6 January 2016

What's on in London this winter 2016

Here's my seasonal newsletter for January, February and March 2016 with highlights and a range of events, shows, exhibitions that might brighten up your winter!


JANUARY A big tradition of the festive season is the January sales with massive bargains at all stores from the small to the very grand, from a local shop to Harrods. Watch out for Burns Night on 25th when you’ll find Scottish traditions breaking out all over London so why not try some haggis this year!
FEBRUARY Love is in the air with arrival of Valentine’s Day so watch out for special lovvie events.  Ready yourselves for Pancake Day races around London, one of the best being at the Guildhall in the City where the livery companies race and toss pancakes while wearing their very special traditional costumes! February also brings us the Chinese New Year, a big event in London, as we welcome the year of the Monkey. 
MARCH St Patrick’s Day is big all round the world and London is no exception as the Guinness flows and we have a huge parade and dancing and bands so get out that green outfit and join in the fun in Trafalgar Square. The 162nd annual Boat Race will see the river Thames and the local pubs full of cheers as the 2 crews zip past.

January Shakespeare’s Globe kicks off 2016 with The Winter’s Tale. Eddie Izzard, perhaps one day Mayor of London, brings his Force Majeure Reloaded show to The Palace Theatre for an evening of surreal brilliant comedy. Acclaimed writer Caryl Churchill’s new play Escaped Alone opens at the Royal Court. Ralph Fiennes stars in Ibsen’s The Master Builder brought to the stage by David Hare at the Old Vic.
February Hopefully not reflecting the weather, The Tempest opens at The Globe in their beautiful indoor Sam Wannamaker Playhouse. Former Friends star Matthew Perry brings his own play The End of Longing to the Playhouse theatre and also stars in it. The Dominion theatre stages War of the Worlds by H G Wells with a score by Jeff Wayne who will conduct a live orchestra – I wonder how they will portray the Martians! The National Theatre brings us Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, charting this blues singer’s struggles for recognition. Battlefield at the Young Vic is based on the Mahabharata, a dramatic tale of a family torn apart by a great war.
March  Charting the story of the famous record label, Motown the Musical at the Shaftesbury theatre will have you singing along. I’ve got tickets already for Les Blancs at the National, a powerful African story. One of last year’s most impressive, if disturbing, plays and performances returns to the stage at the Wyndham’s so don’t miss Denise Gough in People, Places and Things. The Old Vic continues to showcase key British talent with Timothy Spall in the Caretaker.

January One of my favourite painters is featured in a new show at the Royal Academy called Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse. Outside of the galleries the London Art Fair 2016 at the Business Design Centre Islington is a major event in the art calendar with over 100 galleries represented with modern and contemporary work. There are few other new openings this month so it’s time to catch a number which close soon, including The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize show at the National Portrait Gallery, The World Goes Pop at the Tate Modern and Liotard at the Royal Academy.
February Delacroix and The Rise of Modern Art opens at the National Gallery. Vogue 100: A Century of Style can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery with beautiful photographs commissioned by the magazine since 1916. The Courtauld Gallery has 2 openings this month – Botticelli and the Treasures from the Hamilton Collection, including his drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy. Their 2nd show is Bruegel in Black and White: Three Grisailles Reunited, a rare chance to see these 3 paintings together.
March A display of Tracey Emin’s work, including My Bed alongside 2 of Francis Bacon’s work chosen by Emin can be seen at the Tate Britain. The National Portrait Gallery is showing Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky, a selection of great works on loan from Moscow.  The new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery is Scottish Artists: from Caledonia to the Continent with works from the Royal Collection from 1750 through to 1900.

January The January sales are a big event and massive bargains are to be found in the grand department stores, designer boutiques and the reliable chain stores.
February The big news for February is the winter London Fashion Week which will showcase the spring/summer collections followed by London Fashion Weekend when they let the likes of us in to peruse what’s new.  It’s a good month for fashion as Somerset House are hosting The International Fashion Showcase for emerging fashion designers on the theme of Imaging Utopia, spread over 15 galleries.
March As the days get longer and the temperatures warm up, make the most of London’s street markets:  Portobello on Saturdays; Camden market any day; Spitalfields most days but best on Sundays; Borough food market Wednesday to Saturday; and, Columbia Road flower market on Sundays.

