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Alfresco drinking and dining with a bit of glamour at the London Riviera pop-up

London Riviera

Alfresco drinking and dining with one of the best views of the city at London Riviera

It’s not often we see our home city as ‘glamorous’ in comparison to places like St Tropez and Miami Beach. However, when the sun is out… and you’re not stuck in a stuffy office – London is pretty fabulous. This summer, there will be one pop-up with a more chic location than most.

Overlooking the River Thames, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London this summer will be an immersive new drinking and dining experience. The London Riviera is a five-month bespoke pop-up bar which will offer an alfresco venue to kick back and relax on a warm summer evening or weekend. Taking inspiration from Miami and the French Riviera, the venue has been created by Hollywood film designer Sonia Klaus with palm tress, pink flamingos, giant pineapples and comfortable day beds.

London Riviera

Mix it up: There is a range of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages on sale at the bar

For customers feeling peckish, there will be fresh sharing menu from Ceru restaurant. The menu, created by Executive Chef Tom Kime (previously of The River Café, Le Pont de la Tour and Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant), will be ever-changing throughout the summer, inspired by Mediterranean street food. Samples dishes include Pancar (roast beetroot, yoghurt, garlic and pistachio), Fadi (fried baby courgette purée with tahini, roast garlic, yoghurt & lemon) and Spicy Roast Red Pepper dip with chilli, walnuts & pomegranate molasses, all served with freshly baked pita; Crisp apple, pomegranate & mint salad with green chilli, lemon & roasted pine nuts; Salad of baby spinach with labneh, dried cranberries & toasted flat bread with za’atar; Ceru’s signature Slow Roast Lamb Shoulder with Shawarma Spices; and Kebab Karaz Spiced Baked Meatballs with sour cherry and cranberry.

The bar will be serving a range of drinks, including organic coffee, freshly pressed juices, mocktails, craft beers and exotic cocktails for you to sip while lounging and enjoying the views. Every Wednesday, the Cîroc School of Mixology will be giving classes so you can learn to make your own Cîroc vodka cocktails. Other events over the summer include Tom Kime’s Supper Club and weekend ‘Love Brunch’ parties.

I went along to the launch this week and was immediately wowed by the design of the place, bringing a real sense of colour and fun to what is usually grey and metallic surroundings. As a frequent visitor to the South Bank, I’ve long adored the views from this part of the capital so the chance to enjoy them in a venue for eating and drinking is a real plus. I tried some Cîroc pineapple vodka cocktails which were sweet, fruity and delicious. The day beds were particularly comfortable and I could well see myself lounging on one on a hot Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

London Riviera is part of the More London Free Festival, which runs until the end of September. Amongst the highlights of the festival include free film and sport screenings, live music and theatre.

  • London Riviera, Queen’s Walk, More London (next to City Hall), SE1 2DB. Nearest station: London Bridge or Tower Hill. Open daily 8am-10pm from now until 31 October 2015. For more information, visit the London Riviera website.

To find out what else is on in London in September, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.

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It’s not falling down and it’s NOT Tower Bridge | The history of London Bridge

The story of the capital’s many London Bridges, dating back to Roman occupation.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The current London Bridge has been standing since the 1970s, connecting the City with Southwark

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The bridge contains its name engraved into the side for passing boat passengers

Poor London Bridge. It regularly finds its name being misused by tourists thinking it’s actually the grander, more elaborate neighbour downstream Tower Bridge. In fact, when I type ‘London Bridge’ into Google, the Tower Bridge Experience is the first hit so I couldn’t blame London Bridge for feeling somewhat of an inferiority complex. While Tower Bridge is admittedly a lot better looking, it will never have the history and importance to London that the city’s namesake bridge will have.

