Nine articles on Paris, restaurant reviews, opinion pieces and a monthly London events column for HiP Paris. Read here or below.

La Buvette de Camille: Natural Wines and Small Plates in Paris

© Claire Oldman

© Claire Oldman

As I very much enjoy drinking natural wines in London, I thought I would probably enjoy drinking them even more in France. So my thinking went when planning my trip to Paris last month. I can’t remember where I first heard about La Buvette, but it was on my list of natural wine places and also on my list of places that have been opened by ex-staff of Le Chateaubriand or Le Dauphin, where the owner of La Buvette, Camille Fourmont, used to work.

That part of rue Saint-Maur is uninhabited enough at night that, as I stopped outside La Buvette to take a photo of the neon sign spelling out its name before going inside, my friend E coming up behind me and saying hello made me jump and let out a small shriek. It’s actually not that far from Parmentier metro, but it seems so when you’re walking up the street in the dark, not knowing where it’s going to be. E, who knows the area well (and shares a surname with the owner Camille Fourmont – but is no relation as far as we could all discern) said she thought Camille was forging interesting new territory by opening there.

Once inside, it was pleasantly refreshing to be in a wine related space that had clearly been put together by a cool girl, rather than a man. Not that it’s girly. It wasn’t dark and there were no ancient dusty bottles gathering mould as décor. Instead, the white tiled walls with shallow wooden shelves held bottles of mostly natural wines, with the prices clearly written on them (add €8 for corkage). There were vintage glass light fixtures, each one slightly different, and a pot containing a fresh arrangement of white flowers and eucalyptus.  The whole effect was light, unfussy and modern.

The menu of small plates was written up on a mirror, with prices ranging from €3 - €6 for a plate of olives or fourme d’Ambert cheese, saucisse seche, haricots blancs, or ricotta with quince jam and hazelnut oil. We had most of the dishes that were available and I was still hungry afterwards, but this isn’t a restaurant, so it was probably my own fault for trying to make it into dinner. Due to licensing / lease restrictions it’s not allowed to be called a wine bar – it’s officially a wine shop where you can try the wine. The small space seats exactly fifteen and there’s also a zinc bar to lean on. It was full to capacity but not crowded on a cold Friday night in February.

We were interested in the already opened bottles by the bar and we let Camille guide us in our choices, which she did charmingly. This allowed us to try a glass of a few different wines each without committing to a bottle. I’m no wine critic so I’ll spare you my amateur musings, but every glass we tried was excellent, and seemed to complement the previous – whether by accident or design. Before we knew it, it was 10pm – La Buvette has an early closing time, making it perfect for an aperitif, less as the focal point of your night out. 
I enjoyed La Buvette for its thoughtful details: the glass light shades, the thirties plates, the simple fresh flowers, the light touch with which its been conceived, as much as for the wines. It was my favourite of all the wine bars I went to in Paris in the month of February –and I went to a lot. 

11 April 2013

The Parisian Male

© Claire Oldman

© Claire Oldman

I recently had a chance to observe the Parisian Male in his natural habitat over the course of a month or so. After many years of coming to Paris, I have managed to form and retain the view that the Male is more often than not charming, attractive, stylish, intelligent and appreciative of women. Oh, and romantic of course.

When I started to delve deeper (in the name of research, of course), what I discovered caused me to go from “hmmm” to “ookaayy” to – on one occasion – “eeeeewwww.” Obviously I’m coming from a northern European female perspective, so what might be off-putting to me might be delightful to someone else, but if you’re a foreign woman in Paris, you’re going to meet this type of Parisian Male.

You might have guessed by now that this is not the post to read for tips on how to meet Parisian men. The truth is, no tips are necessary. You just need to be a female and go to Paris. The Parisian Male will not hesitate to approach you. And your friend, and your friend’s mother, and her friend, and anyone else who’s wearing a skirt. While this ardent pursuit may be flattering at first, you will soon realise it’s not that you’ve been singled out because you’re particularly enchanting, it’s just that you’re now part of an age old citywide sporting match.

