Someone said the other day that London had nothing new to offer. That it was boring, stuck in the 1990’s, with no exciting ideas. Nothing could be further from the truth. London has been for decades and still is on the cutting edge for new experiences.
Every time I went back to London, I was excited to be back. It has always been my most favourite city. My love affair with London ran deep. It came in all shapes and sizes.
The sound of the underground. The rush of the people hurrying under grey skies with their umbrellas wide open. The blinking lights and the jet planes, the black Victorian cast-iron fences. The faces of people, so pretty in their different colours, their earnestness, and the dreams that mirrored in their eyes.
I was on my way to meet my friend, Coralie from Tea Time in Wonderland, to spend some time together in this exhilarating and uncompromising city. To have a laugh and have a good time. To get drunk with new memories and shared excitement. To escape our everyday worries of life and work and kids and the future, if only for a few hours, and recharge our batteries.
On a Quest to Find the Mushroom Macchiato
My friend’s message came while I was still on the train from the airport to my hotel. “Let’s try Curators Coffee Gallery”, it said. A small cafe in the shopping precinct around Oxford street. Only recently, the Evening Standard had run a piece on their latest addition to the menu, coffee with a mushroom consommé on the side. A “mushroom macchiato”. For a true umami experience.
It sounded crazy, it made us curious, it was a story that was simply irresistible.
Unfortunately, when we arrived we realised that the article had been more or less made up. Nobody in the cafe knew what we were talking about. Yet, it said a lot about London that we believed this fabricated story. In London, anything could be possible, even a cafe trying to combine mushrooms with coffee. And who knows, it was not unlikely that this new recipe was now to be added to the menu, thanks to customer request. Because we people are hungry for more, and Londoner businesses are happy to give things a go.
To compensate us for our slight disappointment we settled for green tea chai, and banana bread with a sugary crunch, and a brie frittata. It may not have been a mushroom macchiato but you can trust that you won’t find these items on a provincial menu either.
Flying High in Virtual Reality at One Aldwych
From here we went on to One Aldwych, a luxury hotel in the vicinity to a number of stage plays and musicals on the edge of Covent Garden. Their Charlie the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea in the Lobby Bar was almost famous with Londoners who like to take their children out to for a special treat. Thanks to golden eggs and chocolate caramel milk, parents could easily transport their children into a world full of magic and wonder.
In fact, many meals and drinks on the menu were themed with a reference to nearby productions, preparing theatre-goers for the show by easing them into the evening with a cocktail or two. We opted for The Origin – a cocktail that promised not just a new concoction of flavours but also a virtual reality experience that went along with the tasting experience.
The staff assisted us as we donned the virtual reality headset and the headphones, and while the two of us were sitting in the stylish Edwardian yet contemporary Lobby Bar of One Aldwych we were suddenly transported away from London. Gone were the hotel, gone was the city, gone were the people. Sights and sounds painted a new reality around us. Like an eagle we flew over the Scottish highlands, pristine and beautiful. To our surprise, another sensation then tickled our senses. We smelled the fragrant smoke of cherry wood, perfectly in tune with the pictures in front of our eyes.
When we took off the headsets, a rich and smokey cocktail awaited us, made of Dalmore 12 year old whiskey, cherry liqueur, chocolate bitters. The smoke that we had smelled while we were flying over the Scottish highlands was still sitting in the bottle, adding an aura of mystic and mystery to the drink.
The Thames Soundtrack of Strolling Couples
From One Aldwych we found our way down to Tate Modern. The sun had started setting, switching on the lights of the city and changing the colours of the sky to a deeper blue. Crossing the River Thames via Waterloo Bridge we could see illuminated barges travelling down the river in slow motion. An army of cranes were poking their arms out into the sky, their tips highlighted by a single red light. Everywhere, new buildings were emerging, changing London’s skyline at a neck-breaking speed.
The river transported the noise of the traffic across the water, an everlasting humming that never stopped. It was our soundtrack for our walk to Tate Modern as we descended down to the waterfront sidewalk on the Southbank, towards the Oxo Tower. Couples strolled along the river under blue fairy light trees, relaxing from a busy day out in the city. So many people here on a Sunday night, taking in the views of a city that never sleeps.
Mesmerised by the big Swinging Pendulum
At Tate Modern we had only a little time but it was enough to see the current supersized installation One, Two, Three, Swing! by artist ensemble Superflex. A giant silver pendulum suspended some ten metres from the ceiling of the Turbine Hall, swung precariously over visitors’ heads. Mesmerising, silently, with unmatched elegance. We could see our mirror images in the giant silver ball as we were standing in the gallery. Visitors were sitting and lying on the striped floor under the pendulum, watching the eternal swinging motion in this giant space.
Further down the hall, the atmosphere was different. On sets of giant swings visitors young and old were enjoying the experience of swinging through space themselves. They squealed as they catapulted themselves up into the air. Tried new techniques. Took pictures – feet thrown into the air, hair flying high. Adults turning into children, children seeing their parents in a whole new light.
Just a few steps from Tate Modern we were sucked into the rooms of another free art gallery in the base of the OXO Tower, gallery@oxo. Fascinated by the glowing displays of discarded technical equipment, re-arranged to create fantastic three-dimensional futuristic miniature cities, we stepped into the small art space. Recycled Future by Oskar OK Krajewski made us think about the importance of recycling, and how we wanted to see our future unfold.
Cocktails and New Street Art
The evening drew to a close. One last stop, a few steps into the warmth of a cocktail bar at the Sea Containers London (former Mondrian London Hotel). The cushioned benches glowed in a colour between pink and old rose, reminiscent of bubble gum and candy floss. We ordered a variety of cocktails, listened to the conversations of the other guests – discussing elective beauty procedures in Germany, watched the blinking lights of city through the panoramic windows.
Before we returned home we walked the street art tunnel at Waterloo Station, Leake Street. An open art concept, orchestrated by the city, displaying a colourful palette of street art and graffiti, some of it so fresh it was actually being created as we walked past.
London, you had outdone yourself yet again.
Someone once said that London had nothing new to offer. How wrong they were.
Because, as someone else once said, if you are tired of London you are tired of life. What you make of London is up to you. The city is not responsible for giving you a good time.
Living in London, or visiting from time to time? If you would like to know what’s going on on weekends in London, have a look at my friend Coralie’s blog where she posts a new London weekend update every week.