There’s so much to do in the capital that you could easily spend a lifetime in London. But what if you’re just after a great day out? How do you narrow down the mountain of entertainment into a manageable molehill? That’s where we come in. It’s our job to know the best days out in London, plucked from all the best, beautiful, quirky, thrilling and enthralling things to do in the city.
Scaling The O2, for instance, which makes for a stunning way to start the day, with climbs kicking off from 10am daily. Follow that with a trip down the Thames on the the river bus to have one of the best brunches in town, before heading out for a spot of shopping. The West End’s bevy of theatre shows offer up a lively end to an evening (‘The Book of Mormon’ is a hoot). And if you need somewhere to stay? We’ve sorted the best 100 best hotels in London, too.
So if you’re now feeling inspired to enjoy some great days out in London, take a look below where we’ve compiled some of our favourite attractions, shops, eateries and events. Go get ‘em.
The silent disco phenomenon reaches new heights at these exclusive Time Out events. Pick your channel and choose your side as three DJs battle it out over separate wireless channels, playing the best in pop, rock and party classics, while you dance the night away at 1,000ft. The View from The Shard is the visitor attraction at the top of Western Europe's tallest building, The Shard. With unparalleled, panoramic views, it offers visitors a unique perspective on the capital.
Experience one of our signature silent discos at the SEA LIFE London Aquarium. Don a pair of glowing headphones and tune into one of three channels as you immerse yourself in the world of water. Tickets are just £29 and include the silent disco, welcome drink and guided tours of the brand new jellyfish exhibition.
Petrol heads better get into gear because Ferrari turns 70 this year and to celebrate the Design Museum is being taken over by a whole host of the glamorous motors. ‘Ferrari: Under the Skin’ explores the life of life of Enzo Ferrari and his famous cars through original drawings, a replica off the first Ferrari ever made, early design models, drawings, personal letters and memorabilia and even the 2000 F1 winning car driven by Michael Schumacher. Find out more here.
Celebrate the Brixton-born superstar by discovering his south west London roots in this guided tour. As well as exploring some rarely celebrated landmarks, including Bowie’s birthplace and primary school, classic hits, such as Starman, Heroes, Life on Mars - to name just a few, will also be performed en route. Guests should meet at Brixton tube at least 10 minutes early. Book tickets here.
Solve puzzles, balance on spinning planets and get lost in the 'Aztec Zone' at the real-life version of the ’90s TV gameshow, before cutting some shapes in a bomber jacket at Time Out’s Crystal Maze LIVE experience with a Silent Disco afterparty. Take a turn in the ‘Crystal Dome’ and join one of the competitions running throughout the night from the 'Maze Masters' while you dance yourself silly. Bag a combo ticket for the Crystal Maze experience followed by the silent disco, or pick up tickets for the silent disco only.
Calling all comic buffs! Heaps of costumes, comic pages and preparatory sketches, models and props used in the DC Entertainment films are waiting for you at The O2. Each room of this exhibition give a a behind-the-scenes look at the mythical realms created for the likes of Superman, Catwoman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Joker and Mr Freeze, accompanied by original soundtracks from the blockbuster flicks. Get your peepers on exclusive artwork made for last year’s ‘Wonder Woman’ release, the original costume worn by Lynda Carter’s ‘Wonder Woman’ in the 1970s and that iconic cape donned by Christopher Reeve as ‘Superman’ in 1978.
Listen caerphilly cheese lovers. Curtain Road restaurant Rascal's is partnering with The Urban Cheese Maker to host the ultimate fromage fest. Spend the evening getting messy in a DIY mozzarella masterclass, tasting aligot - a French cheese speciality and joining in a cheesy singalong with Mary Camemberry. There'll also be cheese pulling and wine. What more could you ask for?
In April, Glasgow's biennial sonic art festival Sonica is hitting London for a two-day taster of skull-shattering experimental art. Come along during the day to experience an eclectic array of installations around the world. 2018's line-up includes 'Slow Pixel', a delicate installation involving 176 snails. There's also 'Infinite Lives', a surreal sonic science laboratory inhabited by robots and sea monkeys, and astonishing light installation 'Nearer Future'. Or check out longer performances in the evenings, including 'Lakker AV', which fuses icy techno-style sounds with stunning visuals of glaciers.
Witness the winner taking the title of Aviva Premiership Rugby Champions 2018 live. Make the most of the pre and post match excitement at The Fan Village, where last year they had an interactive games zone and a pop-up rugby pitch for a spontaneous scrum.
The Harry Potter Studio Tour is getting a magical makeover, inspired by the fourth film ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’. From Easter 2018 visitors will get to see the Goblet itself, which is returning to the Great Hall for the first time since filming wrapped eight years ago. There will be special effects demonstations, showing how parchments were expelled from the Goblet, as if by magic. Many new props and costumes from the Triward Tournament and beyond will also be on display, including the boot Porkey, the Prefects’ Bathroom and Tom Riddle’s grave. Entry is included in ticket price.
London is the birthplace of the Six Day Series, so it’s a pretty big deal when it comes back each year. Over the six days cyclists from all over the world come to compete on a track in various races, the most quintessential being the ‘Madison’. During this cyclists ride in teams of two, relay style, to see who can rack up the most laps and take the title. The first six-day race took place in 1878 in Islington in a hall that once stood where the current Business Design Centre is. Nowadays it’s held in the purpose-built Lee Valley VeloPark in the Olympic Park and there are DJs and light shows to help create a lively, party atmosphere.