The current London Bridge has only been crossing the River Thames since the 1970s and is the latest incarnation in a list of bridges which have carried its name. The first river crossing stemmed back to Roman London, with the original being built somewhere in the area of the present site by the invading Roman army of Emperor Claudius (10 BC-13AD) in the 50s AD. The initial bridge was only temporary, with a second permanent one being erected soon after made of wood. The creation of the bridge came as the Roman city of Londinium began to swiftly develop on the site of the current City, with a smaller settlement emerging on the southern end in present day Southwark. When the Romans departed in the 5th century, Londonium was abandoned and the bridge was left to rot. It wasn’t until the 9th century that the Saxons returned to the old Roman City following repeated Viking invasions. The city was ‘refounded’ by Alfred The Great (849-899AD) in 886AD and another river bridge was erected. However, by 1014, the bridge was said to have been destroyed by Olaf II of Norway (995-1030) in a bid to separate the Danish occupants of old London and Southwark. Olaf’s troops were believed to have tied their boats to the bridge supports and rowed away, pulling the bridge down in the process. This leads to one of the theories of the origins of the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’, although others have claimed it dates more recently to the 13th century. After William The Conqueror (1028-1087) claimed the English throne in 1066, another bridge was built on the site, but it didn’t last long and was destroyed by the London tornado of 1091. Believed to be a T8 tornado, it claimed two lives and left the church of St Mary-Le-Bow badly damaged. It was then replaced by King William II (1056-1100), with his incarnation of the river crossing eventually being destroyed by fire in 1136.

London Bridge (1616) Claes Van Visscher

Old Medieval London Bridge in 1616, taken from a panorama by Claes Van Visscher. Southwark Cathedral can be seen in the foreground and to the right the heads of executed prisoners above the southern gatehouse.
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Two stones from the old Medieval London Bridge now stand in the courtyard of St Magnus-the-Martyr Church

Finally in the 12th century, London Bridge began to be built of stone – a much more hardy material given the amount of natural disasters, fires and war which had ravaged the previous incarnations. In 1176, under the rule of King Henry II (1133-1189), work began on the foundations of the first stone London Bridge. The project was overseen by Peter, a priest and chaplain of St Mary Colechurch (which no longer exists) with funding raised from taxes on wool. The bridge, which is now referred to in history as the Old Medieval London Bridge, took 33 years to complete. When it opened in 1209, it was 274 metres long, six metres wide and featured 20 Gothic arches. By this point, King Henry II had already died and his heir, King John (1166-1216) ended up leasing plots on the bridge to fill the deficit in a bid to recoup the huge costs of the build. The bridge featured gatehouses at each end and a drawbridge near the Southwark entrance to allow bigger ships to pass through. Owning a business on London Bridge was quite the draw and by 1358 it was seriously overcrowded, with a whopping 138 shops spanning the River, with some buildings as many as seven stories high. The encroaching plots meant the actual road was reduced to just four metres so it was quite a squeeze for carts, horses and livestock. Unsurprisingly, the resulting traffic was so bad, it could take up to an hour to cross the bridge. In addition to congestion, the cramped living and shopping quarters were also a hazard. In 1212, fires broke out at both ends of the bridge, causing an estimated 3,000 deaths. By 1381, there were more fires on the bridge during the Peasants’ Rebellion and further still in 1450 during Jack Cade’s rebellion.

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Who do you sphinx you are? The history behind the camel and sphinx benches on Victoria Embankment

The story behind these curious Egyptian benches by the Thames.

Victoria Embankment Bench © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl

Take the load off and rest your weary legs here: One of the camel benches on the Victoria Embankment

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The Egyptian-themed benches were designed to complement Cleopatra’s Needle

Anyone who has strolled along the Victoria Embankment may have noticed the ornate benches alongside the river. Dotted along the north of the Thames between Battersea and Blackfriars Bridges, the cast iron and wooden benches provide more than just a place to rest your weary bones. Unlike the pedestrian-friendly South Bank, the north bank of the Thames isn’t as pleasurable to walk along due to the busy traffic churning out fumes. As a result, all the benches face the river so you can sit with your back to the traffic and enjoy the view.

