Long before TV and cinemas captivated Brits, music halls were a popular form of entertainment. Starting in the 1830s, music halls originally began cropping up in taverns and coffee houses. Landlords started putting on a variety of entertainment for the punters, along with providing them with food and drink. By the 1850s, these variety shows had become so popular, many theatres and pubs were knocked down and replaced with music halls. Hoxton had several popular music halls, including The Eagle on Shepherdess Walk and the Britannia Theatre on Hoxton Street, both of which no longer exist today. At the peak of the entertainment genre’s popularity, there were an estimated 375 music halls in the capital. Performers such as Marie Lloyd, Dan Leno and Little Tich became household names and were in high demand by music halls owners to top their bills.
Although most Victorian music halls are long gone, there is one that is still being used for entertainment today. Hoxton Hall in Hoxton Road was originally erected by builder James Mortimer in 1863. The building followed the traditional music hall design, with balconies on three sides overlooking the stage and open floor. Today, the galleries of seating feature the original iron railings and are supported by cast iron columns. Although more modest in size than many music halls at the time, Hoxton Hall is unique for being purpose-built as a music hall as many were converted from pubs. Originally, Mortimer gave his own name to the building – Mortimer Hall – which opened on 7 November 1863. On the opening night bill were singers and conjurers. However, Mortimer didn’t want his hall to just entertain, he also wanted to educate locals with lectures. Unfortunately for Mortimer, his education program wasn’t quite so popular and by 1865 the building was being used by a waste paper merchant.
In 1866, music hall manager James McDonald Jnr bought Mortimer Hall and renamed it McDonald’s Music Hall. He knew what the people of London wanted and offered affordable entertainment for the working classes, including music, circus and performing dogs. Business was booming and McDonald was able to extend the hall in 1867, raising the ceiling and adding a new upper balcony. However, by 1871, McDonald lost his license following police complaints so it was sold. The subsequent owners applied for a new license in 1876, but were refused.
Philanthropist William Isaac Palmer (1824–1893) bought the hall in 1879 for the use of the Blue Ribbon Gospel Temperance Mission, a sobriety movement. Today, Palmer is honoured with the Palmer Room at the hall. The building became home to the Girls Guild for Good Life, a group founded by Sarah Rae, wife of the secretary of the Blue Ribbon Temperance Society. In contrast to its bawdry music hall origins, the hall was being used to educate working class girls with cooking, dressmaking and elocution classes in a bid to warn them away from the ‘sinful’ hobbies of gambling and drinking. The hall was also used for talks and events to encourage temperance by the Blue Ribbon Mission. Read the rest of this entry
I’m a huge fan of afternoon tea and don’t have it as often as I should. I recently spent a few months working in Hoxton and regularly passed by the M by Montcalm Hotel so was glad of the opportunity to check it out when a friend invited me for afternoon tea recently. The day in question wasn’t just any typical tea session, but a special event called the Afternoon Tea Academy.
The event saw Plate restaurant at the M by Montcalm collaborating with tea company P.M. David Silva & Sons for an afternoon of tea, food and a little bit of education. Silva & Son’s Dan Silva had teamed up with Executive Chef Matt Hill to pair a different type of tea to every tier of the meal. Dan started off the afternoon by giving us a brief history of Britain’s relationship with tea and why the Sri Lankan plantations and hand-picking technique are so important to the company. P.M. David Silva & Sons is a family-run business over three generations, which started in the mid 1930s, so have a good heritage behind them.
We kicked off the Afternoon Tea with the sandwiches first (of course!), which were a lovely, flaky hybrid of bun and croissant, called the ‘crobun’. Among the fillings were one of my favourites, Chapel & Swann smoked salmon with pickled cucumber, tarragon, preserved lemon & cream cheese. There was a delicious twist on a traditional cucumber sandwich with salted cucumber with tarragon pesto, preserved lemon and cream cheese. Our tier was completed with beetroot hummus with smoked feta, pickled beetroot and lambs lettuce. I’m not usually a fan of beetroot, but the combination was really lovely. The sandwiches were paired with New Vithanakande Tea, which had a sweet caramel and fruity flavour (which turned out to be my favourite of the day).
Next we moved on to scones, with a selection of plain and raisin buttermilk available. They were warm and fresh out of the oven and a perfect size. As much as I love scones, I prefer them on the smaller side to optimise the chances of being able to complete a whole afternoon tea as I usually I end up too full. The scones were served with clotted cream and handmade strawberry preserve, along with a cup of High Grown Ceylon Tea from the Inverness estate. The tea had lovely rosy and citrus flavour, which really complemented the jam.
Finally, we just about had enough room for the top tier of pastries, which were pretty exquisite. Each treat had contrasting sweet and savoury notes, which were interesting, but delicious. I particularly enjoyed the strawberry with Szechuan pepper and basil custard tart. The remaining creations – lemon and elderflower cake; Valrhona Caledonia Jivara milk chocolate, light mango and lime crisp choux; and white chocolate and olive oil macaron, all tasted lovely. These were accompanied by the final tea – Lovers Leap, a crisp tea which we were recommended to drink black without milk.
