Andy is a freelance writer and musician. He arranges words and chords into pleasing configurations for dosh and lols. He promises to update his Twitter more often: @AndyHillWrites.
19 things you didn't know about Pride
Pride is back, with the annual Pride parade set to turn the West End's streets into a colourful cocophony of rainbow flags and bearded ladies on Saturday June 28. Whether you're joining the party or not, flick through the pics below for a big old dose of trivia about the LGBT community's big day out. RECOMMENDED: The dos and don't of Pride
Six perfect spring getaways just outside of London
Have you heard? Spring has officially sprung, people, and that’s your cue to escape the city and venture into the countryside. We know it’s scary outside the M25, but trust us, you won’t spontaneously combust as soon as your Oyster card stops working. Seaside spots, pagan festivals, art galleries, bluebell woods and secluded hamlets are all within easy reach, so you can be back in the world of 24-hour shops and tube journeys by tea time. We’ve rounded up the sweetest springtime spots that are only a hop, skip and short train ride away. They’re all spot-on options if you’re free over Easter weekend or have some extra leave days to fill. If you fancy a more ad hoc kind of day trip, check out our guide to the best places to visit within an hour of London. And if you’re in the mood to put your feet up and start suppin' at a brilliant Home Countries boozer, try our guide to perfect country pubs within reach of London. RECOMMENDED: The best day trips from London
Removals in London: finding a firm
London has a truckload of removals firms, so how do you find a good one? Our guide to finding London's best removals companies is here to do the heavy lifting for you. Bishops MoveThey’ve been shunting people’s gear all over London since 1854, and true to their name moved the latest Archbishop of Canterbury into Lambeth Palace. Founded in Pimlico (next time you pull into Victoria Station look up on the right to see their vintage Victorian signage) they’re now truly international, working as far afield as Gibraltar and New Zealand.0800 107 8422. www.bishopsmove.com.Fast Forward GroupEstablished since 1979 and still using their original mantra of 'You never realise how much stuff you have until... it comes to moving it all', Fast Forward provide a range of removals and storage room services for homes and offices. FFG is still an independent company, with friendly staff and an online quotation service, and covers everything from small moves to full properties. 0800 45 49 53. www.ffg123.com. Alexanders GroupNo job is too big (they’ve tackled stately homes, embassies, schools and even factories), but stay true to their roots as a small, husband-and-wife founded enterprise who go the extra mile to ensure a stress-free moving experience. Storage units also available.0333 800 2323. www.alexandersremovals.co.uk. Movers Not ShakersMore than just a rock-solid pun, Movers Not Shakers have grown from a rudimentary man-and-van outfit to a six-truck, fourteen-man squad in just over a decad
London live/work spaces: a good idea?
Half a million Londoners work from home. That's a lot of people making important business calls in their pants. But is it worth saying au revoir to the office, sayonara to the Central Line and TTFN to the traipse into town, by investing in your own live/work space? Ravi Singh is owner of Spaced Up, a London-based lettings and estate agency which helps small businesses find property to live and work in under the same roof. 'In the past few years it's really exploded,' he explains. 'Areas that used to be considered unacceptable to live in, like Hackney Wick, are now highly desirable, and luckily for us they're full of warehouses. In the next few years we're expecting previously unthinkable parts of town like Edmonton or Erith to become hotspots. They have loads of ex-industrial buildings and – for now, anyway – insanely low rents.' Live/work units were once the preserve of artists and musicians, who crave big, versatile, cheap spaces. Lately, though, Ravi has seen a wider range of businesses using his services. 'One-person companies are outgrowing the kitchen table,' he says. 'Design firms, consultancies, agencies. They need a place to welcome clients, in some cases a manufacturing facility. It's cheaper than paying for two properties, and a share of your rent and bills becomes tax-deductible.' But what about the inability to switch off, and not having anyone to have a bitch at when you slip off for that crafty afternoon fag? Here are three Londoners' views from the live/work c
Rent in London: 18 things you should know
