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
The Harry Potter studio tours get a festive makeover once more for Christmas. See the Great Hall dressed for the Yule Ball with dripping icicles, snow-covered Christmas trees, an orchestra playing on silver instruments and turkeys and burning Christmas puddings laid out on the table. The Gryffindor Common Room will be dressed with original props including handmade Christmas cards created by the cast members during production. The Weasley burrow and the Leakey Cauldron will also be getting the Christmas treatment and the Hogwarts castle model will be covered in a layer of glistening snow made by the prop team. Remember to wrap up warm. Personalised knitted jumpers optional. Hogwarts in the Snow is included in the standard ticket price.
Head to the Chapel at King’s College London for an atmospheric evening listening to multi-award winning Scottish poet and playwright Carol Ann Duffy read some of their poems. As well as, hearing the choir of King’s College London sing.
Celebrate Burns Night while bobbing upon the River Lee at Barge East's ‘ol Scottish knees up. Raise a dram to the haggis, before tucking into a four-course meal any Highlander would be proud of, dancing to a live band and listening to some readings of Rabbie’s greatest hits. There are also vegetarian and vegan options available too.
THIS EVENT HAS NOW ENDED Bestival founders Josie and Rob da Bank are behind this big top-themed bar. Go to see acrobats, sword-swallowers and neck Fire Eater cocktails.
The city’s Christmas lights have been packed away for another year, but that hasn’t put an end to the trend for souped up light displays in London. Soon, the free Winter Lights at Canary Wharf Festival will be returning to the capital’s financial district, and will be switfly followed by a brand new glowfest for London: ‘Lightopia’. The festival has already appeared in Edinburgh and Manchester, and will be arriving at Chiswick House and Gardens for the London edition on January 22. One thing we know for sure about Lightopia, it’s not about subtlety. The installations are big, brash and structural, with designs inspired by Chinese lantern making techniques. And it’s not just a passive stroll through a light trail either, many of the lights are designed to be stepped on, even played with. Visitors can interact with a 10m sculpture using a surrounding installation of 20 drums, or see a multicoloured peacock sculpture flap its feathers to a synchronised beat. It all sounds very family friendly, a colourful wonderland that’s bound to impress little Londoners. All visitors, on arrival, will be given an illuminated badge that allows them to interact with the installations, and will henceforth be known as ‘Lightopians’. Adorable. If a little bit cult-y.
A new body-positive collective launches a brand-new 12-hour festival that tackles the toxicity of diet culture. Expect three rooms themed around ‘protest’, ‘pleasure’ and ‘pop’ along with a whole host of things to do. From panel talks on post-partum bodies and masculine physical ideals to life-drawing classes and more. Give the finger to diet chat and body shaming.
Beat the January blues with Zodiac Film Club and turn that frown upside down with a blues-busting screening of Whit Stillman’s cult classic ‘The Last Days of Disco’. There’s nothing better than watching a group of 20-something yuppies try to find meaning and direction in life as they cling to the dying nightclub scene. Expect dancing and some Zodiac surprises.
Unleash your inner wild child, gather your wolf pack and join The Embers Collective for an evening of stories and music. Tonight’s theme revolves around tales of ferocious beasts, animalistic humans, and the untamed monsters that lurk in the deep, dark woods. It’s going to be a howling night.
New year, new look? Swap a brand new wardrobe without damaging the environment or your bank account. Get involved in the Big January Clear Out and swap high-quality items at low prices. Swappers are advised to bring at least 3 items of pre-loved clothing they no longer wish to keep and pieces are exchanged for tokens on arrival, which swappers can use to 'buy' new items with.
Kew Gardens’ celebration of the orchid returns for its twenty-fifth year, this time with a focus on the plant life of Indonesia. Kew’s Orchids festival will see the botanical gardens’ tropical greenhouse bursting with colourful species, and in 2020 they will reflect the country’s diverse landscape – from tropical rainforests to spectacular volcanos. The Prince of Wales Conservatory will be filled with the sights, smells and sounds of Indonesia. Highlights will include a dramatic central pond display filled with bright orange orangutans, life-sized animals and an erupting volcano all made up of hundreds of stunning orchid blossoms. There’ll also be an impressive carnivorous pitcher plant archway. Don’t miss rare flowers that can only be found on certain islands in the archipelago. Take the infamous Titan Arum aka ‘corpse flower’ from the island of Sumatra, it gets its name from the unbearable smell of rotting flesh it produces when in bloom.
