The big talking point about this year’s exhibition is the return of Sentebale, the Lesotho-based children’s charity, co-founded by Prince Harry. Featuring designs by “Hope on the Horizon” horticulturist, Matt Keightley, it’s sure to find favour with both royals and public alike. Champagne house Laurent Perrier will be teaming up with Chatsworth House in order to present a triangular “mini-estate” that can be viewed from three different aspects.
Last year’s winner, Jo Thompson is also back, this time with a “sylvan retreat” theme. Expect lots of whimsical, rural influences combined with some 21st century ingenuity. Overseas entries include a perfumed garden by L’Occitane, a tropical paradise from Singapore and a Middle eastern sanctuary full of jasmine, rosemary and papyrus. Apart from the main exhibitions, there’ll be plenty to see as the weird and whacky gardening subculture of Britain makes growing roses seem like the coolest thing in town.
Ten days in May will see the Royal Albert Hall transform itself into the living room of a rock guitar legend as Clapton plugs in “Blackie” – his equally revered vintage Fender Stratocaster and wails as only he can. From “Crossroads to Layla”; from “Sunshine of Your Love” to “Tears In Heaven”, each hit will be punctuated with lesser known but equally influential blues and country standards. This is an important part of any Clapton gig as he is often seen as an ambassador from a culture that is often disregarded, yet is essential to all modern music – the blues.
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.
Against his better judgement, he joins forces with a renegade named Imperator Furiosa who is in charge of the grandaddy of all monster road trains. Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron) is on some sort of quest and Max has to figure out where his best interests lie. Fury Road is packed to the brim with car chases, explosions and mindless violence, but it’s beautifully shot and explores more social and environmental themes than the whole of the Transformer series put together.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Philomena’s Bar – Covent Garden
In London, there’s a big difference between an Irish bar and an “Irish themed” establishment. The real deal tends to avoid tourist-trap shenanigans while sticking to the basics and that is indeed Philomenas main strength. As in all Irish watering holes, sport plays a big part in the all round atmosphere. Huge screens are strategically placed around the venue showing all the hurling, rugby and Gaelic football direct from the old country and this month the pub will be buzzing as the six nations rugby contest coincides with St Patricks Day.
The food and drink here is as honest and unpretentious as the decor. Ploughman’s lunches, beef pies and fish suppers are well made, promptly served and inexpensive. The Guinness never runs out and is poured with the utmost care and dedication (the staff will even bring the pint over to your table rather than have you waiting at the bar).
Excellent wines, an intelligent menu and a lovely view of one of London’s prettiest parks all add up to a perfect destination for a romantic Valentine’s dinner this month. Ricotta pancakes and mango slices followed by roast sea bass with a tart gratin dessert tastes as romantic as it sounds. The inspired architecture of the restaurant is alone worth the trip into town and a walk through the park is guaranteed to sharpen the taste buds. Once there, the friendly and courteous staff will greet you with a refreshing glass of blood orange Buck’s Fizz.
Vegetarians need not feel left out on Valentine’s Day and can enjoy truffle omelette with mixed leaf salad. A stroll back through St James’s Park takes you by a beautiful lake that is a natural magnet for water fowl of all shapes and sizes. It would seem that this leafy corner of London is a meeting point for more than one sort of love bird!
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.
This Iberian themed restaurant takes a trio of foundational values into account, when compiling its menu. Atlantic fish, Alentego pork and lesser known Iberian wines all feature heavily and make a keen exploration of the menu almost mandatory. Chef, Luis Baena served under Joel Robuchon and has picked up some formidable skills along the way which is bound to be appreciated here in West London.
Prawn sausages and Portuguese salt cod are perfectly healthy starters that fulfil that difficult task of providing a substantial course without ruining the appetite. Veal cheeks with oxtail is served on a bed of the most delicious fluffy mashed potato. Nata is a sublime dessert inspired by the custard tart which is almost omnipresent on the Iberian peninsula. Here, it’s made into something that resembles a millefeuille, such is the delicacy with which it is put together.