Finding a place to rent in London is a tricky old game. This is mainly due to the fact that it's a game that's simultaneously being played by thousands of other people, many of whom have more money than you, and consequently a massive advantage. However, knowledge is power. Enter the fray with these crucial pointers about the London renting market and you're far more likely to emerge at the other end clutching a shiny set of keys. Get real about your budget Not only will this eliminate wasted time schlepping around gaffs too grandiose for your puny income, it will positively affect your quality of life for months or even years to come. Look at it this way: it’s no fun living in Shoreditch if you can’t afford a pint. Moving somewhere trendy? Forget about this stuff. A month isn’t four weeks long Rent is often misleadingly advertised as, for instance, £300 per week. You’d think that makes the monthly amount £1,200, right? Nope. Multiply by 52 to find the annual total (in this case £15,600) then divide by 12 to get – ta da! – £1,300. That’s a hundred quid difference they’re hoping you don’t notice until too late. You’re welcome. Rent isn’t the end of the story Council tax (yay!) can vary drastically from borough to borough. Westminster, rather cheekily, has among the lowest rates in the country, at £678.14 per year. Kingston-on-Thames conversely charges over a grand more at £1678.65. Work out how much you’ll owe at www.gov.uk/council-tax-bands. When selecting places to view, al
London house prices: what you need to know
How much should I expect to pay? The average London house price recently hit an all-time high of £525,000, with the average price for first-time buyers currently standing at £412,000. At one end of the scale are the multi-million pound houses and apartments that are being built for the super-rich. But prices are high even at the lower end of the market, and differ greatly between areas. A two-bedroom pad in Kensington could set you back £1.5 million. In Camden, you’re likely to pay around £800,000. Head east to Hackney and the price drops to around £600,000. But down south in Brixton, it’s a (slightly) more reasonable £500,000. And if you’re prepared to live further out, you can buy a two-bed place in South Norwood or Forest Gate for as little as £280,000. So the short answer, really, is that it all depends on where you’re willing to live. How much is my property likely to increase in value? Exact figures are obviously hard to predict and vary depending on which ‘expert’ you speak to. But in general terms, the value of property in London is expected to continue increasing by a significant amount each year for the foreseeable future. Some industry bigwigs suggest that this unprecedented period of growth will continue until at least 2025, with the capital’s average house price reaching £1 million within 15 years. But that’s not to suggest the increases will be as dramatic as we’ve seen over the last few years. Prices are still going up but rates of growth have slowed (they’re c
Listings and reviews (7)
Please note, Fox is now closed. Time Out Editors, July 2018. Occupying a sizeable corner spot between Shoreditch and Dalston (you’ve no doubt whizzed by on the bus before), The Fox is a very worthy pub (or, as they’d prefer it, a ‘craft beer house’) that’s much-beloved locally. Ten draught pumps and eight hand pumps serve a rotating selection of fine ales – regularly featured brewers include Dark Star from Sussex, Harviestoun from Scotland and Thornbridge from Bakewell. There’s usually a couple of ciders on, and a proper connoisseur’s depth to the bottle menu: everything from Hawaii’s Maui Brewing Mana Wheat (with tangy overtones of pineapple) to the Aussie stalwart Little Creatures Pale Ale’ (refreshing and satisfyingly bitter). The Fox isn’t cheap for the area, but midweek it’s usually easy to get a table, or a bench on the neat little roof terrace.
The Gun is that rarity in London: a ‘proper pub’. Though it was gussied up by new owners in 2014, its uncovered original signage remain evocative of the proper boozer it doubtless was for a goodly chunk of its existence. Don’t be put off though - it’s still an authentically local place to stop by for a couple of pints, with friendly staff and justly famous jerk chicken croquettes. Thanks to a peculiarity in the licence, you’re allowed to take beer home in a 1.5 pint bottle; before you do, settle in and order two-thirds of a pint of the local Five Points Pale Ale or others from a strong London selection: Beavertown, Redemption, Weird Beard (more generic beers, there to keep the old locals happy, are also available). With fair prices and a shiny new roof terrace, the Gun is certainly worth a shot.
