London Hidden Gem: The Mansion Bar and Parlour

Tucked away down the quiet Barkston Gardens near the bustle around Earl’s Court station is the charming Mansion Bar and Parlour, a cocktail bar that opened less than a year ago on the ground floor of the 4-star boutique Hotel Indigo.

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Dimple and I popped in for a drink on Friday night, but definitely plan to take advantage of the 2 for 1 happy hour that runs Sunday through Wednesday!

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I didn’t have my camera, so apologies for the terrible iPhone photos.

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It’s much better in person!

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We didn’t know what to expect, but were happily surprised.

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It’s sophisticated, elegant, colourful and contemporary with vintage vibes, taking inspiration from its original setting as a Victorian mansion.

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The wallpaper is made of old classified ads and there are old school newspapers folded on each table.

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After perusing the extensive cocktail menu, we put an end to our indecisiveness and took the advice of the waiter.

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Hemingway Daquiris were an excellent choice.

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Cheers!

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We noticed the staff’s name badges with Lord or Lady titles.

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Apparently, according to View London, “Far from being an empty gimmick, each member of bar staff has been bought a small plot of land so they legally possess the title, making sure guests are really served by members of high society.”

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Interesting.

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I’m looking forward to going back on a Sunday when they do a traditional roast with live jazz in the afternoons.

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The waiter told us to keep an eye on Living Social for deals and I see they have one on now.

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They also run loads of fun networking events, molecular cocktail masterclasses and charity fashion soirees.

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I can’t tell you how the food is, but the staff were lovely and so was the decor so hopefully it lives up to my expectations when I return!

Listen to a Londoner: Graham Greenglass (& Giveaway!)

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Born and bred Londoner Graham Greenglass went through the famous course, the Knowledge, to become a black cab driver. Combined with his history degree, he has an extensive knowledge of this city which he shares through tours in his cab. They have different themes like music and horror and are one of the most popular London activities on Trip Advisor. Graham has offered a free one to a lucky LLO reader (details at the end) and has taken the time to answer a few questions about how London has changed since he was a child, what it was like to go through the Knowledge which is famously gruelling and a fun London discovery in Dollis Hill.

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your interests. Which part of London is home for you? 
GG: I’m from north west London, man and boy. Like most Londoners, I think that I live a quite unremarkable life.  But like a lot of Londoners, I know that I live in a truly remarkable city; and I love it and it never ceases to interest me and almost every day I discover something new to read about or visit or find.

LLO: How long have you been a black cab driver? What was it like to study the Knowledge? 
GG: It took three years of doing the Knowledge for me to get my green badge in 2000, which is about average.  They say that two thirds of people who start the Knowledge never finish.  The Knowledge was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

A Knowledge student eats, sleeps and drinks the Knowledge.  It’s all encompassing and takes up almost every waking thought of every day.  I may never be a millionaire but it’s scientifically proven that my brain is bigger than your brain.

LLO: You’re running your own London Cab Tours, which are number 3 out of 516 activities in London on Trip Advisor. Impressive. What prompted you to start doing this? How long are the tours and where do they start?
GG: Sometime in 2001, I thought I’d like to be a London tour guide, using my London taxi for tours. I’d done a history degree in the early ‘80s, but had never actually used my love of history in any job I’d had.  It dawned on me that I could show people London icons, from a London icon.

Each tour lasts for two to three hours and we can cover quite a bit of ground in the taxi.  We make lots of stops too and go for the occasional short walk.

I’ll pick customers up from anywhere in central London and drop them off anywhere central too.

LLO: Tell us about the themes of your tours. Which is your most popular? Which do you most enjoy and why?
GG: My tours cover various themes:  London Highlights; London Rock’n Roll; London Horror; London of Dickens & Shakespeare.

London Highlights is the most popular tour, but I enjoy them all.

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what are the biggest changes in the city since you were a child?
GG: The architecture and London’s built environment – there is both a lot of imaginative use of space and some quite hideous monstrosities.  This is a very clean city (which is nice), but I do kind of miss the grime.

