In this monthly newsletter we take an overview of London, hoping to inspire you for the months ahead, notably our favourites, May and June.
London has a spirit, an eccentricity and a sense of eclecticism like nowhere else. It is a city of constant reinvention, and the contradictions that come with it – the juxtaposition of haute couture with street fashion, of old and new, of high-end dining and farmers’ markets – make London special.
The skyline, particularly in the City (London’s financial district), is dotted with starchitect-designed iconic skyscrapers with nicknames such as the Cheesegrater, Gherkin and Walkie Talkie and, across the river, soars the Shard, London’s tallest building. Immediately to the east, the constantly regenerating areas of Shoreditch and Spitalfields have reached new heights with destination restaurants and cool boutiques, including East End outposts of Cecconi’s, and Browns multi-brand fashion emporium. The contemporary art scene is strong here too with a combination of the established galleries, such as Maureen Paley and Stuart Shave Modern Art, and some interesting ‘incubator’ galleries like Union Pacific.
Entire areas are transforming, such as White City, with a Soho House outpost; King’s Cross, with Coal Drop Yard the latest large-scale retail and restaurant project; and the huge development around Battersea Power Station.
Regent Street, which features the David Chipperfield-designed Hotel Café Royal, has been revamped as an outpost for American retailers (both Michael Kors and Polo Ralph Lauren have megastores alongside one another). The southern end of Pavilion Road, close to Sloane Square, is now a buzzy village-style area with artisanal shops, a fitness-class gym with a café, several restaurants, a barber shop, wine bar and store. And, to the west, Brompton Cross has been transformed with some very upscale brand name boutiques, including a new Chanel.
Markets are still a draw: Borough, which now opens six days a week, is the obvious one, and Portobello on Saturday, but check out Marylebone on a Sunday, full of the ultra-soignée wives of French bankers who shop after Mass at St James’s Spanish Place.
Covent Garden has seen the influx of yet more designer brands (Dior and Chanel cosmetics boutiques, for example) and Fitzrovia has many new independently owned restaurants and galleries.
Mayfair’s regeneration is happening at a very fast pace with everything moving more and more upscale, with private clubs, restaurants run as if they were private clubs, mega galleries, international designer brands and a soon-to-open Lanserhof Spa (on the site of Dover Street Market, which has relocated to Haymarket at the edge of London’s theatre district).
A much larger and very lavish new Annabel’s has recently opened, occupying an entire Georgian mansion two doors down from the original on Berkeley Square, with dining rooms, an outdoor dining area with retractable roof, lounges, gym and health club, to follow. Also from Robin Birley, 5 Hertford Street founder, and son of original Annabel’s owner Sir Mark Birley, is Oswald’s on Albemarle Street. Here, two floors of another beautiful Georgian townhouse have become a sumptuously appointed private members’ club where the focus is on wines and wine storage. The first-floor bar and ground-floor restaurant, separated by a sweeping circular staircase, are both elegant and very well serviced.
As always, there is the mighty river, the beautiful royal parks, the heritage and the culture, all of which reflect London’s cosmopolitanism, its spirit and an innate vibrancy that cannot be found anywhere else.
With London and New York drawing closer to each other in terms of the art scene, energy levels and restaurant openings, the city buzzes; maybe not quite 24/7, but most of the week, especially in Mayfair, Fitzrovia and the now-fashionable East End.
As for the mega-gallery explosion, Larry Gagosian kickstarted it with Brittania Street, King’s Cross; this led to the building of the gigantic White Cube in Bermondsey (the largest commercial gallery space in Central London). Then came another Gagosian venue on Mayfair’s Grosvenor Hill, followed by a London outpost of New York uber-gallerist Marian Goodman, off Soho’s Golden Square. What is arguably the most impressive of all, is the magnificent renovation of Ely House, Dover Street where Salzburg and Paris-based gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac has recently opened his grand Mayfair space. And let’s not overlook the beautiful, minimalist, all-white interiors of David Zwirner gallery, within yet another Georgian mansion on Grafton Street; as well as Hauser & Wirth’s huge glass-fronted double galleries on Savile Row.
Unmissable public galleries include the South London Gallery, the Serpentine, Whitechapel Gallery, Camden Arts Centre, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Barbican and Tates Modern and Britain.
Spring and early summer are the best times to visit London, especially for ‘the season’. This is a wonderful opportunity to combine the city with the beautiful English countryside and the many social and sporting events. September and October generally afford warm days and exciting new theatre productions and art shows, not forgetting the annual October fixture of Frieze and Frieze Masters.
Make 2019 your year to visit London. Do it in true Nota Bene style, staying in the right suite at the right hotel, dining in restaurants where Londoners dine and generally being on the inside track of this huge, exciting metropolis.
Happy Easter, happy travels.