world according to sam

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. Mark Twain

Tag: London

Qbic Hotel … Whitechapel … Form an orderly Q


I don’t know what it is about these new boutique essentials hotel chains malingering around the nether regions of the alphabet … First Z and now Q(bic) but whatever the reasoning behind the names, the end results are impressive.

Dutch owned, the quirkily decorated rooms offer a budget stay on the cool East side of London.  Rooms are offered on three price/size bands. We opted for the cheapest … After all this was a stop off for a late night out in London followed by a hearty brunch at Dirty Burger/Chicken Shop. All we required was cleanliness, a comfortable bed and a decent shower.  Qbic delivers on all three … The buxom Mrs Mop presiding over our bed in the form of a large graphic is less daunting after a few cocktails and is an amusing welcome to the room on check-in. 
For an inexpensive overnight stay with a little more soul and tongue-in-cheek humour than your average Premier Inn, Qbic is a great find!


Z Shoreditch

Expensive train fares mean that when we plan to be in London at the weekends we occasionally treat ourselves to a hotel (return train fares for two are about £90 including tube) so we drive up, park somewhere hopefully for free (generally after 1.30 in the City) and spend a couple of days enjoying the delights London has to offer without the worry of having to catch the last train home that is invariably full of half sloshed callow youths who think it’s terribly funny to engage with the ‘old folks’ … 

So a hunt on Trivago to check out what’s available at what price will throw up grisly b&b’s as far out as Wembley but if you are fairly clued in on the geography of London you can on occasion pick up a bargain   Pre-Christmas we stayed at Z Shoreditch, a designer conversion of a former office building, with 111 bedrooms arranged over lower ground, ground and three upper floors.

Staying in Shoreditch, where space is at a premium this hotel concept is to provide maximum comfort in a compact space. But fear not, these are not anything like those Japanese sleep pods that remind me of a morgue! 

As they say on their website “You’re not intending to hold conferences in your room or throw parties, either.”

If  you are wanting to stay a couple of nights in central London, sleep in a really comfortable bed and wake in designer surroundings Z is a great choice. Rooms start at £59 ( we paid rather more but still great value for central London)

This is the description from their website and it’s all true! “Your  Z room will be carefully considered. With en suite wet room, crisp bed linen, 48” TV with a full selection of Sky channels, and of course, complimentary Wi-Fi.”
We had a basement room that had a small window panel to the side of the bed but as we rolled in at 1am, outside was still awash with late night revellers, window or not the room was perfect for our needs – sleep! A bedside control panel for lights and a/c mean even in the dead of night it’s easy to cool things down or illuminate a path to the loo! 

Breakfast is not included in their basic room rate but can be taken in the cafe next to reception. 

Soon to come … A review of Qbic Hotel 

Belmond British Pullman

I know I was utterly spoilt last year year for my FortyTen celebrations and in late October,  5 months in, those celebrations finally came to a close.
I was very generously gifted a voucher for the Orient Express group … Googling ‘book Orient Express tickets’ I was filled with images of a romantic trip  with Mr H and I channeling Agatha Christie and the diminutive Poirot, heading from Paris to Venice. Back to earth with a bump …. £500 will buy you a 2 hour journey with afternoon tea from London’s Victoria through the Kent countryside for two people.
Further exploration of itineraries and we decided to add some of our own coffers to opt for Belmond British Pullman‘s The Golden Age of Travel lunch.

Departing from Victoria Station, there is a waiting room exclusively for Belmond travellers with tea and coffee, a welcome warming drink before the off.

The excitement is tangible, the audience a mixed bunch, most celebrating the passing of milestone birthdays, engagements, marriages The average age is somewhat more than my own half century I suspect. Some have embraced the bygone era, tea dresses, the odd gentleman in black tie and one group who seemed to be wearing Lilliputian sized trilbys a in a nod to ….. Bugsy Malone?

A short wait and boarding commences, the cheery crew welcome you aboard with due reverence … A very different experience to the 7.26 Haslemere to Waterloo. Space and comfort are what greet you, high backed wingchairs set at beautifully laid tables with an overly ornate table lamp, with a shade something akin to a Victorian courtesans flouncy knickers. Beautiful crystal, fine china and flatware are far removed from the contemporary stemless glasses and heavy earthenware crockery of so many restaurants now.

Champagne is poured almost as soon as you are seated and the experience begins. It doesn’t take long to immerse yourself, talking in hushed tones and waving regally like a pageant queen to the passengers disembarking the normal service trains.

Amuse bouche followed by a soup starter served professionally by the steady footed crew, wine ordered – the journey begins out through a much graffiti’d South London and down to the Kent coast. It’s not the most interesting of vistas but Mr H and I enjoyed the food and each other’s company and shared juvenile humour at our efforts at sotto voce conversation in a bid to not disturb the library hush.

There is an opportunity to purchase souvenirs but I refrained from the branded sweater-wearing teddy and the other costlier Belmond ephemera. Our adjacent neighbours bought a rather overpriced Station Clock as their souvenir of the day … Mr H and I settled for a few photos on our iPhones and the memories!


