The return of the sketchbook


My new project for 2015 is to get my sketching mojo back and get drawing back on the Deano agenda. I don’t pick a pen up anywhere near enough and I decided to sort it out.

So I bought a brand new Moleskine — heavier weight, off white drawing paper of course and crucially a size just over A5, large enough to capture a decent canvas but small enough to tuck into a bag.  I bought some new pens to get me excited: Pentel fine line and heavy, fountain Pentel and Signpens, standard issue for designers. I thought I’d also try some brush Faber Castell pens too — all bets are off at this stage and using a new pen can often inspire as much as the subject. New tools always excite me and are essential at the outset of a project like this.

Subject matter was the next consideration. Sketching is like a muscle that needs exercising to grow it and then when fully pumped it needs plenty of reps to keep it up to scratch. So where am I constantly exposed to countless, interesting scenes? If you read this blog you know I frequent a lot of bars and restaurants and that seemed like the perfect subject. I’m there anyway, so why not sketch at the same time. In truth it’s not too obtrusive and is often a starting point for conversations. I was also inspired by the wonderful London Sketchbook’s section on bars and restaurants in London so off I went.

I’ve had a proper go over the past few weeks and if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen I’m getting into a groove of sorts. Sketching is habit-forming too and taps into my obsessive compulsive nature with a compulsion to collect views and in turn sketches. It’s great also to sketch what I would have otherwise Instagrammed. My first few sketches were a bit clunky but I was determined to just draw and create without worrying about the outcome. I have to get into a groove with it and not get too anxious. What I have found though is that my eye is getting better and better and each sketch is a reasonably faithful representation of the atmosphere of the bar or restaurant: calm, chilled, hectic, noisy, quiet, relaxed, full on. Of course no-one sits still or poses, so it brings huge challenges for me as faces were never my strong point, but either way I just draw.

I’ve also decided to use these sketches as illustrations for reviews of the place we visit, which I think adds an interesting dimension to the narrative of the drawing. The sketch below is a beautiful little neighbourhood restaurant in Debeavoir Town in North London called Sweet Thursday, named after a little known Steinbeck book. This isn’t a full-blown review but the hipster, retro, eclectic charm of the restaurant comes out in the drawing I think. It was late afternoon on a cold Saturday in February and we almost had the place to ourselves. The pizza was divine: just what we needed, packed with flavour, piping hot and a perfect foil to the great value and gullible on-tap organic wine. I built on my bare bones sketch later that evening and was quite pleased with the way it emerged. Enjoyable experimentation with fat black nibs to stress shadows and contrast.

It’s a fine line between spontaneity and overworking but I think I got this one about right. But there are no right and wrongs and I’m keen to experiment with new styles and techniques. Keep coming back to the blog to see how the project develops. Hope you like them.



Busaba Eathai

The zing of coriander,

The burst of lemon grass,

The hum of chilli.

Fragrant and soothing,

Crisp and silky.

A hug and a slap at the same time.



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London Sketchbook


I’m a massive fan of books. The touch, and in particular the smell, of a book is still one of life’s great pleasures for me. The anticipation of unpacking a book that has been delivered, the unzipping of the outer and the unexpected gentle crack of the spine of book that no-one has ever opened is pure, unalloyed, joy. The first gentle leaf through the pages, allowing the ink and paper aroma to waft upwards is delicious.

Recently I’ve been captivated by the rather wonderful London Sketchbook, published by Laurence King. It’s a beautiful and inspiring tour of London told through the drawings, paintings, sketches and doodles of illustrator Jason Brooks. Better know for his fashion illustrations which you’ll find In Vogue and Elle, London Sketchbook is the second instalment of his series of illustrated travel books.

Brooks takes the reader on an effortlessly cool tour of London’s highlights from restaurants, essential places to see, cultural highlights and beyond. The book is beautifully put together with uncoated paper sitting alongside gloss finish coated stock, the ubiquitous tracing paper inserts (or simulator paper as it is properly known) and a lovely red white and blue book mark.

Crucially the production values of the book don’t get in the way of the content—they enhance it, which is how it should be. So I’m now inspired to take my drawing book out in London, which I haven’t done yet oddly and try and put some of London’s life onto paper for myself.












A different kind of beauty

When we lived in Leeds, our January walks were illustrated with photographs of snowy landscapes, skeleton trees, isolated sheep and frost dusted drystone walls. Living on the outskirts of semi rural Leeds, this was the scenery and I never tired of it. Winter weekends were for cobweb blowing off epic walks, muddy boots, cosy pub lunches, open fires and ruddy cheeks.

But living in London the scenery of our winter walks is very different, depending upon which direction we head. Heading South, we walk through the deserted weekend streets of the City of London, its timeless streets devoid of bankers. Westward, the Barbican provides a gateway to Covent Garden and the incessant beating heart of the West End, jam-packed with tourists. We’re in the East already but heading out further East finds hip Spitalfields, the diversity of Brick Lane and beyond to Whitechapel and a glimpse of the real East End.