Duke's Brew & Que
Please note, Duke's Brew & Que has now closed. Time Out Food editors, December 2017. Noted for its fine Deep South-influenced barbecue food (the beef ribs really are outstanding), this De Beauvoir spot is a prime place to settle down for a no-nonsense session of meat, beans and beer. Before success forced Beavertown brewery up to larger premises in Tottenham Hale (via Hackney Wick), it started life here, and as official taproom there’s a focus on its own wares (from the always-dependable Gamma Ray APA and exceptional Neck Oil Session IPA, at 4.3 percent the afternoon drinker’s friend). Many Beavertown brews are canned too, which suits Duke’s sticky-fingered vibe perfectly. It’s small wonder Duke’s Brew regularly has a queue.
Though technically an upstairs adjunct to Jason Atherton’s celebrated Social Eating House (which itself garnered a five-star review in Time Out), The Blind Pig is a worthy destination in its own right. Perhaps as a nod to its Prohibition-flavoured nickname (‘blind pig’ being US underworld slang for a good old-fashioned den of iniquity), it’s not immediately obvious how to find it at street level; look under the vintage ‘Optician’ sign for the blindfolded hog doorknocker and boom, you’re in. The decor is authentically retro but never schmaltzy; lovely touches like the antique mirrored ceiling, copper-topped bar and charmingly mismatched (yet never discordant) wooden furniture made me feel (on date night) like a wide-lapelled Capone crony painting the town with his broad. If this all sounds a little contrived and too-clever-by-half, the cocktail menu brings welcome comic relief. Who could resist a Slap ’n’ Pickle (gin, brandy and pickle brine), Kindergarten Cup (incorporating ‘Skittles-washed Ketel One’), or Robin Hood, Quince of Thieves? (brandy, quince liqueur, mead). The puns are employed with abandon, but everything I tried was ace (even, yes, Dill or No Dill). Better yet, the bar snacks are made downstairs, so the grilled baby peppers, confit pork rillettes and duck fat chips are straight-up gangster.
Ridley Road Market Bar
Whichever genius decided to convert a scruffy store halfway down a traditional London marketplace into a tiki dive bar deserves a medal. It’s resolutely egalitarian (no reservations, no guestlist: just show up and get merry), the decor is almost laughably DIY, the hooch is cheap (three quid for a can of Red Stripe is not to be sniffed at in this part of town) and the tunes – reggae, motown and party pop – keep the joint solidly jumping until 2am at the weekend. There’s a surprisingly respectable cocktail menu too, all for a fiver, served informally in plastic tumblers. The ginger mojito brings welcome warmth to that minty old stalwart, the piña colada goes down a treat amid the cheesy beach bar vibes, and the original creation Kamm Kardashian is as irresistibly kitsch as its big-arsed namesake.
‘Tonteria’ means ‘nonsense’ in Spanish, and this Mexican-themed Sloaney hangout has silliness in spades: think fire-eating women in latex, live lucha libre wrestling and booze poured from a miniature Mayan ziggurat. If that’s not ‘loco’ enough for you, there is even a toy train to deliver shots to your table. Yeah. In one of Guy Pelly’s stable of west London bars, the clientele are predictably well-heeled (legend has it Prince Harry uses his own secret entrance), but there is delicious tapas and it’s a prime spot to mingle with the high-born and high-cheekboned. To blend in you may as well quaff a champagne cocktail: the Tonte Spritz’s heady fusion of sweet and citrus will have you merry from the initial sip, while the frozen margarita is deceptively drinkable while packing a serious punch. Special mention to the stonking tequila selection, most notably the Reserva de Alma, one of only two bottles of its kind in the world and a snip at £5,000. ¡Ay caramba!
A short stroll off the main Upper Street drag, this high-ceilinged Canonbury bar is bright and airy yet cosy and discreet – perfect for an illicit afternoon sesh. This quartet of siblings take their cocktails very seriously indeed, and it shows; you’ve probably necked a negroni or two in your time, but have you ever tried a six-week-barrel-aged negroni? It’s dark, sweet and intoxicating on many levels. The popular elderflower julep is an altogether lighter proposition, with a subtle hint of apple, and is emblematic of Four Sisters’ rigorous approach to ingredients; the gin hails from the nearby East London Liquor Co, and the syrups (lavender, passion fruit, cranberry) are made in-house. This kind of quality doesn’t come cheap, so if you’re sceptical swing by during happy hour, perch up on a barstool with a partner-in-crime and grab two works of expertly made enliveners for a mere tenner.
