Caroline Bishop finds European flair combined with a family atmosphere at West London’s Lyric Hammersmith and its Italian pizzeria, Café Brera.
The impact of the Lyric Hammersmith on its local community is as significant as the location of the theatre itself, which sits on a corner of the vast Lyric Square just off King Street, at the heart of the borough. A true neighbourhood theatre, its acclaimed, award-winning productions under Artistic Director Sean Holmes are matched by a dedication to education work that will see the venue transformed into the first ‘teaching theatre’ for young people with the opening of a new £15 million capital project this autumn.
Within its existing building, the original 1895 proscenium arch opera house sits encased in a thoroughly modern shell that provides ample space for eating and drinking. A large, welcoming bar and foyer area upstairs contains bench seating for casual visitors, while a more intimate corner is reserved for dedicated diners. Best of all is the spacious adjoining roof terrace, which, with its attractive foliage and views over Lyric Square, is a little slice of European sophistication in this bustling pocket of West London.
Speaking of slices, pizza is the order of the day at the Lyric Hammersmith. Italian franchise Café Brera caters for snackers and coffee drinkers downstairs and serious pizza eaters upstairs. With an authentic pizza oven and Italian staff, the restaurant aims to live up to its reputation, says manager Amanda MacNair, who, despite her name, hails from La Cinque Terra. “Apparently we do the best pizza in Hammersmith,” she tells me proudly. Having not sampled every pizza hailing from Hammersmith, it is hard to prove either way, but with crispy bases, fresh, quality toppings and just enough innovation on the menu to make it stand out from the norm, it’s fair to say Café Brera is in the running.
With individual pizzas generously – yet manageably – sized at 12 inches, my Parma (porcini mushrooms, parma ham, sundried tomato and rocket) was a tasty combination, even if I would have preferred my rocket on the top rather than under the parma ham. The restaurant is a good choice for vegetarians, with a 4 Formaggi pizza being just one of several options. Though it was missing the balsamic vine-ripened tomatoes stated on the menu – a welcome addition, I would have thought, against the richness of the cheese quartet – my companion wasn’t complaining as she polished off her choice.
At £6.95-£9.25, prices are reasonable, and if you’re only after a quick bite rather than a full meal, pizza can be bought by the slice as well. At the other end of the scale, order a ‘famous’ two foot-long pizza (from £16.45) if you and four to six hungry friends fancy the same toppings. Freshly-squeezed juices add to a drinks list that includes Italian wines and bottled beers, with coffee and coconut-cream-filled cigarillos providing a satisfying end to the meal.
With or without theatre?
It may be a big space, but the Lyric’s bar area fills up quickly before a show, so it’s best to arrive early to grab a table; by 19:00 the place is buzzing. But with the restaurant serving food until 22:00 and the roof terrace open until late, after-show drinking and dining is another option. On a warm day after a stint in a darkened theatre, there’s no better place to be than enjoying the gentle breeze on the roof terrace with a glass of chilled wine in hand, despite the urban soundtrack of the King Street traffic.
However it is not just theatregoers who can enjoy the Lyric’s consumables. Anyone can visit the bar and restaurant, and lunch is popular with local workers. “In the summer [the terrace] is very, very busy,” says MacNair. “During the day we have a lot of people coming from outside … for a slice of pizza, a drink, they sit outside if the weather is nice.”
Are the kids alright?
They will be here. With an extensive programme of family shows on weekends and in school holidays, plus an annual summer party, the Lyric is nothing if not child-friendly. So much so that Café Brera is a popular spot for children’s parties, with McNair and her team hosting up to four such gatherings each Saturday daytime. “A lot of mothers come in here and they say they are quite happy because they found this place very child-friendly,” she says.
With the Lyric’s commitment to encouraging the next generation of theatregoers, it’s no wonder that McNair feels there is a family atmosphere amongst the staff and that Café Brera, though a franchise with several outlets in London, is very much an integrated part of the theatre. “It’s a big family,” she says. “We do a lot of things together as well. It’s not just the Lyric and the Café Brera, we try to work together.”
Visit the Lyric Hammersmith website.