The Chocolate Museum, Brixton

I had a bit of time to spare last Saturday so I popped to Brixton to check out the Chocolate Museum. It’s a relatively new establishment, with a café, an exhibition on the history of chocolate (complete with artefacts) and yummy artesan chocolate to buy. Well worth a visit if you’re a chocolate fan. They also put on events for both children and adults, including chocolate tasting and cooking with chocolate – yum!

Sipsmith Distillery Tour

The other week I finally got around to doing the tour of the Sipsmith Distillery that I booked back in June. The tours sell out so far in advance that I had to do this in order to get a place. I was supposed to be going with a few friends, but because of work and illness only one actually came with me on the night.

Inside the distillery
Inside the distillery

The distillery is in the middle of a residential street in Shepherd’s Bush and it is tiny – no wonder the tours sell out quickly, as there is very little space inside. It’s cosy and appealing though, and despite the clutter has a number of interesting things going on. I suppose ‘tour’ is a bit of a misnomer, since there’s nowhere else to go once you’re inside the building. ‘Talk’ and ‘tasting’ would be better terms, and our host was hugely entertaining – I thought he should have a career on the stage.

Bottles lined up on the shelves
Bottles lined up on the shelves

During our talk we heard about the history of gin and the hoops the group had to jump through in order to establish Sipsmith’s. I found it interesting to learn about the name of the brand – ‘smith’ comes from the concept of making something by hand, the artisan practice of crafting with care. ‘Sip’ is obviously what you do to the finished product! This is great quality alcohol – something to be savoured and enjoyed.

The tasting crowd
The tasting crowd

In pride of place stands Prudence, the first copper still in London for nearly 200 years. She helps to make the different spirits Sipsmith are known for, four of which we got to taste this evening: barley vodka, London dry gin, damson vodka, and sloe gin.

Prudence, the copper still
Prudence, the copper still

Sipsmith, with its beautiful bottles decorated with ornate swans, is best known for its gin, and we were greeted with a gin and tonic on arrival. We got to taste some of the gin straight, without a mixer, and though this isn’t the way I would choose to consume it, it was clear that the gin is high quality, crisp and refreshing.

Enjoying a G&T
Enjoying a G&T

A surprise was the barley vodka. Normally, straight vodka has me making faces, and it’s usually reserved for those nights when getting drunk as quickly and efficiently as possible is the aim (and I experience fewer and fewer of those nights as I get older). However, this vodka was surprisingly drinkable, and I could detect the different flavours with no nasty aftertaste.

The damson gin was very pleasant, rather sweet, and I think it would taste lovely with tonic or lemonade. However, by far my favourite drink of the evening was the sloe gin. I’ve had sloe gin before – I’ve a bottle of the Gordon’s variety at home – but this Sipsmith version is the nicest I’ve ever tasted. It was flavoursome, not too sweet, and would be perfect with ice for a Christmassy drink.

Uxbridge – The Penultimate Tube Jaunt

As the title suggests – I visited Uxbridge in order to tick the last-but-one station off my list. I’m sorry I didn’t go earlier, as it is quite a nice little town, with an old street full of pubs and some decent shops. There’s also a Liquid nightclub – I made a mental note to tell my friends.

The station itself was pretty impressive, a fine terminus to the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines.

Uxbridge station

Uxbridge station

Uxbridge station

Uxbridge station

Uxbridge station

Elizabeth I And Her People – National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery‘s current exhibition is Elizabeth I And Her People, which explores Elizabeth’s reign alongside the lives of other important people of the late Tudor age. The exhibition uses portraits to explore how explorers, artists, soldiers, writers and merchants portrayed themselves and displayed their wealth and achievements.

I am fairly familiar with this period, having studied history at sixth form and university, and I thought the exhibition did a great job of looking at the sixteenth century and the kind of people who inhabited it, particularly the growing middle classes.

Collider – Science Museum

The second exhibition I saw at the Science Museum was Collider. Designed as an immersive experience, it looks at the largest scientific experiment ever constructed, the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. It started with a rather cheesy video presentation, then opened up to let you walk through the collider – which in real life is 27 km long – and learn about the uncovering of the Higgs boson particle.

I enjoyed the exhibition, particularly the video and multimedia aspects which helped me to understand what was going on. Having not studied science for over ten years, I really had to struggle to understand the concept behind the collider but I certainly came out with a better grasp of it than when I went in.

Only in England – Science Museum

For the first time since I moved to London, I visited the Science Museum in order to see a couple of exhibitions. One, in the new Media Space, was called Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr, and had an interesting display of photographs showing the English at their most eccentric.

