An eco-conscious, plant-based ethic has been one of the biggest trends in dining in the past few years, and this Fitzrovia establishment has taken the principle to the core of its green heart. Although I visited the restaurant for breakfast, just inside the doorway is an array of impressive marble-topped units upon which a colourful cornucopia of dishes are displayed for lunch and dinner, teasing the senses and taste buds upon entry. The kitchen is dedicated to creating bold vegetarian options (including choices for nearly every organic diet, from gluten-free to dairy-free to vegan), and if the sample online menu is any indication (a palate-whetting mix of richly conceived salads, tarts, pasta and rice dishes), the cooks wildly succeed. The variation of breakfast hash I ordered was a truly innovative and fresh take on the traditional staple, kale and sweet potato succulently soaked in coconut oil, tossed with a tofu scramble and turmeric, a playful and complex assault on the tongue. The interior design is of bright and cheerful Scandinavian style, clean and tidy, a spacious room clear of frills, white tiles dominating, projected filament lights above tables casting soft, flattering luminescence. The most curious element is the cluster of circular, backless upholstered seats situated amongst a copse of birch trees, certainly the most visually profound and striking section of the restaurant. With the exception of breakfast, afternoon tea and an option for full dinner service, Ethos operates on a pay by weight system, which allows for maximum flexibility of choice and serving. As for the baffling emblem of the business, the stag, the founders explain that the animal represents the protector of the forest in English folklore, a defender of the herbivorous realm. A return for lunch beckons me-and soon.
Heralding a true innovation in the staid coffee scene, this new cafe just on the edge of Shoreditch situated inside a new residential/retail development offers patrons a manifold menu that skips across an international selection of caffeine choices. With over 70 options available, carefully curated by region (seven world areas from Japan to Arabia to France and the U.S. are represented) a customer may feel initial disorientation, but the baristas are more than happy to guide you to a proper choice based on mood or taste inclination. You’re truly spoilt for choice, and could very happily spend months working your way through the entire inventory without having to repeat any one drink. The array of flavour, texture and production style is dazzling. In addition to coffee, there is an impressive range of hot chocolates and loose-leaf teas and lemonade for those not enamoured of the bean, with a bakery case catering to those with a sweet tooth, prodigiously stocked with confectionery delicacies with just as much of a global reach as the beverages. With a harsh luminescence from recessed lighting from on high (which softer lamp light closer over the seating area can’t quite dispel, despite the playful use of birdcages as casings) and a dark-colour wall scheme, dining in feels a bit chilly and wan, but perhaps this is only personal opinion. This is the company’s first London location (stores are already present in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, France, Austria, Romania and Hungary), and is a welcome, unique cafe experience miles away from the ordinary, where the worst dilemma may be deciding between a cappuccino or a latte dependent on your predilection that day.
Nothing in any of the advance informational literature I read (including a diary penned by a journalist I believed to be a hapless urbanite given the task of reporting on a hearty rural biking route) prepared me for this rigourous, challenging sprawl of terrain. Part of the same regional system of pathways that provided such a serene and striking stroll along the Basingstoke Canal this summer has now yielded a much more primal and basic stretch of land to traverse. Due in part, perhaps, to the time of year in which I elected to experience it, what with its deep, inhospitable ruts of mud and slickly dangerous overlay of wet, compact leaves, its utter lack of interest in pavement of any kind, I felt as if I was engaged in an extreme sports course, but without the proper BMX-sponsored bicycle model! The 50-mile route begins in Alice Holt Forest and winds all the way to Portsmouth Harbour, with a slight detour (via ferry) at Hayling Island, and is comprised of 12 sections, broken into parts anywhere from 2-7.5 mile stretches. Signage isn’t consistently conspicuous so a certain degree of vigilance is required lest you go off-track. The route is named for the journey oak timber grown in Alice Holt Forest would take to the dockyards of Portsmouth for the building of stately Tudor vessels. The path was just officially opened this past autumn, and is serviced along its course by several rail stations, so it’s quite easy to pick up at any juncture. Several rest stops along the way, including historic pubs and funky cafes, offer respite and flavour for a weary pilgrim. Despite any misgivings I may have, I will return to portions of the trail I didn’t get to conquer on my initial visit, perhaps on foot this time and at a different time of year, to compare and contrast degrees of difficulty, although I suspect that at any given moment, this trail may be for the more adventurous and ambitious traveller.