The benches are one of the many ornamental details created for the Embankment by English architect George John Vulliamy (1817-1886). As well as the benches, he is also responsible for the sphinxes and pedestal for Cleopatra’s Needle and the ‘dolphin’ lamps on both sides of the river. In the centre of London, the Thames used to be a lot wider until the 19th century, city bosses needed a new sewage system to cope with the rapidly expanding population. Sir Joseph Bazelgette (1819-1891) came up with a scheme to reclaim some 22 acres of marshland, creating a new sewage system and a new road, taking the pressure off The Strand. In the typically Victorian way, the new Embankment needed to have suitable ‘street furniture’ to give London – heart of the British Empire – a look of prestige and style.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

A Sphinx bench (left) and a Camel

Camel bench Victoria Embankment © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

I’ll support you: The camel supporting the bench is sitting down

Hired as the Superintending Architect of the Metropolitan Board of Works, Vulliamy created the ‘Dolphin’ (actually, sturgeon fish!) street lamps along the retaining river wall in 1870. Several years later, he decided to look to Egypt for inspiration when it came to designing the benches, a place he had visited in the early 1840s. Pre-empting the arrival of Cleopatra’s Needle – a gift from Egypt – in 1878, Vulliamy opted for a design which would complement the ancient monument when it eventually arrived. Near the site of the Needle itself, the benches in the City of Westminster feature armrests of Sphinxes, before camel armrests appear in the City of London section of the Victoria Embankment. The benches were made by Z.D. Berry & Son of Regent Street and placed on the Embankment in 1877 – a year before Cleopatra’s Needle was erected. Of course, weather and pollution have damaged the benches over the years, with Westminster and the City of London councils restoring and faithfully reproducing them when needed.

Camel bench Victoria Embankment © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The benches are on raised platforms so the user can see the sights along the Thames while seated


To read about the history of Cleopatra’s Needle, Click here

Or to read about the swan benches on the Albert Embankment, click here.

Or to find out the story behind Vulliamy’s Dolphin lamps, click here

To read Metro Girl’s other blog posts on London history, click here.

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Millennium Bridge: A piece of modern London, aka the wobbly bridge

Find out how the Millennium Bridge came about.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The Millennium Bridge links the Southbank to the City of London

London is one of the oldest and most iconic cities in the world. While there are – admittedly very few – pieces of Roman London left, the capital is full of architecture from across the centuries – an amalgamation of old and new. When tourists visit London, they tend to head to the older parts of the city, such as the Tower of London or Buckingham Palace. When it comes to newer additions to the capital, it can take a while for us Londoners to embrace them. Even several decades later, many still hate the Brutalist architecture on the South Bank, while others have slowly grown to love it.

One of London’s newest landmarks is the Millennium Bridge – the steel suspension footbridge spanning the River Thames, linking the Tate Modern to St Paul’s Cathedral. The bridge was one of three structures built in the capital to commemorate the Millennium – along with the London Eye and Millennium Dome (best known now as the O2 Arena). Unfortunately, both the Eye and Bridge fell prey to technical issues and ended up opening later than planned, which I remember was quite embarrassing for us Londoners at the time.

Millennium Bridge Shard Thames © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The bridge links the City with London’s former entertainment hub Bankside

Millennium Bridge © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Not wobbling any more… Millennium Bridge & St Paul’s

The bridge was the result of a competition in 1996, with Arup, Foster and Partners and Sir Anthony Caro submitting the winning design. Construction on the Millennium Bridge started in late 1998. The bridge is comprised of three sections, 4 metres wide and 325 metre long. The structure includes eight suspension cables tensioned to pull a force of 2,000 tons. The north and south part of the bridges feature slopes, rather than stairs, meaning it is accessible for everyone.