January  An exhibition from last year which slipped through the net is at the Museum of London Docklands where The Caribbean’s Great War looks really interesting in their impressive gallery called London, Sugar and Slavery. There are some key closures this month:  The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Fabric of India exhibition and their Shoes: Pleasure and Pain; and, Celts: Art and Identity at the British Museum.
February  The Science Museum’s new show Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mechanics of a Genius explores his incredible inventions with models, drawing and interactive games as you would expect at this creative museum.
March At the Victoria and Albert Museum a major show called Botticelli Reimagined will explore his enduring influence, looking across the centuries his impact on art, =fashion, design and film through 500 of his work and examples of those who have been touched by his art from William Morris to Andy Warhol.

January The Swan at the Globe with its great views of the Thames and St Pauls reopens after refurbishment. A new restaurant on a familiar site sees 100 Wardour Street, a new D&D venture, take on the old Floridita site, carrying on their tradition of music in the lower floor. London favourites the Galvins are turning their Spitalfields venue into a pub called Hop tho’ not your average pub as the food and drink will be posh and they will be serving de luxe hot dogs!  January sees Burns Night so seek out some Scottish food to celebrate and bravely try some haggis!
February Duende from the Bravas Tapas folk of St Katherine’s Dock opens in Covent – I really like this place so hope the new opening lives up to their original restaurant. Tom Sellers of the massively successful Restaurant Story opens a new place called Restaurant Ours in Kensington and promises to have a dramatic design with 3 enormous interior trees!  Close to me will be a new Italian restaurant with a menswear upstairs when Chucs opens with a garden terrace and coffee bar. Oliver Maki, big in Kuwait and Bahrain, opens in Soho with his contemporary sushi. Good news for those who like to plan, Pitt Cue Co are opening a new venue in the City as we hear they will take bookings!
March  Sourced Market is a new deli/café/wine and beer shop in Marylebone stocking 100 small artisan food and drink suppliers fine goods.  Some of the February openings say ‘late Feb’ which usually means March so check the February listing just in case……

January Twilight Tours of the Tower of London will open your eyes to the spooky and gruesome history of this historic site but please don’t have nightmares.
February  A Charity Gala at the Tower of London brings the stars of the West End stage into the Tower for 2 nights of variety acts including some with the famous Beefeaters.  The Tower is busy in the evenings this month as Nightwatchers returns, an after-hours immersive experience of a shadowy world of surveillance in modern and Tudor times – sounds scary but fun.
March Sporty times at Hampton Court Palace where their half marathon takes in the palace grounds and the Thames paths.  More sedate fare but still needing some endurance is their Dusk til Dawn Sleepover with entertainment, tours of the palace, a meal and a chance to sleep inside the palace. Kew Palace reopens at the end of March after its winter hibernation.

January The World Snooker – The Masters comes to Alexandra Palace, snooker’s biggest invitation event. Also at Alexandra Palace are the World Championships of Ping Pong where unsung hero Englishman Andrew Baggaley is defending his title. The football season pushes through the 2 cups with key rounds being played in the League Cup and FA Cup with plenty of London teams on show. NBA Basketball can be cheers on at the 02 Arena where Orlando Magic face the Toronto Raptors.
February The Six Nations starts with matches at Twickenham where we will be looking to England to offer more than they managed in last year’s World Cup. The football League Cup will be played at Wembley.
March  The Six Nations continues. The annual University Boat Race sees Oxford v Cambridge for the 162nd time with Oxford leading Cambridge 81 wins to 79 (for those of you good at maths, there was one dead heat in 1877 which makes the numbers right). The Velodrome in the Olympic Park is the venue for the UCI Track Cycling Championships, full of the top names - mostly British hopefully!

January Trevor Nelson’s Soul Nation comes to the Jazz Café. The reformed (ie back together, I can’t speak for anything else being reformed!) Libertines play at the O2 Arena. Also coming back are the Corrs, also at the 02 Arena. Hozier are at the 02 Brixton as are the Maccabees. Ron Pope and the Nighthawks take on Koko
February Jess Glynne plays the 02 Brixton as do Twenty One Pilots, and Jo Harman plays the Jazz Café. Jason Derulo comes to the 02 Arena and Gabrielle Aplin is at the 02 Empire Shepherds Bush. Old favourites Fun Lovin Criminals can be seen at the 02 Empire Shepherds Bush and Massive Attack take on 02 Academy Brixton supported by Young Fathers. (Check the 02 Shepherds Bush as they have roof problems so some shows may be moved)
March Rudimental come to the 02 Arena with ’We are the Generation’ and Ellie Goulding plays there too. Leona Lewis comes to the stage of the London Palladium. Wolf Alice is at the Forum and Lianne La Havas is at the Royal Albert Hall.  C2C – Country to Country music festival rolls into the 02 Arena and old favourite The Stranglers take to the stage at the 02 Brixton Academy. 

