That Tudor Hunting Lodge in Epping Forest

While I may not have done as much exploring over the Christmas break as I would have liked, I still managed to have a little afternoon trip within Greater London. Last week I hopped on a train at Liverpool Street Station with Chingford as my stop. Destination: Epping Forest, and more specifically, Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge.

The walk from the station was a lot shorter than I thought it would be, and pretty quickly you get the feeling of being ‘out in the country’

Oh god, Epping Forest

The Forest (with a capital F) and the lodge, and indeed the whole lot are run by the City of London Corporation. I may not be in the City, but do I ever really leave it? There’s City crests a plenty. Here’s the entrance to The View visitor centre.

The View Visitor Centre, Epping Forest

And immediately next door is the building I’m here for, complete with 16th century guy waiting for the rest of his family outside. On hunting days, the lodge would have been covered with banners such as these.

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

Calling it Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge is a bit erroneous though. The name didn’t crop up until the Victorians. It was at this time that a story surfaced of Elizabeth coming here to celebrate the victory over the Spanish Armada by riding her horse up the inside staircase. There’s no actual evidence that ever happened, or anything really substantial to say she was indeed ever here. There’s a chance she was. One of her favourites, the Earl of Leicester, owned nearby Wanstead Park so it’s possible she was in the area and maybe stopped by for a visit.

The timber-framed lodge was built for King Henry VIII in 1543 and originally called The Great Standynge (Standing) as it was the first one in England to have three floors. By this time the King was, how shall we say, far past his hunting prime but still wanted to shoot at some animals. When the lodge was first built the upper floors were completely open. Henry and his party would perch up at the top, and animals would be rounded up and fire off some rounds, a bit like a shooting gallery game.

Inside, the ground floor is a large kitchen which would have prepared all the food required for a hunting feast. The hearth remains and contains quite a bit of original brickwork.

Tudor kitchen hearth, Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

Tudo kitchen, Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

The large central beam in the kitchen has some interesting markings on it. These would have been made by rush lights places in front of it to provide lights for the kitchen workers. The flames would have burnt the grooves into the wood.

Marks in a wooden beam made by rush lights, Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

Before you head up the stairs, there’s a odd shaped bit of timber. In the bit that is cut out, there would have originally been an oven for baking bread.

The cut out bit is where a bread oven would have been, Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

Heading up the stairs that Henry VIII may or may not have been able to manage, and a warning about taking care on the stairs.

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

A bit 'Tudor', Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

Lots of timber frame, roughly 90% of which is original. Not too shabby. The lodge would have been flat packed – the timbers were all pre-made and assembled on site. In the main entrance, there are some carpenter marks (that I didn’t get a photo of as it was too dark) that helped them put it all together. How very modern.

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

The top floor where all the hunting was done from, with a rather nice timber frame roof. The curved pieces in the middle were made to resemble antlers.

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

The floor below had a few of these markings called apotropaic marks. You can just about make this one out, it looks a bit like a flower in a circle. These were put near windows and chimneys to ward off evil spirits from entering.

Apotropaion mark, Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

It may not be very big, but it is definitely worth a visit. This year they are starting to do 30 minute guided tours of the lodge, as well as some guided tours of Epping Forest.

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

For some more photos, head on over to Flickr.

The big 1-2-0, it’s Tower Bridge

120 years ago today Tower Bridge was officially opened in a large, Victorian spectacle with the the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) and his wife (the future Queen Alexandra) as the top billing, well other than the bridge itself.  Fittingly, for today entry to the Tower Bridge Exhibit is £1.20.

I thought I’d put together a mega-photo-and-video post. Here are some images I’ve captured of the bridge that a lot of people think is much older than it actually is…

The Spirit of Chartwell passes under Tower Bridge
The Royal Barge, The Spirit of Chartwell, goes under the bridge as part of the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant. The bascules are fully raised in salute to the Queen.
Tower Bridge Lights
New lights fitted a few weeks before the opening of the 2012 summer Olympics.
Olympic Rings on Tower Bridge
Same shot, but in daylight with the Olympic Rings on show.
Victorian control room, Tower Bridge
Inside the old Victorian control room.
Accumulator in the south tower, Tower Bridge
Accumulator in the south tower, taken while en route to beneath river level…

Inside the south tower’s bascule chamber, beneath the water level of the river.

