Get us in your inbox

Search
Treetop walkway at Kew Gardens
© Matt Brown, Flickr

Days out in London

Here are just a few great ways to spend a day – or some days – out in London

Advertising

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

Natural History Museum Ice Rink
  • Things to do
  • Ice skating
  • South Kensington

A staple of London’s winter activities scene returns to us from October – but it’ll be your last time to enjoy its icy charms. The ice rink at the Natural History Museum will take up residence at the South Kensington venue for a final season this year before it gets transformed into a new urban garden. Next year, the area usually occupied by the rink will become a fully accessible green space that the museum hopes will help visitors learn about the diversity of our planet, while also offering scientists a chance to develop best practices to protect our urban nature. Get your skates on for one last glide around the twinkling Christmas tree before our icy friend departs us forever.  Find more places to go ice skating in London.

Crystal Palace Park Fireworks
  • Things to do
  • Fireworks
  • Crystal Palace

Along with its giant sphinx and brilliant life-sized concrete dinosaurs, Crystal Palace Park’s annual fireworks display is back (it was cancelled in 2019 and 2020). It’s possibly the capital’s oldest, having run for more than 150 years (and, no, it wasn’t the cause of the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace in 1936). Details still TBC, but fingers crossed. Find more fireworks displays in London.

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • Hyde Park

The Grinch would have a real job stealing all the Christmas from Hyde Park’s huge tribute to festive fun. The annual favourite is back for its fifteenth year in 2021. Entry to Winter Wonderland is free during off-peak hours and either £5 or £7.50 during peak times, and you can head along for cheerily lit fairground rides, a child-friendly Santa Land (including Santa’s grotto) and quaint Christmas markets. It’s a real treat for anyone wanting to get into the festive spirit – as long as you’re ready to hear all those songs as you potter around.  Other highlights of Hyde Park’s annual Christmas treat include circuses and the biggest outdoor rink in the UK – it surrounds the Victorian bandstand and is illuminated with more than 100,000 lights. There's also the Real Ice Slide, ice sculpting workshops and a German-style Bavarian Village full of frothing steins and live music. The usual line-up of rollercoasters and fairground rides are sure to keep thrill-seekers happy. A good alternative for those who prefer to stay on solid ground is the selection of themed bars with real fires, except for the Bar Ice (for obvious structural reasons) where even the glasses you drink from are made of ice. This year features extra measures, including reduced capacity and staggered entry times, to keep the site Covid secure. If you’re skating, be aware that while there’s no minimum age for skaters, under-12s must be accompanie

  • Things to do
  • Film events
  • Borough

Eat, drink and be terrified this spooky season at bunhouse Bao, which hosting a bunch of frightfully good Halloween film nights at two of its London restaurants, in association with Mubi. From October 18 to November 14, Nightmare on Film Street, will see a takeover of Bao Borough and Bao Noodle Shop’s private KTV entertainment rooms. There’ll be movies and a set menu to scoff during the screening, with aubergine panko bao, curry hot dog Bao and Taiwanese fried chicken popcorn all up for grabs. Films include ‘The Love Witch’, ‘The Babadook’ and cult 1977 Japanese comedy horror ‘House’. 

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • Brixton

This two-floor Halloween mega-party promises everything from visuals, DJs, hosts, a murder mystery photobooth and spooky themed cocktails, to the best trick or treat station in Brixton. We won't be giving away too many spoilers, but last year included a live 'freak show on a bed of nails, black swan dancers, and ariel Halloween performers. It's recommended you buy tickets early on, as this one might sell out. 

  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Brick Lane

Hyped Bombay restaurant chain Dishoom hosts this foodie Diwali festival bringing together South Asian talent from across the city for an evening of spoken word performances and live music curated by Boogaloo Radio host Sweety Kapoor. Enjoy these while munching delicious snacks from a special Dishoom menu, plus dosas from Dosa Deli. Judging by the queues outside their restaurants it’ll definitely sell out, so keep an eye on their Instagram for details of the next ticket release.

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Food and drink events
  • Paddington

Pergola Paddington’s Bavarian Beer Hall will be transformed into a Transylvanian castle with eerie lighting, creepy decor, and giant Frankensteins for a beer drinking Halloween extravaganza. It's basically Oktoberfest, but spookier. You can either grab a standard ticket or book a private beer hut to enjoy lashings of Camden Hells lager with up to ten of your favourite ghoulish mates. Prost!

  • Things to do
  • Quirky events
  • Regent Street

The big man has come back to London’s (and perhaps the world’s) most famous toy shop. One ticket admits a group of three (with extra people costing £15 more, each) and that gets you an unforgettable (in a good way!) personal experience with Santa in his festive grotto (conveniently located in the Hamleys Party Room). Everyone gets to partake in elven festivities and you’ll all come away with an all-important Hamleys goodie bag.

Advertising
Skate at Somerset House
  • Things to do
  • Ice skating
  • Aldwych

What's a London Christmas, without Somerset House's iconic ice rink? Skate around the grand neoclassical courtyard on this huge, 900-square-metre outdoor rink, with a 40ft Christmas tree plonked in the middle for maximum Insta-potential. This year brings a new partnership with Moët & Chandon – and to get even more in the festive spirit, tunes will be blasting, Hotel Chocolat will be hosting a selection of gifts, and tasty food and drink will be available to feast on.  Wheelchair users can skate on any session as well as on dedicated wheelchair user sessions. Find more places to go ice skating in London

  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • South Bank

Between the Bridges will be given a terrifying transformation for Halloween this year. As well as new pop-up venues like on-site pub The Reaper's Arms and the ever-mysterious Lost Pier, a heap of entertainment will also be on offer, including a live A/V show from DJ Yoda, Halloween Massaoke, and a drag brunch from hell. Just check out their website for more information on individual events and get your fangs at the ready.   

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Quirky events
  • price 0 of 4
  • Peckham

Love belting out showtunes to a crowd of strangers? Then Peckham Skylight's West End Open Mic Night has got your name all over it. Bring your own sheet music – fancy! – and Josh Cottell will accompany you on piano as you holler along to any number of Broadway bangers, from Cats' Memories to Wicked's Defying Gravity. There'll also be special West End hosts, bringing a little razzle dazzle from London's theatre district all the way to Peckham. You can book a table if you like, but walk-ins are also accepted and the sign up sheet is first come first served. 