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
GG: Churchill’s spare war bunker in Dollis Hill.  It’s only open during Open House and I managed to go a few years ago during its first ever re-opening. Hard hats and wellies required. Once you’re forty feet underground you discover why it was never really used. No toilets.

LLO: Tell us the story of your most memorable passenger.
GG: I’ll always remember the British Museum academic who told me that he’d just finished inspecting some old, rare Tsarist paper money.  He had to tell the owner/dealer that they were fakes. Only worth a few thousand pounds, instead of the hoped for tens of thousands of pounds.

LLO: Share a piece of London trivia that passengers would hear on one of your tours.
GG: In 1972, a man was arrested after driving into a lamp post one night near Cockpit Steps. His defence at his court hearing was that he’d swerved to avoid the ghost of the headless lady of Cockpit Steps. He was acquitted.

LLO: What kind of music do you listen to when you drive? Or do you prefer silence?
GG: I’m a bit of a music freak. But right now, anyone called Hank from south of the Mason Dixon Line.

LLO: When you think of London, what comes to mind when you hear each of the following:
GG: 
Sight -  The Houses of Parliament (corny, but true)
Sound -  Sirens (horrible, but true)
Smell -  Fish & Chip Shops and Indian Restaurants
Taste -  Fresh challah
Texture -  The mottled rubber of my taxi steering wheel

Thanks Graham!

Check out Graham’s London cab tours on his website, www.londoncabtours.co.uk

GIVEAWAY

Graham has very kindly offered to give one lucky LLO reader a free London tour in his cab! The tour will last two hours. Graham will pick you up and drop you off anywhere in central London and you’re welcome to choose any of his tour themes (which you’ll find on his website). The tour can take place any day time, which will be decided between Graham and the winner.

TO ENTER

I’m trying to spread the word about my new blog, Little Observationist. To enter, please share the link (http://www.littleobservationist.com) on any of your social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, blog, etc). For each place you share, leave a comment here on this entry and let me know where you shared the link. Extra entries for Facebook page likes.

DEADLINE

Entries will be accepted until the midnight GMT, Sunday January 26. A winner will be selected at random on Monday January 27th and notified by email. The winner will be put in touch with Graham directly to make the tour arrangement as above.

A Brisk January Walk

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It is definitely January in London: Christmas trees with dried out needles heaped in the middle of the pavement waiting to be collected, shiny pavements from incessant rain, dark walks home in the evening, sales in all the shop windows and everyone on diets. I returned from the Canary Islands quite refreshed though. It’s amazing what a bit of sunshine can do.

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But back to the dark rainy days in this city, it’s been preferable to spend my free time curled up with a travel magazine and a cup of tea than go out exploring much with my camera, hence the lack of London posts!

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I did head out over the weekend though to meet an old friend who was here from the States.

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We started at Liverpool street and wandered for a while.

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We walked up Brick Lane, past the guy selling pineapples with little pink umbrellas as if this were the Caribbean, past the mixed aromas of cuisines of so many different countries wafting out of the Sunday UpMarket, past the murals and love locks around Shoreditch station.

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And a few bits of street art I hadn’t seen yet.

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Then we walked through the City where everything is eerily closed on the weekend and along the north of the river, all the way to the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus.

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But it was more talking and catching up then exploring.

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I didn’t take very many but couldn’t resist a few pictures along the way.

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I’ve been focusing on different things since this year began: my new blog Little Observationist, where I’ve been posting much more often than here. I’d love it if you’d follow me there. It will start to include London stories soon.

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I’m also working on some freelance writing, learning more Spanish since it’s always going to be a part of my life now, planning our wedding for June, baking once in a while and updating my Etsy shop.

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So tell me, how was your transition from 2013 to 2014? Any good New Year’s stories? Resolutions? What are you most looking forward to this year? Update me…!