The end of the south bascule, Tower Bridge
Back end of the south bascule.
Tower Bridge Engine Room
The Victorian engine room
North tower from the west walkway, Tower Bridge
Up in the elevated walk way.
City stamp, Tower Bridge
City corporation tag on some of the engine room equipment. Tower Bridge was built by the City of London Corporation and they still maintain it.

Creature of Habit

So it turns out I took a picture of the same thing a year apart. That’s me – creature of habit to the point of clock work.

Here we have the Lord Mayor’s State Coach from the outside of the Museum of London on March 30th, 2014

And here it is, from the inside of the Museum of London on March 30th, 2013

Ok ok, so I’m taking the photo from the outside this year. I was at the Museum the day before though, so sort of counts.

Leftovers in Bank Station

If you’re walking between the DLR and the Waterloo and City Line platforms at Bank Underground Station, at one point you’ll come across something that was left behind in 1898 and found 100 years later.

What could it be? A tool, some graffiti? Well, it’s this:

Greathead Tunnelling Shield at Bank Station

That red ring going around the tunnel is part of a ‘Greathead’ Tunnelling Shield, which was used in the construction of the Waterloo and City Line in the 1890s. It protected the construction workers by supporting the tunnel they were excavating. They would work in the shield, digging away the soil by hand. When they dug far enough, the shield was moved forward and the tunnel lined with metal plates.

The name Greathead comes from James Henry Greathead, who devised the shield building upon previous designs by Sir Marc Brunel and Peter W. Barlow. Brunel’s design, the first of its kind, was rectangular in shape. Barlow changed this to be round. The round shape was better at keeping the surrounding soil at bay, as the pressure was distributed all around the shield, rather than just the top and bottom as would be the case with Brunel’s shield.

When the Waterloo and City Line was completed in 1898, the tunnelling shield was left behind. It was found in 1987 during excavation work for the Bank extension of the Docklands Light Railway and later integrated into the foot tunnel when the DLR opened.

Greathead Tunnelling Shield at Bank Station

James Henry Greathead is commemorated in statue form outside Bank station.  Just along the south side of the Royal Exchange in Cornhill is a statue of Greathead, be-hatted and looking down at a set of plans.  Apparently the plinth the statue is on is hollow and acts as a ventilation shaft for the Underground.  Also on the plinth, you can see an engraving of a tunnelling shield in use.

The same general idea of a tunnelling shield is still in use today. The tunnel boring machines making their way across London, carving out the tunnels for Crossrail operate on the same principal.

A Holiday Most Welsh – Part 1

Big, busy projects at work this summer meant that we all had to book our holidays much more in advance than I’m used to. I usually come up with something I want to do, then book the time off. This was just all arse-backwards for me. And what with being busy with work, finding a new place to live, and finishing up the City Guides course (which I passed, hurrah!), I didn’t really dedicate much time to actually thinking of something to do. Let alone planning and booking it.

Seeing as there is still lots of the U.K. that I am yet to see, m’colleague suggested that I give Wales a look. He’s been and he knows me, so his advice was pretty sound. With only about a week before my week of holiday, I finally hunkered down and had a look at my options.

Lots of pretty, scenic stuff in the north. However, public transport,  trains, weren’t so great. Also, knowing me I’d get bored of just non-stop nature no matter how lovely it is. I started looking at South Wales instead. Lots of options train-wise, a couple of cities to check out and for ticking the green scenery box I could get to the Brecon Beacons easily enough.

In one fell swoop (or actually it may have been two), I booked my train from Paddington to Cardiff, two nights in Cardiff, a night in Swansea and a night in Abergavenny. Cardiff gives me a ‘new city to explore’ fix as well as lots of social and industrial heritage, Swansea was something on the coast and again some industrial heritage and Abergavenny would get me up to the hills with a bus connection to Brecon town on the other side of Brecon Beacons to check out.

