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Review of the week
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French food – what’s that? For every French restaurant that opens in London, there are a dozen barbecue dens, four noodle joints and two Mexican-Macedonian vegan cocktail bars. So Piquet is bucking the trend. Chef Allan Pickett – English for Piquet, hence the restaurant’s name – is from Kent, but Piquet is as French as a brie-filled baguette in a beret. Not surprising once you know he’s been through some of London’s best French eateries, including Orrery in Marylebone and Galvin Bistro De Luxe. Piquet resides in the unlovely area being knocked around mercilessly by the construction works around the Tottenham Court Road Crossrail node. Walk in the front door and you’re in a long room with small tables and a bar for casual dining. This was empty when we visited, but downstairs – a chic room of muted browns and beiges – was buzzing. The menu changes monthly but some items are regulars. ‘Country terrine’ is refined and sophisticated, beautifully assembled and subtly seasoned, but has all the heartiness you would expect from the more rustic version. Even better was snails on toast: the juiciest snails ever, buttery shallots and a creamy celeriac purée. One of the star dishes of the year. Mains were at the same level, especially veal sweetbreads with insanely rich pomme purée. The single flaw was found in poached and roasted pheasant with turnip tops and thyme dumplings. The bird had spent a little too long in the oven, and it was great-tasting but just a bit dry. One of the cRead more
One of the world's oldest museums, the British Museum is vast and its collections, only a fraction of which can be on public display at any one time, comprise millions of objects. First-time visitors generally head for the mummies, the Rosetta Stone, Lindow Man, the Lewis Chessmen and the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Indeed, the Sutton Hoo finds provide the centrepiece for the new Sir Paul and Lady Jill Ruddock Gallery (Room 41), designed to display the museum's exceptional early medieval collection. Covering finds from across Europe from AD 300 to 1100, the Ruddock Gallery shows off not only the Anglo-Saxons' iconic Sutton Hoo masked helmet, but also late Roman mosaics and such extraordinary objects as the fourth-century Lycurgus Cup, made to change colour in different lights, and the Kells Crozier, a holy yew wood staff decorated and adapted many times from the ninth century onwards. Enlightenment: Discovering the World in the eighteenth century is a permanent exhibition of around 5,000 objects chosen to cast light on the period between the mid-eighteenth and the early nineteenth century, a time of great discovery and learning when the British Museum was founded by an Act of Parliament. It is displayed in the restored former King’s Library – a huge neo-classical room built in the 1820s to house the books collected by George III. Living and Dying, a permanent exhibition in the Wellcome Trust Gallery, explores the ways in which people throughout history have diagnosed and treatRead more
‘Come back to my place’, shouted my Uber driver. ‘We’ll look after you!’ This exchange, back in May, was more innocent than it sounds. Having found out that I was half Sri Lankan (upon which he immediately high-fived me, causing the car to lurch thrillingly to one side), my Colombo-born taxi driver was now trying to solve my personal problems, namely how long it had been since I’d last had a decent hopper. These bowl-shaped savoury crepes, you see, are technically a breakfast item. So attempting to order them in a traditional Sri Lankan restaurant at the ‘wrong time’ is typically met by a baffled expression. Hence his offer to drive us to his place in Hendon, where his wife would cook. If I weren’t already running late, I might just have said yes. (And by the way: inviting a complete stranger to your house for food is completely normal behaviour in Sri Lanka). But now I wouldn’t have to. The Sethis who are Midases of the restaurant world (Gymkhana, Bubbledogs and Bao are just three of their restaurants), have only gone and opened a Sri Lankan restaurant, specialising in…well, you know. And it is an absolute joy. As you might expect from a no-bookings joint in Soho, it’s small but stylish, effortlessly mixing old and new. Exposed brick meets wood panelling; pretty patterned tiles meet carved-wood devil masks. The menu, likewise, gives traditional Sri Lankan street food a fashionable lift. Slender breaded and deep-fried mutton rolls came with a ginger, garlic and chilli ‘kRead more
In early 2013, Keith McNally’s much-anticipated NYC import Balthazar finally opened, and London got to see what this Manhattan interpretation of a French brasserie was actually like. The response was positive, and for weeks afterwards it was hard to get a table. Chef Robert Reid has tinkered little with the nostalgic transatlantic menu, and we loved signature dishes such as the onion soup (grilled gruyère lid on thick country bread, immersed in a rich and sweet chicken stock); duck shepherd’s pie was another powerfully flavoured treat. More recently, some of the gloss seems to have worn off (though service remains prompt and friendly). The cheeseburger, no bargain at £17, was a chunky patty but had little flavour, and needed more than the limited, bland trimmings to give it an oomph that might have justified the price tag. A pleasant gruyère and herb omelette tasted as though it had lingered a little too long at the pass. Best was pavlova (one of several delightfully retro desserts) – it may not have looked like a classic version (the meringue sat on the fruit, rather than the other way round), but it tasted good. Bread, from master baker Jon Rolfe, is a must-try. Balthazar London mimics the New York original perfectly, with red awnings, red leather banquettes, giant antiqued mirrored walls and mosaic floors, but to British eyes, the decor can look a little too close to any old chain brasserie.Read more