  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • price 0 of 4
  • Greenwich

Make your own Diwali lantern to parade around Greenwich Park at this family-focused celebration, where you can also catch traditional Indian odissi and bhangra dancing, children’s storytelling and workshops in decoration-making and rangoli. The festival culminates in an after-dark lantern parade where you (or the kid you’re with) can show off your stunning creation. We bet those other kids’ efforts quite literally won’t hold a candle to it.

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Games and hobbies
  • London

No Escape will be running a special Halloween experience across all four of their locations this October, collaborating with UK Haunters to introduce professional Scare Actors into their seven escape rooms in Aldgate East, Holloway, Brixton and Oxford Street. In teams of up to six, you’ll have an hour to escape your terrifying fate by solving the clues found around the haunted toystore, bloodied abattoir freezer, prison cell or whatever other horrifying scene you happen upon. There probably aren’t many scarier ways to spend your Halloween than being locked in a room with a chainsaw-wielding serial killer, a psychotic dentist or a creepy haunted ragdoll, but don’t let that put you off!

  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • Waterloo

If you're wanting something really, really extra this Halloween, how about a zombie-glitter-R&B-hip hop-rave? Dance the night away with your fellow spooky party animals, joined by confetti cannons, circus acts, zombie stilts walkers and sparkles galore. There will also be a glorious graffiti tunnel on entrance for you to snap that oh-so-important Halloween selfie before the night descends into darkness. Fancy dress essential.   

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Food and drink events
  • Shoreditch

Your favourite ball pit is about to become a blood bath. This Halloween, Ballie Ballerson is hosting a spectacular zombie wedding, with spooky DJs and cocktails to match. There's lots of incentives to really bring it with the outfits, which means you can leave your devil horns at the door. You're in for a free double blood syringe shot if you do go 'all out', and they'll also be giving away £1,000 worth of prizes, including three £250 bar tabs to use on the night for the best dressed. Better get planning those costumes!

  • Things to do
  • Performances
  • Clapham Junction

Alice in Wonderland is already a bit of a freaky tale. This immersive show makes it even freakier. Hop down the rabbit hole to a haunted world of blood-stained tea parties, deranged bunnies, and other crazy characters. You'll be hosted by the Mad Hatter who will take you through a journey of super-size props, DJ sets, and an evil Alice. It's 4.5 hours of Halloween fun, with so much crammed in you won't know where to look...  

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Performances
  • London Bridge

There’s scary and then there’s scary. London Dungeon is the latter. This Halloween they are launching a brand-new blood curdling show called ‘The Surgeon’: exploring Victorian era surgery via a blur of butcher knives, spine-chilling screams, and stomach-turning sound effects. It's not for the faint hearted: you’ll be welcomed into the gallery of an old operating theatre to watch the surgeon chop and churn their way through history. And if that's not enough for you, the show is included in standard ticket price – meaning you’ll also come face to face with the infamous Sweeney Todd, Jack the Ripper, Mrs Lovett and the Plague Doctor through the attraction’s 19 shows and rides.

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Golders Green

From October 15 to the end of the month, you'll be able to join a rather special guided tour across Hampstead (aka London's most haunted region, probably), courtesy of Peculiar London. The annual Halloween walk is a memorable evening of fascinating history, immersive theatre and a bunch of pubs sprinkled throughout. As an added sweetener anyone attending the tour (which has a new route, taking in even more of north London's winding, dark back alleys) will get a free shot from the barrels of artisan gin experts Sacred Distillery.  Dates are yet to be finalised so do check with the organisers.

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Hampstead Heath

Last Chrismas in London was a disaster, so make up for the year that shall not be spoken of with a festive do-over. Kenwood House will be installing a new Christmas light trail at its stately location on Hampstead Heath starting November 26 and running all the way through until January 9. According to the organisers, the trail will be a ‘multi-sensory mix of light, fire and sound’, with installations, a 'light avenue', laser garden and a banging sculpture by Hannelora Johansson. At the end of the trail, there’ll be craft stalls, street food and most importantly, a fully licensed bar selling hot booze. If anywhere in London can make you feel Christmassy, it’s Hampstead Heath. Find out more here.

  • Things to do
  • Food and drink events
  • Waterloo

Why yes, this is a bizarre, immersive mash-up of Disney’s ‘Mulan’ and Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Moulin Rouge’. Guests are encouraged to turn up dressed like a character from either film (although they’re at pains to point out that culturally insensitive costumes will not be tolerated) and get involved with a drag-tastic night of food, music and fun.  The four-course meal sounds particularly exciting, created as it is by Flavourology, the team behind Gingerline. Classic French cuisine meets fresh Asian flavours is what we’re promised. The whole venue will have been done up to the nines, and there’s a drag show written by ShayShay. A very full-on night awaits.

Attractions

London Eye
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • South Bank

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.

SEA LIFE London Aquarium
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Attractions
  • Zoos and aquariums
  • South Bank

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.

Advertising
Buckingham Palace
  • Attractions
  • Sightseeing
  • The Mall

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.

Advertising
Tower of London
  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Tower Hill

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.

Houses of Parliament
  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Westminster

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.

Advertising
London Zoo
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Attractions
  • Zoos and aquariums
  • Regent’s Park

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.

British Museum
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Museums
  • History
  • Bloomsbury

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.

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Attractions
  • South Bank

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.

London Transport Museum
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Museums
  • Transport
  • Covent Garden

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.

