Twenty-one days out in London
Listen to a classical concert in Handel’s former home
Brook Street in Mayfair, now lined with upmarket shops, was once home to the German-born composer George Frideric Handel. From 1723 until his death in 1759 he lived at number 25, a building now restored to its period glory and open as the Handel House Museum. Visitors can stand in the quarters where he composed his masterpiece oratorio The Messiah, and the musical life of the house is kept alive with weekly concerts in Handel’s former recital room. ‘I love performing here because of the intimacy of the venue,’ says harpsichordist Nathaniel Mander. ‘And it’s a magical thing to play where Handel took his inspiration. Like no other composer, he had the most natural ability for melody.’ As he returns to his practice for that evening’s event, the small room fills with the instrument’s ancient song (tickets £9).
Sketch a model in macabre costume
A bare-breasted model in a black top hat, electric-blue French knickers and sequined bolero jacket strikes a pose with her magic wand, as the class reaches for sticks of charcoal and soft pencils. Three minutes later, an owl’s twit-twoo signifies a final 30 seconds to finish work on the sketches. The impressive standard at Art Macabre Drawing Salons, life-drawing sessions for which models dress partly in ghoulish costumes, betrays the high numbers of art students in attendance – but the atmosphere is far from school-like. There’s a magic-inspired soundtrack featuring songs by everyone from Florence and the Machine to Frank Sinatra, and host Nikki Shaill sets each pose with tongue-in-cheek theatricality. ‘I’m not going to go round peering over people’s shoulders and making comments,’ says Nikki. ‘It’s about having a go and having fun’ (tickets £10).
Cook the catch of the day at Billingsgate Market
The floor is slick with melt-water, the air redolent of the fruits of the sea. Fishmongers in white coats drink tea from Styrofoam cups and shout good-natured banter as customers of every nationality examine fish piled high on chipped ice. ‘The freshest fish is firm, with bright eyes and red gills,’ says CJ Jackson, principal of the Billingsgate Seafood School, as she navigates the stalls with a small class in tow. For sale are oysters bigger than guinea pigs, a rainbow of exotic fish and great trays full of squirming eels. In a teaching kitchen upstairs, after a breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, students learn the basics – gutting, skinning, scaling, filleting and pin-boning the market’s best mackerel, sea bass and plaice. The work is gory but satisfying – all the more so when the class breaks for a bowl of fish stew and a glass of wine at lunch (weekday Catch of the Day course £193; 6.15am-2.15pm).
Attend a Mad Hatter’s tea party
A tumble down a rabbit hole isn’t the only way to secure a place at a Mad Hatter’s tea party as described in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – a visit to the Sanderson Hotel will get you there too. In a courtyard garden filled with flowering trees and trickling fountains, a menu hidden inside a vintage book promises fine dining and theatricality in abundance. Plates decorated with carousel animals and ticking clocks arrive piled high with culinary whimsy – a carrot meringue served on a bed of pea shoots, cucumber sandwiches rolled up like fairy carpets. There’s a jelly course, an edible chocolate teacup and a fruity ‘Drink Me’ potion. ‘Lots of children, and all Alices, read the book and wish they could be a part of that world,’ says theatre and costume designer Alice Walkling, here for a birthday treat. ‘This is like having the grown-up version of that fantasy realised’ (tickets £35).