A LETTER FROM LONDON: Ragtime, The Sunshine Boys, New Venues and More

By Ruth Leon
23 Jul 2012

The entrance to Brasserie Z
The entrance to Brasserie Z

In London, finally a late-night dinner option in the theatre district. Plus, a look at The Sunshine Boys, Birthday, Ragtime and actress-singer Janie Dee.

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If you want a really good post-theatre dinner in London — a proper dinner in a fine restaurant with napery and first-rate food — the choices are remarkably limited, as most restaurants, even the good ones, close their kitchens at 11 PM. And if you want to add stargazing to your evening's entertainment, the pickings become slimmer still.

So the opening of a new restaurant right on Piccadilly Circus, in the center of West End theatreland, is a genuine event, especially when its progenitors are Jeremy King and Chris Corbin. Probably the most successful restaurateurs in London, all the best "theatre" restaurants were started by these two. Whenever I meet Broadway stars and impresarios in London, it's at one of the eateries — no, they're not eateries, they're fine food emporiums — either owned or formerly owned by Jeremy and Chris. For those of us who customarily eat after the theatre, the Wolseley or the Ivy are home. (Eating before curtain time always seems like teatime to me). Sheekey's and Scott's are their fish havens, and Le Caprice, which used to be theirs, is the hideaway for the stars who don't want to make a big deal out of their presence in London. I always want to eat in any enterprise connected with King and Corbin. I know that the food will be great, the company will be distinguished, and the service will be impeccable, usually staffed by familiar faces who have come up through the ranks of King and Corbin's various restaurants.

Now they've opened, in splendidly restored Art Deco surroundings, a true French brasserie. Open all day, from café au lait and a croissant in the early morning to a late-night snack, Brasserie Zédel boasts not only a 240-seat restaurant but also a beautiful bar and a cute little cabaret space. I was invited to the "soft opening" (which is what happens when a restaurant invites friends and colleagues to try it out so they can sort out any teething problems), and I can report a great evening.

While we're on the subject of exciting openings, a theatre I thought had gone for good is coming back in a new incarnation and promises not only a new arts center but also a restaurant and bar that will be open all day. Where the now defunct Westminister Theatre used to be, near Buckingham Palace, the first newly built theatre complex in Central London in 30 years is rising from the ground. It will be called the St. James Theatre. Easy to get to by public transportation, Victoria already has two of London's biggest theatres — the Apollo and the Victoria Palace — and could use what is being offered here: a smaller, 312-seat theatre with a 150-seat studio space.

The programming for the new theatre, just announced, is ambitious. First up is a brand new play by a well-known comedienne and broadcaster, Sandi Toksvig, about the moral effects of military occupation on soldiers. Then there's an award-winning American production of the musical Daddy Long Legs, currently touring the U.S. and directed by John Caird, who co-directed Les Misérables. This will be followed by Cinderella for Christmas and then a revival by the original director, Max Stafford-Clark, of Timberlake Wertenbaker's brilliant signature play, Our Country's Good. It chronicles the convicts in an 18th-century Australian prison camp putting on the first play ever to be staged in Australia.

The St. James Theatre is a thrilling new venture and we should all wish it Godspeed. I promise to watch its progress on your behalf with interest and enthusiasm.

The Grand Lobby of Brasserie Zédel



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