Get ready for skin-tight outfits, oiled up muscles and a heck load of bombast, because this May WWE Raw and SmackDown Live is coming to the UK. Stopping off in the capital on May 14 (Raw) and May 15 (SmackDown), ticket-holders will get to see a whole heap of wrestlers battle it out to become the champion. Amongst those fighting will be WWE World Heavyweight Champions Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns, the current WWE Champion, AJ Styles, plus Sasha Banks, four-time Raw Women's Champion, and SmackDown Women's Champion Alexa Bliss.
Expressive dance and indulgent dining collide at this supper exploring femininity. American director Kate March’s all-female creative collective will use the tables as a stage while the audience eats, slowly becoming part of the art piece as the dancers interact with them.
The London Eye first started turning in spring 2000 and remains the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel. But wordy technical definitions aside, it’s simply a gloriously over-sized ferris wheel that carries its passengers in space-age pods on an elegantly paced journey to 135 metres up above the Thames and back down again.
Despite the exhausting crowds and long climbs up stairways, the Tower of London remains one of Britain’s finest historical attractions. After all, who wouldn’t want a close-up with the crown of Queen Victoria or the prodigious codpiece of King Henry VIII? Plus, it’s right next door to Tower Bridge. Two for the price of one.
Tours of the Houses of Parliament offer a unique combination of one thousand years of history, modern day politics and stunning art and architecture. A highly recommended audio tour brings this to life through the House of Lords and House of Commons and takes around 60 to 75 minutes, featuring leading Parliamentary figures such as Mr Speaker and Black Rod.
Since the Victorian times, the zoological gardens in Regent’s Park have amused and enlightened visitors of all ages, but in the past 15 years the Zoological Society London has changed the proposition here beyond recognition. Gradually the 36-acre park has been rebuilt to support conservation, ensure animal welfare and to make your animal encounter a more inspiring experience.
When the British Museum was opened in 1759 it was the first national museum to be open to the public anywhere in the world. It was free to visit (and still is) so that any ‘studious and curious persons’ could pass through its doors and look upon the strange objects collected from all over the globe.
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are 250 years old, but look as good as the day they were developed by Lord Capel John of Tewkesbury. There’s more to do here than look at glorious greenery, there’s also a treetop walk, sculptures by Henry Moore and Eduardo Paolozzi (to name a couple) and a cafe.
This review is from 'The Ferryman's run at the Royal Court. It has since transferred to the West End, and is on its third cast (pictured) There is a live goose in 'The Ferryman'. And a live rabbit. And a live baby. None of these things are particularly important in and of themselves, but I guess I have to start somewhere in describing this enormous, shattering eruption of a play from 'Jerusalem' playwright Jez Butterworth. 'The Ferryman' is vast, a play that's formally conventional but has an ambition that's out of this world, a sense that it wants to be about EVERYTHING. And insofar as is realistically possible, it succeeds. But despite the teeming cast and interwoven plot lines it remains intimate, set in the kitchen of a single Armagh farmhouse in 1981. Bond director Sam Mendes's recent theatrical record has largely involved bombastic West End fodder, but here he controls everything with a powerful restraint that keeps 'The Ferryman' in sharp focus through every shift of shape. INTERVIEW: Jez Butterworth on 'The Ferryman', Bond and the future of 'Jerusalem' 'The Ferryman' is a play about Ireland and about Northern Ireland (Butterworth's family is of Irish descent). It is a play set at the height of Bobby Sands's hunger strike. It is a play about an era modern enough to feel recognisable, but far enough away that its older generation experienced the Easter Rising firsthand. It is a play about a mystical idea of Ireland in which fairies and banshees and magic all exi
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 beneath it all, this is a big-hearted affair that pays note-perfect homage to the spirit of Broadway’s golden age as much as the sounds. The strapping young Latter Day Saints missionaries in ‘The Book of Mormon’ are as cartoonish as any ‘South Park’ character, with the endearing alpha-male woodenness of the ‘Team America’ puppets. In other words, they are loveable, well-intentioned idiots, traversing the globe like groups of pious meerkats, convinced they can convert the heathen through sheer politeness. And if they have doubts, then as Stephen Ashfield’s scene-stealingly repressed Elder McKinley declares in glorious faux-Gershwin number ‘Turn it Off’, ‘Don’t feel those feelings – hold them in instead!’ His advice is ignored by the show’s heroes, narcissistic, highly strung Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and dumpy, lying Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner). The pair are sent to Uganda in an effort to convert a village to Mormonism, a religion that essentially tells the penniless villagers how great distant America is. The locals are not keen: Price cracks and unwisely clashes with a crazed local warlord; Cunningham makes up his own version of Mormonism which involves fucking frogs to cure oneself of Aids. ‘The Book of Mormon’ is, above all, very funny, breathing three-dimensional, a
To start with, the red curtain rises just a foot off the stage. And it artfully reveals the star attraction of this mind-blowingly lavish revival of a classic Broadway musical: 40-odd pairs of tap-dancing feet, hammering the boards in perfect unison. Helmed by Broadway director Mark Bramble, ‘42nd Street’ is as American as a McDonald’s apple pie, a steaming, golden spectacle of showbiz glamour. Fittingly, the plot’s strictly vanilla. The guys are putting on a show. But its temperamental star Dorothy Brock (a wondrously voiced Sheena Easton) is a nightmare to work with, and director Julian Marsh (a rather out of his depth Tom Lister) is going spare. Peggy Sawyer (Clare Halse), a wet-behind-the-ears young hoofer (that’s Broadway slang for tap dancer, obviously), turns up, gets in the way, then gets to be a star. But, like Peggy, this show has a few talents that help it rise above the mundane. Firstly, the wise-cracking book, which is full of bitter, sharp-eyed one liners. Like the bit where a crowd of broke chorus girls turn up at a diner and order ‘Five cups of boiling water, one teabag’. Or still more brutal, the director’s bitter announcement, as he rehearses the living daylights out of Peggy, that ‘I’ll either have a live leading lady or a dead chorus girl’. And then, between the jokes, there are songs, songs, songs. Harry Warren and Al Dubin might not be the best-known musical theatre team on the block, but they light up ‘42nd Street’ with an electrifying hoard of hits.
