Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Art a la Carte: London Restaurants & Pubs Get Arty

By Sophie Marie Atkinson.

Raindrops on roses,
Whiskers on kittens,
Bright copper kettles,
And warm woolen mittens.

Those may have been some of Maria Von Trapp’s favourite things, but I’m a little less fussy (and much less creative). I like things that taste good and are nice to look at.

I like food and art. Those are my two babies. From English pub grub to Eritrean cuisine; Francis Bacon to Tracy Emin.

My ideal way to spend an afternoon in London? Borough Market then the Tate Modern. Wandering around, gazing at Gaudi and rubbing my round little belly, filled with chorizo and cheese.

But these days, recession ‘n’ all, it’s all about saving time (and money); killing two birds with one stone. Which is the reason, I believe, behind London’s latest fad. I don’t want to go to an exhibition then go for dinner; I simply don’t have time. I want to experience art whilst eating dinner.

Sketch (video above), Mayfair’s up-market gourmet restaurant-come-gallery, led the way when it opened in 2003, and last year even Wagamama jumped on the art-wagon when it showcased a range of specially created pieces by some of the UK's most exciting, emerging artists in ten of its restaurants across the country; an initiative for which Jaime Winstone was an ambassador.

Book at Sketch using this reservations calendar

But few people, other than Jamie herself, can afford a meal in Sketch, and as far as I know, Wagamama have no current plans to revisit the venture. So where can fellow foodie/arties head to partake in this latest genius restaurant-art trend?

First and foremost, Shoreditch’s The Book Club (video above) is worth a rather large mention. This trendy bar/club, run by some of East London's most influential movers and shakers, features new exhibitions, curated by the uber cool Liat Chen, which change every 4-8 weeks. Look out for Confessions in Water, an exhibition of artist and illustrator Dio Lau, this summer. The food at The Book Club is pretty damn good too, and the cocktails have awesome, apt names like Shoreditch Twat and Don’t Go To Dalston.

Looking for something a bit more traditional and less, well, scenester? At the other end of the scale – and on the other side of London – The Imperial Arms (pictured above) on The Kings’ Road in Chelsea is said to showcase some of the best contemporary photography in London in its Little Black Gallery, including work by the legendary Bob Carlos Clarke. If the photography itself isn’t enough of a pull, head down on a Friday or Saturday night this summer when from 6-10pm, different traders from Eat St take over the garden of the pub.

Continuing along the cheap and cheerful lines of the street food of The Imperial Arms is Nom Noms Vietnamese Café in Elephant and Castle. Local artists, all with a Manga theme, are exhibited in this Asian-fusion eatery. Great special offers mean that you are probably looking at less than a tenner a head for starters, mains and beers. Quite the contrast to Sketch!

In a similar bracket to Sketch – although not quite as extravagant – is Quaglino’s (video above), my father’s favourite restaurant in London: fact. From May 28 until June 18 2012, ‘Quag’s’ (as they refer to it on Made in Chelsea) will host a display of new images commissioned the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). Shot by BAFTA photographer Ian Derry, the previously unseen collection will feature photographs of some of British most talented and iconic stars including Jo Brand, Julie Walters and comedy duos Vic and Bob and Ant and Dec.

Current offer at Quaglino’s using the reservations calendar below: 2 courses, a glass of wine and a ticket to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition for only £28.50

Love a bit of political satire (and let’s face it, in this day and age, who doesn’t enjoy mercilessly mocking politicians?), then don’t miss the exhibition of political cartoons from Jeffery Archer’s collection currently on display at Tempo Bar and Restaurant (pictured above) in Mayfair. This fairly chichi restaurant is worth a visit for the divine Italian food alone (and the chance of spotting a former or current MP; many are said to eat here). Regardless of your personal feeling towards Lord Archer, the cartoon collection – curated by Archer with art dealer Chris Beetles - is impressive and comprehensive, showcasing original artwork that spans 250 years of political and socio-economic activism and features caricatures of Thatcher, Churchill, Reagan and John Major.

Book a table at Tempo Bar and Restaurant by using the reservations calendar below

Gay Hussar (video below) is another restaurant combining political cartoons with decent dining. The walls above the tables of the Soho landmark – which has been serving up Hungarian specialities and the fine wine from the region over 50 years – are adorned with the famously entertaining collection of politician caricatures.

It may not have 50 years behind it – or even a fraction of that – but The Brockley Mess is an art gallery, bar and café that is beautifully decorated and serves up cheap breakfasts and lunches. This funky, colourful little hotspot in south-east London offers a short but well thought-out wine list and Mexican-inspired breakfast burritos. It even has a beautiful garden. And a website. Exhibitions at the gallery change every six weeks.

From the look of things, this is one fad that is set to run and run. I’m personally particularly fond of this movement as it feeds the tummy and the soul. Awwwwwww. So next time you are dining out – be it Wagamamas or a Michelin-starred pub on the Kings’ Road – make a point of paying attention to any art that may be adorning the walls. You could be staring at the work of the next Tracy Emin, although hopefully not those mucky bedsheets.


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