The Garden Café

Posted by Ruth

Where: 5 Lambeth Palace Road, SE1
Cost: Under £10 per person
Twitter: @GardenMuseumLDN

There are many unusual places to have lunch in London, but it’s not often you find yourself eating in a disused Church by the side of the river. This is the setting of the Garden Café in Lambeth, a simple vegetarian café, which is part of the Garden Museum.

The café offers a small daily-changing menu and is inspired by the vegetables grown in the garden adjourning the museum, and sourced where possible from local ingredients. The food is simple, but provides a refreshing lunch.

Dishes such as goats cheese and beetroot tart, and homemade soup are on offer, along with an array of tempting cakes. Some, which appear classic on first glance, actually include the humble vegetable (such as Butternut Squash cake) – not that uncommon nowadays, but still a nice reflection of the vegetarian emphasis.

Whilst we did not visit the Museum itself, it was apparent that this is a mecca for anyone with a passion for gardening. The museum houses artefacts and exhibitions about the history of the British garden.

It was set up in 1977 in the abandoned St Mary’s Church, as a tribute to John Tradescant (the first great Gardener in British history), who was buried in the church ceremony – hence the distinctive location.

Adjoining the cafe is small shop with a range of rare gardening books – a great place to pick up a gift for a green fingered friend.

Recommended if you’re looking for a cheap vegetarian lunch in an interesting location – but be warned, it’s absolutely freezing in the Church so wrap up warm!


Old Operating Theatre

Where: Old Operating Theatre, St Thomas Street, SE1
Price: £6 Adults (£5 conc, £3.50 children)

Living in the shadow of The Shard, we’ve seen the finishing touches being applied to the latest addition to London’s iconic skyline. Yet tucked away on the very same street as that glass mountain is a much less understated structure: St Thomas’s Church. When the Baroque church was rebuilt in 1703 a garret (attic space) was added to store the herbs used by the apothecary of St Thomas’s – the height thought to have offered protection from the capital’s rodent army.

The loft is also home to Europe’s oldest surgical operating theatre. Whilst the attic of a church may seem a peculiar choice to perform operations, the plan below shows that the Church used to sit directly alongside some of the hospital wards allowing easy access (note how the Shard now sits towards the site of the old hospital’s Washhouse and Bathhouse). After the hospital moved locations the theatre lay dusty and forgotten until it was rediscovered in 1956.

Today you can visit the restored theatre for yourself between 10:30 and 17:00 every day including Bank Holidays. The Museum is closed 15th December to 5th January every year. To gain access to this once neglected gem you must first climb 32 steps of a creaky wooden staircase where you encounter the ticket desk and a shop piled high with treasure (I picked up a really good book on 19th century New York).

Once you make it into the garret you’ll find your experience split into two sections: the collection of medical paraphernalia and the Old Operating Theatre itself. The collection of surgical equipment from yesteryear is both fascinating and scary; one look at the obstetrics area is enough to make your eyes water! Two thirds of the collection is available to view online if you can’t make it down to St Thomas’s Street yourself.

After taking in the collection, wander next door to the Theatre where you’ll see for yourself the conditions under which the pioneering surgeons of the Victorian era demonstrated the latest techniques to their students. With anaesthetics a fledgling field, amputations often occurred in less than a minute. The exhibition is well appointed with interesting information to supplement your wanderings. You can also take an online panoramic tour of the Theatre.

A fascinating place to spend an hour or two and it is probably possible to squeeze everything in to an hour’s lunch break if you work in the area. We often takes things for granted in the modern world, whether it is our ability to build 308 metre glass monoliths or perform amazing feats of medicine. It is easy to forget what life was like in our city 150 years ago and this marvellous little place, hidden in an old church, is a wonderful way to transport yourself to the past.

The Cat’s Pyjamas!

