Heading to the capital this summer, to celebrate the anniversary of the 2012 Olympic Games? We can’t guarantee it won’t rain (this is England) but if and when it does stop bucketing down, be ready to take London drinking, eating and even theatre watching outside. KH gives you the low-down on five fabulous al fresco options – regardless of which side of the river you’re on…
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
For the quintessential British summer evening, look no further than the award winning Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – now in its 80th season. The setting – a steeply raked auditorium with a 1,240 seating capacity slap bang in the middle of one of the capital’s prettiest parks – is simply magical.
So too is Christopher Sergel’s adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird – a coming of age tale which sees lawyer Atticus Finch, defend a black man falsely charged with the rape of a white girl in the Deep South of the thirties.
Hollywood headliner Robert Sean Leonard (he of House and Dead Poet Society fame) is a revelation as the linen suited lawyer, Atticus Finch. Leonard delivers his lines quietly but with conviction, achieving the impossible: for two and three quarter hours, he manages to make you forget Gregory Peck’s star performance in the 1962 film.
Picnics (and prosecco) are permitted in the park but if packing up your own sounds like too much effort, there’s a not extortionate barbecue and buffet available before all evening performances. Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, NW1. Nearest tube: Baker Street (020 7907 7071; www.openairtheatre.com/)
Madison at One New Change
There can’t be many – if any – better rooftop terraces than this, in town. Situated on the top of One New Change (a stunning glass shopping centre designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Jean Nouvel) overlooking the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral, the glorious views of the London skylinemake for a spectacular experience. Expect to see The Shard, London Eye and Tate Modern to name but a few London landmarks.
The food also elates: there’s a formal restaurant serving generously portionedBritish fare plus the more fun tapas bar: think small plates that lend well to sharing with friends. I tried the baby piedmontese peppers (£7) and Welsh rarebit fritters (£6) and a lovely lemon posset (£6) but you can just drink here. Top notch cocktails include the cheekily named ‘Hot Bitch Martini’ (£9), Citrus Mojito (£9) and New York Sour (£8) but in such stunning surroundings, it seems a shame not to try the Thai Chi (£10) – a champagne cocktail with cucumber, ginger, apple juice, lemon juice, vodka and a Lanson champagne top. If Don Draper was in town, this is where he would head. Madison, One New Change, Rooftop terrace, One New Change, St Paul’s, EC4. Nearest tube: St Paul’s (0208 305 3088; www.madisonlondon.net)
WEST The Mall Tavern
When the sun has got its hat on, The Mall Tavern – a gorgeous gastro pub in chi chi Notting Hill – is our destination of choice for al fresco dining.
The kitchen doesn’t put a foot wrong: expect sensational starters such as mushroom and chestnut pate (£5.50) mopped up with fresh warm soda bead (£1.50), a big tasting beetroot, whipped goats’ cheese and hazelnut salad (£7) and pork pie with sweet and sour vegetables (£6.50). Generously portioned mains include macaroni cheese with smoked bacon (£9.50) – comfort food heaven – and ‘Portabella Road’ pie with creamed onions and sage (£13), while sides like purple sprouting brocolli and lover’s chips are worth the extra £4. For dessert, there’s a nod to nostalgia: don’t miss the artic rolls (fantastic sounding flavours include lamington, after eight and peanut butter and jelly) and the to-die-for salted caramel chocolate rolos. Service is attentive and friendly without being fussy but it’s the secret garden – with marble tables, classic pub ashtrays and flowers in special Royal Cups – that’s the real delight. A hidden gem in the heart of Notting Hill, go for a leisurely lunch, a candlelit dinner or even just a drink (there’s a killer cocktail list) but do go. 71 – 73 Palace Gardens Terrace, W8. Nearest tube: Notting Hill (020 7229 3374; www.themalltavern.com)
NORTH Hampstead Heath Ponds
On a hot summer’s day – yes, yes this may sound a tad optimistic but I like to look on the bright side – an open air swim is just what the doctor ordered. London might be lacking in beaches, but who needs all that messy sand anyway? There are open air pools and lidos all over London, but I love Hampstead Heath Ponds. As well as a mixed pond (close to Hampstead/Belsize Park), Hampstead has separate ponds for men and women (on the Highgate side). With the anniversary of London Olympics just around the corner, isn’t it time you revved up your own fitness routine and dived right in? Afterwards you can your dose of Vitamin D on the grassy banks or undo all the good work by heading to Haverstock Hill – home to Marine Ices aka London’s best ice cream shop – for a tub (or two) of the cold stuff. We can recommend the Caribbean coconut and maple walnut.
Hampstead Heath Ponds, Hampstead Heath, NW3. Nearest tube: Kentish Town, then by bus (020 7485 3873; http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation/LGNL_Services/Environment_and_planning/Parks_and_open_spaces/Hampstead_Heath/Swimming.htm) Marine Ices, 8 Haverstock Hill, NW3. Nearest tube: Chalk Farm (020 7482 9003; www.marineices.co.uk)
SOUTH Kew the Movies
Mad about movies? The place to see them this September is at Kew the Movies – when the world famous Kew Gardens will host a giant open air cinema. Screenings take place in two magical botanical locations. At Kew Gardens, the big screen sits majestically against the backdrop of the iconic Kew Palace. At Wakehurst, Kew’s West Sussex country estate, the cinema is set on the perfectly manicured Croquet and Mansion lawns. Screenings – none of which need any introduction – include Dirty Dancing, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Les Miserables, Cinema Paradiso and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Gates will open at 6.30pm, with the films starting at 7.30pm. Kew Gardens, Royal Botanic Gardens, Richmond, TW9 3AB Tube: Kew Gardens (www.kew.org)