Christmas is a time when charitable causes are near the top of most people’s agenda in London. It’s easy, however, to fall into the trap of viewing the needy as a homogenous mass rather than individuals, each with their own particular story. The Lady in the Van, showing at cinemas around Bayswater, is a film about one such outsider and is a valuable lesson on how Londoners can relate to each other, even under difficult circumstances.

Bluebelles of Portobello – Notting Hill
Bluebells of Portobello
Situated near the Golborne Road end of Portobello Road, Bluebelles is a cafe that does everything that the mega coffee chains do – only ten times better. Eating in Bluebelles is a rare West London pleasure. The decor is an interesting mix of shabby chic and recycled objects and the counter overflows with doorstep sandwiches, almond croissants and artisan cakes of every description. Anyone searching for the perfect eggs benedict should definitely drop in and sample the Bluebelles version.

“Tradition with a twist” seems to be the overriding culinary philosophy and this is evident in dishes like avocado on toast or Victoria sponge finished off with giant chocolate buttons. Whatever your opinion on this, you’re bound to find things that are both photogenic and scrumptious. Drinks wise, the signature Caravan coffee blend is a big hit with local caffeine hounds and there is a wide range of healthy organic smoothies.

www.facebook.com/BluebellesCafe

Christmas Concerts – Royal Albert Hall
Christmas at Royal Albert Hall
This month the famous venue in South Kensington clears its schedule and hosts a series of Yuletide spectaculars which are bound to fill even the coldest heart with goodwill and cheer. Carol singing in all its forms is the central theme and choirs from all over the country will take turns in interpreting timeless classics and festive favourites. Kings College Choir, The Mozart Festival Orchestra and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, to name a few will be providing a sumptuous sonic backdrop to some of the world’s best classical voices and there is every chance for the audience to join in.

Apart from traditional Christmas carols there will be music by Mozart, Vivaldi and Bach. Concerts include Messiah, Christmas Classics, Jingle Bell Christmas and the unmissable Carols By Candlelight. An added bonus in the week before the New Year will be a dazzling version of The Nutcracker performed on ice by The Imperial Ice Stars.

www.royalalberthall.com

The Mitre – Bayswater
Mitre Pub
If your hankering for an old school pub experience not far from Marble Arch, then the Mitre is the place for you. It’s all very well experiencing themed cocktail lounges and pop up venues serving craft beer, but sometimes you need an unfussy welcome and a pint. The Mitre is a grade II listed pub that has retained many of its characterful features and is especially cosy during the long December nights.

A dining room known as the Lord Craven Grill complements the bar with a selection of expertly made dishes and is especially ideal for families gathering for extended Sunday lunches. There is also a full Christmas menu with Turkey and all the traditional trimmings for those who like to kick of the Yuletide celebrations a bit early.

www.mitrelancastergate.com

The Lady in the Van – Cinemas Londonwide
Odeon Cinemas Dec 15
In this age of gentrified neighbourhoods, it’s quite tempting to view London as a city sharply divided, not by race or class, but by property rights. Alan Bennett’s story cuts sharply across this thinking by telling the real life tale of an elderly vagrant who literally takes over the author’s fashionable street and remains unmovable, seemingly oblivious to house prices, local government and environmental concerns.

Dame Maggie Smith seamlessly makes the transition from playing an upper class battle axe in Downtown Abbey, to portraying an even more cantankerous individual as the eponymous lady. The fact that she is homeless doesn’t seem to faze this intensely demanding yet obsessively private person as she makes the whole street dance to her tune for fifteen years.

www.odeon.co.uk

XOYO nightclub – Shoreditch
XOYO
Year end office parties can be a mixed blessing but if you ever get invited to one, make sure that it’s being held at this hip Shoreditch venue. The good people at XOYO have little time for genre classifications: if the music’s good then it gets played. The results are as inspired as well as eclectic as it really pushes the guest DJs out of their four-on-the-floor comfort zones.

Resident DJs have included Simian Mobile Disco, Skream and B.Traits. There’s live music on most week nights and the club policy is in effect there as well. Rock, soul and dubstep acts are mixed with singer-songwriters and jazz soloists. XOYO is now five years old and like Shoreditch itself, it’s no longer the newest kid on the block but it remains one of the coolest.

www.xoyo.co.uk

The Illusionists – Shaftesbury Theatre
The Illustionists
They say that there’s safety in numbers, but when seven magicians get together on one stage, get ready for some dangerous thrills. Seven illusionists pool their talent at the Shaftesbury Theatre, to present a show that has taken Broadway by storm and subsequently toured the globe. They come across like a bunch of superheroes with names like “The Trickster”, “The Inventor” and “The Weapons Specialist”, but they are all serious practitioners of their art and excel in astonishing feats and stunts.