Where: Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Yard, EC2
When: 24/02/12 (exhibition open till 28th May)
Price: Free

Intrigued by the idea of an event combining art, gin cocktails and 20s music, we went along to the Cat’s Pyjamas night with high hopes. This was a late night opening of the Guildhall Art Gallery , displaying the Age of Elegance exhibition. Unfortunately our expectations were not quite met by the event, and on leaving we were a little disappointed, with a feeling that the evening could have delivered much more.

On entering the gallery we were unsure which way to turn, there was a useful handout on the different activities, but no clue as to where these were located. Unsure, we headed up to the main gallery, which was filled with people dressed in 20s attire, and a small group dancing to the Charleston . Many people had gone to considerable effort to dress up- which did add to the atmosphere. However the bright lights of the gallery, and mix of statues and much older paintings seemed to jar with the exhibition. The combined effect felt like a 20s night by numbers, rather than a transportation back to the jazz age.

In search of the promised cocktails, we eventually located a small pop up drinks area, which had already accumulated a rather large queue. We both tried the Trilby; gin, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit juice, lemon juice and sugar. While delicious, this was not great value at £9 each, especially as it was served pre-prepared in a very small glass.

The exhibition was split across two areas and so we decided to explore, hoping to find more. Whilst the paintings were attractive, they did not capture the essence of the age of elegance that we were expecting and failed to keep us sufficiency interested. Fortunately the evening did improve when we went to the literary section. Mark Oostervan read a short story called ‘The Truth About George’ by P.G. Wodehouse; an intriguing tale of man overcoming his stammer and shyness. The audience were enchanted and this was definitely the highlight of the night. Elsewhere dancing lessons took place, but with our combined lack of coordination we decided to give this a miss.

We felt on balance that given the event was free it was worthwhile going along, and good fun to get dressed up in pearls and braces. What was missing was a certain speakeasy atmosphere of decadence and danger, that the best 20s nights in London deliver. So while it could have been much more, it was still an interesting night, and it was good to explore one of London ‘s lesser known galleries.

Museum of Childhood

Where: Museum of Childhood, E2
When: 19/02/2012 (everyday 10:00 – 17:45)
Price: Free

Being a grown up can be a tough business. If you’ve ever pined for the good-old days of a world without jobs, mortgages and bank statements, then it’s well worth spending an hour or two at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green.

A small museum, part of the Victoria and Albert Museum, you’ll find many memories on display. Sega Megadrives, Amstrad computers and tamagotchis were just some of the exhibits that had me reminiscing about my youth. You’ll also find an impressive assortment of dolls, action figures, puppets and rocking horses. Not to mention their very own working model train set housed in a large glass case.

They even have toys dating back as far as the 1600s.

Verdict: Well worth a trip to spend a lazy or wet afternoon having a look around – an hour should be enough to see everything. They also have a small shop with a great collection of kids’ books and toys. Ruth picked up a couple of cool birthday presents for her niece and nephew.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Where: Natural History Museum, SW7
When: Every day (until 11th March)
Price: £9 each

If you had told me under-10s could produce such imaginative and impressive photos as those on display at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition I would never have believed you. Indeed it’s impossible to turn your head without finding an incredible photo, detailing the magnificence of the natural world.

The exhibition has two main sections. The first showcases young photographers, and is a fantastic display of emerging talent. The second, for professionals, is divided by theme. Insects, polar bears, wolves, hippos and chimpanzees were all gloriously captured on backlit screens in a darkened room.

As well as being visually striking, the exhibition also has a great interactive element. You can select your favourite photos from a touch screen monitor and scan your entrance ticket so you can save then to be digitally retrieved at home. A few of our favourites are below.

An additional upside for us was that we got in for free. Colin held a talk on space as part of Nature Live, and got 2 free exhibition tickets. A Nature live show involves hearing from a scientist about their specialist subject. There are daily talks on a range of topics and it’s free to attend. I would definitely recommend going along if there’s a topic of interest and you fancy learning something new.

Verdict: A visit to the Natural History to see the exhibition is highly recommended, particularly if you’re passionate about photography.There’s also plenty to see and do while you’re there and the cafe’s nice.