Beso London is the newest foodie addition to the West End. Billed as a Moorish restaurant, the menu takes inspiration from Morocco and Spain. The new establishment is headed up by founder chef Khalid Dahbi, who has worked in Michelin-starred Le Meurice and L’Arpège in Paris, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, the Gaucho, and Bibendum Restaurant. Situated on the fringes of Covent Garden at the less hectic end of Shaftesbury Avenue, Beso is a refreshing addition to the area’s culinary offerings, which tend to be dominated by chain restaurants.
The venue offers a choice of outdoor and indoor tables. The night of my visit was hot so the terrace was understandably in high demand, so we decided to dine indoors and were thrilled to be offered the Chef’s Table, aka the Firebar. The space features low-lighting, modern art and subtle mosaic detailing, giving a contemporary Moorish feel. Although primarily a dining destination, there is also seating at the bar if you just fancied a quick drink or pre-food cocktails.
Pulling up comfortable bar stools at the marble Firebar, we had a great view into the kitchen so could see and smell the food being cooked. The beauty of sitting at the Firebar meant Chef Khalid could explain the dishes to us and show us the individual ingredients being added. Reading ingredients on a menu is one thing, but being able to see the quality and quantity of them being added to your food was really enlightening. We kicked things off with a glass of Cava with some nibbles as we decided between going off the menu or opting for ‘the Beso Experience’. My friend and I were up for a culinary adventure so after stipulating our dietary requirements, signed up for the experience, which translates as small plates of Beso’s best dishes using the freshest ingredients that day.
We began with the starter-esque sharing plates, along with a bottle of a Portuguese white, Fernão Pires Verdelho, Ai Galera, – recommended by the chef – which was a refreshing and delicate accompaniment. Our first dish was some Crispy Chickpeas with Cumin and Paprika; and Moroccan Sardines with Basil and Chichurra. I liked the different approach to chickpeas, which can be quite a boring food if not seasoned correctly, while the sardines were absolutely delicious. Thinly sliced and served cold, the sardines tasted so fresh and were well complemented by the Basil and Chichurra. We moved on to another fish dish, Smoked Mackerel Pate with Smoked Nuts with bread. It was incredibly more-ish (or should that be Moorish! – ha). Continuing the fish dominance, we had an old favourite of Calamari with Crème Fraiche, Lemon Zest and Harissa, with Chef Khalid garnishing it in front of us, really bringing the kitchen action to the table. Adding some vegetables into the mix, we had a delicious Aubergine Salad with Mixed Peppers and Spinach. The Duck Pastilla was a big hit with my friend. A Moroccan dish of duck wrapped in pastry, cumin, flaked almonds and cinnamon, which proved an interesting and tasty mix of sweet and savoury. Read the rest of this entry
Coming to the West End this month is a brand new festival from the team behind Citadel. Seven Dials will be taken over by Soundtrack, a free one-day music festival. Revellers young and old will find plenty to entertain, including music, comedy, theatre and debates. All seven of the interconnecting streets will be closed to vehicle traffic for the day with a pop-up lawn surrounding the iconic dial. The free event is taking place to coincide with the Mayor of London’s ‘Sounds Like London’ campaign, which aims to celebrate the capital’s rich music heritage and talent.
Throughout the day, the open-air main stage in the centre of Seven Dials will host a variety of music acts, including London singer-songwriter Rukhsana Merrise, The Voice finalists Into The Ark, indie group Pumarosa and vintage-inspired rocker Ten Tonnes. Broadcaster and author Gemma Cairney will be hosting the action from 12pm-6pm. Meanwhile, funky choir Some Voices will be putting on flash mob performances around the area, while there will also be a free silent disco.
You can get into the festival spirit with The Gypsy Shrine on Monmouth Street, who will be offering free, eco-friendly glitter face painting all day. People can try their luck in an attempt to win festival tickets and more at the music-themed tombola, which raises money for charity partner Covent Garden Dragon Hall Trust. When you’re feeling hungry, you can head to the many street food and alfresco dining options, including independent café BOKI, pop-up pizza and prosecco bar from the Escapologist and Portuguese eaterie Canela. Many of the area’s establishments and shops, such as Rosa’s Thai, Rossopomodoero, Duke & Dexter and Club Monaco will be offering 20% off all day. There will also be a pop-up superfood smoothie bar from Neals Yard Remedies and a pop-up cocktail bar from Monmouth Kitchen.
