Category Archives: London

The Culpeper – a hidden rooftop destination in London’s City Fringe

Spread over 4 floors The Culpeper has a little something for everyone.  A great downstairs bar serving modern pub-grub, an upstairs restaurant with an innovative menu based around seasonal produces; a roof terrace with a kitchen garden and greenhouse; and five beautifully furnished rooms.

Pubs with rooms are nothing new but there is a new generation of trendy gastro-pubs that are reimagining this basic concept, upping the quality and making a stay in a pub all the more appealing.  To quote The Culpeper itself, “Our simply furnished and beautifully decorated rooms have been created with the intention of being a place to crash following a meal, for a weekend, or a week on business.”

Originally an old Truman Pub The Culpeper has been lovingly restored into a beautiful modern space.  The renovation has incorporated the building’s original Victorian features to get effect and retained the traditional signage and tiling.  Equal attention has been given to the food, which uses the rooftop produces as much as possible along with seasonally sourced produce from local supplies.  The wine list features natural wines from small growers and cocktails are based on herbs grown on the roof, and changes to reflect the seasons.

The first thing that strikes you about The Culpeper is the spaciousness and all the light.  The ground floor bar and eating area are flooded with natural light thanks to the large Victorian windows that dominate two sides of the building.  The Bar menu is short and offers an excellent selection of pub inspired dishes that change daily and always includes a vegetable-centric option and some light snacks.  From the downstairs dining area there is an elegant staircase that leads up to the first floor restaurant, here the menu is modern and inspired by seasonal produce.  Continuing up are the guest rooms and then the terrace, which operates a bar and hosts barbecues in the warmer months.  The terrace is also home to The Culpeper’s greenhouse and kitchen garden and has fantastic views across the city making it one of the best roof terrace destinations in the area.

To find The Culpeper you need to be brave, it is in London’s City Fringes.  At the currently unfashionable end of Commercial Road in Aldgate; about 10 minutes walk from Old Spitalfields market.  But don’t let that put you off; it is a true little gem in the ever changing area that borders the City of London and the traditional East End.

For more information and reservations visit:  http://www.theculpeper.com

Notes and Credits:  This is an independent review.  Photography is curtsey of The Culpeper website and Google images.

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Mona Hatoum’s art is challenging and unnerving. It is also very rewarding.

Mona Hatoum is considered one of the most important artists of her time.  She puts global concerns such as gender, politics and the body under the microscope using unconventional media such as video, installations and video.  The Tate has brought a fantastic show to London that examines her work from the 1980s to modern day.

Through her work Hatoum confronts some of the big injustices of our modern world.  Her art speaks to the individual, asking us to confront our assumptions on big issues, rather than making grandstanding statements to attract the attention of the masses.  Her aim is to engage the viewer, soliciting interpretation and eliciting emotional and physical responses.  Regardless of the theme her work always manages to make us stop and think.  

The exhibition organises her work as a series of ideas side by side, rather than in chronological order, and in so doing emphasises the different ways the artist challenges our assumptions of the world. For me the installations stole the show and Light Sentence (1992) and Impenetrable (2009) particularly stood out.

Light Sentence (1992) occupies a whole room.  It is made up of square wire mesh lockers resembling animal cages with a single light bulb hanging in the middle of the structure.  The installation at first glance is simply intriguing, but the longer one spends in the room the more disoriented and uncertain one feels.  For the room seems to move.  The idea behind the piece is trauma and politics and the title plays on the idea of a lenient term in prison.  It is very disconcerting and very effective.

Impenetrable (2009) is equally intriguing.  From a distance this installation gives the appearance of an ethereal cube suspended in air but as one gets closer the work reveals its menacing aspect.  It is composed of hundreds of barbed wire rods dangling from fishing wire.  It is hostile and threatening evoking associations with conflict, violence, prisons and state authority.  As with many of Hatoum’s works it seems quite innocent initially but is reveals itself to be psychologically charged.