Do you love grime? Think ballet is on pointe? Well, Glug is bringing them both together for a world premiere performance at Boxpark Wembley. Watch ‘London Sketchbook’, a brand new collaborative piece from ‘Leading lady in grime’, Lioness and world-class choreographer Alex Whitley in action. Stick around for workshops, talks and panels withReprezent Radio presenter C Cane, Roll Deep’s Manga Saint Hilare, urban street photographer Ellie Ramsden and more.
Have you ever been to a club night that offered a midnight mass? No? That’s because you’ve never been to Brazilian Wax, a filthy-gorgeous queer Latin dance party that’s about to rock your world. It started out as a fundraiser for a stripper-stigma-smashing theatre show called ‘Fuck You Pay Me’ by playwright Joana Nastari. It’s now upping its game for a massive late-night party at The Vaults. The idea is to create a safe, political nightlife space that champions sex workers, queer minorities, immigrants, non-binary and trans people and, well, everyone – while making sure they’re all having a fucking good time. ‘As we sink further into political tragedy and everyone sinks head first into their mobile phones, we’re even more desperately in need of spaces that bring us together in real life to celebrate each other,’ says Ellen Spence, co-organiser of Brazilian Wax. So what will it actually involve? There’s a show from Samba Sisters Collective along with some tassel-swinging performances, a speed social with dating app Feeld, and Brazilian snacks made by the mum of one of the organisers. To help everyone feel at home on the night, the team have enlisted the help of trained ‘Care Bears’ who anyone can turn to if they feel unsafe, ‘It just makes it really clear to everyone that we won’t tolerate racism, whorephobia or any of that rubbish at our party,’ says Nastari. The Care Bears will be out in force on the night at the all-bodies, all-identities pop-up strip club, a radical
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.
Learn how to reduce the damage that freezing weather, artificial heat and seasonal excess can do to your skin during the winter months at this skincare workshop guided by expert formulator Tanya Moulding. You'll learn about a range of natural ingredients, discover how to tailor products to your skin, and create your very own natural mask and facial oil products to take home with you. You'll be looking like a Glossier model in no time.
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.
‘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’
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 bre
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
I’m not sure any show ‘deserves’ to be the most successful entertainment event of all time, but I’ll hand it current holder of that title, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ – it still works hard for its audience. Sure, chunks of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s opus have never left 1986. But whereas describing a musical as ‘stuck in the ’80s’ is usually shorthand for cheap, thin synth orchestration, nothing could be further from the truth here: the portentously swirling keyboards and crunch of hair metal guitar that powers ‘Phantom’s title song have a black hole-like immensity, sucking you in with sheer juggernaut bombast. Mostly, though, ‘Phantom…’ remains strong because its high production values haven’t been allowed to sag. The late Maria Björnson’s design is a heady barrage of ravishing costumes and lavish sets that change frequently, working in everything from pastoral jollity to an ancient Carthaginian theme on the way to the Phantom’s stunning underground lair. It’s totally OTT – in one scene the Phantom zaps at his nemesis Raul with a staff that fires actual fireballs – and anybody who describes the plot (homicidal lunatic grooms girl) as romantic should probably be put on some sort of register. But its blazingly earnest ridiculousness and campy Grand Guignol story are entirely thrilling when realised with the show’s enormous budget. And while Hal Prince’s production may have been hailed as rather gauche back in the day, in 2013 it all comes across as rather more tasteful than the a
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 mos
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, breath
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. T
'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 loat
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 eter
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 compromis
