Learn a skill, have some fun: one-day courses in Covent Garden

One of this year’s buzzwords in travel circles is “experiential”. The definition is a little hazy, but it refers to travel that enriches you in some way – think cooking lessons with local people instead of topping up your tan by the pool. With that in mind, we’ve been looking at some of the coolest, quirkiest courses in our neighbourhood. Whether you’re into flowers or street art, these experiences that’ll take your visit to another level, leaving you with unique skills and memories to take away. If you take one, tweet us at @strandpalace and let us know how you got on.

Screen printing at Print Club London

In action since 2007, this workspace at Somerset House provides education and equipment to amateur and professional printers and designers alike, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You need to be a member to use the hardware, but beginners can sign up for a fascinating one-day course that covers history and basic techniques, and finishes with producing an A4 design to take home. If you’re serious about design or just curious to know how cool posters, tees and tote bags are made, this is the course for you.

Asian cooking with School of Wok

The pun may be terrible, but if you’re a fan of Asian food, School of Wok is the place to brush up on your skills and knowledge. It runs scheduled group classes throughout the week, ranging from dim sum to street food to knife skills. If you’d like to see a bit of the area too, try the food tour of nearby Chinatown – you’ll spend a few hours sampling delicacies and shopping for ingredients, before returning to the school to cook what you’ve bought.

Designing with flowers from New Covent Garden Market

Floral design school The Academy of Flowers offers a day-long tour and workshop aimed squarely at the tourist market. The days starts at the school’s Covent Garden headquarters at 8am start (stay with us here), then shifts to the wholesale flower market over in Vauxhall, which is at its bright, bustling best in the morning. Course leaders will help you select your own flowers, then it’s back to the academy to turn them into something modern and stylish.

Dance classes at Pineapple

Pineapple tends to be associated with serious, even professional dancers, but dig into the schedules and you’ll find several classes suitable for complete beginners – and the calibre of the school means you can be sure of a good instructor. Fleur Murray (who has popped up as a boot camp instructor on The X Factor) teaches a jazz class for absolute beginners, and there’s also a come-one-come-all burlesque session led by Covent Garden-based team Burlesque Baby.

Street art with Graffiti Kings

Based over the river in legal graffiti hotspot Leake Street (which is worth a visit in its own right) the Graffiti Kings can organise both group and one-on-one workshops, and they’re more than happy to welcome absolute beginners. The business also does professional commissions, and demand for its services is high – so if you fancy giving this one a go, get in touch with them to discuss your session well ahead of your visit.

BFI’s sci-fi season: 4 screenings and events we can’t wait for

We’ve talked about the bfi before in these pages – we love it, and it’s just over Waterloo Bridge. Now the film-lovers’ paradise on the South Bank is gearing up for one of its biggest-ever special seasons, and it’s going to be a serious treat for sci-fi fans.

The theme is timely, because the genre is set for a cracking summer. For mainstream fans, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy looks like a(nother) critical and commercial triumph – Wired’s reviewer even called it “this generation’s Star Wars”. If you’re into meatier fare, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is coming later this year, with trailers suggesting a brooding, philosophical piece in the vein of Contact, Sunshine or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

While Guardians won’t be part of the Days of Fear and Wonder season, you’re likely to see Interstellar at the BFI IMAX (a short walk south of the main building) when it releases on November 7. And the core programme, running from October right through to December, will feature plenty of classics, oddities and special events to whet your appetite and build up your genre knowledge, including some pre-season outdoor showings at the British Museum.

The BFI is still finalising the programme, but here are four events worth keeping an eye out for:

DJ Yoda Goes To The Sci-Fi Movies

When: November

There’s no exact date for this yet, but the BFI promises a whole new show from the brilliant, witty cut-and-paste artist DJ Yoda, premiering some time in November. Be quick, because tickets will fly out of the door – Yoda has a passionate following.

Last Angel of History

When: TBC

Afrofuturism is an underexplored corner of the genre, and if you’re eager to know more, British-Ghanaian filmmaker John Akomfrah’s rarely-shown 1996 documentary is a great place to start. Combining interviews, archive footage and surreal narrative sequences, it’s an enlightening, enriching watch with flashes of humour.

Primer + Q&A

When: TBC

The time-travel feature divides viewers: some consider it an underappreciated gem, some think it’s a triumph of complexity over depth. Catching it on the big screen will give you a chance to make up your own mind, and the BFI is laying on a Q&A with director Shane Carruth – which might give you a chance to figure out what’s going on in the film.