The bridge finally opened on 10 June 2000 – two months later than scheduled and £2.2million over budget, bringing the total cost to £18.2million. However, two days later it was closed after the bridge began to sway while people were crossing it. This instability lead to the public and media dubbing it the ‘wibbly wobbly bridge’ – which has stuck as a nickname for many Londoners. Finally, the bridge was re-opened on 22 February 2002 after a £5million operation to fix the structure in place. Nearly 12 years later, it appears the Millennium Bridge is very much secure and has yet to ‘wibble wobble’ again.

  • The Millennium Bridge is accessible from Bankside in front of the Tate Modern or Peter’s Hill. Nearest stations: Blackfriars, Mansion House and St Paul’s.

Arty: The bridge leads straight to the Tate Modern


For the history of London Bridge, click here.

For a post on another Millennium landmark, the London Eye, click here.

To read about the history of the so-called ‘Christopher Wren House’ beside the Tate Modern, click here

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Cardinal’s Wharf | A survivor of 18th century Bankside amidst two London landmarks

The Georgian terrace has a plaque claiming to be the former home of Sir Christopher Wren… but what’s the truth?

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Cardinal’s Wharf, aka No.49 Bankside, is a rare survivor of 18th century architecture in the area

Cardinal’s Wharf isn’t usually on a tourist’s checklist of things to see in London. However, inevitably a large proportion of visitors will pass by it while on the way to the Globe or Tate Modern and be attracted to the row of 18th century terraced houses juxtaposed by 20th century architecture. Standing out amongst the three buildings is the tallest – No. 49 Bankside – a three-storey cream building with red door. If you get close enough, you’ll find a cream, ceramic plaque linking it to a very important Englishman – Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). Renowned as the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and many of the City of London’s churches, Wren is an important name in the history of the capital. The plaque claims: ‘Here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral. Here also, in 1502, Catherine Infanta of Castile and Aragon, afterwards first queen of Henry VIII, took shelter on her first landing in London.’

Cardinal's Wharf © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

No.49 was built in 1710

If you stand with your back to the building, you have a lovely view of St Paul’s over the Thames. It’s easy to imagine Wren retiring with a glass of something to the first floor in the evening after a long day at work and gazing out of the window surveying the progress… however, sadly it’s not quite what happened. Wren was tasked with rebuilding a lot of the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666 and is believed to have based himself at Bankside… but at a building a few doors down from No.49, which has long been demolished.

Writer and historian Gillian Tindall uncovered the truth behind the myth of the building in her 2006 book The House By The Thames: And The People Who Lived There. It turns out No.49 was actually built in 1710 – the same year St Paul’s Cathedral was completed, so that already debunks the theory Wren was based there during the decades it took to build his masterpiece. Tindall believes the plaque stood on the actual house that Wren did live in, but a few houses east – situated where a modern block of flats stands today behind the Founders Arms pub. Her theory suggests Malcolm Munthe (1910-1995), who owned the property in 1945, retrieved the plaque when the original Wren building was demolished and placed it on No.49 to protect it from demolition (for a photo of No.49 in 1946, click here). While the act may have led many to confuse fact and fiction, the plaque’s incorrect placing has managed to save the house from destruction. Bankside was heavily bombed during World War II, before there was mass demolition and redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s, so the continued existence of these three houses in Cardinal’s Wharf is a remarkable thing. Situated next to the 1940s-built Tate Modern (formerly Bankside Power Station) and the modern reconstruction of The Globe theatre (opened 1997), Cardinal’s Wharf is a striking contrast to the modernity around it. The house used to stand a lot closer to the Thames, until the Greater London Council revised the waterline back in the 1970s, creating a larger pedestrianised area we see today. No.49 remains the oldest house on Bankside today.  Read the rest of this entry

Metro Girl’s Must Do Series – Part 1: London Eye

Welcome to part 1 of ‘Metro Girl’s Must Do’ series, a guide to my essential sights or activities to do during your visit to London. Many tourists may only spend a few days in the capital before escaping to the likes of Oxford or Bath or jumping over the English Channel to see the continent. So if time is of the essence and you’re torn between where to go, this is my opinion on London’s top attractions.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The London Eye stands on the South Bank of the Thames

1: London Eye

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At night, the London Eye is one of the illuminated landmarks

Although the London Eye has only stood in the capital since 2000, it has quickly integrated into the city’s skyline and is now an iconic piece of ‘architecture’, with its silhouette appearing on postcards and T-shirts at tourist shops. Situated in front of the former County Hall building, casting a shadow on Jubilee Gardens, the London Eye is located on the South Bank of the Thames. Although The Shard can now boast higher viewing platforms, the London Eye’s close proximity to Westminster means it is often favoured by tourists looking to see those famous London landmarks such as Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.