It's been decades since this skillful adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 Gothic horror story first started setting West End audience a-shiver. 'The Woman in Black' remains perennially popular – particularly, it seems, with generally hard-to-please teenagers – which is testament to its rough-theatre appeal and the extraordinary and enduring potency, not of guts, gore or special effects, but of simple suggestion. Ageing Arthur Kipps is haunted by sinister events that befell him 30 years earlier. In an effort to exorcise his demons, he hires an actor to help him tell his story for an invited audience. As they rehearse, though, their staging itself becomes prey to supernatural visitations from the titular hatchet-faced, whip-thin, funereally garbed woman. Stephen Mallatratt's dramatisation and a deft production by Robin Herford exploit the peculiarly spooky atmosphere of an empty theatre, making us, as an audience, feel almost like spectral voyeurs. And the chills are irresistibly effective: swirling fog, a creaking rocking chair, a locked door, a pale visage looming out of the gloom. Only occasionally does the staging show its age. The projected image of the gaunt, sinister house of Kipps' tormented memory looks hopelessly cheap and crude, and a graveyard conjured with dust sheets struggles to convince, even within the low-tech aesthetic parameters of the piece. Yet the shrieks and gasps that greet the performance demonstrate that, even in the twenty-first century, this doughty
‘The Girl from the North Country’ goes west again, as Conor McPherson’s highly acclaimed musical, using the back catalogue of legendary American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, opens at the Gielgud Theatre. This follows the previous West End transfer of the original Old Vic production in 2017. Once again, it’s performed and sung with electric energy. McPherson’s book is a haunting slice of Depression-era Americana that draws not only on Dylan’s songbook but finds inspiration in the sad, vivid pages of authors like John Steinbeck and other chroniclers of the wrenching upheaval of the 1930s in the US. It takes place in 1934, in Duluth, Minnesota – Dylan’s birthplace, but seven years before he was born. Nick Laine (Donald Sage Mackay) is trying to keep his failing boarding house afloat in a sea of debt, while resentfully looking after his dementia-suffering wife Elizabeth (Katie Brayben), as well their adopted daughter, Marianne (Gloria Obianyo), who is unmarried and pregnant, and Gene (Colin Bates), their alcoholic son. The Laines’s crumbling home has become a place of last resort for America’s outcast and abandoned. McPherson understatedly explores the cross-currents of poverty, racism and mental illness at a time when deep, ugly social divisions were laid painfully bare by economic hardship. His writing is both blunt and poignant, weaving together disparate lives with tough, twisted threads. Shaq Taylor’s ex-con and ex-boxer Joe Scott and Marianne are united by the bigotry th
It wasn’t all about Poirot’s little grey cells or Miss Marple solving murders at the vicarage. In her lifetime, crime writer extraordinaire Agatha Christie wrote 16 plays and a massive 73 novels. Apart from the immortal ‘Mousetrap’, ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ – which Christie adapted in 1953 from an earlier short story – is one of the most famous. Like most of Christie’s work, you can’t say much for fear of ruining the ending. Leonard Vole (a butter-wouldn’t-melt Jack McMullen) is on trial for murdering an older woman who has left everything to him in her will. He insists he’s innocent, but it all rests on the testimony of his wife, Romaine. What will she say on the stand? When Christie adapted her original story, she shifted the focus almost exclusively to the Old Bailey courtroom. Here, Lucy Bailey’s production has the gift of being in the main chamber of London County Hall. Big, austere and grand, it’s the perfect setting for the legal theatrics of Christie’s forensically precise plotting. Some audience members are even addressed as the jury. If the courtroom is a stage, this play is all about performance. Few are as good as Christie at leading us down the garden path, expectations-wise. She constructs her plot like Vole’s barrister, Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC (a charismatic David Yelland), builds his case, before knocking over apparent ‘revelations’ like dominoes. Bailey plays up the melodrama beautifully, in some scenes lighting the judge’s bench like something fro
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 numbers, such as 'Jam' and 'Dirty Diana'. But it is the dancing that dazzles, no more so than Michael Duke's confident and w
