New York City and London are sister cities in many respects. They are unquestionably the global centres of excellence for finance, arts and music. They also have more in common with each other than the cultures of the countries they are based in. You don’t have to travel far outside New York City before you run into entire states full of people who drive pick up trucks, listen to country music and move their lips when they read. London’s isolation is even more pronounced. Britain has no second city to speak of. Outside London you basically have “the country” where people go to visit a pub, enjoy nature and then shoot at it.
Even within the cities there are “no go” areas. These used to be based on personal safety considerations but these days it’s more about cultural preference. Personally I’ve never seen the point of going south of the river Thames in London. It takes almost an hour to drive there from any more civilised part of town. I’d rather keep going south and end up in Paris – only two hours away by train. I was recently taken to an event at the Cinema Museum in Elephant & Castle – far outside my comfort zone. The area is so named after a coaching inn that stood there in the 1760s. I had been in the area once before to visit the passport office. Most people who go there do so for the same reason. Everyone else is trying to get out.
The Cinema Museum is a splendidly quirky place jammed full of vintage cinematographic equipment, posters and bric a brac. There is a wonderfully preserved 36 seater cinema and a large theatre space which was once a chapel. The building itself was formerly the Lambeth Workhouse, a wretched place for the Victorian poor who couldn’t support themselves. Conditions were appalling, some say intentionally so to discourage anyone from staying too long. Poignantly, it was a temporary home to Hannah Chaplin and her seven-year old son Charlie. There is a lot of Chaplin memorabilia at the museum which runs a full film buff’s programme of lectures and screenings.
Looking for sustenance afterwards we wandered towards the river and found ourselves at Brindisa near the Borough Market. The market is a foodie magnet I covered in my blog on Sacred Cows and Bartering for Sex. Brindisa is a tapas bar and restaurant with branches in Soho and Kensington. It was the original “no reservations” restaurant so prepare to stand in line to get in. I was at the original London Bridge location, spitting distance from their store and “Ham School” in Borough Market. They take their ham very seriously here and it is amongst the best I’ve ever tasted. If you are hungry do try the Txuleta rib eye steak (£65 per kilogramme) made from 6-year-old Basque animals. They also have a nice selection of sherry. Sherry has had a significant brand revitalisation from when it was exclusively the drink of maiden aunts and widows. Modern sherry is complex, varied and very much on trend. There is a veritable swarm of Tapas bars with sherry menus cropping up in London including Bar Pepito, Capote y Toros and Jose.
Sherry cocktails are on most menus these days, but the sherry on offer at Brindisa is perfect for drinking straight up. I started with the Manzanilla La Gitana which is frequently drunk before a meal. It is very light in colour and crisp, with a whiff of sea salt. The La Gitana evaporates on the tongue. If you are not sure about sherry this is a good one to start with. In Andalucia this type of dry sherry is frequently drunk as a spritzer with soda or lemonade in a simple cocktail called the Rebujito. Think of it as a Spanish Gin & Tonic with half the alcohol.
The Fino Una Palma I tasted afterwards was also very dry but an altogether more refined proposition. Spanish wines and sherries are almost always consumed with food. The Una Palma tasted great with a few salted almonds. The Almontillado Seco I tried next was also dry but with a deeper colour. It is rich and would taste more familiar to a sherry drinker. Brindisa’s excellent large green Gordal olives stuffed with orange and flavoured with oregano make an excellent counterpoint. Finally, I had the Oloroso Abocado, a deep almost cognac coloured, medium sweet sherry. The Obocado has nice legs and mouth filling flavour. Its sweetness stands up perfectly to some spicier Spanish dishes like padron peppers; small Galician green peppers pan-fried with salt.
You don’t have to stray south of the river to taste Brindisa’s wares. If you are heading for Paris and you run out of gas however, the Borough market area has plenty to offer.
London Cinema Museum
A video tour of the museum