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Top five London restaurants for delicious dumplings

My friend Barbara, food expert and traveller, has just written a mouth-watering book: Dumplings: A Global History. She’s eaten her way from her native northern Italy to the yurts of Mongolia, sampling everything from gnocchi to wonton. Just like the dishes she describes her book is stuffed with tasty morsels: anecdotes of her trails, the evolution of exotic dishes, ceremonial feasting, rituals and recipes. Lucky Londoners can follow in Barbara’s footsteps without heading for Heathrow:  I’ve asked her to share her top five London dumpling restaurants.

New Culture Revolution, Angel, Islington

Food writer Barbara Gallani checks out the dumplings at New Culture Revolution, Islington.

Over steaming bowls of jiaozi at New Culture Revolution near Angel station Barbara explained how most world cuisines include some form of dumpling: dough made from ingredients including flour, bread and potatoes, and served in broth or with a filling. They are usually basic “comfort food”, but can also be highly refined and require complex preparation. Barbara’s top five cover them all, as she explains below.

Asian New Culture Revolution, Angel. “Everything here is home-made, including the broth. The dumplings are chunky and packed with tasty, simple ingredients. I usually order the jiaozi or what Americans call pot stickers—wontons that are steamed then pan-fried.”

Italian Locanda Locatelli, Marylebone.  “The ravioli here change with the seasons. Locatelli always uses the best and freshest ingredients. My favourite is the ravioli brasato, filled with tender meat—usually beef—that has been slow-cooked for around 12 hours. All the dishes are rooted in Italian traditions, but Locatelli cooks them in his own style, making the flavours really jump out. I also recommend Jamie’s Italian in Covent Garden. The ravioli-making machine at Jamie’s entrance is a good sign!”

Polish Zamoyski, Hampstead. “Zamoyski is a neighbourhood restaurant that has been serving dumplings for decades rather than years. I usually have the very reasonably priced 12-course set menu. Try the uszka (“little ears”) pierogi stuffed with mushrooms or the ruskie, filled with cheese and onions. The restaurant is also known for its excellent beetroot borscht soup and long list of flavoured vodkas.

Pierogi from Baba Jaga

Pierogi ready for the pot, from Baba Jaga, East Finchley.

“You can find pierogi to cook at home in the many Polish delis dotted around London. My favourite is Baba Jaga in East Finchley, next to the Phoenix Cinema. Boil the pierogi in broth for five minutes and serve with a knob of butter.”

West African African Torch Restaurant, Tottenham. “This is a small, simple, authentic restaurant near the station. They serve delicious dishes with fufu, an unfilled staple in a stew of meat, fish or vegetables. The dumplings are quite substantial, and are mainly used to mop up the tasty soup.”

Hungarian Gay Husssar, Soho.  “Head here for a taste of real Hungarian dumplings, just like the ones I had in Budapest. The décor is exquisitely old-fashioned and the waiters attentive. The menu includes large fish dumplings (halgaluska) served with dill sauce and smaller wheat-based dumplings (galuska) teamed with a deliciously thick vegetarian goulash of paprika and mushrooms.”

The restaurants above are Barbara’s long-standing favourites, but new places are springing up all over town. One of her lunch favourites is the Japanese gyoza dumplings in a vegetable soup at the Strand branch of Itzu. So keep an eye out for the onward march of dumplings: Turkish manti, Austrian knödel and more.

Fast dumplings all over town: Japanese gyoza at Itzu.

Fast dumplings all over town: Japanese gyoza at Itzu.

Dumplings: A Global History by Barbara Gallani. Reaktion Books, The Edible Series. Published on 15 April, £8.79. Pre-order and find out more at https://www.facebook.com/barbaradumpling.

Three ways to be beside the seaside—in London, now!

Oh I do love to be beside the seaside—especially when it’s in London, in February. Well, if Margate and Hastings can open art galleries with urban style, why shouldn’t London steal some of their holiday fun?

Magnificent Obsessions, Barbican

Classic gem: one of photographer Martin Parr’s retro seaside postcards, on show at the Barbican Art Gallery.