Theatre

‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ review
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Children's
  • Covent Garden

This review is from the National Theatre in December 2019. ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ transfer to the West End in 2021. 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 expertly harnesses the inherent ambiguity of theatre to get to the heart o

‘Leopoldstadt’ review
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Charing Cross Road

Having had its original 2020 run curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, ‘Leopoldstadt’ returns for 2021 for a limited, 12-week run. The adult cast remains the same with the following changes: Cara Ballingall (Jana), Arty Froushan (Leo) Aidan McArdle (Hermann) and Macy Nyman (Hermine). 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

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Tower Bridge

The premise of ‘White Noise’ is an eyebrow-raising one. Cursed with insomnia since the age of five, Leo – who is Black – has recently got rid of the white noise machine which his best friend Ralph – who is white – bought him. It helped him sleep: but it killed his artistic inspiration, the echo of its sound filling his head even during the day. As the play begins, he’s also just been roughed up by the cops for no reason beyond his race, and his goody-two-shoes white lawyer girlfriend Dawn wants him to sue. Leo has a different idea though: he has concluded that he’ll feel a lot happier if he… signs himself away into slavery to Ralph, reasoning that racist cops won’t mess with a white man’s property. It all sounds a bit yikes, like you’re being set up for some sort of didactic, bombastic bad-taste satire. But ‘White Noise’ is by Suzan-Lori Parks, one of America’s greatest playwrights, sadly little-seen over here (albeit largely because of her glacial pace of output). In ‘White Noise’ she wields absurdity like a delicate medical scalpel: it’s there almost constantly, key to the operation, but she controls it with deadly serious, laser focussed intent. That’s not to say ‘White Noise’ isn’t funny. Lots of things are funny about it, notably James Corrigan’s ‘righteous Ralph’ and his horribly gripping descent from navel-gazing right-on bore into a smirking, man-bunned member of a clandestine club for rich white men who feel oppressed. Or there’s Ask A Black, the hysterically lowest

Hamilton tickets and review
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Victoria

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. (

Advertising
‘Frozen’ review
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Covent Garden

Alas poor Marshmallow! The inscrutable, inept snow monster that ice mage heroine Elsa conjures to guard her palace is the highest-profile casualty of ‘Frozen’s journey from screen to stage. Michael Grandage’s musical version of Disney’s animated enormo-smash is almost identical to the film in terms of plot beats. But he dials down the wilder fantasy, steering the show – within obvious constraints – to something a little closer in tone to ‘The Snow Queen’, the Hans Christian Andersen tale that it’s based upon. It’s still a dazzling spectacle that the film’s legions of kiddie fans will love. But adults will note that it’s more serious, sadder and wiser than the film. Some New York critics didn’t seem to be entirely happy with this when it opened on Broadway in 2018, criticising it for being dour. But I liked Grandage’s more melancholy spin, which is written by the film’s screenwriter and director Jennifer Lee, with new songs (and old songs) from the film’s songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. To be clear, the talking snowman and the goofy reindeer are still in it, but it does land a bit differently.  In particular, it feels like less of an ensemble piece and more focused on the relationship between Samantha Barks’s troubled, sensitive Elsa and Stephanie McKeon’s loveable goofball sister Anna. There’s more about their lives in the royal palace where they grew up, first as best friends, and then kept separate by their over-protective parents after Elsa's growing m

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Shaftesbury Avenue

Blessed with a megastar turn from Arinzé Kene and what is surely the loudest bass ever heard in the West End, ‘Get Up, Stand Up!’ is one heckuva Bob Marley tribute concert.  And that is underselling it: aside from a sound quality (and volume!) that most scrappy tribute bands could only dream of, Kene’s performance is genuinely towering stuff, a febrile mix of messianic charisma and puppyish charm that feels like it should be able to solve armed conflicts. Yes, he’s putting on the Jamaican patois, prodigiously dreadlocked wig, and several of Marley’s mannerisms - notably a delicately fluttering hand when making an earnest speech. But there is a molten core of joy and pride in performing this extraordinary music that is all Kene’s. Long established as a gifted musical performer – in leftfield works like ‘Been So Long’ and ‘Girl from the North Country’ – and having recently stormed the West End with his own brain-melting play ‘Misty’, ‘Get Up, Stand Up!’ sees Kene try his hand at something more mainsteam and pull it off with aplomb: he looks delighted to be here, and we’re delighted that he is. And yet, despite his performance, and the unrelenting surge of energy that is Clint Dyer’s production, there’s ultimately something a bit lacking about ‘Get Up, Stand Up!’. It covers an enormous amount of ground, from Marley’s childhood to his death from cancer at the peak of his fame. But it never really drills down into any of it. We first meet Marley as a youngster, sent away by his mo

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Soho

It took Hilary Mantel eight years to write ‘The Mirror and the Light’, the final instalment of her towering ‘Wolf Hall’ trilogy of novels about the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief fixer, who rose from poverty to become one of the most powerful men in English history. But it’s taken barely a year for the 900-plus page novel to hit the stage.  A clue to both of these timings probably lies in the fact that while the first two novels, ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, were adapted for stage by Mike Poulton in 2014, ‘The Mirror and the Light’ comes courtesy of… Hilary Mantel, writing with Ben Miles, who has played Cromwell throughout Jeremy Herrin’s RSC stage productions, and also narrates the audiobooks. Poulton did a fine job, but the advantages of having the author at the helm (plus the perspective of the guy who had to read the 38-hour-long audiobook) are immediately apparent here. The book followed on directly from its predecessor, beginning in the aftermath of Anne Boleyn’s execution, and working forward to Cromwell’s own demise at the assent of his capricious monarch (Nathaniel Parker). Hare, Mantel/Miles feel empowered to tear up the chronology: it begins near the end, with Cromwell admitted to the Tower of London on charges of treason and heresy, squaring up to his enemies led by Nicholas Woodeson’s flinty Norfolk. Before too long, it flashes back, and thereafter stays chronological. But the tinkering is a smart theatrical move, that makes the st

‘& Juliet’ review
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Shaftesbury Avenue

‘& 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

Advertising
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Charing Cross Road

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

  • Theatre
  • Children's
  • Tower Bridge

The stage versions of Terry’s Deary’s enormously successful ‘Horrible Histories’ franchise – that’s history for kids with a heavy emphasis on the naughty bits – are now so successful in and of themselves that they’re starting to wrack up a ‘Fast & Furious’-volume of sequels – summer 2021 will see the West End debut of the lengthily-titled ‘Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain: Part Five’. Not content with that, they’re now taking to the high seas (well, river) with ‘Terrible Thames’. It’s an enjoyable hour-long clipper tour that forgoes humdrum observations on London’s great waterway and instead focussed on the darker stuff. To do so, there’s a dramatic device. Billie, a schoolchild, has earned a special trip on the Thames with her teacher, and the two of them spend the trip engaged in a duelling dialogue of facts, putting the awkwardly blokey teacher’s more conventional wisdom against Billie’s knowledge of the darker stories or the Thames, as handed down to her by her family. It’s not exactly ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’, and if I were being particularly annoying I might point out that they become fairly interchangeable after a while, with each of them being well-informed or pig-ignorant on whatever we happen to be sailing past on a strictly alternating basis. Nonetheless: it’s fun! Written by Deary and the show’s director, Neal Foster, the facts are understandably quick-fire, given you can’t, for instance, explain the background to the 1014 Viking incursion into London tha

