On July 4, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:Recent years have seen a boom in top notch ice cream parlours in the capital. Not so long ago it was considered a solely summertime treat, with exceptions made for visits to the theatre or bribing children for good behaviour. These days however gelato is very much a year-round snack, just as it is in Italy. Whether your preference is for ice cream or sorbet, cup or cone, here are my favourite London gelaterias.
Having opened in 2010 as a spin off from top Italian eatery Bocca di Lupo, Gelupo has made a name for itself as one of the best gelaterias in town. Chef Jacob Kenedy likes to innovate with exciting flavours like ricotta; pine nuts; and chocolate sorbet – they change all the time, making it very tempting to pop in on a daily basis. The granitas – semi-frozen sorbet-style desserts originating from Sicily – are magnificent too. They also serve coffee and there's a deli with products from the Bocca di Lupo kitchen.
Another very fine central London option, La Gelateria is run by advocates of the Slow Food Movement. Expect regularly changing flavours made from seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. The team are generous with their sample spoons, so you can try unusual options such as chilli chocolate or japanese sweet potato before you buy. Look down through the glass floor section of this tiny place to see the ice cream laboratory at work.
This relative newcomer on the ice cream scene was Islington's first dedicated gelateria and it's now hard to imagine the area without it. Zucono offers mainly classic flavours including dreamy pistachio and super smooth yoghurt. Some more elaborate options – Bacio or amaretto, for example – go beautifully with the croissants made fresh on site each morning. Cakes, sandwiches, juices and smoothies are also available, as well as Monmouth coffee.
On June 22, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:London's cocktail scene is ever evolving: there are hot new bars opening all the time that are guaranteed to expand your drinking horizons, whether you're a flatliner fan or a daiquiri devotee. Here are three cocktail experiences you won't want to miss.
'Flying firecracker' at Opium Bar & Dim Sum Parlour
Start your evening with a bang at the Opium Bar & Dim Sum Parlour. The team at this new Chinatown nightspot – hidden up a rickety staircase behind a mysterious green door – knows a thing or two about innovative cocktails. The 'flying firecracker' blends gin, maraschino liqueur, absinthe, grapefruit juice, liquorice bitters, gunpowder tea and juniper syrup...and is served with a surprise.
The 'classic' at Vertigo 42
The specialty at this sky-high establishment is champagne, so you'd be foolish not to indulge in the 'classic' – champagne served with cognac and an Angostura-soaked sugar cube – as you gaze out over the City of London and beyond.
Whatever the mixologist creates for you at BYOC
Book a time slot at this tiny basement joint in Covent Garden, take along an unopened bottle of your favourite tipple and watch resident mixologist Dan Thomson work his magic with an amazing range of mixers. You'll be asked whether you prefer your cocktails sweet or sour and to choose a liqueur flavour and base spirit and away you go. Make friends with the people at the next door table and increase your cocktail options even further.
On June 21, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:When it comes to finding the perfect souvenir of your stay in the capital, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, the item should be absolutely representative of London. Secondly, it's got to be something permanent – there's no denying that a quality food product makes a great souvenir, but in all likelihood it won't be long before you've eaten or drunk it all, and then where will you be? Thirdly, the perfect souvenir should be aesthetically pleasing in itself – tacky tourist gifts may be fun at first, but really you're looking for something that you'll be able to appreciate for a long time to come. Fourthly, the item must be easy to transport: small, light and not liable to get you into trouble at customs.
The one object that meets all these criteria? A poster map of the London Underground. Conceived by electrical engineer Harry Beck in 1931, it's a design classic, worthy of being framed and hung on a living room wall. It will fit easily into your luggage, won't ever go off and makes a great conversation starter. As individual station names catch your eye you'll be reminded not just of your trip in general, but of specific details: that walk in Green Park; climbing the Monument; shopping in Knightsbridge. It'll even allow you to start planning what to do on your next trip to London – and what could be better than that?