The first move to get down is the eye flirt. The Parisian Male will quite openly and directly appraise you, which isn’t usually completely unpleasant, even if the PM doing the looking isn’t your type. My friend and I started listing the different types of looks as we received them over the course of a day: the scan, the bike flirt, the sideways look, the gaze, the double shot, and the ubiquitous metro eye flirt, which really deserves its own category. We soon gave up on the list as it became clear that there are as many types of looks as there are shapes of snowflakes. My award for excellence goes to the brave soul who stared at us past his girlfriend/wife in the passenger seat for a good five seconds while simultaneously driving a small car, negotiating a busy intersection on the phone, and lighting a cigarette.

The metro eye flirt is when one engages in ocular flirtation while on the metro, and it’s a perennial favourite among those I polled. I prefer to keep it at just the eye flirt and then go about my daily business, since I am more often than not on my way to actually do something. I realise now, however, that once retinas are engaged, it’s perfectly acceptable to strike up an actual live conversation, and then get off at the same stop and just keep going. Your Parisian friend/boss will always understand if you explain that you found yourself delayed by a spontaneous assignation.

For years, as a lone female traveller I would often go to sit at a café with a book in the late afternoon and watch the world go by. I now know what an incredibly naïve thing this was to do in Paris, at that time of day, and expect to be left alone to read and have a nice drink. Late afternoon is prime PM hunting time.

Ever heard of the cinq a sept? It’s not a myth. I was often baffled when someone I wasn’t at all romantically interested in started talking to me at a cafe. After politely chatting with them for a few minutes, they would inevitably become openly annoyed when I, instead of leaving with them, carried on reading my book.

I have now learned that you must appraise any approaching PM in a split second. You don’t have time to chat for a while and decide if they might be interesting and worth getting to know as a friend. You have to dismiss them brutally at once, as a Parisienne would do.

It’s annoying to have to do this and reduces most male/female interactions to ruthless shutdowns, but it does avoid most unwanted propositions. If you find yourself needing to rebuff some fruity amorous advances from an overly confident Parisian Male, just remember that you don’t need to worry about hurting their feelings: their confidence will remain unscathed and they’ll just move on to the next one – it’s all part of the game.

The Parisian Male has the ability to deliver textbook romantic lines with a completely straight face. It’s a special skill that very few British men can manage without turning the entire situation into a joke or becoming painfully embarrassed. I think the effect of the Parisian approach truly depends on how you feel about your interlocutor and the level of cheesiness involved. If you’re into them, it could be a refreshing, welcome change. The problem is when you’re really, really not and you don’t think you’ve given out a single vibe to encourage it. This when the “eeeewwww” happens.

Ultimately, I still want to like Parisian men. I like that they seem to genuinely appreciate women (or at least our physical presence on the streets of Paris), and I still think they can be charming and intelligent. God knows they know how to dress themselves most of the time, and they often have amazingly voluminous hair that I find very attractive.

I do feel sorry for the English Male, viewed as dull, inept at seduction, repressed except when drunk, shabbily dressed and confused by years of feminist theory into indecision when faced with whether or not he should hold a door open for a woman. But ultimately, you know where you stand with English men. If they’ve plucked up the courage to send you a text that it took them four days of inner torment to compose, you can be fairly sure they’re not just playing the game.

22 March 2013

I Know I'm in Paris When...

© Claire Oldman

© Claire Oldman

Whenever I return to Paris, it takes me a few days to get settled, to realise that I actually am here. A while ago Tory wrote a post on how she knows she’s in Paris, which inspired me to think about the signs that tell me I’ve arrived. Everyone has their own Paris: what makes it special to them, their preferred haunts and pleasures. But I’ll bet most regular visitors have certain things they always do and see as soon as they hit the ground. I arrived here a few days ago and like clockwork, these seven habits kicked in.

1. I start taking photos at bookshops, florists and even greengrocers. There is something about the level of beauty and the care taken in displaying even simple things here that makes me very happy. Essentially my wanting to take photos of random things tells me that my eyes are wide open; I’m being inspired and I’m taking everything in.

2. The cute, young waiter in an ordinary corner bistro gives me a lingering look with smouldering come-hither eyes along with the bill. WHAT. Actual attractive men give me a bit of an appreciative glance as I pass them in the street. This is always a shocker when you’ve just arrived from London, where no one looks at anyone, ever, especially not like that. This is something that I find very nice about Paris – it just feels like a sign of appreciation of women and you don’t have to be eighteen to receive it. I look forward to enjoying those looks until I’m well into my eighties.