Nine tips to help you get your deposit back
With less than half of Londoners owning their own pad – and the number declining – we are truly a city of renters. In our new series we’ll be tackling the issues that come with renting. First up, Andy Hill gets some advice from Miles Shipside, a longstanding London landlord. If you’re a long-term private renter (basically the bulk of us in the Time Out office) there’s a good chance that at some point you’ll have had beef with a landlord or letting agent quibbling over the return of your security deposit. Assuming you haven’t set fire to the gaff you’ll likely receive the lion’s share back, but niggly unforeseen deductions can mount up and make moving even more stressful than it already is. Here are some tips on avoiding penalties when it’s time to up sticks… Make sure your tenancy is legit ‘Deposit-protection schemes exist, and work fine, but only if you’re in an “assured shorthold” arrangement. If you’re just an off-the-books lodger don’t expect legal protection. Check this.’ Get the inventory right ‘It’s exciting to move into a new place, but unless you properly focus, photograph and sign-off on every detail you won’t have a leg to stand on come the end of your tenancy.’ Bring up problems early ‘Landlords are more likely to seek deductions if we suddenly discover, after a year, an unreported damp patch on the kitchen ceiling. As soon as anything starts looking amiss, photograph and email it. We hate surprises.’ Don’t just rely on the letting agent ‘Many landlords use letti
Ten awesome robots that are changing London
A new exhibition about robots opens at the Science Museum this week. Andy Hill gets acquainted with ten that are already at large in our city. 1. The one taking care of Grandma… A disarmingly cute, programmable humanoid robot by the name of Pepper (above) is working as a companion for old folk in care homes who would otherwise be isolated or staring at a television all day. Some care homes employ Pepper in a simple meet-and-greet capacity, but the four-foot-tall bot – built in Japan and marketed in the UK by Robots of London – can also send dictated emails to grandkids, read the news, advise what’s on the menu that day and even help ensure that nana remembers to take her pills in a timely fashion. …and selling you a house Pepper is also right now working in an estate agent’s office in London. The doe-eyed robot has previously tackled jobs such as meeting and greeting delegates at conferences and manning reception desks, but her designers believe that her ability to instantly search the market and provide detailed up-to-the-minute info will make her near-ubiquitous in the property world before long. The exact location of the estate agent’s office where a robot is currently working is a secret, so we can all have fun guessing. 2. The one patrolling our waters Last September the Royal Navy took to the Thames to show off the latest addition to Her Majesty’s fleet – a drone boat. Officially christened the Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed or MAST (see what they did ther
London's favourite fictional characters vs the housing market
Last month Del Boy’s neighbours became property millionaires. Andy Hill wonders how other fictional Londoners might have fared in today’s housing market. Bonnet de douche, Rodney! A property on the council estate that starred in ‘Only Fools and Horses’ sold last month for £1.1 million. In other words, Del Boy actually could have been a millionaire today if the plonker had just stayed put. The run-down estate in the sitcom’s original title sequence (which purported to be in Peckham but was actually in Acton) didn’t just serve as a backdrop for dodgy ’80s wheeler-dealing. It stood in for war-torn Bosnia in gritty 1997 movie ‘Welcome to Sarajevo’ and witnessed several unsavoury sequences shot for ‘The Bill’. But following a massive regeneration programme and some inevitable new development, a piece of the action in Acton is now worth an arm and a leg. Here are some other famous fictional Londoners who might have either made a lovely-jubbly investment, or been priced out of town, in 2016’s batshit-crazy housing market. Dot Cotton If the redoubtable Superking-huffing old battleaxe owns her house on Albert Square, she is officially quids in. ‘EastEnders’ was inspired by Fassett Square in Dalston, where homes now sell for £1.1 million (and that’s without a pub or a tube station). But if poor old Dot’s a private tenant, weekly rents of £750-plus would require more than a few extra shifts down the launderette. Withnail & I Daniel Mitchell The chaotic, hard-drinking duo certainly d
14 of London's most notable neighbourhoods... revealed!