The Eye itself is a huge Ferris wheel of sorts – but with capsules you can move around in instead of little passenger cars. There are 32 capsules – one for each London borough – and can hold up to 25 people at a time. The 135 metre (443 foot) high wheel is generally constantly moving during operating hours, but moves alongside the boarding platform slowly enough for passengers to board. Although I have heard many friends fear being travel sick or scared of heights, it moves so slowly it shouldn’t be an issue. If you are feeling a bit nervous of the height, the bench in the middle means you can observe the views without feeling insecure standing against the floor to ceiling glass walls. The rotation pattern of the London Eye means you will see North-East (ish) first before finishing looking South West over the 30 minute journey.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Looking over the West End, including Charing Cross station and the BT Tower

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The London Eye stands tall at 135 metres (443 foot)

The London Eye is open all year round and I myself have been on it at different times of day and different seasons. While summer is a great time to visit, it is incredibly popular so you may find you spend time queuing or have to book tickets far in advance. With this in mind, the Spring is probably the best time to go. If its heavy rain, I would say don’t bother at all, and low cloud will also diminish the views. I highly recommend timing your visit for just before sunset and watching London start to twinkle as the lights come on. You can buy guides that can help you find landmarks across the city, even Wembley Stadium or the Olympic Stadium on a really clear day. While I’ve known friends to dismiss the London Eye as ‘so touristy’, it’s a great place to start your trip to London to give you a feel for the city and how it is spread out.

After you’ve disembarked, there’s plenty of other attractions nearby, including the London Aquarium, London Dungeons or London Film Museum. Alternatively, you could walk along the South Bank to the many bars and restaurants around the Southbank Centre and beyond. During the Christmas season, there is also an open-air ice rink under the gaze of the wheel.

  • Standard tickets start from adults £19.20 (walk up) or £17.28 (online), children £12.30 (walk up) or £11.07 (online). Tickets can be bought from the Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd, SE1 7PB. Nearest station: Waterloo, Westminster or Embankment. Opening times vary depending on season. For more information, visit the London Eye website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Each of the 32 capsules holds up to 25 people


For Part 2 of Metro Girl’s Must Do series on Borough Market, click here

Or for Metro Girl’s review of the nearby London Dungeon, click here.

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Every which way: Endless Stair by the Tate Modern

A different kind of street art: Painter on Hungerford Bridge

Street art has been gaining a newfound respect in recent years thanks to the likes of Banksy and Stik. However, of course there is another kind of ‘street art’… as in someone on the street creating art. While crossing Hungerford Bridge today, I spotted an artist painting the London Eye and the South Bank. I rarely see artists creating work outside these days so it was a pleasant surprise to see a painter in action. Hope he was pleased with the finished article…

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

A painter on Hungerford Bridge studying the London Eye

Greenwich summer sunset over the River Thames

The glorious hot weather we’ve had over the past few weeks have made for some stunning sunsets. Last night, I was out with a few friends enjoying some alfresco drinking in Greenwich and couldn’t resist the draw of the River Thames as the sun prepared to go to bed. I took this photo with my cameraphone, so admittedly not as good as it could have been if I remembered my camera! However, the combination of still water, clouds, the colours and silhouette of The Shard in the distance made for a stunning scene.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Summer nights: Sunset over the River Thames at Greenwich on 26 July 2013

Hay’s Galleria | Tea, war and fire – the history behind the Larder of London

Long before it became a food and shopping destination, the Galleria was known as Hay’s Wharf.