These are typical of Hatoum’s art and clearly demonstrate the most interesting aspect of her work; their effect on the viewer.  They draw you in, play with your perceptions and leave an unsettling feeling.  The exhibition has met with mixed reviews,  however I personally believe it is well worth seeing.
The Mona Hatoum exhibition is currently on at the Tate Modern in London until 21st August 2016.  For more information and tickets visit:  http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern

Under the radar exhibitions in London – Anwar Shemza

Away from London’s headline grabbing exhibitions there are always a wonderful selection of smaller shows; the challenge is how to find them.  The exhibition of Anwar Shemza’s work is a great example of a small under-the-radar show.  His works are bold and colourful and combine Asian and Western influences and this year the Tate Modern has dedicated one of its smaller rooms to his work in a free exhibition.  

Anwar Shemza was already an established artist and writer in his home country when he moved to Britain in 1956 to study art. His relocation changed everything for him and his new life in Britain lead him to completely re-examine his approach to his art; eventually abandoning everything he had done before.  As he adapted himself to his new surrounds and culture he increasingly immersed himself in Islamic art, making a study of its form from different periods.  His new life and studies took him to look for what he called his “own identity”, which manifested itself in an illustrative approach to his work.  He fused Islamic motifs with western abstraction to create rich and complex works, often layering post-war geometric abstraction with Arabic calligraphic forms.  The effects are striking and the exhibition at the Tate provides a rare glance at his vivid and imaginative work.

A selection of the work of Anwar Shemza is on display at The Tate Britain in London until autumn 2016.  For more information about visiting this free exhibition visit:  http://www.tate.org.uk/

Anwar Shemza

Les Blancs – a remarkable play and tense production

When one enters the auditorium at The National Theatre the sense of foreboding envelopes you, the stage of Les Blancs is dark and smells heavily of smoke and incense.  Set in rural Africa Les Blancs revolves around the events that take place around a missionary hospital compound at a time when the dominant colonial rule is struggling to survive. The play, directed by Yaël Farber, looks at the complexities, cliches and tragedies surrounding a country on the brink of a war of independence.  It is a remarkably intense performance, uncomfortable, tragic and full of reckoning, as are so many of Yaël Farbe’s plays.

The focus of the story circles around Charlie Morris (played by Elliott Cowan) an American journalist who arrives at the compound to do a piece of the famous Revenant, a pious missionary who has dedicated himself to the local tribal community for decades, and Tshembe Matoshe (played by Danny Spani), an African expatriate who has returned home from Europe to the village to bury father.  As the struggle escalates, people are forced to take sides and confront the history, assumptions and ties that bind them to the country and each other.  As violence erupts friends, families, colleagues and communities find themselves divided with devastating consequences.

Danny Sapani is magnificent as Tshembe Matoseh and the exchanges between Matoseh and Morris are brutally frank, passionately charged and intellectually challenging.  Matoseh makes short work of the Morris’ idealism and western assumptions and Morris is bewildered by the truths he finds.  Matoseh is an educated and well travelled man, his global experiences provide a sharp lense through which the play dissects the enormous mess of the situation and the impossibility of finding a peaceful or meaningful way forward.  The pain is heartfelt and the weight of the decisions clear.  

It is an engrossing three hours that takes one on a complex journey through the different political, personal, cultural and social dilemmas that lead to revolution and bloodshed. There is meaning and symbolism in every moment; the play opens with the chanting of four African woman who enter carrying smoldering incense and take up residence on the side of the stage.  A statuesque woman, dressed in rags walks purposefully on an endless journey.  Her the path is clear and the destination is far.  The woman is a constant feature of the play, she is Mother Africa, forlorn, abused, powerful and unrelenting.  She is on the move, she is everywhere, touching everything and reminding everyone that unavoidable change is following in her wake.  

For more information and tickets visit:  www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photography is from the NT website.  Photographer is Johan Persson

A little about the author Lorraine Hansberry:

Lorraine Hansberry was the first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway. Her best known work, the play A Rasin in the Sun, highlights the lives of Black Americans  living under racial segregation in Chicago.  Young, Gifted and Black by Nina Simone was inspired and dedicated to Lorraine Hansberry.

