your lunch from them), and there are good city views from it's central bridge.

 

Below are some of the digital images we created during our stay and more indepth information about restaurants. This guide is currently still being researched so pop back often to see updates.

Manna Restaurant

Manna Restaurant, England’s oldest vegetarian dinner restaurant (open since 1967), is a ten minute walk from Chalk Farm Underground station. We actually walked up from Camden Town and London Zoo after doing a little photography there and it took about twenty minutes maximum. Staff greeted us at the door, had a note of our reservation ready on a clipboard and offered a warm welcome in from the chilly January rain. As you come in there’s a heated conservatory and then the main room with it’s relaxed earthy decor of silver birch style light fittings and forest bird wallpaper wrapped up in a soundtrack of 60′s jazzy deep American soul and finally a smaller, more intimate room separated from the main room and bar by sheer violet curtains.

Everything on the Manna menu is 100% vegan but although it’s very clearly stated what’s in each dish (ingredients as well as gluten, nuts, etc) there were several choices that we’d never heard of before, such as Indian pizza (alongside better known, traditional items such as bangers and mash) so we took a long time choosing and asking the waitresses’ advice. Manna aims to provide fine dining in the international tradition but with meatless recipes and there were certainly vegan alternatives available the night we visited that we rarely see available at restaurants nowadays. It also all looked really tasty, which provided another stumbling point; how on earth could we just choose three dishes each!! Still, we’re not complaining, as that’s a very nice problem to be faced with. We ordered a pitcher of tap water and then Lamia decided on a Cannellini Bean Slider for a starter. This was a bite sized burger served on a wholemeal bun with ketchup, mayo, tomato, lettuce, pickle and onion with a side of smoky paprika potato wedges (a gluten free option of this was also available).

“It’s a hearty burger, full of texture and giving the same satisfactory bite as you’d get with a meat burger,” said Lamia. “There’s not a compromise at all with this. I sometimes tire of saying that but it’s what most meat eaters talk about when going veggie. Nothing tastes like meat, they say, so how can they give it up. Well, this does, in the ways that matter, only you’re getting all the satisfaction without the killing. It tastes very fresh and springy, there are ample herbs inside, the bun is soft and warm and there’s lots of filling. I’m really enjoying this. There’s only two potato wedges but they’re massive. They’ve a mild smoky paprika taste which is too subtle for me really but then I’m used to my mum’s Bengali cooking, and we do tend to ramp up the spice level. Overall it’s a lovely burger.”

We shared a plate of Nachos especiales. This was Manna’s own recipe influenced by Southern California; crisp tortilla topped with black beans, Mannas’ homemade cashew cheese, guacamole and salsa (this also came in a gluten free option). There was no stretchy-cheese element like with many nachos and the slight spicy hit didn’t make itself known until halfway through the dish. As we’d expect from such a restaurant the tastes were subtle and fresh. The nachos were crispy, the guacamole cold, the beans warm and the dish was topped with very strong tasting fresh sprouts. The dish tasted very healthy, in a good way and had a pleasant range of textures running through it.

For my starter I chose the Indian pizza; baked roti topped with channa masala, saag, date, tamarind chutney and cucumber raita. It was a big portion; a lot of food presented in an unusual and surprising way. I suppose I expected the roti to be thicker, like a naan or maybe more like a pizza, and also the spinach to be cooked down in the way it normally is within a curry.

“It’s inventive,” said Lamia, “like the sort of chana chaat I’m used to but with roti under it, and the added fresh spinach – very unusual – and dates.” I found it a refreshing dish thanks to the raita and the fresh baby leaf spinach, and the sprouts were there to bring it back to a ‘healthy-feeling’ cuisine. Like a pizza this could be said to be peasant food – making use of leftovers – and just like pizza it’s something you could easily make at home. In regular restaurants we wouldn’t really like that – we go there to experience foods we can’t cook - but on this occasion it’s definitely something that I found very enjoyable and educational as it introduced a style of putting ingredients together that I’d been unaware of before. The pairings of textures and flavours were excellent, and of course it was super healthy. Definitely something I’ll try and make myself.

For my main course I had the organic bangers and mash. It comprised of organic fennel and pumpkin seed sausages on a bed of garlic, potato, dill and carrot mash served with seasonal greens on a red wine and leek-thyme jus, topped with onion rings. The sausages were soft – I would prefer more texture in these – but on the plus side the greens had crunch and the fennel offered the sort of prominent yet subtle taste that I love. The mash was smooth and warm, the jus of medium thickness and rich flavour and the strong colours from the bright orange carrot and deep green seasonal greens was a visual treat. Overall this was an interesting, enjoyable take on a classic English dish.

For her main Lamia went for the organic spaghetti and veatballs.

“The pasta is al dente, accurate to some of the better pastas we had recently in Italy,” explained Lamia. “That shouldn’t need to be said really, people from any country should be able to cook pasta, but so often they can’t. This is good though, just right. The tomato and olive sauce adds a nice tang and sticks to the pasta well but doesn’t drown the dish, which is also just right. It’s not a traditional Italian dish but they’ve adapted it well to meet English expectations of what an Italian dish should be like, and they’ve kept it vegan, brilliant. The veatballs are not at all the same as meat, they’re denser yet softer than meatballs and I think they’re primarily to add texture and protein to this dish rather than much in the way of taste.”

For my dessert I had the cheesecake of the day. It was served with various sauce/fruit and vegan ice cream. This chocolate and vanilla, firm dense cheesecake is absolutely not to be missed. It would be great on it’s own but it’s really blossomed into an amazing dish with the aid of the vanilla ice cream, which is a smooth, rich and as tasty as ice cream gets.

Lamia had the vegan ice cream and cookie semi-freddo.

“This has layers of vanilla, vegan ice cream and chocolate ganache with homemade cookie pieces and chocolate chips, served with macerated summer berries,” said Lamia. “This is my first time having vegan ice cream. Honestly, why do people even bother to consume dairy anymore?!”

We enjoyed our time at Manna. We’d say they’re far enough along the fine dining road to make you feel like you’re eating somewhere special but not so far as to drown the authentic, genuine atmosphere with overbearing service and un-needed frills. It seems the public holds the restaurant in as high regards as we do as it was three quarters full by the time we left (7:45) on a Wednesday night (so we advise you make a reservation). The in-house wi-fi was very quick, the service friendly, all ingredients used are fair trade, organic and as locally sourced as possible and the dishes bear an individual character that most will find as satisfying as we did.

