Let’s go outside: al fresco London
A study by hotel comparison site, Trivago, says 73 per cent more Britons will head to the capital for the Olympic Games which kick off next Friday. We can’t guarantee it won’t rain (this is England) but if and when it does stop bucketing down, be ready to take London drinking, eating and even theatre watching outside. CD-Traveller gives you the low-down on five fabulous al fresco options – regardless of which side of the river you’re on…
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
For the quintessential British summer evening, look no further than the award winning Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – now in its 80th season. The setting – a steeply raked auditorium with a 1,240 seating capacity slap bang in the middle of one of the capital’s prettiest parks – is simply magical. So too is Timothy Sheader’s production of Ragtime, a powerful musical set at the turn of the 20th century.
Based on EL Doctorow’s 1975 novel about the birth of modern America, the audience is introduced to Jewish immgrants and African Americans united in their search of the American dream. At times the show can be a little confusing – the material mixes fact with fiction and there are too many simultaneous storylines – but the stirring soundtrack and atmospheric rubble strewn set can’t be bettered. Similarly the performances are first class – particularly Rolan Bell as the charismatic protagonist, Coalhouse Walker.
Musicals not your bag? Catch the Shakespearan classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Sunday music/comedy events. Picnics (and prosecco) are permitted but if packing up your own sounds like too much effort, there’s a not extortionate barbecue and buffet available before all evening performances.
Ragtime runs until 8 September 2012. For more information on what’s on and when, visit http://www.openairtheatre.com/whats-on?by=productions
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, NW1. Nearest tube: Baker Street (020 7907 7071; http://www.openairtheatre.org/)
There can’t be many – if any – better rooftop terraces than this, in town. Situated on the top of One New Change (a stunning glass shopping centre designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Jean Nouvel) overlooking the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral, the glorious views of the London skyline make for a spectacular experience. Expect to see The Shard, London Eye and Tate Modern to name but a few London landmarks.
The food also elates: there’s a formal restaurant serving generously portioned British fare plus the more fun tapas bar: think small plates that lend well to sharing with friends. I tried the baby piedmontese peppers (£7) and Welsh rarebit fritters (£6) and a lovely lemon posset (£6) but you can just drink here. Top notch cocktails include the cheekily named ‘Hot Bitch Martini’ (£9), Citrus Mojito (£9) and New York Sour (£8) but in such stunning surroundings, it seems a shame not to try the Thai Chi (£10) – a champagne cocktail with cucumber, ginger, apple juice, lemon juice, vodka and a Lanson champagne top. If Don Draper was in town, this is where he would head.
Madison, One New Change, Rooftop terrace, One New Change, St Paul’s, EC4. Nearest tube: St Paul’s (0208 305 3088; www.madisonlondon.net)
The Mall Tavern
When the sun has got its hat on, The Mall Tavern – a gorgeous gastro pub in chi chi Notting Hill – is our destination of choice for al fresco dining.
The kitchen doesn’t put a foot wrong: expect sensational starters such as mushroom and chestnut pate (£5.50) mopped up with fresh warm soda bead (£1.50), a big tasting beetroot, whipped goats’ cheese and hazelnut salad (£7) and pork pie with sweet and sour vegetables (£6.50). Generously portioned mains include macaroni cheese with smoked bacon (£9.50) – comfort food heaven – and ‘Portabella Road’ pie with creamed onions and sage (£13), while sides like purple sprouting brocolli and lover’s chips are worth the extra £4. For dessert, there’s a nod to nostalgia: don’t miss the artic rolls (fantastic sounding flavours include lamington, after eight and peanut butter and jelly) and the to-die-for salted caramel chocolate rolos.
Service is attentive and friendly without being fussy but it’s the secret garden – with marble tables, classic pub ashtrays and flowers in special Royal Cups – that’s the real delight. A hidden gem in the heart of Notting Hill, go for a leisurely lunch, a candlelit dinner or even just a drink (there’s a killer cocktail list) but do go.
71 – 73 Palace Gardens Terrace, W8. Nearest tube: Notting Hill (020 7229 3374; www.themalltavern.com)
Hampstead Heath Ponds
On a hot summer’s day – yes, yes this may sound a tad optimistic but here at CD-Traveller towers we like to look on the bright side – an open air swim is just what the doctor ordered. London might be lacking in beaches, but who needs all that messy sand anyway? There are open air pools and lidos all over London, but I love Hampstead Heath Ponds. As well as a mixed pond (close to Hampstead/Belsize Park), Hampstead has separate ponds for men and women (on the Highgate side). With the London Olympics just around the corner, isn’t it time you revved up your own fitness routine and dived right in? Afterwards you can your dose of Vitamin D on the grassy banks or undo all the good work by heading to Haverstock Hill – home to Marine Ices aka London’s best ice cream shop – for a tub (or two) of the cold stuff. We can recommend the Caribbean coconut and maple walnut.
Hampstead Heath Ponds, Hampstead Heath, NW3. Nearest tube: Kentish Town, then by bus (020 7485 3873; http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation/LGNL_Services/Environment_and_planning/Parks_and_open_spaces/Hampstead_Heath/Swimming.htm)
Marine Ices, 8 Haverstock Hill, NW3. Nearest tube: Chalk Farm (020 7482 9003; www.marineices.co.uk)
Kew the Movies
Mad about movies? The place to see them this September is at Kew the Movies – when the world famous Kew Gardens will host a giant open air cinema. Screenings take place in two magical botanical locations. At Kew Gardens, the big screen sits majestically against the backdrop of the iconic Kew Palace. At Wakehurst, Kew’s West Sussex country estate, the cinema is set on the perfectly manicured Croquet and Mansion lawns. Screenings – none of which need any introduction – include The Artist (6 September), Breakfast at Tiffanys (7 September), Grease (8 September) The King’s Speech (14 September) and Mamma Mia (15 September). Gates will open at 6.30pm, with the films (all rated PG) starting at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced at £16.00 for adults and £12.00 for children aged six – 16.
Kew Gardens, Royal Botanic Gardens, Richmond, TW9 3AB Tube: Kew Gardens (www.kew.org)