As the BBC Proms regretfully usher Summer out of the door in London, there are still a few outdoor events left to be enjoyed. OnBlackheath is a fresh new festival that deserves every support for its child-friendly vibe. However, the action is definitely going indoors in September and Open London is the sort of event that reveals just how rewarding that can be in a city that is as architecturally rich as London.
Last Night Of The Proms – Royal Albert Hall
Always rousing, always patriotic. The closing night of the two month long classical music extravaganza seems resistant to fads. No matter what esoteric jazz/baroque/dubstep hybrid has been on show during the previous weeks, the BBC always play it straight when September rolls around. Out come the sea shanties and the marching songs as the BBC Orchestra crank up expectancy levels from 7pm onwards.
Flag waving is almost mandatory, as even the most hardened socialist gets into Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia. It’s no use trying to critically evaluate the musical merit of these pieces as they’re not so much songs as an indicator of a nation’s shared memory. The nationalism is backed up by serious musical credentials. Purcell, Handel and Williams are all expertly interpreted by some of the world’s best musicians in a rousing late summer finale.
OnBlackheath – Dartmouth Fields E3
South East London’s very own festival was launched last year to much critical acclaim and this month will see it return with an even bigger and better line-up. Mature Indie bands are always a good bet as they seem to improve with age while avoiding all the debauchery of classic rock acts. Elbow, Madness and Manic Street Preachers are all appearing at OnBlackheath and will bring a sense of song craft with them without lapsing into self-parody.
Other acts gracing the stage include a trio of funky, but left field, soul singers. Kelis, Laura Mvula and Anna Calvi all have peerless reputations as vocal divas as well as the kind of crossover appeal that is well suited to events like these. Staged in the scenic environment of Dartmouth Field, the two day event on September 12 and 13 will also feature a food village, workshops for kids and a World Music venue curated by Gilles Peterson. Children under 12 get in free.
Open House London Architectural Festival – Venues Londonwide
Almost a quarter of a century on from its inception, this well regarded architectural festival takes place over two days on the weekend of September 19 and 20. The event has a truly citywide focus and aims to introduce Londoners to parts of their city that they may only have read about. It does this by opening up buildings that normally don’t allow public access. London has such a varied architectural profile that these buildings are liable to be as much in evidence in the suburbs as they are in the central neighbourhoods and this makes the event eminently democratic.
Private homes, government buildings, historic sites and educational establishments will all be on display and 90% of them will require no prior booking. Georgian terraces, Victorian Arts & Crafts cottages and Edwardian townhouses will all be on display as well as some of the capital’s more quirky architectural experiments, like the BT Tower. In all, 800 venues are taking part and that’s a lot of bricks and mortar!
American Ultra – Cinemas Londonwide
Mike and Phoebe are small town slackers, both content to mooch between jobs and drug encounters. What no one knows is that Mike is a deprogrammed CIA killer who has been given this aimless new life by having his memory and ninja skills erased; however, a new regime now think that Mike is a threat and send assassins to deprogram him – permanently.
A guardian angel from the agency gets to Mike just before the attack and manages to activate his inner killing machine, setting the scene for several explosive set pieces. Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike with authentic stoner vagueness and Kirsten Stewart is brilliant as his gorgeous girlfriend who, despite all the evidence to the contrary, seems to sense that there is more to her boyfriend that meets the eye
Rugby World Cup 2015 – Wembley Stadium, Olympic Stadium, Twickenham Stadium
It’s literally crunch time in London this autumn as squads of muscular men from all over the globe converge on England in order to battle for the world trophy. The first two weeks of the competition tend to be exhibition rugby as the major powers sharpen their skills by dominating lesser sides. As with any sport, however, an upset is always on the cards and it’s usually one of the Pacific Islands that tend to unsettle one of the Big Six
England will have home advantage and will fancy their chances against any of the Southern Hemisphere opposition. Wales and Ireland are capable of frightening Australia or South Africa while France can be world-beaters one day and a total shambles the next. Holders, New Zealand are definitely the most consistently effective team in rugby and will be the yardstick that all squads will be measured by.
