London’s South Bank has moved on a long way since I were a lad. Back when everything was in black and white it didn’t really matter that the Brutalist structures of the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth hall and the Hayward Gallery (which were about the only leisure developments on the south side of the river) were a drab grey. It sort of matched the monochrome world of the early sixties. Forget about the Beatles, David Hemmings and the Shrimp, this was the London of decaying warehouses and bomb damage.
It’s much more fun now, so with a few spare hours I took a wander down from Waterloo past the South Bank Centre, the National Theatre and the Oxo Tower to the Tate Modern.
I have said before that for the architects of the modern era power stations fulfilled the role of the cathedral in terms of grandeur and spectacle. The Bankside Power station that now houses the Tate Modern’s collection is no exception to that, despite being designed as late as the 1950s. Architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott had a bit of previous here, he had designed Liverpool Cathedral and the rather magnificent Battersea Power Station that is finally being redeveloped a bit further down the Thames. Scott who also designed the classic red GPO phone booth, died in 1960 so he didn’t get to see the building he designed finished. Power generation ended here in 1981 and I do think that the idea to convert the old temple of power into a modern temple of art was really quite brilliant.
I was toying with the idea of visiting the Lichtenstein exhibition that had just opened there, but the queues were so massive that I think I will put that off for another day, maybe midweek to avoid the crowds. The galleries were still pretty busy, with Guardianista parents allowing their little Brunos and Kumquats, who are evidently bored stupid, to express themselves everywhere. Still I had a good wander around enjoying the Dalis, Ernsts and the odd Gilbert and George. I didn’t bother with any photos as the reproductions in art books are so much better, but the view over the Thames from the coffee shop terrace is pretty cool.
There is a fancy restaurant on the top floor overlooking the Thames which I must try sometime.
Having had my fill of art I wandered back towards the South Bank’s Wahaca to meet, Mab, the Captain and the Powder Monkey. By the National theatre I discovered this bronze statue of Laurence Olivier as Hamlet. Having just written an article about his tempestuous relationship with the lovely Vivien Leigh I had to take a snap despite the poor light.
And best of all he didn’t want a fiver unlike the living statues who were frightening the kids further on down the bank.
The South Bank Wahaca has been built out of old shipping containers and provides a welcome splash of colour against the drab concrete of the National Theatre.
The menu is a bit more limited that the branches in Soho, Fitzrovia and Docklands, but we still had a great meal. The only things that let this branch down in my opinion were the lack of the usual tortilla chips and salsa garnish with the main courses and the fact that the Reza Lasagna from the specials board, despite being very tasty came in a positively tiny portion for something that cost over a fiver.