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • South Bank

Yes, Globe! This banging little production by four actors, two directors and the theatre’s first three writers-in-residence since Big Will Himself himself is a real treat. ‘Metamorphoses’ totally blew away my Netflix cobwebs (I do still find my sofa quite comfortable and attractive on a cold night) and reminded me how fresh, sparky and - well - live, live theatre can be. The writers – Sami Ibrahim, Laura Lomas and Sabrina Mahfou – have ripped up and remade a suite of ancient Greek myths, most famously collected as an epic saga 2,000 years ago by the Roman poet, Ovid. Many writers - including Will Himself - have drawn on the ‘Metamorphoses’. They’re startling, trippy stories about violent transformations: raped girls turn into birds; a hunter becomes a deer and is torn apart by his own dogs; a talented weaver is turned into a spider by an envious goddess; a man – Tiresias – turns into a woman, and then back into a man, then is blinded and sees the future.  Those ancient legends are powerful stuff in any era. But their takes on cruelty, sex and gender – and their shamanic vision of humans being shoved, painfully, back into the natural world which they have exploited – feel very ‘now’. That might sound a bit grim, but it really isn’t thanks to the energy and swing of the writers and actors, who channel the ancients but look and sound like London. ‘Funny story’, says one, before relating the tale of a chap torn apart by his drunken mother and aunts. That’s typical of the attitud

Matilda the Musical review
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Seven Dials

'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

Advertising
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child review
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Charing Cross Road

‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ will reopen October 14 2021. Tickets are on sale now. 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’ shadow

‘Magic Goes Wrong’ review
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Comedy
  • Shaftesbury Avenue

‘Magic Goes Wrong’ returns to the stage for a limited socially-distanced Christmas season. Erstwhile young scamps Mischief Theatre have spun their pleasant ‘Noises Off’ knock-off ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ into a veritable empire: not only is the original backstage farce still going strong on the West End and off-Broadway, not only do they have another sizeable long-runner in ‘The Comedy About a Bank Robbery’, and not only do they now have an actual BBC1 TV show in the form of ‘The Goes Wrong Show’, but they’ve also won a whole host of US celebrity fans, including JJ Abrams – who co-produced this latest show – and magicians Penn & Teller, who’ve helped them write it.And it’s… okay. There is something charmingly unchanging about the core Mischief players, who are presumably now all millionaires several times over but always attack each new venture with the pure elan of a fledgling university sketch troupe. They’re both winsome and limited, and ‘Magic Goes Wrong’ feels caught at a strange crossroads between Mischief’s bumbling Englishness and Penn & Teller’s edgier interjections.The plot is pretty much contained in the title: neurotic magician Sophisticato (Henry Shields) is throwing a charity magic gala in his late father’s memory, and he’s rustled up some truly terrible acts to perform, notably Henry Lewis’s hack mentalist The Mind Mangler, and Dave Hearn’s entertaining The Blade, an amusing send-up of faux-edgy ‘alt’ magicians.That this somehow stretches on for two-and-a-ha

Advertising
‘The Prince of Egypt’ review
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Bloomsbury

‘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

‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ review
  • 1 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Strand

Yes, it is a big mistake. Yes, it is a huge mistake. It wafted over from Broadway on a miasma of bad reviews, so I was braced for this musical version of the clearly quite dated 1990 Julia Roberts smash to be a touch problematic.  In fact, ‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ is so witless that it defies any serious attempt to scrutinise its politics. Telling the story of Edward, a ruthless businessman whose life is changed on a visit to LA after he picks up Vivian, a free-spirited hooker, it is in fact no more about capitalism or sex work than it is about sports cars or cruise liners – all of these things are just plot points as Gary Marshall and JF Lawton’s book hauls itself wearily through its ‘Pygmalion’-like paces.  The film, of course, had Julia Roberts and Richard Gere to style it out. With the best will in the world, leading man Danny Mac is no Gere. But he doesn’t have much to work with. His Edward is a respectful, teetotal, pleasant guy whose only discernible personality traits are a fear of heights and being a remorselessly destructive vulture capitalist, something that is vaguely intimated as being down to daddy issues, but goes unexplored.  By the same token, Aimie Atkinson can hardly hold a candle to Roberts. But her Vivian is winningly goofy and the clear highlight of the production. Yet bulked out with songs, the whole set-up is baffling. Edward hires Vivian for six days on the grounds that he needs a dinner date, and a live-in hooker is less hassle than a girlfriend; 

Advertising
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Barbican

We should cherish musicals like ‘Anything Goes’ for lots of reasons. But a big one is that I don’t think anyone would write it today: its mixture of timeless songs, virtuosic wit and an offhandedly back-of-a-fag-packet book speaks of a different age when nobody much cared what musicals were *about* just so long as the talent was there. And what talent! Based around songs by the great Cole Porter, it has a book by PG Wodehouse and Guy Bolton that ended up being drastically rewritten by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse for reasons that seem historically disputed. Not that anyone seems to mind because ‘Anything Goes’ has proven to be a whomping big hit that’s been merrily tinkered with over the years: one of its biggest numbers, the peerless Porter standard ‘It’s De-Lovely’, wasn’t even added until 1962, 28 years after the musical premiered. You can see why its flimsiness has proved so enduring: just as ‘Anything Goes’ cheered up audiences in the 1930s – which, lest we forget, were awful – so it’s undoubtedly a tonic for our gloomy times. This was my first time back in a capacity theatre since last March, and the first time since then that I’ve been in an audience that wasn’t mostly masked. I am very much on the fence as to whether this is a sane idea. But you couldn’t ask for a more pleasurable way to ease back into notional normality than with this gloriously daft romcom about some horny people on a boat. The plot is so negligible it barely needs to be addressed (boat. Horny p

