Romantic, dog-friendly La Poule au Pot Restaurant in Victoria


For anyone looking for a romantic restaurant, you couldn’t do better than La Poule au Pot in Ebury Street. The restaurant was a favourite of mine many years ago, and I was surprised to find it still there and thriving. Based in Ebury Street even at lunchtime, the restaurant was dark and lit by candlelight.

A bonus for me is that well-behaved dogs are welcome. We were seated at a table on a raised area where there was a small space for Poppy to sit comfortably, away from the people who served us.


There is a table d’hôte – two courses £23.75; three £27.50. However, I noticed bouillabaisse on their à la carte menu £26.95 and as it was described as a traditional Marseille fish stew which I absolutely adore, I opted for this. In fact we both did. In France it is served in a large pot filled with all kinds of shellfish swimming in a broth. Here it came as individual pieces of fish, not the abundance of shellfish I had hoped for, but with a rich, delicious seafood soup on the side. Perhaps traditional was the wrong description but certainly the soup was delicious. A bit overpriced for what it was although having said that, fish soup was separately on the menu at £13.50.


The menu has the sort of items you would expect from a French restaurant – onion soup, snails, rack of lamb, steak with a choice of sauces, tarte tatin and crème brûlée, as well as the inevitable cheese board.

Considering the time of day and where it is, hidden away in the back streets of Victoria the restaurant was full.
231 Ebury Street, Belgravia,
London SW1W 8UT.
T. 020 7730 7763

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Photograph courtesy of the Champagne Bureau UK

If at no other time, champagne is usually the drink of choice at Christmas, and certainly for the New Year. According to Francoise Peretti, Director of the UK Champagne Bureau, the UK is their number one client, with sales of vintage champagne on the up.

Any bottle bearing the name Champagne has to come from the region, which includes the growing of the grapes as well as its production. When looking to buy the tipple it’s worth considering exactly what you are using it for, perhaps to drink as an aperitif or to go with a dessert.

Champagne spends at least 15 months ageing in its producer’s cellars, although this increases to three years for a vintage. The di erence between vintage and non-vintage is that the former is a blend of wines from one particular year where-as a non-vintage comes from numerous harvests, and never all from the same year. Vintage wine is always more expensive as it is only produced when the cellar master believes that the grapes from that particular year have the necessary characteristics to meet his / her requirements.

There are also Special Cuvées where the champagne has been aged for ten, and often more years. This gives it time to bring out the richness and avour, resulting in a more complex wine. While vintage and non-vintage come in recognisable bottles, each house has its own specially shaped bottle for its Special Cuvées. These are more expensive, but usually come boxed, making it an ideal gift.

The di erence in taste comes from the grapes, and the percentage of each used. Some producers only use the chardonnay grape which gives a light avour, and will have the words blanc de blancs on its label. The strength varies when either or both meunier and / or pinot noir grapes are introduced.Beingblack,theyhaveaheavier, more robust avour. If the label says blanc

de noirs then it is totally made from black grapes. When neither is mentioned, it is a mixture. Each house has its own blend, which is duplicated year after year so that buyers can expect a similar taste from their favoured producer.

To add to the choice there is also Rosé, pink champagne. This can be a blend of the three grapes to which red wine, produced in the region, is added or where the skins of the meunier and / or pinot noir grapes have been left in the fermenting. Its depth of colour will depend on how many black grapes are in the champagne.

The majority of Champagne sold is brut which means it is dry. Variations, whereby more or less sugar have been added, are also available.

If you are not sure what to buy Francoise suggests asking advice from your local wine merchant. With an indication of what style of still wine you like, they will be able to suggest suitable brands.

May I raise my glass of champagne, and wish everybody a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.


The Magazine Connection is a group of four high quality magazines delivered to 23500 homes on the North Hampshire/Surrey borders. Designed to help local businesses promote their products/services to residents the magazines (the first of which was published in 2005) have a truly local feel, with local photos on the covers and lots of Community Content. They also include interesting articles among which is a regular column “Food Trends” written by Natasha Blair.

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Impressionist view of London at Tate Britain

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Kew Gardens Rhododendron Dell   Camille Pissarro

Impressionist Art seems to be everywhere. Opening today at Tate Britain is an exhibition of French Artists in Exile (1870 – 1904). With the theme Impressionists in London, the exhibition containing over 100 paintings and sculptures highlights what life was like for French refugee artists. Among them were Monet, Tissot and Pissarro who left France during the Franco-Prussian War. It also portrays how these artists felt about London with scenes of the River Thames, the Houses of Parliament, parks, street life, and the London fog.