While the festival is free to attend, its recommended you register for your festival map and ticket at Seven Dials’ website. As a ticket holder, you can pick up a free Mint Julep cocktail from the Hawksmoor Seven Dials x Evan Williams pop up bar on Earlham Street.
- Soundtrack takes place on 23 June 2018 from 12pm-6pm. At Seven Dials, Covent Garden, WC2H. Nearest station: Leicester Square or Covent Garden. For more information and to register, visit the Seven Dials website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in June, click here.
Long Acre is a busy shopping thoroughfare in the Covent Garden area of London. Linking Drury Lane with St Martin’s Lane, it has a host of shops from affordable to expensive, attracting both tourists and Londoners. As a one-way road, Long Acre isn’t particularly wide so most pedestrians rarely look up to see the Georgian and Victorian detailing of its many historic buildings. I have walked down Long Acre hundreds of times in my life and never noticed the stunning façade of No. 30-31. Now home to a branch of Gap clothing, the former carriage shop dates back to the late 19th century and shows a clue to its past life.
From the 13th to the 16th century, the area we know today as Covent Garden was ‘the garden of the Abbey and Convent’. The land covered 40 acres and was looked after by the monks of Westminster. However, King Henry VIII (1491-1547) seized the land during the dissolution of the monasteries and in 1552, it was given to John Russell, Earl of Bedford (1485-1555). The northern boundary of the estate was referred to the ‘long acre’ after the first pathway was constructed. In the early 17th century, King Charles I (1600-1649) criticised the condition of the road and houses along Long Acre, prompting estate owner Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford (1593-1641), to try to tidy up the area with more attractive dwellings. As well as improving Long Acre, Russell laid out Covent Garden Piazza and commissioned architect Inigo Jones to design St Paul’s Church in the 1630s.
By the late 17th century, Long Acre started to attract the coach and carriage building trade. In the late 18th century, one of Long Acre’s most famous coach makers was Hatchett & Co at No.121, on the current site of the Calvin Klein boutique and directly opposite Nos 30-31. John Hatchett, whose family were in business from 1750-1870, was credited with creating high standards and innovative designs of carriages copied by his rivals (click here for one of his designs). According to the Carriage Journal, the Hatchetts employed several hundred workers, while John served as chief of The Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach-Harness Makers livery company in 1785, which still exists today. As the 19th century progressed, Long Acre was dominated by coach builders and harness makers, with names such as Pearce & Countze; Edwin Kesterton; Silk & Sons; Wyburn, Meller & Turner; Holman & Whittingham; G. Amery; T George & Co, and, finally, C. S. Windover and Co., Ltd, who was coach builder to her Majesty and next door neighbour at No.33. Read the rest of this entry
Following the recent #MeToo movement, this year’s International Women’s Day is predicted to be the biggest ever. Although it’s still not a public holiday like in Cambodia and the Ukraine (we can dream…), there are a host of events on around the capital to celebrate woman power.
This year, Seven Dials will be hosting a week of events, launches and promotions focused on females. One of the highlights will be an ‘In Conversation With’ talk on International Women’s Day itself on 8 March. Presenter Gemma Cairney will be a hosting a free discussion with a varied panel of influential and progressive women to discuss IWD’s theme of ‘Press for Progress’. Taking place at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel, the panel will feature Trans activist and author Charlie Craggs; British jeweller Dinny Hall; Founder of Mothers Meeting Jenny Scott and Founder of Livia’s Kitchen, Olivia Wollenberg.
Throughout the rest of the week, the area’s boutiques, cafes and bars will be taking part with various activities and promotions. Rossopomodoro will be serving a special chocolate pannacotta with marmalade from CasaLorena, an Italian organisation who help women affected by domestic violence or sexual harassment. Neal’s Yard Remedies will be hosting create-your-own massage oil workshops and offering free hand and arm massages, superfood tasting and in-store discounts. Illustrator Morgan Seaford will be talking about her designs at Duke and Dexter, while jeweller Dinny Hall will be launching a Suffragette-inspired edit at the boutique. Meanwhile, steak restaurant and bar Hawksmoor Seven Dials have created a £6 ‘Sister Suffragette’ cocktail (Appleton Rum, Cocchi Rosa Vermouth, Lavender Bitters and Triple Sec). Throughout the week, Seven Dials have partnered with Hey Girls, who are campaigning to end period poverty in the UK.