It is the ultimate musical about male privilege, a show about an under-qualified, over-entitled white guy who shambles his way to public adoration by blithely inflicting bankrupt baby boomer values upon a bunch of impressionable people who don’t know any better. ‘School of Rock – The Musical’ is also quite good fun. I dunno if it’s the state of the world today, the fact I haven’t seen the Jack Black-starring film, the fact that so much has changed – musically and politically – since the film came out in 2003, or simply the knowledge that it’s written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Julian Fellowes, a couple of Tory lords in their late ’60s, but I felt a bit politically uneasy about ‘School of Rock’, which follows schlubby charlatan Dewey (David Fynn) as he masquerades as a teacher and proves a hit by tearing up his sensitive young charges’ syllabus and making them play old person music. Its big, catchy number is called ‘Stick It to the Man’. Yet there’s something both problematic and ironic about the fact that in Laurence Connor’s production The Man is represented by two women – Florence Andrews’s hard-working, professional headmistress Rosalie and Preeya Kalidas’s Patty, a hard-working, professional wife-to-Dewey’s best friend Ned – while in the blue corner we have... Dewey, a self-absorbed bum who everything turns out brilliantly for. Despite apparently being somewhere in his thirties – so presumably born around 1980 – Dewey exclusively loves classic rock bands, and mocks
Judy Craymer's bold idea of turning the insanely catchy songs of ABBA into a musical has paid off splendidly, in every sense – box office figures for 'Mamma Mia!' are as eye-watering as its outfits. This is largely because Catherine Johnson had the sense to weave the 1970s into her script, and director Phyllida Lloyd to cast accordingly. Heroine Donna Sheridan lived the free love dream (if only because her boyfriend ran out on her), wound up pregnant and survived to see her daughter, Sophie, reject all her principles in favour of a white wedding and the kind of certainty that comes from knowing which of your mother's three consecutive lovers ought to be walking you down the aisle. If you wanted to, you could see this as a conversation about feminism. But you'll look pretty silly debating patriarchal oppression while on your feet clapping to 'Dancing Queen'. Some of the songs are oddly static, but when the choreography does get going – for instance, when Donna's friend Tanya stylishly quashes a libidinous local puppy in 'Does Your Mother Know?' – it's terrific, and makes great use of props: I wonder if the producers can assure us that no electric drills or hairdryers were harmed in the making of this musical? The current cast appear to have been chosen more for their singing voices than their serious acting ability. But who needs dramatic conviction when you have purest pop to do the convincing for you? Given the songs, a story just about solid enough to stay upright on its
Sara Bareilles and Gavin Creel will star as Jenna and Dr Pomatter for six weeks only, Jan 27 2020 to March 7 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 bit
This wildly hyped Broadway hit musical is basically ‘Faust’ for high-schoolers. A nerdy, anxiety-ridden teenage boy sells his soul (well, his integrity, anyway) for the popularity and appreciation he’s spent his whole life craving. But his guilt makes every YouTube follow or Twitter retweet become excruciating – and then the whole fragile edifice comes crashing down. It’s easy to see why ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ has won so many fans since it first premiered in 2015: it mixes agonising tension with surgingly catchy songs by songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who’ve also worked on movies ‘La La Land’ and ‘The Greatest Showman’. The standout numbers are emotive rock ballads like ‘You Will be Found’, the kind of thing you’d wave your lighter along to if the West End’s theatres weren’t imperilled enough already. But the score’s also stuffed with inspirations from emo to bluegrass, and Evan’s mum gets a gravelly howl of frustration that could be straight out of Alanis Morissette’s back catalogue. The intense emotionalism of the score is characteristic of a musical where everything’s dialled up to 11. Evan Hansen isn’t just your archetypal teen movie loser; he’s as fragile as a peeled egg, bouncing from humiliation to humiliation in a high school that’s like a machine designed to slice him up. A West End newcomer, 21-year-old Sam Tutty glows with sweat and goodness, bringing integrity to a storyline that’s somewhere between ingenious and tortuous. Evan’s mother gets him treatment