Every seaside foray starts with a stroll along a breezy promenade. I let the blustery winds on the Barbican’s High Walk blow me to its art gallery’s Magnificent Obsessions exhibition where 14 artists’ private collections are on show. Magnum photographer Martin Parr’s trove of 1950s and 60s seaside postcards got me straight into the sun-and-sand mood. There were, of course, the cartoon images of busty blondes in polka dot bikinis scaring wimps with knotted handkerchiefs on their heads. But I most enjoyed the nostalgic scenes that Parr himself might have captured when working as a rookie photographer in a Butlin’s holiday camp.

Many of the postcards were of seemingly mundane scenes such as the new motorway service stations that drivers en route to Bognor would have sent to impress friends. Others showed hotel rooms with candlewick bedspreads—the ultimate in postwar style. As a collection they skewered a vanished era, of innocence lost and luxuries gained.

Parr’s sharp eye was just one highlight of an exhibition that ranged through Howard Hodgkin’s ravishing Indian paintings, Arman’s African masks and Edmund de Waal’s netsuke, including the hare with the amber eyes.

But soon I was off to seafront attraction number two: Swingers crazy golf.  This uproarious tee-party took place inside an abandoned printer’s warehouse near Old Street roundabout. Stepping inside I walked past the bar serving craft beers, the stalls cooking artisan street food and on to the nine-hole course. I grabbed my club from a wooden shack and tapped my ball up and under bridges, along teetering ledges, past miniature windmills and around swerving bends. I’m proud to have steered round the water hazard but confess to landing in a bunker twice.

Swingers crazy golf

A player circumvents the water hazard at Swingers crazy golf.

The last stop on my seaside jaunt was Novelty Automation, a witty take on the amusement arcade. This new “museum” of slot machines in Holborn is all screams and wry laughs. I slipped my tokens into “Micro Break”, and settled into a mechanical armchair that rocked and rattled as it took me on a simulated package holiday by a palm beach. At the adjacent machine, Is it Art?, I put my house keys before a model of Tate Director Nicholas Serota and was disappointed when he shook his head.

Novelty Automaton

Tim Hunkin’s Micro Break slot machine experience at Novelty Automation.

Novelty Automation

Place an object in front of a model of NIcholas Serota and he will tell you whether or not it’s art.

 

Novelty Automation

Sadly my keys did not make the grade.

These were just two of a clever collection of machines created by cartoonist and wacky engineer Tim Hunkin. Some I had enjoyed before, in his arcade on Southwold Pier. But with the many coastal capers going on all around, they now seem perfectly placed in their new home at London-on-Sea.

Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector, Barbican Art Gallery until 25 May; Swingers Crazy Golf is a pop up open until 26 February, then returning in September; Novelty Automation, 1a Princeton Street, London WC1A 4AX 

Butlin’s Bognor Regis postcard courtesy of Collection of Martin Parr.

 

London Slant: What are London’s three most important ships? All aboard to explore!

Can you name London’s three most important ships? There’s Cutty Sark at Greenwich, of course, and HMS Belfast beside Tower Bridge. But what’s the third?

SS Robin, London

SS Robin, raised up on her pontoon dais.

Congratulations to all who immediately shouted SS Robin, whose crimson flanks catch the eye at east London’s Royal Victoria Dock, close by City Airport and ExCel. She completes London’s great seafaring trio—our only ships to be part of Britain’s National Historic Fleet, the nautical equivalent of a Grade I listed building.

SS Robin, London

SS Robin seen behind a light ship, adjacent to Millennium Mills, with City Airport as a noisy neighbour.

Curious to see why SS Robin merits this acclaim, I hopped on the Docklands Light Railway to explore. I found her nestling in the shadow of Millennium Mills, a grand but abandoned early 20th century factory which, like the former steam coaster herself, is part of a wharf landscape now being revived.

Visitors can tour the ship with its expert project leaders and roam the decks, opening doors and peeking into the innards, to view restoration work in progress. Soon she will open as a museum ship that showcases both her beauty and the colourful story of her life on the high seas.

SS Robin was built in 1890 at the famous Thames Ironworks shipyard on London’s River Lea, just a mile from where she currently resides. Her first adventures took her around Britain and Northern France as she carried cargo including grain, coal, steel and granite to build Scotland’s Caledonian Canal.  In 1900 she sailed off to work in Spain where she changed her name to Maria and continued “in steam” until 1974.