On June 20, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:Beigel Bake
If you find your belly rumbling while out and about in East London, there's nowhere better than Brick Lane's legendary Beigel Bake (159 Brick Lane, 020 7729 0616). This 24-hour establishment has been churning out amazing bagels and other tasty snacks since 1977. The hot salt beef bagels with gherkin and English mustard – carved while you wait from a slab of meat that sits temptingly in the bakery's window – are a favourite with late-night revellers. You'll find people lining up for them any time you care to visit. There's no seating but the food is good enough that it withstands the ignominy of being gobbled down while standing on the street outside.
Snacking at Borough Market
Borough Market is London's best known and most respected food market for a reason. Over 100 individual stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, baked goods, cheese and artisan products can be found every day of the week except Sunday. Shop for groceries or gifts, or better yet, come for a browsing lunch. Many stalls offer samples and stallholders are happy to talk you through the products on offer. The only difficulty you might encounter is running out of belly room. But that's nothing that a return visit the following day won't solve.
A picnic with a view
Another great option is to put together a picnic at Borough Market and head up to Hampstead Heath or Primrose Hill for lunch with the best views in London. If you go on a Saturday then buy your provisions at Parliament Hill Farmers' Market instead as it's held in a school yard right next to the Heath.
Tea at The Ritz
An altogether fancier food experience is on offer at London's luxury hotels. Afternoon tea at The Ritz, with its home-made scones, clotted cream, selection of sandwiches, cakes and tea, is one of the classic London meals. Try Claridge's or The Goring if The Ritz is fully booked.
Dinner at Rules
Visitors to London are spoiled when to comes to fine dining nowadays but it wasn't always this way. For a long time there were only a handful of top restaurants to choose from; Rules, established in 1798, has always been one of them. The menu at this dining institution is classically British, heavy on meat and game with a fine selection of cold fish starters. The décor is all characterful paintings and drawings, dark wood and velveteen banquettes. Impossible not to love.
On June 18, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:We have eight national holidays – known as bank holidays – every year in the UK. Not all of them are accompanied by particular traditions or events but the following are all well worth planning a trip around.
Notting Hill Carnival
This raucous street festival takes place each year on the August bank holiday weekend, transforming the streets of West London into one huge party. The carnival parade – made up steel bands, extravagantly-clad dancers, floats and moving sound systems – begins at 9am on both days, finishing at around 7pm. Meanwhile static sound systems and live stages play hip-hop, funk, reggae, soul and much more. Go with an appetite and tuck into delicious Caribbean cuisine sold from stalls lining the route. Sunday, children's day, offers a more atmosphere, while those keen to party should go on Monday. August 25-26.
Christmas and New Year's Eve
The next public holidays after that aren't until Christmas and New Year, when we have December 25 and 26 off, as well as January 1. Most people spend Christmas Day itself at home with family and friends but many venture out for a stroll in the afternoon. Gorgeous parks like Hampstead Heath can get surprisingly crowded with locals attempting to walk off their festive overindulgence. December 26, or Boxing Day as it's known here, is when most shops begin their January sales. It's not uncommon for bargain hunters to arrive several hours before stores are due to open in a bid to nab the best deals. And though January 1 is the holiday, it's December 31 when you'll find Londoners celebrating the arrival of the new year. Pubs, bars and clubs host both ticketed and open access event, but the biggest party in the capital is along the banks of the Thames, where stupendous fireworks are let off at midnight to the delight of the thousands lining the riverside.
Next up is Easter, which means two bank holidays, one on Easter Friday and one on Easter Monday. Family events are the order of the day at this time of year, with egg hunts and other fun activities for kids taking place at venues all over the capital. Some venues to check out are the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the London Wetland Centre.
On June 17, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:London is well served by major concert venues and the summer is always a busy time for big gigs. Here are a few of the most exciting taking place over the next couple of months.
