All over London, nations are competing, and not just in Olympic venues. National hospitality houses are becoming an increasingly popular phenomenon, and right now pubs, gardens, galleries and palaces are being taken over by individual countries offering a taste of their food, music and lifestyle – as well as drinking to their athletes’ successes, or drowning their sorrows. At Hg2 we’ve realised that we may never get a chance to sample so many cultures in one short summer, so here are our top 10 hospitality houses that are truly worth a visit…
House of Nations at King’s Cross and Tower Bridge
Venue: King’s Cross (opposite the station) or Tower Bridge (the moat)
Cost: £20 (purchased from website)
These hospitality houses dub themselves multi-national, but they’re well and truly British. As the host nation, London has created sister venues in which you can watch all the games coverage on huge screens and sip champagne or Pimm’s in two of the most quintessentially and historically English locations you could think of. The King’s Cross house is open later and may attract a livelier crowd, intent on being seen in its sensational and exclusive nightclub, whereas at the Tower you can order food from a menu of British traditional favourites.
Africa Village in Kensington Gardens
Venue: Kensington Gardens (Hyde Park)
Open 9am – 10pm for the duration of the games, the sprawling Africa village brings together 53 national Olympic committees from throughout the continent. Each has an area, and visitors can flit from country to country taking in the richness and diversity of African culture. Nigerian musicians, Ghanaian footballers, Moroccan dancers, Senegalese artists, Kenyan olympic veterans, the list goes on… With so much to see and hear and taste (and all for free), why not make a day of it?
Casa Brasil at Somerset House
Venue: Somerset House (the Strand)
Somerset House has received a carnival-style makeover with the arrival of the Brazilians for the games. Bringing with them a touch of samba, they’ve taken over this iconic venue, once a Tudor palace, and given it their signature South American twist. Keen to make an impact and impress in preparation for their 2016 Summer Olympics, you can sneak a peek at what they might have in store – or simply soak up the vibrancy of the Brazilian lifestyle as you eat, drink and dance the night away.
Russia Park in Kensington Gardens
Venue: Kensington Gardens (Hyde Park)
Cost: Tickets £12 – £30 (purchased from website)
In preparation for the next Winter Olympic games, to be held in Sochi, Russia, the country have created not one, but two venues marking the Russian presence in London 2012. A short walk away from each other on the west side of Hyde Park, one ticket affords the bearer access to both incredible venues. Russia Park showcases the best Russian cuisine, drinks and live music in an enormous structure erected by hundreds of staff, whereas the wintery Sochi Park’s winning feature is its indoor ice rink – when else will you have a chance to ice skate in summer, and alongside Olympic medallists?
Holland Heineken House at Alexandra Palace
Venue: Alexandra Palace (near Wood Green)
Cost: €10 (admission by ticket only, purchased from website)
Holland’s Olympic House is one of the furthest out from the city centre, but trust us, it’s all happening out there. Alexandra Palace is a beautiful location for two weeks of Amsterdam-style chilling by day, partying by night, and well worth a ticket. Adapting the galleries and alcoves of the interior into shops and stalls stocking The Netherlands’ favourite food and drinks, and transforming the ballroom into a fully functioning concert hall/nightclub, this is a truly continental fusion of history and modernity.
French Olympic House at Old Billingsgate
It seems as if the French have come across the channel all guns blazing in an attempt to make up for Paris losing out to London in the bidding for these 2012 Games. Rumour has it that the French olympic committee spent an enormous £1.3 million securing Old Billingsgate Market, a building which, in 19th and 20th centuries, housed the world’s largest fish market. Thankfully it’s been cleaned up and refurbished since, and is now a spacious venue for hire. A further £500,000 has been spent making it into the French’s ‘village’, filled with shops, eateries, and a chic nightclub.
House of Switzerland at Glaziers Hall
Venue: Glaziers Hall (Southbank)
Glaziers Hall is a fairly swanky location for an Olympic House, but the Swiss are suitably swish and have made use of the space in creating an ‘athlete’s lounge’ and an exhibition area, which opens up onto the Cathedral Square. There, you can sit out under the stars watching iconic Swiss short films and cartoons, or listening to live music, but only after you’ve visited the Lindt shop. Guests will be able to try out traditional Swiss sports such as ‘Schwingen’ (mountain wrestling) before treating themselves to a meal cooked by the Michelin star Swiss chef Anton Mosimann.
Jamaica House at the O2 Arena
Venue: O2 Arena (Greenwich Peninsula)
Cost: free (max capacity 1,000)
Not only is this summer an important summer for sporting reasons, Jamaica holding high hopes for rapid sprinter duo Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser, but the country also celebrates 50 years of independence in August. This has resulted in a complete transformation of the O2 interior, into a home away from home for Jamaican athletes and fans – a celebration of and insight into the island’s history, culture and way of life. Expect a tonne of Jamaican street food, bars and big-screen showings, and a whole lot of Bob Marley. Register via the website now to ensure entry – it’s going to be busy!
Kiwi House at Central St Martins
Venue: 1 Granary Square (off Goods Way, King’s Cross)
Cost: £5 all day
Escaping the winter of the other side of the world, the Kiwis have arrived, and are out to showcase the very best in NZ food, drink and entertainment. This comes in the form of live music from up-and-coming artists (Jarred Christmas, Hollie Smith), and big screen showings of the games in the evening. During the day, athletes (medal-winners and otherwise) will roll in regularly to enjoy a classic BBQ with fans, family and friends out in Granary Square . Join the fun- and sun-loving Kiwi crowd in this uber-cool and welcoming venue, part of London’s University of the Arts.
Irish Olympic House at Big Chill House
Venue: The Big Chill House (Pentonville Rd, King’s Cross)
Cost: £10 before 6pm; £15 after 6pm
The Irish are always going to throw a decent party, no matter where they turn up. While their choice for an Olympic house venue – the rather gritty Big Chill House bar near King’s Cross – doesn’t match up to many of the other nations’ choices of grandiose venues, the Irish Olympic House is cosy, friendly, boozy and just a little bit chaotic: in short, perfectly Irish. The Big Chill House has been done up in plenty of green and orange for the occasion, with a small stage set at the back of the ground floor for the huge lineup of live acts that will include John Spillane, Mundy and Paddy Keenan on the musical front and Ardal O’Hanlon (of Dougal from Father Ted fame) and Dara Ó Briain on the comedy front. Expect plenty of Jameson and Heineken (two of the house sponsors), as well as other drinks and Irish-themed foods on tap and plenty of Irish sport celeb-spotting (look out for sporting greats Barry McGuigan and Sonia O’Sullivan as well as Irish TV sports reporter Paul O’Flynn).