Value 4/5

Atmosphere 4/5

Service 4.5/5

Flavours 4/5

Vegan Friendly? 5/5

Vegetarian Friendly? 5/5

To discover more, please visit http://mannav.com/

Inspiral Restaurant

Overlooking Camden Lock in North London, Inspiral restaurant is a mix of 70′s Dahab, 80′s Ko Pha Ngan and swirls of incense, scented candles and ethically sound discussions moving in and out of a soundtrack that swings past standard trance and Gogol Bordello to beyond, further. Or, in their own words, ‘INSPIRAL IS A VISIONARY CONCEPT bringing together organic, raw, vegan health products, an optimum nutrition vegan café (running on green energy) and an uplifting music/art/events venue with organic bar…’

It’s friendly too, and Lamia and I liked the feel of it from the moment we arrived late on a chilly weekday afternoon in January. We’re beginners in the world of raw food, having tried it on only a few occasions in Vienna and Toronto, but what we had tried had excited us to the possibilities of this style of eating so we were eager to see what Inspiral, which is known to serve some of the best raw food in London, had to offer.

“Cracking location,” I said to Lamia. “We should come back in warmer weather, sit outside by the canal, I could easily stay all night here.”

For starters we got a plate of Raw Nachos to share. Service was quick, we waited less than ten minutes from time of ordering until our food was brought to us. The dish consisted of flax nachos with ‘rawfried beans’ (sunflower seed) served with guacamole, sour cashew cream and salsa. The waitress asked us if we like spicy food as we ordered, we’d said yes and so alongside the most deliciously creamy cashew sauce there was a chili hit that pleased us both, even though we generally have different preferences of heat level. There was a big range of textures too, from that creamy sauce to the soft yet crunchy nachos to the variations in the crisper, fresh salad. All this definitely kicked off the meal in a decadent, flavourful style.

For drinks Lamia had an organic Whole Earth Elderflower, sweetened with agave nectar.

“Elderflower is always my drink of choice in England,” said Lamia, “although I’ve never had it fizzy like this before. It’s a subtly sweet and floral drink and feels very gentle and lovely, which is what I associate with elderflower.” I had an organic Cannabia hemp beer made from water, barley, sugar and hemp. It had a 5% volume, a slightly sweet, light Pilsner taste and paired pretty well with my ravioli starter.

Lamia’s first course was the soup of the day, which turned out to be broccoli and beans, served with home baked gluten free bread.

“It’s a creamy soup, the broccoli is puréed slightly but still retains some texture and the beans are whole and soft. It’s topped with a sprinkling of chives and there’s a subtle garlic undertone. It’s very warming and hearty, a perfect winter soup. And the crunchy toasted bread, yum! I like how raw food soups are often served warm, as this is, but at a temperature that allows you to eat it straight away.”

I had raw turnip ravioli stuffed with herbed cashew cheese, served with tamari-marinated shiitake and radishes with a nettle and wheatgrass pesto. Like everything else we ate at Inspiral, this was a visually exciting dish. It was served cold and the two super thin slices of turnip that made up each ravioli weren’t sealed at the sides as you’d expect a traditional ravioli to be, but the filling was of such an intense creaminess that I hardly noticed if I minded the ‘pasta’ being different to what I’m used to. One of the great things for me about raw food is that there’s almost always good texture and this dish certainly had it. The radishes were very firm indeed and had a real spicy kick to them and the pesto drizzle was pleasantly green tasting. Everything on the plate had a distinctive, authentic taste yet came together well to make a satisfying starter. Excellent.

For my main dish I had the raw Caribbean curry, which the menu described as ‘expertly spicy tender marinated vegetables tossed with avocado, banana and fresh turmeric sauce served with star anise-infused raw parsnip ‘rice’, seed sprouts and a raw coconut date and gojiberries chutney. This dish basically tasted like a strong avocado salsa spread over very crunchy vegetables that nestled on a plantain leaf. It was by far the hottest dish I’ve had in years, and bearing in mind Lamia is Bengali so we eat all manner of Asian curries very, very often at home, that’s quite a statement. I did understand that Caribbean curry had a reputation for being fiery, but I didn’t guess it would be like a light, summer’s day style vindaloo!

This raw food style of eating is new to us, as I’ve said before, so it’s inevitable that I’m going to try and compare it to something else because there’s no other reference point for me, and probably for most of our readers, yet. It’s the same as when you might say that a certain wine has notes of woodsmoke or raspberry. It doesn’t actually have either of those things in it, it’s just that’s the description that seems to describe the taste the most so you use it to explain to others about what to expect. In the same way, this dish has very little to do with a curry but then again, how else can you describe it so that others know something of what to expect? Basically it’s crunchy vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower and courgette – covered in avocado and chilli sauce with two rounds of parsnip ‘rice’ at either end that is so fiery hot you better make sure your glass is full before you start because your mouth is going to need cooling down at regular intervals whilst eating.

Don’t misunderstand me, I did enjoy it. But my advice is, this is a filling dish. If you’re having it for main, skip the starter, perhaps just share a plate of nachos. This is a lot of food; I generally have no issues with finishing my plate but I think because this dish required a lot of chewing it took me longer to eat so my stomach had time to get fuller before I’d finished. I felt very, very full by the time the last bit of sauce was mopped up.

As I said, make sure you have a full drink on the side as you eat the curry as it’s super spicy. I had a Wyld Wood pear cider which is quite sweet and a powerful 6% volume, although it doesn’t feel like it. This is really smooth cider/scrumpy and I drink it frequently at home although it’s not often I find it on offer in bars, so it was a nice surprise to see it behind the counter here.

For her main Lamia had the veggie burger deluxe, which the menu described as a ‘delicious burger recipe made from hemp, brown rice, millet and mushrooms in a gluten free bun with basil, mayo, raw ketchup, caramelised red onion and pickled cucumber served with potato wedges, coleslaw and green leaves.’

“This is kind of like your curry, insomuch as it’s not really a burger, but I can’t think of another easy way to describe it if I were listing it on a menu. The burger patty itself is very chewy and hard. I like it, it’s tasty, and the bun itself feels very dense and wholesome. The whole thing is huge, meaning I can’t take a mouthful in one go, dainty bites only! I love the wedges, they’re really delicious. Soft and crispy, gently spiced and fried. Wow. They’re a mixture of sweet and normal potato and plantain wedges, mixed with a lightly dressed fresh salad, it’s got that Caribbean feel again, like your dish. I’m enjoying the range of textures but I think you’re going to have to help me finish the plate off, there’s a lot of food on the plate and it’s very filling.”