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Rain, Christmas Lights and Tenerife

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It’s amazing how beautiful London can be in the rain. I walked through the seven dials in Covent Garden a few days ago and Christmas lights glistened in the puddles.

Bill Bryson once wrote:

“I can never understand why Londoners fail to see that they live in the most wonderful city in the world. It is, if you ask me, far more beautiful and interesting than Paris and more lively than anywhere but New York – and even New York can’t touch it in lots of important ways. It has more history, finer parks, a livelier and more varied press, better theaters, more numerous orchestras and museums, leafier squares, safer streets, and more courteous inhabitants than any other large city in the world.”

And probably more rainy days, at least this month. But if you can see past your wet shoes and wind-blown umbrella, there’s plenty of beauty there.

Anyway, I just wanted to stop in to say Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate. What’s everyone doing? Going home? Travelling? Having an orphan Christmas like I did one year? I’m leaving tomorrow and will be in Tenerife until early January, spending a warm Christmas with Jorge’s family and my 30th birthday on La Gomera, another island. In the meantime, there’s a couple of scheduled posts this week on my other blog, Little Observationist if you want to swing by. Enjoy the holidays!

Exploring Lancaster Gate on a Go Native Staycation

Jorge and I were invited a few weeks ago to stay in a new Go Native serviced apartment property on Sussex Gardens near Lancaster Gate and Hyde Park.

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We thought it might be fun to have a little staycation in a different neighbourhood. So we packed our overnight bags and walked from South Kensington to Exhibition Road and over to the other side of Hyde Park to check it out.

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It was still surprisingly Autumnal in the park the first weekend of December.

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There are berries and colourful leaves on some of the trees.

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Others were bare and still others dark green.

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Some had colourful trunks instead.

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We wandered up past the Peter Pan statue.

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It was always one of my favourite stories when I was younger.

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Then it was onward along The Long Water at the north end of the Serpentine where the birds always line up on a row of wooden posts.

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A little Australian boy was told off by his mother for trying to pelt them with stones.

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But overall, it was a very peaceful stroll.

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One of my favourite places in the park is the Italian Gardens, which I was happy to realise were on our route.

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There’s a fountain at the one end where you can stand and look back over the Serpentine.

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It wasn’t a very sunny day, but it was still a stunning view. Imagine with bright blue skies.

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The birds thought it was nice enough to go for a swim anyway.

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We reached the end of the park.

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The rest of the walk was just five minutes up through Sussex Gardens.

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We went to drop our bags in the lobby.

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Then we decided to consult the neighbourhood guide that Go Native had sent us for some ideas on what to do next.

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We were intrigued by the nearby Leinster Gardens Fake Houses and took a walk in that direction. We passed a small street with shops and some Christmas trees for sale on the corner.

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Then we turned down a pretty ordinary residential street in this area with big expensive homes just minutes walk to the edge of Hyde Park.

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And we found ourselves standing in front of two ordinary looking buildings that we wouldn’t have looked at twice unless we had read the guide. It said: “Take a stroll along Leinster Gardens (just off Lancaster Gate) and you’ll see that numbers 23 and 24 are eerily empty, both missing letterboxes and with their windows painted over. That’s because they’re an illusion. The original houses were demolished during the development of the London Underground and these facades mask the gap that remained.” Learn something new every day, right?

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What next? It was Sunday and we were hungry so clearly a Sunday Roast was in order. But where? After consulting that handy guide, we settled on The Grazing Goat. “Minutes away from Marble Arch is this hidden gem. A simple, elegant pub, it specialises in beer and guest ales but also has a reputation for fresh, seasonal food – specifically, their traditional Sunday lunch. Named after Lady Portman’s grazing goats that once populated the surrounding land, it doubles as the perfect reason to visit Portman Village.”

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So we walked back the way we came and followed the edge of the park down toward Marble Arch.

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This time, on the same route, I spotted something I love to find in big cities – a rack of international newspapers in a mishmash of languages. I can’t read any of them and I never buy any of them, but I love that they are a sign of such incredible diversity.