The London Pizza Festival – Jubilee Place at Borough Market
Borough Market is home to many epicurean delights, but a whole festival focusing on pizza? Food events in London are pretty exhaustive affairs and the guys at Young & Foodish knew exactly what to do when it came to planning a Pizzafest – they sent direct to Naples for the Salvo brothers. Forget all this americanised deep pan stuffed crust nonsense. Pizza comes from the slopes of Mt Vesuvius and there the crust must be thin, have bite and not be burdened with heretical toppings.
Francesco and Salvatore will be busting some cheesy myths and demonstrating the art of baking in a wood fired oven and for £30 visitors will be able to sample their delights plus those of six other artisan pizzerias. Yard Sale Pizza, Made of Dough and Sud Italia will be representing London at the event on 13th September and there’s the option of a VIP reserved table for eight, which includes table service. Loosen your belts in preparation.
Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea – Natural History Museum
It’s often a trick question asked by teachers, but identifying the Great Barrier Reef as the planet’s largest living organism goes some way to explaining why these ecosystems should be cherished. Coral reefs are made up of living plants and animals and the Natural History Museum brings all its presentational skill to bear on a mission to take us below the waves for a fish eye view of one of nature’s great masterpieces.
Beautiful, tough and vital to the protection of our shorelines, reefs are more than just a diving playground. Through interactive models, video, specimens and lectures, this exhibition serves as an educational and motivational tool as it seeks to change our attitudes about everything from spear fishing to waste disposal. Coral reefs are awe-inspiring, yet fragile phenomena that must be treasured.
High Society – Old Vic
When it comes to the West End musical, Maria Friedman has absolutely nothing left to prove onstage, so it’s a joy to see her take the director’s chair in this rollicking revival of the famous Hollywood star vehicle. Other stories have love triangles, but High Society has a “love quadrilateral” as three suitors attempt to woo the frivolous Tracy Lord all to the incomparable backdrop of Cole Porter’s greatest hits. Kate Fleetwood plays Tracy with a surprising depth and energy that brings the best out of the supporting cast who are also expert song and dance practitioners.
Extra songs have been added from Porter’s impeccable back catalogue and they’ve been distributed around the cast so as to not turn the event into some kind of Rat Pack throwback. Staging the production in the round is an inspired idea as well, because allows for more intimacy with the audience. In the 1956 movie, Louis Armstrong served as a memorable narrator for the twists and turns of the madcap plot, but Friedman (a skilful narrator herself – remember “Joseph”?) has in pianist Joe Stilgoe, her own joker in the pack. Stilgoe improvises around the action, warms up the audience and still manages to hit his lines. That’s jazz!
Warner Brothers Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter
This already hugely popular attraction has now added a new permanent extension that is bound to wow first-time visitors as well as Potter veterans. Here, the famous starting point for so many Harry Potter adventures, platform 9¾ has been meticulously recreated, complete with the original Hogwarts Express steam engine. The same craftsmen who worked on the films have returned to build this 20,000 sq ft marvel using original props and special effects.
The remainder of the tour is still a marvellous day out for all the family with the Great Hall centrepiece still evoking memories of the young wizards as they embarked on their magical education. All the fantastic monsters and supernatural wonders of the movie series are dotted throughout the rest of the converted aircraft hanger. A fully stocked gift shop and snack bar serving delicious meals are on site selling themed treats and mementos.
Wheelers Rib Room and Oyster Bar – Bank
Wheelers is the venerable fish restaurant brand that top chef Marco Pierre White took over some years ago. After establishing a solid presence in the Home Counties, White is now ready for a London relaunch and has teamed up with the Threadneedles Hotel near the Bank of England. Whitstable rock oysters, grilled Dover sole and fish pie are all old favourites that will appeal to lovers of traditional British seafood.
The rib room will specialise in the finest British steaks – all dry-aged for 28 days. Rib (serves two), sirloin and fillet are all served with hand cut chips plus a choice of side dishes. The old-school vibe continues in the dessert menu. Sherry trifle, Eton mess and chocolate brownies may seem safe choices, but in the hands of Marco’s team, they are set to reach new heights.
Trip Kitchen – Haggerston
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”.
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.
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 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.
Chiltern Firehouse – Chiltern Street, W1
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.