Summering in London
Here are some of good ways to enjoy the Summer months in London, one of Europe’s finest capital cities
London is basking in a newfound glow having just stolen the Crown of most popular European capital from its rival Paris. After a spectacular couple of years featuring a royal wedding, a diamond jubilee and an all-singing-all-dancing Olympics, the city now attracts some 17-M visitors from around the world making it a truly global hub.
And Summer, when the city is at its most relaxed and playful, is the best time to enjoy it.
The Summer of 2016 is also an auspicious time as it marks the 350th anniversary of one of the most famous disasters to hit London, the Great Fire of 1666 that burnt a 3rd of the city to the ground.
Diarist Samuel Pepys wept at the sight and records from some of the 100,000 people made homeless by the fire describe the lead roof of St Paul’s Cathedral melting in the heat and the towers of London Bridge gutted to gaunt, smoking ruins.
A major exhibition at the Museum of London tells the story of the catastrophe alongside displays of some of the city’s most interesting archaeological discoveries and moving letters written by people who escaped the flames. Not everyone wept for what had been lost, however. Some, such as the great architect Sir Christopher Wren, saw it as an opportunity to clear away the slum-like warren of medieval alleys and transform London into a greater more elegant city.
While Wren did not achieve the wholesale remake of London he had in mind – London livery companies like the Mercers and Merchant Taylors being too quick to rebuild their grand halls on the old medieval plan – he did give the city 51 new churches (including St Bride, the so-called ‘journalists church’ on Fleet St), the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and his defining masterpiece, a new St Paul’s Cathedral.
Yet shaping the nature of the city eluded Wren, as it has done everyone else. Even today with dozens of new skyscrapers sprouting from the layers of history below, London continues to evolve. Somehow managing to incorporate ancient Tudor pubs, village-like neighborhoods and architecture from every era. In fact, the city centre has seldom looked better with exciting new development projects everywhere you look including a new Mathematics Gallery at the Science Museum from the late, great architect Zaha Hadid due to open later in the year.
One of the most anticipated is Herzog and de Meuron’s 10-storey, £260m ($380m) addition to the Tate Modern, London’s most visited contemporary art museum. The striking, twisted ziggurat composed of chainmail brickwork sits behind the original gallery and is a dynamic addition to London’s skyline. Inside, vast spaces with panoramic views are hung with a refreshingly diverse collection: the work of 300 artists from more than 50 different countries offering in Tate’s words ‘a new view of the world’.
Its soundworks and immersive installations are as much a part of the show as blockbuster exhibitions such as July’s homage to American artist Georgia O’Keefe. A rare opportunity to see over 100 of her pioneering paintings, on display in the United Kingdom for the 1st time. To go with the art is an impressive, fine dining 9th-floor restaurant serving a British menu of Rare Breed beef, Swaledale lamb and Cornish fish sourced from the very best small suppliers.
Other exciting new food experiences include the Kitchen Table of chef James Knappett and his Saudi-born, Asian American wife, Sandia Chang, who produce a superlative 10 to 14-course tasting menu for just 19 diners a night. More magnificent British cooking can be sampled in the luxurious dining room of the refurbished Athenaeum Hotel in Mayfair. Overseen by the Michelin-starred Galvin brothers, the menu focuses exclusively on British dishes incorporating simple but top quality seasonal ingredients. To match the food, the 5-Star, family-owned hotel has had a glamorous refit worthy of its high profile guest list.
But while quality British food is currently seeing a significant renaissance in the capital, there is very little to unify the city’s diverse food offerings. From the delicious fattoush salads at Ottolenghi and the epic lamb raan buns at Dishoom to hunks of Stichelton at cheese purveyor La Fromagerie, there are as many cuisines here as there are languages spoken in Borough Market. And while many of today’s standouts are in neighbourhoods well beyond the West End – such as Shoreditch and Dalston – central London is far from over.
Just off Park Lane, London’s Four Seasons hotel has created a ‘secret garden’ for the summer where Veuve Clicquot concoctions will be a speciality amid the poppies and scented jasmine. Further east in Norman Foster’s iconic Gherkin – 30 St Mary Axe – the top floor dining space, usually only accessible to members and workers in the building, will be transformed into a Summer Sky Riviera. Inspired by the Cote d’Azur you’ll be able to recline on candy striped sun loungers and dine on a Provencal menu. Three course lunches start at £45 ($65).
At the newly reopened, 5-Star Café Royal Hotel, they are marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a Midsummer Night’s Dreaming experience, which includes accommodation in the Tudor suite and theatre tickets for the performance of Henry V at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.
Over on the South Bank, the Globe Theatre is also running a series of special events throughout the summer in celebration of Britain’s most famous bard.
If you are thinking of going, consider taking a picnic to enjoy in the wildflower meadow on the roof of the nearby Queen Elizabeth Hall.
London is a city where the pace of change can confound even the locals.
It is a city that can seem big and impenetrable.
But this ever-changing and regenerating capital can also charm you with its beauty from the wind-rustled plane trees in St James Park to that winding River Thames. Its mix of people and abundance of culture also make it a city that will take you by surprise and, ultimately, win you over.
By Paula Hardy
Paul Ebeling, Editor