Art outside the Hayward Gallery
In London, like all big, bustling and dynamic cities - you have to be super quick to catch up with all the changes that happen. This is particularly true when it comes to new bars, restaurants and cafés. I reckon it would take stamina, insomnia and a very fat wallet to check out all the places I've still undiscovered and that would just be in my own borough - never mind all the other 31! I was away for a couple of years and there are two things in my mind that seem to have taken off here… (remember I've been away so you'll have to forgive me if this is old hat, I'm playing catch up!). Those two things are pop ups and shipping containers. Sometimes at the same time… I check some out along the Southbank.
A walk along the Southbank is one of the best things you could do in London
Away from any road traffic, along the river from Bermondsey to Westminster, it's a big old walk but with lots to see and love. The evenings are that little bit more spectacular once the sun sets and, whilst the Olympics and Paralympics are on, bridges and buildings along the river are lit-up in different colours. There are museums like the Hayward Gallery, Tate Modern and the Design Museum to enjoy, you can see a play at the National Theatre (you can enjoy theatre style antics outside as part of their Inside Out festival) or a film at the BFI (British Film Institute) or take in a show at the Royal Festival Hall (Anthony Johnson's Meltdown festival is currently on). You could also, I'm sure, be quite happy just wandering along!
Boris and the London Ambassadors... they're difficult to miss!
Trying to cover all the things you can do along the Southbank at the moment is an immense task. One of the super friendly and fabulous London ambassadors armed with information, leaflets and a smile (yes, you're still in London!) would be happy to help you out and point you in the right direction. They wear pink on dark pink tops and sometimes wear those quite fetching Panama type hats (I quite like them). You're bound to come across one or a few on a walk down there as well as generally around London hotspots…
Food to wander with
A veritable food fest
Here though, because I have such a big fascination (and slight obsession) with street food, is a little on what you might find to fill up your bellies around the Waterloo area of the Southbank.
The Real Food Festival
Real Food Market
Oh my god, so much good food! DO walk around all the stalls before deciding what to eat. It'll be tough but worth it… Or like I suggested to a guy behind me in the line saying the Morroccan place had been their first stop and he was slightly worried that he might quite like something from all the other places too - you could always run a few laps around the Royal Festival Hall and go again!
Preparing Malaysian pancakes
The market is located behind the Royal Festival Hall so not actually along the river. There are numerous stalls to choose from ranging from Malaysian curries, pulled pork, gourmet sausages and burgers, paella, Polish pierogis, cakes and oh so much more. The focus on food here is all about quality produce that's been sustainably and ethically produced. I had spinach, carrot and potato wrapped in filo pastry from the Morroccan stand and it was delicious.
Moroccan food stall
As well as buying food ready to eat, you can also pick up fabulous bread, cheeses, olives, meats and more for bringing home with you too.
The Real Food Market is open daily from 12 to 8pm daily whilst the Olympics are on and from Friday to Sundays the rest of this year (hopefully a fixture for next year too!). You can find out more about the Real Food Festival on their website. If you're game, check out the Food Busking stall open only on weekends where you try the food and pay what you think it's worth (which can include nowt!).
Dining in shipping containers
Shipping containers… who'd have thunk it! I mentioned the Box Park 'pop up' mall in Shoreditch in my post on a night out at the Aubin Cinema. Well, they feature on the Southbank too.
Street food from Beirut
Lebonese street food joint, Yalla Yalla, offer up food and drinks from a yellow and black painted one. There is seating and tables around so you can sit outside or just take it away. Located behind the Hayward Gallery, this pop up food option is pretty tasty too. And if you're not all that keen on the hustle and bustle of markets, it's a good option. It feels relatively hidden away and a lot calmer than the general pace of things on the riverfront and at the market. I tried a Lebonese sausage wrap on a previous visit which was a bit spicy and very tasty. I love their Apple, Mint and Ginger drinks too! If you want something heartier though, they do serve main meals and mezzes for sharing. Find out more on the Yalla Yalla website.
Mexican market food
I think the name comes from the town in Mexico that sounds exactly the same but spelt very differently (Oaxaca). Perhaps they changed is as us Brits might find it difficult to get our mouths around pronouncing the name spelt as it should be! Anyway, it was a little embarrassing actually being in Mexico and realising I'd been spelling it wrong… As an aside, if you go to Mexico and can visit Oaxaca, do!! It's a beautiful city and foodie central for Mexico.
Making the most of not 1 but 8 shipping containers, Mexican food place, Wahaca, have pride and place in front of the Queen Elizabeth Hall facing the river. I loved Wahaca when it first opened its restaurant in Covent Garden years ago. The premise is Mexican street market eating and I remember thinking it was super funky then. I loved how colourful it was. The food from the garlic roasted nuts to their cactus taco and selection of cocktails and Mexican beers are fantastic.
Shipping container decor
Photo from inhabitat.com. There's more photos (much better than mine!) of the interior on their website and having read a bit on it, I've now been introduced to the term 'upcycling'! I like it. I'm not sure I'll ever scrape up enough money to buy a house but perhaps I could have enough to 'upcycle' a shipping container... loving it!
When you walk into Wahaca, you're likely to be given a wait time and a little gadget that will vibrate once they're ready (they don't take bookings) to seat you. You can head up to the bar upstairs though and check out the views from there as well as get started with a drink. Inside, it's beautiful - like the original restaurant, it's colourful, funky and as the food focuses on street/market eating, the walls are decorated in a street art kind of style too.
I loved the fairy lights decorating the ceiling at the bar as well as the lamps made out of recycled plastic bottles. Each box seemed to be playing something slightly different too. It all makes for a really good vibe - it's not the sort of place you'd come to wind down.
Street art outside Wahaca
They also have a mobile street kitchen (not in a shipping container but an old Citroen van) currently parked outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall but on the riverfront level. You can grab a burrito or taco, a beer and either sit out at front or take with you as you wander.
Wahaca street kitchen
The food is also very reasonable with mains at under £7. The thing to do seems to be to select a range of street food options and share (like Mexican tapas) I'm definitely keen to come back and check out more of the menu too! Find more information on Wahaca here.
Propping up at the Propstore
Propstore by the National Theatre
A little further down from the Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre has it's own summer pop-up bar and restaurant too. Built using an old stage set from a play shown at the theatre, it's on the riverfront in front of the National Theatre.
The Propstore serve street food style dishes like pulled pork sandwiches, lamb kebabs and beetroot falafel in pita. All really reasonable too at around £4. With a good selection of beers, you can play spot the prop as it's also decorated with a range of props from National Theatre plays including severed limbs from their showing of Frankenstein...
The nearest train station to this section of the Southbank is Waterloo. Walk a little bit further up (west) and you'll reach the London Eye and about half an hour's worth of walking east and you'll reach Tower Bridge. If you want to take in the Tate Modern, you could go to Southwark or St Paul's stations (if St Paul's, you just need to walk over the Millenium bridge). London Bridge station is also an option - as it's between Tower Bridge and Southwark Bridge. If you head there, look up when you come out of the main entrance of the station and you'll see you're right by the Shard.
Parking will be very difficult in the area so it's best you use public transport. But if you're hoping to see more of London and beyond with a car, I reckon we could help you with that. See our great deals on London and UK car hire here.