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What’s on in London – December 2014

It’s time to get dig out those festive thermals and get out of the house as Autumn finally gives way to chillier weather in the capital. London is all lit up and there’s plenty to see and do from taking in a West End show to staging your very own “Dancing on Ice” spectacular. Here’s our guide for some festive fun this December.

The Wintershall Nativity – All Souls Langham Place

The Wintershall Nativity - All Souls Langham Place

There is synthetic Christmas – complete with plastic Santas and fake trees – and there’s the real thing which is all about a real birth in a real place. Starting in the piazza outside BBC Broadcasting House, the Wintershall Nativity will re-enact the two thousand year old story of the birth of Jesus accompanied by a huge cast, actual animals and a full orchestra. The more intimate part of the story relocates to All Souls Church, a building full of history and atmosphere.

This will be the first time that the production has ventured into the capital and the aim, as always, will be to provide the public with as much of an immersive experience as possible. The cast and crew are a mix of dedicated professionals and enthusiastic amateurs, many of whom have been involved for over two decades. This December 17th curtain raiser will be followed by subsequent performances on The Wintershall Estate in Surrey on Dec 18, 19, 20 and 21.

 

Paddington Bear – Cinemas Londonwide

Paddington Bear - Cinemas Londonwide

Mapping a digitally created animal against real-life co-stars is no mean feat especially if the animal is going to be the main star. It’s best to keep him moving through an eye-catching backdrop. In this movie, Paddington Bear is the star and London is the backdrop. Paddington gets his name from the West London station that is his final destination after he stows away from Peru. He’s then adopted by a Notting Hill family who seem as far from his quaint ideals of Englishness as could be possible.

With his new found friends in tow, Paddington embarks on a madcap chase through London to avoid capture. Along the way, he learns that the British qualities of his imagination (cool aloofness, obsession with marmalade) have been replaced with inclusiveness and tolerance. Paddington ends up celebrating the difference in himself and others. A fable for our times, perhaps?

 

The Snowman – Peacock Theatre

The Snowman - Peacock Theatre

The main currency of this children’s classic is innocence. The boy, the audience and the snowman are enveloped in a world of snowy silence where music, magic and imagination have no boundaries. The graphic novel inspired a famous film which in turn gave birth to this dance production and the main themes of gentle fun and poignant loss have been preserved. Presented in two acts, the first part sticks to the original script with the boy building a snowman that comes magically to life on Christmas Eve.

After the iconic “Walking In The Air” flying scene, additional characters join in the fun. Ingenious dance routines and fabulous wire-work make the carnival atmosphere at the North Pole really come alive and it’s impossible not to admire the skill and verve involved in executing ballet moves in bulky snowman costumes.

 

Skate at Somerset House with Fortnum & Mason – Somerset House

Skate at Somerset House with Fortnum & Mason - Somerset House

Somerset House remains top of the London ice skating tree for the simple reason that it is such a beautiful venue. The rink’s location – equidistant from both the City and the West End – is also a factor. After seeing the sites of St Paul’s and the Tower of London, you can drop in to do a bit of ice dancing before heading off to the shops. There is the added luxury of the Skate Extra package in the Fortnum Lodge which offers Champagne and Truffles or Cream Teas.

Somerset House is now in its ninth year of hosting this two month long event and has definitely got the balance between hard-core skater experience and fun novelty past time, spot on. A fully stocked Skate Bar, guest DJs and expert instruction are all on hand. Night-time sessions are popular with couples and the Penguin Club is an ideal way for the little ones to get a feel for the ice.

 

Winter Wonderland – Hyde Park

Winter Wonderland - Hyde Park

You have to hand it to the folks behind Winter Wonderland: each year they keep expanding and improving. They started out over a decade ago with an ice rink and some souvenir stalls, but now each winter they turn the southern stretch of Hyde Park into a fully fledged festive theme park. Whole sections of the park have been turned into sculptured ice landscapes, circus tents, thrilling rides and Christmas-themed retail spaces.

