Monmouth Coffee Co Borough Market

Date February 19, 2010

A real treat, smooth yet zesty enough for a pleasant kick.

I have mentioned before how much I like Monmouth Coffee Company, and I am a regular visitor. Not on a daily basis, not even weekly, but every now and then when I am craving for a reward, a coffee from Monmouth lifts my spirits and re-tunes the finer sensors of my tastebuds. Today, after a long supermarket shopping spree, I felt a definite need to reward myself, and as I was heading to Borough Market anyways, I quite obviously found myself in Monmouth’s always-present queue. While on a busy Saturday, wait times can be as long as half an hour or more, I managed to be in and out in just a few minutes today.

Today’s roast of the week was Alto del Obispo y Sevilla, a Colombian dark roast. And I have learned my lesson: no flat white, no pure espresso, but a latte, just as a precaution in case it was a bit too strong. Wise decision, though I need not have worried: this coffee had a pleasant balance of body and acidity, and I would classify it as one for any occasion. It did not last for too long, but was interesting enough to require some appreciation time for the subleties of the aroma. £2.30 invested well.

The Borough Market branch must be Monmouth’s most popular café. One large table provides some sitting space, but most punters come for the take-away, which is fair enough, because you can enjoy your coffee either while perusing the Borough Market or strolling along the Thames. Brill.

Monmouth Coffee Co, Borough Market, by Manic Street Preacher via flickr

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Lamb, Bloomsbury

Date February 18, 2010

Contrary to popular belief, and even contradicting all signage, the name of this pub has nothing to do with sheep: it rather refers to William Lamb, a 16th century citizen who built a conduit, which today only lives on in the street name Lamb’s Conduit Street, where the Lamb is based. This pub is definitely worth a visit, even from afar.

Snob Screens at the Lamb

Snob Screens at the Lamb, by 1gl via flickr

One of the appeals of the Lamb is definitely its interior: the whole U-shaped bar is fitted with etched glass screens, which were designed to hide the bar staff from punters in an attempt to enhance privacy for the latter group. These panels can still be closed, so that you don’t have to watch grumpy staff at work while sipping your hop juice and enjoying the time with your mates. However, most often the screens are now left open, and fortunately the bar staff usually do not display any grumpiness, but serve you well-kept ales from Youngs instead.

Guest ales on rota make you want to come again, though you may want to watch your timing: this pub can get extremely busy. From today’s experience, I can confirm that 4.00pm is a good time for a pint, as you won’t have any trouble finding a seat. One hour later, though, the pub is usually heaving. They serve food and have a good reputation for doing so, though I never managed to sample any dish myself, apart from a bowl of chips. Maybe next time.

Oh, and there is a tiny garden in the back – for about eight people. Overall, I am absolutely not surprised that the Lamb gets highest marks from Fancy a Pint and Time Out London. Review
Beer in the Evening Review
Fancy a Pint Review
Time Out London Review

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Avatar 3D at the IMAX

Date February 16, 2010

No need to write much about Avatar, Cameron’s epic movie has been through the press up and down the globe. Earth, that is, I doubt it has been reviewed on the Na’vi’s home planet. However, this is a movie that must be seen in 3D, which is what we did, in style on Britain’s largest screen, the BfI IMAX.

Avatar 3D Ticket

BfI IMAX Ticket for Avatar 3D

540 square metres are massive. That is the BfI IMAX’s screen size, so I was actually a bit nervous about our seats on the very side. I have been to this venue before, but managed to get more central seats. However, I need not have worried, the view was absolutely fine and the 3D effect worked very well. Next time, I would not even hesitate to sit in one of the front rows, because they are already quite high up, although I can imagine that those seats would require a lot of head-turning. So, thumbs up to the seat design, even supposedly bad seats are still pretty good.

Avatar itself has been criticised for its ‘Pocahontasness’ and lauded for its 3D effects. I would not agree with the critics; ok, the storyline is somewhat foreseeable, no big surprise, and carries a, ahem, subtle moral message, yet it made sense and actually worked well. No real stroke of genius, but good enough for light mainstream entertainment, and it served its purpose to provide a vehicle for displaying wonderful images. This, of course, was the real highlight: the amount of detail in the tiniest corner of the screen was nothing short of astonishing, and it was a pure delight just to sit back and watch. In fact, a deeper, more interesting story would perhaps even have distracted viewers from the true star of the show: the visuals. Great, simply great.