Known formally as 20 Fenchurch Street, but more popularly by its designation as the Walkie-Talkie, given its architectural shape and visual detail, this relative newcomer to the London horizon offers locals and tourists alike free access to its upper floors (a strict booking policy is in place), including the voluminous Sky Garden and Terrace, as well as two restaurants, several bars and observation decks. Once you’ve cleared the airport-inspired security area on the ground floor, you’re whisked up 35 stories to emerge into a stunningly spacious atrium dazzlingly illuminated (courtesy of a continuous glass-panelled canopy) by available natural light, flanked on either side by elongated stairwells that crawl along the curvature of the building’s frame. Tiered gardens (comprised mainly of hearty species of Mediterranean and African plants) cascade along the margins of the stairwells adding a bit of colour and vibrancy to the graceful angles of steel and glass that dominate the senses. You do effortlessly suffer the grandiose feeling of floating above the skyline of London, and the feeling is only enhanced by the ability to set a visually uninterrupted 360-degree course of the city’s sights as you walk the periphery of the building (there are several helpful plaques positioned at intervals to describe landmarks for those who may not be as familiar with the city). You can stare across at the Shard (which of course has its own, even more elevated observation floors, the privilege of which it costs £25 to enjoy) or the Cheese Grater or the Gherkin, or several of the other titans of the emerging vertical city. The terrace, rigorously monitored by an attendant with wind gauge in hand (the staff must be vigilant in regards to wind shear and gradient, closing access to the terrace if a threshold is reached), gives your visit an extra dimension of thrill by venturing into the full elemental vortex, bringing you into sudden clarity of just how high up you are. If you’re feeling indulgent, have a meal at either of the establishments available (if only for the striking backdrop), although the purpose of your free entry may be defeated by an exhorbitant restaurant bill-the circular cafe stand just off the lifts, run by Rhubarb, with its prodigiously stocked baskets full of enticing sweets and light bites, is a better option for the pocketbook. There’s an ample seating area surrounding the cafe, and a series of cushioned sofas, with blankets available, runs along the terrace windows (structurally, the challenges of keeping such a generously apportioned space heated must be nigh-impossible). For a thoroughly modern London experience, especially for the price, it can’t be beat. I realise the building itself is a controversial subject (not only because of the claims that the sun’s reflections off its sweeping surfaces were at one stage melting objects on the ground, cars included, which led to another round of cladding), as some critics and residents alike regard the Walkie-Talkie as an aesthetic failure, but I am a firm admirer of its graceful flex and weave.
