Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hidden London 4 - Strand on the Green

If you fly into London airports, Heathrow or Gatwick, you'll pass Strand On The Green on your way into town.

It's well-hidden from the A4 behind office blocks, an old brewery and a few layers of streets.

There's a definite seaside feeling here.

Three of the pubs have been here since the 18th century, one since 1722. The little island on the river is called Oliver's Island, named after Oliver Cromwell who is supposed to have used it as a hideaway during the English Civil War, holding fort in the Bull's Head pub.

There's all sorts of history of course, rumours of tunnel and real old tunnels you can still walk through.

My friend Deb and I sometimes go mud-larking along the beach after a liquid lunch at one of the pubs. Pottery going right back to the Roman times has been found. There are lots of old clay pipes washed up with the tides, savoured in the pubs and then tossed into the river all those 100s of years ago.  

This plaque belongs to the old alms cottages.

These cottages are unusual, most of the houses here are on the grand scale. Celeb residents include Ant and Dec, Rhyss Evans and the Upstairs Downstairs creator and actress Eileen Atkins. Strand on the Green and The City Barge pub featured in the 1965 Beatles film Help!

If you want to stop off for a leisurely pub lunch on your way in or out of town, asked to be dropped at Kew Bridge, between Chiswick and Brentford. The riverside footpath starts on the north side of the river. The nearest tube is Gunnersbury Park on the District Line.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Hidden London 3 - Oscar Wilde was arrested here, Lillie Langtry made love here

I was at Kettners on Saturday for a lovely authors' Christmas get-together lunch complete with Secret Santa. I was hoping for Kate Harrison's YA novel Soul Beach but scored well with Sarah Duncan's Another Woman's Husband and James Roberston's And The Land Lay Still.

Kettners is a massive white building in the heart of theatreland, yet it still manages to be hidden somehow. I walked right past it at first, and I don't think many Londoners know of its remarkable history. Well, I didn't. For all I knew it was still a pizza place (it used to be Pizza Express's flagship restaurant). It's now (and probably has been for decades) (no, just looked it up, since 2009) a very pretty, friendly restaurant, reasonably priced too considering the food, service, ambience and its West End situation. There's also a very elegant champagne bar with house wine prices the same as my local pub.

The history bit is all on the menu. It was opened by Napoleon's chef in 1867 and used to host incredibly glamorous parties (as indeed it still does). People who've dined there include Bing Crosby, Agatha Christie, Lillie Langtry and Oscar Wilde used to take his rent boys there. Oh and, just remembered, the last time I was there in its pizza days, Paul Weller passed us on the stairs!

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.