Keen-eyed readers may notice that this review of the laboriously entitled ‘Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience’ is in fact a re-review: a misunderstanding led to our first writer being invited down before the VR elements of the show were working, so I agreed to write about it again.Anyway. ‘JWMVoTWoTWTIE’ is a VR-augmented immersive theatre show that straddles two iconic properties: HG Wells’s seminal 1897 sci-fi novel ‘The War of the Worlds’, and Wayne’s 1978 prog rock album inspired by it, which has gone on to be an enduringly popular live spectacle complete with puppet Martian war machine and – in some iterations – a holographic Liam Neeson.The album’s spoken word sections offer a divergent telling of Wells’s story, with different characters and a more fragmented plot. Given the task of turning it into a coherent narrative is dotdotdot, a company specialising in tech-enhanced immersive theatre who had a hit last year with their show ‘Somnai’. Their job is to immerse us in Wells’s serious-minded alien invasion story, while incorporating Wayne’s campier embellishments: the characters, the kitschy steampunk art and – of course – the musical anthems.It doesn’t exactly work. But it’s quite good fun. Sent into the experience in small staggered groups, most of the interactions with human actors we encounter are on the comic side, meaning there can be some weird shifts in tone when the show remembers it’s supposed to be scary. At the sta
It’s Cyrano de Berger-rap. It’s James rap-Avoy. It’s… perhaps more accurate to say the rhythms of Martin Crimp’s new version of classic French play ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ are closer to the languid cadences of performance poetry than actual hip hop. But undoubtedly this is your first opportunity to listen to Mr Tumnus spitting verse. And James McAvoy is great in the role: sure, the idea of updating ‘Cyrano’ in this fashion is a bit yikes on paper. But in fact, this is a ferociously good revival from Jamie Lloyd, that almost totally reclaims, reinvents and reinvigorates a play so engrimed in period camp that it can sometimes feel like a chore to even remember it exists. ICYMI: Edmund Rostand’s 1897 drama about a big-nosed, hyper-poetic French soldier who finds himself in a very complicated love triangle with his cousin Roxane and good-looking but tongue-tied fellow soldier Christian is written in rhyming verse. And with the hindsight of Martin Crimp’s scorching adaptation, it is blindingly clear that modern rhymes offer a clear and exciting way forward. Lloyd and Crimp have conjured up something pretty remarkable, the cut and thrust world of seventeenth-century France reinvented as a series of rap battle royals, or grand poetry slams. Although stripped to the bone aesthetically – Soutra Gilmour’s stark set is just a white stage and few mics – the first half in particular is vivid and teeming with ideas and life, as McAvoy’s lovelorn loon Cyrano, Eben Figueiredo’s nice-but-d
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
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.
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
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.
Japan, Brazil and Peru come together here. That’s not an eye-opener these days, but the entrance to this expensive New York import is. Take the glass elevator that clings to the side of Heron Tower, shoot up 38 floors in a few stomach-flipping seconds, then walk into a bar from which you can practically browse workers’ emails in the Gherkin. Go on through to the double-height glasshouse of a restaurant, with its magnificent bamboo-lattice ceiling, and your table will likely face north across Spitalfields towards Alexandra Palace or east over Stepney and out to Essex. Allow time to drink in your surroundings, and maybe a cocktail or seasonal saké, while perusing a menu that will need deciphering by your well-drilled waiter, peppered as it is with terms such as ‘tiradito’, ‘taquito’, ‘moqueca’ and ‘chicharrons’. It’s all tough visual competition for a plate of food, but the sushi does its damnedest to catch the eye with cloaks of red or green yuba (soybean curd skin). Rather than leave all the fillings to battle it out in one big, bursting-at-the-seams futomaki, the Samba London roll makes a starlet of each one (crab, tuna, salmon, yellowtail, prawn, scallop, beef, avocado) by placing it on a rice-slice pedestal. With that view – impressive in daylight, awesome by night – this is a special-occasion destination; they get a lot of birthday bookings.
Venue says SUSHISAMBA delivers a unique blend of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine, culture, music and striking design to the City of London.