- National Women’s Day celebrations are taking place from 1 – 8 March 2018. At venues and stores around Seven Dials, Covent Garden, WC2H. Nearest station: Leicester Square or Covent Garden. The panel discussion takes place on 8 March at 7pm at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel. To claim your free ticket to the talk, enter the ballot on the Seven Dials website before 2 March at 6pm. For more information, visit the Seven Dials website.
For a guide to what else is on in London, click here.
Enjoy a free festival of entertainment, shopping, eating and drinking in London this weekend. This Saturday 19 August 2017, the Spotlight Festival returns to Seven Dials. The streets will be closed to vehicle traffic so visitors can relax in the sunshine on the pop-up lawn.
The open-air stage, hosted by author and presenter Laura Jackson, will feature a great line-up, including performances from the cast of West End musicals The Lion King and Aladdin, Some Voices choir, Whinnie Williams, Old Dirty Brasstards, Marawa’s Majorettes, Five Guys Named Moe and the House & Garage orchestra. There will also be further smaller stages throughout the area featuring performers and DJs, such as Sax and Bongos, burlesque performances from Circus, acoustic sets from Version and magician Neil Henry.
Visitors can really get into the festival spirit with chill out areas, free glitter stations to decorate your face and hair, a GIF photobooth and free fashion illustrations. Among the freebies on offer include cocktails from the Monmouth Kitchen pop-up bar, flower crown workshops, cinnamon buns from the Nordic Bakery and dog grooming from Malin & Goetz in collaboration with Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.
Fashion fans can get their retail fix at the various stores and boutiques, which will be offering in-store discounts and promotions. Among those taking part are jewellers Laura Lee, watch brand Larsson & Jennings, Neal’s Yard Remedies and glasses specialist Ollie Quinn.
- The Spotlight Festival is on 19 August 2017. 12-6pm. Free entry. Seven Dials, Covent Garden, WC2H 9HD. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Leicester Square. Register for free on the website for your free glass of Monmouth Fizz cocktail from the Monmouth Kitchen pop-up bar on Earlham Street. For more information, visit the Seven Dials website.
Down one of Seven Dials’ quieter streets is a quirky piece of building decoration. Situated above the Shorts Gardens’ branch of Holland & Barrett is the Neal’s Yard Water Clock.
In the early 1970s, the streets around Neal Street were far from the shopping destination they are today. Much of the Seven Dials and Neal Street area had been used for warehouse storage for fruit and vegetables for the market sellers in Covent Garden. When the market relocated to its current site in Nine Elms in 1974, the warehouses were left empty. It was around this time, Neal’s Yard started becoming a destination for alternative living as commercial shops and restaurants moved in. Activist Nicholas Saunders (1938-1988) opened a wholefood shop in a warehouse in 1976, eventually expanding to a dairy and apothecary. The business was later taken over by Saunders’ former employee Michael Loftus (1948-2012).
In 1982, Loftus commissioned the water clock as an attraction to draw people to the shop. It was designed and made in six weeks by aquatic horologists Tim Hunkin and Andy Plant. As the clock struck on the hour, water in a tank (which contained an immersion heater to prevent the water from freezing in the winter) on the roof would flow down the façade of the building, ringing bells as it headed down the ladder towards the clock face. Meanwhile, six green characters would tip their watering cans to fill a tank behind the shop signage. As the water level rose, floating plastic flowers rose into view as if they had suddenly ‘grown’. The figure on the far left could swivel out to the street and spray water on to pedestrians below, which would have been quite a shock to those not paying attention.
Loftus sold up in 1989 and health food chain Holland & Barratt later took over the lease. The clock hasn’t worked for some time, but still remains in situ for Londoners and visitors to admire.
- The Neal’s Yard Water Clock is located above Holland & Barrett, 21-23 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden, WC2H 9AS. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Leicester Square.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
Shopaholics rejoice! There’s a new festival where you can get your summer wardrobe sorted while indulging your appetite and your passion for Prosecco.