When SS Robin then returned to the UK for preservation a difficult choice eventually had to be made: should she be kept intact or should much of her original structure be replaced to maintain her seaworthiness? When I got up close to the wonderfully battered sheets of steel that make up her bow, it was clear that the decision to take her out of the water was correct. Every joint and rivet spoke of great Victorian engineering and every pitted surface of a life well lived.

SS Robin, London

Fabulous flanks: the crimson body of SS Robin close up, all pitted steel and beautiful rivet work.

SS Robin now sits in grandeur, raised up on her own pontoon vessel. I marvelled at her propeller and coal/oil-fired engine room—and how the 12-strong crew survived endless days in cramped quarters and exposure to the elements out on the upper deck. But, just as the craft herself remains the only complete steamship still in existence, endurance is the name of SS Robin’s game.

Read more about SS Robin‘s fascinating history and sign up for tours, with proceeds going to fund the continuing restoration project to turn this national treasure into a heritage, community and education centre. Other activities in the area include walking over Royal Victoria Dock Bridge and a trip on the Emirates Air Line—both offering great views.

London Slant: A sensual experience in Savile Row

Would you like a luxury spa experience without the nuisance of having to undress? Or how about going deep inside a tropical forest without the bore of flying long haul? Even better, why not alleviate the guilt of overspending at the London sales by entering a sanctuary that promises “Worry Will Vanish” without paying a psychiatrist.

Worry Will Vanish by Pipilotti Rist.

Disappearing into the sunset at Worry Will Vanish Horizon by Pipilotti Rist.

Worry Will Vanish Horizon is the title of the latest immersive work by one of my favourite video artists, Pipilotti Rist. It’s the most spectacular of four video pieces in an exhibition of the same name (with the word Horizon added—indicative of its scale).

I’d had a hectic morning before I arrived at Hauser & Wirth’s Savile Row gallery but as soon as I arrived and took off my shoes I felt myself exhale. I padded through heavy curtains into a vast, dark chamber and snuggled onto one of the many duvets scattered across the floor. Then I lay back to become immersed in the scene as giant images flowed over the walls.

Scene upon scene unfolded: jungles of fleshy plants, sunsets over the sea, glistening water droplets on a forest of spiders’ webs. I roamed through mossy undergrowth, along streams, across a starry sky, among the fronds of giant ferns. I delved deep inside human bodies and explored fingers and eyes close-up. Bizarre faces and a lotus flower of flames drifted and disappeared.

All the while strange music and sounds filled the room: rippling water, sighs, plingy harmonies. By the time I’d reached the fourth loop through this exuberant celebration of life I was indeed feeling thoroughly de-stressed. But was all this joy and wonder just that bit too much? I’d had a terrific virtual massage, but would my muscles pay the price the following day?

I’ve seen many works by Rist, a Swiss artist from Grabs, over the years. I’ll never forget my first encounter at a Venice Biennale when she projected images over the ceiling of a church, while viewers lay on mattresses beneath. As with Worry Will Vanish Horizon, it included naked people gambolling through sylvan glades. The church fathers objected and it was closed down shortly after I’d been. The tailors of Savile Row have no such qualms, and you’ll be able to drop by Hauser & Wirth, free of charge (and with your Oxford Street bags of bargains) next week, until 10 January.

Pipilotti Rist Worry Will Vanish

Meeting of psychedelic jungles.

Piplotti Rist Worry Will Vanish

Bizarre forms lurk in natural settings.

 

Piplotti Rist Worry Will Vanish

A swirling kaleidoscope of colour and shapes.

London Slant: My top three Bond Street art treats

If London’s Bond Street is synonymous with excess and the extraordinary, now’s the time to catch it at its most exuberant. Glamorous peacock feather illuminations arch over designer stores in full Christmas plumage. But best of all its galleries and auction houses have pulled out all the stops with several must-see shows.

New Bond St Christmas illuminations

In fine feather: New Bond Street.

I dodged the faux snow cannoning out of Fenwick and braved the Victoria’s Secret scrum to check out what is an exceptional crop of art exhibitions, free for public view. All feature a small number of works, beautifully displayed in calm surroundings—perfect for a gentle stroll at a time of year that threatens sensual overload. Here are my favourite three.