Enjoy London!



17 December 2015

Christmas lights in London 2105

It's that time of year again when London comes to life with festive lights in all the major shopping areas. I've been out and about checking them out for you and my view on 2015 is that some new ones are great, some areas have kept with old favourites which is no bad thing  but some of the major shops have not made much effort this year and one major street is just not up to our high standards. 

Carnaby Street's 2015 offering wins as usual, it's fun, it suits the street and is new and fresh and even looks good before it's completely dark!

Carnaby Street

A Carnaby Street side street
Carnaby Street 

Trafalgar Square hosts the Christmas tree sent each year by the people of Norway to express their ongoing thanks for our support during the 2nd World War. This year it's been a bit battered by a storm which hit the capital just after it went up, so it's slightly crooked but as lovely as ever, especially when reflected in the fountains. 

Trafalgar Square

Oxford Street has stuck with it's massive baubles which works well for them and I was pleased to see that South Molton Street have kept with their elegant blue arches.
Oxford Street at the Selfridges end

South Molton Street

Covent Garden has gone for enormous mistletoe this year which I liked and had some fun to it and they have kept their enormous Christmas tree and the striking silver reindeer.

Giant mistletoe in Covent Garden

Covent Garden's tree

Covent Garden's silver reindeer

This year's big disappointment is Regent Street where they have replaced their successful reindeer antlers with the 12 days of Christmas with small shiny triangles which are too small to bring much light and large circles with projected video animations which I couldn't quite fathom and the circles are not always lit on both sides.  Apologies for a poor photo to match!

Regent Street 
The Strand has joined in this year with a jolly look in blue which brightens up this part of the city: 

The Strand

Two of our major stores, Selfridges and John Lewis, usually have inventive and playful festive window displays but this year they are unimpressive and so have not made this gallery of the light show of 2015. 

London hosts ice rinks outside many of the famous landmarks such as the Tower of London and Somerset House, and the Natural History's rink is one of my favourite sights especially when the kids have a go. 

Skating a the Natural History Museum

Finally, I visited the posh shopping streets of Mayfair to see their lovely display, again kept from last year, of delicate, feathery lights. 



I hope you enjoyed this visit to London at Christmas, it's a great time of year to come here and even the shorter days are a bonus as you can see the festive lights from late afternoon onwards before enjoying a mulled wine in a cosy bar. 

Bye for now,


11 December 2015

Lunch at .... J Sheekey, London

Where to find a good lunch in London is a fun but possibly daunting challenge. There are said to be over 5,000 restaurants in London ranging from the corner cafe to the best in the world and every price point that goes with that. Then you have the choice of almost any cuisine you can think of and London boasts having many of the world's top chefs to add to your decision making woes. 

So, here's another post in my series of 'lunch at...' to help you.  I usually put my disclaimer at the end but here it is to let you know that this is an independent review and my visit was paid for by me!  Today I'm featuring J Sheekey, a famous London fish restaurant, dating back to the 1890 when it started life as a market stall selling oysters. It is now a London institution, a well loved part of the dining scene here and, in a wonderful nod to its past, has an oyster bar where we took our lunch, alongside a main restaurant room. 

Arriving down the small pedestrian thoroughfare the exterior is impressive and enticing and yet my dining companions claimed to have walked past the red canopies and wooden tables on several occasions without even noticing this fine establishment. The location is really handy for Covent Garden but more importantly for the nearby theatres and galleries. 

Sheekey's impressive entrance 

We met early and were among the first there but very soon the place was packed and it was clear these were regulars, comfortable in their usual seats, tucking into familiar fare. This was our first visit and we had chosen the Oyster Bar section as it's a bit cheaper than their main room but still offers a good choice of dishes.  

