A Taste of Spain in London: Tapas at Ibérica, Marylebone

It was back at the beginning of May when Jorge told me he made lunch reservations at Ibérica in Marylebone. He wanted to check out the interior design by Lázaro Rosa-Violán.

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I was more interested in the food. And I was not disappointed.

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This was also my first outing with my new little Lumix camera with the 20mm pancake lens and I was itching to try it out. It turned out this same day offered plenty of opportunity, first with Ibérica, then a stroll through Regents Park and then a wander around Little Venice to check out the colourful canal houseboats.

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But back to the tapas, which even Jorge, who is Spanish, says are some of the best he’s had in London (even though the size of the servings never compares to those back home).

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The outside of the restaurant is a bit nondescript, but the inside is covered in beautiful blue and white tiles and has huge windows that let in tons of natural light.

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We sat by a window, which gave us plenty of people watching opportunities and settled in with the menu.

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Jorge ordered wine and I went for a daiquiri. (Oops, drank half before I remembered to take a picture!)

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It was prepared by a friendly bartender who was telling me about the day Made in Chelsea came by for a visit to the restaurant.

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I think he had fond memories.

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We started with a simple plate full of bread and olive oil for dipping.

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And the requisite bowl of olives.

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Along the bar were beautiful legs of Jamón ibérico which was sliced, very thinly, from the bone.

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It added a bit of extra authenticity to the experience.

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We had a plate of this mouthwateringly delicious Spanish favourite.

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Then came the Pulpo a la Gallega – octopus with potatoes and paprika. It was unfortunate we had to share as I could have polished off the whole plate quite easily!

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Double take – Yum!

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But there was more to come with Croquetas de jamón, gooey with their crisp outer later.

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When I went to Barcelona with Jorge last year, we ate the popular Pimientos de piquillo. When you bite into these, you never know if you might get a super spicy one – at least in Spain. Here, they were all perfectly edible, juicy and sprinkled with sea salt.

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The last tapa we had was Hamburguesas de secreto ibérico, mini hamburgers, which were the only thing that didn’t live up to my expectations. The rest surpassed them.

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When the dessert menu arrived, we couldn’t resist sharing a Tarta de Santiago.

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While Jorge surveyed the after dinner drinks menu, I had a little tour upstairs to take photos of this area of the restaurant that opens up for special occasions and big groups.

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Even the walls behind the glasses had the same blue tiles that decorated the downstairs area.

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That night, they were hosting a party of 40 on a long wooden table in the back room.

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In another corner, there was a smaller round table in a private area with standing room for cocktails.

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I took plenty of photos.

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There’s little trinkets everywhere.

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More trinkets.

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Spanish magazines.

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Wine.

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Downstairs, there is a small nook which has one table and it’s surrounded by Spanish books on shelves. It can be booked out if you’re looking for a space that almost feels like you’re dining privately at home.

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There’s plenty of attention to detail, even with the bar stools.

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The bar itself.

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And the wall of wine.

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When I came back, there were two drinks at my place – moscatel and pacharán. One was free from the bartender as a gift and the other Jorge had ordered. Both were delicious.

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The entire rest of the menu looked tempting, so we will certainly be back!

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We left, slightly tipsy, with happy tastebuds and wandered under the London sunshine to a Regents Park in full Spring bloom.

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If you’re on the other side of the city, there’s also a branch of Ibérica in Canary Wharf. If you go, let me know how it is. I will undoubtedly be jealous as it’s made my current list of favourite restaurants in London.

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Ibérica
195 Great Portland Street London W1W 5PS
http://www.ibericalondon.co.uk/

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Listen to a Londoner: Keira (from Keira’s Cakes)

If you have a notorious sweet tooth like me, you’ll be happy to met Keira, maker of fabulous cupcakes. She loves making and decorating cupcakes so she’s turned her hobby into a business called Keira’s Cakes which she runs out of her home near Canary Wharf.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here? 
Keira: I am originally from Long Island, New York. I have been living in London for almost six years. I moved here after getting married to my husband, who was working in London.

LLO: Best part about living in your postcode?
Keira: Access to lots of nice shops and restaurants in Canary Wharf. Plus, it’s well-connected to other great parts of London, like Greenwich and central London.

LLO: You run your own business called Keira’s Cakes, which has a website that makes me drool. Tell us about it and where we can find you.
Keira: I dont have a shop to visit; my business is order-based. So, you can find me online at www.keirascakes.com, or on Facebook, or contact me by email: keirascakes@gmail.com!