‘Mary Poppins’ review
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Soho

Much like ‘Paddington’, ‘Mary Poppins’ is a gorgeously warm kids’ story that’s burrowed deep into the hearts of Londoners of all ages. It creates a seductive myth of a city that’s awash with cheery cockneys and lovable upper-crust eccentrics who roam picturesque tree-lined streets with a spring in their step. Cameron Mackintosh’s returning 2004 musical version couldn’t look more magical; the Banks family’s Cherry Tree Lane residence becomes a giant doll’s house of wonders, opening up to reveal charming Victorian interiors and plenty of magical surprises. Writer Julian Fellowes (‘Downton Abbey’) is clearly in familiar territory here. Where the 'Paddington' movies updated the setting to a warm, inclusive vision of 21st century London, his script opts for period-drama archness. The story is a hodgepodge of the movie, PL Travers’s original books and a few ideas of Fellowes’s own: he shifts the setting back a few decades to Queen Victoria’s heyday, and makes Mrs Banks a frustrated former actress instead of a militant suffragette. The effect is jarring at first, especially if you’re a fan of the movie: many of its most memorable scenes get scrapped, like the bit where Poppins summons up a hurricane to whisk away rival nannies, or the bit with the dancing penguins and carousel horses, or the ‘I Love to Laugh’ tea party where everyone ends up giggling on the ceiling. They get replaced with much, much weirder interludes that presumably come from Travers’s original book. The kids’ supp

Advertising
‘Tina – The Tina Turner Musical’ review
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Aldwych

Aisha Jawando and Jammy Kasongo star as Tina and Ike as ‘Tina’ returns from closure in 2021. Is a feelgood jukebox musical the absolute best medium to tell a story about domestic abuse? Put crudely, that is the problem at the heart of big-budget global premiere ‘Tina – The Tina Turner Musical’. The erstwhile Anna Mae Bullock’s eventful life and beloved back catalogue are perfect subjects for adaptation. But too often Phyllida Lloyd’s production struggles to make a sensitive synthesis of the two.Where ‘Tina’ undoubtedly succeeds is in the casting of its lead. Broadway performer Adrienne Warren is virtually unknown over here, but it’s instantly apparent why she was tapped up for this. She doesn’t so much imitate Turner as channel her: her technically dazzling but achingly world-weary gale of a voice feels like it should be coming out of a woman decades, if not centuries, older. And while Warren doesn’t really look anything like Turner, she perfectly captures that leggy, rangy, in-charge physicality. From a musical standpoint, she virtually carries the show, singing nigh-on every song and even giving us an encore at the end.Almost as good is heavyweight Brit actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who brings a demonic charisma to the role of Ike Turner. Tina’s abusive bandleader and husband is monstrous in his self-pitying, manipulative rage, but it’s not hard to see the appeal of his raw wit and powerful sense of certainty. It is a deadly serious performance.But the talented creative tea

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Strand

This long-gestating musical version of ‘Back to the Future’ – it has literally taken longer to bring to the stage than all three films took to make – is so desperate to please that the producers would doubtless offer a free trip back in time with every ticket purchase if the laws of physics allowed. It is extra as hell, every scene drenched in song, dance, wild fantasy asides, fourth-wall-breaking irony and other assorted shtick. You might say that, yes, that’s indeed what musicals are like. But John Rando’s production of a script by the film’s co-creator Bob Gale is so constantly, clangingly OTT that it begins to feel a bit like ‘Back to the Future’ karaoke: it hits every note, but it does so at a preposterous velocity that often drowns out the actual storytelling.  As with the film, it opens with irrepressible teen hero Marty McFly visiting his friend ‘Doc’ Brown’s empty lab, where he rocks out on an inadvisably over-amped ukulele. Then he goes and auditions for a talent contest, hangs out with his girlfriend Jennifer, talks to a crazy lady from the clock tower preservation society, hangs out with his loser family… and takes a trip 30 years into the past in the Doc’s time-travelling DeLorean car, where he becomes embroiled in a complicated love triangle with his mum and dad. It is, in other words, the same as the film, with only a few minor plot changes (the whole thing about Doc getting on the wrong side of some Libyan terrorists is the most obvious and – let’s be honest –

Shops

Harrods
  • Shopping
  • Toys and games
  • Knightsbridge

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
  • Shopping
  • Home decor
  • Soho

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.

Advertising
Selfridges
  • Shopping
  • Bakeries
  • Oxford Street

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.

Neal’s Yard Dairy
  • Shopping
  • Specialist food and drink
  • Seven Dials

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 theyre ready to sell in peak condition.

Advertising
Rough Trade East
  • Shopping
  • Music and entertainment
  • Brick Lane

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.

Hamleys
  • Shopping
  • Toys and games
  • Regent Street

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.

Advertising
  • Shopping
  • Shopping centres
  • Soho

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.

Portobello Road Market
  • Shopping
  • Vintage shops
  • Portobello Road

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

Swift
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4

From the couple who brought us cult faves Nightjar and Oriole comes Swift, swooping into the former site of the celebrated, groundbreaking Lab Bar. Frankly, if they’d named it Tit I’d have still been excited, since here they’ve also teamed up with folks who’ve worked across Milk & Honey and Callooh Callay, to overwhelming success. Swift is split in two: a buzzy, casual-yet-sparkling bar on the ground level and a dark lounge below. Upstairs, the look is faintly Italian, mirrored in a menu of affordable aperitivos. This includes an unmissable sgroppino – a thick and frothy prosecco-based drink with lemony sorbet floating on top. For snacks, nearby drinkers ordered oysters, but I was happily ensconsed in a Guinness welsh rarebit, heavy with pungent cheese and onion. Pongy titbits notwithstanding, Swift makes a great date spot. If it’s going well, take it downstairs. The basement is lit for romantic trysts, the showy side of Oriole and Nightjar eschewed in favour of pared-back sophistication. Staff are attentive, guiding you through an original menu edging towards nightcaps. I tried a powerful Amber Cane, a reinvented manhattan using rum in place of whisky. So taking over the spot where London’s cocktail-making reputation was cemented doesn’t seem too bold. Doing it in such a stripped-back way was the ballsy move, but, boy has it paid off. Time for a Swift one.

Bocca di Lupo
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Soho

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.  