Flash Gordon

When: August 30

One cool film, one enlightening film, one confounding film – so we’re rounding out the list with a dose of pure, campy fun, served on a huge screen in the British Museum forecourt. Last year’s outdoors shows for the Gothic season were a huge hit, and this year’s promise to be just as good, with an even bigger screen. Gordon, full of pulpy, quotable lines, is perfect stuff for a relaxed, boozy watch in a massive group.

Win a weekend stay for 2 at the Strand Palace Hotel – #TheLondonSelfie

How to participate and enter the chance to win an amazing stay at the Strand Palace Hotel:

  • Follow us on Facebook to participate
  • Take a ‘selfie’ with your favourite London attraction, landmark or friend (as long as it’s in London)
  • Share your selfie with us on our Facebook wall, Googple plus page or twitter profile @StrandPalace using the hashtag #TheLondonSelfie (Bonus points for creativity and originality)

#TheLondonSelfie social media contest Strand Palace Hotel

 

THE PRICE INCLUDES

  • A weekend stay for two people in an Exectuive Room with full English Breakfast included
  • A bottle of cava upon arrival
  • Complimentary Lunch at the Strand Carvery (set menu)
  • Complimentary dinner at Daawat for two including beer/wine (set menu)
  • 2 cocktails (one for each person) at the Mask Bar up to a value of £12 pounds each
  • A complimentary travel card for each person
  • A £15 Palace Pounds voucher
  • Late Checkout


Terms and Conditions

This contest is in no way sponsored or administered by Facebook. The information you provide will only be used for this contest’s purposes.

Copyright of all images belongs to the participating photographers. By participating in this contest, members will allow Strand Palace Hotel the rights to reproduce the images for publication and promotion purposes including website, email promotion and marketing purposes.

  • All fans must include their real names, contact numbers and emails along with their submissions
  • This online photo contest is open to all fans of the Strand Palace Hotel & Restaurants ltd
  • Staff of Strand Palace Hotel & Restaurants ltd are not eligible to enter this online photo contest
  • Submit JPEG images only
  • Strand Palace Hotel & Restaurants ltd can disqualify photographs at any time
  • Strand Palace Hotel & Restaurants ltd will not allow any form of competitive behaviour that they feel is unacceptable
  • Comments that are rude use profanity language or provide accusations will NOT be published
  • You may share your picture/link with as many friends and family and they may share through Facebook/Twitter but you must not use third party sites (such as forums), vote exchange websites/Facebook groups or use unfair behaviour to win the competition. If we or any other person finds evidence of any of this behaviour the photo will be immediately disqualified. Our decision will be final
  • The Contest can be withdrawn, amended or changed at any time
  • Participants might send multiple images, only the earliest received will qualify
  • Winner(s) will be announced once competition has closed
  • Strand Palace Hotel judges will vote for their favourite photo
  • Stay is subject to availability
  • Your data will be stored securely and won’t be shared with any third parties, view our privacy policy
  • Set menus might vary based on availability.
  • Prize must be claimed within one month of the winner being announced
  • Prize is not exchangeable for cash or transferable. Any prizes not claimed within one month from the date of the results announcement will be forfeited and no further claims thereafter will be entertained. Prizes are subject to terms & conditions and also subject to availability
  • Contest closing date 31/09/2014
  • Decisions of the judges are final

Dub Jam Review, Bedford Street

Review: Dub Jam, Bedford Street

 

Interior of Dub Jam

 

The hearts of purists likely sank at the thought of The Adventure Bar taking on Jamaican food and drink. While the Covent Garden-Dulwich-Clapham chain knows how to put on a party, it isn’t noted for its subtlety. Would this be a travesty, complete with cheesy cultural references and neutered food?

Thankfully, Dub Jam is nothing of the sort – apart from a few silly names on the menu, which we’ll put down to over-enthusiasm. It’s cool, friendly, and most importantly it’s putting out some fantastic grub.

The space itself, right next to the Adventure Bar’s Bedford Street entrance, is tiny – move it a few postcodes to the east and it’d be deemed a ‘pop-up’. But it makes a good fist of balancing Jamaican motifs with London chic. Behind its cluster of tables is a huge sheet of graffiti-splattered corrugated metal, while lighting comes from customised tin cans and buoys.

