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The New Look South Bank Centre, London SE1

Festival Riverside is the first phase of this important redevelopment

Concert goers to The Royal Festival Hall have certainly noticed it, commuters scurrying home across the Jubilee Footbridge have watched with mounting interest, even tourists on their way to that South bank landmark The London Eye can't have missed the buzzing new Festival Riverside, with its teeming cafés, bars and restaurants.  The timing of its opening couldn't have been better, showing how universal is London's continuing redevelopment, and not just for the Olympics of 2012.

The old service road at the front of the concert hall (or was it the back?) has gone, to make room for an elegant flight of steps made of black Chinese granite. Acacia trees and newly planted grassy areas soften the edges, and the new space is there to encourage street performers to present music, poetry, dance and the visual arts.

Meanwhile the main concert hall itself has closed for its most extensive refurbishment since it opened as the centrepiece of the 1951 Festival of Britain. Audiences were invited to try out the new seating, and believe me it looks set for a real improvement, as the old seats were rather like those of a cut price airline in terms of lack of legroom. The main hall doesn't reopen until early 2007, but symphony concerts will continue in the smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall next door. In a way this pause will give the fine new Cadogan Hall in Chelsea a chance to establish itself as a major medium size concert venue. 

The new Festival Riverside area is also a great place for refuelling the body as well as the mind. Nicholas Lander, the restaurant critic of the FT has led a team that has attracted some of the better quality restaurant chains to the area, such as Giraffe, Wagamamma and Strada. EAT, is already well known to concert goers, who really go for their hearty home made soups and delicious cakes.  On the Belvedere Road side of the Hall, Festival Square Café will continue to provide excellent cooking (we reviewed this bar-restaurant favourably last year).

One of the features of the old hall was that the foyers remained open all day so record collectors, CD and book buyers could drop in at any time. Festival Riverside has now gone even further, with the first ever branch of the world's most famous bookshop, Foyle's, outside the Charing Cross Road. For music enthusiasts there's the new MDC Music and Movies store, whose stock promises to relate to the artistic events being staged in the complex. 

As primarily a restaurant review ezine, however, Dine Online can't wait to see what will happen to the People's Palace, which was the fine dining restaurant in the concert hall. It was one of the very first restaurants we reviewed back in 1996. I still remember the confit belly of pork with lingering affection! Perhaps we'll celebrate our tenth birthday there when it or its successor reopens.

Related venues and attractions:

The Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room

The National Theatre

The National Film Theatre  and the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI)

Festival Square and Jubilee Gardens

County Hall, Saatchi Gallery:  and the London Aquarium

The London Eye

The Old Vic Theatre

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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