Advertising
Fitz’s Bar
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Bloomsbury
  • price 3 of 4

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

Imperial China
  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown

A small wooden bridge spanning an ornamental fish pond, warm wood panelling, kind lighting and a second floor offering a view of the dining room below set this Cantonese stalwart apart from all others in Chinatown. Yet in every other respect, it’s indistinguishable. Service is efficiently brusque to maximise customer turnover. We’ve often had to wait for a table, whether we had booked in advance or not – as if an empty seat, even for a minute, is seen as a threat to profits. No surprise then, that dishes are delivered quickly. During a weekend dim sum lunch, about a dozen baskets arrived simultaneously, minutes after ordering. There were no standouts among the parade of dishes we tried, but we had no complaints either. The food is reliable, authentic and of decent quality. Portions can be rather miserly, however, especially given the high prices compared to rivals in the neighbourhood. Then again, Imperial China appears to get away with it. The relatively handsome and comfortable decor, accessible location and clean toilets seem to keep the venue consistently popular among both Chinese and Western diners.  

Advertising
Hutong
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary Asian
  • London Bridge
  • price 4 of 4

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.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Soho

A small, unshowy restaurant that’s made a name for itself with a short but perfectly formed menu and an easy-going conviviality. Dishes are seasonal – ricotta-stuffed courgette flower with lentils, wild mushrooms and truffle, and chilled asparagus and pea soup with crème fraîche were exemplary starters. And it’s value for money too – the soup cost a fiver. The kitchen (under Australian Cameron Emirali) produces lots of interesting but ungimmicky combinations: notably a special of halibut fillet with yellow beans, chilli and garlic, on a vivid romesco sauce. There’s more fish than meat, but Brecon lamb cutlets with borlotti beans, aubergine and courgettes earned their place on the menu. Cooking is not fault-free: gooseberry and apricot crumble had good fruit, but the topping was a little worthy. Better was a divine own-made lemon and basil sorbet doused with vodka. A thoughtful drinks list includes several variations on the negroni. Tables are closely packed and in the evening it can get noisy, but otherwise it’s hard to fault the place. Adept, friendly staff are a further plus. If you can’t handle the no-booking policy at dinner, bookings are accepted for lunch.  

Advertising
Andina Shoreditch
  • Restaurants
  • Peruvian
  • Shoreditch

Bored with burgers? Tired of tapas? Then let Andina shimmy up your tastebuds with its Peruvian-inspired ceviches, street food, cocktails, and colourful smoothies. Peruvian food only started to make waves in London in 2012, when a couple of smart, aspirational restaurants – Lima and Ceviche – opened within months of each other in the West End. Ceviche is the more affordable of these two, a Soho bar and diner with a menu of dishes seldom seen on our shores. Andina is Ceviche’s second branch, but rather than imitating its older Soho sibling, it has new tricks, some of them inspired by the food of the Andes. Peruvian food is regionally diverse, but ceviches are enjoyed everywhere. Raw fish is marinated in citrus juice which can then be spiced with chilli or have other dressings or garnishes added. Andina’s ‘Cheeky’ ceviche, one of six on the menu, comprises thin slices of hake and cod cheeks marinated in citrus juice with spring onion, and it’s a proper palate‑cleanser. New World staples are well-represented: the giant Peruvian popcorn snack called cancha is a must-try; and potatoes appear in many forms. A main course of three potato cakes was beautifully decorated – the spicy seafood toppings did a decent job of livening up what would otherwise be dollops of cold potato mash. Unfamiliar names and unusual combinations litter the menu, such as the chupe (seafood chowder) of black quinoa, king prawns, broad beans and giant corn – never a dull mouthful. Andina is as much a bar as a

Berenjak
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Middle Eastern
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4

From the street it looks small. Easy to miss. My pal called me while standing practically outside, asking where it was. But this casual Persian joint on Soho’s Romilly Street is mightier than it looks. First of all, it has a hint of the Tardis to it: the ultra-bijou front room, just a few booths flanking a kitchen counter, leads through to a (slightly) larger back room. This, with its cracked plaster walls, exotic foliage and rug-covered tiled floor, could have been lifted from a backstreet in Tehran. But it is a built-from-scratch London-ified version: it’s taken a lot of money to make Berenjak look this shabby-chic. And that money has come from the JKS group, the team who brought us Bao and Hoppers, among others. The head chef is Iranian-born Kian Samyani, who has previously worked at the group’s more grown-up powerhouses, Gymkhana and Brigadiers. Here, he’s running the vibrant open kitchen, where there’s a chap making bread for the tandoor at one end, and another at a rotating spit. But it’s not kebab-shop food. Take the poussin: the charred, blackened edges offsetting its chilli, red pepper, sumac and garlic marinade. Think of it as a juicier, smokier, tangier take on tandoori baby chicken. Also great were salty, moreish morsels of broken eggs, or a bowl of stewed guinea fowl, its thin saffron-laced gravy studded with baby potatoes and sour barberries. A few dishes lacked sparkle, like a bland houmous, and a dull block of feta with a too-small herb salad. But Berenjak is

Advertising
St John
  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Farringdon
  • price 3 of 4

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.

NOPI
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary Global
  • Soho

NOPI’s chef-owner is Yotam Ottolenghi, who struck culinary gold a few years back with his game-changing Ottolenghi cafés. This somewhat more grown-up, all-day restaurant shares a similar look and ethos, but is more formal. The white decor is warmed up with brass fittings; the basement contains large sharing tables and an open kitchen. The inventive cooking has a firm foundation in the Middle East and takes bold flavour forays into the Mediterranean and Asia. You can go the conventional route, with starters and mains, or take the opportunity for wider grazing by sticking to sharing plates (but these are quite small). Vegetarians have plenty of choice, with dishes such as a savoury cheesecake with gently pickled beetroot, crunchy hazelnuts and thyme honey, or a moreish side portion of truffled polenta chips. Star dish was spiced gurnard served Vietnamese-style: taken off the bone, mixed with chilli and spices, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. NOPI isn’t the greatest bargain in town (a main course of comparatively lacklustre chickpea dumplings with tahini and yoghurt cost a stiff £19). Two-hour table slots are strictly enforced, and service can seem rushed as a consequence. The wine list is as wide-ranging as you’d expect, with some excellent (if pricey) selections.  