Both a research institution and a fabulous museum, the NHM opened in Alfred Waterhouse’s purpose-built Romanesque palazzo on the Cromwell Road in 1881. Now joined by the splendid Darwin Centre extension, the original building still looks quite magnificent. The pale blue and terracotta façade just about prepares you for the natural wonders within. Taking up the full length of the vast entrance hall is the cast of a Diplodocus skeleton. A left turn leads into the west wing or Blue Zone, where long queues form to see animatronic dinosaurs- especially endlessly popular T rex. A display on biology features an illuminated, man-sized model of a foetus in the womb along with graphic diagrams of how it might have got there. A right turn from the central hall leads past the ‘Creepy Crawlies’ exhibition to the Green Zone. Stars include a cross-section through a Giant Sequoia tree and an amazing array of stuffed birds, including the chance to compare the egg of a hummingbird, smaller than a little finger nail, with that of an elephant bird (now extinct), almost football-sized. Beyond is the Red Zone. ‘Earth’s Treasury’ is a mine of information on a variety of precious metals, gems and crystals; ‘From the Beginning’ is a brave attempt to give the expanse of geological time a human perspective. Outside, the delightful Wildlife Garden (Apr-Oct only) showcases a range of British lowland habitats, including a ‘Bee Tree’, a hollow tree trunk that opens to reveal a busy hive. Many of the musRead more
The Science Museum features seven floors of educational and entertaining exhibits, including the Apollo 10 command module and a flight simulator. The Wellcome Wing showcases developments in contemporary science, medicine and technology. The Medical History Gallery in the museum's attic contains a substantial collection of medical history treasures. Pattern Pod introduces under-eights to the importance of patterns in contemporary science and Launch Pad is a popular hands-on gallery where children can explore basic scientific principles. Exhibits in the Exploring Space galleries include the three-metre-high, 600kg Spacelab 2 X-ray telescope that was flown on British space missions and full-scale models of the Huygens Titan probe and Beagle 2 Mars Lander. The Clockmakers' Collection, previously held at the Guildhall, will move to the museum on October 23 2015. It's the oldest display of clocks and watches in the world, with most of the 1250 exhibits dating from between 1600 and 1850. The museum’s in-house IMAX cinema shows scientific films in 3D, allowing visitors to be surrounded by space or submerged in the depths of the ocean. Tickets start at £11 for adults and £9 for children, and booking is recommended. The shop is worth checking out for its wacky toys, while the Dana Centre is the Science Museum’s adults-only centre for free lectures and performance events on contemporary scientific issues (www.danacentre.org.uk). See more of London's best museumsRead more
Thanks to its industrial architecture, this powerhouse of modern art is awe-inspiring even before you enter. Built after World War II as Bankside Power Station, it was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, architect of Battersea Power Station. The power station shut in 1981; nearly 20 years later, it opened as an art museum, and has enjoyed spectacular popularity ever since. The gallery attracts five million visitors a year to a building intended for half that number; the first fruits of work on the immensely ambitious, £215m TM2 extension opened in 2012: the Tanks, so-called because they occupy vast, subterranean former oil tanks, will stage performance and film art. As for the rest of the extension, a huge new origami structure, designed by Herzog & de Meuron (who were behind the original conversion), will gradually unfold above the Tanks until perhaps 2016, but the work won’t interrupt normal service in the main galleries. In the main galleries themselves, the original cavernous turbine hall is still used to jaw-dropping effect as the home of large-scale, temporary installations. Beyond, the permanent collection draws from the Tate’s collections of modern art (international works from 1900) and features heavy hitters such as Matisse, Rothko and Beuys – a genuinely world-class collection, expertly curated. There are vertiginous views down inside the building from outside the galleries, which group artworks according to movement (Surrealism, Minimalism, Post-war abstraction)Read more
The View from the Shard offers panoramic, 360-degree views across the capital and beyond (up to 64km or 40 miles on a clear day) from 244 metres (800 feet) up – almost twice the height of any other viewing point in London. The attraction is a two-level deck (the first enclosed, the second open to the elements above head-height) on floors 68 to 72 of the skyscraper, to which visitors are whisked in two stages on supersmooth, high-speed lifts that take just 30 seconds to reach the 'View', accompanied by a soaring anthem recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra and the Joyful Company of Singers – a decidely upmarket twist on elevator muzak. Tongue-in-cheek illustrations of famous Londoners past and present, including Margaret Thatcher and Karl Marx on a tandem, and Vidal Sassoon and Vivienne Westwood giving Charles I a makeover, and video screens and display panels with digital maps of London and archive footage of city life remind you of your surroundings. In the viewing galleries themselves, digital 'Tell:scopes' update the coin-in-the-slot binoculars at traditonal viewpoints - touchscreens allow you to call up additional information on the buildings you're looking at, and help you locate the important landmarks, as well as allowing you to zoom in or see what the view is like at different times of day. There are no toilets or refreshments on the viewing levels. See our guide to The ShardRead more