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How I got engaged

So I thought I’d tell you guys a bit of news from my life that doesn’t entail eating burgers the size of my head; I got engaged on Saturday. Yeah, that’s right – someone asked me to be his wife. Shall I tell you the story? Oh alright then.

I thought I was meeting Andrew and our close friend Amy for lunch on Saturday. Andrew was going to the gym so I said I’d meet him there. “How late with you be?” I asked, knowing that he is permanently late. “Not late at all,” he told me.

So I met Amy (pictured below) for lunch. Thirty minutes later Andrew hadn’t appeared. I moaned to Amy.

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As soon as I finished my food Amy said, “So Andrew isn’t coming for lunch but he asked me to give you this” and she produced an envelope with his writing on. “Um, what’s going on?” I said to her, feeling panicked and a bit sick. Amy shrugged as she watched me open the envelope. Inside it said…

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I looked at Amy who was armed with my first clue: find a dog, preferably a sausage dog and text him a photo of it. I flew out onto Upper Street in the search for a dog. The first dog I saw was this guy:

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His baffled owners let me take a photo of him, which I sent to Andrew. The next clue arrived:

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This took me to a beauty salon next to the Breakfast Club in Camden Passage. When I got there (Amy dropped me off and waved goodbye) they told me I was there for a manicure. And some bubbles… Andrew had booked it all for me.

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The ladies who worked in the salon were VERY excited. “He’s going to propose!” they screamed when I told them the story. “I don’t think so,” I said.

I had my nails done – unfortunately one of my nails broke last week (Andrew was so cross and now I know why!) so it looks crap but the rest are lovely.

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I sent this picture to Andrew and then I got another clue:

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He was panicking a bit as my nails took longer than he thought (even if they are stubby guys!). I got to Covent Garden and got this message:

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I got to the blowdry bar and they were ready for me, and gave me a beautiful blowdry. They also were convinced Andrew was getting me ready for a proposal after I told them the story. “I’m not sure,” I said.

I send Andrew a pic of my blowdry:

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And got another clue:

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I got home and a dress was laid out for me with this note on it:

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When I lifted the dress up there was a present under there. It was this book:

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We’ve been listening to the audio book of Wind in the Willows as we fall asleep recently.

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I sent him a photo of the book and then the final clue arrived:

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This took some working out. Kenneth Brannagh is who reads the book on our audio book, where as the author is called Kenneth Grahame. I googled where he lived between 1901 and 1908 and it was Phillimore Place in Kensington. Andrew’s surname is Phillimore. I hopped on a tube across London…

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And trotted through the streets. As I got to the corner of Phillimore Place I saw Andrew, and we smiled at each other but then he ducked down. I rounded the corner and he was down on one knee with a ring in his hand. I immediately started to cry!

He explained he had brought me to Phillimore Place to ask me if I would be a Phillimore and marry him. I said yes, of course!

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The ring fit perfectly and was my absolute dream engagement ring – I couldn’t believe he knew me so well. It turned out Amy had gone ring shopping with him back in Easter when I was at a friend’s hen do. Sneaky sneaky!

Andrew had then booked us a meal at Beast in Marylebone, so we jumped in a black cab there. We called our parents and siblings and drank champagne and ate LOADS of food.

Then he had booked us a hotel room, so we got in another cab to Dean Street in Soho where he’d got us the penthouse suite at Soho Hotel.

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We had cocktails in the bar and then fell asleep in a massive amazing bed. I want that bed!

In the morning I woke up to this:

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We had champagne on the balcony and then he’d booked for us to go to a surprise brunch, which turned out to be at Chiltern Firehouse! The brunch was amazing, but I’ll post that another time.

We then travelled home where Andrew had arranged for some of our friends to come over a celebrate. It was absolutely amazing! I kept telling people “Things like this don’t happen to me!” And I still can’t believe it did – it feels like a wonderful dream.

I can’t wait to marry this amazing man and be Mrs Zoë Phillimore!

This is a terrible photo of us just after he’d proposed! He looks a bit stunned and I look crazed. Haha.

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[Guest post] The Resistable Rise of Nigel Farage

And now for something completely different…

My good friend and ex-colleague Ned Hartley was talking to me the other day about politics. I studied politics at university, but rarely get drawn into arguments over politics. Maybe that’s because I spent one too many Wednesday mornings at uni hungover and arguing about governance or whether the BNP should be allowed the oxygen of publicity (yes they should, btw), or maybe I just don’t talk about politics much because I much prefer to listen to other people’s views. I think a lot can be learned from listening instead of shouting over one another.