3. I take long walks for no particular reason, with no fixed destination in mind. I would never do this in London, but in Paris I can walk for miles without getting tired. It’s how I first got to know the city really well, and I’ve found many of my favourite haunts by exploring on foot. 

4. Yoghurt. I haven’t tried yoghurt in every country in the world, and perhaps that’s what my first book will be about, but French yoghurt is delicious. I don’t even eat it in London, but here I stock up on my favourite brebis (sheep’s milk) yoghurts as a matter of urgency and I eat one every day.

5. I become extremely excited about visiting pharmacies. Like anyone sensible, I’m obsessed with French beauty products and Paris pharmacies are superior to those elsewhere. Here, they contain hundreds of excellent skincare products, and I can spend hours scanning the beautifully laid out shelves looking for new ones that promise types of radiance unavailable in the UK. I have my preferred pharmacies around the city: Citypharma in rue du Four is like a crazy discount supermarket and is the one all the hair and make up artists go to when they’re in town; but I actually prefer Pharmacie de la Mairie on the corner of rue des Archives. It’s smaller but much calmer, so you can browse. It stocks all the brands you want and has knowledgeable, helpful staff. Prices of the same products do tend to vary quite a bit across the city, so my quest for the best deal on double 500ml packs of Bioderma Crealine H20 cleanser starts as soon as I see the first green cross sign of a pharmacy glowing at me.

6. I pay a little more attention to grooming and how I’m dressed, but subtly. As in, I iron clothes and make sure a lint roller has been deployed if necessary before leaving the house. (When I’m in Paris I only wear black, navy and charcoal obviously.)  I look in the mirror before going out to make sure my skirt isn’t tucked into my knickers or something. No one would even notice in London if it was (see 2), or they’d think it was a new trend and start doing it as well. In Paris the more impeccably dressed you are, the better service you get and the nicer people are to you. Fair? No. True? Afraid so.

7. I have to say hello to the Seine. I don’t feel properly oriented in Paris until I’ve been to pay my respects to the river that runs through it. Once I’ve crossed over the river, I know I’m really here. 

15 February 2013

February Events in London

They say the best things come in twos. That rule doesn’t apply, however, when ordinarily respectable restaurants reconfigure all their tables to seat two on Valentine’s Day, with a token red flower in the middle. How boring!

Below you’ll find the two newest, most buzzed about brasseries to open in London, along with new retrospectives of two boundary pushing, innovative photographers’ work, and two rarely performed works by dance provocateur Pina Bausch, which can be seen at Sadler’s Wells. 

Big Brasseries:

The Colbert

It’s no mean feat to open a restaurant on Sloane Square that draws in legitimately fashionable diners as well as Euro-Sloanes. The Colbert has been open for a couple of months now, fast becoming the spot everyone wants to snare a table at, but often can’t. It’s owned by the same group as The Wolseley, The Delauney and Zedel, who have the brasserie concept well covered in London. The Colbert brings the same spirit and attention to detail as that of its sister restaurants, offering an all day “Parisian” menu from 8am – 11pm, then a lunch and dinner menu from noon until closing. The menu is resolutely French: radishes in Normandy butter, snails, oysters - with only the breakfast menu featuring Cumberland sausages, black pudding and bacon, letting on that you’re actually in Chelsea.  


British born restaurateur Keith McNally’s legendary New York bistro Balthazar finally opens this month in Covent Garden, on the site of the old Theatre Museum. Slated to open mid-February, the last time I passed, there was still a huge hoarding covering the building, announcing its imminent arrival simply with the word Balthazar. Tantalisingly, there was no other sign of what’s bound to be one of the biggest new openings London will see this year. The interior has been designed in the image of the New York original, but the menu will impart a British flavour, with shepherds pie and afternoon tea served. The restaurant will stay open until 12.30am on Friday and Saturday nights and the cocktail list is set to be very special, making it a good place for a late night visit.

Photography Greats

Juergen Teller: Woo!

