Category Archives: The Grill

The London Grill: Oliver Crane

We challenge our contributors to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat they will face 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.

Oliver Crane is a decade long black cab driver and founder of Discover Real London (www.discoverreallondon.com), a tour company offering private guided excursions around London and the surrounding areas, all in the comfort of an Iconic London Taxi. When he’s not navigating London’s streets on one of his tours you can find him either on the golf course or spending time with his wife and three young boys.

What’s your secret London tip?

My favourite tip is that there are actually so many free things to do in London if you know where to look! Whether it’s catching the changing of the guard, booking a free place in the sky garden, enjoying one of our world-class museums or strolling through one of London’s Royal Parks, there really is so much to experience for absolutely nothing!

What’s your secret London place?

Leake Street Tunnel. This disused tunnel nestled under Waterloo Station is truly a hidden gem. If you venture down you will be treated to some of the very best street art in the Capital. It’s abundant with street artists on the weekend and the best part is, if you bring a few tins of paint with you, then you will be free to have a go yourself – as it’s completely legal!

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

Roadworks . . . I know it’s a classic but there really is nothing worse when you’re trying to navigate your way around the Capital and getting snarled up in a ton of temporary lights . . . especially when there is no one even working.

What’s your favourite building?

The Gherkin. Norman Foster’s masterpiece is still at the top of the pile for me even after all these years. I love how brave and ground-breaking the architecture is. It really grabbed London’s skyline and dragged it kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

What’s your most hated building?

At the time of writing, it has to be the so-called ‘Marble Arch Mound’. (If you’re reading this beyond 2021 Google it and you’ll be guaranteed a chuckle). At an eye-watering cost of £6 million, this embarrassing tower of scaffold and mud is designed to be a vantage point across Hyde Park, but at 80ft it barely makes it over the trees. The last time I checked it out the plants had largely died and it seemed to be inhabited by flocks of nesting pigeons.

What’s the best view in London?

Primrose Hill. I absolutely love this place and the vista it offers over the city. It’s situated far enough away to offer a broad view of the city, but close enough to pick out the fascinating details of our urban jungle. To top it off, when it’s sunny there is such a lovely vibe at the summit; filled with locals, artists, musicians and happy people soaking up the atmosphere.

What’s your personal London landmark?

St Dunstan’s in the East – A slice of tranquillity in the heart of the square mile. Originally, only known to locals this place is now a mecca for Instagrammers! Check it out and you’ll understand why.

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

Battersea Girl: Tracing a London Life by Martin Knight. A fascinating book that portrays an incredibly human tale of London life in 20th century London.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

Hawksmoor, Air Street – Steak and Art Deco . . . what’s not to love?

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

It would have to be a bite to eat in Borough Market, a pint in one of London’s old pubs such as the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping, accompanied with the Sunday Papers. Then finally a wander down the Thames to catch the sunset over Waterloo bridge.

 

The London Grill: Jennifer El Gammal

We challenge our contributors to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat they will face 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.

Jennifer is a musician, magician and award-winning London Blue Badge Tourist Guide. A bit dreamy, often happy, always hungry for new experiences, new encounters, new adventures… Originally from Belgium, she fell in love with London on her first visit at the age of 15 and never looked back! She designed the London Magic Tour (www.londonmagictour.com), a walk about the real history of magic from medieval witches and alchemists to tales of great illusionists past and present, interspersed with magic tricks. As a musician, she regularly performs with her duo “One Voice, One Cello & A Mad Belgian” (www.onevoiceonecelloandamadbelgian.com), where she sings and plays soprano saxophone and melodeon. You can contact her at her website (www.amadbelgian.org).

What’s your secret London tip?

Don’t be afraid of getting lost! London is wonderfully full of hidden gems, mysterious alleyways and secret courtyards only accessible to those who explore. So be curious and adventurous, and don’t be afraid to get lost: that’s when the interesting discoveries occur!

What’s your secret London place?

Temple, just off the Strand. It’s only a minute away from the hustle bustle of modern London but you feel transported in another world, beautiful, quiet and just mysterious enough. For a second, you can feel you’ve travelled in time!