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We also spotted a sign on a door that said United Lodge of Theosophists. I had a relatively good idea of what that was but looked it up just to be sure. If you’re curious, theosophy is defined by “systems of esoteric philosophy concerning, or investigation seeking direct knowledge of, presumed mysteries of being and nature, particularly concerning the nature of divinity.”

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Moving on then. Around the corner, we came to Sheila’s Cafe, a hidden little place at the top of Lancaster Mews. With two tables for two, it’s mostly a sandwich takeaway shop and apparently popular with cab drivers and builders. The bacon sandwich got good reviews. We didn’t stop though.

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Across the street from Sheila’s is The Mitre, a popular pub that was listed in our guide, which reads: “Housed in a Grade II listed building, The Mitre was once populated by the Lords and Ladies of the day. Now, film buffs are more likely to recognise it from Woody Allen’s London-based movie Match Point.” Haven’t seen it. Have you? Any good?

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Anyway, we didn’t stop there either.

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We reached the park and kicked through the leaves near the Boris bikes.

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And wondered why there were no less than four red phone boxes back to back in a square across from them.

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Eventually we reached Portman Village, just between the madness of Edgware Road and the madness of Oxford Street. The Grazing Goat was tucked quietly away on a side street.

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But we opened the doors to a packed pub and waited at the bar for a table.

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It had been a while since I had a Sunday roast so it took me a minute to decide but I went with the lamb.

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The food was great and it was worth a visit, but the pub was incredibly noisy and full of squirming, screaming children so we were happy to leave.

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It was time to check into our room anyway.

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This time we went through the back streets. We wanted to check out Connaught Street. According to our guide, it “boasts two worthwhile spots: Le Pain Quotidien and Coco Maya, the latter of which is on the border of Connaught Street and Porchester Place. Interestingly, this is where Tony Blair and his family live – identifiable by the armed protection squad outside.” There was indeed an armed guard in front of a mews.

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The sun was already setting so it was a pretty walk.

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So we made it back and were shown to a large suite on the ground floor with a bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen area. It was, however, quite dark and four of the lights didn’t work so we called for someone to have a look.

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Apparently they didn’t have replacement bulbs because they were waiting on a shipment that hadn’t arrived so they kindly gave us a choice of two other apartments upstairs. The one we chose was lovely, with a huge wraparound balcony.

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Unfortunately it was too chilly to properly enjoy it, but the inside was really nice as well. It had very high ceilings, a spare room with a couch and extra set of towels, a living room and kitchen area, a bedroom and a bathroom. Definitely very spacious for London!

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It was also very cool to see they had thoughtfully left a small carton of milk, sugar, tea and coffee as well as dishwasher soap, washing up liquid, and laundry detergent for the small washing machine.

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The kitchen was fully stocked with pots and pans and everything you need really. One thing that would have been nice that we didn’t see is oil for cooking. But we didn’t use the kitchen.

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Taking advantage of its proximity, we headed back into the darkness to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland where we ate German sausages, churros and sweets for dinner instead.

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Jorge was amused by the fake snow, which he hadn’t seen before.

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I, on the other hand, am wishing for real snow, but considering it is still about 13C / 55F in London, that’s not looking likely any time soon.

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We didn’t go on any of the rides.

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Nor did we play any of the games.

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But we did do one of my favourite activities – try on silly hats!

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Jorge was going for the furry Russian look.

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I went the reindeer route.

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We were there mostly just to soak up the atmosphere.

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And then we headed back again.

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This time we walked through the Bathurst Mews where the Hyde Park Stables are, to see the horses that were tucked away for the night.

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Back in the apartment, we found a late night Christmas movie and then got up and walked the 40 minutes to work the next morning.

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All in all, a fun little adventure. I do like the idea of a staycation. While it wasn’t too far from where we live now, it was a nice getaway! If it were in East London and it was over a weekend, it would have felt like we’d really been on holiday!

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 Thanks Go Native!