Although I suspect that this new piece by Lucy Kirkwood will not attain the vibrant critical acclaim nor global success of its predecessor, the award-winning “Chimerica”, most likely because its reach is of much more intimate personal nature and less all-encompassing sociopolitically, that is not to say it doesn’t have plenty of daring assertions of its own to make. A married couple, both retired scientists, are visited by a former colleague at their isolated residence now on the fringes of a dangerously toxic landscape, the terrestrial victim of a catastrophic nuclear incident due to a seismic event. It becomes increasingly clear that the severity of the reactor damage may have its origins in (perhaps willful) oversights of the three central characters when employed at the worksite. As the interactions between the trio grow ever more tense and accusatory, it’s boldly suggested that these people, now grounded only in a damned past and static present, may have outlived any usefulness or value, mired hopelessly in exhaustive loops of regret, recrimination, pain and dysfunction, all monstrous projections of ego and selfishness-the only future offered is a sacrifice to the siren call of mortality, embodied in the mighty metaphor of the nuclear environment. The referenced children of the title are hardly present-the best gift to give the youth is to simply step aside and disappear, the only responsible recourse is to return to the scene of a great mess and be claimed by it before it has a chance to spread further and start to taint the newer generation. The relentlessness of aging and a desperate refusal to acknowledge one’s growing irrelevance drive the script-the house and its occupants, on far and distant shores, seem more like exiles and ghosts as the play unfolds. Kirkwood gets a lot of savage, pointed humour out of the situation and her sharp, intellectual characters-Francesca Annis’s sinister, coiled reserve, Deborah Findlay’s skittish, high-strung Hazel and Robin Cook’s taciturn, libidinously defeated Robin. The pace may be a bit too deliberate for some, but this is a play which unspools in a twilight register, much like the ever-creeping shadows that claim more and more agency on the stage, the sun setting on these souls. The production runs through 14 Jan
A journey through this mile-long festive trail begins with a step between two beribboned, twinkling trees with the voice of Father Christmas himself bidding you welcome (sounding suspiciously akin to a sonorous Brian Blessed or someone of similar theatrical ilk), before branching off to a blossoming, undulating garden of bulbs coordinated to a colour and audio track, a grouping of chirping choral trees, a scented fire garden with scenes suggested by “The 12 Days of Christmas” and an endless host of dramatically lit woodland features. This is the fourth year for this pervasively scaled illumination programme amongst the grounds of one of London’s most spectacular botanic gardens, and the hosts have provided for all, from a mid-point fairgrounds and designer marshmallow roast stall (with premium flavours on offer) and a few interactive scenarios for kids, to amply available mulled wine and cider kiosks for adults, not to mention two gift shops and cafes at mid and end stages for desirable warm beverages and food after the crisp stroll outdoors. The new addition beehive structure is hypnotically lit in an apropos nectar hue, and the trail culminates in the graceful cascade of light projections on the Palm House with accompanying laser play at its base, sending spellbinding arcs of light across the water and immediate grounds, all to a soundtrack of traditional seasonal tunes-a pure example of saving the best for last. One caveat: peace must be made long beforehand with the inevitability of a parade of prams impeding clear progress at various stages of the walk as this is an attraction with vast appeal to families. It’s very popular, so the venue strongly suggests booking fairly far in advance, with entries on the half-hour between the hours of 5-8:15 daily; the event runs through 2 January, in a welcome extension of the festive period. Keep in mind London’s other winter wonderlands, including the Enchanted Woodland in Syon Park (closing this weekend) and the new Greenwich Peninsula Christmas extravaganza, including Santa’s Grotto, craft and food market and (inevitable) illuminated gardens, as well as the behemoth that is the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, chaotic and vivid in scope, demanding great reserves of energy.
Playfully explicative in name, this new venture devoted to the perennial breakfast favourite has opened as part of the new Flat Iron Square development in its own glass-fronted archway. The space is light and airy upon entry, broken only by a mezzanine seating section at the rear, minimalist in design (a soothingly warm seashell wall pattern is the most impressive feature, along with the requisite filament lighting and warm timber fittings ), and no-nonsense in its menu, all plates of which feature the titular delicacy, from savoury to sweet, traditional to modernist. Owner Patricia Trijbits honed her craft at various pop-ups and market stalls before launching this permanent home for her signature dish. Her buttermilk creations are beautiful balances between the crispy (exterior) and fluffy (interior), served with pure maple syrup sourced straight from Quebec. Savoury dishes extend from a very square American (pictured, and delicious) to ambitious translations of the ham and cheese toastie and eggs benedict/royal combinations , and the sweet offerings are a tasteful riot of fruit and spice mixtures. The premium menu choice are the award-winning Dutch Babies (named Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch Best Pancake 2016), oven-baked goodness served in a cast iron skillet, the depth of which causes the pancake to slightly rise along the sides, drenched in either a glorious apple and berry mess for the sweet tooth or a cheese and herb bake for the more substantial appetite. Special mention must go to bringing the bill to the table enclosed in a copy of the Everyman hardcover edition of the poetry of Keats-a supremely elegant and unexpectedly delightful conclusion to the meal.