There is something in Juergen Teller’s photography that so specifically captures the essence of London. Beginning his career in the ‘80s shooting record covers, he went on to define the look of London in the ‘90s, both with his editorial and commercial work. Now well celebrated for his distinctive flash heavy style, the exhibition aims to provide a seamless journey through his oeuvre.

Man Ray Portraits

This exhibition brings together 150 of Man Ray’s portraits, taken between 1916 and 1968. It will be the National Portrait Gallery’s first major show of 2013 and the first retrospective devoted to the artist’s portrait work. Featuring vintage prints of Man Ray’s friends, lovers and contemporaries: Kiki de Montparnasse, Lee Miller, Catherine Deneuve, Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp; the exhibition will also highlight lesser known works, such as his later experiments with colour.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

Now that the Christmas ballet season is over, Sadler’s Wells is back to serious business with the UK premiere of two of Pina Bausch’s rarely performed works by Tanztheater Wuppertal company. Two Cigarettes in the Dark looks at the monotony of life, while Vollmond was featured in the Wim Wenders film Pina. Both works are notable for the visual brilliance of the costumes and set design. Wouldn’t going to see a dance performance about the monotony of life be the perfect Valentine’s Day activity? No? Just me then…

5 February 2013 

Christmas Events in London

In the run up to Christmas there are sample sales, Christmas markets and pop-up shopping events all around town. London is literally glowing at the moment. It seems as if there are twice as many Christmas lights as usual; so a walk around Mayfair to Hyde Park or the Southbank and Somerset House can’t fail to put you in the Christmas spirit. At most events, people will want to ply you with mulled wine and roasted chestnuts, which also helps. A trip to a restored landmark grand café, a spot of culture and starting January with some jive dancing completes my prescription for this London season.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

Hyde Park is transformed into a winter wonderland and festooned with Christmas lights. The giant observation wheel could, and has been mistaken for the London Eye and the ice skating rink is the largest in the UK. Everything is lit up and there are two circuses as well and a Magical Ice Kingdom where you can be pulled through an ice forest by a unicorn. All these events are ticketed (unicorns don’t come cheap) but entry to wander the  Winter Wonderland is free, where there are Christmas Market stalls and mulled wine for sale. 

House of Voltaire

This temporary shop (there’s a limit to the number of times a person can write pop-up) in Mayfair is in support of the artists based at Studio Voltaire. It features works, limited editions and one-offs by many leading emerging and established artists and designers, some of whom will be manning the tills on various days. You’ve missed James Franco’s stint already unfortunately. (See Twitter @houseofvoltaire for info).

Secret Emporium Christmas Market at Factory 7

For those who prefer to do their Christmas shopping resolutely away from the high street, the Secret Emporium event in Shoreditch features young, independent designers and their wares. The aim is to catch left-of-field designers with fresh ideas and ambitions. It promises an “…immersive event [which] will greet shoppers with interactive performers embodying a Dr.Zhivago vibe with a Secret Emporium David Bowie twist!” Whatever that means, shoppers will be welcomed into a winter wonderland with mulled cider, roasted chestnuts and food from Exmouth Market’s excellent Moro restaurant.

La Perla Sample Sale

December is winter sample sale month, but now that they’re so heavily advertised it can be hard to find a bargain and/or leave one with your dignity intact after battling over that Christopher Kane dress. Top notch Italian lingerie brand La Perla hosts one of the lesser-known sales, where you’ll find nightwear and swimwear as well as lingerie at up to 70% off - and hopefully won’t find a communal changing room situation.

Valentino: Master of Couture - Somerset House

Just opened, this is a fantastically curated exhibition of Valentino’s couture archive. The mannequins are arranged as the audience to a catwalk you walk down by colour and intuition, rather than decade. This serves to highlight Mr. Valentino’s talent for creating classics – a dress from 1959 looks perfectly modern next to one from 1984 and so on. There is also a fascinating display of films showing the hands of the atelier “ragazze” (as the seamstresses there are known) demonstrating intricate couture techniques.