Two bottles of wine and an extra glass of champagne for the delay in leaving Victoria at the start of the journey coupled with the gentle tinkling of silver against chinaware leaves even the most seasoned of travellers in a soporific state. As we reached Broadstairs we were asked to disembark where we were greeted with another glass of wine and fresh local Oysters. Some of our fellow passengers were less than keen to partake of the crustaceans on offer (fools)  – all the more for us. A blazer-clad brass band was playing to add to the yesteryear ambience but it felt slightly awkward and contrived standing side by side on the platform –  needless to say there was one fellow traveller who threw inhibition to the wind and managed a sort of Charleston. We all dutifully congratulated her as we returned to our seats, homeward bound.

In essence it was a charming day out but given the cost I think we probably could have had an Air BnB weekend city break for the same price as lunch on the Belmond.  This trip is best suited to a more vintage traveller, a special older birthday or celebratory anniversary. My in-laws would have loved this trip as would any ferroequinologist* but perhaps Mr H and I should have saved this for our twilight years!


London From Scratch Gastro Food Tour – Soho

Stuck on what to do on a London day out with my brother in law and his wife my inbox threw up the perfect solution just the day before.  I subscribe to lots of alerts for days out, restaurant recommendations etc and one of my favourites is Lime & Tonic,, in their own words “Curated Activities, Events & Places”.  It’s a great resource to find something unusual to do in London every day of the week. You can visit the website or download the app which sends out alerts.


And that is how I happened upon London from Scratch Soho Food Tour lead by Antipodean, chef, restauranteur and fellow food lover, Michelle Francis.  Purchasing 4 tickets for our intrepid group only two days before the event through Eventbrite we met in the middle of Soho Square at 10.30am one fine Saturday morning in late May (why has it taken me so long to write this review??).  We were a mixed, cosmopolitan bunch of Londoners (well nearly), New Yorkers, a Kiwi and a couple of others who I can’t quite remember their origins but of course the common denominator here is that we all LOVEd food!!


I have worked in London for most of my adult life and spent much of my teens working my Saturdays for my grandmother who catered for the top hairdressing salons in London and so was often dispatched to Soho to the fabulous Italian delis and Berwick Street Market for fruit, veg and deli delicacies so Soho is not unknown to me but Michelle unveiled some new places for me as well as some old favourites .  The ticket price is £59 p.p which includes 10 taster courses, drinks (water, tea and coffee, no alcohol) and starts at 10.30am, finishing at 1.30pm approximately.


Soho still has echoes of the salacious 60’s and 70’s vice scene but increasingly Wardour Street and surrounding streets are being taken over by both chain and independent eateries.  Before we sat down to our first tasting we set off passing Pizza Pilgrims on Dean Street, a crowd funded pizzeria that started as a Pizza Van found at the various street food markets but now opening a string of restaurants using authentic recipes and the finest Italian ingredients (will definitely be reviewing this another day).


The great thing about Soho on a Saturday morning is that is is relatively empty, unlike weekdays so we were able to traverse as a group speedily – our first port of call was Princi, a rather chi-chi Milano artisan bakery on Wardour Street where we picked up an Olive Sfilatino packed with lush green olives (and a few tastings from the bar – yum!). *Make note to self to return to try the amazing array of filled foccacia.  


On to Lina Stores, a delicious duck egg blue authentic Italian deli serving up cured meats, homemade ravioli and rich chocolate brownies, the brownie was tucked in a box for us to savour later …



Then on to I Camisa on Old Compton Street to pick up the freshest, most moist Braesola I have ever tasted …. this makes you realise how bland and rubbery the pre packed supermarket stuff is.  We gobbled this up *whispers “on the street” ….. although scoffing one’s lunch on the street is commonplace I still find it all a little vulgar but nevertheless the Braesola wrapped around the bread from Princi’s was amazing.  We washed this down with a steaming cup of coffee from The Algerian Coffee house also on Old Comtpon Street ….


And that is where I will stop with descriptions of where we went lest I spoil it for you should you decide to take one of Michelle’s tours – but I can tell you there were fresh dim sum dumplings, Vietnamese rice noodle, incredible handmade salted caramel chocolates and some Middle Eastern Baba Ganoush, pitta and pickles finished off with tea and Viennese pastries in the most spectacular venue tucked away near Picadilly Circus.


Michelle’s tour is lighthearted, informative and a lot of fun …. it’s not hard work walking so no level of fitness is required but you are kept to a strict time guideline as there are lots of stops on the way as well as an update on the new Soho Food Movement about to unveil their new eateries including Alan Yua (owner of the Princi bakery and a diverse collection of other Soho establishments open and soon to be opened).  And Michelle’s parting gift to us all was her own, homemade Peanut & Pistachio Brittle …. delicious!






Also en route Picked up this great little book ….. Food Lovers’ London which details everything from Supper Clubs to food markets and beyond


And next week’s tour has a special twist in honour of London Cocktail Week  (6-12th October 2014) so check out Michelle’s website for details here …. London From Scratch …  this is a one off tour including some delicious cocktails

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