Let’s be honest: London is brimming with so many endless things to do, you can spend your entire life trying to tick every last box. But what if you’re after just that one great day out? How do you sift through the endless list of attractions and distractions for one manageable list? That’s where we step in. It’s kind of what we do, y’know. Let us find you the best possible days out in London, plucked from all the beautiful, quirky, thrilling and enthralling things to do in the city.
For instance, you could scale The O2. That makes a pretty leftfield start to the day – climbs kick off at 10am daily. Maybe you could follow that up with a journey down the Thames on the river bus, before getting stuck into one of the best brunches in town and venturing out for a spot of shopping. Of course, the endless supply of top-notch theatre to see in the West End could comfortably fill an evening. And for somewhere to stay? We’ve already rounded up the 100 best hotels in town.
With any luck, you’re feeling inspired to go out and seize London by the horns. Take a look below at our definitive guide to all the best attractions, shops, eateries and events that can make the perfect day out in the capital. Happy exploring!
Things to do
This event has been postponed until further notice. Time Out editors, March 2020 The silent disco phenomenon reaches new heights at these exclusive Time Out events. Pick your vibe and choose your side as three DJs battle it out over separate wireless channels, playing the best in pop, rock and party classics, while you dance the night away 1,000ft in th air. It might be the major moves you'll be busting, or perhaps it'll be standing 72 floors up in Western Europe's tallest building, either way, you can count on this event getting your heart racing. Seriously, if you've never been up The Shard, do it. Loads of Londoners are guilty of missing out on its big attractions (tbf, no one wants to tangle with tourists in their free time), this is you chance to visit a London must-see and have a bloody good boogie, too.
Polish your horns and belt out those bleats, because London’s favourite farmyard fracas is back for an eleventh year in 2020. The Goat Race is fast becoming as popular as its Thames-based rival (at least around the Time Out office), and sees two goats – one representing ‘Oxford’, the other ‘Cambridge’ – take part in a dash around the farm. The gates open at noon with lots to enjoy on the farm, including bands, booze and other fun, goat-related nonsense. The race takes place at some point between 4.30pm, although the exact time depends on the mood of the athletes. There’s an official bookie and sweepstake if you or your nanny fancy a flutter. Young bucks at heart can join the Goat-e-oke, take part in the Coat Race or the Goatry Slam. By the end of it, you might just pass out from goat-pun fatigue. Book tickets well in advance – the animals mustn't get overcrowded and places sell out fast. This year you can upgrade your goat race ticket to a VIP experience. For out £50 and as well as a front-row seat at the goat race, you’ll also get close up and personal with the farm's goats. Help groom, feed and walk them and bring along up four people with you to help you do it. All proceeds go to the upkeep of Spitalfields City Farm. Intrigued? Here's everything you need to know about The Oxford v Cambridge Goat Race
Worried about climate change and nature loss? Open your mind and join Sir David Attenborough, as he unveils his powerful new film ‘A Life on Our Planet’. Get closer to the on-screen action at this world-exclusive event. Talk to the filmmakers, yet-to-announced special guests and Britain’s favourite naturalist in a discussion on stage tackling the most prevalent issues raised in the documentary. Tickets go on sale Friday December 6. Book here.
Head to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Halls for a bloomin’ good Easter weekend. See vibrant seasonal plant displays created by talented local florists and CityScapes’ immersive urban oasis that demonstrates the positive benefits of being surrounded by our plant babies. Green-fingered Londoners can also stock up on gardening goods, seeds, spring plants, gifts and other horticulturally inspired goods. Plus, they can even share tips and advice as well as a line-up of interactive talks, demonstrations and workshops. Be sure to stick around for the Tuesday late from 6-9pm, where visitors can enjoy pretty the plant displays after hours with a drink in hand. There’ll also be drop-in talk sessions and free workshops with Hackney Herbal along with a plant-based pub quiz hosted by Mr Plant Geek and demonstrations by Soho Farmhouse’s Head Floral Designer, Raphael Verrion.
THE DATE OF THIS EVENT HAS CHANGED FROM SUN MAR 1 TO SUN MAR 29 New Orleans comes to Tooting for this special Mardi Gras celebration. Tuck into a classic Crawfish boil (one of the southern town’s great foodie traditions) and sip on New Orleans-style cocktails at this Louisiana hoedown.
Prepare and arrange luscious blooms into a wonderful hand-tied bouquet at one of Battersea Flower Station’s hand-tied bouquet classes. Guided by their in-house florist, you’ll learn all the steps to make a bloomin' lovely flower arrangement to take home in a beautiful setting. All tickets include refreshments and cake.
Experience one of our signature silent discos at the SEA LIFE London Aquarium. Don a pair of glowing headphones and tune in to one of three channels as you immerse yourself in the world below the waves. With pop, rock and party classics to choose from, you're sure to find something you can cut shapes to at the ultimate nautical night out. The chance to party with sea creatures doesn't come along all too often (unless your Jason Momoa in green spandex, that is), so don't miss out on these aquatic events.
Celebrate one of the greatest composers' 250th birthday. Join one or all of London’s top orchestras and acclaimed pianist Warren Mailley-Smith candlelight Beethoven piano concertos. There’ll be five performances, each one covering a different one of his five symphonies. Guaranteed you’ll be Bach for more.
Prepare to meet some real fat cats. CatFest is back with a full day dedicated to those kings and queens of the internet. Get all misty-eyed over rescue kittens, listen to CatLit, hang out with cat celebrities and try some ‘feline fancy dress’ (not in a sex way). This year the festival is back at Beckenham Place Mansion with live music, vegan street food and cat-themed cocktails to neck back. You’ll be able to get up close and personal with adoptable rescue kittens and meet feline influencers, including Sunglass Cat who will be joining the festival from Los Angeles, Pixie Adventure Cat and Barry the Bengal. There’ll also be talks from prominent cat fans, including TV star Rory the Vet. Part of the proceeds will go towards Erham Rescue, a charity helping to sterilise, treat and feed and rescue street cats and kittens.
Literary Salon is a quarterly celebration of voices from the Black British diaspora. Spend the evening listening to London-based Nigerian-German writer Olumide Popoola, Nigerian British author Irenosen Okojie and Nigerian British journalist Diana Evans recite readings around the theme of Love and Desire. There’ll be two more events exploring other themes on Thursday May 28 and Thursday September 24.
It might have been knocked from its heady heights as the world’s tallest ferris wheel – you’ll have to head to Las Vegas for that – but the London Eye remains an iconic part of the London skyline. Snap-happy tourists arrive here in their droves, so be prepared to queue for one of the spacious 25-person pods. Once you’re airborne, take in those far-reaching views of the Thames and beyond. On a clear day, you might even see if the Queen’s opened the curtains at Buck House.
What was once a prosaic council building on the South Bank is now full to the brim with sharks, penguins and other water-loving wildlife, thanks to this world-class, world-famous aquarium. The finned predators prowling the Shark Walk are a definite highlight, as are the billowing jellyfish in the fairly recent Ocean Invaders addition. This is the perfect place to keep the sprogs entertained on a morning or afternoon.
The Warner Brothers studio may be way out west, but it’s worth the trip to see the magic of the Boy Who Lived come alive – and to try a flagon of butterbeer, too.
