This month long event takes the Edinburgh Fringe brand, puts a London spin on it and totally runs with it. Alternative cabaret, experimental theatre and left field comedy are all on show in a wide variety of venues across this hip North London suburb. If you are into improvisation and daring, then you won’t go wrong wherever you go, but there are some stand out acts.
“Glass Mountain” is a dark fairy tale, told with puppets, live music and audience interaction. Staged by the Broken Glass Theatre Company, it also uses an open air setting to invoke an eerie woodland atmosphere. Yaw’s House Production is a one man storytelling powerhouse. In “Me, Marley & I”, he recounts growing up in West Africa to a backdrop of military coups and joyous reggae music. Finally, the Murderettes are a musical improv group who stage interactive murder mystery events which get the audience totally involved and entertained.
A Jewish songwriting team composing an opera about Afro-American struggle is one thing. But doing so in twenties America while featuring an all-black cast requires an altogether different level of visionary thinking. However, Porgy and Bess is first and foremost a human story with love, jealousy and hatred being displayed in all their variously cruel dimensions. The hope that springs from these themes is the abiding strength of one of the great works of the twentieth century.The songs are the main reason why the piece endures and the open air setting in Regents Park showcases them to stunning effect. You’d expect a masterpiece like Summertime to be a hard act to follow but it isn’t; such is Gershwin’s genius grasp of gospel, classical, jazz and musical theatre. There is not a weak link in this cast of singers and musicians. The story of poor crippled Porgy’s love for a headstrong beauty and his cruel treatment at the hands of Crown is sung with deep feeling and consummate skill.
August is Prom month in the capital and there is plenty on offer to whet the appetite of classical music lovers of all ages and persuasions. The early part of the month sees the Royal Albert Hall play host to old favourites and new concepts as the John Wilson Orchestra perform Kiss Me Kate: Cole Porter’s great adaptation of Shakepeare’s Taming of the Shrew. The European Youth Orchestra present an ambitious programme containing Berio’s Sinfonia and Shostakovich’s symphony no. 4.The following week features a mood-lightening “Battle of the Big Bands” as two swing ensembles recall the days when the Savoy ballroom in Harlem hosted legendary face-offs between Chick Webb, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. In late August, the Budapest Festival Orchestra will perform two Brahms symphonies together with a selection of Hungarian folk dances and waltzes.
When the Natural History Museum obtained permission to show Lyuba to the public it was only natural for them to build an exhibition around her. The Lyuba in question is the remarkably well preserved body of a baby mammoth which was found seven years ago in Russia and is now something of a scientific treasure. The concept of oversized woolly elephants roaming through Northern Europe has always been a source of fascination making this exhibition a popular summer draw.A replica mammoth skeleton greets visitors and together with samples of body parts, is designed to impart a sense of immense scale and power. A 13 foot high life-size model has everybody’s neck craning and, of course, there is the wonderful sight of baby Lyuba. As with all exhibitions here, there are plenty educational things to investigate. Fascinating facts about the elephant family tree and information on the ongoing attempts to clone Lyuba are all displayed via embedded digital video.
The path from muscleman outsider to Hollywood A-lister has been trodden before and can even end up in the Governor’s office. Dwayne Johnson formerly known as The Rock was a WWF star before he started doing cheesy cameos and straight-to-DVD action flicks but he has stuck to his new craft with admirable dedication. Hercules is part send up, part literary re-make as the muscle bound son of Zeus leads an army of mercenaries in a quest for glory.Like Schwarzenegger, Johnson knows that he needs a lot of sidekicks around to cover his occasionally clunky acting. However, he’s confidant enough to enlist the help of some real-life thespians. John Hurt and Ian McShane ham it up as Dwayne brings the pain. The overall result is an entertaining mix of blood, breastplates and belly laughs with the leading man delivering Arniesque one-liners with all the aplomb of the original.