A little about the director and screenwriter, Yaël Farber:

Yaël Farber is a multiple award-winning director and playwright of international acclaim. Originally from South Africa, her productions have toured the world extensively – earning her a reputation for hard-hitting, controversial works of the highest artistic standard.

http://www.yfarber.com/

Les Blancs at The National Theatre London
Les Blancs The Woman

Terriors wine bar and restaurant – a wine lovers secret near Trafalgar Square

Terriors Wine Bar is a terrific little place on William IV St, which lies between Charing Cross Rd and the Strand in London. It is a plain little street and the main draw is Terriors, one of the capital’s little secrets. There is no way you can miss Terriors, just follow the buzz and the people, for this unpretentious little wine bar and eatery is packed every night.

In the summer people spill out onto the street crowding around a few chairs and barrel tables.  The inside has the feeling of an old style Bristo, with bare brick walls, bentwood chairs and French memorabilia.  The place has a warm and friendly atmosphere and attracts a loyal clientele, so if you want to eat at Terriors it is advisable to book.  Alternatively you can take your chances and hope for a space at the long zinc-topped bar that lines one side of the restaurant.

The food offering is simple and the menu focuses on seasonal produce, cured meats and fine cheeses from France, Italy and Spain.  Dale Osborne, of Chiltern Firehouse fame, is now in charge of the kitchen and the dishes continue to be carefully created to enhance the wine experience.  Choose from a small but tantalising selection of small plates, bar snacks and Plats du Jour.  Or an equally mouthwatering choice of charcuterie and cheese boards.

Wine is the main event at Terriors and its cellar is impressive.  The wine list is formidable with over 25 pages and focuses on natural wines from France and Italy, which are organically and biodynamically produced.  As Terriors explain themselves:

“The wines are sourced from small artisan growers who work sustainably, organically or biodynamically in the vineyard and with minimal interventions in the winery. Much of the farming is labour-intensive, often done with horses rather than tractors and all of the picking and selection is by hand. Yields, usually from old vines, are low. Fermentations tend to be with wild yeasts and several wines are made without addition of sulphur dioxide and are unfiltered and unfined. In style the wines tend to be light-to-medium bodied, fresh (even refreshing), savoury and delicious to drink – but even more delicious with food.”

Such a large wine list can be daunting at the best of times and one that focuses on produce from small growers even more so.  However the staff know this and have been well trained.  They are extremely knowledgeable and guide you adeptly to a wine to suit your taste and accompany your food.

Terriors is a rare beast in London and there are few places at the moment that pull of the mix of exceptionally good wine, seasonally selected food and a casual dining experience so well.

Terriors Wine Bar, 5 William IV St, London, WC2N 4DW  www.terroirswinebar.com

Photographic credits:  Photography is from Terroirs website.  Photographer:  Paul Winch-Furness

Terriors Wine Bar London

Discovering Giorgione and the birth of Venetian Renaissance Painting

For much of history Venice has been associated the arts, culture and trade.  In the late 15th Century the Venetian art scene was highly influential and began to develop a very specific style, which we now call the Venetian School. This style, which had never been seen before and was considered revolutionary at the time, was sensual, poetic and colourful. It is now credited with changing the course of European Art.

A key artist of the time was Giorgione and whilst the name Giorgione probably means very little to most people, he is believed to have been one of the cornerstones of the movement that we now recognise as the Venetian school of Renaissance painting.  This spring the Royal Academy of the Arts in London has dedicated their Sackler Gallery to exploring his works and this influential moment in art history.  

