I love London all year round, but the summer has a special buzz and an endless array of events; ones that you'll easily stumble upon on a side-street and others that you'll want to guarantee yourself a ticket for. I've done a small round-up of ways to spend your summery days or evenings in London, from rooftop bars to roundabout raves, markets, food festivals and open-air cinemas.
London food festivals
London is a foodie paradise all year round, but when the city's best chefs and restaurants gather under one roof - or in one park - you'd be mad to miss out. It gives you the chance to sample* (*scoff) to your heart's content and your gut's dismay - without judgement.
The stars aligned in 2017 when Mark's birthday coincided with London Food Month. June welcomed 30 days and nights of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, masterclasses, supper clubs and midnight feasts around the capital, with the hub of gastronomy taking place in Perks Field, near Kensington Gardens. From BBQ lamb chops, to Ghanian street-food and Smokestak brisket burgers, there was a treat for every taste bud. This year, I'd recommend heading to Taste of London in Regents Park, from 13th-17th June.
London rooftop restaurants
There aren't many things more synonymous with summer than a rooftop restaurant. And the options for al fresco dining with city views in London will be endless. But my suggestion is the Boundary Rooftop Bar and Grill in Shoreditch. This stunning setting has both a heated orangery, as well as an outdoor terrace with real flame pyramids and wood burners positioned amongst the trees - making it perfect for balmy evenings, as well as cooler summer nights.
A Mediterranean menu is on offer, with fresh shellfish, plump skewers and sumptuous French cheeses. Of course, there are tropical cocktails and punches galore, plus their own recipe Pimm's. Try the gin-based Orange Provence with amaretto and lavender syrup; relax and picture olive groves, pine forests and lavender fields. Or, neck it and continue delving into the alcoholic selection in the hopes of being too drunk to notice the 12.5% 'discretionary' service charge when the bill arrives.
From the big Blockbusters to dusty DVD classics, pop-up cinemas and rooftop movies are now a cemented seasonal addition to your summer calendar. Sure, al fresco films are a fair-weather sport and come with the very real danger of leaving you drenched or lobster red. But, it's well worth the risk.
Life's short, and so's the Great British summer. So, get that box of popcorn un-steadily nestled in the grass at your feet and struggle in silence with your headphones that dip in and out of sound for two hours. But relish every moment. It'll be winter again before you know it.
There's something surreal about a small pocket of paradise bang in the middle of London's concrete jungle. And nothing delivers this sense of escapism more than partying on top of Old Street Roundabout in Shoreditch. Look up and you'll see shiny disco-balls, look down and see the interchange junction of Old Street and City Road.
It's an urban wonderland; one that comes with award-winning street food, artisan coffee, cocktails, craft beers, big-name DJs plus a healthy dose of hipster cool and hedonism. Come, party, conquer and don't forget to leave a disco tip. The Magic Roundabout are hosting a multitude of sessions across the summer, including RnB brunches, Jungle Paradise parties, Afrobeat all-dayers and hip-hop cookouts.
Another favourite of mine is Last Days of Shoreditch, which is solid city-escapism and hosts forward-thinking food vendors, mindfulness workshops, karaoke and star-studded DJ sets. There's an enchanted garden, dance floors and even a slide. A word of warning: returning to the real world will be a struggle.
Shopping with a twist
Pop to Boxpark - the coolest shipping containers around - to indulge in its independent pop-ups, modern street-food market and music. There's a shop for every fancy: Papersmiths for the stationery nerd (*shamelessly raises hand), Nordic Poetry for retro fashionistas, Friday On My Mind for one-off vintage shirts, and The Abnormal Beauty Company for anyone who would put 'ethylated ascorbic acid' on their skin. To name only four.
For a lazy, lifestyle shopping experience, London does it best with its world-famous markets. Old Spitalfields will always be my favourite, followed closely by Brick Lane and Borough Market. Drifting among the sights and smells of the marketplace is one of my absolute top treats, especially in the summertime when you can arrive early for an open-air breakfast and easily while away hours.
Cheese lovers: head to Borough Market. Street-art appreciators: it's Brick Lane for you. Independent books and magazine hoarders: head to Artworks at Broadway Market. And for antiques, luxury fabrics, handmade jewellery and everything in between: Spitalfields has it.
From pop-up pizza parties to speciality wood-fired pizza restaurants, you'll never be short of somewhere to send you into a deep carb coma in London. My fave is Pizza East in Shoreditch. Their decor is as rustic as their dough and it's pretty much always packed, so make sure you book. The spicy sausage, mozzarella, broccoli and cream combo is my poison and you can wash down with a Sicilian red or any of the restaurant's trendy 'house tonics'. Pop to Hoxton7 afterwards for some cheap and cheerful cosmopolitan, roadside cocktails.
You can count on authentic Neapolitan pizza in a cool setting from Pizza Purist, who's van sits in Brick Lane and serves up slices of hot, saucy heaven. For the ultimate guide to the best pizzerias in London, give this post a read, until I've had chance to work my way through them all.
London bruncheries are not hard to come by. But a few to mention are the follows.
Whyte & Brown is situated in Kingly Court - sandwiched between Carnaby Street and Regent Street, Whyte & Brown's breakfast menu will keep you going for hours. Their motto, 'let us help kick start your day', couldn't be more accurate. In fact, it'll kick you right through to the evening - and that's coming from a serial snacker.
The bacon and fried egg brioche bun is a sight to behold. Bursting at the seams with spicy rocket and W&B's homemade tomato relish. I washed mine down with a berry blast smoothie. The healthy sidekick to a very hefty breakfast hero. Visit on a summery Sunday for an extra extensive menu and top notch people watching.
Now, anywhere with the slogan 'sex, drugs & bacon rolls' has my vote. The Breakfast Club is just one of those places that you have to experience, at some point or other. You can't book on a weekend, so you must be prepared to queue. The breky menu is quirky and indulgent, with everything from chorizo, cheddar and jalapeño burritos, to high-stacked pancakes, Indian-inspired waffles and a 'butternut bubble'. Don't worry, your standard full monty and avocado on rye is available, too. But don't come crying to me when you gaze sideways and get brunch envy.
The Culpeper is another London brunch delight. Situated a short walk from Spitalfields, it's perfect for some pre-shopping sustenance. I can highly recommend their shakshuka, which is hot, spicy and laden with garlic. Other options include a perfect poachy perched on top of a soft brioche, alongside some lovely smoked bacon - or, get the big brekkie for thick, herby sausages and good quality produce. Order a Bloody Mary if you're feeling brave - or have a big day ahead - as they pack a serious punch.
Sure, you could visit any number of London's world-famous art galleries - the Tate Modern being my first choice - or, you could just have a wander through the streets of Shoreditch and Brick Lane. East London is just one of those places where even the wheelie bins are instagrammable. And in the summer, the streets come alive. The best part is, you don't have to pretend to be cultured to appreciate the art around you.
For something a little different, try Billinsgate Market's weekend seafood school. Their 'morning catch' begins with an early morning tutored visit of the trading floor, where you can learn about the fish on offer and the seasonal best. With a training team, you get to make your own choice of fish and seafood to prepare, before tucking into a fish breakfast. Or, give a voucher to your family and get them to dish up a fishy feast for you in the evening along with a chilled bottle of Picpoul. Summer night in, sorted.
Have you visited London in the summer months? Let me know where you like to spend your time.