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 – s
You know what’s better than new? Old. Not ‘old old’, like when your housemate leaves a packet of chicken at the back of the fridge and goes on holiday, but the good kind, that evokes the best of a bygone era. Vintage. That’s the vibe at Xu. (Which, btw, is pronounced ‘Shu’. Not ‘Joo’. Not ‘Sue’.) The first ‘smart’ restaurant from the crew behind cult hit Bao, it’s a love letter to 1930s Taipei. It’s got class, but no hanger-up-its-bum. Our waiter was in black tie, yet effortlessly switched from ‘chummy and attentive’ toward those of us obvious Bao groupies, to ‘polite and obliging’ for the ostentatiously wealthy family that arrived, took umbrage with their table and demanded to be instantly rehomed. True, it’s not a perfect site. It’s one of those narrow, awkward Soho spaces, but the Xu crew have been fairly clever about it, carving up the two small floors into a bundle of mini-spots, each with its own air of intimacy. There’s dark wood panelling, crisp air con and ceiling fans idling overhead. The upstairs room has a teeny bar at its centre, offering a few more seats and a railway clock. It’s the louder of the two floors, with lively chatter and Dean Martin singing ‘Papa Loves Mambo’ (anachronistic but fun). At street level, there’s another central bar – more of a hatch, really – with someone polishing not glasses, but porcelain tea cups. Tea is big at Xu. But you didn’t come for the tea (though it’s very good). You came for the food. And oh my. It’s magnificent. There’s a
Venue says XU's new brunch menu comes with free-flowing Perrier-Jouët Champagne, for just £25 extra per person! Available Saturdays and Sundays!
You can always judge a restaurant by its loo – which is why I was pleased to see the tapestry of frolicking nudes at Blanchette East. This toilet said: naughty but nice, fun with a certain je ne sais quoi. There’s another naked babe above the bar; clearly, this Shoreditch spin-off of popular Soho hangout Blanchette doesn’t take itself too seriously. Foodwise, think decent bistro fare with a few twists – North African-inflected, with Provençal and Basque overtones – rejigged into small plates you’ll want to share. I could’ve left happy after the snack alone, a merguez sausage roll with harissa mayo for dunking – spicy, flaky and ever-so-slightly sweetened by the onion confit. Ooh la la. A divisive-sounding escargot surf n’ turf of seared hanger steak topped with (shell-less) snails, parsley, garlic and a velvety onion purée was a highlight. Lamb tagine was no less gorgeous, speckled with almonds, its richness cut by whipped labheh. Green bean and comté salad and pomegranate couscous were also exquisite. My rose-tinted specs did have to come off when dessert arrived; a chilled peach and saffron ‘soup’ was redolent of shop-bought smoothie and a coconut macaroon was inedibly brittle. Zingy basil sorbet fared better, but I’d stick to post-prandial cocktails instead. Because hey, not everything can be perfect. Blanchette East is a solid-gold date night option; or, if you want to romp in a group, request the lovely back table, secluded by frosted glass and velvet drapes. Like I
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 t
The neon sign outside reads ‘sex shop’; the mannequin in the entrance wears a PVC gimp suit. But the real excitement begins when you descend the stairs into the bowels of this nightclub-like restaurant. It’s so dark and loud you’ll need a moment to adjust (the light bulbs have been blacked out). By comparison, the homely Mexican cooking can feel run-of-the-mill, though effort is put into presentation. On our visit, soft flour tacos with a tender beef filling arrived beautifully arranged on a specially designed wooden board; a crunchy cheese and roasted tomato quesadilla was served ‘open’; pinto beans with a spicy chorizo kick came in a dinky glazed bowl. The real highlight was the dish least concerned with its own looks: a rich lamb shank in intensely dark juices. Seafood cazuela (a one-pot dish like a wet paella), containing clams, squid, prawns and mussels, was creamy, tangy and perfectly fine, though not especially memorable. Factor-in the small portions and two-hour table limits (though you can decamp to the bar), and you might wonder what the fuss is all about. But that would be missing the point. You come here to see and be seen, and for a thrilling atmosphere and exceptionally friendly service. A must-try. La Bodega Negra also have a cafe round the other side (entrance on Moor St).
