england on the up

This is the summer Great Britain stakes its place on top of the world. Buoyed by the 2012 Olympic Games, homegrown architects and designers – already recognized for thinking big – have taken the sky as their limit with vertigo-inducing  success. In celebration of all things great and not-so-small, here’s a look at a handful of the country’s newest gold medal views.

Emirates Air Line, London (164+ feet tall), Opened June 28. London Mayor Boris Johnson fulfilled his pledge to build the UK’s first urban cable car with the opening of Emirates Air Line – get it?. The three-quarter mile long river crossing, stretches between Greenwich and the Royal Docks in East London and has the capacity to carry up to 2,500 people per hour in each direction – the equivalent of almost 30 buses. For a “360 degree tour,” there’s an option to make it a non-stop journey.

The Shard, London, (1,016 feet tall), Opening February 2013. The View from the Shard is already one of the capital’s most sought after visitor attractions – and it doesn’t even open until next year! Expect high-speed lifts to transport the public to a dizzying viewing platform, where views promise to extend for an amazing 40 miles across the city. At 1,016 feet high, it’s not only one of the most ambitious architectural endeavors in the UK, but also the tallest building in Europe. Luxury hotel group Shangri-La will launch a new hotel inside The Shard, also in 2013. Personally, I can’t wait to hear about the spa.

ArcelorMittal Orbit, Olympic Park, London (377 feet tall), Opened July 28. The ArcelorMittal Orbit rises over the Olympic park giving a funky new perspective to London from its freshly redeveloped home in the East End. The UK’s tallest sculpture to date, the swirling structure took 18 months to construct and required 1837 feet of tubular red steel to form the lattice superstructure. The result is a bold statement of public art that is both permanent and sustainable. Designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond and sitting between the Stadium and the Aquatics Centre, the ArcelorMittal Orbit has become quite literally a beacon of the Olympic Park during the Games, with 250 coloured spot lights individually controlled to produce a digital combination of static and animated effects – including a 15-minute moving light show each evening after the Games.

Up at the O2, London (174 feet tall), Opened June 21. This summer, Londoners are being given the opportunity to climb an icon with this ambitious new attraction combining an exhilarating active outdoor challenge with a completely different perspective on the capital. The 90-minute experience takes visitors on an uplifting guided expedition across the roof of The O2 via a tensile fabric walkway suspended 174 feet above ground level. An observation platform at the summit will enable climbers to take in outstanding 360 degree views of the city and its many landmarks, including the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard, Historic Royal Greenwich and Canary Wharf, before descending back to base.

Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower, Dorset (174 feet tall), Opened June 22. Situated along one of England’s most scenic stretches of coastland, Weymouth Bay is also home to some of the country’s best sailing waters and will host the Olympic and Paralympic sailing competitions this summer. Soaring high above England’s first natural World Heritage Site the Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower rotates a full 360 degrees for spectacular view of the Jurassic coastline, Chesil Beach and the island of Portland.

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someone’s in the kitchen with asperger’s