You know how Instagram makes everything look prettier in photos than IRL? Well, you don’t need to worry about that with the Queen’s pad, which is a stunner in the flesh as well as all those postcards. All year round, you can take a gander at pieces from the Royal Collection at the Queen’s Gallery, while from February to November you can check out the Queen’s horses in the Royal Mews.
As long as you leave plenty of ticket-collecting time, your trip to the Tower of London should be a blast. It starts with a 50-minute tour led by a Beefeater where you’ll learn about the 900-year history of this imposing fortress (in short: torture, prisoners, weapons and exotic animals). Feast your eyes on the crown jewels and prisoner graffiti – you’ll even meet the raven keeper. If you want to get eyeballs-deep in London’s bloody history, then put the Tower of London on your bucket list.
If you’re interested in UK politics or just want a better understanding of it, the Houses of Parliament isn’t to be missed. Seriously – this is where laws get passed, y’know! Book an audio tour and soak up the history of this grand old nineteenth-century building and if you’re feeling flush, stay for afternoon tea overlooking the Thames.
The zoological gardens that reside in Regent’s Park have been entertaining the crowds since Victorian times – but it’s in the last 15 years that the Zoological Society London has really given it an overhaul. The 36-acre park has been refashioned to support conservation, with the welfare of its inhabitants a high priority, and visitor’s encounters more informative than just point-and-stare.
There are more than eight million artifacts within the British Museum’s walls and every single one of them has a story to tell. You could easily spend hours here losing yourself in thousands of years of culture and history from the world over. Its big hitter is the Egyptian mummy, which pulls in gawping kids and adults alike. If you’d rather dodge the crowds, head to the newly re-opened Sir Joseph Hutong Gallery: a treasure trove of objects from China and South Asia.
The Dungeon spent four decades under the railway arches on Tooley Street at London Bridge. Then, in 2013, it upped sticks to a new home on the South Bank. It may lack the mucky, subterranean charm of the former site – but believe us, all the frights and gross-out moments inside are still just as icky.
Not just one for nerdy trainspotting types – TfL’s transport museum offers a genuinely compelling and enjoyable journey trhough the history of getting around in London.
Okay, let’s just get this out of the way. ‘Hamilton’ is stupendously good. Yes, it’s kind of a drag that there’s so much hype around it. But there was a lot of hype around penicillin. And that worked out pretty well. If anything – and I’m truly sorry to say this – Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the US Treasury, is actually better than the hype suggests. That’s because lost in some of the more waffly discourse around its diverse casting and sociological import is the fact that ‘Hamilton’ is, first and foremost, a ferociously enjoyable show. You probably already know that it’s a hip hop musical, something that’s been tried before with limited success. Here it works brilliantly, because Miranda – who wrote everything – understands what mainstream audiences like about hip hop, what mainstream audiences like about musical theatre, and how to craft a brilliant hybrid. Put simply, it’s big emotions and big melodies from the former, and thrilling, funny, technically virtuosic storytelling from the latter. ‘Alexander Hamilton’, the opening tune, exemplifies everything that’s great about the show. It’s got a relentlessly catchy build and momentum, a crackling, edge-of-seat sense of drama, and is absolutely chockablock with information, as the key players stride on to bring us up to speed with the eventful life that Hamilton – the ‘bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman’ – led before he emigrated to America in 1772 as a teenager. (
In the unlikely event you were worried a leap to the stage for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series would result in it becoming aggressively highbrow, self-consciously arty or grindingly bereft of magical high jinks, just chill the hell out, muggle. ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ is an absolute hoot, a joyous, big-hearted, ludicrously incident-packed and magic-heavy romp that has to stand as one of the most unrelentingly entertaining things to hit the West End. Writer Jack Thorne, director John Tiffany and a world-class team have played a blinder; if the two-part, five-hour-plus show is clearly a bit on the long side, it’s forgivable. ‘The Cursed Child’ emphatically exists for fans of Harry Potter, and much of its power derives from the visceral, often highly emotional impact of feeling that you’re in the same room as Rowling’s iconic characters. There’s also a sense that this story of wizards and witches is being treated with the respect its now substantially grown-up fanbase craves. No disrespect to D-Rad and chums, but the leads here are in a different acting league to their film counterparts’: Jamie Parker and Alex Price are superb as battered, damaged, middle-aged versions of old enemies Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. Sam Clemmett and Anthony Boyle are a fine, puppyish, sympathetic engine to the play as their awkward sons Albus and Scorpius, trying to escape their parents’ shadows. It is a bit of a sausage (wand?) fest in terms of the lead parts, although in the most
The posters have been plastered around the London Underground for years – long enough for this show to become the most successful musical of all time – but nothing prepares you for the sheer impact of 'The Lion King's opening sequence. With the surge of 'Circle Of Life' reverberating through your chest, Julie Taymor's animal creations march on, species by species. Gazelles spring, birds swoop and an elephant and her child lumber through the stalls. It's a cacophonous cavalcade that genuinely stops you breathing. You'd think Noah's Ark had emptied onto the stage. For a global blockbuster, 'The Lion King's absolute theatricality is astonishing. Techniques from all over the world – African masks, Japanese Kabuki costumes, Malaysian shadow puppetry – are smashed together in an explosion of spectacle. It's perfect for a musical, allowing both distinct flavours and an eclectic carnival spirit. Admittedly, things deflate when it sacrifices this defiant originality for subservient approximation of the film. Timon and Pumba (Damian Baldet and Keith Bookman), though impressively like their screen counterparts, step into the savannah from a different dimension. The hyena-infested elephant's graveyard swaps menace for goofiness and the famous stampede scene, so delicately handled and moving in the film, is merely ticked off with a sigh of relief. The familiarity of the film is a root cause of the show's commercial success. But, ironically, 'The Lion King' can't afford such compromises. I
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, ‘Thriller Live’ has concluded its length West End run, which was already due to end April 26. Step inside the Lyric foyer and you'll be greeted by a gleaming Michael Jackson memorial. Enter the auditorium and you'll find another in 'Thriller', a shining homage to The King of Pop. This is a sparkling, singing and shimmying conveyor belt of more than 30 of Jackson's greatest hits. It's a bit like watching an extended episode of 'The X Factor' – except the performers are actually very good and they've all picked Jacko. What really hits home in this jubilant jukebox show, which recently celebrated its thousandth performance, is the range of repertoire available. 'Thriller' is a reminder of Michael Jackson's versatility and the unique gloss he lent to pop, rock, dance and even the ballad. 'Heal the World' is crooned by a throng of suitably seraphic kids, 'Beat It' is blasted into the gods and a silver-gloved groover glides majestically through 'Smooth Criminal'. The show, held together by the loosest of narratives, begins with a selection of Jackson 5 numbers. These earlier songs are among the best of the night: pure, funky, relatively simple and uniformly upbeat. Salient facts are flashed furiously across the screens (750 million records sold worldwide!) and the show segues into Jackson's solo career. Some of these later songs are terrifyingly idiosyncratic – made and moulded for the man himself – and the lead vocalists struggle with the quirkier
‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ is a burst of joy in the heart of the West End. This new British musical, transferring from the Sheffield Crucible, is the real deal. Watch out, tired revivals: there’s a new kid in town. Inspired by a 2011 BBC documentary about a teenager who wanted to be a drag queen, the show follows 16-year-old Jamie on his journey to be himself – out of a classroom in a working-class part of Sheffield, away from the bigotry of a deadbeat dad, and into high heels. Director Jonathan Butterell’s production is a high-impact blaze of colour, combining video projections with seamless scene changes and a live band above the stage. It captures the frenetic energy of being a teenager. Every element of this show works beautifully together. The music, by The Feeling frontman Dan Gillespie Sells, is a deft mix of irresistibly catchy, pop-honed foot-tappers – try not to hum ‘And You Don’t Even Know It’, I dare you – and truthful, heart-wrenching numbers. This is Sells’s first foray into writing for musicals, but he’s always excelled at telling stories in song. He is matched by the show’s writer and lyricist Tom MacRae. Apart from notable exceptions like Punchdrunk’s ‘Doctor Who’-themed kids’ show ‘The Crash of Elysium’, he’s largely written for TV, but this works well here. His dialogue is punchy, funny and often lands with a sting. While most of the characters exist to orbit Jamie, they still have their own stories and these are crisply told. As Pritti, Jamie’s best
'My mummy says I'm a miracle,' lisps a pampered mini-me at a purgatorial kiddies' birthday party at the outset of this delicious, treacly-dark family show. The obnoxious ma and pa of its titular, gifted, pint-sized heroine are not, of course, quite so doting. But 'Matilda' must be making its creators, playwright Dennis Kelly and comedian-songsmith Tim Minchin, a very pair of proud parents. Opening to rave reviews in Stratford-upon Avon before transferring to the West End in 2011 and snatching up Olivier Awards with all the alacrity of a sticky-fingered child in a sweetshop, Matthew Warchus's RSC production remains a treat. With hindsight, Kelly and Minchin's musical, born of the 1988 novel by that master of the splendidly grotesque Roald Dahl, is a little too long and, dramatically, a tad wayward. But like the curly-haired little girl in the famous nursery rhyme, when it is good, it is very, very good. And it's even better when it's horrid. The past few months have seen some cast changes, including, alas, the departure of Bertie Carvel's tremendous Miss Trunchbull, headmistress of the dread Crunchem Hall School, former Olympic hammer-thrower and a gorgon of monumental nastiness, complete with scarily Thatcher-esque tics of purse-lipped gentility and faux concern. David Leonard doesn't quite match the squirm-inducing, hair-raising detail of Carvel in the role, but his more butch, granite-faced version is fantastically horrible nonetheless. And if Paul Kaye as Matilda's loathso
Musicals don’t come much more low-key, wholesome or Canadian than ‘Come from Away’. Writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein cook up the straightforward world of the Newfoundland town of Gander using a very straightforward set of ingredients. The cast wear sensible shoes and lumberjack shirts. They tramp across a wood-decked stage that evokes the huge skies of their tiny island. They sing their way through a set of folk-tinged songs that tell stories of the five days after 9/11, when 38 planes made emergency landings on the island’s huge, disused airstrip. And it’s all totally, soul-feedingly wonderful. ‘Come from Away’ has been a massive sleeper hit across North America, Broadway included, and it’s easy to see why: it mixes down-home authenticity with the desperate intensity that comes in times of crisis. This is a moment where 7,000 temporary arrivals join a community of just 9,000 people. Logistics might not be the sexiest of topics for a musical, but one of the many surprising joys of this show is how gripping it makes things like the struggle to rustle up transport at a time when the local school bus drivers were on strike and had to be coaxed into crossing the picket line. Then there are beds, food, medication and interpreters to be sourced for passengers from across the world: one non-English-speaking couple communicates by cross-referencing Bible verses. Based closely on interviews with real Newfoundlanders, this is a picture of a community that stretches itself to break
‘& Juliet’ is a heavily ironic Shakespeare rewrite based on the songs of super-producer Max Martin. And with the gift of that knowledge, I can fairly confidently state that you’ll probably like ‘& Juliet’ almost precisely as much as you expect to like ‘& Juliet’. Me, I grew up with Martin’s greatest hits: Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys dominated the radio when I was at school, and while I’ve never spent a single penny on his music, I’ve probably spent days of my life listening to it. These were Big Tunes to start with, and in ‘& Juliet’ they sound immense, reconfigured into lush new Tudor-nodding arrangements (a harpsichord features prominently). Most crucially, in a musical that Martin is heavily involved with, they’re deployed in ways that always find some emotional connection to the plot (by no means a given in a jukebox musical – *takes a long, hard stare at ‘Mamma Mia!’*). The plot is fun provided you refuse to take any of what happens seriously. It’s basically ‘Romeo & Juliet’ rewritten into a sort of woke panto. The Bard of Avon (Oliver Tompsett, channelling a mid-tier ‘Love Island’ contestant) is very pleased with himself for having written the play. But his wife Anne Hathaway (Cassidy Janson, scene-stealingly bolshy) has other ideas. She browbeats Will into allowing Juliet to survive then persuades him to let her rewrite the play as an empowering feminist road trip for Juliet and her gal (and non-binary) pals. A lot of wilfully silly, somewhat subversive, occasi
It was a wet December night. The type of night that’s only good for two things: going to see a pastiche film noir musical, and going home to try and half-assedly write a pastiche film noir-style review of the musical while knocking back cheap Russian vodka.The show was called ‘City of Angels’: it had been a big hit for a guy called Cy Colman about 25 years ago. It was a jazzy joint, that bought together Colman’s love of ’40s movies and music to spin a tall tale about a writer called Stine and his private-eye creation, Stone, as both of them negotiate the mean streets of LA: Stine in the cutthroat movie business; Stone in some business with a missing girl that might end with his throat cut.Now, with respect to the late Mr Colman, he wasn’t an LA guy, he was a Broadway guy. The idea for his show is nice, there are a lot of laughs and the lyrics – by a kid called David Zippel – are hilarious. But ‘City of Angels’ is a bit too Broadway, if you catch my drift: all head, not much heart and more arch than the Sixth Street Viaduct.But that ain’t put off Josie Rourke, boss of the Donmar Warehouse. A hard-boiled dame with a reputation that says you really don’t want to cross her, there’s no denying she knows how to put on a show. If it’s hard to fall for ‘City of Angels’ itself – cold as a popsicle, distant as Neptune, not much to say but plenty pleased about how it’s said – it’s easy to fall for Rourke’s production, and fall hard. Mostly, that’s because this cast is something else: wh
Perhaps it doesn’t have the superhuman dexterity of ‘Arcadia’ or the paradigm-shifting audacity of ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’, but ‘Leopoldstadt’ still sees Tom Stoppard end his career on a high – if this really is his final play (as the 82-year-old has suggested it might be). Certainly, it’s an infinitely better way to call it quits than his last outing, ‘The Hard Problem’, a laboured light comedy that elicited wall-to-wall ‘mehs’ at the National in 2015. This weighty work about the rise and fall of Vienna’s Jewish community is unafraid to look and feel like a serious piece of legacy-building. It follows the sprawling, extended Merz family, who are what you might call Jewish intellectuals, living in the tumultuous first half of the twentieth century. When we first meet them, in 1899, they’re free citizens of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a place where Jews have been legally emancipated for over a century. Leopoldstadt itself was once Vienna’s ghetto – now just a distant folk memory of a less enlightened age. By the final scene, set in 1955, this huge family has been mostly eradicated. Though fictional, it’s based on autobiography: Stoppard only discovered late in life that his own family was Jewish, and that that was why they’d fled Hitler’s advance into their native Czechoslovakia. His mother had kept him in the dark for decades about his heritage, reasoning that this would protect him if the dark times returned… but history catches up with you, as Stoppard’s s
'Curious Incident' transfers to Troubadour Wembley Park in November 2020. This review is from 2017. Three theatres, three casts, one major disaster and seven Olivier Awards on, the National Theatre’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel about Christopher Boone, the teenage ‘mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’ remains a thing of unbridled wonder. The occasion for this re-review is the end of the enforced layoff inflicted upon ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’. The show figuratively blew the roof off when it transferred from the NT to the Apollo Theatre, but unfortunately the ageing ceiling responded by literally collapsing, necessitating a change of venue and months off. Hopefully, that episode will provide a footnote. The most important thing is that Simon Stephens’s adaptation remains high tech and high quality. The first Christopher, Luke Treadaway, will always cast a huge shadow, and incumbent Graham Butler can’t match his coiled spring energy and manic otherness. But if Butler offers a gentler, more ‘normal’ hero, his superficial lack of strangeness means that it’s all the more heartbreaking when his nameless condition – presumably Asperger’s – leaves him suddenly, unexpectedly broken, unable to cope with something as simple as a human touch. Ultimately ‘Curious Incident’ is a tragedy about a family torn apart by the pressures of looking after their son. Nicolas Tennant and Emily Joyce are excellent as Christopher’s bumblingly selfless dad E
‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ transfers to the West End in October 2020. This review is from its run at the National Theatre in December 2019. Tickets for the transfer go on sale March 13 2020. Considering how popular fantasy literature and its adaptations currently are, it feels like a bit of an omission that we see so little of it on stage. But Joel Horwood’s over-twelves version of Neil Gaiman’s 2013 novel ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ is emphatically The Way To Do It: a heady, dreamlike whirl of story, scary and beautiful in equal parts, that looks phenomenal and makes expert use of the stylised language of theatre to cram in an entire otherworldly epic.It begins as an unnamed man runs away from his father’s wake, drawn to an old duckpond near his former family home. He is haunted by thoughts of a girl, Lettie (Marli Siu), who he met on his twelfth birthday, in the early-’80s. She is gone, but he comes across her elderly grandmother, Old Mrs Hempstock (Josie Walker), who he only dimly recalls. Her presence revives suppressed memories, of Lettie and her family being an ageless coven of immortal spellcasters; of his home being invaded by Ursula (Pippa Nixon), a malevolent entity from outside the walls of reality; of the fightback, and its consequences.Gaiman’s story is hot property: Simon Pegg, of all people, is apparently making a TV version. But it’ll have to go a long way to catch up with Katy Rudd’s thrilling NT production, which is pacy, stylish and also exp
I made it approximately ten minutes into the pilot episode of the Ben Elton-penned David Mitchell vehicle ‘Upstart Crow’ before being unable to take it any more. So you could say that I came to this inexplicably definite-articled stage version of their Shakespeare sitcom with a doubt or two. But whether it’s an improvement in quality, me mellowing in my old age, or simple Stockholm syndrome from being stuck in a theatre with it for two-and-a-half hours, ‘The Upstart Crow’ grew on me. It doesn’t start well: all cheap populist laughs about the variable quality of Shakespeare’s plays (by all means make a coherent argument about why you think ‘Measure for Measure’ is shit, but if you go for the king, you’d better kill the king, and Elton’s script absolutely does not kill the king). With the cast almost entirely made up of returnees from the telly, the early scenes are fairly dependent upon you knowing who everyone is, with big rounds of walk-on applause for Gemma Whelan’s Kate and Rob Rouse’s Ned. That everyone says ‘futtock’ when they mean ‘fuck’ is irritating to the point of distraction. The ‘joke’ that Shakespeare’s daughters have OTT Midlands accents is lazy and contemptible (it’s hard to imagine any other accent being mocked this way in 2020). There are discussions about race, sexuality and gender that are probably well-meaning but come across a bit ‘OK boomer’. And yet… the tittering Shakespeare-bashing is largely confined to the start, and Elton ends up weaving a somewha
I would seriously question whether any other show on the planet bar ‘Les Misérables’ could get away with junking its original production and carrying on as if nothing had changed. But ‘Les Mis’ could be transposed to space, or underwater, or to the height of the Hittite empire and it would basically be the same show as long as the singing was on point. In case you missed it: the world’s longest-running musical that’s still playing shut for six months recently while the Sondheim Theatre (née Queen’s Theatre) was renovated by proprietor and producer Cameron Mackintosh. It has returned, not in the original Trevor Nunn RSC production, but a new(ish) one from Laurence Connor and James Powell that has already been rolled out around the globe, with London the last bastion of the ‘classic’ ‘Les Mis’. The ditching of the original has caused disgruntlement in certain quarters: hardcore stans distraught that the exact show they grew up with no longer strictly exists; and the original creative team, notably director Nunn, who understandably feel a little betrayed by the whole affair. All I can say is: yup, I really dug the old revolving stage too, but its loss is bearable. The songs are the same, the score is the same (accepting that it was tweaked to make it a bit less ’80s a few years back), the costumes are the same, many of the current cast are veterans of the original production, and the text is still Nunn and John Caird’s adaptation of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s o
‘The Prince of Egypt’ is the plucky, earnest underdog of ’90s animated movies: not even a celeb-heavy cast and a score of Stephen Schwartz bangers could save it from back-of-the-video-cabinet, cult flick oblivion. Until now? Well, sort of. This massive new stage show probably won’t add substantially to the film’s fanbase, but it’s a pacy, powerfully sung showcase for songs like ‘When You Believe’.Schwartz’s son Scott brings the ancient story of two Biblical brothers to the stage with dust-raising chaotic energy. Massive digital backdrops summon up the grandeur of its Ancient Egyptian setting with the monolithic graininess of ’90s PlayStation graphics. In front of them a huge, tumbling cast of physical theatre performers act as both the pyramid-building Hebrew slaves, and as the underdressed physical theatre incarnation of the story’s many ambitious plot points. There’s nothing this agile, ragged, bikini-clad crew can’t lend a kind of clumpy ’90s eroticism to. Sexy chariot race? Check. Sexy burning bush? Check. Sexy river of blood? Check.Philip LaZebnik’s book isn’t quite as limber. He pads the film’s taut story of Moses and Rameses’s rivalry with clumsy new scenes. The worst ones attempt to fill out these men’s relationships with their wives in disappointingly retro fashion, with Moses and Rameses bonding over their other halves being ‘difficult’. Here, Tzipporah becomes an Esmeralda-esque figure who specialises in hip-weaving dance movies and one-note defiance. She and Moses
Sara Bareilles and Gavin Creel will star as Jenna and Dr Pomatter for eight weeks only, until March 21 2020. Lucie Jones and David Hunter are currently playing the roles, and will return to them from March 9. This review is from June 2019, of the original West End cast. The specials board in the diner in ‘Waitress’ advertises a bacon and blueberry pie. Most of the pies in Diane Paulus’s Broadway-conquering show are allegorical: their lurid lists of ingredients are flights of fancy in the mind of Katharine McPhee’s titular heroine Jenna, a pie-making prodigy who dreams of escaping her abusive marriage. However, as far as I can tell, the show is serious about the bacon and blueberry one. Bacon. Blueberry. Individually these are reasonable things, but with apologies to American readers, I cannot conceive why anybody in their right mind would even put them on the same level of the fridge, let alone lock them inside a pastry crust. Similarly, ‘Waitress’ is made from the very finest ingredients, but often they don’t actually feel like ingredients that should have been put together. Adapted from Adrienne Shelly’s cult 2007 indie flick of the same name, ‘Waitress’ is a moving musical full of flawed, morally compromised characters of the sort you so rarely get in this type of glossy Broadway show. Everyone, on some level, lets us or themselves down: indeed, the big showstopper, ‘She Used to Be Mine’ – delivered with exquisitely controlled sorrow by McPhee – is Jenna’s bitter ode to h
A busy 2020 for the Jamie Lloyd Company kicks off with the West End debut of Emilia Clarke, who’ll be trading in dragon riding and romantic encounters with ghosts for the role of vain young actress Nina in Chekhov’s first great play ‘The Seagull’, in a version by Anya Reiss (presumably the same one that played at Southwark Playhouse in 2012, starring a young Lily James). She’ll be joined by an excellent cast of Danny Ashok (Medvedenko), Robert Glenister (Sorin), Tom Rhys Harries (Trigorin), Daniel Monks (Konstantin), Tamzin Outhwaite (Polina), Patrick Robinson (Dorn), Seun Shote (Shamrayev), Indira Varma (Arkadina), and Sophie Wu (Masha). As with the other two shows in the season (‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ and ‘A Doll’s House’), there will be free tickets available to first-time theatre-goers and £15 tickets reserved for under-30s, key workers and those receiving job seeker’s allowance and other government benefits. As ever, Lloyd directs and Soutra Gilmour designs.