Speciality acts like these have found a big audience in TV shows like Britain’s Got Talent and its American counterpart and it’s no surprise that the most recent series sensation is featured in this production. Jamie Raven may have lost out to a cute dog but he is a skilled performer and will join the gang as a special guest.

www.theillusionistslive.com

Spectre – Cinemas Londonwide
View London logo
The creative team behind the James Bond franchise continue to delve into the emotional state of the world’s most famous spy. Daniel Craig plays a Bond who is still mourning the loss of his old boss and finds comfort in baiting his new one played by Ralph Fiennes. He’s further incensed that not only has his new Aston Martin been given to a rival, but that the whole 00 program is to be scrapped in favour of computers and surveillance drones.

It takes the appearance of a smooth Austrian super villain (Christoph Waltz) to shake everybody out of their digital complacency and by that time Bond is off and running in a globe-trotting orgy of car crashes, explosions and vodka martinis. Everything is wonderfully sleek and fast in this film: from the cars to the girls and even to eponymous evil organisation that is out to destroy Bond. An encouraging fact is that the film makers stuck to the British spelling of Spectre – Specter sounds too much like a 60s record producer.

www.viewlondon.com

Goya: The Portraits – National Gallery
The National Gallery
Francisco de Goya helped drag Spain out of its medieval obsession with hell and damnation and into the living, breathing world of the glorious Renaissance. It’s not often cited, but Goya was always a portrait painter as it offered a steady income in between larger commissions. The huge church projects had become fewer and farther apart but even then Goya was interested in people.

His portraits do not flatter and have a satirical edge to them which his subjects might or might not have detected. Colour, though, is what grips anyone who views a Goya masterpiece. He uses it to intriguing effect on his female subjects, avoiding the fashionable whiteness that so many desired for their skin in favour of ruddy pinks and shadowy violets.

www.nationalgallery.org.uk

Island Grill – Lancaster Gate
The Island Grill
Offering everything from drinks and nibbles to three courses of award-winning cuisine, the Island Grill is ideal for visitors, business travellers and locals. The menu is an inspired take on a selection of modern European favourites and there is a comprehensive wine list to choose from. Being part of the Lancaster Hotel means that the restaurant staff are prompt, friendly and professional.

Pan fried hake, rump of lamb and scallops are some of the standout items on the menu which also caters for breakfasts and business meetings. The position of the Island Grill on Bayswater Road gives diners brilliant views across Hyde Park. There is also a comfortable bar for those who wish to dine in a less formal setting.

www.lancasterlondon.com

Mau Mau Bar – Notting Hill
Mau Mau Bar
This is a night spot that is singularly devoted to music and the the people who make it. A funky red colour scheme, comfortable seating and an intimate stage give the venue a sort of speakeasy vibe that would be a bit pretentious if the music wasn’t any good. The music is, however, excellent with live acts that cover a multitude of genres.

There’s no fixed programming or policy. What you wind up listening to might be a neo-soul pianist, a jazz diva or some reggae karaoke: it’s definitely a matter of pot luck. Cocktails are inexpensive and although the Mau Mau doesn’t do food, you’re allowed to bring in your own snacks provided you buy a drink or two.

www.facebook.com/Mau-Mau-Bar

Rachel Rose: Palisades – Serpentine Sackler Gallery
Serpentine Gallery
This month presents a great opportunity to view a one-off installation by the 2014 Frieze Award winner, Rachel Rose. The work is an immersive creation of sound, colour and movement that utilises video and progressive rock soundscapes. Other techniques used are rotoscoping and remote camera shots as Rose seeks to uncover the shared anxieties of human beings as they interact with nature.

The effect is poetic and multi-layered. Although Rose combines disaster footage with peaceful music, the results are never jarring or self-conscious. In the end, her aim is to make us aware of our own mortality and for the need to consider it carefully even though overt spirituality may be the furthest thing from our minds.

www.serpentinegalleries.org

Roofnic – Marble Arch
Roofnic

The name of this venue is a very 2015 mashup of “roof” and “picnic”. It has the air of a secret club, being accessed via a nondescript entrance door at the west end of Oxford Street. From there, a staircase leads up to the top of Marriott Hotel, Park Lane which is a good thing as these are the guys who are involved in the catering. The roof is a blaze of colourful flowers and vintage bar furniture which give the place a kind of “Our Man In Havana” vibe and it’s certainly nice to look down at the controlled chaos of the West End while sipping a daiquiri.