The Oyster Bar

My lunch group, a regular bunch of diners, are not easy to please so I was relieved that they finished their plates and reported back in very positive terms. The highlight were the Deep Fried Goujons with tartare sauce, meaty, tasty with a crispy coating. I had the Sheekey's Fish Pie which was a great winter dish with plenty of fish filling including good salmon chunks. 

Sheekey's Fish Pie

The Cornish Fish Stew was another winner and the extra portion of thin chips (Pommes Allumettes) disappeared right away. Our fourth member of the party had the Seared Scallops as she was not so hungry and loved the chilli and garlic sauce they were in. 

Cornish Fish Stew
Irresistible chips 

Sadly we were under time pressures so could not try out any of the desserts but I would definitely go back and indulge myself another time. 

Our dishes cost between £11.25 and £13.75 which we felt was very fair for the quality of the food and the surroundings as well as the good service.

For more information about this restaurant click here.

Bye for now,

29 November 2015

Dutch life and great satire at the Queen's Gallery London

The Royal Collection is the British Royal Family's art collection and is one of the largest and most important in the world. This holds so many pieces that only a fraction can be on display at any one time in the royal palaces across the UK. The Queen's Gallery holds exhibitions throughout the year, curated to show a different range of these precious works. 

Their new exhibitions bring together Dutch art and Georgian caricatures  linked by kings George lll and lV who were art collectors and the subject of the cartoons. The Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer' presents 27 of the Royal Collection's finest Dutch paintings. My eye is always drawn to Rembrandt's paintings, there's something about his use of light to illuminate faces that is so powerful. I was rewarded with several in this show:

Rembrandt's Rabbi with a Cap. 

Rembrandt's Agatha Bas
Rembrandt's An Old Woman called the Artist's Mother

Desmond Shaw Taylor, the curator, explained how they had chosen to use plain walls, popular at the time, to display key painting in one of the exhibition rooms which certainly contrasts with the lush blue of the walls in the other display room.

Unusual plain grey walls 
We saw popular painters from the 17th and 18th century such as Gerrit Dou, Peter Bruegel the Elder and Jan Steen as well as Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch who both took Dutch genre painting to a new level of brilliance.  Genre paintings capture everyday life, ordinary scenes and these painters bring extraordinary detail to their work. 

Pieter de Hooch
Johannes Vermeer

Both George lll and lV were keen collectors, paying high prices to secure these works as well as Sevres porcelain and fine French furniture, examples of which are on display around the rooms. 

The accompanying exhibition at the Queen's Gallery is High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson showcases the brilliant work of Thomas who was one of the most popular and wittiest caricaturists of Georgian Britain, poking fun at the kings who collected the fine works we've just seen as well as the politics, fashions and mores of the time. Rowlandson was inspired by Dutch art and although seen to be a cartoonist was a fine artist as this exhibition shows. 

From showing the public criticism the Prince of Wales for his drunken behaviour during his father George lll's illness to laughing at the misfortunes of the Duke of York, these drawings give us a great insight into the gossip of the time. I loved the drawing of the Duke of York, who had been caught up in a huge love scandal and had to resign amid the public humiliation of his love letters being published. Here he is pleading with a whale that had been found in the Thames to help keep him out the headlines which feels very modern! 

The Prince of Wales dancing at his father's sick bed
Pleading with the whale to keep distracting attention from the Duke

This cartoon lampoons the Duchess of Devonshire who was rumoured to be trading kisses for votes at a time when canvassing outside of ones family was considered unseemly for a woman. Here in this cartoon which was damaging to her reputation, she is kissing a butcher.  Given our own political scandals of votes for cash in parliament, these again feels very contemporary. 

'Most Approved Method of Securing Votes

His sense of humour shines through and the man himself was great company and a popular man in society which makes for an enjoyable exhibition.  He went to the Royal Academy school and his skill shines through.

One of the things I love about the Queen's Gallery is their education room where they bring fun and interest for younger visitors. One example of how they do this is shown below where they have picked out a section of painting to encourage the viewer to look at the detail not just the overall impression of a work.  Here the game in the corner of the painting is highlighted, something I had missed in the main gallery. 

The exhibitions are on until 14th February 2016 and for more information click here.

Bye for now,

Disclaimer:  I was invited to visit the gallery for free and the curator tour was part of this.