Just Desserts

Maids of Honour

A personal favourite of mine. Just opposite Kew Gardens is a rather quaint tea room selling these puff-pastry cakes containing a rich melange of almonds, cinnamon, butter and brandy named after a famous terrace in Richmond. This was built for the ladies-in-waiting to a former Princess of Wales, Caroline of Anspach, who lived at nearby Richmond Palace.

[S]ince the horse meat scandal CabbieBlog this month seems to have taken on a distinct foodie theme. So for our final March post we take an excursion into the Capital’s culinary connections.


Those resourceful Romans are said to have stuck meat between two slices of bread to make a convenient way of eating on the move, presumably when conquering their European neighbours.

But the name sandwich is attributed to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. His family insist that he invented its creation to allow him to work on Admiralty papers, but those less charitable suggest that it was more likely he was rather bus at White’s gaming tables.

The current Earl of Sandwich has resurrected his ancestor’s invention and given his name to a chain of upmarket sandwich shops.


Don’t mention this to our Gallic cousins but in 1662 Christopher Merrett having moved from Oxford to London demonstrated at The Royal Society how to make champagne, a full 30 years before Dom Perignon started his famed tipple.

Peach Melba

The Savoy’s famous chef Auguste Escoffier was credited as creating this dessert for opera diva Dame Nellie Melba. The combination of peaches, raspberries, redcurrant jelly and vanilla ice-cream were combined to protect her precious vocal chords prior to her appearances at Covent Garden.

Chelsea Bun

On the corner of Pimlico Road and Lower Sloane Street before the antique dealers arrived selling Georgian furniture, there stood a famous bun house royally patronised by Georges II, III and IV. Note the genuine light fluffy article containing raisins is always square.

Late night eats

Today we have a guest post from Richard Allen at Steak Group voted by the Sunday Times as one of the Best Small Companies to Work For 2012. If you have the inclination to write a post just follow this link.

Late night eats:
London’s best spots for a late bite

Where can you get decent grub in the wee hours? Here are some top tips for getting hungry after hours.

[L]ondon is a fun place to be, and it can be easy to get carried away with things in the city – suddenly one drink turns into three, a quick coffee turns into a full-blown night out, or an impromptu trip to some free show or exciting extra.

So often, we find ourselves in the situation of quite intense hunger – at all times of night. And where to go? Is it possible to still have a sit-down meal at the stroke of midnight?

Whilst London doesn’t have the late-night dining culture that New York boasts a little more proudly, it does have a number of late-night eateries (many Brit-brasserie types, or US-influenced burger places, alongside the Soho and West End Asian favourites).

Flying visits often benefit from this kind of insider knowledge- where to go when things overrun. Picking a hotel that is well-located – or is easy to find in case the tube stops before you head home – is also wise, for the late-night diner.

Where to stay:

Good value London hotels can be found with chains like Holiday Inn – especially good if you’re a frequent business traveler or are likely to make use of the same chain in several cities or inner-city locations. These are good places, rather than the cosy townhouse or boutique hotel, to rock up late, because the door policies tend to be 24-hour, and you’re less likely to disturb other guests. The Holiday Inn London – Kensington Forum hotel is a great choice as perfectly located in a convenient and prime location, close to Gloucester Road Station tube station.

But enough of the practicalities: I’m hungry! Let’s get down to business – where you can grab that satisfying meal past 11pm.

Late night restaurants:

Central London’s late night dining centres around the Soho area, which has always had a reputation for staying up later than most. Its neat location, close to the West End’s main theatres, and housing the sleazier, cosier and more private bars and members’ clubs that keep up its late-night reputation, should make it your first port of call.

Top tips – try Café Boheme on Old Compton Street. Recommended by Square Meal for its friendly, good value ubiquity – everyone in Soho has a story – this spot stays open and serving food til 2.30am, so you can make like the Spanish and dine late.

Just down the road, if you want a little more spice and aroma, is Bincho, also on Old Compton Street, serving Japanese cuisine and specialising in its tidy little skewers or meat and fish – great for sharing, great for late eating when you’re no longer in the mood for a heavy three courses.

If you want somewhere to take a client or date, but can’t start dining til 10 or 11pm, then try Hakkasan, near Tottenham Court Road tube. This classy Chinese spot, once a bit of a celebrity hang out, serves food til 12.30am Thursday to Sunday, and its darkened, sleek atmosphere is a great city dining experience all of its own.

A tall tail

Since the horsemeat scandal CabbieBlog seems to have taken on a foodie theme. This week I found a little mouse sitting on top of the bird seed which is stored in plastic containers in my shed. How he came to be there I have no idea.

The sight of my furry friend reminded me of what is claimed to be London’s smallest statute although Peter Berthoud would seem to disagree.

[T]wo mice are fighting over a piece of cheese high up on a building on the south-eastern corner of Philpot Lane by the junction with 23 Eastcheap. They apparently date from 1862 when the building was constructed for the spice merchants Messrs Hunt & Crombie by John Young & Son.

No documents seem to exist as to who sculpted this homage to fromage, however they could be a memorial to a tragic fight between two builders over a cheese sandwich – except the sandwich hadn’t been invented at that time.