Holyday    James Tissot

The Impressionists rejected established styles and traditional subject matter, preferring to depict fleeting, light-dappled impressions of the senses. Being a fan of their work, I expected the exhibition to be one of the highlights of the year. Sadly, for me, it wasn’t. While I loved some of the paintings, a lot of the works particularly the sculptures, didn’t come up to expectation.

The opening room has paintings showing the devastation from which the artists fled, followed by spaces dedicated to different artists, and the people they associated with. At its centre, a room is dedicated to Alphonse Legros who as Professor of Fine Art at the Slade School made an impact on British art education  helping to revolutionise the way in which modelling was taught. Legros was supportive of other artists, and particularly the sculptor Aime-Jules Dalou.



Houses of Parliament, Sunlight through the fog     Claude Monet

One room is dedicated to a series of Monet’s paintings of the River Thames showing the Houses of Parliament covered in the mist of the London fog, but also basking in the evening sun. I personally preferred the painting on the same subject by Giuseppe de Nittis. The last part of the show is dedicated to Andre Derain , highlighting his homage to Monet.

A series of events runs at various times throughout the exhibition. Themed meals include a three course lunch from an Impressionist inspired menu is available in their Rex Whistler Restaurant until 7 May, 2018. £55.00 includes access to the exhibition.

The exhibition runs until 7 May, 2018.

Tate Britain, Linbury Galleries, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG.

Open daily 10.00 – 18.00 Friday 1 December until 22.00.

Entry £19.70 (includes a donation). Concessions and family tickets available.

Tel. 0207 887 8888

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Cézanne at the National Portrait Gallery


Cézanne  – Portraits of a Life

Cézanne is well know for his landscapes, but less well known is that he also painted over 160 portraits. A major exhibition of over fifty, from collections around the world opens at London’s National Portrait Gallery. Part of the group known as Post-Impressionists, he is considered one of the most influential artists of the nineteenth century.

Cézanne only painted people that grasped his attention.  He was not interested in commissions but rather painting the people around him. His paintings are not of smiling faces or pretty subjects, and tend to be sad or morose. His subjects included those of himself, his partner, later his wife; his son, close friends, and people who worked for him.


A film ‘Cézanne – Portraits of a Life’ made in conjunction with the exhibition examines Cezanne’s life encompassing both Paris, and Aix-en-Provence where he lived, and had  homes. Made for worldwide cinema distribution from January 2018,  excerpts from it can be seen on a television with-in the exhibition.

The exhibition is not just for lovers of Cézanne’s paintings, but also for those who wish to explore other aspects of the artist who is considered one of the foremost of his time. I personally only enjoyed a few of the paintings notably ‘Boy in the Red Waistcoat’, and those from his later years when the colours of the paint he used were more vibrant.



A series of events run throughout the exhibition.

Until 11 February 2018, tickets with donation £20.00.  T. 020 7321 6600.

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New Sainsbury Wing at the V&A opens with Opera Exhibition


This year’s must see exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics opens this Saturday at the new Sainsbury wing of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London’s South Kensington.

There are several reasons to go. Firstly to see the new Sainsbury wing which is architecturally stunning, but also for opera lovers and those who want to learn about and hear opera, displayed with the use of ground breaking technology. The aim of the exhibition, organized in collaboration with London’s Royal Opera House as well as other opera houses around the world, is to bring opera to as many people as possible. The exhibition reveals how opera brings together multiple art forms to create a multi-sensory work of art, and shows how social, political and economic factors interact with great moments in the history of opera.


The route takes the visitor through seven journeys Venice, London, Vienna, Milan, Paris, Dresden, Leningrad, ending with World Passion where enormous wall to ceiling screens show excerpts from various operas. With headphones that were given to me when I went in, I was able to listen to different operas depending on what part of the world I was in. Among the 300 items on display are costumes worn at operas, paintings, and musical instruments including a piano played by Mozart in 1787; a stage set; and a video installation demonstrating how different directors interpreted Wagner’s ballet sequence in Tannhãuser.


A wide range of events have been organized in connection with the exhibition including lunchtime concerts on some Thursdays and an Opera Weekender from Friday, 10 to 12 November.

Runs until 25 February 2018.

Admission £19.00. Concessions available.

Tel. 0800 912 6961



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The Royal Mews and Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace


#Buckingham Palace is a must-see for everyone whether a Londoner or a tourist. Sadly the Royal Mews and the #Queen’s Gallery, which are part of the Palace should be included, but are often overlooked. As a Londoner, although I was aware of their existence, I had visited neither until this year. Both are part of the Royal Collection, and within the grounds of Buckingham Palace. A bonus is that they are open, subject to holidays and royal occasions, throughout the year.

