Twenty-one days out in London
Sleep in a boat perched on top of the Southbank Centre
It’s as if the small vessel were left in its seemingly precarious position, teetering on the rooftop of Queen Elizabeth Hall, by a freak tsunami sweeping down the River Thames. But in fact it’s there by design – a one-bedroom installation, complete with kitchenette and library, available to rent for the night. This beautifully crafted timber vessel, A Room for London, has panoramic views stretching from Big Ben to St Paul’s Cathedral from its upper and lower decks, and all the amenities one might expect from a good hotel room. Inside are more surprises – a cabinet of old maps, and a logbook in which guests are invited to share their experiences of this eccentric refuge high above the hubbub. A night here really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience – despite the cost, demand for tickets is so high that they’re sold only by ballot (£300 for an overnight stay).
Board the Tube in search of a secret supperclub
As instructed by a 6pm text message, tonight’s journey into the culinary unknown begins with a ride to an obscure train station in London’s suburbs. A handful of conspicuously excitable passengers, clad in dress-code monochrome, are here for an evening at Gingerline – a supperclub named after the Tube map’s orange-coloured London Overground, around the eastern reaches of which its ever-changing venues cluster. Tonight a nondescript residential building is the front for an alternate universe – previous themes have drawn inspiration from Vegas casinos and a mad puppeteer’s workshop. At a Gingerline event, circulating waitresses are as likely to offer you an arm-wrestling match as a drink, and the theatricality extends to the food. Dishes are served around communal tables, and past highlights include a ‘roulette wheel’ of seasonal appetisers, and a flaming stand of brandied figs (tickets £50).
Learn how to mix a martini good enough for Bond
A couple of cosy rooms hung with oil portraits and line-drawn heraldic crests, Dukes Bar in St James’s has the feel of a gentleman’s club, and was James Bond author Ian Fleming’s favourite place for a martini. ‘When Fleming started writing the Bond books in the ’50s, observing good etiquette was a way of showing your class,’ says Alessandro Palazzi, the bar’s Italian-born manager. ‘A martini is not supposed to be shaken in a cocktail mixer – doing so would make it a murky drink, full of broken ice. So Bond asking for his ‘shaken not stirred’ was a subtle way of saying, this man can do anything. Every drink has a story to tell, and Alessandro recounts each one with wit and eloquence as he teaches the art of classic cocktail-making at the wood-and-mirror-panelled bar. A Dukes martini uses only four simple elements – a frozen glass, a whopping five measures of ice-cold gin or vodka, some vermouth and a spritz of oil from the skin of an Amalfi Coast lemon. ‘I lived through the piña colada era,’ says Alessandro with a wry smile. ‘But thankfully there’s been a return to classic drinks’ (£95 per person for a two-hour class).
Cross the River Thames in a cable car
Ninety metres up, the UK’s first urban cable car cuts across a clear London sky. The Emirates Air Line from Royal Docks to the Greenwich Peninsula soars over an easterly stretch of the Thames, its gunmetal surface zig-zagged with the foamy trails of motorboats. Through the glass windscreen of the slow-moving capsule, the curved dome of the O2 and the towering skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and the City can be seen. Visible along the riverbanks is evidence of docklands industrial life – cranes, container units and even a tiny lighthouse – long-since disappeared from the city centre. The journey lasts just ten minutes, uniting not only London’s North and South, but also its past and its present (from £3.20).