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

There are too many cars! Despite the very efficient public transport system, too many people drive into town on their own, which creates traffic jam, pollution, accidents and makes life harder for pedestrians, cyclists, busses… and cab drivers!

What’s your favourite building?

The London Library, a stunning place made up of four separate buildings. Tucked away on the corner of St James’s square, with books from floor to ceiling and large desk spaces for members to work on, it is a place of inspiration and talent which never ceases to amaze me. It is full of interesting (and quirky) characters, too!

What’s your most hated building?

Centre Point, this tall tower that looms over Tottenham Court Road Station, creating wind tunnels and overpowering smaller nearby landmarks such as St Giles’s Church and Denmark Street.

What’s the best view in London?

The Thames at night, from a bridge or, even better, from a boat! Go through central London on the Thames Clipper at dusk, you will fall in love with it all over again.

What’s your personal London landmark?

The Houses of Parliament and its incredibly detailed and intricate Victorian Gothic architecture. The best way to admire it in full is from the other side of the river. I have known it for years yet I am still in awe each time I cycle past it — especially when it is beautifully lit at night.

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

John Lanchester’s Capital. A London-based novel that spans an incredibly large range of characters and gives a real sense of London seen from a multitude of different perspectives. Beautifully written, it shows the human side of London: a great read to accompany your discovery of its history and architecture!

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?

Bar Italia, in Soho. Just opposite the prestigious Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, Bar Italia is a Soho institution, usually open until 5am. The best late-night coffee in town and a true part of London’s history, I love how unassuming it is, whilst still providing very high-quality coffee and Italian treats?

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

Wandering around Soho, its hidden alleyways and ever-changing range of cafes and shops. Then I would pop by the Harp pub for a good beer and a chat with the regulars, before going to see a show, maybe a good old-fashioned musical with a lot of happy, cheesy songs and good tap. And I would end the night at the Phoenix Artists Club for good music and interesting encounters before cycling back home.

The London Grill: Elizabeth Steynor

We challenge our contributors to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat they will face 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.


Elizabeth is a London street name geek, and, after working near Bleeding Heart Yard, has spent decades exploring London’s streets and writing articles and a blog about the stories behind the city’s street names. She hopes one day to turn her hobby into a book. You can read her blog at www.thestreetnames.com.

What’s your secret London tip?

Get lost. Literally. That’s the best and most exciting way to discover London. Walk aimlessly, and remember to look up occasionally and stop to read any plaques, blue or otherwise. If you get tired, jump on a bus for a while.

What’s your secret London place?

When I first visited London I ‘discovered’ Sir John Soane’s museum. It’s not really secret anymore but back then there was rarely anyone else when I visited it. However many times I go there, I find something new to admire.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

London suffers somewhat now from being too ‘touristy’ so that it is in danger of losing its individual charm and becoming just another homogenised big city.

What’s your favourite building?

St Paul’s Cathedral never ceases to make me stop to pause for breath and look at it. It is such an iconic sight; to me is the one image that says, emphatically, ‘I am London’.

What’s your most hated building?

The London Eye. I enjoyed riding in it when it first opened but I secretly resented the fact that it began to replace buildings like St Paul’s and Tower Bridge as the face of London.

What’s the best view in London?

The view from the Sky Garden in the Walkie Talkie building. Spectacular, panoramic views of London while you’re cocooned in lush greenery. And there is also the option of a cocktail.

What’s your personal London landmark?

Battersea Power Station. I lived nearby many years ago when it was still closed and unused and it always said ‘home’ to me. I thought it would have been great to have a flat in a corner of it.

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

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. I like the way that Guy Ritchie makes London one of the characters in the film. Most of his films, in fact.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?

Any family-run, Italian restaurant that is tucked away in a little side street and serves good minestrone and a nice house red wine.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

Getting lost (see question 1). Walking, hopping on and off buses at random and wandering into museums or street markets along the way, stopping periodically at a café or pub. The geek in me would make a note of new and interesting street names and research them when I got home.

The London Grill: Boris Johnson

In view of Thursday’s seismic results, I am republishing Boris Johnson’s London Grill written for CabbieBlog when he was challenging for the London Mayoral election. It is now a little dated, but I hope still worthy of rereading.