First up is Meltdown Festival at the Southbank Centre. Each year a different respected musician curates this extravaganza of music and talks at the Southbank Centre and this summer Yoko Ono is in charge. There's plenty to see, but Iggy & The Stooges on June 20 is a good place to start. Runs until June 23.
The Pet Shop Boys are going all over the world promoting their new album, Electric, which comes out next month. Tomorrow (June 18) will find them at the O2 Arena and if past concerts are anything to go by, this is sure to be a dynamic spectacular.
On June 22 Wembley Stadium hosts The Killers, with support by James and Gaslight Anthem. This will be the Las Vegas band's biggest ever standalone show.
Another top US act to take to the London stage this month is Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. You can see Jersey Boys, the musical about the band's rise to prominence, in the West End whenever you like, but even that fantastic show isn't a patch on the real thing. They'll be playing at the Royal Albert Hall on June 25-26.
The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park doesn't officially open until the end of next month, but that little detail isn't getting in the way of the London festival Hard Rock Calling (previously held in Hyde Park) taking over on June 29-30. Saturday's acts include Kasabian and Paul Weller, while Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band are headlining on Sunday with support from the mighty Alabama Shakes.
Finally, there's the BBC Proms, which run from July 12 to September 7. The hugely varied programme of mainly classical music kicks off with work by Britten, Rachmaninov and Vaughan Williams and culminates in the glorious extravaganza that is the Last Night of the Proms. Get yourself a Union Jack and learn the words to Rule Britannia – there is no more British experience that this.
On June 14, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:If you need to relax, look no further than London's top spas. These temples of wellness will have you back to your best in no time.
The Dorchester Spa
For a traditional spa experience, try the Dorchester. Lose yourself in the glamorous 1930s design, relax in the aromatherapy steam room and treat your skin to a facial – some of the best on offer in London. Time your visit to coincide with afternoon tea at The Spatisserie, where you're welcome to dine in the comfort of your dressing gown: the 'Beau-Tea-Ful' spa offer includes an hour-long treatment of your choice and use of all the spa facilities.
Espa Life at Corinthia
With in-house fitness professionals, nutritionists and complementary therapists alongside the beauty experts you'd expect from a top spa, Espa Life is designed to meet your every need. Personal training is available in the hi-tech gym and private relaxation pods are just perfect for lounging between treatments. The design is strikingly modern – there are 3,000 square metres to explore, but you may be tempted not to even leave the beautiful changing rooms, which could easily be mistaken for the lounge of a five-star hotel.
Hamam Turkish Bath
But London spa culture isn't confined to its luxury hotels; there are more down-to-earth options here too. Take a tip from the capital's large Turkish community and give the Hamam Turkish Bath in Dalston, East London a try. This is a truly authentic haman experience – spend time in the sauna-like 'warm room' before enjoying a vigorous foaming massage in the steamy 'hot room'. Then splash with cold water to cool down and relax with a fresh fruit juice in the lounge. A range of additional treatments are also available.
On June 11, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:Starting off London's festival season with a bang is the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival (21-29 June). It specialises in large-scale outdoor performing arts events, including dance, theatre and street arts. If you caught the spectacular Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games then you'll have a sense of what to expect from GDIF – the festival's artistic director, Bradley Hemmings, co-directed it. Prepare to be surprised by amazing acrobatics (The Limbless Knight: A Tale of Rights Regained and As the Whole World Tipped), innovative participatory events (A High Street Odyssey and Growth) and shows in all sorts of unusual locations (remor and Monkey & Crocodile). All events – the ones I've mentioned are just a taster – are free.
