A cup of tea with… where we sit down and chat with those who make Victoria what it is. People with a passion for Victoria, who live or work here and know the area, its history and its future better than anyone else.
In this month, we talk to John Moola, Head of Business Development & MICE (that’s Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions and not the rodent!) at both the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites & Residences & St James’ Court, A Taj Hotel. Both located on Buckingham Gate.
He not only reveals the best kept secret in Victoria, but also tells us why the local community have started to call Victoria simply ‘The V-City’.
How long have you worked in Victoria and what was the biggest change you have experienced in the area so far?
I am a born Londoner and have worked across many countries and cities, but London is my true home. I have been working here for nearly three and half years and I think the biggest change was the sheer volume of people now coming into the area. The increase in bodies around here now that the Land Securities and other buildings are coming on-line and new exciting companies are moving in, refurbishments and relocations are going on. Let’s go back five maybe six years when Victoria was the most attractive place to work and now look at it, it’s like a Mega-City within the city.
Within the local business community we have started to call Victoria simply ‘The V-City, because it’s a bit like ‘city’ attitude & style coming here. So you have the suits and the Aston Martins coming here, but we don’t want it to be too city gentrified, it has to have that south London-Victoria feeling – A nice cultural mix between the city types as well as the regulars who live and work here.
What is your favourite spot in Victoria?
My favourite spot was Cardinal Place, upstairs in the gardens, which was usual my little hideaway, but now it’s more St James’ Park, because I just love the open space, nature and being outdoors. One can hide away quiet easily.
What is your favourite story about Victoria?
I work close to St James’s Park tube station, so there are always a lot of war stories being spoken of in this area, particular with Westminster and Buckingham Palace. But the story that really appeals to me actually reflects on my own hotel, where the fountain in the courtyard was donated by Queen Victoria. So we got a beautiful fountain in the courtyard that’s been there for over 150 years, which is just spectacular.
Some say the property was used by senior ranking Military personnel based in Westminster during the two World Wars with secret underground passages below our street & hotel.
Of course there is another local hotel that has an amazing history of espionage and spies that for me is amazing. I have grown up on James Bond so I love spy stories anyway. But yes, there is a lot of history we don’t know, because it’s probably all under wraps because of the Westminster and the Buckingham Palace Connection, but I would love to dig deeper and I am sure if you ask me in a year’s time I will have some other great stories to tell!
What is your message for the people out there in Victoria?
Even though there are so many nice new buildings with some amazing architecture I am from the generation that truly appreciates old historic sights and historic buildings.
I completely get the whole modernisation drive, as we have to move forward, but as long we keep a bit of our own heritage and the old traditional elements of Victoria, then that suits me just fine.
Victoria is not like the City. Victoria is not like Mayfair, and it’s not like the West End or Soho. Victoria is a new 24 hours’ central area for everything! For living, working, eating and enjoyment and there is no snobbery about it. Our postcode is SW1, which is probably the most prestigious postcode in London, but there is no snobbery around here.
It is a magnet for doing business in and I do believe Victoria will outdo Cheapside, Mayfair, Soho and Covent Garden in a different way.
And back to your question what my message to the people in Victoria is: There are so many new places to eat, to drink to socialise and to network, so just enjoy yourself when you are in Victoria! Experience something incredibly new!
What is the biggest issue?
When I first moved in this area, about three and a half years ago, I thought Victoria wasn’t sure of its own identity. Is it appealing to the new crowd, the old crowd, or those hovering in between? Now, I believe it’s found its niche now and is over its identity crisis.
The biggest challenge has always been transportation. With the vast amount of construction work that’s going here, you’ve got the Victoria BID 2020 vision in line with the whole Crossrail 2 development potentially coming in and if Victoria Station gets a refurb. So transportation will be challenging but just for a given amount of time. I mean it is such an interesting area and it’s come a long way. I remember when House of Fraser was the old Army and Navy store, which now shows my true age, [he laughs] and at one point House of Fraser was the only landmark in Victoria.
What is your favourite lunchtime spot?
It used to be the old Cardinal Place food market on Thursdays, because I am a huge foodie. I trained to be a chef and I do a lot of food writing and reviewing, so for me ‘street food’ is a very big thing, it’s my passion! Cardinal Place on a Thursday lunchtime was truly amazing – you can stand there for two hours and eat your way through a number of stalls and bumping into people I work alongside with bot clients & colleagues was amazing. But now, as this has obviously gone due to the underground entrance. The smaller version is to be honest just not the same. However, But the new Nova complex has created a hive of new eateries. I have tried most of them since they have opened and I can say I have already found a couple of favourites.
I am a huge fan of Finnish & Nordic food having one of my closest friends in Helsinki I have had my eyes open to this amazing cuisine. So it goes without saying that Aster is one of my favourites. You must try the Smorgasbord offerings. I am also very exciting with Barbecoa coming soon as I am a huge BBQ fanatic and obviously where we are sitting now, Greenwoods; perfect for a big breakfast and pint or two.
Our next Cup of Tea with….will be with Mick Clarke from The Passage and be out next month. To stay up to date with everything going on in Victoria follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or sign up to our newsletter here.Back to our news Top