Category Archives: really cool stuff

49: Relish warm scones and delight in the view

There is no wonder why broke Londoners love cream teas: for a moderate price, your cup of tea comes with dainty scones topped with lashings of strawberry jam and sweet clotted cream. For someone who keeps a tight hold on the purse strings, this means a dish as fulfilling as a proper meal, often served in a posh place.

Tate modern’s 6th floor restaurant is a fine place for such a treat. Two warm sultana scones with jam and cream cost less than £5, while the rude staff is compensated by the gorgeous view on the Thames, the millennium bridge and Saint Paul’s standing on the opposite bank. In wintertime, one can enjoy a remarkable nighttime panorama, with city lights glowing in the dark.

Tube station: Southwark

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34: Find Phoenix Garden


Phoenix Garden 3

Hidden behind the noisy Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue, 10 minutes away from Neal’s Yard, Phoenix Garden is another of those London’s secret places – and an Eden for urban wildlife. This tiny community garden, managed by volunteers, is an entanglement of plants, trees and flowers that seem to have grown out of control.

Phoenix Garden 2

Phoenix Garden is open all year round from 8 to dawn.

Phoenix Garden 1

Phoenix Garden’s Website

Nearest Tube Station: Tottenham Court Road

33 : Find Neal’s Yard

In the heart of the West End, 5 minutes away from Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard is a tiny hidden square that looks more Californian than British.
Neal's Yard 1
It is accessible via a small tunnel from Soho’s Monmouth Street. Though it is not always easy to find it at first – I was myself taken there by a friend – it is a rewarding discovery. Away from the noise of the city’s traffic, it’s a friendly place with multi-coloured houses and small plants. It hosts two cafés (belonging, it seems, to the same company) that serves what seems to be Brasilian organic food (maybe a little too organic to my taste) and fresh fruit juices and welcomes a mostly English clientele.

Neal's Yard 2

Nearest Tube station: Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Road

31: Count the elephants

Cities are often compared to a jungle, and we were already used to Trafalgar Square’s lions. But it seems that another exotic species is currently invading London: the elephant (which is, as you already know, one of my favourite animals – see my post on the Natural History Museum).

Elephant sculpture in London 1

Over the night, two weeks ago, more than 250 pachyderms popped up throughout central London. Painted with bright colours and often flashy patterns, London’s elephants are much more eye-catching than their wild cousins, as the pictures show.

Elephant Sculpture in London 2

Elephant Sculpture in London 3

Elephant Sculpture in London 4

Elephant Sculpture in London 5

In fact, these elephants decorated by artists constitute one of London’s greater outside art venue, designed to raise public awareness of the Asian elephant conditions, which are facing extinction. The sculptures will be on display until the end of June, and then auctioned to raise money for charities working for the protection of Asian elephants.

Elephant Sculpture in London 6

Location: everywhere in Central London

28 : Enjoy Italian delights in Soho

Even in a neighbourhood as oversupplied with restaurants and snacks as Soho’s Wardour Street, Princi is a place that stands out.

Princi 1

Created by restaurateur Alan Yau, who’s already launched Busaba and the more upscale Yauatcha and Hakkasan, among others, Princi is a mix of architectural minimalism – the communal seating might not reach unanimous support – and great Italian food. The range of options is large, from pastries, deserts, slices of pizzas or more substantial dishes. Try the canoncinis, a small pastry filled with cream that costs less than a pound: it’s worth the trip. Princi can get a little hectic, and I wouldn’t recommend going there as a group, but it’s perfect for a savory snack.

Princi 2

Nearest tube : Leicester Square or Tottenham Court Road

24: Get the latest trends in contemporary sculpture with Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall’s temporary exhibitions

The Unilever series is an annual exhibition where an artist is invited to create a work of art for the Tate’s monumental Turbine Hall. The installations are among the most innovative sculptures of recent years – previous artists include Louise Bourgeois (2000) or Anish Kapoor (2002) – while their playful nature means that they are still accessible to the layman.

The unilever series at the Tate Modern

Last year installation, TH.2058 by Dominique Gonzales-Foerster, depicted a nightmarish vision of London in 2058, filled with Sci-Fi books on colourful bunk beds, giant animal skeletons and a massive screen showing strange films.

Tate Modern's Unilever series: 2009-2010 installationThis year, Polish artist Miroslaw Balka has designed a huge box of 13 metres high and 30 metres long, filled with darkness, where visitors can enter. The pitch-dark interior is designed to alter the sense of space and create a sensation of excitement and unease.

View from the inside of the box:

Tate Modern's Unilever series: 2009-2010

The Unilever series change every year and works are displayed from approximately October to April every year. Access is free.

Nearest Tube Station: Southwark

Tate Modern Unilever Series website

20: Admire impressionist masterpieces for free at the Courtault Institute

Alongside world-class museums including the National Gallery, the British Museum or the Tate Modern, London is host to less popular museums that also display outstanding works of art. In the Courtault gallery, housed by the sumptuous Somerset House on the Strand, you won’t queue to get your ticket, nor will you struggle to get a glimpse at the paintings, as it is hardly ever crowded (as you can see on the pictures…). The building itself, with its elegant rooms and monumental staircase, is a jewel box for an equally understated collection:

room of the Courtault Institute 1

The ground floor features interesting works from the Middle Ages, but the Courtault is undoubtedly renown for the impressionist paintings of the 1st floor. Manet’s “A bar at the Folies-Bergère”, famous for its mirror reflection of the scene and the mysterious air of the waitress, is the star of the collection, followed by other masterpieces by Monet or Renoir. The much-admired Cézanne’s “Card players” and an nth view of Mount Sainte-Victoire are displayed alongside Gauguin’s paintings of Tahitian girls.

Manet's "a bar at the folies-bergères"

The top floor gathers aerial sculptures of dancers by Degas, and a collection of paintings from the 21st century, including fauvist works.

Degas' room at the Courtault Institute

The collection is completed with several Renaissance and Baroque paintings, and drawings from masters such as Da Vinci or Canaletto.

room of the Courtault Institute 3

The best part of it being that you can enter the Courtault Gallery for free every Monday before 2pm, or at any time if you’re a student. Now there’s no excuse to miss this opportunity!

Nearest Tube Station: Temple

Link to the Courtault Institute Website