A *Cultural* Girls Day Out in London Bankside

Our itinerary was slightly over ambitious for one day: a fly-by shopping trip to central London then over to Bankside for the Rauschenberg at Tate Modern & new Switch House Pyramid tower, Borough Market, The View from the Shard and a gig in a vintage 70s caravan. Phew! And as what usually happens, things don’t always go quite to plan…especially after a bottle of Prosecco, or two…

After dropping our children off at their various schools and a liquid breakfast on the 9.23am Rugby to Euston Virgin train – the four of us were in the Big Smoke in 50-mins (adv booking, £16 return each, instead of £80 – bargain!). A short hop on the tube and we were at Top Shop in Oxford Street for a quick browse, and Liberty for an impromptu nose-piercing (for Sarah) at Marie Tash.

It was fully booked, but while Sarah was musing over an opal or gold nose stud, a last-minute appointment became free so she jumped at the opportunity, and Anna, Anne-Marie and I headed upstairs for coffee in Cafe Liberty.

The Flat White was strong and spot on. Coffee, then turned into a bottle of Prosecco…

Sarah & Anne-Marie

An artist friend of mine who lives in London had kindly arranged for some complimentary tickets for Tate Modern’s big winter show – the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition (on until April 2).

A full-scale retrospective of the American artist who died in 2008, it features six decades of his work from collages of JFK to the famous goat girdled in a tyre, drawings and sculptures, in collaboration with The Museum of Modern Art, New York (£18.50 for adults, £16.50 concessions & under 12s free).

It’s definitely worth checking out, along with the impressive new £260m Switch House – which opened last summer. This new 10-storey extension includes 3 new gallery levels with more than half of the solo exhibitions dedicated to women artists and a new panoramic Terrace Bar, serving craft beers, gin, Tate Coffee, cocktails and a selection of Tate cakes and pastries.

The top floor of Switch House is an open viewing terrace. You can see incredible 360-degree views of the London Skyline. It’s free, but you might have to queue during busy times. As we were feeling a bit peckish we got waylaid at Borough Market by an inviting new Mexican tapas joint, Tacos El Pastor, under a railway arch. It’s caused something of a sensation since opening just over two months ago.

The wait can be up to two hours in busy times as the restaurant doesn’t accept bookings, but luckily for us the lunchtime rush had subsided and we managed to walk in and nab a table.

El Pastor comes from the Hart Brothers – Sam and Eddie, of Barrafina fame, joined for the first time by their little bro James – and Crispin Somerville. It’s stunning inside the arched restaurant with lots of bright lights, industrial shelving, cacti and open brickwork.

Our very smiley Spanish waitress Gabby was lovely and nothing was too much trouble.

We had a fine Mexican fiesta including spiced tomato soup (£7.50), El Pastor Guacamole and tortilla chips (£5.50), Roast Squash and Plain Cheese Quesadilla (from £4.50) and Ensalada El Pastor (£8.50).

Sarah & Anna

Four frozen Margaritas later we were admiring The View from The Shard – and able to see up to 40 miles away. Ok it wasn’t quite as clear as this…but still amazing!

The viewing platforms are accessed by two high-speed ‘kaleidoscopic’ lifts that ascend to the building’s 68th level in 30 seconds. You’re then invited to the triple-height, glass-fronted Level 69 where the surrounding cityscape is fully exposed. The highest point accessible to The View from The Shard visitors is on Level 72 where it is possible to look upwards and see the few remaining floors taper out of sight as the separate panels of the building converge at its tip. Advance price for an adult is £25.95 and on the day it’s £30.95. Child advance is £19.95; on the day it’s £24.95,  theviewfromtheshard.com/en/tickets-prices/general-admission

The View from the Shard viewing platform

Aqua Shard on the 31st floor is one of the bar/restaurants where you can sit and dine while enjoying the stunning city skyline – or a stiff drink if you’re not keen on heights, like me.

Here’s where you access the lift and have your bags checked before ascending…

The view inside Aqua Shard.

A supercool Breakfast at Tiffany’s cocktail to calm the nerves.

And a loo with a view.

Only stayed for one bottle of vino as it was £42 a pop – just over a tenner each!

A short hop, skip and a jump away from The Shard I met up with some old London friends for what has been billed as ‘the smallest gig in the UK’.  It was inside a retro 70s gold Safari 2-berth caravan under the arches at London Bridge by James McArthur and The Head Gardeners.

A real gardener by day & former drummer for Paul Weller’s touring band Welsh-born Borough-based folk musician, James, has just released his exquisitely ethereal and hypnotic second album, Burnt Moth. His influences range from Captain Beefheart to the Beatles, The Bees and Neil Young.

He was showcasing songs from the album on his up close and personal ‘Table for Two’ Safari 2017 tour. Tickets were extremely limited, each live slot was 25 minutes, and cost £10 per person including drinks and nibbles.

I squeezed in with a 19-year-old record label PR from Cambridge and her boyfriend (*young love – sigh*). The acoustics were surprisingly good and there was actually plenty of room.

The View from James’ studio

Listen to Burnt Moth here jamesmcarthurmusic.co.uk More live In Safari Tour 2017 shows will be added soon…

6 MORE COOL THINGS TO DO IN LONDON THIS SPRING:

Vault Festival, Waterloo, until March 5

Your last chance to catch the closing acts of this eclectic, engaging six-week festival of underground arts and entertainment – London’s answer to the Edinburgh Fringe. Highlights include Chorus – an early draft of her new show about why women self-censor from the brilliant Katie Bonna, who had an Edinburgh Fringe hit last year with All the Things I Lied About. Her show Dirty Great Love Story, co-written with Richard Marsh, is also about to move into the West End.  (March 4-5). See what else is on here.

Ten Days Six Nights, Tate Modern, March 24-April 2 

Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog Bridge, Bristol International Festival

If you’re planning on visiting the Tate Modern in March, you’d better pack a torch – as it’ll be covered in fog.  Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya will be covering the terrace outside the Tate’s new Switch House extension in artificially created mist in Tate’s first 10-day festival of live art. Dominican Republic born performance artist Isabel Lewis will also be combining music, food drink and perfume to create an alternate occasion.

WOW Women of the World, South Bank Centre, March 7-12

A festival championing everything that is great about women and girls featuring female artists, writers, MPs and activists championing including decade long friends, The Fall star Gillian Anderson and journalist Jennifer Nadel who are launching their new book, WE: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere. Day passes (£22) and three-day weekend passes (£50) available. Check out the full programme here.

Play Holi in the City, Cinnamon Kitchen, Devonshire Square, London, March 7-18

#HouseofHoli is back to celebrate India’s festival of colours. Leave the skyscrapers and grey concrete at the door, put on a protective white suit for 30-minutes of paint-pelting friends, family and colleagues. Cinnamon Kitchen will be cooking up a vibrant five-course Holi menu (£38 pp) and colourful cocktails from their pop-up bar. Book a ticket here

St Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival, March 17-19

Enjoy the craic as London celebrates Irish culture with walking tours, family treasure trail music and poetry on the Underground, Irish film screenings, and the 15th annual St Patrick’s Parade and Festival in Trafalgar Square on Sun March 19.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Old Vic until April 29

Daniel Radcliffe returns to the London stage to play the Rosencrantz to Joshua McGuire’s Guildenstern – Angus in Netflix’s Lovesick, oldvictheatre.com

BOOK NOW:

Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, Apollo Theatre, London, July 13-Oct 7

Aussie director Benedict Andrews’s Young Vic revival of Williams’s Cat On a Hot Tin Roof’ goes straight into the West End.

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