1. Bonhams. 101 New Bond Street. Burrell at Bonhams. A selection of eclectic masterpieces from The Burrell Collection in Glasgow is arranged around the magnificent Wagner Garden Carpet, an Iranian paradise of watercourses filled with fishes, exotic trees and flowers, animals and birds. The many highlights include a poignant Giovanni Bellini Madonna and Child, Paul Cézanne’s glimmering Château de Médan and a 1480 tapestry showing King David dispatching his page with a message to entice Bathsheba to his bed. There’s the elaborate bedhead that failed to work its magic on the wedding night of King Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, and treasures hailing from Egypt and Assyria. Soft background music was playing as I roamed around: a Chinese pipa strummed while I peered at a Yuan Dynasty jade vase and as I arrived in front of a Degas ballet scene it segued into an orchestra playing Debussy.

Château de Médan by Paul Cézanne.

Château de Médan by Paul Cézanne.

Burrell at Bonhams

Medieval works, including stained glass and an alabaster house shrine.

2. Christie’s Mayfair. 103 New Bond Street.The Bad Shepherd. I came to see the two splendid Brueghels of a smirking shepherd scarpering while a wolf devours his sheep, and a good shepherd being mauled by a wolf as he allows his flock to escape. But I was just as taken by the haunting waterscapes by contemporary artist Peter Doig, all atmosphere and crunchy textures, presented as “in conversation” with the early Flemish works. There was Jan Brueghel’s flower painting with its overblown blooms, a lively peasant scene that turned out to be The Murder of the Innocents and Jeff Koons’ saccharine, yet disturbing cherubs—all hinting that beneath a beguiling exterior lie more troubling elements. As if to underline this, the works are presented in a series of stylish yet darkly claustrophobic rooms.

The Good Shepherd by Pieter Brueghel

The Good Shepherd by Pieter Brueghel II.

Night Fishing by Peter Doig

Night Fishing by Peter Doig.

3.  De Pury de Pury 3 Grafton Street. Wojciech Fangor: Colour Light Space. A few steps off Bond Street brought me to this collection of 1960s and 70s works from the US-based Polish artist Wojciech Fangor. These Op Art paintings were shown to great effect in a Grade I listed Georgian townhouse replete with a sweeping onyx staircase, decorative ceilings and giant chandeliers. The works positively vibrated with—well—colour, light and a feeling of infinite space.  I drifted among them, relishing the blurry forms and subtle gradations of hue that made them shudder and pulsate.

Wojciech Fangor: Colour-Light-Space

Modern works in a London townhouse dating from 1767.

Upper floor: Wojciech Fangor: Colour-Light-Space

Rippling forms beneath a dazzling ceiling.

Op Art between classical columns

Op Art between classical columns.

The great pleasure of visiting these small galleries is that you avoid the blockbuster crowds. Much as I adored the National Gallery’s Rembrandt: The Late Works, it was particularly pleasurable to view the artist’s self-portrait at Bonhams without having to elbow my way to the front.

Shows run into early January 2015. Opening hours vary over the holiday season. Please check before making a visit and note the exhibition opening hours may differ from those of those of the auction house itself.

 

London Slant: Come and explore the cool new Mondrian hotel

When it opened in the early 1980s Sea Containers House was one of the most glamorous office buildings in London. I was lucky enough to work there and it was always fun to welcome visitors who’d gasp when they arrived. The river views! The marble loos! The Dynasty-style brass lights and balustrades!

Mondrian Hotel London superior room

The view from my former office—now a Mondrian London hotel room.

Our office team worked late and we regularly saw the sun sink down in a flaming ball, passing dead centre through the London Eye. We often joked that we might as well bed down in our offices for the night. Now, the spaces where we beavered away have been turned into the guest rooms of the chic new Mondrian London hotel—and we actually could sleep there.

Mondrian Hotel London

Sea Containers House: like a liner moored by Blackfriars Bridge on London’s South Bank.