The film world continues its love affair with werewolves, vampires and all things 'Twilight'. But theatre types have always known witches are where it's at. After its 2006 opening at Apollo Victoria, Oz prequel 'Wicked' continues to fill this massive theatre with an international crowd of voracious consumers (glass of champagne and a choccy for £16 anyone?). But this stylish and bombastic musical still delivers, sailing over its patchy score thanks to a gravity-defying performance from its current leading lady Rachel Tucker, as the intense green-skinned undergrad who goes on to become the Wicked Witch of the West. 'Wicked' is a spectacle that rises or falls around its central performance. In the midst of a gigantic production full of bangs, bells and whistles Tucker, with her small frame and searing vocal ability, simply flies off with the show. She's closely followed by Gina Beck, who plays good girl, Glinda. Glinda and Elphaba's relationship forms the heart of this story and, as the Good Witch, Beck is a consummate clown, playing up the silliness of her character at every turn. But she can raise a tear, too, and her final duet with Tucker, 'For Good', is genuinely heart-rending. The Tim Burton-inspired ensemble oscillate between the hypnotic and grotesque and a sweet but thin voiced Matt Willis charms as the rather superfluous Prince. As in classical ballet, this is all about the women and, even by previous lead Idina Menzel's standards, they are in soaring form here. This
Brace yourself for a shock: ‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Broadway-munching musical is not particularly shocking. Sure, there are ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’ and gags about baby rape – but most of it is deployed ironically; beneath it all, this is a big-hearted affair that pays note-perfect homage to the sounds and spirit of Broadway’s golden age. The strapping young Latter Day Saints missionaries in ‘The Book of Mormon’ are as cartoonish as any ‘South Park’ character, with the endearing alpha-male woodenness of the ‘Team America’ puppets. In other words, they are loveable, well-intentioned idiots, traversing the globe like groups of pious meerkats, convinced they can convert the heathen through sheer politeness. And if they have doubts, then as Stephen Ashfield’s scene-stealingly repressed Elder McKinley declares in glorious faux-Gershwin number ‘Turn it Off’, ‘Don’t feel those feelings – hold them in instead!’ His advice is ignored by the show’s heroes, narcissistic, highly strung Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and dumpy, lying Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner). The pair are sent to Uganda in an effort to convert a village to Mormonism, a religion that essentially tells the penniless villagers how great distant America is. The locals are not keen: Price cracks and unwisely clashes with a crazed local warlord; Cunningham makes up his own version of Mormonism which involves fucking frogs to cure oneself of Aids. ‘The Book of Mormon’ is, above all, very funny, breathing
If you’re a plucky producer hoping to get your new show into the Criterion Theatre, you’re flat out of luck once again. Because less than nine months after 'The 39 Steps' shuttered after almost a decade glowering over Piccadilly Circus, it’s now home to the brand new comedy by Mischief Theatre, which, if there’s any justice in the theatre world, will run for even longer. 'The Comedy About A Bank Robbery' is the latest play by the bogglingly prolific and talented team behind 'The Play That Goes Wrong' (or more accurately the 'Play That Goes Wrong' franchise) and it’s their best and funniest work yet. A genre pastiche, screwball comedy and classic farce that’s as clean and clear as its brassy branding, it spins with a manic energy from Two Ronnies-esque wordplay through surreal set-pieces to slapstick stunts prepped to bring the house down. The story of a bungled jewel heist in a sleepy Minneapolis bank branch, it features a host of hilarious but well-drawn characters who roar across the stage and tumble into disaster after disaster, each one more elegantly drawn than the last. The writers’ ability to snatch a laugh out of every line, and to intricately prime each scenario with zinging punchlines and pay-offs is stunning, as call-backs and running gags pile up into teetering edifices of absurdity. The entire cast is bang on the money, but Mischief Theatre’s own Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer are the standouts as booming bank manager Robin Freeboys and hapless loser (and eternal
The distinctive terracotta façade with its dark-green awnings never fails to stirs up some excitement for every visitor to Harrods. The legendary food halls and 27 restaurants are worth a trip alone.
Liberty was founded in 1875, but the present Marlborough Street site, with its ships’ timbers and leaded windows, was built in the 1920s. The interconnecting jumble of rooms, with the odd fireplace and cushioned window seat, makes for a unique shopping experience.
There's a reason why Selfridges is one of our favourite London stores. It's a veritable maze of goodies. From contemporary art installations to swoon-worthy stationery and a floor devoted to finding you your perfect pair of jeans. And it's all available to take home – for a price. While most of us can't afford the high-end stuff, there's definitely a little something in here for everyone. And even if you just go to browse or sip a coffee in the cafe, Selfridges is well worth the trip.
A thoroughly British shop with a traditional French attitude to cheese retailing in that, like an affineur, Neal’s Yard buys from small farms and creameries in Britain and Ireland, and matures the cheeses in its own cellars until they’re ready to sell in peak condition.
Rough Trade's rock 'n' roll legacy continues to live on in both sides of London, wth the original shop in Ladbroke Grove and this East End addition, which opened in 2007. This is a real music lover's paradise, with a cafe and cushions to perch upon to read books or listen to records. They also have regular free live performances from major acts, although good luck getting tickets for those shows.
Both a tourist attraction, with regular school-holiday events for children, and a ginormous toy shop, Hamleys has all the must-have toys for kids both little and large. The hands-on demonstrations will easily keep you in this five-floored cornucopia for hours.
Kingly Court has helped London’s Carnaby Street to reclaim its 1960s reputation as the heart of swinging London. The three-tiered complex boasts a funky mix of established chains, independents, vintage and gift shops, plus a café-filled courtyard.
Best known for antiques and collectibles, this is actually several markets rolled into one: antiques start at the Notting Hill end; further up are food stalls; under the Westway and along the walkway to Ladbroke Grove are emerging designer and vintage clothes on Fridays and Saturdays.
