As Spring approaches, Londoners could be forgiven for thinking that weather fronts from Canada and Siberia are battling it out somewhere over the Thames estuary. This has given rise to some clear and crystalline mornings that flood apartments with glorious sunlight and move residents to think of room improvements. Art is one sure-fire way of taking advantage of extra sunlight and procuring a wonderful artwork for your home needn’t be costly or time-consuming. The Affordable Art Fair taking place in Battersea this month guides visitors through the processes of appreciating, buying and installing great pieces at under £500. Taking a look at the Alexander McQueen retrospective at the V&A is also a good way to get into the creative zone.
Trust the Irish to have a saint that seems like a cross between Father Christmas and Bear Grylls. Legend has it that St Patrick converted the Emerald Isle to Christianity by miraculously eradicating all the snakes from the surrounding countryside and was an all-round adventurer and thrill-seeker. He also had a sensitive side which appeals to the romantic nature of the Irish. St Paddy’s use of the clover leaf to describe the Holy Trinity is what has given Ireland its most enduring symbol.
St Patrick’s Day celebrates the day of his passing more than a millennium ago and has become a more than convenient excuse for a party. Trafalgar Square will be the scene of much music, merriment and food with top Irish bands playing free concerts throughout the day. Kicking off with a procession through the West End, there’ll be cake stalls, Guinness tasting, Irish dancing and much more going on. As always with these kinds of events, you don’t have to be Irish in order to join in the fun. Just bring along some friends, some good cheer and something green to wear.
As a cab driver’s son who went to work in Savile Row, McQueen was forever the outsider. Whether “improving” the linings of suits with graffiti or absconding to Theatreland in order to hang out with the various costume departments, his theatrical instincts and sense of history were never far from the surface. An untimely death which came so soon after collaborating on the wedding dress of the Duchess of Cambridge gives this retrospective a somewhat poignant appeal.
McQueen was always fascinated with the more macabre aspects of Victoriana. His debut collection was titled “Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims” and featured his twin obsessions of animal trophies and tailored frock coats. Despite this seemingly outlandish approach, he always professed a desire to drag fashion out of its self-imposed ivory tower and connect with people from all walks of life.
The genius of the Affordable Art Fair is that they have anticipated all the excuses that people give for not viewing art. They then proceed to shoot them down – one by one. The team behind this biannual London event (there’s one in Hampstead later on this year) think that affordable art means accessible art and are determined to spread the news to London and the world. There are so many interesting pieces in the exhibition that it would be wise to conduct an online viewing before narrowing down to your particular area of interest.
The organisers have arranged the art into interesting and fresh categories which are helpful and informative. There are informal talks, workshops, a children’s area and a cafe/bar facility. In short, the event is designed to take away the phoney mystique and pretentiousness that contributes to some of the more ridiculous price tags seen these days.
The evergreen story of love, intolerance and tragedy gets a 21st century jolt in the form of acro-dancers, light sculptures and big beats. The two lovers come from not only rival families but two different racial groups and the hi-tech mean streets replace the cobblestone thoroughfares of medieval Venice. Music from Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Vivaldi form the backdrop for a non-stop tour-de-force of dance.
Ballet, jazz, tap and street moves all contribute to a fresh new take on this eternal tale. We all know that it ends in tears and death but we’re still willing to go with the two youngsters on their doomed journey. The whole production does, in fact, centre on youthful exuberance and innocent optimism. You get the sense that these two would still dance to their deaths, even if they were told of the outcome before they met.
With an opening two wins over Wales and Italy under their belts, the England rugby squad are in a good position to win this year’s contest. After travelling to Ireland they will be hosting both Scotland and France at Twickenham. England are peaking at just the right time as the World Cup begins to loom on the horizon. The scrum tactics have improved, leading to less leaking of needless points, the line-out is solid and the creative backs are getting more involved.
Scotland should not pose too much of a threat on paper, but it will still be a bruising encounter as the Scots love nothing more than to beat the “Auld Enemy” at the home of rugby. France are not having the best tournament so far, but can always turn their form around on a 5p piece. If England have already won the competition by the time the French do come to town, then it will give everyone a chance to see some of the exciting young talent get a chance to shine.
This is a fresh take on an old cinema staple. Can artificial intelligence learn to not only think, but to feel and make moral decisions? Chappie is the name of a police robot who gets lost and adopted by humans in a nightmarish dystopian vision of the near future. The government has increasingly used robots to control the human populace so Chappie is at first mistrusted and shunned. However, when a family sees signs of emotional intelligence in the robot, they realise that there may be hope for the future of mankind.
Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel and Sigourney Weaver star in this interesting examination of what makes humans what they are. Robots will soon become a part of life, yet even the most level headed among us still harbours a fear that technology without boundaries is a step in the wrong direction. Set in the dusty townships of South Africa, Chappie avoids the usual Hollywood stereotyping that imposes American values and references on outsiders, allowing it to dig deeper into the story.
As London’s skyline continues to grow more and more prestigious, a trip down the River Thames has become a delightful way to spend precious time with loved ones. At night, the illuminated riverbanks provide a romantic backdrop for dinner, dancing and intimate conversation. Bateaux London operate two luxury cruise vessels that accommodate a restaurant, champagne bar, disco and live band.
As guests enjoy their four course meal, they’ll be able to view the famous landmarks of the Capital from their window seat. The live band specialise in smooth jazz, pop classics and romantic ballads which will guarantee an entertaining and carefree trip along the river.
Pedro Almovadar’s sassy big-screen take on post-feminist Madrid has been adapted into a sublime musical that features the stunning versatility of Tamsin Grieg. Grieg plays Pepa, a struggling actress who seems to have no problem with dating a married man whose wife is safely locked up in an asylum. The fun and games start when the wife is released, leading to Pepa being unceremoniously dumped.
Trying to regain her self-esteem, Pepa digs into her ex-lover’s background only to discover criminality, terrorism and even more madness. Blessed with a strikingly expressive face, Grieg is an expert at combining comedy with acute sadness and her singing is a welcome bonus. Dynamic Latin-tinged numbers are used to move the action along and feature an on-stage six piece band.
Between the Cityboy-induced inflation of Shoreditch and the experimental pop-ups of Dalston lies Haggerston and a strip of very good restaurants. Trip Kitchen stands out with its Turkish Cypriot roots that nevertheless steers clear of an over-emphasis on protein. Decked out in industrial chic and offering unpretentious service, this is an eatery that is both adventurous and honest. Well-balanced small plates include lamb with pomegranate and grilled sardines with a quite delicious Turkish tapenade. An intriguing pesto made out of pistachio nuts leaves you scratching your head – what would it go with? The answer comes in the form of a wonderfully sea-fresh bowl of clams and the combination at once makes perfect sense.
Hipsters love this place. It’s got just enough ethnicity and just enough quirkiness. It’s also housed in a railway arch which earns it extra cool points as trains rumbling overhead becomes the trendy East London equivalent of background “Dinner Jazz”.
Rubens? Isn’t that the Dutch guy who liked to paint pictures of naked plus-sized ladies? Well, yes and no. True – the word “Rubenesque” has long been used to describe ladies possessed of a certain attractive plumpness but there’s much more to the art of this Baroque master. Peter Paul Rubens was a scholar, diplomat and devout Roman Catholic who saw it as his mission to revive the fading heyday of religious painting which the Protestant movement had discarded.
As a result of this counter-reformation zeal, his paintings seem a bit overcrowded to our modern eyes, but Rubens liked to insert as many types and symbols into his work as he could. What we get at this exhibition, then, are an abundance of cherubs, madonnas and serpents, all painted with certainty, conviction and boldness: Rubens’ legacy definitely did not include Impressionism.
Our future monarch has gone through many phases in his career as heir to the throne: Playboy prince, husband of Diana, eco-warrior and social reformer. Charles can hardly be accused of hanging around, waiting for things to happen. Playwright, Mike Bartlett, takes all this idealism on board as he sketches out a brilliant near-future drama, built around the inevitable succession. King Charles III poses the question: “What would happen if a ceremonial monarch actually used their theoretical power to intervene in politics?”.
Most people would concentrate on how the government and the media would react, but Bartlett takes a different tack. He sees the future Royal Family as being far from homogenuous and explores the tensions between Charles, his sons and an intriguingly cunning Princess Catherine. Tim Piggot-Smith dials Charles’s idiosyncratic tics and twitches back a bit so that we can get the measure of a man torn between duty and tradition. There are lots of entertaining Shakespearean references in the play which is inevitable, as it deals with the machinations of power and the fate of kings. A thoroughly immersive and entertaining project.
Most restaurants that are associated with bastions of high culture are situated in plain view so that guests may look out over the fine examples of sculpture/paintings/literature that they’ve come to see. Keeper’s House differs in that it is sequestered away from the main building of the Royal Academy across the courtyard in a renovated townhouse.