Feeling a bit beyond the backpacking/hosteling scene, but yet not really one for hotels, I booked up 3 nice bed and breakfasteses.

Packed and ready to rock. Though not pictured is my electronics-laden shoulder bag.
Packed and ready to rock. Though not pictured is my electronics-laden shoulder bag.

On Sunday the last day of June I was up-and-at-them to Paddington to catch my train. It seems I’m always at Paddington when it’s very quiet there, so I have this false sense that it’s a quiet station that doesn’t have many trains coming and going at any one time.  I grab some food and my seat on the train.

A couple hours on the flat tracks of Brunel’s Great Western Railway and I was at the very 1930s Cardiff Central station.

Cardiff Central Rail Station
First station here was built in 1850. This one is from 1932.

Now I did get as far as booking trains and rooms, but didn’t really do much on the itinerary side of things. For each place I just had a list of things that may look interesting and figured I’d just generally  have a good mooch around. To do that though, I wanted to loose my rucksack and get checked into my first place. I now know there were loads of better ways to get to my B&B rather than the way my tired, coughing butt took, but c’est la vie. I took my time and got there just at 2pm – bang on check in time. Figured I’d take the gamble. Alas! The chaps who run the place were out but I was able to leave my bag with a friend of theirs who was also staying. I can’t tell you how odd that felt (maybe as a Londoner?) just just leave my bag there, but all was good.

Freed up (but proper camera-less, d’oh!), I walked back into the city centre. Cardiff is well known (so they say) for it’s Victorian shopping arcades. There were quiet a few and they all were really lovely pieces of work. I believe this one was the Royal Arcade:

Cardiff Shopping Arcade
So bright.

This arcade is home to what claims to be the world’s oldest record store; Spillers. They opened here in 1894 so that claim has some weight to it I reckon. There was also the poshest Oxfam Book Shop I’ve never been in. There was another 2nd had book shop here as well that had pretty straight-forward advertising…

You have my attention
You have my attention

I walked around for a bit and stumbled upon one of the places I had wanted to see – that being the Story of Cardiff exhibit. I actually found it by it being in the same building as the Tourist Info Centre. Always hit those up for a map that won’t drain your phone battery.

The Cardiff Story is exactly what it sounds like – a decent sized exhibit on the history of Cardiff. It goes back to the Roman settlement and fortifications, then the Norman invasion and the building of Cardiff Castle, the subsequent battles and additions to the castle until Cardiff hits its boom time with the industrial revolution.

Cardiff was built on the back of coal and would become the largest coal shipping port in the world in the early 20th century. In 1913 107 tonnes of the stuff was shipped out of Cardiff from various coal mines in south Wales.

There did seem to be a big divide in the city between the old, middle class city and the docks in Cardiff Bay, or Tiger Bay as the area was called (this was because the water was so rough, it was said landing in Cardiff was like fighting a tiger). It’s a bit of a hike down from the city center. The guide on a walking tour I did said that the railway line was always the ‘border’ if you like between ‘nice Cardiff’ and ‘rough working Cardiff’. I could definitely see how that would have been the case.

The Cardiff 'border'. Also, brains.
The Cardiff ‘border’. Also, brains.

It was really one family and one member of that family who was responsible for the building up of Cardiff; John Crichton-Stuart also known as the 2nd Marquess of Bute (as in the Isle of Bute up in Scotland). The family owned large chunks of land in south Wales that just so happened to be full of some of the finest steam coal in the world. Between coal and iron, this part of Wales would be completely transformed from farms to a large industrial sites.

Coal ships at Cardiff Docks (Wikipedia photo)

In part 2! More on Cardiff docks and Cardiff Castle a.k.a. More Butes.

The Great ‘let’s buy a new game at an actual shop’ Challenge

Today is a day I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Yes there’s Daft Punk’s new single that I’m not 100% sold on. What I am sold on though is Fire Emblem Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS. Pat had been raving about how great it is and how much he reckoned I would enjoy it. Once the demo was available in the UK Nintendo eShop I grabbed it. He was right, I did really like it.