We waited a while for our food to go down and could have left then very satisfied without eating anything else but then we saw a few of the raw organic cake slices being brought out to other tables and they looked so good we had to try them out. Lamia had the chocolate blackout.

“This tastes rich, soft, slightly nutty, decadent and yet also healthy and wholesome. I can taste the raw side of it but it’s definitely not a compromise over a traditional dessert. It feels like a real treat, it comes away smooth on the fork in a dense, smooth chunk. It’s also no overly crumbly or sweet, I’m loving it.”

I had the vanilla berry cheesecake. I found this a restrained and satisfying ending to my meal. It wasn’t the fireworks that you might find in, say, an Italian restaurant, where the meal always seem to build towards the crescendo that is the dessert, but it was still very good. The base was slightly crunchy and sweet, whilst the vanilla and berries were a subtle combination. It was a treat for the eyes, too.

Considering the location – right on Camden Lock – and the high quality ingredients the prices at Inspiral are fair (about £11 for Lamia’s main burger dish) and the food is well presented, served promptly and full of flavour. The atmosphere is also very relaxed, just how we like it. We’d spent the day at London Zoo, and also photographing Camden, and Inspiral provided us with the ideal venue to relax and talk over what we’d done.

If you haven’t eaten raw food before you must come with an open mind and be prepared for a new eating experience. It takes a little getting used to but, as we’ve learned, once you start eating raw meals you’ll more than likely feel so energized that going back to eating cooked food all the time will feel like an unfulfilling, draining and largely pointless experience.

Inspiral is a ten minute walk from Camden underground station, and perhaps a twenty minute walk from London Zoo. We recommend you pay it a visit; if you’re sightseeing in central London it’s well worth the short underground journey. They also have a vibrant live performance program going on there so if you’re interested in a late night out as well as a meal then check their website out to see what’s on,

Value 4/5

Atmosphere 4/5

Service 4/5

Flavours 4/5

Vegan Friendly? 5/5

Vegetarian Friendly? 5/5

To discover more, please visit - http://www.inspiral.co

Ethos Restaurant

Ethos is a self-service, meat-free restaurant in the heart of London, just a few minutes walk from Oxford Circus underground station, the Photographers Gallery, Carnaby St, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Sq. It’s regularly mentioned in lists of the best vegetarian and vegan restaurants in London with additional kudos being offered for it’s fair prices, relaxed ambiance and visually stunning displays of dishes. The restaurant is open from 8am onwards with hot food served at peak times (8am, 11.30 until 3 and then 5.30 until late) so we arrived at 5.30, in time for an early dinner, just as the evening batch of hot food was being laid out. We’d never eaten at Ethos before so although we knew it was self service we weren’t quite sure of the form. The staff were really friendly though and talked us through it.

“Just fill up your plate with whatever you want,” a guy said, “then bring it back here to the counter, put it on the scales and then you pay according to how much it weighs. Then if you want drinks, the list is there on the wall.”

We each took a large selection of small scoops as everything looked great and we wanted to try out as many dishes as possible. Here’s a rundown of our favourites.

The scotch egg balls are a cross between a huge scotch egg and a samosa. If Ethos has a signature dish, then this scotch egg is it. I can see why it’s so popular. There’s a full range of textures and the spicey samosa-like filling is lovely. Well recommend! Next up are the Zucchini cakes, which are something like the delicious courgette balls that you can find so often in Greece. The miso glazed eggplants were Lamia’s top pick and we both enjoyed the Seitan ribs. I had no idea what to expect with these but I loved the chewy texture and and strong BBQ flavour. The mushroom stroganoff had a hint of Indian spice about it whilst the feta in the butternut squash, spinach and sesame seed salad was of a medium taste strength, which was just perfect for the dish. The dolmades achieved a subtle citrus feel and it’s fair to say that everything we tried was intelligently flavoured. No ingredient offered any element of overkill although equally true is that nothing was so subtle that you had to really work hard to enjoy it.

Now, Ethos offers really good food but it’s up to you if you get anything approaching a fine dining experience or not. If you’re like us and you pile the food high then it’ll be pricey (Lamia’s plate was £17 and mine was £23) and your plate will seem pretty busy whereas if you’re just going for salad and a few other small scoops then it’ll be much cheaper and, if you arrange it nicely, it’ll be one of the best value dining experiences you’re going to have anywhere in London. Ethos is without a doubt a wise choice for vegetarians, vegans and others who want to eat meat-free in central London. The food tastes great and is visually stunning, the staff are friendly and efficient, the prices are fair and the atmosphere is relaxed.

Value 4/5

Atmosphere 4/5

Service 3/5

Flavours 3/5

Vegan Friendly? 5/5

Vegetarian Friendly? 5/5

To discover more, please visit http://ethosfoods.com/

Zumbura Restaurant

We arrived at Zumbura feeling pretty agitated. We were late for our reservation, and I hate being late, especially when it’s not really my fault. It’d taken us almost two hours by bus to go from Chelsea to where the restaurant is near Clapham Common, even though Google told us it would’ve taken us only an hour to walk (we should’ve taken the Underground; it only took us 15 minutes to get back to Victoria at the end of the evening). What a very bad joke London traffic is! Take note, London buses are an iconic site so go ahead and take photos of them, ride them at midnight and enjoy the general look of them as they pass Piccadilly Circus but don’t, whatever you do, make the mistake of trying to use them as effective public transport!

Our waiter at Zumbura for the evening, Adrian, read our minds as soon as we’d been seated. We needed to chill right out after that bus journey before we could even think about ordering food; he handed us the cocktail menu. We went for the Zumbura signature cocktails; Lamia had a Bloody Spicy and I, a Molly Moo Moo.

The Bloody Spicy was a Bloody Mary with chilli, coriander, cherry tomatoes and Chef Raju’s spicy sauce twist.

“It’s lightly spiced with a strong, pulpy tomato taste,” said Lamia, “I can’t taste the alcohol at all, which is how I like it.”

The light spice was a theme druring the evening. At a real Indian restaurant subtle spicing should be order of the day but sadly Britain has so few places where this is the case. Lamia was born in Bangladesh and is used to eating food that’s actually representative of the sub-continent so going to British Indian restaurants, which are more than often run by Bengali’s anyway but geered up to cater to the British palate, is mostly a disappointment.

‘It’s too hot,” is a common criticism from her. “Both the temperature and the spiciness, it’s not how it should be at all!”