Run by restaurant mogul, Oliver Peyton, the Keeper’s House is smart, professional and confident. Chef Ivan Simeoli is determined to use the beast seasonal ingredients, but without the helping of smugness that seems to be added to the menu these days.The relaxed and cultured atmosphere is just the right antidote to all the seasonal hoopla of last month and the staff are switched on enough to know when to enquire and when to retire. Main courses feature exquisitely prepared roast lamb, fillets of brill and delicate sea bass with kale, chard and heritage carrots being complimented by bold sauces. A dessert of clementine flavoured rice pudding is incredibly light and refreshingly tangy while still being the comfort food we all know and love.
The genius of Lee Hall’s adaptation is that it uses familiar Shakespearean devices to both send up and celebrate the great writer and the world that he created. Mistaken identity, cross-dressing and disguised monarchs are all used to lighten the mood as young Will bounces from bailiffs to writer’s block to falling in love. The play has a subtle advantage over the celebrated film version. The first half-hour of the Oscar-laden movie had audiences picking through Gwyneth Paltrow’s accent before spending the next playing “Spot the British Character Actor”.
There’s no star-gazing here and the cast can therefore concentrate on delivering a moving romance, a terrific comedy and a biting theatrical satire all rolled into one. Hall has even found the time and resources to come up with a replacement for the irreplaceable Dame Judi. Anna Carteret gives a haughtily commanding performance as Queen Elizabeth I who after watching Romeo and Juliet, provides the Bard with some imperious marketing tips: “Methinks a comedy next time, Master Shakespeare”.
The character of George “Genghis” Khan was immortalised in film by Om Puri but for the stage revival of East is East, the part is played by Ayub Khan Din who also happens to be the original author. Married to a white woman and struggling to hold on to his culture in 1970s Salford, Khan finds his mixed race children both baffling and infuriating as they reject his traditions out of hand. As their father rages, each kid seeks to find a way of escape with rebellion, religion and art college all seeming to offer possible alternatives.
The subject matter is sometimes heavy but the play is studded with the same comedy gold that made the film such a joy. Jane Horrocks plays Khan’s English wife with an earthy mixture of implacability and tenderness. George’s tyranny towards the children doesn’t hide the fact that it is their mother’s values that hold the family together, values that transcend both cultural and generational divides.
The smash hit musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice returns for a limited season in the capital. Evita charts the rise of Eva Peron from the slums of Buenos Aires to the pinnacle of power in post-war Argentina. As in most of their early works, Lloyd Webber and Rice rely heavily on the part of a narrator to set the scenes and move the story along.
Marty Pellow of Wet Wet Wet fame sings the role of Che Guevara, whose wry and sometimes cynical narration underpins all the action. Madalena Alberto is a stunning Evita and handles the big number – Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, with all the confidence of her illustrious forerunners, Elaine Page and Madonna.
The London nightclub scene is as varied as the seemingly endless dance genres that keep proliferating in the charts. This means that venues can differ wildly in terms of size, taste and location with a good chance of the discovery of some hidden gems. The idea behind Blagclub is simple and that is the creation of a space that resembles your friend’s house on a Saturday night get together. Getting through the doors, you can’t help but feel like you’re walking into someone’s flat. The bar, DJ booth, dancefloor and lounge take up an extended loft space guaranteed to put everybody at ease. The decor is simple with a splash of ethnic chic, including some interesting statues and wall art.
The eclectic crowd are a fairly tolerant bunch and the music ranges from pop-dance hits to more the urban variants of dubstep and grime. All in all the music policy is designed so as to keep the clientele dancing, laughing and drinking the premium cocktails on offer. Midweek nights host live acoustic music and jam sessions.
Forge is a new bar/grill founded on the site of the infamous Abacus dive bar near Bank station. Once a notorious hangout for City boys bent on excess, the new owners have decided to target a more thoughtful demographic and the refurbishment reflects this. Dancing space has thankfully been sacrificed for dining space and a state-of-the-art kitchen installed.
It was once rumoured that back in the Abacus days, tables had to be specially reinforced because of the amount of dancing that was performed on them. This might still be the case, but instead of inebriated bankers, the tables will have to withstand the weight of the awesome selection of sharing platters that are available. Forge obviously looks to nearby Barbacoa for inspiration and the steaks, ribs and skewers on offer are as big and as bold as the resumes of its clientele.
The first two parts of a literary trilogy, Wolf Hall/Bringing Up The Bodies is a triumphant adaptation of the Booker Prize winning novels of the same name. To compress over one thousand pages of historical intrigue into a well crafted theatrical masterpiece is no mean feat and one suspects that the Royal Shakespeare Company is probably one of the few outfits around with the dramatic chops to do so. The popularity of these books across multiple media forms is due to the main character: Henry VIII is a figure that almost everyone in this nation has an opinion on.
