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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Restaurant: Uchi, Clarence Road
Time: Saturday evening
With: Wist
Stand-out dish: Soft shell crab sushi
Uchi is a small, minimalist restaurant in lower Clapton. It is one of the most beautifully designed restaurants I’ve been in. There are gorgeous gold countertops adorned with royal blue china. Plants hang from the ceiling in spherical pots. The pink and grey menus are a masterclass in design simplicity. And everyone sits on three legged wooden stools, on exposed floorboards. The food was equally good. Its a sparse menu, delivered to a high standard. The soft shell crab sushi was a high point. But its hard to choose a favourite, as there wasn’t really a dud among them. The less said about the service the better – it was slow, plates weren’t cleared away, water didn’t come, and the bill took forever. I practically had to plead with them to take my card. Nonetheless, it was great value, and the food is worth coming back for. Next time I might get takeaway.

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Nairns London #27
Kingston upon Thames

THEN: Without any doubt, the best town centre near London; in fact, one of the best in the country. The first view of the triangular Market Place seems too vivid to be true: the Market Hall, fussily Victorian, surrounded by stalls; the church tower behind to the right, half screen by trees, a wonderful half-timbered 1929 Boots behind to the left. Everything going on together, clanging like a peal of bells. And this is only half. Another triangular market place, the Apple Market, dovetails with the main space to make up a square. Buildings separate them except for one narrow alley (Harrow Passage). Here and There, with the There a reflection of the Here, like meeting the younger sister of the woman you love. Another alley (King’s Passage) runs west from the Market Place straight down to the Thames – no railings or notices, just water at the end of stairs. And all this takes up approximately the same area as one of the roundabouts on the Kingston By-pass.

NOW: Not quite the spectacle I’d hoped for. Its a pretty town square, for sure, but I’m not sure it would receive the honours of best near London today. The gilt statue of Victoria still sits on the Market Hall, and the church continues to look down warmly upon those passing by. But commercialism has left scorch marks across every frontage, and you can feel a tension between the old and new (rather than both working in harmony.) The Apple Market still exists, accessible through Harrow Passage, but it’s much quieter, a shadow of the main square. And the Kings Passage is no longer frequented by punters, who instead take Shrubsole Passage to the waterfront, via The Slug and Lettuce and Byron Burger. I doubt Nairn would rate it today.

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Nairns London #10
Shepperton Village Square

THEN: In the north of England this might be passed over: in Middlesex it has got to be noticed. But only in one direction: the view in to the square, with the old church at the end, cottages along the sides, and a road beyond which meets the river head-on because it takes a sudden bend here. Look back, and the whole thing disintegrates, dominated by an ugly, fragmented splay corner which carries a continuous stream of traffic.

NOW: In comparison to Kingston-Upon-Thames, this square has managed to retain its charm. If you were to paint out the cars and restaurant names, I doubt there would be any difference since Nairn’s day. I don’t think we passed a single person whilst there, but the parking bays were curiously full. Even at lunch, there were only two or three people in The Anchor pub. It’s a ghost town, a moment preserved in time.  Little wonder. People now call it Old Shepperton, with ‘New’ Shepperton sitting about a mile up the road.

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#12. Barbican Complex, Silk St
I often go to work at the Barbican. The buildings are dark and brooding; rendered in bleak concrete and linked together by a series of tunnels and passageways. It’s held up as late brutalism (depending on who you speak to – an architectural tour guide at the Southbank called it faux-brutalism) and was built in the late 60s and 70s. Whilst there are flashes of orange in the centre’s interior, its predominantly sombre, creating a great environment to stop and focus and think. There are green spaces and beautiful water fountains outside. And whilst it was voted one of London’s ugliest buildings in the early 2000s, I think public taste has changed and it would now be voted one of the prettiest.

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#11. Thomas Briggs Building, Southgate Road
One of my favourites on our drive out east through De Beauvoir. The road bends round just before you pass the building, so you see it from the side on your approach. Its only when you’re perpendicular with it that you spot its symmetry. Its a red and yellow brick warehouse building, once Thomas Briggs’ tent factory, now filled with various creative businesses and start ups. Time hasn’t been particularly kind to it. Window replacements have been mismatched, and the frontage erected on one side masks the brickwork and spoils the equilibrium. Nonetheless, its nice to imagine how it would have looked when first built.

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