From then on my sights were set on April 19th; the European release date. I’m a bit funny in that when something comes out, I want to go to a shop and have it in my hands rather than ordering online and waiting on the post. I pre-ordered Paper Mario Sticker Star for the 3DS through Game’s website and didn’t have a fun time. The game came several days after the release date and the pre-order bonus of a Paper Mario poster took several emails and a couple of months to arrive.

Now here’s the tricky bit. If you know anything about the retail world of the UK you’ll know it’s in a bit of a slump. The two main shops for games in central London are both in rough shape with many stores shut. That would be HMV and Game. In around the west end, there is one HMV left on Oxford Street and a Game taking up a corner of the lower level of Hamley’s toy shop.

At lunch time today I was on my merry way thinking that surely at one of these two big stores I would find my sought after game. How very wrong I was.

HMV was up first. Had a look around, no Fire Emblem. Asked an employee – nope, sorry. We didn’t get any in.

Ok, let’s try Game at Hamleys. Looked around, nothing. I didn’t recall seeing many recent releases but they did have ‘coming soon!’ boxes out for Pokemon, Animal Crossing and the new Donkey Kong 3DS games. That doesn’t help me. There was nobody to ask and just two staff members at the rather busy tills. I took another look around just to be sure that Fire Emblem wasn’t there.

Walking back to work I tried to think of any other place around Oxford Street / Regent Street for games. There’s HMV in Selfridges, but they are always lack on stock. If the flagship HMV didn’t have it, that one would be a waste of time. Got back to my desk and checked the websites for John Lewis, nope. Pat suggested Harrods as a stab in the dark. A search for ‘Nintendo’ on their site comes back with a perfume called Intenso. Oh man.

What about Tesco or Argos. I could pick it up in store couldn’t I? Argos was a big nope. Tesco has it, but you can only buy it online and have it shipped to you. There was no option to collect in store.

The next closest Game location was in Camden Town. I tried ringing them several times throughout the day with no answer. I started to wonder if they had shut down as well, but thankfully their Twitter account was still active. I headed north after work to have a look. I walked in and oh my heart skipped a beat – there was a big display of Fire Emblem: Awakening cases!


I grabbed one and took it up to the till. The guy at the counter looked at it, looked up and said ‘sorry, we’re all sold out’. I would have loved to have seen the look on my face at that point. “Really?! Buying this game is proving really difficult today” I said. Turns out they only got 8 copies and they all sold. EIGHT COPIES.

In the off chance someone bought a copy and hawked it at the two trade in shops up the street I checked both of them as well. No dice.

At this point there was nothing for it. I decided to try another Game location that I know is still in operation; at Westfield Stratford. I want that game bad enough that I’ll go to Westfield for it. That’s pretty telling. I did actually try calling them during the day, but like Camden there was no answer. Maybe Games’s phones have been cut off.

I make it to Stratford and survive the long dark walk from the station to the shopping centre. Step into Game with a faint glimmer of hope. Dashed. It is nowhere to be seen. The same ‘coming soon’ boxes that the one at Hamley’s had, but no Fire Emblem. And again, no staff to ask. Guess that’s what happens when your company has to be saved from going down the tubes. Another sweep of the store to be certain. Take a closer look at that ‘New Release’ section at the front of the store. What’s this, lots of copies of new X-Box games and beneath it… sodding voucher cards for the latest 3DS games.

This is how we buy games now :(

UGH. I’m at a shop, I don’t want to buy a voucher to download a game over the internet. This is the biggest shopping centre in Europe, and that’s how you buy 3DS games at it.

There is another Game location in Hammersmith I didn’t make it to, but let’s be realistic. If they had any, they probably sold both copies already. For the day that 8 confirmed copies in existence  That’s 1 physical copy for every 1 million Londoners. That’s kind of crazy and kind of sad.