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

Boris-Johnson

Boris Johnson was born in 1964. He was a trainee reporter for The Times, subsequently working at The Daily Telegraph, where he became an assistant editor. He was editor of The Spectator for six years up to 2005. He has also published a number of works of fiction and non-fiction, most recently The Life of London. In 2001 Boris Johnson was elected MP for Henley-on-Thames. He was been Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party and held shadow government posts for the arts and higher education. He resigned as an MP shortly after becoming Mayor of London in May 2008. During his first term, he banned alcohol on public transport and oversaw the 2012 London Olympic Games, in 2012, he was re-elected as Mayor. On 12th September 2014, Johnson was adopted as the Conservative Party candidate for MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in the 2015 general election.

What’s your secret London tip?

I would urge Londoners and tourists alike to seek out and enjoy a full English breakfast at one of the amazing family run so-called ‘greasy spoon’ cafes that have existed in this city for generations.

What’s your secret London place?

A trove of attractions is one of our less well-known gems. Across the river from City Hall, is the most wonderfully preserved stretch of Roman wall. Dating back to around 200 AD, it is a fantastic opportunity to marvel at the ingenuity of our Roman forebears, who built Londinium and helped shape the city we see today.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

It is a modern tragedy that so many of our young people are struggling to get a foothold in the jobs market and are drifting into crime. We need more youth opportunities and improved literacy levels in our schools so that they are equipped to compete in the global market, which will help them to succeed in life and aspire to a better future.

What’s your favourite building?

Home.

What’s your most hated building?

Standing derelict for more than 20 years, the Granary Building threatened to be a blight on an area in central London that is amidst an amazing transformation. It has now undergone a spectacular reincarnation from a barren building to a university for the arts. It has become a fantastic focus on the regeneration of the King Cross area, matching my own vision for the city.

What’s the best view in London?

The view from my office window. The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the City, Canary Wharf and the giant treble clef that is the Orbit visitor attraction in the Olympic Park. There’s no better view in the world.

What’s your personal London landmark?

The most iconic new landmark of modern times is the Shard of Glass. This huge engineering feat, rising confidently up to the heavens, is a symbol of how London is powering its way out of the global recession.

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

Johnson’s Life of London, it contains a number of historical characters whom I greatly admire.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

London is a fabulous destination for gourmands, with more than 50 Michelin-starred chefs working at some of the best restaurants in the world. It is quite literally a cornucopia, with delicious food from across the globe to tantalise all taste buds.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

A bracing walk in the winter cold or an early morning jog in Highbury Fields is a perfect way to start your day. Followed by a visit to the British Museum, it’s a wonderful Mecca offering an unparalleled collection of historic artefacts and gems.

The London Grill: John Kennedy

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat they will face 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 might be the same but the answers vary wildly.

[W]ell known for his campaigning on London cab issues, John Kennedy was a regular contributor on the late Big George’s BBC London Radio evening show. He has recently become an urban trainspotter, seeking out the myriad of London’s bollards some over 200 years old, and featuring them on his website, and has recently been featured in Time Out’s blog.

What’s your secret London tip?

Always use a licensed London taxi-cab.

What’s your secret London place?

The benches built into Hammersmith Bridge, take a close look next time you cross.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

The failure and huge cost of Transport for London. I honestly think this company is not needed nor required. Each part of London’s transport infrastructure has its own management structure.

What’s your favourite building?

The Palace of Westminster, the Gasworks . . .

What’s your most hated building?

My most hated building is City Hall, it sums up the London Government. You go round and round in circles yet never end up where you want to be.

What’s the best view in London?

The roof of Bush House, I was lucky enough to be invited up there on New Years Eve by BBC World Service, the fireworks were fantastic.

What’s your personal London landmark?

It must be the bollards in the City of London.

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

The Long Good Friday is my favourite film, I like to read non fiction and presently I’m reading about our constitution.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?

My favourite pub is the Crown & Greyhound (the dog) in Dulwich Village SE21.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

My ideal day off in London would be just walking around Regent’s Park with my wire haired fox terriers . . .