I’m not sure how the trend came about but all too often nowadays Indian restaurants in Britain cook their food as if they’re engaged in some unofficial who-can-cook-the-spiciest contest or rather, who-can-appeal-to-beer-deadened-taste-buds. The extreme heat is fine if you’re too drunk to taste anything subtle, or want to prove how hard you are, or even if you’re running a restaurant in Brick Lane and want to conform and serve the same old inauthentic stuff that everybody else seems to, but it’s definitely not ok if you’re interested in eating real Indian, well spiced food. But at Zumbura, we were to learn, it’s a different story. The website states that the restaurant features authentic homemade food from the Purab region in North East India, using recipes handed down through the generations and offering a taste of what the chef’s family would eat at home, and our experience there certainly indicates that this is true.

When we got round to eating the food, Lamia couldn’t talk for a few minutes at first – she’d been away from her mums cooking for 5 months and hadn’t had a decent curry for all of that time – but when she’d satisfied her initial lust for decently cooked curried dishes she said,

“Everything is delicately spiced, all of it, which is how it should be. For those people who’re used to traditional Indian restaurants in London this’ll be a very different experience, a much better one in my opinion. Everything I’ve tasted here at Zumbura tonight is very similar in texture and spice level to that which my mum cooks, and that which I’ve tasted in other Indian and Bangladeshi homes, I love it.”

Ok, back to my Molly Moo Moo cocktail. It was made with Vanilla vodka, Raspberry vodka, Limoncello, fresh raspberries and apple and passion fruit juice and dressed with a frozen raspberry and a small half of passion fruit. It was beautifully fruity and like Lamia’s Bloody Spicy I couldn’t taste the alcohol in it, although I could definitely feel the effect of it.

Suitably chilled, we checked out the menu. It was quite short which we took as a good sign. A lesser number of items on the menu generally means the food is cooked fresh and not just reheated from frozen.

Adrian had advised that it was best to share dishes (Lamia agreed; “it’s how we do it at home, too.”) so for starters we’d ordered a number of items; Pakoras (spinach, onion and chickpea flour fritters), Aloo Tikia (spiced potato cake), Dhaal (lentils), Namuna (stir-fried peas with garlic and ginger) and Ghuggni (black chickpeas braised in onion and mango powder). For drinks through the evening I had a Pale Ale and a beer and Lamia a Guava Spritzer.

“Another lovely cocktail!” said Lamia, “it tastes just like guava juice but with a little kick. That might seem obvious but that’s all a cocktail really has to do for me – if it’s a guava juice, it should taste like real guava. There’s a lovely colour gradient too, from pink to white, and the freshness of the juice is heightened by the sprig of mint.” The Pale Ale and Beer were a departure from the usual Indian restaurant offering of Kingfisher or Tsang. Both complimented the many varied dishes and were of a good strength – 4.8%.

Alongside the starters Lamia had the Hari Murghi (chicken marinated in fresh herbs and yoghurt overnight and then roasted) Poori (fluffy fried bread) and Muttar Pulao (braised rice with peas and spices) whilst I shared the rice and added an Anda Salan (egg curry), Paratha (buttery and flaky flat bread) and Chapatti.

Everything was a success as far as we were concerned, with our favourite starters being the Ghuggni and the Pakoras. The spinach and onion chick pea flour Pakora were crispy, not oily at all, quite airy and had the sort of crunch that only fresh pakora can have. The Aloo Tikia (spiced potato cake) was soft yet crispy. I could taste cumin as the dominant flavour. The potato was pulped smooth so had little texture which isn’t totally for me – I prefer more texture in such things – but it was a pleasantly spiced starter all the same.

Lamia’s Hari Murghi (chicken marinated in fresh herbs and yoghurt overnight and then roasted) was just like her mom makes it. Well marinated, soft chicken. cooked thoroughly and roasted almost to the point of being charred. Just the perfect balance, Lamia said.

The Namuna (stir-fried peas with garlic and ginger) were very similar to the garden peas you’d have with a Sunday roast except they’re spiced. Important to repeat here that they’re spiced in the real sense of the word rather than the usual Indian restaurant macho-spice-contest meaning. Even if you usually have to stick to a Korma because you don’t like chilli-heat food you’re going to enjoy these peas; in fact, you’ll enjoy pretty much all that we tried. Nothing was going to have you gasping and reaching for the beer or water, that’s for sure.

The way the food was created and served we found it difficult to bother eating with utensils. The food is bought to the table not too juicy and at just the right temperature so that if you want to use your fingers to eat it – which is how Lamia and I eat this sort of food when we’re at her house – then you can do so without getting burnt or in a right mess. It was so good, to be in an atmosphere where this food was being served correctly. We hadn’t eaten with our fingers for months, it was a great feeling to be eating Indian food properly again!

The Ghuggni (black chickpeas braised in onion and mango powder) were neither hard nor mushy. Not at all like the chickpeas we’re used to in England; much smaller, softer and more like a hard daal. The Daal itself was creamy, garlicky and of a soft, loose consistency. The Anda Salan (egg curry) was nice enough although having tasted it I would have liked just to have stuck to the dhaal, chickpeas and other starters. There was nothing wrong with it, just that the eggs had a slightly tough, almost deep fried coating which I didn’t enjoy so much. The Poori, Paratha and Chapati all tasted fresh and homemade. A little charred at times as they should be, not oily and they held together excellently when we used them to scoop food up with. Finally the Muttar Pulao (braised rice with peas and spices) was firm, delicately spiced and, as Lamia said, just like mum makes. For dessert we had Kheer (Indian rice pudding) and Gajjar ka halwa (carrot halva).

Here was the real test. Lamia loves sweets and has been enjoying them throughout her life, first in Dhaka and lately in Toronto. If anybody can tell if an Indian dessert is decent or not, it’ll be her.

“The Kheer is pleasantly creamy,” she said, “soft rice, ample nuts, yes, not bad at all. But where this place excels is with the Gajjar ka halwa. It smells like real ghee has been used, it’s very creamy, the carrots are soft and it’s topped with the right amount of pistachios and almonds, just like the man with the hole-in-the-wall dessert shop in Dhaka used to make, and my mum for that matter!”

Zumbura’s not for everybody. If you want a boozy, noisy, vindaloo style night out then you might be disappointed. If you’re after tasting real Indian food, however, in a relaxed, photo and vegetarian friendly environment with excellent cocktails and beers thrown in for good measure, then we reckon you’ll love it.