Author and scriptwriter, Hilary Mantel refuses to make the modern mistake of separating religion from politics as she traces an arc through the complex and brutal world of Tudor power struggles. She realises that Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and Cardinal Wolsey were medieval men whose medieval world views and faith were being pulled and stretched to breaking point. Doomed wives, religious upheaval and the rewriting of history seems an almost inevitable consequence of the emergence of a modern empire.
When the owner of LA celebrity hangout Chateau Marmont opens a restaurant in London, it’s a given that A-listers will come flocking. Andre Balazs has enlisted the design expertise of Paris based Studio KO to convert a former fire station into a temple of gastronomic excellence. High-end restaurants all over London must be on a recruitment drive as it seems that a large chunk of culinary talent has been poached by the Chiltern Firehouse and the results are predictably spectacular. From the bar snacks to the coffee; every course is cooked with artistry and presented with panache.
Crab-stuffed doughnuts are a tasty accompaniment to the drinks menu; indeed, all fish dishes are imaginative and generously proportioned. Sea trout is cooked ceviche style and Cod comes with leek hearts and romaine lettuce.Slow-roasted short rib with hazelnut purée and bone marrow is bound to become a firm favourite together with the pristine chargrilled Iberico pork. Frozen apple panna cotta is one of the highlights of the dessert menu.
Skylight tells the tale of Kyra, who after a disastrous fling with Tom, a married man, resorts to teaching in an inner city school as a form of penance. Three years pass until Tom, now widowed, tracks her down as he seeks to balance his desire with his conscience. The years have changed them drastically. Tom, played with scornful relish by Bill Nighy is a successful advert for capitalism while Cary Mulligan’s Kyra has grown into her role as ghetto mentor and now has the deeds to match her creeds.
The political sparring, which David Hare is so expert at writing, fizzes and crackles all around Kyra’s shabby Kensal Rise flat. Tom repeatedly fails to see why her love for deprived kids should exceed her love for him while Kyra draws the audience in with her emotional honesty and clarity of purpose. For fans of dialogue and technique, Skylight is a total treat and it’s not hard to predict that this revival will win as many awards as the original.
This is musical where the artistic merit was almost eclipsed by its impressive props but where the sheer intensity of the subject matter still got through. Music and words are by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, who struck gold with Les Misérables and this adaptation of Madame Butterfly focuses on the big themes of love, loss and redemption. The doomed love-affair between a Vietnamese prostitute and a US marine, isn’t very sympathetic to American foreign policy but a Western audience should be able to stomach that in these post Iraqi war time.
The evacuation of Saigon and the appearance of the famous life-size helicopter get the biggest cheer of the night and there is no doubting that the heroism of the soldiers is a counter to the abandoned mother and child. The beautifully sung message that Miss Saigon brings back to London after fifteen years, is that the casualties of war are not restricted to the battlefield and that true love does not always prevail.
There’s something fishy going on in the Square Mile and this time it doesn’t involve insider dealing! Diners in the City have plenty of culinary options but The Mercer understands that good ingredients, served simply, will always keep the customers coming back. This theory applies to both comfort food favourites and lighter, seafood-based dishes. Pan-fried seabass and salt-baked sea bream are delicious alternatives to their signature pies and steaks. Popular starters include rock oysters, crab on sourdough toast and potted shrimps.
This exploration of classic English dishes by chef-proprietor, Warren Lee has unearthed some mouth-watering specials with both skate and hake regularly making appearances.
There won’t be a dodgem ride in sight when you rock up to this converted warehouse in the ultra hip Dalston/Shoreditch area. Instead what you’ll experience is the latest mash-up event that London seems to excel at: namely, a club weekender which is themed around high-end street food. Walk into any kitchen in a top London eatery and you’ll find clue- up young chefs who are as knowledgable about chilled breakbeats as they are about chilled gazpacho and Fairground is their collective vision made flesh.
Spread over three floors, the venue contains a mega bar run by Strange Hill on the first level. DJs from dance labels Hot Natured and Black Butter will host a fashion show by the Love Bullets collective. The second floor takes the form of a chill-out and knowledge space with talks and seminars by such trend-surfing luminaries as English Disco Lovers on the power of social media. The top tier is where everybody hopes to end up. This is where a deliciously unpredictable selection of pop-up restaurants will hold court. The opening of Fairground coincides with Thai New Year and Jude Sangsida from Busaba Eatha will be on hand to demonstrate the incredible levels to which mere “street food” can rise.