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
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
If the second longest running show in the West End was looking a little tired, a rejuvenating orchestral facelift was just what the doctor ordered. Cameron Mackintosh's 'little girl' has shaken off that 1980s synth vibe and finally woken up to the organic noughties. This is a new, richer sound with strong operatic undertones and even the faint echoes of chamber music. Led by compelling ex-'Phantom…' Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean, this dynamic cast blows a whirlwind through the Queen's Theatre, hurtling along Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's famous melodrama. Aided by a swirling revolve and John Napier's stunning constructivist set, we follow Jean Valjean's journey across France as he attempts to escape his criminal past and make amends. Hadley Fraser as Javert, Valjean's fated pursuer, matches Karimloo's booming vocals and moody stares step for step (at one point rather sweetly causing a premature ovation). Craig Mather and Lisa-Anne Wood do very prettily as lovelorn young leads Marius and Cosette. But it is Alexia Khadime's soaring 'On My Own' that storms the barricades; her plucky and faithful Eponine genuinely pulls at the heartstrings. For all its legions of fans, there are many who would sniff at this revived 'Les Miserables', branding it 'opera lite'. In a sense they would be right: all this histrionic bombast is only really making soap opera respectable. But so what. This updated and improved production is a real rabble-rouser and while it may be tosh, i
'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
Fabulously sassy, uplifting and ever so kinky, the Tony Award-winning musical that’s been dazzling audiences has finally high-kicked its way from Broadway to the West End. RECOMMENDED: Read an interview with Cyndi Lauper Based on true events, the story about a struggling Northampton shoe factory began life as an independent film, following in the footsteps of Brit-hits ‘Billy Elliot’, ‘The Full Monty’ and ‘Made in Dagenham’, before being transformed into a musical. Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, with music and lyrics by pop icon Cyndi Lauper, ‘Kinky Boots’ follows factory owner Charlie Price (Killian Donnelly) whose chance encounter with drag queen Lola (Matt Henry) inspires a production line of sexy heels for transvestites that helps save the family business. This show is a lot of fun and the script plays up the comedy well, offering the cast some brilliantly tongue-in-cheek one-liners. It’s unfortunate that the script falls flat during the romantic storyline between Charlie, his fiancée and factory co-worker Lauren, which comes across as uneven and flimsy. That can be forgiven, though, as it’s the eccentric costumes and high-octane dance numbers like ‘Sex Is in the Heel’ that draw the audiences in. Henry gives Beyoncé a run for her money with some athletic dance moves, accompanied by a chorus line of incredibly toned drag queens. Some of the full company numbers are particularly well put together – especially the stylized boxing sequence during ‘In T
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
They don’t really have pantomimes in the US, which may explain why the creatives behind this hit Broadway adaptation of Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ made a pantomime, probably without realising. There’s no Widow Twankey or Wishee Washee, but Alan Menken’s musical gives you the same things as a decent British panto ‘Aladdin’: lavish set pieces (designer Bob Crowley has done some impressive things); campy, knowing, fourth wall-breaking humour; songs (obvs); a magic carpet sequence; a dull hero (Dean John-Wilson’s prominent man-cleavage is the most memorable bit of his performance); a ludicrously OTT villain (Don Gallagher’s Jafar laps up the boos at curtain call); and a scene-stealing dame (more later). It’s well done, but talk about selling coals to Newcastle: the humour hits the spot with Howard Ashman’s dry lyrics, but it lacks the inspired madness of, say, the Hackney Empire panto. Alongside the other big West End Disney musical, Julie Taymor’s ‘The Lion King’, it struggles to establish a distinct, theatrical identity. And my mind boggled at how the diverse, largely British cast has had bland American accents foisted upon them to play Middle Eastern characters. One decision producers won’t be regretting is importing star of the Broadway show Trevor Dion Nicholas as Genie. The role could have been something of a poisoned, er, lamp, given Robin Williams’s iconic turn in the 1992 film. But glitter-doused Nicholas makes it his own with a kinetic mix of fabulousness and physicality. He
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
‘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’
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
Lust, pride, skulduggery: this riveting drama about Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I is a fight to the death between two killer queens. And it’s stunning. On the night I saw it, Lia Williams was Elizabeth and Juliet Stevenson Mary. But they switch. Their roles are cast by a flipped coin at the start of each performance; the winner going on to keep her head; the loser losing it. It’s a fine bit of dramatic judgment which is typical of this supremely sexy and intelligent production by renaissance man Robert Icke. Icke not only directs; he also translates and adapts and has stripped down a slightly fusty 200-year-old Schiller play about 400-year-old events and rebuilt it as something modern and timeless: muscular, lucid and thrumming with moral power. Forget farthingales and folderols. The action erupts on a bare black stage, circled with golden benches for Elizabeth and brick walls for Mary, who is under castle arrest in hostile England and at the centre of a tangled web of Catholic terrorist plots on her cousin’s life. The set works as an intensely focused lens on the superb actors and what they do and say; you feel intimately at the heart of what’s happening, seeing their blood rise and their tears fall; as tension builds, their impact becomes colossal. Schiller’s play is based on a historical story whose time seems to have come round again, probably because it is – unusually – a face-off between two powerful women (Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie star in an upcoming fil
