Tuesday, 26 January 2016

A Brutalist birthday and some brunch

So, the blog is five. In previous years this auspicious date has slipped by rather quietly - apart from the first anniversary, when there was some jazzy birthday cake ice cream, stuck with a solitary candle - but this year I wanted to mark the passing of time with a new challenge. It had to be cheap (more on that in a later blog), involve adventure, and, most importantly, keep my interest piqued while not driving the Ewing insane for a whole twelve months (that would be good - TE).

So I thought of some combinations of my favourite things, ruled most of them out for being highly impractical (and possibly illegal) and finally settled upon my love of brutalism, The Big Smoke and maps; three things that have been cunningly combined together by Blue Crow Media in their brutalsit map of London.

 Fifty-two weeks to see the fifty-four  landmarks listed (plus possibly a few bonus balls found outside the Big Smoke) to learn a few new things, see some hitherto unexplored corners of the capital and shake a few foundations. Of course not literally, given the construction of some of these behemoths.

Brutalism, deriving from the French for 'raw concrete', is an architectural movement that rose from the ruins, literally, of post-war Europe. Renowned for its uncompromising ruggedness that often puts form above function, it's characterised by the austere expanses of concrete its name suggests, with a focus on practicality that will divide a dinner party at its mere mention. 

Needless to say, it floats my boat, although clearly, like all things, it has it's flaws, and not all to do with buildings themselves. Although I'm sure there will be time to pontificate on the finer points during the coming months. I didn't study art and architecture at uni for nothing (err, well I did, but that's another story).

I started the challenge gently with the rather modest Hendon Hall Court. Designed by Owen Luder - whose partnership was behind the iconic Trinity Car Park in Gateshead and Portmouth's Tricorn Centre; both now both sadly (or happily, depending on your stance) reduced to rubble - this small block of private flats is a rather more modest proposition.

Built between 1961 - 1966, its repetitive and angular geometry, most striking at either end of the block, marks it out as a brutalist build, albeit one that blends nicely into this leafy suburb. White paint softens the bleakness of the concrete - although an old photo I found on Flickr (in black and white making it hard to tell) seems to show bare concrete and roughcast, suggesting this wasn't always the case.

Although we didn't go inside, The Ewing had a quick swizz  around the entrance and through the front doors, where plinths of concrete impressively rise up from the outside staircase and seamlessly pass through panes of glass into the hallway.

Google also throws up a nice bit of property porn, showing some deceptively spacious, if slightly oddly configured flats. If you're interested, a three bedroom penthouse is currently going for £690,000 smackers, although it does boast a 30ft reception room that leads on to a large roof terrace. Two beds start at £400,000, which considering the careering London property market doesn't seem all that unreasonable.

Tramping around outside Barnet in the freezing depths of winter, all while attempting to look surreptitious, is hungry work. As it was Sunday, we decided dim sum was in order and Wing Tai, part of the pagoda-like complex that includes the Wing Yip supermarket and is impossible to miss from the Edgware Road, was just a few minutes drive away.

It's a big space but there was already a waiting list a little after twelve. and plenty of Chinese families, which is always a good thing. Or maybe not when they gave us the the dim sum menu to fill in, along with the little Argos biro, and the only discernible thing to a non-chinese speaker was the cost...

Thankfully they also have a laminated pictorial menu and we had soon made our choice of seven dishes; I had pointed out that eight was an auspicious number, but the Ewing had also pointed out most of our choices were deep fried in some form and if we were going to spend the next year traipsing around the city, we could probably do without the extra ballast. 

Food was decent, if lacking the finesse of some of the better joints; likely as some of it comes frozen from the supermarket next door. There are some unusual choices, though, including prawn, beef and crunchy water chestnut dumplings that we tried, and a pork and peanut number, that we didn't.

Doughnut cheung fun were, as always, fun; with a good contrast between the slimy rice dough outside and the puffy fried dough within. While the fried beancurd rolls, despite having the unfortunate appearance of a roadside casualty, were perfectly tasty.

We also had pork buns, The Ewing's favourite, that were small but perfectly fomed; good spicy thai-style baby octopus; and glutinous rice, wrapped in lotus leaves and studded with dried mushrooms, shrimp and sausage. To finish were deep fried custard buns, which for my money beat most doughnuts with a much better filling to dough ratio and a lovely crisp caramel carapace. 

At fifteen pounds a head, all in and including chinese tea and tip (although be aware they ask for a separate gratuity if you pay by card) it's a decent shout if you don't want to schlep into central London, and there's always the advantage of visiting the adjacent supermarket after to stock up on chili sauce and strange snacks.

All in all it ended up being a day of discovering new things; not only did I start my architectural tour and find about the Luder school - at least beyond Get Carter and the Catford shopping centre - I also found out what the plural of uterus was. Luckily for the Ewing, this was one experience I wasn't keen to explore further. 

Wing Tai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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