Hays Galleria © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Hay’s Galleria is the converted Hay’s Wharf on the banks of the River Thames

The Navigators David Kemp © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The Navigators, a moving bronze sculpture of a ship by David Kemp

Hay’s Galleria is known today as an area for eating, drinking, working and shopping. Many pass through the covered shopping centre on their way to Tower Bridge or HMS Belfast. However, by looking at the building, it’s obvious to see it wasn’t built for these purposes, and like many buildings along the banks of the River Thames, started life as a wharf.

Despite rumours of the contrary, wharf does not stand for ‘ware-house at river front’. The word wharf originates from the Old English ‘hwearf’, which meant bank or shore. Before the advent of cars, boats were the main form of transport in London, so there were once as many as 1,700 wharves on the bank of the River Thames.

The site was originally a brewhouse, which was bought by Alexander Hay in 1651. However, the building was severely damaged in the Great Fire Of Southwark in 1676. It remained with the Hay family until Francis Theodore Hay, Master of the Waterman’s Company and King’s Waterman to George III and George IV, died in 1838. The next owner John Humphrey Jnr acquired a lease on the property and commissioned engineer Sir William Cubitt (1785-1861) to convert it into a wharf with an enclosed dock, becoming Hay’s Wharf in 1856 (see a photo of the Wharf in 1857). However, just five years later, the wharf was damaged by another fire, the Great Fire Of Tooley Street, which overall caused £2million of damage due to the contents of the warehouses destroyed.

Hays Wharf HQ Olaf House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Slightly west is the Art Deco former HQ of Hay’s Wharf

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The wharf has been covered by a glass and steel barrelled roof

During the 19th century, Hay’s Wharf was one of the main delivery points in the capital, with an estimated of 80% of dry goods passing through the building, including the very popular tea. The sheer importance of Hay’s to London’s trade and import industry led to it being nicknamed ‘the Larder of London’. (For a photo of Hay’s Wharf in 1910, click here.)

Hay’s Wharf was such a lucrative business, the company was able to build an Art Deco headquarters a few doors to the west. The river-facing structure was erected in 1928-1932 to a design by architect Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel (1887-1959). The Thameside façade features panels depicting ‘Capital, Labour & Commerce’ by sculptor Frank Dobson (1886-1963).

However,  the wharf was seriously damaged again by bombing during World War II. London’s trade was severely dented following the war and over the subsequent years, more and more wharves shut down and fell into neglect. With ships getting bigger, Hay’s enclosed dock wasn’t big enough to fit most of the vessels, so fell into disuse. Fortunately in the 1980s, the wharf was brought back to life by property developers. The dock was covered over, while the tea and produce warehouses were restored and converted into offices. A glass and steel barrel-vaulted roof was erected over the former dock area in a Victorian style. In 1987, ‘The Navigators’, a moving bronze sculpture of a ship by David Kemp, within a fountain, was unveiled in a nod to the wharf’s shipping history. Meanwhile, the Art Deco HQ is now known as a St Olaf House and is used by the neighbouring London Bridge Hospital.

Now known as Hay’s Galleria, the building is a mix of shops, offices and restaurants today. There are several market stalls under the covered walkway, as well as branches of Boots, Café Rouge, The Christmas Shop, Bagel Factory, Côte and Starbucks. On a nice day, I would suggest buying some takeaway food here and bringing it for a picnic in nearby Potters Field Park overlooking Tower Bridge and the Tower Of London. Alternatively on a warm summer night, sink a pint riverside at the Horniman At Hays pub – named after the tea merchant Frederick Horniman. Also nearby is the museum on board the HMS Belfast.

  • Hay’s Galleria is located on the riverfront, but is also accessed from Tooley Street, SE1 2HD. Nearest station: London Bridge.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

What a backdrop: Performers at the gates to Hay’s Galleria during the Thames Festival 2012

To read more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.

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