Overall, it was great afternoon tea. Each tier was brilliant, with the various teas really complementing the different flavours of each food. It was an added treat to receive the story behind the tea blends and the ingredients in the food by Dan and Matt, who stopped to talk to us during each tier.
- Plate @ M by Montcalm, 151-157 City Road, Hoxton, EC1V 1JH. Nearest station: Old Street. For more information, visit the Plate website.
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Gigi’s Hoxton review: Summer cocktails and delicious bites at a versatile new dining, drinking and music venue
Hoxton Square is one of my favourite areas in Shoreditch because it offers what appeals to me about the area (e.g. nightlife), but also avoids the traffic and pollution that venues in Old Street, Great Eastern Street, etc, have to put up with. I’ve been socialising in Hoxton Square since the late ’90s (showing my age here!) and always thought of the area as a little nightlife enclave with great bars and a nice atmosphere.
A new addition to the East End foodie and entertainment scene is Gigi’s Hoxton. The versatile venue is an all-day restaurant, bar and music venue with an alfresco terrace and a basement sister space Hoxton Underbelly hosting comedy, live music, DJs and club nights. Taking over the former Zigfrid von Underbelly, Gigi’s Hoxton is the latest venture from Giovanna Hussain, the woman behind some of East London’s favourite venues, including The Corner Shop and The Grapevine in Shoreditch, and The Rocksteady in Dalston. I went along with a friend last week to check it out.
As a previous customer of Zigfrid (although my last visit was some years ago), I couldn’t believe how different the venue looked. The bar had been moved from its original location and the vibrant murals by Kate Philipson had really brightened up the place. The finished look is a mix of industrial and vintage-esque chic, with colourful chairs, zinc tables, a green stone bar and neon lights.
Upon arrival, we headed straight for the bar and mulled over the cocktail list. Being a balmy day, my natural choice was an Aperol Spritz, while my friend couldn’t resist the Espresso Martini (on tap!). As a seasoned Aperol Spritz fan, I’m pleased to say Gigi’s got it spot on with the right mix of bitter and sweetness. I’ve found quite a few bars/pubs don’t get the balance right, so it’s always good to see a venue getting it right.
The ground floor is essentially a L shape so we headed to the narrower section at the back to grab a table and two leather chairs. Gigi’s menus have been created by Head Chef Antonio Mollo and are influenced by his Italian heritage, as well as classic British dishes. We tried a selection of canapes, derived from the main menu, and were impressed by the creativity and flavour. One particular stand-out was the bruschetta. Although I’ve eaten the dish often over the years, I must praise this one for being so fresh and rich in taste. Other highlights were the crispy polenta, mushroom and taleggio fondue and the tortilla taco with homemade guacamole. I’ve got to mention the pea soup, Grey Goose le citron vodka sour cream shot which was a pretty unique taste for me, but I quite liked it.
Aside from the drinking and food, one of Gigi’s USPs is its music scene. After initially being treated to some soulful house and classic R&B tracks from the DJ, we were entertained with some great live music from the Blue Lion Band.
Overall, I think Gigi’s Hoxton is a great addition to east London’s nightlife. The food and drinks were equally good. The venue had a great ambiance and the DJs and live music really completed the evening. I’ll be back.
- Gigi’s Hoxton, 11 Hoxton Square, N1 6NU. Nearest stations: Hoxton or Old Street. Open Mon–Thu: 12pm–1am, Fri: 12pm–3am, Sat: 10am–3am, Sun: 10am–12am. For more information, visit the Gigi’s Hoxton website.
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Launching in London this month is an immersive feast from Dinner Time Story. The team behind the hit Le Petit Chef production is returning to the capital with their new foodie experience, the Banquet Of Hoshina.
Guests will be treated to a projector-led dining concept when it launches this spring at Westfield London, before moving to Hoxton later this summer. Diners will be transported to an imaginary land where they will be joined by kings, queens, fairies and volcanoes at the table.
Dinner Time Story will take guests on a two-hour gourmet journey using 3D visual technology, image mapping and experiential props. The story will be told using flavours, ingredients, sights, sounds and tastes. Diners will feast on five courses, accompanied by wine and cocktail pairings. Each course will link to the storyline with each dish representing an emotion.
- Dinner Time Story presents Banquet of Hoshena. From 12 April – 7 August 2019 at Westfield, Ariel Way, White City, W12 7GF. Nearest station: White City. From 8 August 2019 – late 2020 at TT Liquor, 17B Kingsland Road, Hoxton, E2 8AA. Nearest station: Hoxton or Old Street. Tickets: £85/£95/£110. Pre-booking requests: firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: 07510 204 003. Visit Banquet of Hoshena on Instagram.