Motown’s girl groups sang about needing love, love. But behind all the sappy stuff there was cold hard cash. Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen’s 1981 musical is built on sharp insights into pop’s economic realities. And this slick belated UK première, fronted by ‘Glee’ star Amber Riley and dripping in more Swarovski than a banker’s chandelier, doesn’t let you forget it. The plot’s not-so-loosely inspired by the story of The Supremes. The Dreams are three African-American teenage girls who sing gorgeous close harmonies in talent contests, until a gig singing back-up for sex symbol Jimmy Early (a cartoonishly hip-rolling Adam J Bernard) brings them closer to the big time. But they’re not quite there. Their music is ghettoised on separate charts, and their hits are stolen by milk-white matinee idols. Director Casey Nicholaw’s fast-paced production plunges us right into these backstage frustrations. The Dreams’ machiavellian manager Curtis Taylor Jr (Joe Aaron Reid) is waiting in the wings with a plan to get the dough rolling in. It’s none-too-subtly implied that leader Effie, played by an astonishingly good Amber Riley, doesn’t have the face for stardom – she’s relegated to the background, in favour of picture-perfect Deena (Liisi LaFontaine). In ‘And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going’, Riley proves what a mistake that is with a stupefying solo – her huge, wracked voice seems to swallow up the room (and blows away all memories of Jennifer Hudson’s version in the 2006 movie).
Will Bob Dylan ever stop rolling? Last year he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. Now he’s written a West End musical. Well, kind of. He’s co-credited on this new play by Conor McPherson, which weaves excerpts of Dylan’s music together to tell a fictional story from Duluth, Minnesota, 1934 – the place of Dylan’s birth, seven years before its occurrence. It’s an interesting concept. But what’s truly thrilling about the execution of this poignant but rambling show are Dylan’s songs – and the way they sound and feel when sung in a totally different context by some of the most nerve-tingling singers I’ve ever seen on stage. The action takes place in a boarding house. Times are tough; work is very hard to come by and lynchings happen from time to time. Nick, the guy who runs it (Ciaran Hinds, wonderful) is breaking under the burden of his mortgage, his demented wife, his boozy writer son (shades of Tennessee Williams) and his adopted black daughter (Sheila Atim), who has fallen mysteriously pregnant and absolutely does not want to be married off to her father’s elderly shopkeeper pal. Passing through are a widow, a boxer on the run, a dodgy bible salesman and a couple with a learning-disabled son who doesn’t know his own strength (shades of John Steinbeck). A hard rain is gonna fall on all of them. That’s a lot of stories to tell and a lot of American literature to reference and – especially in the second half – it all feels a bit sketchy and unfocused. But the relatio
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
'Faulty Towers: the Dining Experience' returns for 2017. This review is from the 2012 run. Farty Towels; Watery Fowls; Flowery Twats; the misspelling of Fawlty Towers's sign was a marvellous running gag. It was never spelt with a 'u', though, as it is in 'Faulty Towers the Dining Experience'. But despite being an unofficial tribute to John Cleese's legendary '70s sitcom, this interactive dinner-show – created by Australian company Interactive Theatre International –?captures the programme's spirit surprisingly well. Having ordered our drinks at the pricey bar, Basil Faulty (with a 'u', remember) calls each dining group to be seated. My scruffy clothes didn't go down well with the neurotic host. 'Haven't you heard of a shirt and tie?' he asked, disgusted, before directing us to table seven. Basil, Sybil and Manuel (Polly's 'got the night off', we're told) act as waiting staff, wandering between tables, interacting with guests, and performing longer set-pieces between courses which loosely recreate classic scenes from the series – pet rat, fire drill, goose-stepping etc. The trio are convincing impersonators, expertly nailing Cleese, Scales and Sachs's voices and mannerisms, and mingle seamlessly with the diners, making sure to involve each guest but never humiliate them. What's disappointing is the lack of a through-line. The skits are hardly linked, meaning the evening doesn't build to much of a conclusion. The food, too, isn't exactly haute cuisine. The soup was tasty, b
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
'Bat Out of Hell' returns for 2018; this review is from its run at the London Coliseum in 2017. Casting is tba though original leads Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington are said to be in 'advanced negotiations' to return ‘Bat Out of Hell’, a musical based on the multi-platinum songs of Jim Steinman – as popularised by the man known as Meat Loaf – is a preposterous, lumbering behemoth of a show. There is absolutely nothing I could possibly say here to dent its popularity. It’s only calling into the Coliseum for a limited season, and it’s very hard to imagine that ticket-holding fans of Steinman and Meat Loaf’s ‘Wagnerian rock’ will be arsed about the fact that it’s not exactly ‘Hamlet’ in the plot department. If you are interested, then Steinman’s book is basically a sort of half-arsed stab at dystopia that follows privileged, gothy teen Raven (a spirited Christina Bennington) in her stupendously inept attempts to escape the building owned by her father Falco (Rob Fowler, camp) in order to hook up with crazy-eyed love interest Strat (Andrew Polec, genuinely excellent), who hangs out in the street outside and is apparently immortal. (Presumably he signifies the timeless power of rock ’n’ roll, though on the whole the fact that he has apparently ceased to age since 18 feels weirdly underexplored.) Obviously everybody sings a lot of Meat Loaf tunes. Steinman’s quasi-operatic ballads have their moments, and at best they’re a histrionic joy. At worst they kind of sound like y
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.