 

Dub Jam Speakers

 

Up at the counter, the chalkboard menu is crowned by a fat stack of speakers, and the excellent rum punch – sweet and powerful, with a warming kick of cinnamon – is dispensed from a tube that runs through it. “It’s infused with reggae,” staff explained. We’re not sure about the science behind that, but it’s a cute touch. As for beer, don’t expect any concessions to new-school styles: it’s Carib and Red Stripe all the way, and they actually pair well with the rich, spicy flavours Dub Jam serves up.

 

Punch at Dub Jam

 

The short menu is soul-food-meets-street-food. A soft, sticky slow-cooked pork skewer was the best of the bunch; the chicken skewer was punchy but a little drier, and improved when dunked in the fierce scotch bonnet salsa. Veggies can opt for a pepper and halloumi version, and there’s also a small (and not particularly Jamaican) range of burgers.

 

Dub Jam Menu

 

As for sides, we were wowed by a tub of perfect sweet potato chips, which are fiendishly hard to get right. These are fluffy on the inside, seriously crunchy on the outside and dredged in a moreish seasoning – a killer dish that’ll keep us coming back for more. Rice and peas were a great foil to the juicy, fatty pork, soaking up the flavours and cutting through the grease, and coconut salsa delivered a welcome bit of crunch and coolness. Other choices include skin-on potato chips, corn on the cob and a Jamaican cheese patty.

All in all, Dub Jam is a fantastic addition to our neighbourhood. It’s worth going early if you want a seat – it doesn’t take much to fill the place up, and Covent Garden’s after-work crowd have taken to it rather well. We can’t blame them.

Four easy day trips from Strand Palace’s doorstep

Four easy day trips from Strand Palace’s doorstep

If you’ve been following our blog, you’ll already have plenty of tips about our immediate neighbourhood, from eccentric shops to late-night bars. But with Waterloo, Charing Cross and the river on our doorstep, we’re well-placed for day trips further afield too.

Greenwich

Though part of the town centre’s waterfront has fallen foul of identikit, chain retail regeneration – hello Frankie & Benny’s, Zizzi et al – there’s still plenty to love in this green, historic outpost of London. The National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory are genuinely superb cultural attractions, the huge park has wonderful views down to the Thames, and the cluster of independent boutiques and stalls around the market help the shopping experience retain a bit of edge. London brewery Meantime is also here, offering a range of pre-bookable tours.

If you’re feeling energetic it’s possible to walk there down the north bank and cross at the Thames tunnel – leave several hours, and take a break in one of the riverside pubs around Wapping and Limehouse. For a more relaxing journey, take the Thames Clipper, which departs from Embankment pier and takes Oyster cards, or jump on a direct train from Charing Cross – they depart every half an hour.

Kew by boat or train

London’s gorgeous botanical gardens are always a treat, but going by boat adds to the experience. Boarding at Westminster Pier (one stop from Embankment on the Circle and District line), you’ll float past several riverside landmarks including the Houses of Parliament, the disused Lots Road Power Station and Chelsea’s Royal Hospital, and see the city centre slowly give way to green suburbs.

At the gardens themselves, the huge Victorian Palm House, built in 1854, still has the power to impress, and the Princess of Wales Conservatory offers a whistle-stop tour of ten climatic zones, from arid desert peppered with aloes and cacti to a dripping, verdant rainforest.

The smaller outdoor gardens are wonderful too – we love the Mediterranean garden, perfumed by pine, lavender and cypress, and the elegant, precise displays around the Japanese Gate. For something a bit less sedate, test your nerves on the 18m-high skywalk.

If you don’t have the time to do it by boat, there are regular direct trains from Waterloo to Kew Bridge station, just a few minutes’ walk from the gardens.

Bermondsey

Are we really suggesting a trip to Bermondsey? Yes, we are. Not traditionally a tourist hotspot, the half-residential-half-industrial neighbourhood a mile or so south of the Thames has lately become a Mecca for craft beer lovers. A cluster of excellent young breweries open their doors on Saturdays, creating one of London’s least picturesque but most rewarding pub crawls. The star of the route is arguably trailblazer Kernel, the first to open in the area and justly celebrated for its hoppy US-style fare – but Partizan, Anspach & Hobday and Brew By Numbers all have wide ranges and a readiness to experiment, while Bullfinch and Fourpure do solid takes on a couple of classic styles. You’ll need some grub, so take a pit stop at the Ropewalk street food market, one of London’s best-kept culinary secrets.

To get there, take the Number 1 bus from Aldwych towards Canada Water, getting off at Beamish House in Bermondsey. Fourpure Brewing, the first stop on the crawl, is just around the corner.