What’s your area a hotspot for? In our City Index survey, 7,000 Londoners told us which neighbourhoods work hardest, are most loved by residents and have the most sex... Good vibes: Around three-quarters of folk from Hampstead and Swiss Cottage say they love their neighbourhood. Who can blame them, with acres of rolling heath, markets, posh shops and ace transport links? Working hard: Those enterprisingly busy bees in Nine Elms and South Lambeth claim they work the hardest, clocking up an apparently back-breaking average of 43.86 hours a week at the coalface. Hardly working: David Bowie's old stomping ground Bromley is the most work-shy in London, with respondents supposedly putting in a leisurely 37.14 hours per week at the office. 'Under Pressure?' Hardly. Straight edge: Respondents in Wimbledon were the most straight-laced, with a mere 6 percent of them taking drugs this past month. Who needs controlled substances when youíve got tennis and Wombles? © Amelia Seddon High Street: Stoke Newington's inhabitants are London's druggiest, with 39 percent declaring they've taken illicit substances in the past month. Stokey also claims the highest proportion of people whoíve stayed up until sunrise recently. Coincidence, we're sure. Morning afters: People in Balham and Clapham are seemingly the most drunk, with 87 percent admitting to having struggled through a hangover in the past month. Get some emergency bacon butties down there, stat. Night befores: A striking 80 percent of
This is what Monopoly-board London would look like in 2016
In the ’30s the makers of Monopoly picked 22 iconic London streets for their board. Eighty years later our city looks rather different, so we've come up with some alternative – and undeniably awesome – locations for a 2016 version. Deptford High Street This raucous jumble of beauty parlours, bookies, bars and butchers is plenty cheap and really quite cheerful. Fiercely independent retailers (and a stonking thrice-weekly flea market) do a lively trade, with banter coming free of charge, whether you’re shopping for a tattoo, a vintage jacket or a halal chop. Here are 11 reasons to go to Deptford High Street. Walthamstow High Street From Tuesday to Saturday, the agreeable racket of proper cor-blimey East Enders flogging fruit and veg at the market, alongside Tamil, Chinese, Nigerian and other diverse international hawkers, reflects London’s legendary plurality and openness. It’s the place to be whether you like fried chicken or want a phone unlocked, no questions asked. Kilburn High Road Sexy accents, ribald humour and really, really good pubs: praise be for the Irish community in north west London. To be sure, the main drag (an old Roman road) boasts everything from Polish grocers to Primark, plus a solidly highbrow indie theatre. But really? In NW6 it’s all about the craic. Kingsland Road In the curious hinterland that separates Dalston and Shoreditch, posh gourmands and tipsy revellers mingle with chatty Muslims outside the mosque. The brash neighbourhood toerags call eac
16 creepy London stories to get you in the mood for Halloween
Get in the mood for Halloween as Andy Hill hears terrifying tales from this city of 8 million souls – mysterious tube tragedies, covens of cannibal rats and ominous unexplained killings A chilling chamber in Vauxhall Nine Elms Cold Store was an eerie, labyrinthine refrigerated food warehouse built in 1965 near Vauxhall station. It held some 16,000 tons of chilled meat, cheese and butter, but fell into disuse in 1979. Between then and its demolition in the late ’90s, it was the scene of many sinister goings-on. One policeman patrolling its deserted interior stumbled upon an oddly decorated chamber with ‘… a bed, an altar and restraining devices attached to the walls and pillars’. The St Pancras walrus Workers excavating a north London churchyard during construction of the St Pancras International Eurostar terminal in 2003 probably expected to uncover some human remains. Which they did: but sharing a grave with three human skeletons dating back to 1822 were the body parts of a 12-foot-long Pacific walrus. All four corpses showed they had been cut into pieces before they were buried. The Northern line killer Getty The tube can be a spooky place. But a genuinely frightening Underground story emerged last year. Retired Met detective Geoff Platt claims that Scotland Yard suppressed a case in the 1970s, in which a homeless man confessed to deliberately pushing 18 innocent victims in front of Northern line trains. Allegedly, the police cover-up was intended to stop public p
25 things you didn't know about the tube