Even as an office block, Sea Containers House had the feel of an ocean liner, drifting grandly along the Thames. Its designer, celebrated US architect Warren Platner, was sometimes spotted striding through, captain-like, checking that we didn’t wreck his concept by sneaking in unauthorised table lamps or blinds. Today, the building has been transformed from workplace to hotel by designer Tom Dixon. It’s fascinating to see how he has maintained the original Platner and nautical aesthetics in an interior that is thoroughly 2014.

Best of all, he has connected the building to the riverfront. Restaurants and watering holes open up onto the Thames walkway, there’s a terraced rooftop bar with splendid views of the City spires and many suites have balconies that hover over the river below. It’s a place to sit and be amazed by the diversity of boats and their activities, rather like being on Venice’s Grand Canal with a backdrop of the dome of St Paul’s instead of the Salute and the pealing bells of St Bride’s replacing those of St Mark’s campanile.

Mondrian Hotel London

The copper reception desk, like a ship’s hull, is part of a structure that starts outside the building and continues within.

But the big drama happens at the main entrance, where’s there’s a desk in textured copper shaped like a ship’s hull. Dixon has also brought back the model boats from the building’s office era and mixed them with giant contemporary sculptures for check-ins with “wow”.

Mondrian Hotel London

Contemporary sculptures contrast with model ships to make the lobby funky and fun.

 

My second intake of breath came in the spa, where a droplet of gold is suspended as if set to splash down into a pool. (I was also intrigued to see that the former office reception desk had reappeared at the spa entrance, its marble surface buffed and perfect for this ethereal space.)

Mondrian Hotel London

The dramatic drip in the spa.

Platner‘s layered brass lamps and maritime mirrors appear all over the hotel. I glimpsed the maestro’s touches everywhere from the screening theatre to the Sea Containers private dining room, where the huge gold S and C that formerly sat on the building’s facade now decorate the walls.

Mondrian Hotel London

Riverview suite with Warren Platner chair (centre).

But what most grabbed my attention were Platner’s iconic 1960s chairs. (If you fancy one, they’re yours for £2, 256.) We had them in our meeting rooms and today they look as contemporary as ever in the Mondrian’s top suites.

Full marks to Dixon for taking a building’s heritage and, without ever resorting to cliché, bringing it bang up to date. Sea Containers House was originally constructed as a hotel, but switched to offices before it could open. Now it feels like it has sailed back into port and come home.

London Slant: Sensational spectra lights up the night

On Monday night London switched out lights all along the Thames—with one amazing exception. Streaming up into the sky from Victoria Tower Gardens, 49 huge spotlights sent glowing white columns soaring into infinity. Spectra, an installation by Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda, is visible from all over London. But the main experience is close up—so I headed towards the adjacent House of Lords.

spectra with tower P1020930

Spectra marks the centenary of the First World War; its beams stream up over the Union Flag fluttering on the House of Lords.

Spectra is supported by Artangel, known for its strong track record of exciting events. The work launched to mark the centenary of the First World War.

Approaching along the Thames, I first spotted it rocketing out Tate Modern’s chimney.

spectra, artangel, London

Spectra above Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge.

Then as I went upstream it appeared behind the National Theatre. The Southbank complex was glimmering blood red and scrolling on its illuminated sign Sir Edward Grey’s poignant words “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. Further on, spectra rose above the London Eye, three orange lights burning at its top, like a candle flame.

spectra, artangel, london

Spectra shoots through the night sky like a wartime searchlight. Three orange lights atop the London Eye evoked a candle flame.

 

Between 10 and 11pm the whole city switched off lights to remember the start of the First World War. The Houses of Parliament were barely discernible in the dark, apart from the clock face in Big Ben’s Elizabeth Tower, floating like a moon. Now I was close enough to see dazzling specks of light flitting through spectra’s beams: birds and insects which, like me, were being drawn in. A helicopter flew straight through, its rotating blades turned into a whirling silver plate.

Entering Victoria Tower Gardens I roamed among the giant lights. Strange sounds—pings and hisses—emerged from speakers to add to the other-worldliness. Moths and butterflies hit the lights, sizzled and died. Just like all those young men who eagerly signed up to go and fight in the trenches a hundred years ago.

spectra, Artangel, London

I lay on my back and looked up through the trees.

Spectra continues every night until sunrise on Monday 11 August.