LLO: Tell us about the most creative cupcake you’ve ever made. Show us a photo?
Keira: Both creative and time-consuming are grass cupcakes! I use an icing nozzle that creates the look of grass.

LLO: Sometimes cupcakes make a great main meal as well as dessert, but if we feel like munching on something else before indulging in the sweet stuff, where in London would you recommend for dinner?
Keira: One of my favorite restaurants is Maroush. They make delicious Lebanese food!

LLO: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far as an expat in London or a time when you felt a cultural gap?
Keira: Learning the British slang. I am still learning new slang words six years later!

LLO: Favourite quirky or unique London discovery?
Keira: Shortly after moving to London, I found a church to go to. It’s on a boat! It’s called St. Peters Barge and it’s floating in Canary Wharf.

LLO: Have you found a place in this city that always seems to make you happy? Where and why?
Keira: I love being in a London park on a sunny day. My favorite park close to home is Greenwich park.

LLO: What, if anything, do you miss most from home besides people?
Keira: Having a predictable four seasons in the year!

LLO: If you were to leave London in the near future, which five specific things would you miss the most from here?
Keira: The friends I have made here, how multi-cultural London is (I now have friends from all over the world), the London markets, the London parks, lots of choices of things to do with my free time (museums, art galleries, palaces, etc.)

Thanks Keira!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

London Ice Sculpting Festival 2012

Last year’s London Ice Sculpting Festival yielded some pretty impressive results as you can see from their video:

I stopped by Canary Wharf yesterday to watch this year’s contestants in action. It was early on during the first day (today is the last), so the dripping blocks of solid ice were still very much works in progress as you’ll see from the photos. The general theme was Olympic sports (of course).

Chainsaws roared to life. Sculptors scraped and chipped and shaved away excess ice. Brooms pushed piles of snow aside. There was even a “snow box” where kids could go to build snowmen until it all melts away.

Here’s a few photos. If you take some today of the finished pieces, share them in the Flickr pool.

The Raking Scrape

Chipping Away

Full Concentration

Chainsaw!

Canary Wharf Photographers

Perhaps, though, the best part of yesterday’s little adventure was discovering the Global Fusion food stall set up behind the sculptures with plenty of samples. They sell vegan breads that are a bit more like scrumptiously moist cakes – apple-plum-oats, carrot-cherry, mango, cherry brandy, banana…I’m digging into a slice of delicious Creole apple crumble soda bread right now. Gorgeous. If you’re there today, don’t miss it. (Also, the girl who runs is lovely and likes to burst into loud song.)

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Oh, and one more thing. Little London Observationist is now available on Kindle for all of you looking for something to pass the time on your daily commute. It’s on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and gets sent to your Kindle just as a book would. Enjoy!

The Bridge, The Dome and The Wharf

“Beauty can be seen in all things; seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.”
– Matt Hardy

It’s amazing how a certain approach to photography can make me look at something familiar with a new appreciation. That’s how I feel when I look at Don Kiddick‘s photos like the ones below that he added to the Flickr pool. The way he plays with light and shadows, etc. in his photography creates these pristine images of London icons.

The girl, the dolphin and the bridge

Occupied

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries

I find myself exploring London in a completely opposite way from what these photographs communicate. I tend to seek out the grit and grime, the spray-painted walls and stray banana peels, the eccentric people and misspelled signs. I never really look at London in reality the way Don’s photos allow me to see it. He has an ability to bring out its romantic appeal, and I appreciate that.

(That said, Don’s photos aren’t always so glowingly inviting either; he’s also taken photos of subjects like abandoned morgues…But back to London, if you’re looking for more like these from Don, check out his London rooftops set. They’re just as gorgeous as these.)

Listen to a Londoner: Fr Stephen Wang

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Fr Stephen Wang

Fr Stephen Wang is a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Westminster, London. He is Dean of Studies at Allen Hall seminary in Chelsea, where he also teaches philosophy and theology. His latest book is Aquinas and Sartre: On Freedom, Personal Identity, and the Possibility of Happiness, published by Catholic University of America Press. He blogs about culture and faith at Bridges and Tangents.