The great thing about Winter Wonderland is that it is now totally weather-proof. Ice making technology ensures that your fun will not be hindered by the unpredictable London climate. In fact, from the Santa-suited buskers to the giant Ferris wheel, Winter Wonderland is Grinch-proof as well. This place is about letting your inner child roam free – except when there’s mulled wine on offer, of course!

 

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas – Dominion Theatre

Irving Berlin's White Christmas - Dominion Theatre

Let’s get one thing straight. White Christmas was never going to be a show about taking risks. Comfortable as a pair of cosy slippers and as traditional as a turkey, this production embraces the audience with good intentions and Yuletide cheer from the start. The fact that this stage adaptation of the iconic Bing Crosby star vehicle follows the traditional plot without any post-modern twists, is an indicator of how much people identify White Christmas with all that is sentimental and old-fashioned about our human nature.

Aled Jones and Tom Chambers take on the roles of two army buddies that dash to the rescue of their former commander who has fallen on hard times. They do this, of course, by putting on an impromptu show which includes the immortal Irving Berlin tune that gives the show its name. How could people fail to cough up when confronted with all that seasonal crooning? Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are a hard act to follow but Jones and Chambers give a good account of themselves, aided and abetted by lots of sleigh bells, pretty girls and Nordic knitwear.

 

Shakespeare In Love: The Play – Noel Coward Theatre

Shakespeare In Love: The Play - Noel Coward Theatre

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”.

 

East is East – Trafalgar Studios

East is East - Trafalgar Studios

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.

 

Constable: The Making of a Master – Victoria and Albert Museum

Constable: The Making of a Master - Victoria and Albert Museum

The early Victorians seemed to be too busy planning the empire to paint it or sing about it, which is probably why these shores have given the world a host of great literary work, but hardly any painters or composers. John Constable and J.M.W.Turner are the accepted titans of British art and it’s great that they’re both featured in career retrospectives at the moment. The V&A are documenting Constable’s rise to greatness in an exhaustive exhibition that highlights the emotional power and romanticism of Britain’s greatest landscape painter.Constable believed in planning, preparation and learning from his contemporaries and a quote oft-attributed to him says “A self-taught painter has been taught by a very ignorant person”. His influences were the Dutch masters and the French landscape pioneers, who he copied obsessively in his formative student days. The V&A’s focus is on how he broke out of their orbit and found his own style. The oil sketches of Salisbury cathedral seem to be the turning point in his career. They are endlessly inventive, yet unmistakably rooted in history: a quality that probably endeared him to his native land and assured his place in history.

 

Evita – Dominion Theatre

Evita - Dominion Theatre

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.

 

Blagclub – Notting Hill

Blagclub - Notting Hill

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 – Cornhill, EC3

Forge - Cornhill, EC3

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.

 

Wolf Hall/Bringing Up The Bodies – Aldwych Theatre

Wolf Hall/Bringing Up The Bodies - Aldwych Theatre

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.

 

Chiltern Firehouse – Chiltern Street, W1

Chiltern Firehouse - Chiltern Street, W1

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.

 

Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre, London

Miss Saigon - Prince Edward Theatre, London

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.

 

The Mercer – Threadneedle Street EC3

The Mercer - Threadneedle Street EC3

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.

 

Polpetto – Berwick Street W1

Polpetto - Berwick Street W1

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 with the chilly winter days soon approaching.

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

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 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.

 

Trip Kitchen – Haggerston

Trip Kitchen - Haggerston

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.

 

Chotto Matte – Frith street W1

Chotto Matte - Frith street W1

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

 

Oblix – The Shard

Oblix - The Shard

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,

 

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About the Author

Established in 1958, Benham and Reeves is one of London’s oldest, independently owned property lettings and sales agents.  With specialism in residential sales, corporate lettings and property management in prime areas of London, the company operates from 19 prominently located branches and 8 international offices.

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