In previous years the most recognised symbols of the City of London Festival (23 June to 26 July) have been the playable 'street pianos' that popped up all over the Square Mile. The pianos aren't part of the fun this year (though two remain from last year at St. Pancras International Station) but there will more than enough other exciting happenings to take their place, including Mobile Orchard, a pop-up installation-cum-performance platform that will appear in various locations in the City. The festival programme features dance, art, film and poetry events, as well as walking tours and lectures, but it's best known for its concerts. Celebrating the bicentenary of Benjamin Britten, one of Britain's most important composers, are a series of events in atmospheric locations: there's the Britten Sinfonia at Mansion House, the Britten War Requieum at St. Paul's Cathedral and the Britten Church Parables at Southwark Cathedral. Over 150 events take place outdoors; more than 100 are free and unticketed.
The River Thames has always played a vital role in the life of the city: in trade, transport and culture to name just a few. The Mayor's Thames Festival (6-15 September) is a glorious celebration of the extraordinary waterway that takes place each year along its banks and bridges. The full programme is yet to be announced, but a handful of events have been revealed. One for diary is 1513: A Ship's Opera, which will see an armada of historic ships present a moving concerto of nautical noises. Also not to be missed are the fireworks on the final evening of the festival, one of only three displays permitted in the city centre each year.
On June 10, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:Farmers' markets are more popular than ever, taking place all over the capital. Whether you're based at the heart of the action or further afield, chances are you won't need to travel far to get your foodie fix. Arriving early is always a good idea if you want to sample the most popular products – some stalls sell out of their signature offerings. It's also usually a bit quieter early in the day, giving you the chance to explore at your leisure, chat to stallholders and try before you buy.
Of the central London farmers' markets, my favourite is Marylebone. It takes place every Sunday from 10am to 2pm in Cramer Street Car Park, tucked away behind elegant Marylebone High Street. Thirty to forty stalls cater to locals doing their regular shop, as well as to visitors snacking on a huge range of cheeses, breads, eggs, home-made pies and fresh fruit and vegetables.
A little bit further afield is the Islington Farmers' Market, the first in the capital. It's held on Sundays too (10am to 2pm) in the unique environment of Chapel Market, a traditional London street market. You'll find at least 30 stalls there each week.
Further north still is Parliament Hill Farmers' Market, which takes place in the playground of a school abutting Hampstead Heath each Saturday from 10am to 2pm. With one of London's most glorious green spaces on its doorstep, this market is the ultimate choice for picnic fans. Choose your goodies then make the short climb to the top of Parliament Hill for spectacular views across London, or take a longer walk and find your very own private patch of wilderness.
On June 7, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:There are plenty of gorgeous public parks and gardens in London. Enough that you could probably find a different one to hang out in on every warm weekend of the year if you were so inclined. But for every accessible green space in the capital, there are thousands of private gardens: locked squares that appear like shimmering oases to hurried passersby, lovingly tended community gardens tucked away in unexpected places and the top security backyards of places such as prisons and government offices.
Fortunately, there's one weekend a year when these spaces are open to visitors. Open Garden Squares Weekend takes place tomorrow and the day after (June 8-9th) and sees 214 London gardens unlock their gates to the curious and garden obsessed. You can buy tickets on the website (one ticket is valid for all the participating gardens), as well as search for gardens that meet your particular requirements, whether that's ones with guided tours taking place, those that admit dogs, or those in a particular area of town. For some, such as the garden at HM Prison Holloway and 10 Downing Street (home of the Prime Minister), you need to book in advance, but most allow you to turn up on the day. It's a great chance to catch a glimpse of parts of the city normally off limits to tourists.
An altogether quirkier event to look out for this weekend is the London World Naked Bike Ride, which takes place on June 8th. Hundreds of naked, body paint-daubed cyclists will be taking to the streets to raise awareness of the joys of cycling and society's dependence on cars. The route will pass major landmarks including Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament and St. Paul's Cathedral, and begins at just after 3pm. Public protest is an important part of London life – this event is one of the more visually arresting ways to get a feel (ahem) for it.
On June 6, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:Each summer the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park becomes home to a bold new temporary structure from a respected international architect. Previous years have seen commissions by Jean Nouvel, Ai Weiwei and Frank Gehry, but the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013, which opens this week, is arguably the most striking to date.