Value 4/5

Atmosphere 3/5

Service 4/5

Flavours 3.5/5

Vegan Friendly? 3.5/5

Vegetarian Friendly? 5/5

To discover more, please visit http://www.zumbura.com/

Amico Bio Restaurant

Amico Bio is a vegetarian, organic Italian restaurant in London, created by Pasquale Amico (whom you can see above, ready to greet us as we arrived). We decided to arrange to eat there having read a review in the Daily Telegraph. Not that it was a complimentary review, far from it, but in my opinion anything which that newspaper comes down hard on is probably going to be quite agreeable to the average, thinking human being. I’ll actually quote the opening paragraph as it’ll give you an idea of what I mean, and for the fact that I hope it’ll provide you with the same sort of condescending yet fulfilling giggle that it gave me when I read it.

“Amico Bio is a charming idea, in a charming building, in a charming, higgledy-piggledy Smithfield street, and the service is lovely, and the atmosphere is sweet and the food is just awful. It’s enough to give vegetarianism a bad name, but anything’s enough for that.”

You can imagine it, can’t you; over-educated, under experienced Henry and Zoe, skulking around in their welly boots and wax jackets and terribly, terribly scared of immigrants, Irish, Scots, Muslims and of course tree-hugging soap-dodgers who don’t eat meat…

Anyway, the review piqued our interest so I have to thank it for that. And I also have to say that the opening paragraph is not entirely wrong! Amico Bio is a charming idea, in a charming area, and the service and atmosphere is indeed lovely and sweet…only, the writer wasn’t fair about the food, because the food is lovely too. But their lowly view of the place isn’t surprising, really. People who announce their dislike of vegetarianism so boldly probably aren’t going to be the best judges of such a restaurant and if they’re not used to organic, decent food where subtleness is everything they may well think the fare bland compared to the synthetic tastes that sub-standard, non-organic restaurants tend to smack you in the face with…

We’d had a pleasant afternoon visiting St Paul’s Cathedral – not the best London attraction for photographers as you can’t take pictures inside but then again the outside is spectacular so it’s worth an hour or so of anybodies time – and then made our way north to Smithfield area.

We took a few minutes before ordering to create some photos. Much of the wall art is printed on wood and Pasquale explained that the photos all represented his family, starting with his grandfather and then moving onto his father – who used to own a bakery in Southern Italy – to his cousins who now manage the family restaurant in Naples and the family farm further south.

“The family farm has been organic for 20 years,” Pasquale explained, “and we count Tescos among our customers. We also export our produce to restaurants throughout Europe, including our two restaurants here, of course.”

‘Putting you at your ease’ is a particular gift that restaurateurs from Mediterranean regions often have and Pasquale and the rest of his staff are no exception. I’m personally not that much of an extrovert or confident with strangers but among Italians I so often become the person I like to be; sociable, friendly and relaxed. As we took our photos the staff could be heard chatting at the bar, in Italian. The music playing was alien to me, it sounded like Italian chanson, as if Jacques Brel had been born in Campania. I liked it a lot; together with the staff’s Italian chat it really set the sort of relaxed, authentic atmosphere I enjoy. Some of the menu options were quite unique but the staff were happy (and knowledgeable enough) to explain, as well as recommending a wine that would suit our choices. It was the house red, from Pasquale’s hometown. Served slightly below room temperature and with a 13% punch it was a very acceptable house wine.

Before we get onto our choices I’ll say that over the past 5 months of travel through Asia, Africa and Europe we’ve eaten out almost every single night so consider we’ve enough experience to differentiate between ok food and an exceptional dining experience, and between chefs who are workers and chefs who are artists. Pasquale’s an artist – one who circulates and happily chats to his customers – and as for the food we experienced at Amico Bio well, when food is tasty and using ingredients from an organic, biodynamic farm prepared and cooked by a sensitive and intelligent person it can almost move you to tears, as it did us.

For starters Lamia had the tomato bruschetta.

“Really fresh, sweet tomatoes and perfectly toasted crunchy bread,” Lamia said, “delicately spiced with Italian herbs to allow the fresh flavours a chance to shine. Up there with the best bruschetta I’ve ever had. Excellent.”

I had the salad. There was a very large bowl of fresh leaves and thinly sliced carrot and courgettes accompanied by seven bowls of extras such as peppers and aubergines, the idea being that I could add as much as or as little as I wished. After a little taste of each I decided I liked them all and tipped them into the bowl. The salad leaves were crunchy, the fennel an understated onion substitute as far as texture went, the tofu of medium firmness and the overall feeling was one of subtleness, as an organic dish should be. The portion size was large; I’d suggest that a light eater would be satisfied with this one dish for lunch.

Lamia’s second was ravioli with cheese.

“The waitress told me the pasta is handmade, it’s quite thick and when you chew through, the smoky cheese flavour hits you,” she said. “There’s also disks of stretchy mozzarella inside and a certain sweetness to the sundried tomatoes that is delightful against the smoky cheese. The smokiness of the cheese is just right. I don’t mean for me but for the dish; I think it’d be just right regardless of your taste. There’s also just enough sauce oozing out of the cherry tomatoes so that there’s something to moist your pasta around in without swamping the dish.”

I had the risotto of the day. It was an intelligent dish. The peppers tasted real and that’s a joy to experience; it’s so rare to find a green pepper that actually tastes of a green pepper unless you dine at a restaurant that prides itself on using fresh produce. They had an earthy feel and the rice had a creamy consistent base that retained the texture of each grain. Naturally you’d expect a good chef to handle risotto well but that’s no reason not to praise them for it when they get it right.

We hadn’t even gotten to our mains yet but the pasta and risotto gave us the confidence to start getting excited for the main course. Lamia had the bean and veg burger.

“The burger held together well,” Lamia said. “We’ve had a few veggie burgers so far on our travels and so many of them are of a poor consistency, but this one does justice to a good burger. The chips are homemade and come with ketchup and sour cream; they could be bigger to be honest because that’s how I like them. The burger bun is pan-fried and lightly spiced, a very interesting Italian take. I couldn’t finish it all, it’s a huge portion.”

I had vegetable and seitan kebabs. These chargrilled wraps had a little chili heat and a light and refreshing cucumber and yogurt dip shown around the side of the plate. It was a lot of food for £10. Having had a few bites of Lamia’s burger I’d say that was more my style as these were just too subtle to be my perfect main. I enjoyed them – would even have them again someday for a lunch – but on the night my meal was building up to something different from this, something with more gravitas, which these lacked but the burger did seem to have. For dessert Lamia had tiramisu and I had the strawberry cake with tiramisu ice cream.