Anyway, Ned and I were talking about voting behaviour, and I told Ned it’s my secret geeky interest – I wrote my dissertation about it. So Ned and I reckoned what with the European and local elections happening TOMORROW in the UK, it’d be good time for him to do a guest post about why the top of your to-do list tomorrow should be going a voting. Otherwise: SHAME ON YOU. Over to Ned.

This is Ned.
This is Ned.

“Democracy is the worst form of government”, said Winston Churchill, “apart from all the others”. Look, no one knows better than I do that the next General Election seems like it’s going to be a choice between grotesque villainy and horrifying incompetence. Which is why I can understand the rise of movements advocating spoiling your vote, voting none of the above or not voting at all. Russell Brand summed it up pretty well when he said, “The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change. I don’t think it does.” And maybe he’s right.

Russell Brand: utter prick or voice of the people?
Russell Brand: utter prick or voice of the people?

It’s hard not to see the rise of UKIP (the UK Independence Party) as an extension of this same sentiment. Nigel Farage is the flip side of Russell Brand: he claims that he’s not a politician (even though he is) and he pretends to offer something other than Westminster’s “Politics as normal” (even though he doesn’t). It’s easy to knock Farage and UKIP, but it’s harder to address the source of the problem. This is about the frustration with politics that Farage cynically manipulates, it’s about voter disenfranchisement that allows UKIP to get a hold.

Nigel Farage: utter prick
Nigel Farage: leader of UKIP and an utter prick

Farage and UKIP’s policies are only really coherent when they are presented in opposition to something, and that’s because it’s easier than coming up than an idea on your own, and it would be easy to write them off if they weren’t polling so well. In the last London opinion poll they were only 1% behind the Lib Dems, clearly taking support not just from disillusioned Conservative voters, but also Labour and Lib Dems voters as well. This is a problem that’s bigger than just the right wing throwing a strop at David Cameron, it’s indicative of a much larger trend in British politics.

 

David Cameron: UK premier and also, in the interests of fairness (and factual accuracy), also an utter prick.
David Cameron: UK premier and also, in the interests of fairness (and factual accuracy), also an utter prick.

It isn’t fair to call UKIP the British version of the US Tea Party, but they harness the same vague anti-establishment sentiment to mask their cruel agendas. This problem is massively compounded when the solution offered by people like Russell Brand is “don’t vote”, a simple refusal to participate. This can be a tempting option, to see yourself as standing nobly above the crowd in your refusal to part of a broken system. If enough people do this then surely someone must notice that something is wrong – right?

But this is a basic misreading of what democracy is all about. Democracy doesn’t owe you a perfect candidate; it doesn’t owe you a 2008 Obama complete with “Hope and Change” and “Yes We Can”. Democracy doesn’t even owe you a candidate that you or anyone you know can vaguely stand. Democracy owes you a part in the process, it owes you a chance to get involved, it owes you the ability to have your voice heard. Not voting means not having a voice, and I’m certain that there’s absolutely no power and change in that.

But hey, I could be wrong. You can find me on twitter at @nedhartley if you think so.

 

The Towpath Cafe

My London… with Shula Cara

Shu lives in London and always has the best tips of where to go for a fun time. Also, her tweets are always bloody hilarious. So I was very pleased when she said she’d take part in the My London… series.

Name – Shula Cara
Job  – PA & Office Manager
Neighbourhood –  Pinner. The deepest, darkest NW London. Hopefully not for much longer!

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I love London because… There’s something around every corner if only you take the time to notice it. My office used to be the Pink Floyd recording studio! Also, last week I sat on the tube and sat opposite a couple reading. She was engrossed in Fifty Shades of Grey and he was perusing the Bible. I can’t imagine that happening anywhere else.

London is at its best when… You’ll laugh but I’d have to say during the tube strike a few weeks ago! Nobody knew where they were going and were forced to actually talk to each in order to find out how to get to work. How often do you talk to people during your daily commute?  The weather was great, so nobody minded walking AND I discovered a bunch of hidden gems around Angel that I’d never noticed before, despite travelling there every day – albeit underground.

My ideal day off in London would be…  Waking up early, managing to snag a fresh doughnut at 1235 Doughnuts (sadly no more behind the yellow door on a Sunday).  Obviously it would be sunny, so I’d sit outside somewhere like the Towpath Cafe with a good book and a great cup of coffee, watching the world go by. I’d visit somewhere like the Geffrye Museum or Hackney City Farm then head to the nearest Street Feast with friends. After that, it would be time to stop for a spritz on Broadway Market. Cocktails at the Cat and Mutton, and I’d end the night at Hip Hop Karaoke with my oh-so-special rendition of Nasty Girl, some wild dancing. Then sleep.