North is an interesting one. Council housing sits cheek by jowl with millionaire priced houses in Islington and unknown areas are discovered like De Beauvoir Town and Newington Green. These urban landscapes are constantly on the move, adapting, testament to the way the city has grown and spread over the centuries. Georgian architecture cohabits comfortably with Edwardian and Victorian houses have no choice but to get on with brutal 60s and 70s social housing.

This eclectic mix both fascinates and fires the imagination: buildings and houses repurposed over the years, neighbourhoods transformed, for better and worse, stories aching to be told everywhere. A winter walk on the streets of London reveals all of these details and I think a different kind of beauty emerges.


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December will be magic again

December is always a lovely time for eating out: family, friends, work colleagues. It all gets a bit hectic to be honest and it can seem like a bit of a blur especially if like me you have your birthday in the middle of the action. Here’s a snapshot of some of the fab food I’ve been lucky enough to taste in the last month of 2014…


Christmas lunch was spent for the second year on the trot in Leeds at the rather wonderful Kendell’s Bistro. I make no bones about my love for this restaurant and to return after almost a year away was like visiting a much-loved and much-missed member of the family. Sharon and Steve always make us feel so very welcome and everything else just falls into place. Emotional.


Christmas Eve lunch at Sheffield’s Milestone was a delight. On a cold and dreary day, our third visit in as many years warmed the cockles. The Milestone suffers from locals thinking it’s high-price food but that’s not true, as a recent disappointing (and expensive) meal at Sheffield’s Silversmiths showed —The Milestone is still the best in town. If only the service was as good as the food then this place would be genuinely top drawer.


Early doors New Year’s Eve dinner at La Brindisa Tramontana in Shoreditch. A regular haunt for us due to the super authentic, high quality Tapas with lightning fast service we snuck in pre NYE madness and filled our end of year boots. We should probably try to find another tapas place nearby but why bother? La Brindisa is always cock on.


These lobster rolls were voted the Number Two dish in all of London recently by Time Out magazine (and they know a thing or two), so after a busy week culminating in a client pitch we thought we’d give them a try. Smack Deli had just recently opened and had the feel of a brand new concept —which I’m always a bit nervous about — but I needn’t have worried, the sandwiches are spectacular served with craft beers and cheerful staff. Go.


Midweek work dinner at Busaba Eathai in Hoxton. I love the cool vibe of this restaurant and the clean, small plate food that delights at every turn: hot, sharp, cool, sticky, soothing and unmistakeably Thai, with other stuff thrown in for good measure. I’m no expert in Thai either and as a recent convert I love this place, although the small plates costs can soon rack up and the booze ain’t cheap.


Lyle’s in Shoreditch is another place we wanted to tick off the list. Set up by a couple of ex St John Bread and Wine guys, this place has a real feel of St Johns but with a slightly cooler East London edge. The food is edgily creative with  set menu of £39 for 5 course, which I thought exceptional value. There is an unpretentious simplicity, combined with surprise and delight about the entire experience, that means we will return very soon.


Julie’s fish from the Milestone does deserve a mention before I move on. Smooth, unctuous, meaty and satisfying — it’s proof that fish in the cold North in December can pack a punch and deliver a big cuddle.


Couldn’t resist putting those crab donuts in from The Chiltern Firehouse again. One of the standout dishes of the year for me.


Pre Manic Street Preachers gig in Camden we were seeking a decent bit of pre music grub. We decided to walk some way and happened upon the Q Grill. Not realising that the head chef is ex Hix and owner ex Caprice, we dived in for some unpretentious beer soak up food and weren’t disappointed. There’s clearly more to it than that so we’ll take another look when we get a chance.


Work lunch at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell. The food sparkles in here: there’s no question that it’s more interesting than a French exchange student was when you were 13 and although it’s a bit toppy in terms of cost, you leave feeling a little bit cleverer having eaten there. I should go more often.


A freezing cold night in Shoreditch found us hunkering down in a corner of Bird, looking for fried chicken when only fried chicken will do. There’s plenty of these gaffs about these days (chicken only, steak only, chicken and steak only etc) and Bird seems to have go it right. Staff are helpful, bearded, gingham-wearing hipsters, tattooed up to the eyeballs (even the girls). But no worries, the chicken in essentially battered and deep fried so all is well in the world if not in your arteries. Note to self: my daughter will love this place, lets take her when she’s down tomorrow.


I have decided our culinary life is divided into ‘cheapie’ meals and ‘pricey’ meals and those that sit in between (I’m no scientist, but you get my drift). Sometimes cheap and tasty is what you need and when that’s the case we head to Huong in Shoreditch. It’s no frills cooking with tons of flavour and we love it. Tip: go early doors before the flotsam and jetsam of a Shoreditch night out arrive for their nosebag.


Julie thinks Marcus Wareing is too serious on Masterchef but I quite like how he’s allowing bits of real personality to emerge from his crinkly eyes and his flat Northern accent. Off the back of this discussion, we decide to go to his new restaurant Tredwell’s for Sunday Roast in the run up to Christmas (not that we expected him to be there). What transpired was a very good if not exceptional Sunday lunch (the best I’ve had this year so far is Hawksmoor) but nevertheless a jolly time was had by all. Again, the booze racks up the pennies but the food is well priced.