John Nash who was responsible for remodeling Buckingham Palace was initially involved in the architectural drawings for the Royal Mews. In Georgian times, the mode of transport was by horse and carriage but it was only when Queen Victoria came to the throne that the Mews, as it is today, was built.

By each exhibit is a written explanation but even better are the free, guided tours. Visitors, with the use of a multi-media guide, can also wander around on their own. The majority of the carriages on display, which are maintained in pristine condition, are those once used by Queen Victoria, and still used today. On display too are some of the Royal cars.

Visitors can get a sensation of what it’s like to sit in a carriage in a replica of the semi-state landau, which has a roof that comes down. There are also smart red jackets to dress up in, ideal for a photo opportunity. On my visit I was also able to see the harness rooms, the stables, and a few of the thirty horses stabled there. Apparently, they can often be seen in the road going or coming back from Hyde Park where they take their exercise or attached to a landau transporting an Ambassador to an audience with the Queen. At the entrance to the Royal Mews, near the main road is the riding school which is used to accustom the horses and their riders to traffic noise, and is where the horses are trained to pull the carriages.


On Display at the Queen’s Gallery until November 12 are paintings, drawings and prints by Venice’s most famous view-painter, Canaletto (1697-1768). Visitors can get an idea of Venice in the eighteenth century as seen through Canaletto’s eyes. Key works are the Regatta on the Grand Canal held annually in February, and the Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day; the Venetian Festival of the Wedding of the Sea. These works, along with the rest of Joseph Smith’s huge collection, were bought by the young George III in 1762 from Canaletto’s agent and dealer. Smith was British Consul in Venice, and one of the greatest patrons of Venetian art.

Canaletto always manipulated his painting as well as diversifying the subject matter. He was a prolific draughtsman, making hundreds of drawings of the city he saw around him. Encouraged by Smith he was also interested in the buildings of Venetian architect Andrea Palladio. Canaletto’s work is shown alongside that of fellow artists of the 18th century. Of the 200 works on display 40 are by Canaletto.

Talks and school sessions are being held throughout the exhibition.


Gilded Channukiah from the Board of Deputies of British Jews 1982

Even if you have already visited the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace there is for 2017 an exhibition of over 200 Royal Gifts from around the world  that Her Majesty The Queen has received during her 65 year reign. This summer also marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and this is commemorated with a display in the Music Room of personal memorabilia including her desk from Kensington Palace.


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Gastro dog-friendly pub in Hampstead


The Freemason’s Arms

 Whenever I go to Hampstead to meet friends we invariably end up at the Freemason’s Arms on the south side of the Heath. The big plus for me and lots of others who frequent the gastro-pub is that it is dog-friendly, has good food, and is easily accessible.

The pub was refurbished last year and the décor is stylish but remaining welcoming. The place maximises on places to sit, at the front of the building, in its bar, three restaurant areas and a garden. Anyone ordering food in the bar has to compete with those popping in for a drink. One of the waiter service restaurant areas is dog-friendly. At the weekends, when the sun shines hamburgers are barbecued in the garden. Food seems to be served non-stop throughout the day.

I have always eaten in the bar but with the sun shining and people queuing up for drinks the dog-friendly part of the restaurant was definitely the best option. The Sunday roasts, which includes a vegetarian option was the choice of virtually everyone I saw eating.


With eyes bigger than my stomach, I rather stupidly opted for the trio of roasts consisting of slices of beef, pork and chicken with all its associated trimmings. The roasts, bar the vegetarian option, come with goose-fat roasted potatoes, braised red cabbage, honey-roasted parsnips, cauliflower cheese and a gigantic Yorkshire pudding plus gravy, mustard, apple butter, and crackling for the pork. Far too much food. Sadly, too, my beef came well-done my only grievance but to give the staff credit I was told it was not possible to have it rare. My companion Sharon fared rather better with her roast lamb rump which was served as it should be, pink. Having informed me that her mother used to make the best Yorkshire Pudding she was suitably impressed with theirs, also complimenting the chef on his tasty gravy.


Not realising how big my main course would be, we shared a starter of crispy Karaaga chicken, pieces of deep fried but succulent chicken with a katsu, curry flavoured sauce served with a rice and broad bean salad on a thin slice of mooli. Lots of flavour and delicious.

The desserts all sounded very enticing and included baked Sicilian lemon cheesecake, warm Belgian chocolate Brownie, and a British Cheese Board. Needless to say, neither of us had any space or desire to try them as delicious as they sounded which seemed equally apparent with our fellow diners. Poppy, my dog was, however, very delighted as it was impossible for me to eat all the meat on my plate and on leaving she was presented with a ‘doggie’ bag.

