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
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 is open all year round from 8 to dawn.
Phoenix Garden’s Website
Nearest Tube Station: Tottenham Court Road
Posted in London confidential, London for free, London landscape, parks and nature, really cool stuff, Romantic
Tagged Charing Cross Road, community garden, covent garden, hidden london, park, secret london, Tottenham Court Road
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.
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.
Nearest Tube station: Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Road
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).
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.
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.
Location: everywhere in Central London
Even in a neighbourhood as oversupplied with restaurants and snacks as Soho’s Wardour Street, Princi is a place that stands out.
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.
Nearest tube : Leicester Square or Tottenham Court Road
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.
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.
This 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:
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
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:
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.
The top floor gathers aerial sculptures of dancers by Degas, and a collection of paintings from the 21st century, including fauvist works.
The collection is completed with several Renaissance and Baroque paintings, and drawings from masters such as Da Vinci or Canaletto.
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
Posted in arts and culture, London for free, museums, really cool stuff
Tagged art, gallery, impressionist, museum, painting, sculpture, Somerset House, strand