LLO: As a born and raised Londoner, what are the most noticeable ways the city has evolved in your lifetime?
SW:
It’s bigger and busier. I remember a study recently about how our walking speed has increased (they secretly time you crossing bridges etc). It’s more culturally and ethnically diverse. Immigration has enriched London immensely. Random landmarks that didn’t exist when I was born in 1966: the Gherkin, the Millennium Bridge, the London Eye, Oyster Cards, sculptures on the fourth plinth, Boris Bikes, Tate Modern, the ubiquitous CCTV camera. Tragic losses: the Routemaster bus.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your background and your blog, Bridges and Tangents.
SW:
I was born in University College Hospital just off Tottenham Court Road, when my parents were living in Chiswick. I grew up in Harpenden, near St Albans. I’m a Catholic priest and I work in the seminary in Chelsea, where we prepare men for the priesthood. I never imagined I’d start a blog. It happened quite quickly. I was thinking of writing a book, and a friend pointed out that if I really wanted to communicate and share ideas, then a blog would be more immediate and reach far more people. The penny dropped.

LLO: Freedom is your most used tag on your blog. In a recent post, you wrote “Perfect freedom is being able to step off the back of a London bus whenever you want, whatever the reason, and walk into the sunset without a bus-stop in sight.” Are there other London moments that give you a perfect sense of freedom?
SW:
The fact that London is a city for walking around gives me the greatest sense of freedom. Other random moments of exhilaration, freedom and space include: sitting at the front on the top deck of a double-decker bus; looking at the cityscape from the middle of any of London’s beautiful bridges; jaywalking with abandon — in the knowledge that this would be illegal in some countries; walking through the parks; and along the river at South Bank.

LLO: Can you recommend a few places in London to go for a sense of spirituality without stepping foot in a church/temple/mosque, etc?
SW:
Whenever the next Kieslowski retrospective runs at the British Film Institute; standing over the Greenwich Prime Meridian line, knowing that you are at the still point of the cartographic world; walking round the Serpentine; the Jubilee Line station at Canary Wharf.

LLO: As a catholic priest and philosopher, how important would you say religion is in people’s lives in London today compared to when you started out in your career?
SW:
There are various crosscurrents: some people are much more secular, hardened in their secularism, and dismissive of religion. Yet many more people seem interested in religion who are not believers — as if they are more open to spiritual and transcendent questions, more open to the idea of spirituality and prayer. And religion is a bigger cultural and political reality than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Plus the new immigrants tend to be people of faith (indeed anyone coming to London from outside Western Europe tends to be a person of faith!)

LLO: You recently contributed to a BBC Online article about celibacy, sharing your own experiences. The post on your blog includes tags “happiness” and “loneliness”. Is this commitment one you ever regret or are you content in your decision?
SW:
I don’t regret the decision I have made at all. The whole life of being a priest, including celibacy, has brought me enormous happiness. And the celibacy itself has given me a real freedom, a freedom of heart – to be present with other people in all sorts of wonderful ways; and to pray in a way that would be difficult if I had the responsibilities of family life. I couldn’t live this way without the love of friends and extended family and the communities I have lived in over this time.

LLO: Tell us about something, someone or somewhere you’ve discovered in London that you think the rest of us should know about.
SW:
One secular and unknown: The Clockmakers’ Museum at Guildhall, a single room containing the whole history of clocks and watches, including John Harrison’s 5th marine timekeeper made famous by the book Longitude. One religious and very well known, but I’m still amazed by how many Londoners have never been in it: Westminster Cathedral (not the Abbey), an oasis of calm and devotion near Victoria Station, full of amazing art and architecture.

LLO: With Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists and others living side by side in London, what sort of atmosphere is created when people of every religion mingle in this melting pot city?
SW:
The whole world is here in London, and probably every language and religion. It’s good that we can live side by side, and in peace. Perhaps people don’t talk enough: We occupy the same social space, but often stay within our own mental worlds – unless there is something like a school or sports club or whatever to bring people together. London Citizens is a wonderful grassroots example of people of all faiths and none coming together for justice issues and forming real bonds through that common work. When I get back from Lourdes I want to start talking to strangers in London, but very soon I realize I am becoming one of those crazy people that Londoners fear…

LLO: What do you say to people who are suspicious of religion as being manipulative or deceptive?
SW:
It’s true that religion can sometimes be manipulative and deceptive – we have to admit that and watch out for it very carefully. And as a Catholic priest I wouldn’t push the abstract idea of ‘religion’ for its own sake. But religions can also be sources of spirituality, community, liberation and healing for many people. That’s something to be open to and not afraid of.

LLO: What’s your favourite part about living in your postcode?
SW:
Being near the river; living close to three cinemas; the number 19 bus.

Thanks Stephen!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.