Café Royal

The legendary Café Royal in Regent Street has finally re-opened as a luxury hotel, after a radical refurbishment by David Chipperfield architects. The hotel is modern but the public spaces dating from the 1860s and 1920s have been thoughtfully restored to their original splendour. The Grill and Domino Rooms are formal fine dining spaces, the Ten Room is an all-day brasserie, the Café is for tea and cake and the Bar is probably the place to head first as it has an absinthe fountain.

Strictly Winter Swing – The Clore Ballroom, Southbank Centre

Start the New Year off right with this free dance event at the Southbank Centre – always buzzing with things to do – even on what’s traditionally the quietest (and possibly bleakest) day of the year. It starts off with swing dance lessons from 2 – 3pm, then “Legendary DJs Lady Kamikaze and El Nino spin their vintage brand of dance sounds from the '20s to the '50s to keep you on the dance floor all day”.

6 December 2012

Autumn Events in London

As autumn draws in, the cultural goings-on of London start to head inside and ratchet the pressure up a few notches: bigger, heavier hitting fairs and events are scattered throughout the season. October brings out the big guns of Frieze Art Fair and the BFI London Film Festival. There are major, in-depth art shows, classic ballets and of course, fireworks lighting up the sky on Bonfire Night.

Royal Academy: Bronze 15 Sept – 9 Dec

The Royal Academy calls it “a celebration of bronze on a scale never attempted before.” This means works in bronze spanning the last 5000 years from every continent. Arranged thematically in groups, the exhibition includes Ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan bronzes, rare Medieval examples, the Renaissance (Ghiberti, Donatello, Cellini), all the way through to the present day via works by Rodin, Boccioni, Picasso, Jasper Johns, Moore, Beuys and Bourgeois.

Frieze Art Fair: 11 – 14 Oct

The week of Frieze Art Fair always carries a huge buzz in London. This year, the new fair Frieze Masters will run concurrently nearby in another part of Regent’s Park, focusing on ancient works and old masters. With the heavy hitting contemporary action happening in parallel at the 10th Frieze London as well, the buzz is set to grow even louder. There is a combined ticket available and I would highly recommend attending one of the first two days of the fair, when all the deals are being done and the people watching is as exciting as the art.

BFI London Film Festival: 10 – 21 Oct

As autumn draws further in, The 56th BFI London Film Festival provides a perfect opportunity to sit in a warm, dark cinema and be transported. In fact this year, thirty-four British films are represented. As much as this event is about and for the film industry, it’s also something the public can be involved in. Priority and public tickets are already on sale and tend to sell out fast – but it’s sometimes possible to get a ticket at a venue box office 30 minutes before a performance starts. One of the most fun tickets is to the surprise film (this year showing on October 20) – a closely guarded secret, it could be any of the films at the festival and invites much speculation. The year I went to it, it was the world premiere of Brighton Rock, which would have been a gala screening and impossible to get into otherwise.

Swan Lake: 8 Oct – 24 Nov

What a great chance to see the quintessential romantic ballet, performed by the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Antony Dowell’s production is true to the original choreography and the costumes are inspired by the opulence of 1890s Russia. The most recognizable and well loved of the classic ballets.

Bonfire Night: Nov 5 (Most displays will be held on Saturday 3 November.)

On Bonfire Night (also called Guy Fawkes Night or Fireworks Night) everyone except (hopefully) small domestic pets heads out to see the fireworks. In parks across London, boroughs compete to put on the most spectacular display. These will mostly be held on Saturday 3 November, as 5 November falls on a Monday this year. See here for a full list of official displays across the city. Expect to hear loud bangs and see the sky lit up around the city from about Friday to Tuesday though, as people attempt their own firework displays at home. If you’ve always wondered what Bonfire Night is all about, there’s an explanation here.

Jack White at Alexandra Palace: Nov 2 and 3

Jack White rocks up to Ally Pally with his guitar. Say no more.

Curiously, there is usually a firework display at Alexandra Palace on Bonfire Night, but it’s been cancelled this year and this gig is on the night normally devoted to it. I wonder if Jack White just might have some pyrotechnics up his sleeve, or at least something like a burning effigy to add to his show. This is total speculation, but White has previously shown interest in strange British traditions, such as when he visited and played for the Chelsea Pensioners and White Stripes played a secret gig at the historic Rivoli Ballroom. Whatever happens, it’s sure to be an um, explosive gig.