The works of Giorgione are rare and many can not travel. So his influence and the beginnings of the innovations that marked the new era of Venetian art are explored through the work of the artists who were in his circle at the time such as Bellini, Durer, Titian, Cariani and Sebastiano del Piombo, as well as his own.  Together these works map out the development of the key characteristics that we associate with Venetian Renaissance paintings.  We see how these artists start to introduce the idea of capturing a sitter’s mood in their portraits.  Symbolic objects are included in the paintings to try to conveyed the emotional state of the individual, not just their physical attributes.  We also see the introduction of landscapes.  In the early sixteenth century landscapes did not exist as a genre.  Yet, here we see their introduction into portrait painting, initially they are backdrops then they gradually become more prominent in the works until they start to have a direct relationship with the key figures of the painting, as in the Myth of the Birth and Death of Adonis, which is on show in the exhibition.

The exhibition is small but packs a powerful punch and it has been perfectly curated to show how this little known period of art history came to shape the work of some of the most famous names in Renaissance art.

‘In the age of Giorgione’ is showing at the Royal Academy of Art in London until the 5th June 2016.  For more information and tickets visit:  www.royalacademy.org.uk

Giorgione
Knight and Groom

Painting the Modern Garden at The RA in London

“The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration” – Claude Monet

Nature has long been the inspiration of artists.  It’s vibrant colours, varied textures and exuberant characteristics speak a special language to anyone who wishes to listen.  The garden is people’s attempt to bring nature closer, our own interpretation of nature’s glory.  Artists throughout the ages have been fascinated by gardens and it is no real surprise that the Impressionist’s passion for the garden landscape accompanied the gardening fever that swept through society in the 19th century.  It was during this period that there was a great horticultural revolution in which plants shook off the restrictive bonds that had previously bound them to the scientific community.  Information about plants and gardens became more easily accessible and the middle class began to take a real interest in plants and soon gardening as a hobby was born.

The current exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London celebrates the painting of the modern garden and illustrates how gardens have ignited the imagination of artists over the years.  Central to the exhibition are Monet’s works and his gardens, from his early days at Argenteuil in the 1870 until his death at Giverny in Gustav Klint1926.  However the exhibition is not restricted to Monet’s paintings, it explores a wide range of works from many other artists from the late 19th Century and early 20th Century including John Singer Sargent, Karl Nordström, Max Liebermann, Paul Klee, Gustav Klint, Raoul Dufy, Emil Noble and Matisse to name just a few.  

The exhibition is quite simply glorious.  It is immersive and inspiring, transporting us to a place of great beauty and peace.  The big coup of the exhibition is to be found right at the end and oddly enough by the time one reaches the final room most of the crowds have dispersed, leaving the room perfect for reflection and the pure enjoyment of Monet’s enormous Water Lilies panels.  

Monet made many paintings of his water lilies and their pond over the years, he donated 12 magnificent canvasses to France after the war, which are still on display at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.  However, three of the most beautiful panels from the original scheme, the Agapanthus triptych (1916-1926) were sold off  by Monet’s estate around 1950.  They were purchased separately by 3 American Museums, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Saint Louise Art Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, who have generously lent these great works to the Royal Academy’s exhibition.  It is the first time that these canvasses have been reunited and they make for exceptional viewing.  In the same room, on the opposite wall is the Tate’s own Water-Lilies, Nymphéas.  To see these panels here, together is nothing less than a chance of a lifetime.

As Claude Monet once said: “I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers” 

Painting the Modern Garden:  Monet to Matisse is on until 20th April 2016 at the Royal Academy of Art in London  Click here for more information:  https://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Monet's Water Lilies Agapanthus triptych
Monet’s Water Lilies Agapanthus triptych (1916-1926)

The Cinnamon Club – a Westminster institution is still going strong

The Cinnamon Club burst onto the London restaurant scene well over a decade ago.  Owner and executive chef Vivek Singh transformed our understanding of Indian Cuisine and paved the way for a new generation of Indian restaurants such as Gymkhana and Trishna.  Over the years Vivek Singh and his restaurant have become a Westminster institution.  So when The Cinnamon Club closed its doors for 7 weeks in 2015 for a refurbishment, London’s foodies held their breath, horrified at the idea of change.  But they need not have worried, when the restaurant reopened the changes were subtle and a glorious new menu revealed.

