Paul van Zyl’s perfect weekend in London

The South African human rights campaigner is the co-founder and chief creative officer of The Conduit, a new members’ club for people who are passionate about positive social change

Paul van Zyl at the Temperate House in Kew Gardens
Paul van Zyl at the Temperate House in Kew Gardens | Image: Lydia Goldblatt

“When I moved to London from New York in 2017, I didn’t know west London, but one of my dearest friends, Hisham Matar, told me that if I didn’t move to within two blocks of his family, he’d kill me. So my wife, Johanna, and our three children, Max, Theo and Layla, ended up on a leafy street in Brook Green. The area is filled with writers, journalists and filmmakers, which is very much our gang.

On Saturday morning I get up early and take Theo to football training opposite Hyde Park Barracks; it’s beautiful with the Household Cavalry coming past. Then I’ll have coffee and a muffin at the Lido Café with my daughter. We bring food for the birds and she sprints down to the Serpentine with flocks of them following her like she’s the Pied Piper.

My greatest therapy is cooking, so Saturdays are about food and friends. I’ll get meat from Provenance, a fantastic butcher off Portobello Road, and shop at Brook Green Market for eggs or vegetables. We meet friends for coffee – the Scotties trailer does great flat whites – and a debrief on the week’s politics. That hour of chat is close to paradise for me.

Then I’ll cook lunch. I’m promiscuous in my food tastes – everything from Middle Eastern to Thai to Indian. My bible is The Flavour Thesaurus, which organises food not by recipes but by flavour so you can innovate, which is fun; you can find out how to combine lime with chilli and anchovies, for example.

I often go to The Conduit in the afternoon for a talk or event. We may have 100 people listening to Christiane Amanpour on the future of the news, be looking at strategies to support refugees, or enjoying a Pedro Reyes piece played on musical instruments made from guns.

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In the evening Johanna and I will go to Yashin Sushi, off Kensington High Street. A friend told me about it when I was lamenting the fact that if you come from New York, you are rather picky about sushi. There’s an open kitchen and the presentation is so inventive – some sushi arrives seared on fossilised wood. I usually have the chef’s tasting menu.

On Sunday I try to fit in art, books and film. My parents took me to art galleries from when I can first remember and I get so much pleasure from that. I’m an acolyte of Tate Modern and will often visit exhibitions several times. Or I’ll head off to Daunt Books on Holland Park Avenue and browse the non-fiction – I’m interested in policy and development entrepreneurship as a way to achieve greater social justice. We live in a time when entrepreneurs have purpose and will be essential to changing the world.

I love to go to Kew Gardens on a Sunday afternoon. The Temperate House is extraordinary and the avenues of trees inspiring – they are markers of civilisation, these incredible things that outlast us.

On Sunday evening we’ll take the kids to The Bird in Hand, a great little place in Brook Green; it’s homely and does fantastic pizzas. Afterwards my wife and I will try to slip off to an interesting documentary. Johanna is a filmmaker so we always look at what’s coming up at the Human Rights Watch or BFI London film festivals. But as Johanna often has access to advance copies, sometimes we’ll just get the kids to bed and watch something at home – a moment of calm before the week starts up again.”

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