Venue says: “Come and try Dandelyan's new menu, exploring the science and art at play in the human adaptation of plant and animal life!”
Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka bartender Mr Lyan, is a London cocktail dignitary – he's worked in some of the city’s most pioneering bars and now has his own range of mixed spirits in Selfridges. He opened his first bar in Hoxton in 2013, and hot on its heels is this second one. Number two couldn’t be more different. Dandelyan has a prime spot off the lobby of the new multimillion-pound Mondrian hotel in the former Sea Containers House. Dandelyan is run by a team of super-slick international-hotel ‘servers’. White Lyan set out to shake up the cocktail scene by dispensing with ice and all perishables, and Dandelyan’s menu is just as groundbreaking – ingredients include 'chalk bitters', 'crystal peach nectar’ and the archaic-sounding 'dandelion capillaire'. The bar might be glamorous, luxurious and even a bit formal, but the drinks show Chetiyawardana’s invention and attention to detail. Ford & Warner (£12.50) was a fruitily fearsome blend of gin, 'bittered blackcurrant', dandelion flower and lemon, garnished with a little frozen cube of blackcurrant sorbet. An Evil Manhattan (£12.50) didn’t live up to its name but did contain a house-made beer 'vermouth', rye whiskey and bitters. Everything here has a hint of the garden about it, and everything is surprising without being show-off, and most of all, inherently drinkable. Dress up before you drink up; it’s that sort of place. VIDEO: Check out Dandelyan's awesome new mousetrap trolley
Venue says: “A relaxed, all-day, traditional French restaurant on Islington Green. Join us for a simple cup of coffee with cake or enjoy a 'grand repas'.”
Hipsters: prepare to be outraged. There’s a new kid in town, with dishes as retro as a Rubik’s Cube, but without the side of irony. That’s because it’s the latest gaff from Corbin & King, the chaps behind The Wolseley, The Delaunay, and Brasserie Zédel. Like those, it’s named in connection with classic cars (backstory: The Wolseley site was originally built as the showroom of the Wolseley Car Company). Bellanger is a nod to the Société des Automobiles Bellanger Frères, a French car manufacturer from 1912 to ’25 (fun fact: Monsieur Bellanger sold Delaunay cars). And once again, it pays homage to the golden era of all-day ‘grand cafés’. Formerly home to a popular-but-uninspiring branch of Brown’s, the site’s potential has at last been realised. The layout’s much the same (airy front section, intimate rear space, bustling middle to connect the two), but the refit by David Collins’s protégé Shayne Brady is all new. If you can call interiors straight from the Alsatian brasseries of turn-of-the-century Paris ‘new’, that is. (Bit of history: these were set up by refugees fleeing the Alsace after the region was annexed by Germany). It’s gorgeously art nouveau, all polished wood panelling, smoky mirrors and flattering golden lighting. An abundance of booths encourages group dining and café chatter. You can’t buy this kind of buzz. The food – a Venn diagram of French, German and Alsatian – is simple, yet flawless. If Angela Merkel and François Hollande embarked upon an illicit affair
Still London’s most glamorous Moroccan restaurant, Momo attracts a fair smattering of beautiful people alongside couples on special dates, hen parties and business types. The soundtrack of classic Maghrebi beats and attractive young francophone waiting staff create a seductive buzz. Sexy Marrakech-style interiors, sparkling with light from intricately latticed mashrabiya-style windows and ornate metalwork lanterns, add to the allure. Tables are small and tightly packed, but somehow this rarely seems an imposition. Enjoy deliciously light, carefully crafted starters such as juicy prawns wrapped in crispy shredded kataifi pastry with a sour-sweet mango and tomato salsa, or scrumptious pan-fried scallops with a piquant salsa verde, before moving on to Moroccan classics such as lamb tagine with pears and prunes. But the main attraction has to be the near-perfect couscous: silky fine grains served with vegetables in a light cumin-scented broth, with tender, juicy chicken, plump golden raisins, chickpeas and harissa – all served separately so you can mix them as you please. Such delights coupled with a pricey wine list result in a hefty bill, so Momo needs to iron out the galling little niggles such as the shabby dark toilets and the occasionally inattentive service.
Venue says: “Get 50% off food Sunday to Wednesday if you dine before 7pm. Book using the code 'Frida'.”
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).
Venue says: “Join us every Wednesday for live music, unparalleled views of London and a special Grey Goose cocktail menu with drinks at £10. Book Now!”