For those who don’t know The Cinnamon Club is located in the old Westminster Library, a historic Grade II listed building that retainsCinnamon Club restaurant the old Westminster library many of its original features and which gives the restaurant the feeling of an old gentlemen’s club.  Post refurbishment much remains the same, although the interior has been freshened up and soft seating in stylish teal has been introduced to add a modernist touch. The books are still there, but they now line the main dining room and gallery, which adds a layer of colourful warmth to the main dining space.  The bars still have the rich wood panelling, which ensures that they are as snug and cosy as ever.  The cocktail menu has been re-imagined and has the perfect balance of old classics and Indian inspired creations and now there is a Gin Trolley Experience.  This three-tiered walnut gin trolley, which appears at your table for a dash of close-up mixology, has over 20 gins on offer along with a bewildering (but tempting) number of exotic gin based cocktails.

The menu is mouth-watering, Singh and head chef Rakesh Ravindar Nair have introduced new signature dishes, tasting menus with seasonal options and a whole section dedicated to celebratory sharing dishes.  However they have not abandoned the all time favourites of their well established clientele and the game classics and delicately-spiced fish remain.  We enjoyed the vegetable-centric option from the sharing section, the Morel Malai Kofta (paneer and royal cumin dumplings of stir-fried green pea and morels with tomato and fenugreek sauce and green pea pilau) which was incredibly good.  The wine list is outstanding with little something for every budget.  The dessert menu is nothing less than memorable and we couldn’t resist the Green cardamom brulée with rose petal biscotti which was perfectly paired with a glass of Recioto di Soave, Pieropan, Veneto, Italy, 2009.

The service is flawless and the staff deal superbly with a varied and demanding clientele.  Although if you are not a regular it might be worth noting that you may need a little patience and accept that you are there for the food and ambience not the attention of the staff.  Remember The Cinnamon club has a lot of regulars, a lot of high rollers and a lot of big names coming through its door.  And whilst every guest is important and is treated the same it is tricky for the staff to deal with such a demanding and varied crowd.  If you don’t expect to be pampered all the better and if you feel your neighbour is getting a bit more attention, well don’t be jealous just accept that that’s life in London.  Many use The Cinnamon club as a canteen and it has such a loyal following that it is hard to be a regular.  So just park your ego and let yourself go in the experience.  It is well worth it and you’ll enjoy your visit all the more.

For more information and reservations visit: http://cinnamonclub.com/

Photography is from The Cinnamon Clubs website.

The Cinnamon Club Restaurant
Cocktail from the cinnamon club’s Gin Trolley

David Hare takes on Nordic Noir in Ibsen’s The Master Builder

Ibsen could be the godfather of Nordic Noir.  His plays are dark and constantly chip away at the façade of civil society.  His plays are realistic and simple, analysing issues of morality and the uncomfortable complexities of the human condition.  

The Master Builder is considered one of Ibsen’s most significant works, yet it is also one of his most abstract.  The message behind the play is difficult to understand and there is a great deal of debate about how to interpret its true meaning.

This new adaptation by David Hare sees Ralph Fiennes take the lead role as Halvard Solness, a middle-aged Master Builder in a small town in Norway.  Solness is a self made man, without formal training or education he has become a great architect and runs a successful business.  Yet his success has coincided with exceptional good fortune and the misfortunes of his competitors.  This preys on his mind, he feels guilty and at the same time gifted.  It makes him fearful of competition, especially from the young.  He is particularly resentful towards his talented young apprentice Ragnar Brovik and actively sabotages any opportunities that come his way.  

The sudden arrival of a young woman, Hilde Wangel, changes everything in Solness’ carefully maintained world.  Whether Hilde represents Solness’ conscience or is simply the new object of his desires is unclear.  However, she slowly works her way into his confidence and that of his wife with disastrous consequences.