Food and Drink
It’s not easy to open a spate of brand-new restaurants and maintain high standards, but chef-patron Jason Atherton has clearly moved on from being the sorcerer’s apprentice (under Gordon Ramsay) to being the sorcerer himself. His Little Social deluxe bistro only opened in March 2013, right opposite his fine dining Pollen Street Social in Mayfair. He followed this up, weeks later, with an even more ambitious restaurant in Soho, by delegating the chef role to his buddy and long-time head chef at Pollen Street Social, Paul Hood. The ground-floor dining room has a mirrored ceiling to create the sensation of space in a low room; upstairs is a smart cocktail bar, called the Blind Pig, which also has a separate entrance. Most of the action is in the dining room, though, with a kitchen brigade who are clearly at the top of their game. Smoked duck ‘ham’, egg and chips is a dish that’s typical of Pollen Street Social’s playfulness. ‘Ham’ is cured and smoked from duck breast on the premises, served with a breadcrumbed duck egg that’s molten in the middle, but with an aroma of truffle oil. Umami – savouriness, the taste that enhances other flavours – was also plentiful in a roast cod main course that uses powdered Japanese kombu seaweed in a glaze, served with a creamy sauce of roasted cockles and just-in-season St George’s mushrooms. Presentation is a strong point of Hood’s dishes, just as they are for his mentor Atherton. A starter of ‘CLT’ – crab meat, a fan of blonde castelfranco rad
Quo Vadis – a bona-fide Soho institution – is less than ten years from its centenary. And as part of its recent ninetieth birthday celebrations, the old girl has had a bit of a spruce up. The fact that renovations were made to make more space for celebrated tapas bar Barrafina next door (also owned by Sam and Eddie Hart) does slightly detract from this very smart restaurant’s own achievements, though. The room is now definitively petite, filling up at peak times with the same old confidence and old-school Soho characters. The familiar stained-glass windows – a QV calling card – maintain the chic levels. Service is as sharp as ever, if perhaps a little impersonal. British standards from the kitchen are still given modern flourishes and QV fans will be relieved to see old favourites like the smoked eel sarnie and a ‘pie of the day’ still on the menu. A gamey pheasant pie with lashings of silky mash on the side was perfect comfort food and plenty to share between two. A crab and fennel salad was coated in a fresh vinaigrette and came with generous helpings of crab meat. Skate cheeks were great for snacking on the side; piping hot little bundles of flesh coated in breadcrumbs, these are surely QV’s answer to the croquetas being devoured next door. I’m looking forward to the big 100.
NOTE: Since this review was published, former Hix Soho chef Damian Clisby has taken over as head chef. The Time Out Food and Drink Team. The ultimate in rustic charm, complete with a real meadow on its doorstep, Petersham Nurseries is the perfect balm for the frazzled urbanite. Housed within the garden centre, the Café resembles a stately greenhouse, hung with Indian prints and pictures, and furnished with rickety tables and chairs. Cat Ashton is now head chef, following the departure of Greg Malouf in late 2012; the seasonal menu remains a delightful read. A pre-starter plate of prosciutto san daniele with rocket and melon was exactly right on a summer’s day – as was a peach bellini. Burrata with courgette flowers, sorrento tomatoes, shallot and rose dressing was queen of the starters; squid dusted in polenta with rocket, chickpeas, chilli and aïoli was oddly subdued. At this point, things slightly unravelled, despite the best efforts of the charming young staff. An overly long wait for mains produced roasted baby aubergines (with red and yellow datterini tomatoes, ricotta and basil) that simply hadn’t been cooked long enough and were unforgivably chewy; grilled pata negra pork loin with sweetcorn, salsa, coriander and tomato was a glorious combination, but again, the meat required work. Such flaws are not really acceptable at these elevated prices, though a side of Cornish new potatoes with anchovies, crème fraîche and salsa verde couldn’t be faulted, and neither could a d
There’s a dedicated entrance for the restaurants in Heron Tower, from where a glass lift will whizz you in seconds up to Duck & Waffle on the 40th floor, or its glitzier sibling Sushisamba two floors below. The views are, as you might expect, stunning – if you’re pointed in the right direction and, preferably, sitting at a window table (many of which are for two diners only). Alternatively, linger in the entrance bar, where you can press your nose against the glass and gawp unhindered. Food is an on-trend mix of small plates, raw offerings (oysters, ceviche) and a few main courses (including roast chicken and the namesake duck confit and waffle). Our dishes ranged widely, from the spot-on (three dense pollock balls in creamy lobster sauce) to bonkers (who thought it a good idea to combine beetroot chunks with watery goat’s curd and sticky knobs of honeycomb crisp?). Prices are as sky-high as the setting; it cost £8 for a harissa-tinged herdwick mutton slider that was undoubtedly tasty, but came unadorned and vanished in a mouthful. Desserts of cold rice pudding, and chocolate brownie sundae, were better (and bigger). Service wavered between keen and offhand. Another downer: all that glass, plus marble and wood tables and a low ceiling (with yellow ‘waffle’ design) mean the acoustics are terrible. D&W is open 24/7, so breakfast or late-night snacks are further possibilities.
Venue says We're celebrating Waffle Week, March 23-29, with delicious homemade waffles, topped with culinary creativity.
I’ll admit it. I was underwhelmed by the first Santo Remedio, the one in Shoreditch. Sure, it was vibrant, but it also came with underseasoned food and two-track service (you know, the kind that’s great if you’re friends, family or famous; not so much for the rest of us plebs). Just five months in, it closed. But let’s write that off as a bad, clammy-handed dream. Because the new incarnation, relocated to Borough’s Tooley Street (opposite the Unicorn Theatre), is everything I wanted the original to be – that is, brilliant. Low-lit and inviting, it has a humble, homely feel: patterned cushions on the seats, dark turquoise faux-shutters on the walls, easy-listening Latin grooves in the air. There are no airs and graces: they use the same glasses for their flickering tealights as they do for serving water. Staff make you feel like family. A glass was smashed and they somehow made us feel like it was their fault (it really wasn’t). I loved them. Better yet, the kitchen is on sparkling form. The guac with grasshoppers is on the menu again, so I gave it a second chance. I’m so glad I did. It was still a chunky, creamy, generous portion, but this time with pep and punch in the pot, including minced red onion, fresh coriander, chilli and lime. And salt! It was delicious. The insects perched on top are tiny, immaculately preserved specimens, looking suspiciously like something stolen from a Victorian museum’s pinned insect collection. They’re novelties, really, the Mexican equivalent
Venue says A vibrant Mexican restaurant with an upstairs tequila and mezcal bar, serving authentic regional Mexican cuisine and cocktails.
There’s an adorable comic on Kanada-Ya’s website that tells the story of Kanada-San and his legendary tonkotsu ramen. A former cyclist, he was injured, then quit his job and went to ramen school. He ended up creating one of the best versions in Japan. When someone tried to steal his recipe, he moved his shop – with his 18-hour chashu (barbecued pork) bone broth, secret sauce and hand-pulled noodles – from Yukuhashi to London. This Islington location is the third Kanada-Ya on our side of the world, and while the decor is a bit bare and the atmosphere quite food court-like (three Ed Sheeran songs played while I was there), the ramen, true to form, was spectacular. The famous tonkotsu broth was deep and creamy, but miraculously light and topped with thin slices of pork belly that fall apart as soon you you poke them with a chopstick. The Japanese-Sichuan ‘gekikara’ ramen, with crumbles of spicy minced pork belly and a creamy broth, had loads of heat and little pools of bright red chilli oil swimming on top – delicious. You can choose the hardness of your noodles: do go ‘hard’, as the menu recommends, because it really gives the dish texture. A few sides were also great – the rice and shredded pork belly, and the crisp-edged karaage chicken – but the ramen is fairly filling, so only order them if you’re really hungry. Arigato, Kanada-San, for bringing your delicious ramen to London. I give thanks to the person who tried to steal your recipe.