“Strong coffee flavour, very creamy yet still light and with crunchy ladyfingers soaking up the cream of tiramisu, I love it,” said Lamia. I had the strawberry cake with tiramisu ice-cream, which smelled really lemony and was served warm. The tiramisu ice-cream was served just above room temperature; it was ok but I wasn’t sure if it was a good ice cream or a so-so gelato. This is no real criticism; the art of making gelato goes back 500 years or more and only the most skilled artists excel at it, which is why it’s so hard to find a good one (personally I’ve never had a decent one outside of a few places in Italy). I dipped the cake in it to offer some coolness and although there was only the slightest hint of strawberry in the cake a zingy punch was provided by a couple of lemon slices on the side.

As we were drinking it Russell Brand walked in and ordered tea and salad. Perhaps he’d read the Telegraph review as well, or maybe he was a regular. From what I’ve heard of him he seems a discerning man with taste so whilst it was a surprise to see him there (I don’t tend to be able to afford to visit places frequented by celebrities) it wasn’t a surprise, if you get what I mean, bearing in mind how good the restaurant is. We had a relaxed, fulfilling dining experience at Amico Bio. The staff were exceptionally welcoming and genuine and the dishes were tasty and well prepared. We believe that this is a place where you can let your guard down and be assured of getting tasty, organic food at a very fair price (a 3-course dinner with wine can be had for under £20). Amico Bio have two restaurants in London, the one we went to in Cloth Fair and another at 43 New Oxford Street.

Value 5/5

Atmosphere 4/5

Service 4.5/5

Flavours 3.5/5

Vegan Friendly? 3/5

Vegetarian Friendly? 5/5

To discover more please visit http://www.amicobio.co.uk/

The Holi One Festival

Over the past few years the use of coloured powder during events seems to have taken the western world by storm. A number of races have sprung up encouraging supporters to cover runners in coloured powder each time they complete a kilometre lap of a 5km route, and a number of other festivals are held all over the world where entrants are encouraged to launch coloured powder into the sky at set points throughout the day. Team Trek and Run decided to go along to one of these festivals, ‘Holi One’ held at Wembley Park, West London, to see what all the fuss was about…

Prior to the event I looked into just what is involved in Holi and was surprised to find out just how many events now take place throughout the world to celebrate this ancient Hindu festival of colours. A number of companies offer Holi experiences but it was obvious how Holi One, the company whose event we would be attending, were very experienced with their events as they currently hold festivals all over the world in almost every continent (although I’m sure if it’s possible then there will be a Holi Antarctica soon!).

From the moment I arrived in Wembley and started heading towards the park it was clear just how popular the festival was - Holi One’s website had advised to “wear white and leave colourful” and as I approached the park a steady stream of people in white t-shirts, vest tops, trousers and shorts indicated to me I was headed in the right direction. We decided to get there for when the festival opened at midday and as expected I was greeted by a huge queue at the entrance as I arrived, but as people had been required to print tickets at home before attending the queue moved nice and steady, going down in no time as tickets were checked first by a security guard at the queue entrance, and again by barcode scanning machines at the proper entry point.

At this final entry point festival-goers were handed a wristband with an RFID tag attached which was loaded depending upon which package the visitor had selected when purchasing their ticket - the most basic ticket provided only entry for £29.99 while a colour pass offered entry, a wristband and 5 packets of paint for £37.99 - and the RFID tag allowed you to load up your tag with money which you could then use to purchase paint, drinks etc… In theory this should’ve resulted in shorter queues, however the sheer volume of people meant the queues quickly built up resulting in lengthy delays for a number of early arrivers, although a number of extra purchase points were set up later in the day to relieve this problem.

Before the event I learnt how the powder they supplied was made from rice flour and was biodegradable, compostable, non-toxic, allergy-free and although Holi recommend not to wear your favourite clothes to the event, our clothes were completely coated in colour after the event but following just one wash they looked as good as new.

The powder was supplied in 6 colours named Pink Bikini, Green Planet, Blue Lagoon, Yellow Sunrise, Juicy Orange and Violet Secret, and every hour a countdown took place following which festival-goers launched their colours into the air creating an explosion of colours.

Around the arena itself there were also a number of tents set up selling event merchandise, 2 large rows of portable toilets (which comically contained a sign telling users how ‘over-use would result in un-sanitary conditions’) and one corner of the arena was set aside for various food wagons with choices including gourmet burgers, Caribbean food, hog roasts, a noodle bar and a traditional Indian street food vendor. Yes, the food and drink available wasn’t as cheap as you might get from your local fast food joint, but at the same time it wasn’t stupidly expensive – I paid £5 for a chicken burger and £1 for a can of drink which isn’t unreasonable at a large public event such as this. There were also a couple of bars set up along each side of the arena with plenty of people serving to ensure no huge waits for drinks, and interestingly one tent contained a nice shiny new Peugeot 108 car which people were encouraged to throw powder over while being photographed by Peugeot’s photographers, after which they were supplied with a link where they could download their photo for free. Very clever marketing by Peugeot as it made a number of young people/potential new drivers aware of a great fun model of car, but also a great opportunity for people to get their first taste of covering each over in powder, as I’d say 10% of the powder was thrown at the car and 90% was sent flying from friend to friend!

A number of acts performed throughout the day including former Ministry of Sound DJs kosmetiQ, Tim Cullen and Ben Wood, modern Indian dancers Trischool Dance Academy and singer songwriter Jasmine June, and it was clear every time one of these artists took the stage just how much they appreciated the festival-goers who had come to party with them, and how much they were enjoying performing on the stage at such an amazing event.

We were fortunate enough to spend some time backstage chatting with Jasmine June and she told us how happy she was to be able to be part of this event knowing that the entry tickets weren’t extortionate like some other festivals and although £30 may seem cheap to some, to others that same £30 was a huge amount of money, so she put her whole heart into her performance and interacted with the crowd afterwards to ensure they got as much as possible for their ticket price. Throughout the day a number of bags of coloured powder were thrown out into the audience leading up to each countdown, and I watched as DJs and MCs came down from the stage and spoke with people in the front rows while handing out wristbands, and its simple touches like this which I feel create a truly memorable experience for visitors – knowing the event they’re attending isn’t just being held as a money-making event for the promoters but one which is actually for the people.

Overall the message throughout the entire Holi festival, one which was reiterated numerous times throughout the day, was one of Unity. Holi’s website describes their festivals as unforgettable experiences in cities all around the world where we come together to share in music, dance, performance art and visual stimulation. The festival wristband exclaimed “We are one” and the MCs throughout the day kept repeating the message of togetherness, unity and it was obvious from all the smiling faces and happy people just how clearly this feeling was being shared. We are one, we are together, and we are all part of an amazing, unforgettable experience. We can’t wait for Holi 2015!

