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What’s on in London – January 2015

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The first month of the New Year sees a lot of good intentions still holding strong as Londoners get out of the house and burn off the Christmas calories in the gym. It’s a good time to take in one of the less demanding West End shows as there should be more seats available and better transport into town. The Scottsboro Boys and Swan Lake occupy opposite ends of the dance spectrum although they are practically West End neighbours. Would seeing both be overkill? Not in London!

Swan Lake – The Coliseum

Swan Lake - The Coliseum

The English National Ballet obviously believe in striking when the iron is hot. In the footsteps of their Nutcracker Christmas treat comes that other perennial ballet blockbuster – Swan Lake. The central two roles of this mighty Tchaikovsky- inspired work are the twin peaks that every prima ballerina aspires to climb and every dance fan loves to witness. Tragedy, triumph and thrilling choreography are combined to bring to life an age old struggle between good and evil.

The White Swan is symbolic of the perfection that is strived for in ballet. The Black Swan signifies the emotion that conflicts with this perfection and creates the eternal struggle that lies within true art. All the great dancers must show this ongoing conflict while remaining sympathetic to their surroundings and fellow performers. The English National Ballet, aided and abetted by a full orchestra, will endeavour to scale new heights in the coming months.

 

Exodus: Gods and Kings – Cinemas Londonwide

Exodus: Gods and Kings - Cinemas Londonwide

Ridley Scott is a special breed of director who films huge set pieces in far flung locations. He seems not only to need the skills of a conventional movie maker, but also those of a military commander or a town planner. Together with lead actor, Christian Bale, Scott has decided to take on the epic story of the deliverance of the Hebrew nation from the hands of the mightiest empire of ancient times.

Unleashing all the CGI wizardry and dynamic camera work that Hollywood can muster, Scott tackles the sheer scope of the events with visible relish. Slavery, miracles, plagues and angels of death are all solemnly detailed in the scenes that lead up to the climatic parting of the Red Seal. Bale, as Moses is a magnificent. Old Testament superhero defying Pharaoh and his troops. Like those before him, Scott must inevitably face the struggle of trying to depict an omnipotent God who chooses to work through flawed humans. This he handles in a way that will probably surprise many.

 

King Charles III – Wyndham’s Theatre

King Charles III - Wyndham's Theatre

Our future monarch has gone through many phases in his career as heir to the throne. Playboy prince. Husband of Diana. Eco-Warrior. 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.

 

Astronomy Photographer of the Year – Royal Observatory, Greenwich

Astronomy Photographer of the Year - Royal Observatory, Greenwich

The images in this exhibition are not intended to be taken as faithful maps of the stars or backdrops to natural events. They are inspired as much by science fiction as by what can be seen through a telescope. The contestants start with genuine images obtained from an observatory and then apply digital manipulation techniques and dramatic colouring. The results range from the quirky to the downright majestic.

The distant galaxies are made to resemble fireworks displays, plasma eruptions and abstract paintings. The competition was won by a three dimensional depiction of epic scale. A moonlit shoreline is backed by an unusually dense southern sky which is in turn shadowed by the mighty sight of Magellan, a system so huge and so far away that it shows up on our scopes as trillion light year wide clouds.

 

Keeper’s House: Royal Academy – Piccadilly.

Keeper's House: Royal Academy - Piccadilly.

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.

 

Cubism – Tate Modern

Cubism - Tate Modern

The twin influences of the primitive and the modern broke across the hazy world of Impressionism like a clap of thunder at the start of the twentieth century. Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso had seen how machines were influencing the way people perceived the world about them and wanted to create art that disregarded soft human forms. African art with its distilled essence that focused on facets and planes rather than anatomical accuracy was also a big inspiration.The term “Cubism” was at first used as an insult by the many detractors that labelled the works of Braque and Picasso as childish and even barbaric. However, as the ideas took hold, the movement embraced the tag as it moved steadily towards more abstract concepts. The Tate Modern houses a comprehensive collection of the genre’s landmark works, augmented by exhaustive notes and insights from curator Mathew Gale.

 

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.

 

Skylight – Wyndham’s Theatre

Skylight - Wyndham's Theatre

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.

 

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.

 

Fairground – Kingsland Road, Dalston

Fairground - Kingsland Road, Dalston

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.

 

Book of Mormon – Prince of Wales Theatre

Book of Mormon - Prince of Wales Theatre

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.

 

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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