By day, the City is adjusting to news of the snap general election, trying to keep the economy ticking over in the wake of political manoeuvring. But as spring gathers pace, the evenings are becoming livelier. A crop of new hotels and restaurants is opening and they have the confidence to throw showstopping parties.
“After a slow start to the year, all of a sudden people are booking parties frantically,” says Paul Jackson of Alison Price, which plans events for royals, Magic Circle law firms, bankers and pop stars. “There was an air of caution before the EU referendum, then the US election, but now people are getting on with things and the amount of people inquiring about parties is phenomenal.”
Spending is up, and London is ready. A new office development is being planned on Beak Street with al desko “press for champagne” buttons, inspired by those at the restaurant Bob Bob Ricard, a spa and a Sticks ’n’ Sushi work canteen serving caviar.
And the countdown is on to the opening of The Ned next Monday, a new juggernaut of a hotel and members’ club in the former Midland Bank building on Poultry, complete with eight restaurants, six party spaces, a 24-hour alcohol licence and a rooftop pool. It’s already booked up with events for everyone from bankers to the techerati.
“People want to wow party guests,” says Ryan Stafford, head chef at Alison Price. That means everything from private art views to Crystal Maze competitions and do-it-yourself food and drink that merges with entertainment. Stafford adds: “The days of caviar canapés are over. People want interactive food.”
Snap parties are common. Jackson is “constantly surprised at the number of people who leave it late, planning events for 500 with three weeks’ notice”. Here’s how the capital entertains.
At The Ned, Ian Daw oversees event menus, encompassing the best bits from the hotel’s eight restaurants. Poke is expected to be popular, as are grills where you can see food being prepared. It’s part of the “live food” trend. Stafford says: “People want to be the first to taste something, to see it created and hear about its provenance.”
Recently he has provided edible gardens so guests can get to work harvesting their own salad. “Live dessert stations are also everywhere; guests can experiment with ingredients and make a bit of a mess. Others chose to make their own tacos and sushi.”
Guests also like to pick pudding from the branches of dessert trees, says Stafford. “We put a huge one in the middle of a seven-foot table, with macaroons hanging like leaves. We do edible forests too, with mushrooms made of sweets.” His canapés come on mini iron grills so you can cook your own burger or tuna, “although occasionally, as people have had a few drinks, we have to stop for safety”.
At The London Kitchen, which caters to the capital’s upper echelons with clients including Aston Martin, formal dinners are making way for receptions. A client recently made a last-minute decision to change from a three-course dinner to a flexible standing affair with lobster mac and cheese.
The London Kitchen has created “manapés”, which it describes as “the hunkier event nibble”. Managing director Damian Clarkson says: “We’re getting more enquiries for food that fills you up but has the convenience of the canapé, and replaces dinner. Spicy fish tacos are our biggest seller.”
Dom Chung (Alexa’s older brother) is in charge of entertainment at The Ned and is programming a series of house bands. He works closely with Wilderness festival, so expect a similar creative, hedonistic feel.
Bankers are booking in private views (combining paintings with prosecco is a chance for high-achievers to squeeze some culture into their stacked schedules), while shows by big-name entertainers are in vogue. Dynamo is the hot ticket of the moment.
If you can get into a London landmark, it gives your party a certain cachet. Alison Price hosts events at the top of The Shard, while both Tates, the National History Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum are also booked up.
Jackson says: “Basing a party around an exhibition helps clients justify the spend. Often it’s a chance for busy clients to see blockbuster art exhibitions, and a private view gives it exclusivity — everyone likes to feel a bit important. The new whale exhibition opening in July at the Natural History Museum is already popular.”
Sometimes parties are themed around the exhibition. For an event at the National Gallery’s Caravaggio show, the food and wine were Italian, while another client “went to town” at the Victoria & Albert Museum with a display of vinyl records that Jackson says was “bang on the money and looked amazing”. He was impressed by a client recently who commissioned bespoke silk tablecloths to match the flowers.
Bankers frequently go off-grid on group activity holidays, skiing or surfing. Not content with challenging themselves at their desks, the tech crowd relaxes with challenges. Google and Facebook have been to The Crystal Maze three times each and have booked return visits. Expedia.hotels.com are regulars too.
The Crystal Maze says the challenge aspect breaks boundaries. “You may well find yourself in a team with the CEO, shouting directions as they try to win a crystal.”
Go-karting on ice has been raised as a possible party activity at Queensway Bowl. Escapism is what hard-working Londoners are after, according to one PR. “Not the old version,” he says, “where people just drink, but a more inclusive, healthier experience.”
The London Shell Co’s boat trips are booked up with tireless workers wanting to take to the water and peek into London Zoo from the canal. The boat has been decked out by boutique west London florist Flowers by Daisy (the Hemsley sisters are fans), a rooftop herb garden and an interactive menu — so you can track the route as you eat and drink cider brandy martinis.
Party palace The Ned describes itself as a “one-stop shop” for events, offering everything from food and drink to entertainment and even outfits. Rooms are grand — the Grade I-listed building was designed in 1924 by Sir Edwin “Ned” Lutyens — with vintage chandeliers and plenty of history (learn some choice facts to reel out and impress fellow party guests).
The Tapestry Room is its headline venue. It has capacity for up to 200 and is named after the vast pastoral tapestry on the upper walls. Mr Porter and Net-a-Porter are about to descend on it for a night of hedonism.
Millie’s Lounge on the ground floor is open 24 hours and its marble bar is a good place to sneak in a glass of sparkling wine away from the throng, when you want a break from the high- octane party circus.