Advertising
Din Tai Fung
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Taiwanese
  • Covent Garden
  • price 2 of 4

If you’re plugged into social media, or are just a human in London who reads the news, here’s what you’ve most likely heard about Din Tai Fung: a) it was founded in Taiwan by a young Chinese immigrant but now has branches in more than a dozen countries; b) it’s best known for its xiao long bao – Shanghainese soup dumplings – but also plenty of regional Chinese street food; and c) it’s a cult phenomenon, where you should expect to queue. And while a) and b) are true, c) is really just a matter of timing. If you hate to wait, go for an early lunch: at noon on a Tuesday, we walked right in; on a Saturday night, it’ll probably be a different story. But you can drink and snack (space permitting) in the bar area or leave your name and number at the door: they’ll text you when your table is ready. So far, so civilised. Inside, it’s also civilised. This is its London flagship, and smarter than a typical no-bookings chain. You head past a glass-sided kitchen where a swarm of dumpling chefs in surgical masks churn out tiny edible parcels at a terrifying pace. The dining room is an airy spot, tricked out in shades of brown and grey, with a central atrium. Menus are laminated, sure, and the tables wipe clean, but there are ink prints on the walls and orchids on shelves. Service is hyper-efficient, with some dishes seeming to magically arrive the instant we ordered them, though we didn’t feel rushed. But anyway, the food. It’s mostly great. Of the signature soup dumplings, the crab and po

Bright
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary Global
  • London Fields
  • price 3 of 4

Heard of P Franco? It’s a super-cool Dalston wine shop that also happens to do a mean line in comestibles. Bright is from the same crew, but is a restaurant proper. And it’s the best thing to hit the neighbourhood since sliced bread. Sliced bread also happens to be the makings of the cutest thing on the menu – a meaty take on a fish finger sarnie, using Japanese katsu chicken (ie crumbed and deep-fried) in a white bread sandwich. With its crusts off. And cut into quarters. Like I said, cute. The rest of the food is a little more mature, but it still shows courage, and cojones. There’s a bowl of ‘legumes’ – a posh word for a medley of beans, lentils and chickpeas – topped with a primrose-hued parmesan cream and an egg yolk. As soon as it arrives, you’re made to mix it up. If you thought it was ugly before you stuck your fork in it, don’t even ask about the aftermath. It looked liked stewed sludge. But close your eyes and take a leap of faith. Because it was profoundly delicious: a happy harmony of wholesomeness and unctuousness, both moreish and comforting. It went on and on. The menu is eclectic – you could say random – but in a brilliant way. One minute you’re eating like you’re at a seven-year-old’s birthday (there was also a ‘cheddar pastry’ – a seriously understated way of describing seven huge, pillowy gougères, served piping hot and under a snowdrift of microplaned cheese for £6 – and a wholesome, miniature take on a deep-dish Pizza Hut pizza, again a snip at £6), the n

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown

One of the newish kids on the Chinatown block (it opened in 2010), this restaurant’s moniker doesn’t, sadly, refer to a mythical tale of steamed parcels. Rather, it denotes that it’s owned by the Leong’s Legends people (who like to tack the word ‘Legend’ on to all their gaffs), and that here, they specialise in making dumplings – specifically, xiao long bau, or ‘soup dumplings’. Prepared from scratch by a white-masked, four-strong line-up of chefs industriously working behind a glass pane, xiao long bau don’t get any fresher than this, their delicate skins bursting in the mouth to release both filling and ‘soup’. Of the three we sampled on our visit, both the standard vegetarian and pork versions impressed, with tightly packed fillings and fragrant broths (the first a garlicky number; the second a heady ginger infusion). But a third variety, billed simply as ‘spicy pork’, was in fact made to a fiery Sichuan recipe, complete with the distinctive flavours of mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns and soapy lotus root. An unhappy bedfellow for the gentle Cantonese tones elsewhere on the menu, this dish should be ordered last, or not at all. Other dishes restored the peace, from thick golden squares of moreish fried turnip cake, the sweet root balanced by tiny pieces of salty shrimp, or quivering cheung fun (stuffed rice noodles) filled with plump, bouncy prawns and sitting in a puddle of darkly smoky, sesame-laced soy. The minimalist decor rightly keeps the focus on the food, but poo

Blanchette
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Soho

It’s not only London restaurants that have had to adapt to survive. In Paris – a city so self-conscious it might as well carry a make-up mirror – even the neighbourhood bistros and brasseries are having to work hard to keep their custom. The result of the economic dip has been dishes using cheaper ingredients, but with no loss of quality, flavour or Frenchness. The paying customer has never had it so good – even if the tables are a bit more squished together. Blanchette isn’t quite as good as the best of the new-style Paris bistros, but it does share some of their traits. This is not the place to come for oysters and champagne; instead, it’s making good use of simple ingredients. Pissaladière is a simple dish from Nice which packs a lot of flavour into a few bites, with slow-cooked onions, olives, garlic and anchovies topping a thin and crisp focaccia-like base. Beef bourguignon is another classic, this version using ox cheeks, slow-cooked to softness. Instead of the usual lardons (very fatty pork cubes or rashers), ventreche – a ‘bacon’ made from beef – is used to good effect as the topping. It’s not every kitchen that can get the simple things right, but the béarnaise sauce, served with crisp frites, was perfectly textured, and not too heavy-handed with the tarragon. Blanchette captures the France of the imagination. It’s a delightful rus in urbe in Soho with its bare brick walls, stripped furniture and objets d’art. The Francophone staff are a little bit amateurish, but ve

Advertising
Yauatcha
  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Soho

Such acutely stylish venues rarely last, but after a decade Yauatcha can add longevity to its enviable list of attributes. So why do people still glide down the stairs of this self-styled Taipai tea house into its sensual basement? The design helps: the long bar, spot-lit black tables and illuminated fish tank still have allure, and the nightclub vibe is boosted by beautiful staff and bass-heavy beats. Even being shunted away to seats behind the staircase has benefits (privacy). And there’s substance behind the style. Day-and-night dim sum was a Yauatcha innovation, and a special of scallop and edamame crystal dumplings produced three delicate, pendulous sacs filled with a textural mix of resilient beans, crunchy carrot morsels, flavourful fragments of scallop and juicy sweetcorn. Gai lan came with just enough salted fish sauce to pique the palate, and fragrant lotus leaf rice held moist treats of egg, chicken and dried shrimps. Exotic teas and East-West fusion desserts (yuzu brûlée tart) are highlights too (sample them in the ground-floor tea room), and main courses hold interest (sea bass with shiitake and wolf berry, say), but grazing on exquisite snacks is the primary culinary draw – though prices might make you wince.  

