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Don’t be fooled by its genteel demeanour. Anna Longmore finds that the summer concerts at Kew Gardens offer both face-time and full-on fun for corporate entertaining
For the Square
Meal team, Summer Swing at Kew was the surprise hit of last summer. Admittedly, we can be a touch spoilt when it comes
to corporate entertainment, but this is an evening that is guaranteed to put a smile on even the straightest face.
First up, the logistics of the event are notably corporate friendly. The 6pm arrival allows guests almost a full day in the office before they jump on the train. Kew Bridge is just under half an hour from Waterloo, with four fast trains leaving every hour. And when you arrive, it’s easy enough to pick up a taxi at the station for the short hop to Kew Gardens.
After a five-minute stroll through the gardens, we reached the Ambro Events facility, a simple white marquee structure set against the stunning backdrop of the Victorian glasshouse, Temperate House. The venue occupies a spot to the left-hand side of the stage, a spacious lawn with plenty of standing room and a smattering of garden furniture. It’s separated from the picnicking public by a low picket fence, so guests get a great view of the stage and are right in the thick of the action.
At the pre-dinner reception, a steady flow of Lanson Champagne married with substantial canapés from caterer Mecco (mini sausages were a particular hit) dulled any post-office hunger pangs and allowed us to concentrate on chatting to guests rather than stalking canapé trays. In fact, catering was certainly a highlight throughout the evening. Drinks and nibbles were followed by a sit-down dinner: a light, summery menu of foie gras and seared salmon, with chocolate tart to accompany the warm-up act. With an hour to eat, the well-drilled staff kept everything moving without rushing guests through. A generous Neal’s Yard cheese buffet was a particularly clever time-saving touch.
We just had time to grab a glass before heading out onto the lawn. The week’s crowd-pleasing line-up takes in the likes of Jools Holland, as well as tribute acts such as the Bootleg Beatles. We plumped for an evening of Abba with the super-slick Björn Again. Cheesy? Absolutely. But the guests couldn’t stand still. Whether this was down to the generous supplies of Champagne, or just the infectiousness of guilty pleasures like Mamma Mia and Dancing Queen, nobody knew, but by the time the firework finale lit the sky behind the vast greenhouse at 10pm, no-one was sitting down. ‘What a truly enjoyable night,’ said Isidor Gorgevik, director at The Bingham Hotel. ‘The setting was excellent.’
Through the slight fog of the following morning, we were thinking clearly enough to book tables for 2010.
• Don’t assume this is one for younger clients – the pace and music policy will suit a cross-section of your client base. It’s a great alternative to sport
• Call the day before to double check attendance – even with the best invitations, there are always some last-minute drop-outs and it’s best to know in advance
• Arrive at 6pm and encourage guests to do the same – the pre-dinner Champagne reception is a great chance to wind down after the working day
• Make sure guests are prepared for cooler temperatures when the sun goes down
• Remind ladies that they will be standing on a lawn, so leave the stilettos at home
• Branded golf umbrellas are a good fallback in case of the odd shower
• Use Kew Gardens tube station, even if it means changing at Richmond from mainline to tube. Kew Bridge station is a 25-minute walk from the entrance
• The Bingham in Richmond is a great spot for the after-party and accommodation. Book a private room (tel: 020 8940 0902, squaremeal.co.uk/bingham)
• If guests are heading home straight away, provide taxis afterwards. Addison Lee (tel: 0844 800 6677, squaremeal.co.uk/addison) will send a text so you can find your cab’s number plate at the gate
This year’s Summer Swing Tuesday 6 to Saturday 10 July
Tuesday 6 July Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra
Wednesday 7 July Björn Again (supported by The Original Bucks Fizz)
Thursday 8 July Dancing in the Streets; a celebration of Motown
Friday 9 July The Bootleg Beatles (supported by the UK Beach Boys)
Saturday 10 July Another Kind of Magic, Queen: A Symphonic Rock Spectacular
Ambro Events, tel: 01923 710970, squaremeal.co.uk/ambro-kew
Prices start at £229 for VIP dining, £169 for the Champagne & Canapé package
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, summer 2010