As you probably know by now, the Olympics bring with it not just the sport but a whole cavalcade of city-wide activities, ‘cultural olympiads’ and every permutation of pop-up you could think of. And it’s not just Londoners doing this, as a raft of the visiting countries are taking the opportunity to host their own Olympic ’houses’, as a slice of home for visitors and ex-pats.
But also, it’s a good chance for them to blow their respective trumpets, with some open to the public to come and see what these countries have got to offer. We did a west to east ‘house marathon’, and award our own medals for those deserving.
Belgium House, Inner Temple
Belgians, dix points for the venue – it really wouldn’t have felt out of place to see monks rolling the barrels of Leffe out. So you can get your hands on Belgium’s finest here, including all the chips n mayo you’d want to shovel down after a go on some of the bikes they’ve selected for their focal exhibition.
So this is far from the conference ambience of Casa Brasil, it’s much more of what you want: a large screen for Belgians – or anyone – to congregate round. The French commentary offers a different perspective with the focus away from Team GB for five minutes. You’ll even get to see the latest adverts from across the continent – marvel at what Danone are peddling to our Flemish friends! So Londoners, prize your digits off BBC’s red button, embrace your Euro-ness, broaden your French vocabulary, drink better beer. And when you’ve had enough of this sumptuous carved hall, tip outside and enjoy that garden – it’ll be the quietest private park in the whole of the city. The only criticism I can rustle up is that the bars are staffed by Brits, which does rather jar with the whole cultural immersion. It’s hard to kid yourself into a 1300s Antwerpness when the chick behind the bar sounds like the girl from the old Boddington’s ad. We give Belgium House our only GOLD despite the modest £5 entry.
When you’ve had enough then we can recommend Conran’s Lutyens for dinner, 28:50 for drinks and eats and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for a really old London drinking experience.
Belgium House, Inner Temple, £5 until August 12th
French House, Old Billingsgate
France – I’m shocked! What iz zis? ‘Av you sold your Gallic soul? Long queues, tough security demanding ID on the door? You know we Brits don’t do carry this, we weren’t feeling the Liberty on this occasion. What a confused cultural mess on the inside: BMW stalls, an Adidas store. And we thought Brazil was a trade show. Why the German brands? Peroni and Heineken behind the bar? Mon dieu, we don’t expect this from the French. But they are doing well in the rankings so there’s a very good turn out. But no medal from us I’m afraid Frenchies.
French House, Old Billingsgate Market £5 entry – with ID!
Swiss House, Borough Market
Off to Borough Market for the Swiss House. Already looking a little scuffed it’s time for another lick of paint. This is an al fresco experience, expect Federer on loop, rosti, bratwurst and…chocolate at the bar. But wait – there’s a pop-up fondue restaurant, which is rather appropriate for our British summer. Free. ‘Bronze’.
Casa Brasil, Somerset House
Where better to start than the hosts of the next Olympics. A selection of exhibitions, films, and er…a shop. Despite their best efforts it felt like a trade show, and they managed to achieve the impossible by making Brazil seem rather dull. Although there was a smattering of faintly interesting art upstairs. Check the schedule for occasional music events, which I guess is where they’re placing their efforts. Will abstain from marking because we did only see the static stuff.
Danish House, St Katherine’s Dock
Hmmmm Denmark, not feeling it. Despite the magical mystery tour finding it, this was a little anti-climatic. You peddle us foraging, Noma, notions of hygge and happiest nation in the world on your duney beaches and bikes. But we get Carlsberg (ugh), puny Lego models and…bacon. Now I’m a veggie so you won’t find me in the queue for a bacon butty – but you won’t find anyone tucking into one here either: it was cold, vacuum-packed ham product. As if you’re going to want to pick that up and stick it in the mini bar! This place had more in common with a Belfast estate pub than a CPH cafe but hej. I have actually been in places like this in Vesterbro.
You Scandinavians like your water so I guess St Katherine’s Dock was an appropriate backdrop with the chinking of sails in the distance offering a little ambiance. So cold bacon aside we’ll give you ‘BRONZE’ – because it could be quite nice on a bright day.
Deutsche House, Museum of Docklands
Frankly the photos had just deteriorated too much at this point. I have to draw the line somewhere! So here’s a pic of a more decorated arm than a teenager at the end of the summer.
And so to Deutsche Haus. The Germans don’t tend to mess around, they stick to what they do best. No BMW showcase here (oh no, of course, that was in the French House!) Beer and sausages in a spacious, beamed Museum of Docklands space. Definitely staffed by Deutsch. ‘SILVER’ Medal for the Germans.