I’m not sure if this is something like what happened with the U.S. release of Fire Emblem where stocks were hard to come by. Even if it isn’t, it’s still a sad thought that buying a physical format of something in a city this big is this difficult. I had a realisation at Westfield that in all these clothes and phone and cosmetic shops, there is nowhere at all to buy music.  Maybe video games are going to get to that point as well. Can’t say I much look forward to it. Now, let’s open up a new tab and buy this thing on Amazon like everybody else and wait.

The Lesser Seen Parts of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Not a lot a of people know this, but if you book ahead you can go on a tour of the St. Paul’s Cathedral Triforium. What is the triforium? Well it isn’t anything in particular; just the out of sight parts of the cathedral like the library and where they keep ‘spare parts’ like pervious pulpits.

One of my colleagues on the City Guides course was kind enough to put together a couple of bookings for us to take a field trip as it were. You usually have to pay for the tour, but the cathedral was feeling generous and said they would let us in for free, nice one!

We got there at 2pm last Friday and met our guide, Chris. He said that the tour usually lasts about 45 minutes, but he was at our group’s disposal for the afternoon and would show us anything we wanted. We all grinned.

Up we went the first set of steps that lead up to the whispering gallery, but stopped just short of it and went off into a little door. This brought us into a small room where we could just about see into the whispering gallery:

Peeking up to the Whispering Gallery

From here we moved into a long corridor where we could see a couple of the buttresses of the cathedral. Structurally important, but completely out of public view. A. W. N. Pugin would have hated it.

Buttresses on the left

Along this space there were various prints of the cathedral printed during various stages of the building work. This one is the first ever official print of it, and you can see it was far from what the finished product looked like, especially the dome and the towers:

The first official print of the Cathedral

Further along were bits of stone work from the early Romanesque cathedral, and the better known, later medieval cathedral. They are labelled up as ‘Norman’ and ‘Gothic’ respectively. Though the medieval cathedral was badly damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 it was still standing when Wren started his work on the present one. The old structure was torn down and some of it used as filler for the new cathedral.

Stones from the Medieval Cathedral

Next stop was the library, which is housed in south transept (the cross bit of the cathedral). It mostly focusses on works about St.Paul’s and any books published by people related to it such as the deans. When we popped in there were two people in doing some research, one on the history of the organs (the musical variety rather than the medical kind) and another doing some research I can’t recall. We had a nice little blurb from the librarian about the space as well.

Bust of Wren, St. Paul's Library

We did a little detour to have a look at the Geometric Staircase. This is featured in Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban, but it’s not this exact one. The cathedral wouldn’t allow the crew to film here but did let them take lots of photos to recreate the staircase on set. It was also used in one of my favourite films, The Madness of King George.

The Geometric Staircase

The steps look like they are driven into the wall to be held up, but that’s not the case. They are holding each other up. The top on step rests on a small niche in the one below it, all the way down to the 88th step.

Originally, Wren and his buddy in all things scientific, Robert Hooke, where going to use this space as a telescope. Anyone familiar with the Monument will know they did the same there. Unfortunately they never got around to getting the lens installed into the top of the staircase and it was never used for gazing at the stars.

The Geometric Staircase

Crossing over from the south side of the building to the north was great. In involved this view of the nave:

Looking down on the nave

One of our colleagues isn’t so great with heights, so she rushed past. But the rest of us probably could have spent an age here. We were directly behind the great west window as well and could look out onto Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street.

The west window

To give you an idea where we were, that box is where the Christmas tree is each year:

The Christmas tree goes where that box is

We went around to the north transept, a mirror of where we were for the library. This is where the trophy room is, and the trophy room is where The Great Model is kept. It was what we were all waiting for, the show piece of the tour:

The Great Model

This is the oak model Sir Christopher Wren had built in 1673 of his first design for St. Paul’s Cathedral. It cost him a cool £500. The idea was that it would be big enough that when he showed it to King Charles II, the king could walk into the model (it being up on a plinth a bit higher than this one) and actually see from the inside how the new cathedral would be laid out. Of course this design was turned down and Wren would have to go somewhat back to the drawing board. Once he did get a design ok’d by the crown and the government he was given permission to alter it as he saw fit. Jackpot. He got the foundation and the walls built up to the design of his liking. By that point, it would have been too expensive to get him to start over again and so Wren made St. Paul’s Cathedral as he wished.

