Two of my favourite things to do in London is to go to the theatre – which I do once or twice a month – and to go to an art gallery. Sometimes the gallery is to see an exhibition; sometimes to attend a talk, lecture or even a short course on art history. Then, of course, there is my love of food – the raison d’être for this blog (oh, and my love of travel and writing). So when I can combine both art and food for a day or evening out, then I’m a very happy person.
Yesterday evening was about as happy as I could get when it comes to Art & Food. I was excited a few weeks back to see that one of my favourite living artists – perhaps even my absolute favourite – Barbara Rae, was going to be ‘in conversation’ at the Royal Academy of Arts to talk about her latest work: The Northwest Passage. Barbara Rae CBE, RA (and many more awards) is one of our best known and most respected artists. I’ve loved her work for years. Some of her work is almost always included in the RA’s Summer Exhibition and I can go into one of the large rooms and my eyes will immediately alight on Barbara’s work. She’s known as an outstanding colourist, her work exploring abstract expressionist themes, human existence, landscape and time passing. I just love looking at her work but perhaps subliminally, what has attracted me – and I didn’t really know about this until the talk last night – is how strongly her work is influenced by travel. As she says on her website, she ‘travels the world in search of inspiration’; she spends weeks meeting and talking to local people, reading a huge amount and learning about the local history before actually opening her sketchbook. Her works have been inspired by time spent in places like the Arizona Desert and Spain – hot places. But, as she explained last night, she felt a need to look for a cooler palette and really, the change from the Arizona Desert to the Arctic couldn’t be more dramatic. It was absolutely fascinating to hear Barbara talk about what inspired her to follow the Northwest Passage, to hear about her conversations with the Inuit people, seeing polar bears; her impressions of the Arctic landscape, the light, the cold. She described how her work begins and comes together – a lot happens before the final canvas is begun. And even then, although she knows where she’s heading with the work, she described how it has a life of its own and she never really knows how it will be once finished. She talked about her need to go back time and again to a place which has captured her imagination; she’s been to the Arctic four times now. To find out more about Barbara Rae – click here.
After the talk Barbara was signing books in the RA’s shop, so I couldn’t resist buying one and the chance to say ‘hello’ and tell her how much I admired her work.
It was getting on for 8.30pm when I emerged into the dark night of Piccadilly where, at the moment, Christmas lights in the shape of beautiful huge angels line the street. I was hungry and there were a few options open to me – places I knew near Piccadilly Circus. I’d had in mind, though, a fish restaurant I’ve been wanting to try, but they don’t take bookings in the evening and the queue was so long, I decided against waiting but seeing instead if I could get into Yalla Yalla, just round the corner. It was busy but happily there was a spot for me.
I’ve written about Yalla Yalla before but it really is one of my favourite restaurants. It’s a simple place, almost cafe like and very reasonably priced – but the food is fantastic. I’ve been with friends but it’s also a perfect place to feel comfortable on your own. Middle Eastern food is a great love and Yalla Yalla serve some of the best Lebanese food you’ll find in London.
I ordered a glass of prosecco (because it was Friday and you should always have fizz on Friday – a family rule), some olives (these were amazing, tossed in some of their homemade harissa), and hummus, which came with warm pitta bread. I happily got started on these; a nice but not too noisy buzz of talk and contented people around me. The staff were friendly and talked to me a bit too.
Then my main came. I’ve usually ordered a selection of mezze rather than one ‘main’ before. Their Fattoush is one of the best I’ve had and I love the Lamb Kibbeh. However, yesterday I ordered skewers of lamb kofta which came with either garlic or chilli dip (I chose the chilli – their harissa), vermicelli rice, grilled tomato and a Lebanese salad.
It was all wonderful and an absolutely perfect way to end my evening out. I was too full for dessert but had some mint tea before paying (just under £25, for food, drink and service) and heading home. What a great evening of art and food it had been.