Hampton Court

You don’t have to head into the countryside to see a stately home – one of the country’s best is right here on the fringe of London, and it’s a great day out for history buffs, families and garden fans (its grounds may not quite equal Kew, but they’re pretty spectacular).

Hampton Court will be forever associated with the larger-than-life Henry VIII, who took it from original owner Cardinal Wolsey and set about enlarging it, adding tennis courts, bowling alleys and huge kitchens; some 150 years later King William III added several new buildings and extended and landscaped the gardens. The palace reflects two very different periods of British history, bringing them to life for younger visitors with games, storytelling and reenactments.

Essential sights include the famous maze, the ‘Real Tennis’ court (a rather complex-looking predecessor of modern tennis) and those enormous kitchens, which occasionally host live Tudor and Georgian cooking events.

Riverboat services are available from Westminster Pier, and direct trains to Hampton Court station (around five minutes’ walk from the palace) run every half an hour from Waterloo.

Cecil Court, the West End’s quirkiest shopping street

Models, maps and more: welcome to Cecil Court, the West End’s quirkiest shopping street

To most tourists – and many Londoners – Cecil Court comes as something of a surprise. You might turn onto it by accident, looking for a cut-through between Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane, or catch a glimpse of an elegant shopfront from the main road and take a detour to investigate.

Either way, you find yourself on a short pedestrianised street, lined not with the west end’s usual mix of theatres, bars and restaurants, but with specialists in rare books, die-cast models, antiques and maps. And they all have beautiful Victorian facades painted the same rich shade of green. There are rumours that Cecil Court inspired Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, and it’s easy to see why.

It wasn’t always like this. The street was first laid out in the late 17th century, on land owned – as it still is – by the Cecil family, descendants of Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury. By the late 19th Century the state of its buildings had deteriorated enough to cause a scandal for the third earl, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, who was rather inconveniently serving as prime minister at the time. As hostile journalists circled, Cecil Court was swiftly redeveloped into something resembling its current form.

Among its new commercial tenants was a small but influential number of film distributors, producers and equipment dealers, who earned Cecil Court the nickname “Flicker Alley”. Little of that remains now, but the street continues to appear on big and small screens, serving as a location in Miss Potter and in the famous ‘fly fishing’ ad for Yellow Pages. Look out for it at 0:16:

 

To give you a flavour of the street, here’s a whistle-stop tour in five photos…

 

Storeys, Cecil Court

Storeys Ltd

Two floors of antique maps and engraved prints on a huge range of subjects, from military history to costume and fashion. Established in 1929.

http://www.storeysltd.co.uk/

 

Witch Ball, Cecil Court

The Witch Ball

Packing probably the best name of any shop on the street, The Witch Ball specialises in prints and posters related to theatre, music and dance. It joined Cecil Court in 1981.

http://www.cecilcourt.co.uk/witch_ball.php

 

Mark Sullivan, Cecil Court

Mark Sullivan

This unique antique shop arrived in Cecil Court in 1998, and rightly describes itself as stocking “just about anything of particular historical interest”. Expect anything from porcelain statues to scientific instruments.

http://www.cecilcourt.co.uk/mark_sullivan.php

David Drummond, Cecil Court

Pleasures of Past Times

David Drummond’s shop is an established presence on Cecil Court, first opening its doors in 1967. It’s a trove of nostalgia, packed with old playbills, posters and assorted Victoriana.

http://www.cecilcourt.co.uk/pleasures_of_past_times.php

St-Martins Models, Cecil Court

St Martin’s Models

This recent arrival on the street – it moved in in 2011 – is effectively a small but well-stocked showroom for Diecast Legends, with collectible cars and bikes from a huge range of brands.

http://www.stmartinsmodels.co.uk/gallery/

 

Credit: This post draws on the far more the detailed essay on cecilcourt.co.uk.

 

Brilliant bakeries

Conventional wisdom has it that The Great British Bake-Off, a reality-style contest for home bakers, was a ‘surprise’ hit on British TV. Rubbish. Our love of cakes and bread was never in doubt, and if anything it was kicked up a gear by the US-inspired cupcake revival that hit town in the noughties. These days the range of bakeries here in the West End is nothing short of staggering. If you like the kind you find in French provincial towns, we have those. If you prefer the kind you find on posh Parisian streets, we have those too. We have the kind that sells novelty cupcakes to hipsters in Austin and the kind rich Swedish housewives use to cater their ‘Kafferep’ afternoons. In short: if it’s cake, we’ve got it.