Skate at Somerset House: 16 Nov – 6 Jan

The yearly ice rink returns to Somerset House, setting things up nicely for the festive season in this magical location. There is something for everyone, from club nights with big name DJs to the Penguin Club kids skate school. Booking early is strongly advised and prices vary.

While you’re at Somerset House, don’t forget to go inside and get in a bit of après-skate art viewing. There are some wonderful exhibitions coming up in the galleries this autumn, such as Valentino: Master of Couture (from 29 Nov) and Henri Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour (from 8 Nov). See the visual arts listings at Somerset House here.

Maurizio Cattelan – Whitechapel Gallery Until Dec 2

What’s more tragicomic than a squirrel that has committed suicide at a miniature kitchen table? It’s one of Maurizio Cattelan’s earliest pieces, on display at this solo show to mark his return to contemporary art. He uses provocative, witty, sometimes shock tactics to ruffle the art world. Personally, I love it. (Free entry.)

The Art of Lunch: Paris vs. London

© Claire Oldman

© Claire Oldman

I was born in London, and have lived here all my life apart from extended sojourns to other parts of Europe that are more conducive to joie de vivre, and, well, Paris. I can’t help but compare the two lifestyles and poor London always comes limping in at second place, looking all harassed with its suit creased and carrying a can of lager and a half-eaten burger.

© Claire Oldman

© Claire Oldman

The aspect of quotidian life that gives me the most pleasure in Paris and that has the potential to have me hopping on the Eurostar to Paris from London on a whim is… lunch.

In Paris: At 1pm lock up the office, switch your phone off and go for a two and a half hour lunch with your colleagues at a charming local restaurant, dining from the three-course prix fixe menu. After a leisurely coffee and some more chitchat, pay the reasonably priced bill (probably with luncheon vouchers), and it’s back to the office well rested and energized for the rest of the day’s work. (Note: I did say stereotypical.)

In London: At some point between 11am and 4pm rush out to any old shop close to the office that sells sandwiches in plastic cartons and grab one. Maybe get an apple or a packet of crisps if you’re feeling flush, because that sandwich just cost the equivalent of €6. Run back to your desk and continue typing with the other hand while you eat, trying not to get crumbs stuck between the keys. Repeat every day for forty-five years. The End.

No contest there, obviously. London: nul points. Reading that, one would have to ask why anyone would want to live in London if that routine is an indicator of what should be expected from daily life. I know that a lot of French people pop out for a sandwich too sometimes, but I have seen the brimming restaurants of Paris at lunchtime and have even shed a tear or two of joy over this beautiful ritual still being observed by many.

Life in London can be manic, soul crushingly mundane, all work and no play. The distribution of your time can seem so wrong: It takes you an hour and a half to get to work on overcrowded public transport; you work all day in a windowless fluorescent lit cell without a proper break, then grab a takeaway on the long way home where you finally crash in front of the television/internet.

But I refuse to live my life that way, and thanks to the gods of freelancing, I am able to keep the Parisian spirit alive most of the time. In doing this over the past few years, I’ve come to know that London is full of exactly the kind of relaxed, inventively delicious cafes and restaurants that you’d want to meet a friend at for a casual weekday lunch. Even for a sandwich! Forget the three-course lunch idea – although a lot of the fancy, expensive restaurants in London do a prix fixe menu – but you’re never going to make the most of it on your lunch break realistically. Below I’ve listed a few of my favorite lunch spots across London.

Verde & Co – Spitalfields
Beautiful sandwiches and generous salads can be found at this tiny spot (it seats 6 people max) in Spitalfields. The coffee is very decent too.

Leila’s – Shoreditch
Come late morning for eggs with sage, or later for whatever healthy, satisfying stew is on for lunch.

Allpress – Shoreditch
New Zealand coffee shop and roastery that also does curiously tasty tramezzini sandwiches and cakes.

Tina We Salute You – Dalston
The breakfast pide is good at all hours of the day.

Granger & Co – Notting Hill
Bill Granger’s bright and airy dining room in Westbourne Grove seems so fancy, but is surprisingly reasonably priced. The hot pressed mozzarella and sage sandwich is delicious.