The Great Model

To give it some scale, here’s me beside the Great Model:

365-52 The Great Model - it's bigger than me.

Shame that we couldn’t get inside it. Ah well, can’t win them all. At that point, it was the end of the official tour. Our guide said if we wanted though we could go have a look at the choir and the crypt. And so we merrily did. We got to sit in the seats of the choir and here all about the changing decor of it, how it was fairly light in the early days. The Victorians thought it drab and Victorianised it. After damage to the choir in WW2, the rebuilding work was a bit more toned down and is what we see today.

We also learned that the organs dotted around the cathedral are controlled by pneumatic pipes. This allows more than one organ to be used, and the keyboard console controlling them to be moved about. When we were crossing the top of the nave we could see one such organ that was installed in 1977 for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Apparently this one is super loud and Her Majesty had actually asked for the volume of it to be lowered. To be on the safe side, they simply don’t use it when she’s in the cathedral. Fair play.

We then went down to the crypt and had a look at Wren and his family, and of course Nelson and Wellington. Something that I proudly already knew was that Nelson’s sarcophogus that is atop his monument was originally intended for Cardinal Wolsley way back in the 16th century. It was acquired by Henry VIII when he took posession of the Cardinals goods and it was moved to Windsor to be put in storage. There it stayed until 1805 when something was needed for Nelson. What luck we had this knocking about Windsor Castle completely un-used.

Something I didn’t know that was that during the funeral service, Nelson’s coffin was set upon a platform which made it look like it was on the floor of the cathedral (right under the center of the dome). At the end of the service, the platform was cranked down, and with it Nelson’s coffin seemingly sank into the floor, down into the crypt. Nobody was expecting that and it was quite the spectacle.

At this point the cathedral was closing and we were being reminded we had to get out. We thanked our guide profusely. What was meant to be a 45 minute tour, turned into about 3 hours of top notch guiding. You may not get that when you book, but still take a look at going on a Triforium Tour. It’s worth it.

For more photos, head on over to my Flickr page.

The Whistling Kid of Woolwich

For the first time in ages I went further east than the Peninsula retail park and headed for Woolwich. Namely to go to Wilkinsons there because they are great for cheap home-DIY stuffs. Anyhoo.

Wandering the shop and I come around the corner to a couple with one kid in a pram and another, slightly larger kid in tow. I grab my adhesive hooks and poster frame I’m looking for and move along.

While in the stationary area they encroach on me again. And now the upright kid has a whistle. And it is possible the world’s loudest, shrillest whistle. And she is giving her all. And her parents seem utterly indifferent to it. Meanwhile me and all the other punters are grimacing at the piercing of our ears.

Everywhere I go in the shop, this family follow me. Right up to the tills. A breakthrough happens when another till is opened and I high tail it, hoping to leave the Whistler behind. No dice. I make it out side and start hearing that distinctive, drilling sound coming up behind me.

Quick! To the Tesco across the street! Blast, the crossing light goes red. And oh god they’re beside me now, kid still playing the hell out of that thing. A break in the traffic and I nip across the street. Yes! Looks like they are going another way.

That giant Tesco will destroy us all!
That giant Tesco will destroy us all!

I (somewhat happily) have a look around the new, massive Tesco. I think it’s the noisiest one I’ve ever been in. However, it is big enough that it will probably have perogies so I make for the refrigerated section.

No. No, what is that sound? Hells bells, that kid is in here somewhere, and has clearly not run out of wind or interest in blowing that damn whistle. Come around a corner and there they are. Run. Run for the tills.

I made it out without them following me. And I got perogies, so win win. But what a terrible day to not have any headphones on, let alone ones that keep the outside outside. Maybe this is the sort of stuff I’m missing out on all the time.

With that notepad, I couldn’t resist.

Yesterday was the Group IT Away Day for work. For it we hiked out to Wotton House Hotel in Surrey which is where John Evelyn was born in 1620. I’m not sure it looks much like it did then. Mostly boring hotel interior with flashes of old bits of architecture that I could spot.

