Sunday, January 31, 2010

Graffiti in Clifton Street Car Park

This is the kind of vibes in Hoxton.

Charlotte Road

Another example of the vibes of Hoxton. It makes me feel safe.

Hotel Review: The Hoxton Hotel

I stay at room 108 (a double room) of The Hoxton Hotel from 29 to 31 January, 2010. The first night costs 99 pounds while the second night costs 129 pounds.

The Good:

1. Stylish interior (pictured left).

2. Friendly staff.

3. Good location. The hotel is situated in Shoreditch, perhaps still the most edgy part of London. The Hoxton Square (where the White Cube contemporary art gallery is located with other trendy bars and cafes around) is within a few minutes by walk. Ten minutes or more take you to Brick Lane, the place to go for boho types (and Bengali curry lovers). For access to central London, Old Street tube station is five minutes away by walk. After the tube stops running at half past midnight, you can go back to the hotel from the city center by night bus easily (N35 from Tottenham Court Road, N55 from Oxford Circus, 243 from Aldwych).

4. The bed room is equipped with the not-so-touristy list of places to go in the Shoreditch area, which is also available on the website.

5. Not only is the Wireless broadband access available for free but also you don't need to enter any password to obtain access. Simple is the best.

6. Breakfast at the restaurant in the lobby, The Hoxton Grill (pictured above), is superb, if a bit pricey. I tried full breakfast (which includes black pudding) on the first morning. Even baked beans (which I don't really like) tasted good. I had pancake and bacon with maple syrup in the second morning. I expected an American pancake, but it was better than that. While the center part of pancakes is soft, the edge of pancakes is crispy and soaked in maple syrup. Yummy. For freshly squeezed juice, they serve not only orange juice (which every hotel does) but also pink grapefruit juice and watermelon juice. If you don't have time for breakfast or don't want to spend money, don't worry. A banana, a cup of yogurt, and freshly squeezed orange juice can be ordered for free at your preferred time. Since the bed room is equipped with an electric kettle (the common sense in UK but unfortunately not in other countries), Twinings tea bags (not Earl Grey or stupid flavored tea but proper black tea), and fresh milk in the fridge, you can have a hearty cup of milk tea right after you wake up, too. Very nice.

7. Two bottles of mineral water and a bottle of fresh milk are available in the fridge for free every day. There are no other unnecessary drinks in the fridge. But who need them? The front desk sells them for those who really need them.

8. The wake-up call can be snoozed once. (There's no alarm clock in the room.)

9. The soap bar provided in the bathroom smells very nice.

10. The dryer is provided in the bed room by default (in the desk drawer).

11. There are four electric sockets above (not below) the desk. One for the kettle, one for your laptop, one for your mobile phone charger, and still there's one extra.

12. Even though the ground floor lobby becomes a noisy bar after dark, bed rooms on the first floor remain quiet.

13. Wittiness. The invoice is entitled with "THE DAMAGE". On the bed room door, the instruction to use the safety box is entitled "Boring message number five" (I failed to find other four messages) and declares that they spend 175 pounds (if I remember correctly) for the safety box. The "Don't Disturb" door hanger instead reads: "Go Away."

The Bad:
Slightly tricky to arrive from airports except if you fly in to Gatwick (then you simply go to London Bridge station by train and change to the Northern Line for Old Street station).

The Ugly:

Nothing in particular.

Verdict: For a weekend city break in London, this is the ideal hotel for you.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Miso-marinated sea bass at The Engineer

The Engineer is a gastropub (a pub serving quality foods) located near Primrose Hill in London. Wallpaper City Guide London 2010 doesn't say much about foods when it introduces restaurants in London. It mostly talks about stylish decor. For The Engineer, however, it does mention quality foods that they serve.

Usually, the Wallpaper City Guide does describe what kind of foods each listed restaurant offers. For its London version, however, it seems difficult to praise foods offered by restaurants. :)
When I looked at its menu online, dishes are reasonably priced. So I picked this pub as a venue for dinner with a Japanese friend of mine.

Unfortunately, the meals that I have are not very great. However, the one that my friend orders---miso-marinated sea bass, bok choi, mash, soy & sherry sauce (17 pounds or 19.5 euro)---is superb. To our surprise, the taste of miso matches very well with mash. What's more, gari (thinly-sliced ginger pickled in sugar and vinegar, usually served with sushi in Japan) is hidden in the mash, and again, the sweet and sour taste of gari matches very well with miso and mash. This dish takes miso to another level. These days it's not that difficult to find an interesting European interpretation of Japanese food ingredients (for example, at Ljunggren in Stockholm). But it is rare to find a successful one.

By the way, the interior of The Engineer is decorated with flowery wallpapers (in Scandinavian taste, I would say). After dark, however, it's difficult to see them as the room is dimly lit. It's perhaps better to visit this place for lunch.

Camper Regent Street

Visiting Camper's flagship store in London at 207-209 Regent Street is a joy. Opened on September 25, 2009, the Spanish shoe brand's shop is designed by Japanese designer Tokujin Yoshioka. Customers trying on shoes sit on his critically-acclaimed "Bouquet by Moroso" chairs made of paper tissues of reddish colors. One side of the wall is also covered with crimson paper tissues. Amazingly, Yoshioka's design is well matched with our common image of Spain, where Camper comes from. The place is perhaps the most delightful and thoughtful shoe store in the world.

V&A Medieval and Renaissance Gallery

The much-hyped medieval and renaissance gallery, opened last December, at the Victoria and Albert Museum (aka V&A) indeed beautifully showcases European design from the Middle Ages. Or I should not use the term "showcase" because they do much more than simply putting items in showcases.

Enter the museum from Cromwell Road and take the staircases on the right downstairs. Here you learn Romanesque and Gothic styles of design visually, because the first thing you will see is:

Then in the next room you encounter:


Like other newly-renovated galleries such as The Jameel Gallery on Islamic art and The Dorothy and Michael Hintze Galleries on sculpture, the V&A is very good in this gallery, too, at displaying objects in a way that enhances their attractiveness: 
Go upstairs to the ground floor. There the V&A has transformed the gallery space into a medieval court yard with the glass roof letting the sunlight fall. The view from the first floor balcony (pictured right) is elegant. 
The first floor gallery rooms feature Renaissance art. Here I do feel a completely different atmosphere, and I personally find it uneasy. The Renaissance style is too well-organized. It even feels a bit pretentious. That's my personal take, but it also means that the V&A succeeds in transforming the general theme underlying Renaissance into the gallery's vibes before explaining what Renaissance is about in words.

Before encountering the V&A during my life in London, I didn't understand the merit of visiting museums at all. The V&A changed my idea of a museum completely. They display objects as if they were decorating the living room. They present the whole gallery space as something pleasant to stay in. That helps visitors really appreciate the displayed objects. If you hate museums, think again when it comes to the V&A.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Skogskyrkogården in winter

Last summer I visited Skogskyrkogården. I visit the Woodland Cemetery again today, when the temperature has been below zero for the past one month or so. It turns out that the Cemetery completely changes its face in winter, perhaps more beautiful and thoughtful.

All the white LED-illuminated trees in Tokyo become a lame once you see all these trees.

And I understand why Erik Gunnar Asplund designed the cemetery as the woods. With tall trees looking down tomb stones, the bereaved who visit this cemetery realize that, no matter how sad their loss is, it is a small, integral part of nature, the fact that helps them accept the loss.

 When I look up, the view looks as if I were watching an abstract painting.

Pictured above: The sidewalk on the road connecting the Cemetery and the metro station