Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Regent's Canal to The Wapping Project

Canals are cool. If you live near Regent's Canal then the chances are that you will know this already.
I've cycled down Regent's Canal a few times from Angel to Limehouse Basin (near Canary Wharf). Normally my goal is to build up a fine thirst covering the 4.5 miles then sup a well-earned pint overlooking the Thames from a pub balcony like that of The Grapes. This narrow pub, dating back to 1720, has a small wooden-decked balcony perfect for sunset reflections on a by-gone age. I recommend Joseph Conrad's from the opening of Heart of Darkness:

"The old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at the decline of day, after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth...  Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! . . . The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires." (full passage here)

Today's cycle however was to a different destination. I was on a mission to The Wapping Project, an art installation and restaurant in a gutted ex-power plant, The Wapping Hydraulic Power Station (E1W 3ST, map). This magnificent conversion of a dilapidated building into a beautiful space used for exhibitions is similar to that of the Tate Modern on a smaller, more intimate scale. Shelts, Millie and I were having dinner there that night.

September's Indian Summer was forecast to end soon and we were determined to make the most of the heatwave in London. The canal cycle and visit to the Wapping Project for a well earned dinner were an ideal option.

The cycle from Angel to Limehouse takes you through some interesting parts of East London and gives you a view you'd never get from the street. The stunning modern redevelopments, side-by-side with derelict building still hoping for a second lease of life are typical of the route. If you've never been before you'll be amazed to see that the waterway is still very much in use. Canal boats glide past swans and ducks, kids dive bomb into locks. As you move from Angel through Hackney, Victoria Park and London Fields, you'll see BBQs, the occasional pub and the trendiest people lining the banks. There's even a book-selling barge at London Fields. You get all sorts by the canal, to date I've seen a pirate and a stomach turning swimmer...

After much ringing of your bike's bell as you pass under the numerous impossibly low bridges and round blind corners (with no barrier between you and the murky, green waters of the canal), you will be in Limehouse. Here the canal meets the Thames and there is a marina filled with beautiful white yachts. You will be able to see Canary Wharf in the distance. If you have timed it well you might catch the setting sun reflected in the glass of One Canada Square tower.
A few minutes cycle later and we were at The Wapping Project.

Here we met Shelts, already supremely content basking in the last ray of sunlight with his glass of Pinot Noir.

Millie followed suit and I opted for a refreshing Elderflower Collins (lemon juice, soda water, gin, elderflower syrup, ice). I walked into the building to order leaving the others to find a spot on the grass. The outdoor area was a quirky mix of random pieces of welded and wooden art as well as a screen for projecting films. They found a bench and some beach deck chairs to sit at.

Inside the building the scene was stunning. Entering  through the tall doors and dodging a hanging metal chain and hook from the original power plant, I approached the bar. This area had strip lighting but throughout the rest of the building strategically placed candles were almost all that kept the dark at bay. Dining tables were positioned throughout this hall surrounded by abandoned pieces of industrial machinery covered in candles and TVs showing scenes from fashion shows.

The staff were extremely helpful and brought our drinks out to us. Enjoying the last of the summer heat we were allowed to stay outside for well beyond the time of our diner reservation. As it got darker outside we moved in and taking our seats ordered a bottle of the Pinot Noir.

The room was buzzing. If there were only a few diners, the building's high ceiling and cavernous space might have made the room seem cold and uninviting but we will never know, for us the candles and chatter of conversation throughout the room made the room warm and cosy. A gentle breeze flowed through the open doors.

The waiter talked us through the menu - quality meat, game and seafood - and we learned that the chef was ex-St John's which boded well and may have influenced my choices. The food was excellent.

I went for a full rabbit banquet. Starting with rabbit offal, I moved onto braised rabbit for main.
Millie had an artichoke salad to start followed by braised rabbit.

Shelts had fig and blue cheese salad and then a rare Welsh onglet with red cabbage.
To finish we all shard a warming armagnac and prune ice cream.
The cycle home was quick. We opted for the main roads; less fun but less chance of falling in the water. London, never boring, showed us St Paul's Cathedral and The Tower of London on the cycle home. Not a bad day out...
St Paul's Cathedral

1 comment:

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