Since this review was published, Rumpus Room has undergone refurbishment. Time Out Eating & Drinking editors, March 2017. Hotel bars used to be the straight-laced kind of place you’d take your ’rents. Not so at the Mondrian, 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, Rumpus Room is an occasion bar. We can’t vouch for
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 c
Venue says: “We roast and grind all our own spices from scratch so you get an extra depth of flavour in all our homemade sauces!”
Hook will make you feel as if you’re at the seaside. The simple, maritime-themed furnishings are reminiscent of a beach hut. The walls are painted blue like sea and sky. And, as on any seaside visit, you’ll be eating fish and chips. But not just any old fish and chips. Forget about slabs of grey flesh in thick, greasy body bags of batter. Think instead sea bass in a lime, mint and wasabi batter, applied sparingly; think Cajun spiced hake; think cod in a ‘classic’ batter made of panko – Japanese breadcrumbs. Barely a hint of grease in either one, and fish perfectly cooked: juicy and tender. The menu changes daily. Hook gets some of its fish from Cornish day boats; catches vary day by day. Some other fish are farmed, and they’re not afraid to use lesser-known species such as gurnard and ling. The catch makes it to NW1 speedily, and is served very fresh. Side dishes on our visit included a tasty celeriac slaw and a salad with samphire. We got a sampler plate of all their sauces, and they’re good, but the battered fish is so fine that it doesn’t need anything else. If you want vinegar for your chips, you’ll get a dinky atomiser of the sherry variety: classy. Our deep-fried rounds of potato tasted great, but needed a bit more chippy crunch. The drinks list is basic, but a small selection of bottled beers should do the trick. You may find a family at the next table, or a group of friends celebrating in sybaritic style. Camden Town is rapidly learning that it does like to be bes
Venue says: “Heading to the theatre in Covent Garden this month? Our tapas menu of small plates is perfect for a quick pre-theatre or post-theatre meal!”
Despite growing competition, the Opera Tavern remains one of Covent Garden's best dining options and among London’s top tapas restaurants. Formerly a pub, it’s split into a slightly charmless upstairs restaurant and a cosy, mirror-backed bar at street level. The latter has been stylishly updated with chocolate leather bar stools, copper spotlights and an open grill; the main kitchen is in the beer cellar. The Spanish-Italian menu is kept fresh with regular specials. The signature burger of juicy ibérico pork and foie gras remains deservedly popular, though more inventive combinations better showcase the kitchen’s delicate touch and careful sourcing of ingredients. Char-coated venison was enlivened by jerusalem artichoke, pickled walnuts and truffle, while the natural sweetness of scallops (served in the shell) was balanced by a feather-light pea, fennel and mint purée. Watch out, though: portions are dainty and it’s easy to rack up a hefty bill. The Spanish and Italian wine list is well curated; smooth and nutty manzanilla pasada is the ideal aperitif for sherry sceptics. Little touches such as allowing diners a taste before committing to a glass exemplify the sophisticated, amiable service. Opera Tavern is part of the Salt Yard Group, along with Dehesa in Soho and Salt Yard in Fitzrovia.
The unstoppable uplift of the King’s Cross area brings a new bar/restaurant nearly every week, but the Booking Office remains the undisputed champion for cocktails. For one thing, it’s just a great place to sit, whether you’re in the lovely former booking hall, with its dark wood and soaring gothic arches, or outside overlooking the train tracks. There can be slightly longer waits outside, so don’t go there if you’re in a rush. Frequented by a lot of business people – and, naturally, by travellers – it’s not a place you go for a cool hangout vibe. But you make your own vibe at the comfortable, low-slung tables. The cocktail list starts at £9 for punches (a speciality) with most between £11 and £15. They play around with classic drinks adventurously but sensibly, and if nothing takes your fancy, ordering off-list is easy and rewarding. And take note (or be warned) – Office hours last until 3am from Thursday to Saturday.
Venue says: “In the heart of Covent Garden, serving breakfast, lunch, cakes & coffee from The Roastery Department. Talk to us about private bookings.”
It was a marketing wheeze that really, really worked. This new café/takeaway in Covent Garden sold every dish for a penny on opening day, and when we went a few days later there were huge queues waiting for tables and (mostly) takeaway. It reminded us of the old drug dealer’s trick to get new clients: ‘the first one’s free’. Addiction to Black Penny may become a recognised medical condition, but it won’t be because of cost – low though that is. When you finally reach the counter, you see dishes that look like those at many another coffee place: soup, sandwiches, salad, quiche, a stew, lots of baked sweet things. But when you finally sit down in the small back dining room, you realise this isn’t the stuff of two-for-a-penny cafés. The quality is high in both sweet and savoury dishes. Salads are a particular strength, with confident seasoning in the dressings and excellent assemblies of sprightly ingredients to carry them. The kitchen has a masterful pasty-maker, as we saw in both a savoury tart and a Pennsylvania-Dutch-style apple pie. They also had a good ceviche on the menu when we were there. Portions are enormous and prices eminently reasonable - £7.50 for a salad box that some people would be happy to share between two, sandwiches just under a fiver. In the food, the only downer was inelegant presentation of salad selections. The separate components were piled together so that their flavours blended in some unappealing ways: ceviche on top of couscous is never a good
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
I love a rebel. Temper gallops up to the ‘cooking on charcoal’ bandwagon, then sets it on fire. Imagine smoked meat and fish served over tacos and flatbreads, with pow-pow Asian and Latin spices. It’s one of those rare, holy-shit-I’ve-not-eaten-like-this-before places. This Soho joint, from Scottish chef Neil Rankin (Smokehouse, Bad Egg) sources top-notch whole carcasses, which are grilled or smoked in slabs – a cow’s entire ribcage, a legless goat (no jokes, please) – ahead of slicing or dicing. The most straightforward dishes are those served over a ‘flatbread’ (more of a basic roti, made with rendered animal fat and puffed up on the grill) in small, affordable portions. Try the impossibly juicy pork, or the full-flavoured smoked goat. To this bread-and-meat-combo, you add up to eight exotic sprinkles and salsas (all homemade). I loved the simplicity of their ‘green sauce’: just lime juice, coriander and garlic. But it’s with the tacos where things really get interesting. They grind the corn on site (of course they do), and because these rough, rustic little discs are hand-pressed, they’re thicker than usual, so you can really taste – and feel – the corn. But the fillings, oh, the fillings. I adored the soy-cured beef. This is a twist on a yukhoe (a Korean ‘steak tartare’), which they make by stripping off the outside of a half-smoked joint of beef to expose the uncooked bit underneath (sort of like using the inside of a medium rare steak), then hand-chopping and mixing w
Venue says: “A free glass of wine or prosecco on arrival for all Timeout readers for the month of March - You're welcome!”