Please note: since this review was published, Rumpus Room has been renamed to 12th Knot and Mondrian London has been renamed to Sea Containers. Time Out editors, 2019. Hotel bars used to be the straight-laced kind of place you’d take your ’rents. Not so at Sea Containers, where Dandelyan has been winning awards on the ground floor while level 12’s Rumpus Room has stayed a bit of an inside secret. Now this chic bar is ready to welcome the world, with a terrace overlooking St Paul’s and DJs to lure sophisticated after-workers and Friday night socialites. I say socialites, since the venue claims to take its cue from the Bright Young Things, a group of hedonists followed by the tabloids in the 1920s. Think England’s non-fiction ‘Great Gatsby’ (or the ’20s version of the sidebar of shame). In truth, the theme’s not obvious, but the setting is pure style. Waitresses work the room in floaty, floral numbers you’d expect to see on Kate Moss in the French Riviera. And she’d probably approve of their way (a million miles from ‘basic bitch’ service). There are mauve banquettes, glittering chandeliers, and a shiny gold bar, but it’s the view that really wins the crowd. Stick around for sunset, when the room gets more blingy. Don’t expect such an atmosphere without paying a pretty penny; solid classic cocktails cost £14. My paloma was faultless, but my bank card withered when I promptly reached the bottom of the glass. Stick with champagne cocktails to feel more at peace; after all, Ru
The buzz is as important as the food at Jacob Kenedy and Victor Hugo’s enduringly popular Soho restaurant. Dine at the bar and you’re in for a fun night, or afternoon – especially if you’re by the window. It’s the perfect perch from which to watch favourite actresses swan into the clamorous and less atmospheric rear dining room. The menu is a slightly confusing mix of small and large plates to share and, amid the noise, it can be unclear what you think you’ve ordered and at what point it might arrive. Staff reassuringly affirm, ‘It’s sooo good,’ to virtually everything you suggest – and sometimes they’re right. We have fond memories of buttery brown shrimp on soft, silky white polenta (the Venetian preference), and a deep-fried mix of calamari, soft-shell crab and lemon. The radish, celeriac, pomegranate and pecorino salad with truffle dressing is a much-imitated Bocca di Lupo signature – far better, we found, than the spartan raw fennel salad. The brioche in our gelati dessert was also too dry to thrill, irrespective of the quality of the own-made ices. To drink, there’s an enticing selection of cocktails and an impressive all-Italian wine list, but it isn’t as fairly priced as the hype suggests.
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.
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.
Eating at The Gherkin (or 30 St Mary Axe, as it was officially christened) used to be only for members. Now, it’s open to us norms and run by Searcys, the company behind the St Pancras Brasserie and Champagne Bar. Enter through an airport-style security check and take two lifts to the thirty-ninth floor. Although don’t expect much direction: we almost gatecrashed a retirement insurance event en route. Let’s get one thing straight: the 180-degree view is epic. We went for dinner, after inky winter darkness had descended and London was a beautiful, blinking Gotham City below. You’ll feel like you’re in a sci-fi movie. But be warned, with nearby skyscrapers being built at lightning speed, the vista by dark can, at times, be obscured by glass and steel. Not a disaster, but if you visit in daylight hours, you’ll also get to take in the river and the ant-like bustlings of people on the street. The food wasn’t quite so special. There were a few brilliant dishes, like the deep-pink fallow venison with chicory, candied walnuts and fig: a three-pronged attack of bittersweetness, tender flesh and crunch. But others were towering disappointments. Sea bass with slices of pickled octopus was bulldozed by a puddle of indistinguishable black gel while desserts were deconstructed to the point of resembling a toddler’s high-chair tray. A note to those in charge: elaborate trails of biscuit crumbs do not maketh a pud. There may be more hospitable dining rooms – the canteen-style seating here
‘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 total stranger to your house for food is completely normal behaviour in Sri Lanka). But now I wouldn’t have to. The Sethis, who are basically 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 c
A dedicated classic and retro arcade games bar, The Four Quarters is the place to go if you want to brush up on your 'Street Fighter II' skills or just revel in nostalgia by playing 'Pac Man' until your eyes goes square. It serves primarily as a bar, but is also open as a cafe in the afternoons before the booze starts flowing thick and fast in the evenings. There's a good selection of locally brewed craft beers to choose from, alongside the usual favourites, and hearty pub food is served. To utilise the stacks of old arcade games, there are regular gaming tournaments, plus occasional films screenings and one-off events and parties.
Venue says Situated on Peckham’s bustling Rye Lane, London’s first arcade bar boasts more than 15 original arcade cabs along a selection of craft beers