Comptoir Libanais – West End
This is technically a chain, with a few other branches, but it’s one of the few places just next to Oxford Street that I like to escape to for its tasty Lebanese salads and wraps.

Rose Bakery at Dover Street Market – West End
See, Parisians love Rose Bakery and so do we. The perfect merging of Paris and London, my friends and I jokingly refer to Rose Bakery at DSM as ‘detox’ because its vegetable lunch plate neutralizes too many late nights and sets you up for another month of London life.

Fernandez & Wells – West Soho
Go to the one in Lexington Street for a glass of wine and a sandwich/charcuterie or the one in Beak Street for a coffee and a sandwich/cake.

Ducksoup – Soho
There must be hundreds of restaurants in Soho to choose from, but the natural wines and small menu of simple dishes here keep me coming back whenever possible.

Elliot’s – Borough/London Bridge
The idea here is to utilize the food market on its doorstep and to offer a changing menu reflecting its produce. I’m not sure how strict this policy is but the food is fresh and simple. Along with the Wright Brothers Oyster & Porter House, which does a mean pint of prawns, it’s one of the only ‘sit-down’ places worth going to in Borough for lunch.

Jose – Bermondsey Street
This tapas and sherry bar is in what is now one of the most vibrant streets in London. The food is amazing and inexpensive, in an unpretentious, friendly setting.

26 September 2012

August Events in London

August is a funny old month in London, and even more so when we’re hosting The Olympics. I’ve decided it’s impossible to escape the O word, even though I said last month I wasn’t going to mention “The Games” as we’re supposed to call them. Where cultural events are concerned, a lot of those that would normally be scheduled to take place during “The Games” had to be scaled down or were cancelled because all the funding went to Olympic events. Add to that the confusion over transport arrangements and over exactly how many millions of extra visitors would be swarming everywhere, the result has been an eerie emptiness in many places, with Londoners choosing to escape or stay at home - and seemingly less trade, not more, for businesses. But if you venture out – and I have been – there’s still a lot going on, especially in the east end of London. It must be said, many more derelict warehouses have been spruced up in the east than would have been possible were it not for the Olympics. And these newly renovated warehouses lend themselves beautifully to imaginatively cool stuff being hosted in them. So that’s one step toward an Olympic legacy.

Below is my pick of what to do this August in London if you’re culturally inclined.

18 July – 28 October: The Tanks – Tate Modern. The old oil tanks at what was once Bankside Power Station, lately Tate Modern, have been uncovered and opened up for a 15 week long festival dedicated to installation and performance art. The tanks form part of the new expansion of Tate Modern. Both the raw concrete space itself and choice of programming are thrilling to visit and one of the spaces has a changing program of events. This one is worth multiple visits.

Until 16 September: Philip Haas: The Four Seasons and Andy Warhol: The Portfolios at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Four huge sculptures by Philip Haas, inspired by Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Renaissance paintings of the four seasons, currently dominate the lovely garden of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The installation here is the first ever display of these works to the public and entry to the gardens is free. The current gallery exhibition is Andy Warhol: The Portfolios, which features a selection of 80 works from the artist’s print portfolios seen for the first time in the UK, including the iconic portraits of Muhammad Ali and Marilyn Monroe.

4 -12 August: Meltdown Southbank Centre. Antony of Antony and the Johnsons is the director of this year’s Meltdown Festival. His program includes performances from Lou Reed, Elizabeth Fraser and Boy George as well as dance and concert events and collaborations. Grab a ticket for whichever event you can lay your hands on.

Until 12 August: Jeremy Deller: Sacrilege – in London at various locations, then on tour around the UK until 9 September. Crossing paths with the Olympics is unavoidable this month, but the most fun to be had at the Cultural Olympiad’s London 2012 Festival is probably, almost definitely, jumping around on this life size bouncy castle replica of Stonehenge by Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller.

Annex East – Jimmy’s Supper Club. Getting even closer to the Olympics is Annex East: the 1800 square foot warehouse arts space within meters of the Olympic Park. There’s enough culture here to keep you occupied, but the main draw is Jimmy’s Supper Club, run by young star chef Jimmy Garcia, which is popping up here for the duration of the Olympics. Expect fine dining and five course meals featuring delights such as Cornish Crab Bon-Bon and Wild Mushroom Brioche Bread and Butter Pudding.