As one door closes, so they say, another opens. As we process the sad news that Neal Street’s Food for Thought, a veggie institution with rock-bottom prices, is closing after more than 40 years, only a couple of streets over, newcomer Jar Kitchen shows how far good café food has come in that time – but also how some things never change. Most of us still need friendly places serving good, imaginative food at fair prices – especially in Covent Garden. Run by Lucy Brown and Jenny Quintero, this smart café sits at the northern end of Drury Lane. The kitchen is open to the ground-floor dining room where Brown, a former model agent, was busy greeting and waiting tables on our visit. So far, so ordinary. What makes Jar Kitchen super is the brief menu, prices midway between caff and restaurant, and delightful dishes. An Ottolenghi-ish mixed-grain salad looked great, with its pomegranate arils and fresh mint leaves, toasted almonds, roasted heirloom carrots and drizzle of coconut yoghurt. A sizeable bowl costs £8; for an extra £3, the kitchen adds shreds of braised lamb shoulder. Another simple but brilliant dish was a green chopped salad, costing a mere £3.50, featuring pert mixed leaves and an attractively tangy dressing. Jar Kitchen does vegetarian dishes well, but it’s not a vegetarian restaurant. Scraps of ‘ceviche style’ sea bass (£6.50) came with creamed avocado, chopped fennel, and a multi-seed dressing. Orther dishes might include roast pork belly, or lemon sole with brown
Berners Tavern is one of three West End restaurants Jason Atherton opened in 2013; the other two, Little Social and Social Eating House, were very well received for their playful and appealing dishes. This new venture is more of the same, but in a much grander setting. It’s housed in the new Edition hotel in Fitzrovia, which looks like the older, more sophisticated sister of the Sanderson hotel just down the road. Both places were given makeovers by hotelier Ian Schrager, but Edition is an exercise in slick metropolitan taste, with opulent chandeliers, framed art-by-the-yard covering entire walls, and improbably elegant staff. The huge lobby bar looks fabulous; but the vast dining room, with its ornate plasterwork ceiling, very low lighting and lively bar area, looks even better. The menu’s prices are alarmingly high – but most of the dishes we tried were very good. Head chef Phil Carmichael turns out tender pork belly with a sauce of sharp capers, golden raisins and apple coleslaw to cut through the fat. The flavours of this and a pan-braised halibut (perfectly cooked) with a little saucepan of savoury squid ink risotto were sublime. A starter of ‘egg, ham and peas’ updates a signature Atherton recipe; a breadcrumbed duck egg is held upright by a purée of fresh peas, the crisp Cumbrian ham almost a garnish. The only culinary disappointment was a chocolate éclair dessert, as the pastry – which should be very slightly stale – was overly so. Any caveats? Sometimes dizzy serv
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.
Venue says: “Weekend brunch six-course set menu £29 and bottomless £44 (two-hour table time). Not to be missed!”
Turning up at a smart destination restaurant with a large suitcase is always going to be awkward. What’s more awkward is not being able to find the front door. I’m not sure who was more surprised, us or the kitchen porters, when we marched, suitcase in tow, through the kitchen door of Central, currently the hottest restaurant in Lima, Peru. Central is so discreet it doesn’t even bother with a sign. But its dishes are the opposite, with plate after plate dazzling its mixed clientele of tourists and wealthy Lima residents. There’s no such problem finding the new London outpost – its sign is clearly visible. And considering the near-impossibility of transposing chef Virgilio Martinez’s uniquely Peruvian style of cooking more than 6,000 miles, they’ve done a pretty good job. This is Martinez’s second London restaurant, following on from the success of Lima in Rathbone Place, an elaborate affair that has already bagged him a Michelin star. Lima Floral, on Covent Garden’s Floral Street, is not a copy but an extension of this gambit, and showcases more Peruvian classics. This time there’s a little less fuss, a more reasonable price tag, and a bar in the basement serving pisco cocktails. Interesting textures and depth of flavour, rather than the high-tech wizardry of Central or Lima, take centre stage here. Sea bream ceviche comes as a sublime starter, teamed with mounds of guacamole-like avocado uchucuta (salsa), speared with dried onion slices and sprinkled with toasted corn. Sea b
Venue says: “Spread across four Victorian railway arches, we offer a great vibe, welcoming crowd and freshly prepared food from our open kitchen.”
