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10 things that sort of defined London in 2021

Who can forget flare-bum guy?

Isabelle Aron
Edited by
Isabelle Aron
Written by
Time Out London editors

Let’s be honest, this year didn’t exactly get off to a great start. It was cold, it was bleak and everything was closed. But hey, at least we all had loads of time to binge-watch and weep over the truly excellent TV show ‘It’s a Sin’. And remember when it snowed that time in January? That was nice.

But if we’ve learned one thing from this year, it’s that London is resilient. When the big outdoor hospitality reopening in April cruelly coincided with torrential downpours, we dutifully sat sipping cold pints under dripping wet pub garden umbrellas. And you know what? We were ecstatic about it.

As everything unlocked, Londoners flocked to restaurants, bars, cafés, theatres, cinemas, galleries and museums, reminding ourselves why we love this city. This year saw the sweaty, joyful and euphoric return of festivals and clubs. It was the year that football properly, nearly, actually came home. It was the year that we all laughed at stupid stuff like the Marble Arch Mound and a man charging thousands of pounds for salty slabs of meat. For a year that started off so terribly, 2021 has not been without joy.

At the time of writing, things feel uncertain again. As we’ve learned from the last (nearly) two years, the situation can change overnight. But now we know that, no matter how shit everything gets, Londoners still know how to laugh, they still buzz with creativity and new ideas – and there’s always a chance that someone might even stick a flare up their bum in the name of football.

So here’s to celebrating the greatest things that happened this year. See you on the other side.

Darjeeling Express riz ahmed asma khan
Photograph: Darjeeling Express

1. All the celebs discovered Darjeeling Express

The evolution of chef Asma Khan’s restaurant Darjeeling Express is nothing short of incredible. Having started out doing supper clubs at her home, she opened her first restaurant in 2017. At the end of last year (after delays thanks to Covid), she opened a new and bigger Darjeeling Express in Covent Garden. Her loyal following has continued to grow this year, but her fans aren’t just Londoners. In 2021, a flurry of Hollywood stars flocked to her restaurant, including Paul Rudd (he’s practically a regular), Dan Levy and Riz Ahmed. Which A-lister will turn up in 2022? Only time will tell. 

salt bae
Photograph: Laurent Koffel/Getty

2. Salt Bae pulled off the greatest rip-off of all time

You kind of have to admire the ballsiness of Nusret Gökçe aka Salt Bae, who opened his first London restaurant this year. He’s created a cult-like hype around throwing salt on slabs of meat and now punters are racking up £37k bills after a sodium-studded meal. 

saoirse ronan
Photograph: Marc Brenner

3. All the A-listers returned to the London stage

One sign that theatre is bouncing back is the number of celebs who’ve graced the stage this year. There was Michael Sheen in the National Theatre’s reopening show ‘Under Milk Wood’, Hollywood superstar Saoirse Ronan in a hot-ticket ‘Macbeth’ at the Almeida and Eddie Redmayne’s first stage outing in ages, in a much-hyped revival of ‘Cabaret’. 

housing solutions
Photograph: Simon J Harvey

4. There was a revolutionary response to London’s rough-sleeping crisis

In October, an innovative solution arrived in Tottenham to help the city’s homeless: 33 ‘pod homes’ that aim to provide a more stable base than the streets, hostels or shelters for rough sleepers, helping them to eventually move on to permanent accommodation. At around 24 square metres, they have a living area, kitchenette, desk, washing machine and a separate bedroom and bathroom. Sure, they might look like grey shipping containers, but inside they’re much nicer than lots of the dingy London rentals on Rightmove. And they cost around £5 per week in running costs, which is not bad at all. Here’s hoping this is just the start. 

Photograph: Nicola Dove_© 2021 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM

5. ‘No Time to Die’ was finally released

At what felt like the seventeenth attempt, ‘No Time to Die’ finally came out this year – and it was worth the wait. Barring a wishy-washy villain and an ending that upset purists, it exceeded expectations, and the ticket sales were a lifeline for the city’s hard-pressed cinemas. 

Photograph: Tristram Kenton

6. Andrew Lloyd Webber had a never-ending saga with ‘Cinderella’

The most riveting Andrew Lloyd Webber show since ‘Phantom…’ wasn’t his new musical ‘Cinderella’ but his torturous battle to get the damn thing open. He declared he’d rather go to jail than open it with social distancing; he rebuffed the PM’s dodgy offer of a special distancing exemption for his show; and he pulled the entire thing for a couple of weeks at the height of the pingdemic.

the marble arch mound
Photograph: cktravels-Shutterstock

7. The city got an absurd new landmark

The Marble Arch Mound was announced in February to universal whaaaaa? An artificial viewing platform overlooking Hyde Park, its apparent purposelessness was borne out by its subsequent career. It opened before it was finished, shut down, reopened, hosted an infinity room in its scaffolding-supported tummy, led to council resignations and finally went free, after costing £6m. It was this year’s Garden Bridge. Except that it actually happened. 

Emma Raducanu
Photograph: TPN_Getty Images

8. A London teenager became the capital’s biggest overachiever

What were you doing aged 18? Whatever it was, tennis player Emma Raducanu made us all feel like absolute wasters by comparison when she won the US Open final in September, having just finished her A-levels. Born in Canada but raised in Bromley, she became the first British woman to scoop the trophy in more than 40 years. Afterwards, she became a household name and got invited to the Met Gala. Bit of a different vibe from going to Reading Festival after your exams, eh? 

Photograph: The Stock Pot/

9. There were rumours about a MegaGreggs coming to Leicester Square

Sure, ancient-grain sourdough is great and all, but you know what’s really great? Greggs. And you know what’s even better? MegaGreggs. That’s why Londoners went into a frenzy at the news that the high street icon is possibly, maybe (definitely?) opening a big branch in Leicester Square. It submitted plans to Westminster City Council this year and could open in February 2022, which would coincide with the moment you give up the whole ‘new year, new you’ thing and return to your sausage-roll-guzzling ways. 

And finally...

Arse Flare Man
Photograph: Elliott Franks

10. A man stuck a flare up his bum at Wembley during the Euros

Now look back at the ten best London theatre shows of 2021.

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