Sunday 7 September 2008

Tate Modern, South Bank, central London

Looming over the south bank of the Thames, the Tate Modern's mundane, industrial brick shell is the ideal counterfoil to the Baroque grandeur of St. Paul's Cathedral on the opposite side of the river. Housed in a former power station, the Tate Modern's vast turbine hall, a striking piece of architecture in its own right, is reserved for exhibits on a grand scale, such as the Shibboleth crack or Carsten Holler's slides, and is sometimes empty. Above it, roomy, white galleries display hundreds of modern paintings, photographs, sculptures, models and films. While many of the exhibits are weird and inaccessible, you will almost certainly find something you like. The most provocative stuff tends to be in the temporary exhibitions, some of which have an entrance charge. On some of the landings, there are engaging interactive consoles aimed mainly at children, while the walls above are decorated with a vast timeline marking the many movements in modern art from Cubism to Post Minimalism. The Tate Modern also has two good shops packed with books and other wares related to art and architecture.

Deliciously-moist fruit cake
After you have had your fill of art, you can settle into the large cafe on level 2, the espresso bar on level 4 or the restaurant on level 7. The restaurant has fine views both north and south, plus deliciously-moist fruit cake and carrot cake, the former served with heart-stopping clotted cream and the latter with double cream. The tea, served in large, robust steel teapots, is also good. But prices are generally high - pieces of cakes are about £3.25 each and the tea is £1.80, plus a 12.5% service charge. Hot meals are also on offer and you can get a children's meal (two courses and a drink) for just under £6. The waiting staff, in all black attire, are attentive and helpful, fetching crayons and straws for kids, while the backdrop of St. Paul's Cathedral and the river is exceptional. With free entry, the Tate Modern is packed at weekends with middle class Brits and foreign tourists soaking up the arty ambiance and enjoying this quirky and charismatic public space. 8/10