Bar Termini
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4

When someone calls two people a ‘dream team’, my hype-detector lights up. But with Bar Termini, the DT moniker seems fitting. Bar Termini does two things: coffee and cocktails. Coffee is overseen by Marco Arrigo, head of quality for Illy, who has probably trained more baristas – and trained them rigorously – than anyone else in the UK. Cocktails are supervised by Tony Conigliaro, the alco-alchemist behind 69 Colebrooke Row and Zetter Town House, among others. Teams don’t get much dreamier than this. So, have they found a supersized venue to match the giant reputation? Ha ha ha. There’s room for 25, and seated service only, though you may stand if you order a single ‘espresso al bar’ (£1) for Italian-style drinking-and-running. The coffee list has just four brews, all of them classics but with a twist. The alcohol list has three negronis, four ‘aperitivi’, three wines, one bottled beer. There is also a small food offering: baked goods from L’Anima in Shoreditch by day, charcuterie and cheese in the evening. I went for coffee at lunchtime. The ‘espresso al tavola’ (they’ll explain what it means) was unusual but flawless. On my second visit later the same day, I had a marsala martini: Beefeater gin, sweet marsala, dry vermouth, almond bitters served straight-up. A model of simplicity and balance, this is one of the best cocktails in London. Prices for hot drinks are higher than the norm (£4, apart from single espresso), but that’s a for triple espresso shot. Cocktails, by contra

Advertising
Gunpowder
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Spitalfields
  • price 2 of 4

Indian food in London has long since moved on from the days of lager and poppadums in restaurants defined by velvet-lined chairs, a fish tank and a single After Eight for dessert. But it’s still hard to find a good place in the Brick Lane area, which is dominated by curry mile’s facsimile canteens. This tiny family-run restaurant, with a kitchen headed by Nirmal Save, once a chef at Mayfair’s Tamarind, aims to defy the strangehold of ‘bucket curries’ (as the owner calls them) on the neighbourhood and bring quality small-plates eating to Indian food. The place oozes passion without a hint of pretension and on the Friday night we visited it was positively buzzing. Gunpowder ditches stomach-bursting breads and creamy sauces in favour of strong flavours and a menu of about 20 dishes from across India, such as rasam ke bomb – Gunpowder’s version of the dosa, which look like tiny Yorkshire puddings and come with a shot glass of a sauce with a kick, or a spicy venison and vermicelli doughnut: unusual and exciting. Our crab main was unmemorable and there was a hint of blandness to a duck dish – but the chargilled tandoori chicken and Kashmiri lamb chops were both excellent. The veggie options, including a sweet and surprising sigree-grilled mustard broccoli, are star turns. And two days later I’m still thinking about the complex spiciness of the porzhi okra fries. The owner-manager Harneet Baweja is a force, adding a story to each dish: the delicious Maa’s Kashmiri lamp chops are his

Tandoor Chop House
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Covent Garden
  • price 2 of 4

There’s so much to love about TCH, I don’t really know where to start. So let’s kick off with the food. It’s basically a twist on what you’d get in an old-fashioned Brit ‘chop house’, only using Indo-Punjabi spices and swapping the grill for the tandoor. It’s meaty, fiery and smoky. Plates are small. Well of course they are. Then there’s the vibe. Picture a turn-of-the-century Irani café in bustling Bombay: all dark wood panelling, monochrome floor tiles and old photos on the walls. Nagging feeling you’ve seen this before? You’re right. It’s like a slightly less hectic, more refined mini-me of the original (St Martin’s Lane) branch of Dishoom. Is it derivative? Probably. Is that a reason to get sniffy about it? Absolutely not. Especially when they’re playing Minnie Riperton.  But back to the menu. I’ll start at the end, with a glittering prize of a pud: the malted kulfi. Dense as a brick, yet silky and smooth, this Indian ice cream had an intense flavour, like sucking the inside of a Malteser after you’ve nibbled off all the chocolate. It’s delicious on its own, but then there’s more. Chunks of caramelised banana – sweet, yielding – sit fatly on top. Finally: fragments of salted peanuts, for contrast and crunch. It was sinful. Indecent. I swooned. Before all this, a couple of charcoal-blistered little naans had competed for my affections. The first, a pistachio-studded seekh kebab, came strewn with zingy bits of red onion, green chutney, pomegranate seeds and fresh coriander.

Advertising
12:51
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Angel
  • price 3 of 4

‘12:51’, in case you’re wondering, is a song by The Strokes. It’s not the smartest name for a restaurant: people either think it’s the street address, or don’t spot the colon and wonder if it relates to a key historical date. Like 1066, or 1945. But almost everything else about this unassuming little Islington spot is terrific. The food is near-flawless. It’s by James Cochran (ex-Ledbury, ex-Harwood Arms), who briefly ran a City spot with his name above the door but is now flying fully solo. And there’s a confidence to the cooking that comes with real independence. Flavours are Brit-with-a-kick – a nod to his Scottish and Caribbean roots – the composition exciting and complex, but never OTT. There was a stack of chive-flecked jerusalem artichoke chunks: meaty, moreish and assembled with the skill of a master bricklayer. On top, a foamy, fluffy mass of smoked egg-mayo, punctuated – like tiny lyres accidentally dropped on to a fluffy cloud – by crunchy golden artichoke shards. It was one of the most satisfying veggie dishes I’d had in some time. We were equally blown away by a meaty croquette of shredded then breaded goat. It was juicy, dense and topped with a splodge of scotch-bonnet jam, for proper va-va-voom. Get several. It went on. There was a savagely good plate of roast venison, the thin, pink-middled slices idling in a puddle of jus and flanked by tiny, thoughtful interruptions, each more delicious than the next: from delicately tangy pickled shimeji mushrooms to syrupy

Need somewhere to stay?

Recommended
    You may also like
      Best selling Time Out Offers
        Advertising