Tony Ray-Jones travelled across England in the late 1960s, capturing what he believed to be a disappearing way of life. His work inspired Martin Parr, who embarked upon his own journey in the 1970s. Parr made the selections for this exhibition, which incorporates both his and Ray-Jones’ work. The result is a fascinating selection of images, sad, funny and unusual.

The exhibition runs until the 16th of March 2014.

Castiglione: Lost Genius and Gifted: From the Royal Academy to The Queen – The Queen’s Gallery

I popped in to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace on Saturday, just before attending a play at the nearby St James Theatre. There are currently two exhibitions at the Gallery: Castiglione: Lost Genius and Gifted: From the Royal Academy to The Queen.

Castiglione exhibition

Of the two, I definitely preferred the Castiglione exhibition. The artist (1609-64) was known as one of the greatest of the Baroque period, and became well-known for his drawings and prints. These are beautiful, unusual and vibrant, revealing a unique artistic sensibility. He also invented the technique of monotype, which led to the creation of dramatic works of art. He fell into near-obscurity in subsequent centuries, and this exhibition aims to go some way towards restoring his fame.

Castiglione exhibition

Castiglione exhibition

Gifted showcases the works presented to the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee by the Royal Academy.  There are over 100 drawings and paintings in the collection, and I liked some of them, but wasn’t particularly impressed by others. Modern art isn’t really my thing.

Gifted exhibition

Bruce Castle Museum

Bruce Castle Museum
Bruce Castle Museum

I visited Tottenham Hale tube station on Saturday, as part of my project to visit every Underground station. But what to do there? I decided to pay a visit to Bruce Castle Museum.

The museum is a Grade I listed 16th century manor house. It is located in 20 acres of parkland, which is now a public park. The oldest parts of the building were built by William Compton, a member of Henry VIII’s court, and it has been modified several times since then. Bruce Castle opened as a museum in 1906.

Currently Bruce Castle Museum hosts local history collections relating to the borough of Haringey. I really like small local museums even though they all contain the same things – old photographs and artefacts in dusty glass cases, portraits of notable citizens of the area, and a reconstruction of a room during World War II. It’s a nice little museum though and well worth a visit – the house itself is beautiful, too.

The tower in front of the house is rather intriguing – it dates from the beginning of the house’s history but no one really knows what it was used for, although one suggestion is that it was used to keep falcons.

The tower

FACTS

Address: Lordship Lane, Tottenham, N17 6RT

Website: haringey.gov.uk/community-and-leisure/culture-and-entertainment/visiting-haringey/bruce-castle-museum

Opening Hours: Wed-Sun 1pm-5pm

Prices: Free

Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 – National Gallery

I popped in to the National Gallery after work on Friday night to check out the new exhibition, Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900. I found it an intriguing one.

From 1867, Vienna was the imperial capital of Austria-Hungary until the end of the First World War in 1918. Portraits depicted the growing, confident middle class, newly wealthy in times of economic renewal, and also the insecurities and anxiety inherent at times of growing nationalism and antisemitism.

In some ways I actually preferred the earlier paintings, more conservative in style but beautifully done and hugely detailed. However, I appreciated the innovation of the later works. Gustav Klimt’s work in particular surprised and impressed me – I am reasonably familiar with ‘The Kiss’ but I had no idea that he also painted extensively detailed portraits, almost photographic in quality. In his ‘Portrait of a Lady in Black’ (c1894), the woman’s black dress is portrayed in all its shades and shadows.

Gustav Klimt, 'Portrait of a Lady in Black'
Gustav Klimt, ‘Portrait of a Lady in Black’

Oskar Kokoschka’s colourful works were less immediately appealing, but were certainly highly unique and reflected the burgeoning modern society.

Another element of the exhibition was the presence of death masks: masks of Klimt, Beethoven, Egon Schiele and Gustav Mahler were all present. I find death masks fascinating as they offer a real glimpse into the faces of these famous figures.

Mail Rail: A Photographic Exhibition – British Postal Museum and Archive

The Royal Mail Archive

After work last Thursday I decided to pay a visit to Mail Rail: A Photographic Exhibition, hosted at The British Postal Museum and Archive. This little-known facility is located near Holborn, and doesn’t have much in the way of a museum yet – though a purpose built one is planned – but the reading room is large and inviting, and the small exhibition inside it is a little gem.

The images in the exhibition were taken by Bradley Photography in Northumberland, and show the Mail Rail network, a series of tunnels in use between 1927 and 2003 and used to transport mail around London. The photos capture a ghostly underground world, left more or less in the same state as the day it closed. I am fascinated by underground London so I really enjoyed viewing these images. I only wish it was possible to have a tour of the network!

Waiting in the dark
Waiting in the dark. © Bradley Photography

FACTS

Address: Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London, WC1X 0DL

Website: postalheritage.org.uk

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-5pm (until 7pm on Thurs)

Prices: Free