Crate Brewery. What’s better than beer and pizza? Craft beer and pizza in Hackney Wick, next to the newly dredged sparkly canal, in yet another renovated warehouse, that’s what. Serving beer brewed in its on-site microbrewery and dreamy pizzas, this newly opened space has everyone raving about how brilliant it is.

7 August 2012

July Events in London

During the summer, London plays host to a jam-packed schedule of festivals, exhibitions and pop-ups, and this summer is no exception. With flagrant disregard for the realities of British summertime weather, many of these July events are actually scheduled to take place in the open air!

It’ll be fine as long as you check the weather forecast five minutes before you go out and layer up for all eventualities. Apparently during July there’s also something called Wimbledon and some other kind of major sporting event taking place, but we’re not talking about that here. There’s so much more going on in London, whatever you’re into (except sport.)

July 6 – August 5: David Bailey’s East End. David Bailey has been quietly photographing his home turf of the east end of London for the past fifty years. While all eyes are on east London during the Olympics, this exhibition acts as a visual document of the sweeping physical and social changes to the east end, recorded by the legendary Cockney photographer’s lens.

From the 1960s, there are previously unseen pictures of the Kray twins, an almost derelict Brushfield Street facing Spitalfields church, almost unrecognisable today post-gentrification. Recent digital shots taken around Stratford show the multicultural communities that now live there, replacing the east end characters of the past.

June 30 – September 30: Every summer, deep in the heart of Peckham, a red awning is erected on the top floor of the disused multi-storey car park and Frank’s re-opens. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have in Peckham, with a Campari bar, an outdoor grill with talented chefs cooking up whatever they’ve hauled up to the 10th floor that day, a sculpture park and the real draw, which is the panoramic, sunset facing view of the London skyline. (Bring a jacket, a blanket, a poncho – anything. It can get cold up there.)

July 7 – 8: I suppose you could call this a sporting event? But with previous years’ Chap Olympiad schedules featuring umbrella jousting and the cucumber sandwich discus, this splendid day out at Bedford Square Gardens in Bloomsbury is more about the cut of your tweed plus fours, the knot of your cravat and your ability to drink copious G&Ts and Pimm’s without falling over.
This year’s extended two-day line up promises “Not Playing Tennis” (armchair tennis), “Swooning” (chaps must induce ladies to swoon) and mustache wrestling.

Until September: Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden. An extraordinary garden has been created up above the Queen Elizabeth Hall, in the Southbank Centre. It was created in partnership with the Eden Project and features a large vegetable garden, a wildflower meadow and a lawn.
The bar serves snacks and drinks and there are tables and chairs and benches dotted around. Despite its location, it doesn’t get overcrowded and is a beautifully tranquil spot to rest your legs surrounded by plants and wildflowers, in the middle of the concrete sprawl of the Southbank.

July 20th : Yes, more open air events! Open-air cinema is all the rage in London, with tons popping up in unexpected locations to choose from; but my pick for July would be Midsummer Night Screen at Dalston Roof Park. This is thanks to 1) the location, 2) the fact that they tailor the evening to the night’s film, with refreshments, drinks and DJs playing music inspired by it. And 3) they have an inflatable roof on hand if it rains. July’s film screening is Lost in Translation.

Until July 29; Sundays 9–4pm: Goldsmith Row Book Market. This fledgling book market is between Broadway market and Columbia Road flower market, making it a perfectly located extra stop on an easterly Sunday stroll. Penguin, Foyles and Newham Books are among the stallholders here, selling new and second hand books, with a strong selection of art and design titles and rare books.

21st July: The Rivoli Ballroom in south London is spectacular and one of only two remaining functioning original ballrooms in London. If you’ve ever seen a ballroom in a film, music video, advert or magazine editorial, the chances are this was it. Of the many events held here, the monthly Jive Party is probably the best introduction to the Rivoli. All life is here: young, old, fat, thin, dressed up, casual, from those with two left feet to professional dancers – all dancing together quite happily.

5 July 2012