Clean-cut Mormon missionaries meet with poverty-oppressed Africans with hilarious results. It sounds implausible, even offensive but this musical from the creators of South Park has been a runaway smash on both sides of the Atlantic and shows no sign of wearing out its welcome in the West End. The script is subversive and darkly comic but importantly never patronises its targets and is helped along by some of the cleverest, catchiest and downright scandalous tunes ever performed on stage.
Reports have suggested that inquiries about the Mormon faith have gone up by 50% since the musical started and it certainly didn’t deter Mitt Romney from running for president (he lost but that was because his party was unpopular not because he was a Mormon). As the production pokes fun at some of the stranger beliefs of the Latter Day Saints, the underlying sentiment is that anybody can pick holes in religion but the hope that springs from it is undeniable and even transferable: deeds, not creeds if you will.
Adventurous Italian cooking in the heart of Soho is what the recently relocated Polpetto is all about. Commitment to the very best ingredients is the hallmark of any fine cuisine but it seems that it is even more essential in Italian dishes. This may have something to do with the fact that the regional food characteristics are so strong in that part of the world. Polpetto know all this by heart so you get green winter tomatoes from Sardinia, simply sliced and served with oil. This might sound rudimentary but the taste is indescribably good. Chef/owner Florence Knight is famous for her Baccala mantecato and happily it remains on the menu. A garlicky paste of salt cod on grilled bread is the ideal snack and comforts the stomach.
Polpetto also make the best scallops in town. Rather than swamp the delicate shellfish under a blanket of low-grade pork, they use lardons and cauliflower cream to elevate an already sublime dish. Desserts are sensibly palate cleansing, particularly the zesty blood orange sorbet and the Italian wine list is well chosen and reasonably priced.
Chriskitch Deli – Muswell Hill
We are continuously being told by health gurus that salads are not only necessary, but incredibly tasty when you put the right ingredients together. However, no matter our good intentions, we tend to neglect them when we eat out and opt for something that excites and intrigues us more; we are eating out after all. Salad still tends to be an afterthought that springs to mind when we are guiltily looking for a light lunch after a previous night’s blowout and this is the mindset that Christian Honor seems to be debunking on a daily basis. Christian is no rabbit food merchant. He has worked for Gordon Ramsay and run the kitchens in the Dorchester so he brings quality, precision and passion to his task.
Salmon smoked over Chinese tea and feta lasagne are great main courses but you could lunch on the salads alone, such is the attention to detail coupled with top-notch ingredients on show. Three bean salad with cinnamon shouldn’t work but it does. Apple and fennel with quinoa reads like a yummy mummy posted it into the suggestion box; yet it is so nuanced and well-presented that you wonder why other chefs aren’t doing the same. With a range of wonderful cakes and tea infusions, Kitch looks and feels like a local deli which is probably a good thing as it makes the treasures within even more exciting.
With cheery economic news an almost daily occurrence, London’s restaurant scene has seen the return of the super-size eaterie. In the noughties, this sector was ruled by the Conrad empire as Quaglino’s and Mezzo fed the city’s foodies to much acclaim. In 2013, new faces have arrived in the West End to satisfy London’s seemingly never-ending hunger for new places to eat. Chotto Matte is split into several levels and can comfortably seat over 200 guests. The food is a deliciously fresh take on the Nikkei style of Japanese cooking with dedicated areas for sushi lovers and a Japanese barbecue.
The atmosphere is gregarious and fun with a DJ and live music in selected rooms; perfect for the after-theatre or pre-clubbing crowd. Entrepreneur and owner, Kurt Zdesar has a solid track record in London having launched the first Nobu restaraunt here and he seems to have judged this opening perfectly. So as a raft of new shows hit the West End, expect to find the cast, crew and audience toasting one another at Chotto Matte.
High-rise dining is becoming a more common occurrence in the capital, thanks to the recent proliferation of downtown skyscrapers. The views tend to affect the prices which, in turn, affect expectations. Oblix unapologetically go for the City-boy pound by offering such favourites as crab cakes, scallops, rib-eye steak and lobster cerviche. These are all tried and trusted meals so beloved by the transatlantic suits and suitesses who frequent Oblix by day.
In the evening, the lights dim and the views become even more entrancing. From this vantage point, you can actually track the progress of underground trains by the way their lights leak through cracks in the ground. A lounge menu and live music give Oblix the same kind of ambience that can be found in the New York Grill in Tokyo’s Park Hyatt hotel immortalised in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation movie. It’s no surprise, then, to discover that these two high-flyers share the same origins. Both have been conceived by Rainer Becker, who with Arjun Waney launched Zuma and Roka.
View all posts by Benham & Reeves