At 41-years-old, Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto is the youngest person to take on the prestigious commission. Fujimoto is known for his 'inside-out' houses, homes that break down the boundaries between interior and exterior, public and private. His Serpentine Pavilion, a cloud-like structure made from interconnecting lightweight steel poles, takes this idea and runs with it. Visitors to this multi-purpose social space (which includes a cafe) will have the sensation of being outdoors and indoors all at once, while the structure of the pavilion itself appears to change depending on the angle of approach. It'll be in situ until October 20.
Another exciting novelty is Oblix, the restaurant and bar on the 32nd floor of The Shard, London's newest skyscraper. Oblix is the baby of Rainer Becker, the man behind the international restaurant brands Zuma and Roka, while Michelin-starred Fabien Beaufour is in charge in the kitchen. The all-day menu is big on rotisserie and grill dishes, plus breads and pizzas from what must be the highest wood-fired oven in the world, as well as a good range of retro desserts. Needless to say perhaps, but this place is all about the view, so check the weather forecast before you book.
Back down at street level, the most exciting news on London's shopping scene is the arrival of & Other Stories, the upmarket sister brand of Swedish retailer H&M. You'll find womenswear, shoes, accessories, jewellery, lingerie and swimwear at the two-storey British flagship store on Regent Street, which opened this spring. The high-end label has a funky, minimalist feel to it – think Acne and Sandro – and includes collaborations this season with the likes of Clare Vivier and Alyson Fox. Beauty is represented too, with brands from Dr. Bronner to Wash With Joe.
On June 4, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:You can't talk about afternoon tea in London and not mention Claridge's, the Mayfair hotel that's been a royal favourite since the 1860s. There are four sittings of this tradition-soaked meal each day, but even so it's booked up until September. Tea is served in the glamorous Art Deco environs of the Foyer or, for those seeking a more intimate vibe, in the Reading Room. Choose between over 40 loose leaf teas and herbal infusions, then tuck into two types of scone, finger sandwiches and a selection of delicious cakes. There's a champagne tea too for those wishing to take their experience up one more notch on the luxury scale.
My first ever afternoon tea experience, a special treat at the age of 11, was at Fortnum & Mason. The historic store has been selling tea for over 300 years and this pedigree shows in the expertise of the staff and fine quality of the 81 single origin teas and blends on offer. The gorgeous, light-filled St. James's Restaurant, where tea is served, underwent a major refurbishment last year and was reopened by the Queen as the Diamond Jubilee Tea Room. It was impressive on my first visit to Fortnum's and is even more so now. The Fortnum's Afternoon Tea – with its traditional fingers sandwiches, scones, cakes and pastries, plus a selection from the cake carriage – will delight traditionalists, while the Fortnum's Savoury Afternoon Tea will satisfy those with less of a sweet tooth. Also available is the Fortnum's High Tea, which substitutes a choice of various fish and egg dishes for the sandwiches.
If you love afternoon tea but prefer a less formal setting the Dean Street Townhouse is for you. Tea at this funky Soho establishment is served in a comfortable sitting room off the main dining room in a more flexible fashion than at most London hotels. Opt for the Townhouse Tea, which includes everything you'd expect, or build your own, selecting various elements of a traditional tea from the a la carte menu. More unusual options are also available, such as sausage rolls and even macaroni cheese, though if you want to do it tea properly, the latter is probably best avoided.
On June 3, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:When it comes to hotel openings, 2013 is turning out to be an exciting year for London. The Great Northern Hotel, a new boutique establishment spitting distance from St. Pancras International Station, has been welcoming guests for around six weeks now. The building dates back to 1854, when the first incarnation of the Great Northern Hotel opened at the peak of the age of steam. All 91 rooms – which come in three sizes, 'Couchette', 'Wainscott' and 'Cubitt' – have flat screen TVs, Nespresso coffee machines and either walk-in showers or roll-top bathtubs (complete with products from Malin + Goetz). Guests are also welcome to complimentary snacks, newspapers and magazines from a fully stocked pantry on each floor. The GNH Bar, with its sleek 1920s design, has been getting good reviews.