London’s clubland epicentre has moved south of the river from the West End to Vauxhall so it’s a logical extension for dance music to hold its big bank holiday bash in Clapham Common. South West Four is where all the dance music tribes gather to soak up the sun, eat high quality street food and listen to a stellar line up of internationally acclaimed DJs and EDM acts. Now in its 11th year SW4 continues to push boundaries and cross genres using state-of-the-art lighting an sound equipment.The lineup is, as always, eclectic and designed to cater for all tastes. Top of the bill is the Deadmau5 who is at the cutting edge of minimalist electronica which, coupled with his mysterious tech-rodent stage persona, has made him the biggest dance act in the world. Pete Tong brings a more vintage Ibiza vibe to the party while Erik Prydz is pure undulated hedonism.
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, its 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.
If you see a three storey high bowler hat appear next to St Paul’s this summer, don’t be alarmed. This is one of the pop-up venues that will play host to a selection of events making up part of the City of London festival with events that include music, children’s theatre, cabaret, comedy and circus. The bowler hat symbol is apt as it has for years been seen both as a business uniform and an entertainment prop so it’s the ideal design for Paternoster Square.
The venue will host a busy and varied schedule, with internationally acclaimed puppeteers Little Angel Theatre during the day, commuter-hour talks on such Square Mile-related subjects as Justice, Money and Power, and evening shows featuring stand-up comics Richard Herring and Andy Zaltzman, acrobatic circus artists Pirates of the Carabina, and Judy & Liza, a musical homage to the legendary stars of stage and screen, Judy Garland and her daughter Liza Minnelli.
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 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.
Spring is the season which has the most telling impact on fine dining menus in the capital. Customers are ready for fresher, lighter meals, yet still enjoy the odd spot of comfort eating which is why modern English cuisine scores so highly at this time of the year. The Mercer has, in the last seven years, established itself as a firm favourite in the Square Mile because it understands these annual quirks and makes sure that it stays connected to the right suppliers.
Lamb, asparagus and Jersey Royal potatoes are the seasonal ingredients that are most prized at the moment and the chefs here keep things delicously simple. Shepherds Pie is one of the most satisfying ways of enjoying lamb and the Mercer recipe is amongst the best in town. Blanched asparagus is served in a Parmesan parcel and topped with a poached duck egg; an excellent accompaniment to salmon. The earthy nuttiness of genuine Jersey potatoes complements the delicate taste of seabass perfectly.
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 clued 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, it is the ideal snack for these windy March days as it comforts the stomach while looking forward to warmer times ahead.
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.
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 Chris Kitchen seems to be debunking on a daily basis. Kitch is no rabbit food merchant. He has worked for Gordon Ramsey 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.
The story of a group of plucky ex steelworkers who decide to strip for a living started life on stage before it became a global movie smash. It has now come full circle and has an extended run in the West End which will be good news for lovers of classic soul music….among other things! Joking aside, the music is actually where this production has been able to improve on the film. There is now more time and space to bring in additional material and the play benefits greatly.
Also there is more dramatic substance given to the lives of the individuals involved. The play seeks to put the view of the wives and girlfriends across instead of portraying them one dimensionally as saints or victims. The dancing is still wonderfully ropey though which is a good thing. One sure fire way to ruin this tale of working class male insecurity would have been to bring in a group of buffed up Chippendales. It may have drawn the hen parties, but they would have had to change the name to Dull Monty.
Nowadays, when a restaurant wants to signify to would-be hipsters that it is indeed on-trend, it can approach it’s choice of decor in two ways. Approach number one is to opt for the Nordic wood-ceiling look so beloved of modern art galleries. Secondly, it can expose every single brick and ventilation pipe in a fifty metre radius. Presto! Instant “Industrial Chic”. Trip Kitchen goes for the latter route and it’s location under the railway arches of E8 gives it a head start. Haggerston forms a handy link between the silly prices of Shoreditch and the experimental pop-ups of Dalston. The area is a happy hunting ground for foodies in search of the next big ethnic gastrocraze.
Trip gets its inspiration from the Turkish Cypriot background of Head chef Selin Kiazim who avoids the overly carnivorousness of some of his compatriots, opting for a well balanced menu of small plates. These include lamb with pomegranate and grilled sardines with a sort of Turkish tapenade. A variety of spiced rice puddings feature on the dessert menu which along with the mains and starters is as well priced as it is delicious. Trip Kitchen is a welcome addition to an already thriving East London dining scene.
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 also launched Zuma and Roka,
View all posts by Benham & Reeves