Fiennes does a masterful job of peeling back the complex layers that shroud the Master Builder.  He slowly exposes Solness’ fears, paranoia and guilt.  The Solness we meet in the first act is a confident, arrogant man who manipulates everyone and everything for his own benefit.  He revels in his power and cunning.  But in act II, we start to see the man fearful of competition, resentful of youth, a man racked with guilt about his success and delusional about his gifts and powers.  By the end Fiennes has created a caricature of a middle-aged man lost in the workings of his own mind and obsessed with proving himself to be fearless and unbeatable.

The stage, a great assortment of wood in random construct, appears a little odd at first glance but it slowly shows itself to be a stroke of genius.  As the play precedes it acts as a reminder of the source of all Solness’ conflicts and the complex history that has lead the Master Builder to construct a bewildering mental maze that tortures him constantly.  However, the set’s true nature only reveals itself in the finale when it puts an end to the drama both physically and metaphorically.  To describe how this happens would spoil the play’s grand finale but it is brilliant.

The Master Builder is showing at The Old Vic in London until  19th March 2016.  For more information and tickets visit:  http://www.oldvictheatre.com/

The master builder ralphe fiennes and leading lady

Skye Gyngell’s restaurant, Spring, is well worth a visit

Since opening its doors at the end of 2014 Skye Gyngell’s restaurant Spring has been dividing critics and diners alike.  You either love it or hate it, it seems.  We loved it, unlike the poor table next to us who hated it and seemed to hate it with the same passion we loved it.  We visited Spring in March and simply liked everything from the food, to the location, to the decor and even the much criticised and definitely quirky staff uniforms.

Spring is located in the New Wing of Somerset House and for those that don’t know, Somerset House is the spectacular neo-classical building that sits between the Strand and the River Thames in London.  The New Wing was originally designed by Sir James Pennethorne, in 1856, to house the Inland Revenue and has not been open to the public for over 150 years.  Spring has taken over the elegant 19th century drawing room, which has been completely refurbished to its former glory.  There are large windows on three sides, high ceilings, a long marble bar at the far end and an equally long wooden service counter with vast floral displays along one side.  The tables are graciously spaced apart, a real treat in London, the chairs comfy, the lighting gentle (and flattering) and there is no music (another treat).  In fact there is no need for music since the acoustics are excellent.

Much like Gastrologik, in Stockholm, Spring’s menu is guided by the changing seasons and the availability of the best possible seasonal ingredients.  The results are simple and delicious.  In March we were treated to the season’s first asparagus, cooked to perfection and served with fonduta and borage, followed by roasted fresh garlic with goats curd and bruschetta. This was the only veggi-centric main dish on the menu and the idea of a whole garlic bulb in any form is not for the faint hearted, but it was undeniably excellent.  The garlic had been slow roasted so that it was deliciously tender and delicately sweet; and it was perfectly tempered by the tartness of the goat’s curd.  On the side we had Jersey Royals with poached celery, radicchio and lovage oil, this was excellent and a perfect accompaniment to the main dish.  Desserts were equally good and the Citrus tart with crème fraîche, which looked unassuming and even a little dull, was anything but boring – it was exquisite.

The wine list is as comprehensive and as well thought out as the food.  There is a good balance of old and new world wines along with a handful of more unusual wines into the bargain.  Our main dish (the garlic) was going to demand a lot of any wine and our sommelier was knowledgeable (and friendly) helping us to find a wine that was robust enough to cope with the dish.  He made excellent suggestions and our meal was all the more memorable for it.

Recently Spring opened The Salon beside the main restaurant.  The Salon is composed of an intimate trio of spaces including the beautiful atrium garden that sits enclosed at the room’s centre with flora and fauna designs by acclaimed landscape designer Jinny Blom.  In contrast to Spring, where it is advisable to book ahead, the Salon does not take reservations.  Instead it offers small plates, cheeses, seasonal ice creams and wines by the glass, that reflect Skye’s signature ingredient-led style.  It is a lovely place to relax with a drink, enjoy a quick lunch or light supper.

For more information and reservations go to:  http://springrestaurant.co.uk/

Notes:  This is an independent review.  Images have been sourced via google.

The Salon in Somerset House London