To discover more about Holi One go to http://www.holione.com/en/events/london.html

The Ghost Bus Tour

“The London Ghost Bus Tour is a theatrical sightseeing tour,” so says the company’s website, “showing you the darker side of London while providing a piece of comedy horror theatre onboard a classic 1960s Routemaster bus. A guided London bus tour combined with a spooky and funny experience you’ll never forget. From the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey over to St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London, see the city’s sites of murder, torture and execution, and learn about the ghosts of London and the grisly skeletons in the capital’s cupboards.” After reading this, how could we resist a trip around London on the Ghost Bus! It sounded too good to miss!

Lamia and I joined The Necrobus near Trafalgar Square early evening. As promised it was an old style double decker Routemaster bus painted gothic black. What a look! Inside we were invited to sit on the upper deck where there was nostalgia-inducing seating (I remember these seats well from bus rides with my mum as a kid), Art Deco/vintage style table lamps and velvet curtains. Our conductor William was very funny and his ‘Carry On’ comedy-style narration was excellently done, with all the right pauses and exaggerations needed to create the mix of fun and fear that we expected. A monitor at the front of the bus allowed us to see what he was doing at all times. William stayed downstairs for a lot of the tour and through the clever use of the monitor and different camera angles (there were three or four different cameras in use throughout the bus) we were able to see him as his smiles turned to frowns, confusion and at times horror.

A little way into the ride a character introduced to us as Mr Heinz joined the bus. He was part worried health and safety officer, part sinister undertaker-style figure and he brought with him an element of frenzy, fear and foreboding to proceedings.

There was blood found on the bus, he said (he collected some of the blood off the floor on his handkerchief and held it up for several of us to sniff; obviously we all pulled away in revulsion!) and he needed to know where it had come from. What was this about a lady falling down the stairs earlier on, he asked our conductor, had she really fallen, or had she been pushed?!

The joke, and story of how the blood had gotten there on the bus floor (which I shan’t tell you, I wouldn’t want to spoil your own experience when you take the tour), was to run through our entire journey and with the aid of the monitor we got to see the old lady coming up behind us and also rats scurrying around our feet (don’t worry, no rats were actually present!).

From a photographers point of view, this was no ordinary tour of London so it wouldn’t be fair to expect to get the usual ‘Tour of London’ photos from it. You can still get images that suit the somewhat spooky occasion though, from both outside the bus, and inside. The tour lasted just under one and a half hours and during that time there was more history sightings jammed into the narrative than we’d expected, a good level of technology used to enhance our experience and the acting and co-ordination was spot on. At one point Mr Heinz jumped madly out of bus and ran away into the Pudding Lane/Great Fire of London area before turning up again later, as sinister as ever; we really were on the edge of our seats throughout the whole tour, not knowing what would happen next.

So, this is as much a performance piece as a tour of London. Don’t expect to get too many pristine photos of monuments but do expect to get the opportunity to take images of creepy goings on whilst riding a fine example of an old London bus and listening to the fascinating ghostly history of London. When the tour ended I didn’t get the impression that any of us were ready to leave the bus, we were all enjoying the tour so much we wanted it to go on well into the night. Our fellow passengers were all laughing but also, by the looks of their faces, a little bit scared, too…

To discover more, please visit http://www.theghostbustours.com/

The London Eye

I doubt there’s a single visitor to London who hasn’t seen The London Eye – rising from the banks of the River Thames, overlooking the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben – and wanted to experience the view from the top. We’re certainly no different; on many occasions we’ve passed by the Eye on our way to somewhere else and said between us,

“We really must go on that big wheel sometime…” but we’ve never managed it…until now.

We waited until the weather forecast said we’d have a clear day and then booked ourselves Fast Track tickets, which allowed us to skip the queues and turn up just 15 minutes before our time slot (you can see how to book these Fast Track tickets online here). We actually turned up a bit earlier than that though as our tickets also included entry to the 4D experience, which sounded like it was worth a look.

Unfortunately we encountered a queue even before we’d got to the mini cinema – everybody going to see the film was being photographed for souvenir purposes. Unless a person said ‘No’, they’d be photographed (the photos would then be ready for collection after the 4D experience) and since the people in front of us either wanted their photos done or were too polite to say ‘No’ there was a five minute backlog. We didn’t like this too much, we’d have liked just to bypass the photography thing and get straight to the cinema.

The 4D experience was ok; the film is four minutes long (although bear in mind that if you’re in a rush it takes about twice or three times that time to queue up and go in) and basically shows a little girl being excited because she’s going on the London Eye and also a seagull flying, giving you it’s own special view of London.

The goggles we were given offered us good effects – at times there was snow falling, or the gull flying towards us – and overall I’m glad I took the time to see the 4D Experience. Lamia, who is a season ticket holder back in Ontario at ‘Canada’s Wonderland’ theme park, said,

“This is pretty good, but back home this style of attraction is more interactive, like, the seats vibrate and move around, that sort of thing, so maybe there’s room for improvement here considering this is one of London’s major attractions.”

By the time the film ended it was our time to go on the London Eye. We flashed our Fast Track tickets at the attendants and were allowed straight through, up the ramp and onto a pod. The pods were large and my only issue with our own ride was that although there were only six of us in total waiting to go on, we were all put into one pod, leaving the two pods behind ours empty.

The speed of our rise was steady so we didn’t feel scared or queasy and the views opened out nicely. St. Paul’s, The Shard, the Houses of Parliament, Battersea Power Station, Buckingham Palace and Whitehall, we could see all this and more from our vantage point.

Overall the London Eye provided a fun experience. The views are terrific, it’s easy to get good photos of the city through the ample glass windows and the pod always feels really stable. There was a little swaying due to the wind when we were right at the top, but nothing that made either of us feel unsafe. We recommend that if you’re planning to go at a potentially busy time – weekends, school holidays or sunny days – and don’t want to queue for long then look into the Fast Track Tickets. And if the people getting in the pod seem to have kids that are out of control, perhaps ask the guards if you can take the next pod. That’s what we should of done. The guards seemed cool to us, smiley and willing to help, so I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.

Discover more at https://www.londoneye.com/

See London By Night Bus Tour

We found this ninety minute tour – with it’s live English commentary – both informative and interesting and a perfect introduction to the city streets for those who are at the start of their stay in the capital and want to get a general idea of where things are in relation to one another. Of course, it’d be great for those who have just one night in the city and want to make the most of it, although we’d advise against such a short stay (you probably travelled a long way, and at great expense, to get here so why not make the most of it; work can survive a few extra days without you!).