Primrose Bakery

It seems remarkable now that there was a time when cupcakes weren’t in fashion – they’ve flatly refused to go away since their noughties resurgence, which frankly suits us just fine. The Primrose Bakery team got in on ground floor, opening in chi-chi North London neighbourhood Primrose Hill in 2004 before expanding into Tavistock Street in Covent Garden. They bake fresh every day, with a basic menu that features carrot, red velvet and salted caramel cakes. But the real magic comes from their rotating daily specials, which range from shameless crowd-pleasers like cookies and cream, peanut butter and Toblerone to subtler offerings like Earl Grey, rose and cinnamon. The Covent Garden branch offers decorating classes on selected Sundays.

  • Address: 42 Tavistock Street, WC2E 7PB
  • Walking time: 4 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Tavistock Street was a fashionable shopping street in the Bedford estate in the 18th Century, but fell into decline in the 19th.>

BB Bakery

Frankly we could just link you to the BB Bakery gallery page [http://www.bbbakery.co.uk/gallery/] and leave it at that. This French-inspired tearoom’s secret weapon is a fantastic modern take on the classic afternoon tea, loaded with cupcakes, macarons, sandwiches and scones. An extra £7 buys you a glass of bubbly to wash it all down with. There’s also a range of gorgeous croques, from the tried-and-tested ‘monsieur’ to the ‘saumon’, with cream cheese, cucumber and smoked salmon. If you’re planning something special, BB offers private rooms and an ‘Afternoon Tea Bus Tour’, which is exactly what it sounds like – guests get their dainties served on a vintage Routemaster bus as it passes some of London’s best-loved sights and neighbourhoods, including the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Notting Hill.

  • Address: Chandos Place, WC2H 4HU
  • Walking time: 4 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Maiden Lane, a former bridleway marking south side of Covent Garden.

Balthazar Bakery

After more than a decade of runaway success New York, Keith McNally’s brasserie concept arrived in Covent Garden in 2013, bringing its bakery offshoot with it. It’s a world away from the quirky flavours and coloured icings of our favourite cupcake bakeries. Expect generous, no-nonsense French pastries and big, gnarled loaves with heavy dustings of flour. The house-made bread is used for robust sandwiches and baguettes, stuffed with big flavours like rare roast beef, cured ham and cornichons, and as you’d expect, the French pastries are out-of-the-park good – if you’re in Covent Garden and need a quick breakfast on the hoof, head here for a croissant or pain aux raisins and a strong coffee.

  • Address: 4-6 Russell Street, WC2B 5HZ
  • Walking time: 4 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Tavistock Street (see above)

Sweet Couture

New Row is one of our favourite gateways to Covent Garden – a quiet, surprisingly villagey street full of cafes, galleries and gift shops. And right in the middle of it you’ll find the original Sweet Couture. It’s a cupcake specialist, with a mix of regular and special recipes that include a terrifyingly moreish Oreo cake. Founder Risham Shuja’s team are particularly strong on seasonal ideas: at time of writing they’re selling Guinness cakes for St Patrick’s Day and lemon and raspberry cakes to celebrate spring (not technically spring fruits, but it’s hard to argue with a mouthful of brilliant cake). So good are this small company’s cakes that they’ve won a contract with top-end department store Selfridge’s – you can find them at three of its in-store restaurants.

  • Address: 23b New Row, WC2N 4LA
  • Walking time: 7 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street, built on the site of Bedford House (demolished 1705) and the subsequent Bedford Estate.

Bageriet

As much as we love the cupcake specialists on this list, we’d be the first to admit that London has more than its fair share of them. Swedish bakeries are a different matter. Business partners Daniel Karlsson and Sven-Gunnar Appelgren opened Bageriet in May 2013, determined to convert Londoners that their native country’s dizzying range of cakes, biscuits and pastries. It appears to have worked, and no wonder: the menu boasts gems like ‘Ungeherrar’ – vanilla biscuits filled with apricot jam and studded with pearl sugar – and ’Schwarzwaldtårta’, a cake loaded with meringue, hazelnuts and dark chocolate. Expect lots of pretzel dough, marzipan and cinnamon, and for the sake of your arteries try to resist the Klenäter, which consists of – wait for it – deep-fried cake mix.

  • Address: 24 Rose Street, WC2E 9EA
  • Walking time: 7 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street
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