Venue says WE'RE OPEN and are giving 50% OFF for all Blue Light Services and Buy One Get One Free on ramen for everyone else.
The Connaught, that most discreetly low-key of London’s mega-expensive hotels, has not one but two great bars. The Coburg, at the front, is a bit like a gentlemen’s club in feel. The Connaught, designed by the renowned David Collins, is all about style and glamour – mirrors, low lighting, silver leaf, tasteful palette, lots of plush seating for intimate conversation. It’s obviously popular with hotel residents too, so don’t come here looking for local colour. But even if you can only stretch to a single drink, it’s worth it: count out every last penny and treat yourself. The cocktail menu is stuffed with peerless examples of all the originals, but for the true Connaught experience the only way to travel is on the martini trolley – order one and it will be wheeled up beside you, with the drink mixed on top.
Who needs stuffy old museums? The dining room of the Gallery at Sketch is one of the most playful – and most pink – places to be enveloped by art. The walls have around 200 original prints and drawings by Turner Prize-winning David Shrigley, their cartoonish quality adding to the sense of fun. He’s even designed some of the crockery: ‘ghosts’, say the teapots, ‘forget about it’, quips the inside of your cup. You can come here for dinner, but afternoon tea is what The Gallery has become famous for, so much so that you can get it before noon (it starts, specifically, at 11.30am). Service is outstanding. Once your charming host has talked you through how it works, you’re looked after by a dedicated ‘tea master’: glam gals in slinky cocktail dresses and baseballs shoes. Who happen to really know their brews. After you’ve decided on drinks and a menu (standard, children’s or – if notice is given – a special dietary needs option), the fun begins. First, there’s the caviar man, in a panama hat and pale blazer. You get a spoonful of caviar (Russian Sturgeon, cultivated in France) alongside Egg and Soldiers: two slim, cheesy toast strips and a fake egg in a very real egg cup (the white is an exceptionally good Comté cheese mornay, the yolk is from a quail and cooked to an ultra-soft 63 degrees). There’s a similar level of creativity throughout the sandwiches and cakes. Star of the sarnies was a black bread Croque d’York, or the salmon and soured cream on rye, while a perfect pear tart
Second branch of the Hakata ramen restaurant on Regent Street. The Soho spot has a more restaurant-y feel than the canteen-like original. There's the same range of noodles in long-simmered bone broth, plus steamed hirata buns stuffed with juicy pork slices, chilli sauce and mayo. There is also a saké sommelier Mimi Tokumine, who is often on hand to offer advice to diners. However be warned this is not a bar; arrive on your own and you'll not be seated until the rest of your party arrives, and you need to order a meal to go with your drinks.
Venue says Unfortunately, due to the unprecedented difficult trading conditions related to Covid-19Shoryu is now temporarily closed. See you soon.
A flamboyantly dressed restaurant, with mirrors, candles, floral wallpapers and furniture to match. But don't let that detract from their fine selection of food and drink. On offer are succulent ribs, seared tuna, Malaysian rendang curry and roasts on Sundays.
Venue says We're thrilled to be winners at 2019's Cocktails in The City! we won ‘Best Bar’ for the second year, competing against Londons top bars!!
Welcome to party island. You’ll have to battle past crowds of frazzled commuters at Waterloo station and climb up a series of brightly coloured staircases to get there. But it’s worth it to reach this buzzy rooftop oasis with swoonsome views of the city’s skyline. It takes its inspiration from the tiny island of Elba, just off the Tuscan coast, where Napoleon Bonaparte was forcibly sent in 1814. He took his horse and a few hundred of his closest pals. Political exile? Apparently he just partied in the Med for 300 days. Enough of that, though. Bar Elba’s historical theme is as loose as they come. With fairy lights, communal benches and a sizeable cocktail list, this rooftop bar is more about the (bona)party than the nineteenth-century military leader. The bar boasts a small wine, beer and cider menu, as well as a selection of bubbles for those with an emperor’s budget. Cocktails are sweet and summery: the frosé, a velvety-smooth, rosé and vermouth-spiked strawberry slushie, was easily the stand-out, while the Aperol Spritz was solid and came served in big sharing jugs for the thirsty. Balmy Italian paradise, Bar Elba is not. But, as the sun sets over Waterloo, with a view of the Shard glinting in the day’s last light, it is a sweet place to be. Of course, there’s no proof that the premise is in any way historically accurate, but ‘liberté, egalité, rosé’? That’s a motto I can get behind.
Venue says Help support our fundraiser and you could get a matching bar tab to use in the future, merchandise & other rewards. View site for more info
Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver’s restaurant – now the heart of a mini-empire with branch, bakery and wine dealership – has been praised to the skies for reacquainting the British with the full possibilities of native produce, and especially anything gutsy and offal-ish. Perhaps as influential, however, has been its almost defiantly casual style: a Michelin-starred restaurant for people who run from the very idea. The mezzanine dining room in the former Smithfield smokehouse has bare white walls, battered floorboards and tables lined up canteen-style; the downstairs bar, with superb snacks, is equally basic. The staff are able to chat without allowing anything to go off-track. St John’s cooking is famously full-on, but also sophisticated, concocting flavours that are delicate as well as rich, such as cuttlefish and onions was extraordinary, arriving in a supremely deep-flavoured ink-based sauce with a hint of mint, or perfectly cooked tongue served with fantastic horseradish. This is powerful cooking, so if you go for a full dinner, including the great neo-traditional puds, leave time for digestion. Wines – all French, many under St John’s own label, are on the pricey side, but you can also order good beers from the attached bar, which many diners prefer for its more casual vibe and reasonable prices.