London’s beloved tube is the oldest and most iconic subterranean transport system in the world. Andy Hill minds the gap as he reveals its hidden history 1. Jerry Springer was born in Highgate station TV’s king of controversy was born in 1944 when the station was used as a bomb shelter. He grew up in East Finchley and said his first ambition was to drive the 102 bus. Instead he became one of the world’s most famous television personalities. 2. A one-legged engineer proved escalators are safe Tube engineer William ‘Bumper’ Harris lost a leg in a train accident, but stayed at work proving the newfangled moving stairs at Earl’s Court were safe by riding them for hours. Despite having his ups and downs, he ended up owning several houses in Greenwich. That’s how you get one foot on the property ladder. 3. The Underground employs a team of ‘fluffers’ Every night they collect the dust and debris (‘fluff’) which aggregates in tube tunnels. It’s a tough job traditionally done by women, which, thankfully, has been made easier in recent years with the introduction of tunnel-cleaning trains that help suck up the grime. 4. The tube has its own perfume In 2001 the specially launched ‘Madeleine’ fragrance was sprayed liberally in Euston, St James’s Park and Piccadilly stations by well-meaning bosses seeking to improve the ambience. It made commuters gag and was canned, ensuring stale farts, Lynx and rat wee will remain the tube bouquet. Mike Lodge 5. Spiral escalators were
The Londoners who stay up all night
Who are the Londoners that stay up all night? Andy Hill and David Clack meet them. [Photography: Rob Greig.] Alan Kingsott, Chief Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London ‘Not everybody realises the Tower of London is a 24-hour operation. My main role at the start of a nightwatch is conducting the ancient ‘ceremony of the keys’, which happens nightly at 10pm. It’s my favourite part of the job. I personally conduct the ceremony and subsequent nightwatch at least once a week. I am theoretically on call until the following day, ready to react to any incidents which might take place, for instance, getting the emergency services into the Tower in the event of a fire. If an incident happens, my job is to attend as quickly as I can; I don’t necessarily need to put on the whole uniform, but I probably wouldn’t leap into action in just my pyjamas. ‘Touch wood, we haven’t had to deal with much, though we have had the odd reveller who thinks it’s a good idea to take a short-cut through the grounds. I don’t give chase at my age, but we soon catch them. They can’t go anywhere, unless they jump in the river. There are all kinds of weird and wonderful ways they sneak in. Once, two ladies squeezed through a narrow gap in a fence. When you looked at the width, you couldn’t believe they were able to do it. ‘There’s a community here: 120 people live in the Tower of London. That’s 40-odd families, including my own. It’s a prestigious job, so my family don’t mind me working the odd night. To put the
Weird workouts: reach new heights with high altitude cycling
Rob Greig Spinning? Boring. Treadmill? Triple boring! It's time to try one of these sports of a different sort. Andy Hill gets into thin air at The Altitude Centre It's the first working day of 2016, and I'm less than 30 hours past the conclusion of what can only be described as 'an epic New Year bender'. Or 'squalid tequila binge'. That works too. I'm at The Altitude Centre, which specialises in putting athletes and City workers alike through their paces in a reduced-oxygen environment. Arriving with a bad stomach and aching joints, I'm already severely depleted. I want my mum. Instead, I'm in the hands of trainer Piers Chen, a clean-cut guy in pristine gym kit, putting my own cobbled-together get-up (borrowed T-shirt, Primark plimsolls, musical Christmas socks) to shame. 'Shall we?' he trills, and leads me to the studio. Via a peculiar sort of airlock we enter what looks like a standard gym. Not so. 'We extract around a quarter of the oxygen,' explains Piers, 'to simulate training at 2,700 metres.' I'm acutely aware of the 40-odd fags I've smoked over the past few days as my host straps a heart monitor to my chest and I mount one of the bikes. Pro athletes frequently train at high altitudes, the logic being that if you can perform under those challenging conditions, regular sea-level competition should be a breeze. Part of the reason Kenyans so utterly dominate the world of long-distance running is because they always train at high altitudes. Mo Farah himself attends The A
Behind the scenes at Christmas: in the kitchen at The Ivy