This Saturday 10 June, over 100 shops, bars and restaurants will be taking part in a free shopping and food event. Fashion Feast in Seven Dials will feature a host of events, freebies, entertainment, workshops and exclusive offers.
The streets of Seven Dials will be closed to road traffic with an urban garden popping up around the central dial monument. London steak specialists Hawksmoor and Fords Gin will be serving free gin and tonics on the lush summer lawn dotted with deckchairs. There will also be free taco tasting from Monmouth Kitchen. Meanwhile, there will be free ice cream from the Benefit van on Shorts Gardens, where Japanese tea specialists My Cup of Tea will also be offering free iced teas.
Foodies will be able to pick up some cooking tips from the ‘In The Kitchen With…’ stage hosted by Jamie Oliver’s social protégé vlogger Katie Pix. Chefs from the area’s restaurants, including Native, Hawksmoor, Chick ‘n’ Sours, Monmouth Kitchen and Talli Joe, will be showing visitors how to make their signature dishes.
Diners at some of Seven Dials independent eateries, Cure & Cut, Canela and 26 Grains, will be able to enjoy their dishes outside for an afternoon of alfresco dining. While chowing down, visitors will be entertained with live music from Entrée and London 5-piece band Version.
For those in the mood for a pamper, there will be a Sassoon styling station for quick up dos and haircare advice; skincare experts Fresh and Neal’s Yard Remedies giving beauty tips and demos; Murdock London providing outdoor barbering and Another Space fitness experts putting on spin performances. Fashion fans can head to the pop-up style hub on Neal Street to check out the brands from Seven Dials and enter a competition to win a £1,000 shopping spree. There will also be a photobooth to capture your fashion moment.
If you’re in the mood to shop, brands across Seven Dials will be offering up to 25% discount. Register for a free ticket to obtain discounts at over 30 fabulous names, including Caudalie, Ron Dorff, Larsson & Jennings, Coco de Mer, Frame Set and Match, The Cambridge Satchel Company, Ollie Quin, Office and Offspring.
- Seven Dials Fashion Feast takes place on 10 June 2017. From 12-5pm. Free entry. Seven Dials, Covent Garden, WC2H. Nearest station: Leicester Square or Covent Garden. For more information and to register for your discount, visit the Seven Dials website.
For a guide to what else is on in June, click here.
Tredwells regularly appears on lists of London’s top eateries, having been named London Restaurant of the Year by the AA. Located on bustling Upper St Martin’s Lane, Tredwells is a foodie haven with contemporary British cuisine by top chef Marcus Wareing. To celebrate my sister’s birthday, a group of five of us headed to the venue for dinner and had my expectations surpassed.
Entering the sleek, dark venue, we were guided to one of the cosy booths (who doesn’t love a booth?). We opted for the set menu, featuring three courses, a cocktail and chocolates to take home for £28. Firstly, we all enjoyed the refreshing and light Grey Goose Mint and Chamomile Fizz cocktail which kicked off the festivities nicely.
To start with, I opted for a rather unusual, but intriguing dish – Sweetcorn Mousse, Pickled Mushroom, Truffle and Sourdough Croutons. As it featured some of my favourite foods, I was easy to please, but I invited some of my party to try my dish and it was universally pleasing. Meanwhile, some of my fellow diners opted for the Crispy Cod Cheeks with Kimchee and Buttermilk, which were light with a bit of a kick thanks to the Kimchee.
For mains, a popular dish on our table was the Chargrilled Hangar Steak with Braised Shallot and Peppercorn Sauce. The meat was cooked perfectly to everyone’s specifications and the sauce was commended for its taste. Meanwhile, I was enjoying the lighter dish of Slow Cooked Cod, Caramelised Celeriac, Remoulade and Walnut Pesto. The accompaniments and sauces really gave a different, refreshing approach to the fish and provided an interesting variety of flavour.
Finally for dessert, there was no question I was going to have the Salted Caramel Soft Serve with Honeycomb. I love both salted caramel and honeycomb, but rarely indulge. As I anticipated, it was super sweet, but if you’re up for the sugar hit, it’s great. I did manage to sample a bit of the Valrhona Caraibe Chocolate, Basil and Lime, with the latter ingredients breaking up the intensity and richness of the chocolate.