At any rate. There was a note pad in my room that said ‘Pen Your Thoughts’ across the top of it. I couldn’t resist doing something to maybe give the cleaning staff a chortle.

2012-11-24 09.57.10
On the night stand.
2012-11-24 09.57.18
On the desk.
2012-11-24 09.57.03
Beside the TV.
2012-11-24 09.57.24
On the other night stand with the phone.
2012-11-24 09.58.16
In the bathroom.
2012-11-24 09.59.39
And a useful note also on the desk.

Go for a Burrito – Tortilla on the Strand

It’s no secret that I have a soft, smushy spot for burritos. I had my first one only 2-some years ago and oddly enough can’t recall from where. But since then loads of places have popped up in London serving up rice, beans, meat, and topping concoctions.

I’ve been to most so I thought, hey I should do some reviews. My usual haunt hasn’t been up to standards so I’m going to mix it up a bit. I had the most unpleasant burrito I’ve ever had this past week and really at that point I thought I’d share my experiences. Not sure if I can go back to that one for the sake of a review though.

We start off this week with the newest spot to open up near work: Tortilla Mexican Grill in the Strand. Like most Mexican places, Tortilla is a local chain and this spot is their newest. I knew about a few of them but upon checking their website it turns out they have about double the locations I thought they did.

Anyhoo, on to the noms. Tortilla are unique in that they have a medium and a large burritos on offer. The mediums go for £4.95 and the large for £5.95. Pretty standard price there on the large, though a pence cheaper than most. Thing is though, they cram so much into a medium size that I wouldn’t even bother with the large one. Their drinks are also a bit cheaper than most other places. A bottle of water is £1 and drinks, both soft and not so soft, go up from there.

2012-11-14 17.43.51
Let’s do this.

Here’s what I ordered:

  • Tortilla (steamed – this is important)
  • Coriander rice (this is also important)
  • Black beans
  • Chicken
  • Cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Half a scoop of mild salsa
  • Medium salsa
  • Lettuce

Why only half a scoop of mild salsa? Well for starters I’m not a huge tomato fan, just a lil bit goes a long way. Also a lot of water comes up in that scoop and a watery burrito isn’t nice.

2012-11-14 17.46.30
A few bites in, so far so good.

The chicken here is tasty, but not the tastiest out there. Though it doesn’t have as many charred bit as other places. So a nice happy medium. Steaming the tortilla makes all the difference. A dry one just isn’t as nice and doesn’t fold over very well. My pro-tip is to avoid the Mexican/tomato rice and go for the coriander stuff. The flavour from the other totally overpowers all the other ingredients in there. They were a bit too heavy on the rice with this one but there are worse things that could happen.

Remember what I mentioned about not wanting a watery burrito? Well despite my best ordering efforts this happened about half way through:

2012-11-14 17.51.36
Leaky-deaky. This is going to get worse before it gets better.

Oooh boy. Look at that trail of watery mess. One of the downsides of them stuffing a medium burrito so well is that it isn’t as folded over as it should be and leaks like this are common ’round Tortilla. I soildered on but once I got near the bottom things weren’t looking good:

2012-11-14 17.55.40
(Greasy) water water everywhere.

Now had I been hungrier I may have keep plwoing through the soggyness, but I just didn’t have it in me and gave up shortly after the reveal. Your mileage my vary depending on your tolerance levels. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy it though. Overall it was pretty good. Here’s a handy little break down:


  • Was tasty
  • Chicken was nicely grilled
  • Good value
  • Not padded out with lettuce (as some places do)

And a few cons for this visit:

  • Was charged for a large when I ordered a medium burrito
  • Bit heavy on the rice
  • Sprung a leak half-way through eating

All in all, not too shabby. Initially I didn’t really care for Tortilla at all. Mainly I was going wrong with the rice but also some of their other locations don’t get the steaming of the tortilla quite right and it ends up being sort of sticky. These guys are doing alright with it.

Overall – 3 sombreros out of 5, would burrito again.