After three and a half hours of picking and poking – not to mention parsing and photographing – the 20-odd meticulously composed plates that comprised our extravagantly theatrical meal at Atera, my friends and I were asked if we wouldn’t mind repairing to the lounge for a digestif and some treats. Another party, it seems, had booked our seats for the second dinner seating of the evening. Though it’s hard to imagine anyone turning up at 10pm for a meal of such Brobdingnagian proportions, it’s even more difficult to refuse the personal request of the chef, Matthew Lightner, the latest critics’ darling staking a claim on our little island by way of Portland, Oregon. (cf. Andy Ricker, Pok Pok NY, et. al.) His menu-free $150 nod to the sublime, the ridiculous, and the foraged is not only one of the hottest tables in New York right now it’s also one of the smallest, hosting just 17 diners at a time – most of them seated Teppanyaki-style around a poured concrete bar. (It’s a look evocative of a very particular mindset: sort of Soho by way of Stockholm and Shinjuku, i.e. unconsciously self-conscious or, some might say, pretentious.) To stubbornly stake one’s claim to a seat seemed unsportsmanlike, tantamount to not giving up your seat on the subway for an old lady, so the four of us gladly took chef Lightner up on his request and followed the host out of the restaurant, past the Water4Dogs canine rehab center, and into an elevator which soon descended and opened to reveal a slick, leather clad bolthole with us as the only occupants. The chef arrived soon after with ice cream sandwiches and a crate of truffles cleverly masquerading as tartufi. As a henchman appeared by his side, pouring from a bottle of Nocino, an Italian walnut liqueur, and expounding on “the beach of life,” I was suddenly overcome with the sneaking suspicion that we were under observation. (Was it because I took notes throughout dinner? Or because one of my companions happened to be a West Coast food critic? When my photographer friend suddenly pulled out the Canon EOS-1DX and start snapping was it obvious? More to the point, why were we the only guests in the underground bat lair?) Freed from the intense intimacy of the restaurant we thought we’d be able to relax and speak at leisure about the imaginative cocktails (spot on, and with proper ice, too) the exquisitely presented food (imaginative, yes; though thoughtful to a fault) and the vast effort undertaken to find, let alone create, every forkful just consumed (equal parts Sherlock Holmes and Hercules, there’s a case to made for Asperger’s Syndrome in the kitchen) but that was well-nigh impossible with a man in black studiously at attention nearby. Waiter or warden I wondered? We could leave if we wanted, right? Comfortably uncomfortable, we called it a night. With alcohol and tip it came to a cool $300 per person. Together we quickly chatted outside on the sidewalk, grateful for an unobserved breath of fresh air. Consensus was quickly reached: the yumminess factor was noticeably absent from tonight’s extravaganza. Formally exquisite, cerebrally engaging, Atera is nevertheless like so many Nordic films - emotionally stunted. Still, if money were as easily foraged as oxalis articulata, I’d be back on my perch for a second show – in disguise, of course - quicker than you can say green almonds, yuba, fringed rue, cucumber, & fresh almond milk with a side of rock lichen crackers.

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coffee klatch: rbc

I’m so tired of hearing people bemoan the lack of quality coffee in New York City. No, we are not Portland, people; I get it. We can barely even afford to live within the five boroughs, yet you think an artisanal, single-origin, fair-trade, organic coffee roaster has the deep pockets – as well as the chutzpah - to set up shop here? Blue Bottle aside, get over yourselves. This city is too vast, too commercial, too fast to support that kind of college town kaffee kultur. (Good luck finding your 3AM bulgogi fix in Portland, by the way.) Still, if you know where to look there is some really good brew to be found. Which is why I’m starting an occasional post on the best joe joints in town.  First up: RBC, an unassuming – almost missable – sliver of a shop on Worth Street. Not enslaved to the output of a single roaster means new batches of micro-roasted beans arrive every few weeks. (San Francisco’s RitualRoasters, Grand Rapids’ MadCap, and Coava out of, yes, Portland, are just a few of RBC’s culti suppliers.)  Some are for hand-crafted pour-overs, others are destined for the coveted Slayer espresso machine. The $20,000 toy is the only one in the city – and the object of many a java fetish. The extreme control and variable brew pressure of the Slayer allows baristas to use seasonal, single-origin coffees that wouldn’t ordinarily be prepared as espresso. Which means at RBC a cappuccino arrives with perhaps the rarest flavor of all: nuance.

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while you were sleeping

You can check in, bed down, and get a great night’s sleep all in aid of a worthy cause during the first two weeks of February. Sage Hospitality, the largest privately held hotel management company in the nation, will be donating select overnight rates at each of its 53 hotels across the country, like The Nines in Portland and Chicago’s Renaissance Blackstone.

Each hotel will randomly pick four guests during the run of the promotion, February 1-14, 2011. Following a comfortable night’s sleep each lucky guest will learn the cost of their overnight stay is being donated to charity – and they’ll be offered the opportunity to select a beneficiary from a list of good causes, including FoodforthePoor.org, Volunteers of America, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters, World Vision and UNICEF.

From the betterment of local communities to aiding victims of the earthquake in Haiti, Sage has long held that charity begins  at home. The While You Were Sleeping promotion is just the latest charitable outreach. Other recent funding drives have included Best in Class, a nationwide school partnership program offering volunteer and financial support to at-risk schools, and the Sage Relief Rate, which raised $70,000 in aid of earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.

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