Just off the North Circular in Brent, the Ace Café is in its seventh decade serving up coffee, rolls and rock ’n’ roll to the leather-clad faithful. It’s the oldest biker bar in London. And the newest? Welcome to The Bike Shed: originally a blog and forum for custom bike nerds, now IRL and occupying two big railway arches right next to Shoreditch Town Hall. Alongside a shop selling biker bits and bobs (and a rockabilly barbershop) this Shed contains an upmarket cafe/bar/restaurant for bougie bikers and dedicated pedestrians alike. In fact, it’s only the faint smell of engine oil and the choppers parked up outside that give the game away. With a wooden bar up one side and red leather booths down the other, The Bike Shed looks like any other trendy arch-based London eatery. Burgers, bangers and other biker caff staples share a menu with superfood salads and detox juices. There’s an extensive breakfast/brunch selection, a long list of cocktails, and beers that range from Peroni to Beavertown, including non-alcoholic options for anyone actually on wheels. To drink after 8pm you need to either order food or become a member, which should keep the bikers safe from rowdy City boys. Both our burgers – one meat, one veggie – were accomplished and generous, piled high with onion rings and served in brioche buns with homemade gherkins and coleslaw. Crispy mushroom and polenta fritters made a great starter. Prices are decent for Shoreditch, and the portions are hefty enough to refuel e
Venue says: “Join us for our new flambée menu that includes a mixed leaf salad, classic tarte flambée, a glass of wine or beer, plus tea or coffee.”
The Delaunay was Chris Corbin and Jeremy King’s 2012 follow-up to the Wolseley and, like that handsome behemoth, it looks like it’s been here for decades. Grand European cafés provide the inspiration, and the interior is a treat – a David Collins-designed mix of green leather banquette seating, dark wood, brass rails, antique mirrors and a black and white marble floor. The café and bar area leads through to the main dining room; next door is the Counter (a café serving savouries, cakes and coffee, with takeaway available). The menu runs from breakfast to dinner, taking in afternoon tea (a not-to-be-missed opportunity to try the Austrian-biased cakes, all made in-house). There’s a dish of the day (goulash, say, or chicken curry), soups, salads and egg dishes, plus savouries (welsh and buck rarebits) and crustacea. The sandwich selection runs from croque monsieur to a brioche burger with french fries. Starters include steak tartare and smoked salmon plates; mains take in kedgeree and choucroute à l’Alsacienne. There’s also a good choice of sausages, served with potato salad, sauerkraut and caramelised onions: try the käsekrainer (an Austrian meat and cheese version). In short, there’s something for everyone, at prices that aren’t greedy given the setting, the quality of the service and the assuredness of the menu.
Aqua Shard is in two parts: a smart, fine-dining, expense-account venue with magnificent views, and an attached cocktail bar with equally fabulous views, reviewed here. Aqua Shard is itself only one part of the Aqua Group's premises set halfway up the Shard. Hutong, a fine-dining Chinese restaurant, is on the floor above (and, of course, also has terrific views). The Aqua Group is a Hong Kong-based company, best known for its well-regarded and very stylish restaurants in Hong Kong, including the original branch of Hutong. In London they also run two attached restaurants just off Oxford Circus, Aqua Kyoto (Japanese) and Aqua Nueva (Spanish).
Venue says: “Winner of the 'world's best high volume bar' at the 2016 Spirited Awards. Open seven days a week 6pm-1am. Cocktail classes also available.”
The menu is housed in an empty cassette case, the toilet is hidden behind a secret door in the wall and the cocktails have such cringe-o names as 'Ume? Yes You' and 'Fennel Countdown'. Sure, Callooh Callay sounds gimmicky, but the tipples at this long-established Shoreditch bar are the real deal. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable (no moody, 'I'm actually in a band’ hipsters serve here) and mix delectable elixirs like vodka and rhubarb with vanilla shrub and whisky with apricot jam and chocolate bitters (just ignore the names). The exposed brick walls, Milk Tray-coloured soft furnishings and abundance of tealights make Callooh Callay a very cosy spot to sit. Neither trashy nor pretentious, the vibe here is fun but still stylish, and, unlike in neighbouring bars, you won't be surrounded by swarms of obnoxious suits or stag-dos.
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Kensington Palace Orangery
Though largely dominated by tourists, Kensington Palace Orangery retains all the grandeur you’d expect from a former royal, alfresco entertainment space. Imposing colonnades, vaulted ceilings and a spacious terrace make it a lovely place to stop for breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea. The latter is a relatively simple affair, with a fixed selection of sandwiches, scones and either tea (a good range) or coffee. The basic version costs £24; adding alcohol bumps it up to £30.50 for Pimm's or £34 for a glass of Laurent-Perrier NV champagne. Breakfast focuses mainly on standard pastries, cereal, and egg dishes including a full English for £11.95. Lunch options are more extensive, modern-style cooking with an admirable emphasis on buying British produce including London smoked salmon and the wonderful charcuterie from Trealy Farm. There are British beers and a short wine list for those thirsting for alcohol. Whatever you eat or drink, however, the whole experience is elevated unquestionably by the incredible backdrop.
Venue says: “Join us for afternoon tea from noon-5pm, starting at £26 per person.”