London's a brilliant place to be around Christmas, but what's it like for the people who make the magic happen? Andy Hill tries his hand at making signature dishes and Christmas cocktails at The Ivy. The kitchen at The Ivy is, as you might expect, a tense environment in which to prepare food. Particularly if, like me, you suck at it. 'On a scale of one to ten, I'd rate you: pisspoor,' says head pastry chef Liza Mustafa, my mentor for the morning, as I ruin The Ivy's legendary Christmas pudding soufflé. Mustafa muscles me away from the worktop to crack on with it herself: 'We knock out more than 500 of these a day at Christmas, so we can't hang about.' Later, when she stomps off to shout at someone else, I take the initiative and pipe some newly mixed flour, butter, chocolate, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon into soufflé rings. 'What the hell are you doing?!' she thunders over my petrified shoulder, then floors me with a smile: 'Nah, I'm just fucking with you. They're fine.' My soufflés – with a cream, chocolate and Drambuie filling - are deposited in the oven and I meekly slip away. South African expat Chelsea Arvanitis, sous-chef in the private dining suite upstairs, is less stressful company. 'We did our first Christmas service yesterday. It went brilliantly.' Plating more than 100 complex dishes for a picky crowd in just over an hour is no mean feat. 'Especially nowadays,' adds Arvanitis. 'I've seen 20 different "allergies" in one sitting. One diner claimed to be "88.5
Tinsel town: the eight most Christmassy places in London
As we're into December, you can now officially go totally festive. Where to start? Andy Hill rounds up the most Christmassy places in London South Bank Christmas Market It's the most wonderful time of the year at the South Bank, as its annual Alpine marketplace returns with gingerbread, bratwurst and mulled cider for the bobble-hatted Thames-side masses. The Southbank Centre itself is hosting a busy programme of music including free indoor gigs from regular Queens Walk buskers and live wassailing by a local Southwark kids' choir, plus a Scandi-themed cider lodge in the Hungerford Car Park. To honour the season of giving, there's a chance to contribute alms to the Waterloo Food Bank. It's what Jesus would do. Waterloo. Covent Garden Market Place Rob Greig Surprise that special someone at the covered market, where thickets of three-metre mistletoe chandeliers lure lovestruck Londoners to a sloppy seasonal snog. Fans of spectacle won't be disappointed either because the tallest Christmas tree in London has just been erected in The Piazza, alongside a 22-foot-tall silver reindeer. The Apple Market, WC2E 8RF. Columbia Road Hoang Viet Photography Feel positively Dickensian as you saunter down this beautifully preserved Victorian thoroughfare, preferably with something mulled inside you. Best known for its weekly Sunday flower market, Columbia Road is the place to grab a festive fir or a wreath for your door. And every Wednesday until the big day dozens of local independent
Kevin McCloud’s magnificent seven London buildings
The 'Grand Designs' legend gets misty-eyed (and faintly aroused) by his fave London architecture. St Paul’s Cathedral Michelle Grant 'A beautiful feminine form in an otherwise masculine London skyline. I love the generous, size DD dome, and all around it big priapic steel willies sticking up. Imagine looking up at it from the inside when it was first built. How does it defy gravity? Brilliant engineering: Christopher Wren was a mathematician first and foremost. It seems to say "Look, ye God, man too can defy the laws of nature, can defy gravity". A fabulous building.' The Shard Davide D'Amico ‘A work of ethereal magic. The difficulty with great big sodding buildings is they’re hulks. How do you, as an architect, suggest translucency, lightness, how you make hundreds of thousands of tonnes of steel and glass appear to weigh nothing? The Shard pulls it off by tapering; by literally dematerialising as it climbs. It’s the opposite of the Walkie Talkie, which is greedy, stealing air and space it doesn’t own. The Shard is respectful. The top just melts into the sky.' BT Tower 'It's straight out of my childhood, straight out of "Thunderbirds": it could have been designed by Gerry Anderson. What it represented when it was built was a very '60s brand of forward-thinking and hope, the belief that technology would send us into outer space. That’s where it’s pointing, after all. It’s magical and, for me, still full of a ridiculous sort of optimism.' St Bartholomew’s Church, Smithfie