But then the story was not substantial enough to drag on for two hours and forty minutes. And despite the length, some characters remained surprisingly superficial, largely ignoring the enormous potential to get into psychological details. So I found myself bored by the final 30 minutes or so: endless action scenes with too much happening too fast to take everything in. Pity, because otherwise the film would have been an all-around enjoyable experience. And that’s the actual weakness of a storyline without surprises: why stage an epic battle when the outcome is clear from the start? I am sure, though, that some people liked all the fighting, the explosions, the violence and the lot. Not I, but I felt compensated by the first two hours of standard fairytale stuff with visual overexcitement.

The Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects are wholly deserved, as are the no-wins for the six other nominated categories.

Rotten Tomatoes Review
Guardian Review
Telegraph Review
Times Review

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Hampstead’s Heath and Pubs

Date February 14, 2010

Being stressed is not good. I almost missed this meetup with friends in Hampstead, and I would have missed out on a perfectly relaxing afternoon, taking in the wintery sights of Hampstead Heath and the culinary (liquid and solid) delights of some of Hampstead’s brilliant pubs.

The Rosslyn Arms

The Rosslyn Arms, by Ewan-M via

Luckily I still got in time to The Rosslyn Arms, a bistro/gastro-style pub, reminiscent of its counterparts in Central Europe. So relaxed that you could spend the whole day at the rustic wooden tables, scoffing pizzas from the wood-fired oven. But alas, my friends had already spent 45 minutes waiting for me, so we ventured off under the guidance of a recent local to discover new aspects of lovely Hampstead.

Via Flask Walk, we went into the Vale of Health. What a name! Much better than Hatch’s or Hatchett’s Bottom, the previous name of this hamlet, until some people wanted to attract visitors and opted for the fancier name in 1801. They succeeded, and the Vale became a nice, small country-esque village, completely surrounded by the Heath. It is quite special, in that the Vale of Health really feels like a country village, and the mega-city London could not be further away, was it not for some rather ugly apartment blocks. Honestly, who dared to commit such an architectural crime? The history of the Vale of Health is summarised by British History Online and, much shorter, by Hidden London.

Vale of Health

Vale of Health

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Car Clubs and an Accident

Date February 13, 2010

Like many Central Londoners, I don’t have a car. Living in Zone 1 means that I can walk or cycle to most of my destinations, and when it is too far or too inconvenient, there is always public transport. So my Bankside parking lot, which I could claim without charge if I had a car, remains empty and unused, probably much to the dismay of car owners in the hunt of a temporary space for their car.


Zipcar, by Lars Ploughmann via

Sometimes, however, a car is rather convenient, as tube and busses are notoriously ill-suited for transporting heavy and bulky things, and even when you dare trying it, you will be limited to what you can carry with two hands (and a back). That is why I joined a car club about 15 months ago: shopping with a car is so much more fun, and you tend to part with much more money than you would if on public transport; not sure if this is good, though. But moving house almost leaves you no option other than a car, preferably a van, and preferably including at least one man. Today I was helping a friend move house and booked a van through my car club. No man included, so I am afraid I had to fill this role. Ah well.

Car clubs in London have come a long way. About two years ago, cars were only available in a few selected areas, whereas today, the situation has improved a lot. There are still not many providers, but four big guns and a few smallish clubs serve London tube zones 1 and 2 very well, and they seem to expand at a rapid pace. You can find the locations of cars from the big providers all on one website:

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Lion King

Date February 11, 2010

Mainstream musicals, as in typical feelgood family entertainment, are usually not my cup of tea. Yet when I was offered a reduced best available seat for Disney’s Lion King, I instantly accepted. How could I not? Lion King has a robust reputation and a number of followers, and even though it is understandably appealing to the young ones, I have had a few recommendations from adults as well. Plus, it is very hard to get good discounts on Lion King tickets, further underlining its popularity, so this was a brilliant opportunity to check what the fuss is all about.

Lyceum Theatre London

Lyceum Theatre, by AndyRob via

Seat-wise, the Lyceum Theatre is a top ten West End venue, easily outdoing the 2,000 seat threshold by 100 seats. As with many theatres in London, it has quite an interesting history, being relocated in the early 19th century, redeveloped in rococo style 70 years after its opening at the current site, threatened by demolition for road improvements, and various other closures and redevelopments. Its recent history is much more stable, with the Lion King now being in its eleventh year.

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