The bus route includes Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square and Tower Bridge. There are daily departures during the winter (October to March) at 19.30 and 21.20 and during the summer (April to September) at 19.30, 20.00, 20.30, 21.45 and 22.15 from a stop at Green Park, next to the Ritz hotel on Piccadilly.

The bus slowed down en route whenever it could so that we could all take the best photos that we could manage. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll get any competition-winning photos though because of the movement of the bus and the lack of light but on the other hand you will get plenty of ideas for good photo opportunities that you can go back to over the following days (although of course if the traffic stops in the right place then you might just get a great shot, and you can get creative with blur and movement if you try!).

So, in summary, this is a decent, good value (£18 per adult) tour. If you don’t speak English then you won’t understand the commentary (there are no plug-in headsets like on some bus tours, the guide simply speaks in real time using a microphone) and we advise that if you go in winter as we did, do wrap up warm as you’ll want to sit up top for the best views and it’ll probably be cold up there!

To discover more, please visit http://seelondonbynight.com/

The British Library‏ Exhibition Space

This was one of our favourite London attractions; the Terror and Wonder exhibition was superb and we only wished that we’d had more time to explore the library itself.

The exhibition will have finished by the time you read this but the purpose of our telling you about it is to illustrate that the library has the ability to put on an excellent, large scale, well organized exhibition, and to urge you to check out their website if you’re in the city to see what’s on at the time.

And although the exhibition has finished, you can still check these links out, first to the exhibition book;

http://shop.bl.uk/mall/productpage.cfm/BritishLibrary/_ISBN_9780712357913/-/Terror-and-Wonder:-The-Gothic-Imagination-%28paperback%29

and here to another set of lectures written on the Gothic theme; http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/themes/the-gothic

To discover more, please visit http://seelondonbynight.com/

The exhibition was busy, extremely so, but that’s the price you pay for attending a well put together exhibition. I, as a newcomer to the genre of gothic literature, didn’t have any special things I wanted to see. I just wandered around, spending time on whatever interested me. We particularly enjoyed the original manuscripts on display. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, plus copies of his book, a couple of pages from Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ manuscripts and also a letter from Byron to his publisher written just after the meeting he had in Switzerland with the Shelley’s. This was just the tip of what was on show though, and that suited us. The exhibition was vast, and really allowed book lovers to get deep into it.

Bram Stoker was given a whole room; his contribution to Gothic literature was immense so that was well deserved. There were a collection of writings but also unique and interesting artifacts like a vampire slaying kit and a map of Transylvania inscribed with Stokers’ highlights! Edgar Allan Poe also had a large area allocated to his work, which included a projection of an animated short film (7 mins long) of The Tell-Tale Heart, narrated by James mason. Lamia watched it twice it was so excellent.

Walls were covered in projections of films and also posters, photographs and costumes. Towards the end of the exhibition we passed through a room devoted to photographs by Magnum member Martin Parr. He gets everywhere nowadays. These photos showed goths at Whitby and were what we’ve come to expect from Parr; fairly dull photos of people by the seaside engaged in ‘traditional’ British activities such as eating chips and ice cream.

Luckily that was the only low point of the show, and you can hardly blame the organisers for including Parr as it seems, as we said, that it’s almost obligatory to do so nowadays. The rest of the exhibition was superb though and well worth the entrance fee.

To see what’s on at the British Library now, please visit http://www.bl.uk/whats-on

The Shard

London’s highest viewing platform is situated at the top of The Shard, on floors 68, 69 and 72. At almost twice the height of any other viewing platform in the capital (and at the top of the highest building in Western Europe) it offers visitors an incredible 360-degree view.

We kept a close eye on the weather forecast (you can see up to 40 miles when the weather’s clear) and then when we saw a couple of days that were due to be fair we booked ourselves in and hoped for a cloud free experience. You can never be too sure of the English weather but we were lucky, and had views to remember. We got off the underground, took a look around Borough Market (one of London’s best; do spend some time there, you’ll get great photos and the take away food is superb. You can find vegan, veggie and even raw milk here) and then took the lift up to 32nd floor in a matter of seconds. The lift has a cool light show going on as you travel skywards. Once on the 32nd floor we walked over and past the fun-facts map of London and then took a second lift up to the 67th floor, from where we then walked out to the first, fully enclosed viewing platform. There are free telescopes to use here; you point the lens and the screen then highlights prominent buildings in that area and gives you the opportunity to press ‘OK’ on the screen and learn more about what you’re looking at.

We had a fine, clear day and could easily see Wembley Stadium, the North Downs and Gravesend as well as all of central London. The height also offered us fantastic picture taking opportunities. Granted, we had to work with the glass reflections a little but it was easily possible to get spectacular landscapes. The second viewing platform, up the stairs on the 72nd floor, is more open. There’s still glass around you but you can see the sky above you in certain places. There was angelic choral music playing as we entered the space which made for an airy, light experience. The music was a master-stroke actually, very fitting; it really added to the feeling of being so high in the air.

So, if it’s far reaching views of London you’re after, make The Shard your first stop.

Discover more at http://www.theviewfromtheshard.com

Somerest House Exhibition Rooms

Somerset House is, alongside the Science Museum, the place where we enjoyed the best photography viewing in London. When we visited there were two excellent, free to enter shows on display.

The first was by Bryan Adams (the singer turned photographer) and consisted of portraits of war veterans. We found the show moving, effective, thoughtful and straight to the point. The images were sensitively taken in a documentary style; not trying to tug at the heart strings, just images of soldiers baring their scars and scenes of burns and amputations. The book that accompanied the exhibition had photos and stories of the servicemen, telling how they gained their injuries and how they worked to get their lives back after sustaining them.

The size of the work was impressive and every image was excellently produced and presented. We’re not sure that such an exhibition would’ve happened if the photographer hadn’t been already famous and independently wealthy because funders don’t often support such simple concepts, but we’re glad this show came into existence.

The other show contained images by Chris Stein of the band Blondie. For both of us it felt like we were at a friends gig rather than at the Somerset House galleries in central London. New York punk era music played over the sound system as we enjoyed looking at powerful and emotive portraits of icons such as Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, David Bowie and Joan Jett that excited both of us and made us thoughtful of the music and era we love and are inspired by. Lamia got her thrills from Joan Jett’s powerful female badass attitude and for me it was the exhibitions ability to conjure up the spirit of a period of time that I remembers with fondness. This was by far the best photographic exhibition I’ve been to for many years.

Check out what else is on at Somerset House right now on their website here - http://www.somersethouse.org.uk/events

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