Signature cocktails include the Roofnic Swizzle – a subtle, yet explosive combo that uses antipodean vodka and passion fruit. Health nuts will like the Big Bang which is made up of carrot, pear, turmeric, ginger, spinach and matcha root. Roofnic is a great pit stop for the weary shopper and a great weekend hideaway. AstroTurf flooring makes bopping along to the chilled out beats almost as effortless as holding your glass out for a refill.

www.roofnic.com

Smith & Wollensky’s- Covent Garden
Smith and Wollensky

This is a chophouse that sticks to the tried and trusted New York ethos of “let the meat do the talking”. Locating the perfect steak is a quest that many gastronauts take very seriously. Providence of the beef, ageing techniques and cooking methods all get taken into account and most major cities are host to a handful of restaurants that satisfy just about these most stringent of criteria. Smith & Wollensky’s is the latest in a long line of venues that lay claim to being the home of the perfect steak, having built up an impeccable reputation in the Big Apple which is no small feat, considering the fact that New Yorkers are not known for giving anyone an easy ride.

In this case, the hype is well justified as the prime rib available here knocks every London rival out of the park. If magnificent meat, dry aged and cooked to perfection is what your after, then Smith & Wollensky’s are set to deliver. This the chain’s first restaurant to be opened outside the U.S. which means that there’s a certain amount of expectation in the air. Concessions have been made to the British location in the form of slightly smaller cuts, Lobsters being sourced from Scotland instead of Maine and a more European wine list.

www.smithandwollensky.co.uk

Trailer Happiness – Portobello Road
Trailer Happiness
Theres definitely a fine line between cosy and claustrophobic and Trailer Happiness gets this delicate balance just right. Situated in a basement just off the Portobello Road, this cocktail bar harks back to the days before gentrification when the area was a cultural touchstone for Londoners of West Indian descent. As a result, rum, rum-based cocktails and spicy bar snacks feature quite heavily on the menu, although there are many items that go beyond the Caribbean theme.

The decor features a lot of neon and mirrors, effortlessly conjuring up a distinct 80s vibe, but that’s no bad thing as the music also draws heavily from that era. Bar staff are friendly, helpful and full of enthusiasm for all things rum so don’t be surprised if your roped in to an impromptu tasting session! The jerk chicken burger with cassava chips and banana ketchup comes highly recommended and is the ideal way to kick-start an evening of rum connoisseurship. Dr Fang, Yellow Belly and Dark ‘n’ Stormy may sound like comic book villains, but they are actually types of rum – each with their own characteristic flavour and kick.

www.trailerhappiness.com

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co – Piccadilly
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co
Themed restaurants can be a risk to both entrepreneur and customer as failure to enter the spirit of things on either leads to embarrassment on both sides, no matter how good the food. When the theme is based on a famous film, the line between inspiration and incoherence is even more indistinct, so it’s a relief to know that there are still places with the nerve to pull it off. Bubba Gump takes its theme from the fictional shrimp business formed by Tom Hanks in the movie Forrest Gump. Seafood is fresh, plentiful and cooked with an American-style fervour which seems to be a big hit with hungry West End diners.

The word “shrimp” can be deceiving because in U.S. terminology, this indicates big, juicy prawns. These beauties are prepared with deft precision, laced with just the right amount of seasoning and fully deserve the title: “Shrimpers Net Catch”. Prawns pop up again in the excellent Jambalaya and once again the seasoning is spot on. Staff are bright, friendly and engaging, making Bubba Gump the ideal pre-club hangout.

www.bubbagumpshrimp.co.uk

Gypsy – Savoy Theatre
Gypsy
Gypsy is a musical loosely based on the early life of Gypsy Rose Lee, the (in)famous exotic dancer who once had ambitions to be a serious actress. The fact that she drifted into the seedier side of the trade was down to her mother, a template that all overbearing “show biz moms” seem to have followed ever since. Imelda Staunton plays, sings and dances the role of Mama Rose, revealing the barely suppressed mania that inhabits only the truly self-delusional.

To call Staunton a theatrical “Force of Nature” is to almost fall into show business cliche. Exuberant, focused and massively talented, she invests emotion and intelligence into every role given to her. Acclaimed lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, consented to this revival only on the condition that Staunton was available to star in it – she’s that good.

www.savoytheatre.org

Wigmore Hall – Marylebone
Wigmore-Hall
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the makers of Bechstein pianos wanted to show off their instruments in the best way possible. With this in mind, they proceeded to build a concert venue that was in every way, as exquisite and as sonically rich as their best model. The fabulous acoustics achieved have ensured that Wigmore Hall continues to attract the brightest and the best practitioners of chamber, solo and early classical music.

