Twenty-one days out in London
Go backstage at the Royal Opera House
Behind the velvet and gold-leafed glamour of the Royal Opera House’s horseshoe-shaped auditorium is a warren of much less remarkable-looking spaces, each one integral to making the magic happen on stage. Though every Backstage Tour is different, today’s takes in a room filled with four tonnes of lighting equipment, and a hangar-like area containing props – a cluster of clouds, giant multicoloured horses, an oversized bottle of red wine – strangely divorced of context. Upstairs by the Ashton Studio, tour-goers find the Royal Ballet mid-class. Dancers wave and blow kisses through the glass to entertain principal Mara Galeazzi’s infant daughter, visiting with her nanny, while Carlos Acosta spins and pirouettes about the room (tickets £12).
Take a walk over the O2
London venue the O2 is best known for the exciting things – concerts by the likes of Prince and the Rolling Stones, or international tennis tournaments – that happen inside it. But visitors to the city landmark formerly known as the Millenium Dome can now walk over the top of it. Climbers are connected to a taut cable for their ascent to a central viewing platform, and the blue walkway over the giant tent is springy underfoot. More than 50 metres up, there’s an opportunity to unhook and roam about the roof. Wind whips visitors’ hair into startling shapes as the skyline’s familiar sights – the Shard, the ArcelorMittal Orbit observation tower and the buildings of the Olympic Park – slowly reveal themselves (tickets from £22).
Tour a tiny gin distillery
Hidden down a leafy residential street in Hammersmith is the first London distillery licensed in nearly 200 years. ‘Sipsmith wanted to return London dry gin to its spiritual home,’ says sales manager James Grundy, as he guides a tour of the garage-sized micro-distillery. ‘In the 18th century, gin was a poor man’s drink,’ says James. ‘But we make a quality product, using traditional methods.’ He explains how Prudence, Sipsmith’s copper still, is used to create premium gins and vodkas, before producing several bottles for a tasting session. A sip of the London dry slips down without a hint of burn, leaving the faint taste of the botanicals – juniper, coriander, lemon and orange – just glimpsed through Prudence’s port-hole window (£12; every Wednesday evening).
Eat a Michelin-starred meal in a greenhouse
A garden centre might not seem a likely place for a proper lunch, but you know you’re in for a good meal when Heston Blumenthal sits down at the next table. A Michelin-starred restaurant housed in an earth-floored Richmond plant nursery, Petersham Nurseries Café is a far cry from Heston’s famed molecular gastronomy – the food focuses on super-fresh ingredients, simply but beautifully prepared. Diners arrive clutching baskets brimming with dahlias, bags of bulbs and gardening forks, and dishes – like baby vegetables with tzatziki or wild sea bass with pancetta, black cabbage and roasted garlic aioli – take inspiration from their surroundings. This is a place where good things grow (mains from £20).
Find a world of food along a single street
Tucked behind the refurbished King’s Cross station is some of London’s best street food. In a row of vans and stalls serving up flavours from around the world, vendors are dwarfed by the great green and red cranes dancing over the adjacent construction site, and the cathedral-like spires of nearby St Pancras. In front of each snakes a line of people seeking lunch – perhaps a Korean-inspired cheeseburger from Kimchi Cult, or cinnamon-sprinkled French toast with bacon from Original Fry-Up Material. Mexican street food sellers Luardos have the biggest queue, and one slow-cooked pork burrito later, it’s clear why. Tender meat encased with black beans, Monterey Jack cheese, spicy salsa, sour cream and lettuce inside a hot flour tortilla – this isn’t kebab-van fare, it’s proper, flavoursome food for only a fiver (KERB food market is open Monday–Friday, 11am–2.30pm).