Our party universally enjoyed our food, but what really stood out to us all was the exceptional service. Our waitress knew the menu inside and out and could give us in-depth descriptions of unfamiliar flavours or ingredients. When she recommended things to us, she was sincere and enthusiastic. The darkness of the venue, coupled with the fact we were seated in our own booth, heightened the intimate feel to the evening. I’m definitely heading for many a return visit.
- Tredwells, 4A Upper St Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden, WC2H 9NY . Nearest station: Leicester Square. For booking, visit the Tredwells website.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.
Despite the recent trend for clean-eating, if many people are honest with themselves, eating a pizza is a lot more appealing than a salad (well, it certainly is to me!). But how many of us have actually made our own pizza from scratch?
Well, Covent Garden’s newest eating venue BungaTINI is offering diners the chance to enrol on pizza making classes. From 11 April, the Italian eaterie will be hosting weekly classes every Tuesday. The fun-filled lessons will include a welcome drink and 90 minutes of kitchen tuition.
During the evening, the aspiring pizza chefs will be taken through lessons on the history of pizza, dough making, dough throwing, pizza topping and, finally, pizza eating. While working up an appetite in the kitchen, guests will have a choice of a complimentary Peroni, Prosecco, Aperol Spritz or red or white wine. After eating the fruits of their labour, guests will receive a goodie bag full of treats and a group photo.
BungaTINI is a new all-day pizzeria and aperitivo bar from the same team behind the famous Bunga Bunga in Battersea. For those in the mood for some late-night revelry, diners can pass through a meat locker door to Bunga Bunga Covent Garden next door for some singing and dancing action.
- Pizza Making Classes at BungaTINI take place every Tuesday from 6.30pm-8.30pm. £28pp. BungaTINI, 167 Drury Lane, Covent Garden, WC2B 5PG. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Holborn. For more information, visit the BungaTINI website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in May, click here.
Anyone who follows my Instagram account will know I’m quite the cocktail connoisseur. Despite having my favourites (yes Mojito, I’m talking about you!), I usually opt to try as many new concoctions as possible to widen my booze palate so to speak. However, my extensive experience of downing alcoholic creations meant I wasn’t so good at recognising some at a recent special event.
For Valentine’s Day last week, I was treated to a visit to Pitch Black – a new blind tasting experience. Pitch Black was a pop-up in Shoreditch in late 2016 before moving to its current base, the Sixties-themed No Such Place events space in Covent Garden. I wasn’t given any information about the evening beforehand, so had no idea what to expect. After arriving at the basement venue – which had a very Mad Men vibe – we were treated to a welcome glass of Prosecco to ease into the evening. At this point the lights were on, so be rest assured, the night doesn’t start with you suddenly being plunged into darkness.
Following the bubbles, we went into a cosy room for the main part of the evening – the blind cocktail and wine tasting. Our host for the evening was Dom, an experienced and enthusiastic bar veteran with plenty of knowledge and banter. Although admittedly apprehensive when I found out it was in the dark, Dom soon set our minds at ease so it wasn’t long before I was intrigued and ready for the challenge. When the lights went off, we handily have glow-in-the-dark coasters in front of us so we can easily find our drinks. We started on the first cocktail served in a lowball, smelling it first before sampling the liquid inside. As a group we were invited to discuss what smells and tastes we were experiencing, which soon showcased just how different our senses were given the wide variety of answers.
Before moving on to wine after the sweetness of the cocktails, we were given an amuse bouche each to cleanse the palate, ready for the stark difference in texture and flavour of the wines. The first wine was a white one which I was convinced was a Chilean Chenin Blanc (I was wrong). After the tasting, the lights were turned on (gently!) and we were given the results of the tasting tests. Turns out, many of us were pretty incorrect on the main ingredients of the cocktails, as well as the identity and origin of the white, but a couple of people correctly guessed the red.
Overall, it was a fun and interesting experience. Living in London, we’re such a rush, we don’t often take the time to fully savour the smells and flavour of the food and drink we’re consuming. By restricting our vision, we were able to focus on the taste and it really brought a new dimension to drinking. If you’re looking for a night out with a difference, it’s well worth checking out.
- Pitch Black @ No Such Place, 68A Neal Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9PA. Nearest station: Covent Garden. Advance bookings only for 90 minute experience. Tickets include bubbles on arrival, two cocktails, an amuse bouche and two wines. For more information, visit the Pitch Black website.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.