This means that quality control is not a problem. Any lunchtime recital or evening concert is guaranteed to be richly rewarding and life-affirming. It’s not a place to take your smartphone as every rustle and creak can be heard. Musicians are instantly rewarded, however, as every arpeggio, chord and tonal variation is instantly reflected back to them, spurring them on to even more dazzling feats.

www.wigmore-hall.org.uk

All Star Lanes – Bayswater
All-Star-Lanes
All Star Lanes seeks to reimagine the bowling experience by taking it back to its roots in 50s Americana. Gone is the over-reliance on digital technology, the indifferent food and the bored staff. Here, the emphasis is on vintage looks and an enthusiastic front-of-house team. There’s still plenty of computerised help with the score keeping should you need it but All Star Lanes hope that you’re having so much fun that you’ll forget whose winning.

There’s some modern touches to the menu as well with vegetarian options and up-to-date cocktails. Themed nights, guest DJs and children’s facilities are all indicative of the flexible, friendly approach that comes as a welcome change to a format that has, in recent times, become stale. Party bookings and private rooms are also available.

www.allstarlanes.co.uk

Royal China restaurant – Bayswater
Royal-China-Group
The distinctive gold and black colour scheme of the Royal China is one of the informal landmarks of Bayswater. Pass through their doors and you’ll find yourself in a world of exceptional dim sum expertise. Special weekends are dedicated to this most addictive and communal of oriental delicacies and because of the no-bookings policy, it sometimes takes planning and a bit of persistence to get a seat.

Royal China get their dim sum just right and they have just the right combination of familiar presentation and surprise fillings. The stickiness of the rice and the delicacy of the seasonings are also spot on. Standout examples are: prawn and chive, pork and radish and fried mixed meat dumpling. Don’t forget your side dishes as too much indulgence could leave you queasy. Ho fun noodles and baked seafood rice come highly recommended.

www.rcguk.co.uk

Tangerine Cafe Bar – Knightsbridge
Millenium Hotels and Resorts

The Tangerine Cafe Bar is the ideal place to kick back and connect with loved ones in the heart of Knightsbridge. Located in the plush Millennium Hotel, this classy watering hole is where you’ll find serious shoppers catching their second wind over a cocktail or a coffee. Discerning tourists will find the light snacks and well thought out wine selection preferable to the mega-chains that populate the area and may want to use it as a cosy spot from which to plan their itineraries.

The modern European menu offers freshly made food, all made from locally sourced produce and is well priced and skilfully presented. Small plates, sandwiches and light desserts are all good options for those with neither the time or inclination for eating a three course lunch.

www.millenniumhotels.co.uk

Searcys Champagne Bar – Westfield Shepherd’s Bush
Searcys

If you’re spending the day purchasing luxury goods, then it stands to reason that any refreshment break should be as exclusively elegant as the items in your shopping bag. At Westfield Shepherd’s Bush, Gucci, Dior and Prada all come under one roof so the existence of a Searcys Champagne Bar right amongst them isn’t a surprise. There was a time when glamorous additions like these were tucked away in a discreet corner of the mall, but in these robustly confident times, drinking champagne cocktails in full view of other shoppers seems quite natural.

The open plan leather seating and ornate chandeliers provide an excellent environment from which to watch the world go by while enjoying a wide range of vintage fizz. Billecart-Salmon, Laurent Perrier and Piper Heidseick are among the prestigious brands sold here and can be bought by the glass or by the bottle. So if you need a few moments to reflect the wisdom of investing in that Louis Vuitton bag, spend those moments over a glass of bubbly at Searcys before taking the plunge.

www.searcys.co.uk

Founders Arms – Bankside
Founders-Arms-2015

A pub with a view is not an uncommon occurrence in London but a pub with one as a majestic as this is definitely worth a visit or two. Sited between Blackfriars Bridge and the Millennium foot crossing on the southern shore of the Thames, the Founders Arms is an ideal pit stop for those rambling along the South Bank. Visitors to the monolithic Tate Modern museum will also be able to obtain a welcome snack and a friendly pint before pressing on to the Globe theatre or the London Eye.

Those looking for more substantial fare will find a lot to choose from from the exhaustive lunch and brunch menus. Steak, fish & chips, and various pasta dishes are cooked and served with skill and efficiency leaving guests free to enjoy the unrivalled views of the City, St Paul’s and Tower Bridge. As the evenings close in, the atmosphere gets livelier as students, artists and City workers add to the social mingle.

www.foundersarms.co.uk

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