The builders in question were working on the Monument, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1671-77 to commemorate the Great Fire of London. It stands on the junction of Fish Street Hill and Monument Street about 400ft away from Philpot Lane.

Mice on buildingAt some point during the Monument’s construction, the two builders sat down to enjoy their packed-lunch of bread and cheese. Having a head for heights – well you would doing that job – the men were content to sit at their workplace, perched on a high scaffold. This was before steel scaffolding, hard hats and the ubiquitous hi-vis jackets, no health and safety in those days.

One of the men noticed that his cheese had been nibbled away. His suspicion as to the identity of the cheese nibbler, for reasons best known to him, fell on his mate sitting beside him perched high up on the Monument.

A fight broke out not wise when you’re poised so high up. Trading punches, the unfortunate pair lost their footing and plunged to the ground to their deaths.

It was only later, after similar disappearances of bread and cheese, that the real culprits were discovered – an infestation of tiny mice.

Pictures by Donna Ratherford.

Dark Satanic Mill

Food producers adulterating our food is a recurring problem and the practice has gone on for centuries.

When the Albion Flour Mills opened the traditional millers – who feared the factory would drive their wind and water mills out of business – had for a long time been spreading rumours that flour from the factory was adulterated with all manner of unpleasant substances.

[S]ince bread was the main diet of the poor millers were often portrayed as the greedy cheating baddie. At times of high wheat prices bakers and millers would be the target of rioters, often accused along with farmers and landowners of hoarding to jack up prices. Bread riots could involve the whole community, though they were often led by women, rioters would often seize bread and force bakers to it at a price they thought fair.

The Albion Mill was the first significant factory built in London. It was situated east side of Blackfriars Road on the approach to Blackfriars Bridge close by the Thames. Inside this modern wonder of its day, vast steam engines powered mill wheels which ground the flour on a huge scale.

Before the fire grinding 10 bushels of wheat per hour, by 20 pairs of 150 horsepower millstones, the Mills were the industrial wonder of the time, quickly becoming a fashionable sight of the London scene, they were regarded as the most powerful machines in the world. The trendy middle and upper classes had liked to drive to Blackfriars in their coaches and gawp at the new industrial age being born.

But in 1791 the factory dramatically burned to the ground in very suspicious circumstances.

The Mills stood in Blackfriars, an area together with neighbouring Southwark long notorious for its rebellious poor and for artisan and early working class political organisation. At one time the Thames bank at Lambeth was littered with windmills – eventually they were all put out of business by steam power. When the Albion opened London millers feared ruin.

It was hardly surprising that when mill was an inferno, they made their joy immediately apparent. A huge crowd gathered and made no effort to save the Mills, but stood around watching in grim satisfaction. Later in the day locals and mill workers danced around the smoking ruins, ballads of rejoicing were printed and sung on the spot and millers waved placards which read ‘Success to the mills of ALBION but no Albion Mills.’

After a soldier and a constable got into a row, a fight broke out leading to a mini-riot; but firemen turned their hoses on crowd thus the first recorded use of early water cannon. To further make their point, the millers labelled the factory Satanic.

William Blake lived a short distance from the factory and it is thought the event inspired the line ‘Dark Satanic mills’ in his poem And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time, later made famous as the hymn Jerusalem.

The London Grill: Duncan Barrett

I challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will be ‘grilled’ with the same questions ranging from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out what Londoners really think about their city. The questions are the same but the answers vary wildly.

Duncan Barrett

[D]uncan Barrett is the co-author, with Nuala Calvi, of Sunday Times bestsellers The Sugar Girls (www.thesugargirls.com) and GI Brides (www.gibrides.com). His forthcoming book Men of Letters, about the Post Office during WW1, is published in August 2014.  Follow him on Twitter: @WW1stories.

sugar girlsWhat’s your secret London tip?

Take the tour at Highgate Cemetery – and then check out the rest of the ‘Magnificent Seven’.

What’s your secret London place?

The Secret Tea Room above the Coach & Horses pub in Soho – if you ask nicely, you’ll be led through the bar to a retro world of 1940s decor and vegan scones.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

The number of people on the Tube.

What’s your favourite building?

It took a while, but the Shard is growing on us – at least from a distance. Where we live in Brixton, it glistens in the distance like the tower of a magical ice kingdom.

GI-BridesWhat’s your most hated building?

The Strata Tower at Elephant and Castle, aka The Razor. Its three wind turbines look like finger holes – if only some benevolent giant would pick it up and take it somewhere else!

What’s the best view in London?

Looking both ways as you whizz across the river after dark, upstairs on a double-decker bus.

What’s your personal London landmark?

The old Tate & Lyle factory at Plaistow Wharf in Silvertown, which still produces the famous golden syrup.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?

Bleak House by Charles Dickens. But for the area we wrote about in The Sugar Girls, Melanie McGrath’s Silvertown and Jennifer Worth’s Call the Midwife were great inspirations.

Men-of-LettersWhat’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?

We’re vegan, so we love Mildred’s in Soho and Food for Thought in Covent Garden.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

Lazing on the grass in Brockwell Park, with snacks from Ms Cupcake’s café in Brixton Village and a thermos of tea.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.