Finally another mention for House of Ho. I think we might have done this place now having been 3 times. Still, the all you can eat and drink lunch from £36 has to the best value food/drink/location combo in London. Julie claims to be on first name terms with head chef and owner Bobby Chinn and the live music brunch is the thing you should try — it’s a blast, and you get blasted. Go as a foursome at least and you’ll love it.

The Chiltern Firehouse


Every year on my birthday we try and do something special and this year to celebrate J booked us a table at London’s newest celebrity hangout, The Chiltern Firehouse. Anybody and everybody who is worth their celebrity salt has been, so why should we be any different?

It’s famously difficult to get a table at but getting a table here for lunch was a cinch compared to Noma and that would be my recommendation, lunch rather than dinner. The restaurant oozes California cool and has that kind of understated elegance that attracts the eclectic moneyed crowd from all over London and I suspect the local Marylebone and Mayfair set use it as their local.

The main room has an expectant, excitable hubbub with everyone is on the lookout for famous folk and on this occasion, the best we could do was Meg Matthews, not quite the dizzy heights of The Ivy Club where I shared a urinal with Liam Neeson.

Attentive staff fuss and flit, focused on getting us served quickly (we were told they needed the table back in 90 minutes when booking, all the pricey/posh restaurants annoyingly do this). Service is sharp but not stuffy and a businesslike sommelier guided us to a medium priced South African Cab Sauv which I figured would be worth the investment (it was my birthday after all). It was chewy and rich with a reassuring deep dimple in the base of the bottle, my not very scientific way of knowing if any wine is good. Julie quaffed nicely oaked but pricey Californian Chardonnay by the glass and we were all set.

After randomly bumping into another guy from Leeds in the toilets (I know), we got down to ordering from the confidently brief menu, which featured restaurant safe bets alongside interesting asides. There is no outrageous risks to be taken here — it’s all safe territory but done very, very well. Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes clearly takes the view that internationally famous folk and the well-heeled like their food recognisable and translatable but with a bit of a twist.

That said the crab donuts were a stunningly original confection, salty, seafoody. sweet and doughy. I wanted to order another plate right after I’d eaten them.




My steak tartare starter was a classic DIY blokey dish with some much needed hot sauce on the side whilst J’s starter of cured sea trout was the hands down winner in terms of taste.

I think my main of unsettlingly (very, very) pink Iberico roast pork was the winner although served with raw and cooked sprouts, it sounds bizarre but it worked fantastically well. J’s monkfish was a plateful of meaty, fishy tenderness with bright, clean flavours. On the surface, the Firehouse doesn’t look like its expensive but the booze soon escalates the bill into Michelin territory although I would say the food isn’t in the same league as say Murano, but the prices are in the same zone.



So is it worth the hype? On balance I’d say yes. It’s definitely an ‘event’ restaurant, a place to go when there’s a special anniversary and for mere mortals the price point dictates it’s not an everyday restaurant. Food and service is at the top end of efficient and competent and you can definitely eat better in London for less money. But it’s the overall experience that lingers: the sparkling candlelit patio, outdoor fire, the crackle and buzz of a room filled with people enjoying life.


Manic Street Preachers


I first saw the Manic Street Preachers at Leeds’ Town and Country Club on their Holy Bible Tour. It was the last night of the tour and to the collective astonishment of the audience, they smashed all their gear up at the end of the gig.

No encore,largely because all the instruments were in bits but it was a real shock to me — I’d not seen anything like that before. It later transpired that troubled guitarist Richie Edwards went missing after the tour and was never seen again.

Over the years, I’ve seen them at festivals primarily, their star gradually fading as new bands emerged and as such they slipped down the billing. But they always delivered a committed and powerful set from their vast back catalogue.

So when I saw they were to perform their seminal album The Holy Bible, in full, I had to be there for that. In truth The Holy Bible is one of the most uncompromising and inaccessible albums I’ve ever heard. I’ve always found it difficult to listen to it for longer that 15 minutes, never mind from start to finish.

The Manics’ later work is more rounded and radio friendly and over the years I think they have become better songwriters and the odd album aside, have a back catalogue any band would kill for. Last year saw them release the introspective Rewind The Film, a bittersweet meditation on age, followed up by the bold electronica of this years’ Futurology.

Last night was a gig of two halves; first half a bold, successful, crowd-pleasing experiment playing the ultimate Manics album from start to finish, in the running order of the album. The old songs sounded almost fresher than when they were first played, the sound production and mix giving them a taut and defined new lease of life.

The second half was essentially a greatest hits set peppered with gems and new songs. The Manics have never been afraid to play whatever they fancied but they didn’t shirk their responsibility to play the big hits alongside instrumentals and even a cover of Wham’s Last Christmas.

Overall it was a stunning, mesmerising evening of music delivered by a band with a palpable sense of renewed passion.