An even more recent opening (June 1) is The Nadler Soho, an affordable boutique hotel that's perfect for visitors to London who want to be at the heart of the action. This is the hotel group's second London property, following the opening of The Nadler Kensington (formerly known as base2stay) in 2005. The 78 rooms range from petite singles up to the spacious Carlisle Suite, with its fantastic views over Soho Square. The Nadler hotels are the first in the UK to offer the Newspapers Direct app, which allows guests to download their choice of over 2,300 international newspapers in 55 languages to their devices for free.
The most exciting hotel launch of the year, however, is still to come. This autumn/winter will see the opening of The Shangri-La at The Shard. It will be the group's first UK property, and about time too. Averaging around 42 square metres, the hotel's 202 rooms will be some of the largest in London. Amenities include heated floors in all the bathrooms, special 'body-contouring' beds, and butlers in all suites, but of course the hotel's biggest draw will be the extraordinary views from the tallest building in Western Europe. An infinity pool and 24-hour gym on level 52, restaurant and lounge on level 35 and bar on level 52 complete the picture.
On May 31, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:Any list of London's best free museums would have to include the British Museum, the V&A, the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum and Tate Modern, but as you almost certainly have those on your list already, I'm going to flag up a few lesser known places instead.
Museum of London
This fantastic collection of London artworks and artefacts is just a few minute's walk from St. Paul's Cathedral, but it's so tucked away that you won't find it unless you're looking for it. It tells the story of London through the ages, starting in 450,000 BC and finishing up in the present day. The Galleries of Modern London are particularly special and a great resource for anyone hoping to get an insight into the London of today. Look out for the fascinating collection of Suffragette memorabilia.
Another institution you're not likely to just stumble across, the Hunterian Museum holds the collection of the 18th-century surgeon and anatomist John Hunter. Among the 3,500 pathological preparations, drawings and medical implements, you'll find such extraordinary artefacts as a foetal walrus, a pregnant hedgehog and the skeleton of a 7' 7'' giant. Informal talks by volunteer museum experts take place every day.
If you're interested in Old Masters, there are few more atmospheric places in London to see them than at Hertford House in Marylebone, home to the Wallace Collection. Sir Richard and Lady Wallace moved into the townhouse in the late 19th-century, bringing with them the outstanding art collection that Sir Richard had inherited from his father, the 4th Marquess of Hertford. It was made into a public museum after Sir Richard's death in 1900 and has undergone significant renovations since then, but this grand domestic interior still offers a hugely evocative way of experiencing masterpieces by Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Gainsborough and many more, plus a fine collection of sculpture, ceramics and furniture.
On May 29, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:There may be a chill in the air at this time of year, but that only makes London's pubs more cosy by comparison. There's nothing better than seeking refuge from the outside world with a glass of mulled wine or hot apple cider beside an open fire. Choose a historic establishment like Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street or The Spaniards Inn in Hampstead and get a feel for how Londoners have been occupying their winter evenings for hundreds of years.
Another wintry treat is ice skating at one of the many temporary outdoor rinks at celebrated locations around the capital. Locations from Covent Garden Piazza to Somerset House to the Natural History Museum are transformed into winter wonderlands, with most open seven days a week and into the evenings too. You'll also find Christmas markets popping up at this time of year, offering the perfect opportunity to buy gifts for loved ones, as well as to gorge on delicious seasonal treats.
Shopping really comes into its own of course just after Christmas when the capital is taken over by January sales. Almost every shop you can name will have a sale starting on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas), but it's the department stores that yield the best deals. Arrive early and don't be shy – London shoppers take their bargain hunting very seriously.