Any restaurant where you can say the words ‘Thai’ and ‘barbecue’ in the same breath gets my vote. Kiln is the latest gaff from self-taught chef Ben Chapman – of Smoking Goat fame – and aims to take its by-the-roadside cooking style to the next level. And yup, his Thai barbecue game is pretty strong. Smoking Goat has more of a dive bar vibe, with a handful of dishes and the kitchen out of sight. At Kiln, the ground floor is all about two things: cooking or eating. A stainless-steel counter runs its full length. Behind it runs the equally long open kitchen. There’s action and cheffery and drama at every swivel of your stool. Sit at the back for the pyromaniac seats: a view into the kiln itself. Inside this small, insulated furnace, chestnut and oak logs are sent to their fiery end, the glowing embers occasionally removed to ‘feed the grill’ (as in, the chargrill) or ‘feed the tao’. A tao, in case you’re wondering, is a round ceramic container: you keep adding embers until there’s enough heat to cook on, using either a wok or a clay pot. Want to turn the heat down? Simple: take out an ember. It’s brilliantly low-tech. The food is similarly stripped back. Dishes may be inspired by rural Thailand, but, where possible, they’re made with world-class British produce, mostly from indie Cornish suppliers. The lemongrass and Szechuan pepper, for instance, comes from a coastal polytunnel (a project Chapman helped fund). The pork loin – cut from rare breed, fully free-range pigs – showc
The glitzy interior doesn’t hint at Brilliant’s longevity (a photo of a glossy-haired Prince Charles meeting the proprietors provides a clue), but this Southall landmark has been trading for nigh-on 40 years. It now has a first-floor banqueting hall seating 120 and runs cookery courses – videos of which are shown on three flatscreen TVs in the ground-floor restaurant. The owners, the Anand family, hail from Kenya (see the carvings of Maasai tribeswomen), and the menu reflects this in starters of tandoori tilapia fish and mogo (cassava-root chips). Nevertheless, it’s for exemplary versions of straightforward Punjabi cooking that the restaurant has gained acclaim, and a cabinet full of awards. Fish pakora followed by methi chicken karahi remain sublime options, though a recent meal began with fried masala egg (two hard-boiled eggs laced with spices in a crisp batter) then a far more thrilling palak lamb, where both the spinach and tender meat shone through the warming spice mix, and nutty dahl tarka (one of several ‘healthy options’ using less ghee). Prompt, smart service, first-rate accompaniments (six own-made chutneys, skilfully rendered breads, high-quality basmati rice), a cocktail list and a room full of happy multicultural parties confirm Brilliant’s pedigree.
Remember when Pat Butcher came back from the dead? The homecoming of Little Nan’s Bar to Deptford – it originally opened in 2013 and was forced to close in 2014 – feels just as euphoric. The ‘EastEnders’ analogy will make sense to those who experienced the pure joy of visiting the bar in pop-up form, as it roamed around London waiting to find a way back to Deptford. It’s a retro living room parody in a railway arch at Deptford Market Yard, with leopard print, china and Pat references aplenty. The little nan in question belongs to Tristan Scutt, who refers to himself as the grandson of this operation. He set up the bar in honour of his late grandmother (who made it to 104), and has been very clear that while it’s all vintage, there’s nothing ‘shabby chic’. Instead, it’s full-throttle ’80s front room fetishism, with cocktail menus hidden inside Charles and Diana memorabilia books, mocktails served in leopard-print mugs, soap stars in photo frames and cat-covered cushions galore. You can order cocktails by the teapot, or go solo and get a cocktail umbrella in the bargain. The drinks are on the sweeter, sillier end of the scale, my Chief Girl of Deptford being a bubbly mix of gin, prosecco, lemon and Morello cherry syrup, which tasted a bit like a boozy cherry Vimto. Snacks are true Brits – from a cracking fish-finger sarnie to hoops on toast if you’re into nostalgia. They even stuck sparklers in our portion of hipster fries (dusted with paprika). If you’re trying to make sense o
All things to all people at all hours – whatever the Soho occasion, chances are Dean Street Townhouse fits the bill. A leisurely breakfast, elevenses with the morning papers, a brisk business lunch, afternoon tea, pre-theatre quickie, romantic dinner for two… and if that dinner gets uncontrollably romantic, there are rooms upstairs. As a result of this catch-all appeal, DST is buzzing from open until close, and efficient but sometimes distant staff keep things moving along briskly. The all-inclusiveness extends to the menu, which rarely startles, but cossets and comforts with classic British dishes (there’s a great fish and chips with mushy peas, as well as cauliflower and Keen’s cheddar soup, and liver with bacon and onions). Special note must be given to the other Scottish national dish perpetually on the carte: mince and tatties. Paw Broon might splutter into his tea cup at the £13.50 price tag, but it’s as good a version as anyone south of Gretna has ever made. DST is spread across a series of Georgian-era rooms, which exude a sense of history while wearing lightly their classical upgrade: the only irritation being the too-low chairs in the side room, which force diners into sitting uncomfortably.
The Shard you already know. Hutong, halfway up the Shard, needs more than just a ni hao of introduction. Like the original Hutong in Hong Kong, this is a glitzy, high-end Chinese restaurant with magnificent views and ersatz Old Beijing decor, the same Sichuan and northern Chinese menu, and a clientele comprised mainly of tourists and expats. What’s different about the Hong Kong and London kitchens is the level of spice, with the traditionally fiery cuisine having been toned down a bit for the gweilo (foreigner) palate. Delicate starters of chilled sliced scallops served with pomelo segments or octopus salad with hot and sour sauce are followed by mouthwatering mains such as prawn wontons with ma-la (‘numbing, spicy hot’ sauce), a ‘red lantern’ of softshell crabs or Mongolian-style barbecue rack of lamb. It's not cheap, but then this is the Shard, not Chinatown. Also in the Shard: Hong Kong restaurant group Aqua has taken over the 31st and 33rd floors of the Shard. On the 33rd floor is Hutong, a contemporary Chinese restaurant modelled on the Hong Kong restaurant of the same name. On the 31st floor is Aqua Shard, a British restaurant. A three-storey high atrium bar serves British cocktails with an emphasis on gin and tea. On the 32nd floor is Oblix, run by the people behind Zuma and Roka.
More than a decade after it started wowing London’s big spenders with its classy Cantonese cooking, this Michelin-starred trendsetter remains a benchmark against which all high-end Chinese restaurants should be judged. The basement’s stylish interior (all dark wood lattice screens and moody lighting) still attracts the kind of beautiful people who might suppress their appetites – though there was little evidence of restraint on our midweek night visit. Plate after plate landed on tables around us, including signature dishes such as silver cod roasted in champagne, and jasmine tea-smoked organic pork ribs. We started with the dim sum platter, a basket of superbly crafted dumplings. The pastry was perfect in give and texture, just elastic enough to encase generous bites of flavour-packed meat and seafood. Sweet and sour Duke of Berkshire pork with pomegranate was equally good, the melting tenderness of top-quality meat turning the clichéd staple into a luxury – Chinese takeaways should weep with shame. Drinks run from cocktails via high-priced wines to specialist teas. The original Hakkasan that spawned a global empire (including a newer branch in Mayfair) retains all its appeal: cool enough to be seen in, yet authentic enough to dash pretension.
If Rick James and Jay Gatsby got together to throw a bash, I reckon it would look like Fitz’s Bar. Jazz Age plumage fluffs up from behind chairs while a giant glitter ball hangs from above; the back bar’s arches hint at art deco elegance while bright modern art punctuates the walls; and music drifts from up-tempo funk to mellow jazz. Fitz’s sits inside the Kimpton Fitzroy London, just on the corner of Russell Square. This hotel comes from a UK group with prestige, and you sense it from the marble-heavy lobby leading into this disco decadence. Staff in floral print were accommodating from the get-go, showing off their new home as we entered and offering suggestions on where to take our night when we came to settle up. They promptly poured water and served Twiglets on the side, a fittingly retro touch. Snacks from the menu are well worth your attention, too – from oozing bone-marrow croquettes dressed with capers to salty hasselback potatoes topped with sour cream and caviar. Gatsby would approve. The cocktail menu is filled with illustrations and word clouds to help you figure out flavours. A fizz-heavy Spy Princess (£17) was served in a coupe with a splay of pretty petals on its frothy top. Veer from champagne cocktails and you get a more affordable hotel bar experience – £14 will get you a quirky and sublime cucumber-flavoured daiquiri or a Vesca Negroni, the classic drink lifted with coconut and rosehip. The team hails from London bars Milk & Honey and Callooh Callay – and