Advisable to book in the restaurant. The bar and garden are not bookable.

The Freemasons Arms

32 Downshire Hill, NW3 1NT

Hampstead T. 020 7433 6811


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Leonardo to Rembrandt Drawings at NPG


Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt opens at the National Portrait Gallery.

An exhibition of 48 portrait drawings by some of the most talented Renaissance and Baroque artists working in Europe during the 17,18 and 19th centuries, some of which have never been shown before, are on display at the National Portrait Gallery, just off Trafalgar Square.

Drawings unlike paintings have usually been made as the result of an encounter between an artist and a sitter at a specific moment of time or a study for a future painting, and the exhibition homes in on the relationship between the artist and the sitter. Artists of that period were fascinated by the expressive power of the human face and regularly drew their friends as well as those they met in daily life.


Some of the people depicted can be identified, but many of the faces are people that the artist may have passed in the street. The star of the show is Hans Holbein the Younger’s drawing of John Godsalve c. 1532-4, one of 15 drawings lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection Trust.

A film on a screen discreetly placed on a ledge at the side of one of the galleries shows how and with what equipment, such as silver point, chalk, pen and ink as well as the different types of paper that were used drew during that period.

The accompanying booklet has been designed to give visitors a more detailed description of each drawing encouraging them to admire what is in front of them rather than having to stand and read the sign.

One of the aims of the exhibition is to inspire visitors to take up drawing themselves.

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Study of a Male Nude by Leonardo da Vinci c.1504-6


Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt is on display until 22 October, 2017

Tickets with donation: £10.00 Concessions £8.50

National Portrait Gallery,

St Martin’s Place, London WC2H OHE

T. 020 7321 6600


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Atmospheric hotel in Pretty Village of Dunster

The dog-friendly Luttrell Arms in Dunster, Somerset one of the oldest post-houses in Britain, occupies the site of three ancient houses. Recorded in 1443, two of them were at that time conveyed to Richard Luttrell, who already held the other.

The houses were built into the hillside so the hotel’s garden with views of Dunster Castle, can be found on the first floor. The Coat of Arms of the Luttrell Family dating back to 1261 can be seen on the exterior of the building.

Inside are many notable architectural features. The mediaeval hall with its hammer beam roof can be seen in room 17. The lower half of its twelve light window lights the Inn’s bar. A large section is missing, possibly removed during the restoration of 1777 to give access to a new staircase.

In room 14 are the Coat of Arms of George Luttrell and his second wife Silvestra Capps. From this room you can enter the top of the porch-tower where there is a wonderful view of the High Street to the Castle. On the first floor, bedrooms 18-22 occupy what was once the ballroom. In the ceiling, which is original are large plaster roses with vent holes to allow the heat to escape from the gas chandeliers.

The Stable Bar to the left of the archway is where the horses would have entered in what used to be the stable block. The bar is dog-friendly while the main restaurant isn’t. Fortunately and as I was with Poppy, my dog we, along with some friends, were able to enjoy the restaurant’s menu with waiter service in the bar. It turned out to be a bonus as the olde-worlde bar had lots more atmosphere than the more modern decor of the restaurant.

Under new management in the past few years, the hotel has undergone refurbishment while retaining the history and atmosphere of times gone-by.

Read a full account about our trip at:



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Synagogue is One of Plymouth’s top Tourist Attractions

Plymouth Shul 3

Nominated by Trip Advisor as one of Plymouth’s top visitor attractions, the city is home to the oldest functioning Ashkenazi Synagogue in the English speaking world.  Its added attraction is that it has a Royal connection. The synagogue dates back to 1762 with the only major extension, the addition of North and South wings, in 1864 of a Ladies Gallery The latter was paid for by Leon Solomon, grandfather of Ernest Simpson, whose wife Wallis divorced him to marry Edward, the Prince of Wales.

 The Jewish community settled in Plymouth in the early 18th Century with its members mainly from Holland and Germany.  In 1742 they leased the plot of land where the synagogue now stands, and in 1834 bought the freehold .  
After the Second World War, with the decline of the Devonport Dock Yard many families moved away leaving a community today of 39 members. In 2012, the synagogue’s custodian Jerry Sibley was presented to the Queen for being one of Devon’s unsung heroes. Through his efforts, with the synagogue surviving mainly on donations from tourists, visitors, and school trips, the building is kept open for both worship and visitors.
The most commendable thing is that Jerry, himself is not Jewish. 
Read about my trip to Plymouth at:
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