The Towpath Cafe
The Towpath Cafe

 I absolutely love this little-known place… well, technically not little known, but I love 69 Colebrooke Row, The Blind Pig and the bar at the Zetter Townhouse. Perfect for dates and a drink or two.  Also, the Conservatory at the Barbican, I think it’s only open on Sundays

The Conservatory at the Barbican
The Conservatory at the Barbican

The best night I’ve ever had in London was… A boy once took me to Bourne and Hollingsworth for cocktails and then onto Hip Hop Karaoke at Little Social. An unusual mix but the best fun I’d had in a long time!

My favourite restaurant is… Again, I can’t choose just one. I eat out a lot because I work in hospitality and have had some incredible meals at Morito, Locanda Locatelli, 10 Greek Street and Clove Club. Sharing a pizza at Homeslice is always fun and if I could ever get a table at Sushi Tetsu, I’m sure I’d love that too.

If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… restaurants and bars with my friends. I’d probably buy a pair of shoes at Liberty too, then fall over in them.

Royal College of Surgeons museum, the Hunterian
Royal College of Surgeons museum, the Hunterian

My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… the Hunterian, the contents of which are partly grotesque, but totally amazing. It’s the kind of place that will either fascinate you or make you a little sick. Technically not theatre, but Secret Cinema events are always fun. Anything at the Southbank Centre. I was taken to a Pippilotti Rist exhibition a while ago and that was awesome.

A Secret Cinema event
A Secret Cinema event

One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is... I’ve lived here all my life (apart from a brief hiatus in Nottingham that we don’t mention). A thing that other people don’t know is how close all the tube stations are to each other. Walking is infinitely more enjoyable than sitting on a cramped train during rush hour.

London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… Can I have more than one? People that swing their golf umbrellas and tourists that take photos with iPads, for some reason that really bugs me. Oh, and the obvious one – slow walkers!

I’ll leave London when… I die. I love my city. I’ve lived here 25 years and haven’t discovered even half of it yet.

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The Made in Chelsea drinking game

I’m at the stage where most of my friends are either getting married or already are married. This means I have a comprehensive knowledge of what to expect from hen dos, favours and songs all wedding bands play (My Sharona is a key stage in all nuptial celebrations).

It also means I have watched my friends fall in love and become husbands and wives, and that has doubled my number of friends immediately. Wonderful. And in one particular case it means my best friend from uni, Vinay, has had to start watching his wife’s TV shows, including Made in Chelsea. Every time I see Vin he complains to me about Made in Chelsea, which he should know is idiotic as I am obviously a massive fan.

He’s also taken to texting me about it…

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On receiving this I had two startling realisations:

1. Vinay should give up his career as an accountant and become a reviewer for the Radio Times
2. Maybe Made in Chelsea needs to be made more fun for long-suffering people who have to watch it but don’t have a clue what’s going on

Enter Hedges (that’s me). I’ve devised a little Made in Chelsea drinking game, because if you’re not getting wasted on a Monday night what’s the point of life, really? This is a really novel idea. I’m sure no one has thought of it. You’re welcome, internet.

Every time these events happen, take a classy slurp of your champagne/gin/White Lightning:

- Someone says, “I’ve got to get out of London.” (They’ve got it like, soo tough)

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– Mark Francis hands out some lifestyle tips:

- Jamie Biscuits tells a girl he loves them.

– Alex Mytton’s hair looks ridiculous:article-2599272-1CEADFDF00000578-45_634x357

- Louise cries:
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- Spencer looks smug (you’re gonna be wasted):

- A tiny, ugly dog appears at an inappropriate time. Down your drink if it’s with Binky or Cheska:
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- Sam Peg-Teeth makes you cringe:
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- Lucy Watson shows her disgust with a facial expression:

– Someone doesn’t get invited to something:

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My London… with Rupert Cross

For me, if I like someone I mock them. It’s perhaps not a great trait, but growing up with two older brothers has meant that it’s the way I communicate my friendship. If I feel comfortable around someone and like them, I will tease them and joke around with them.

When I first met Rupert he was wearing heavy-framed glasses, which were without lenses. Like a red rag to a bull (I’m the bull in this scenario), right away I started mocking him, and there started our friendship of me cruelly taunting him and him being generous enough to laugh along (and maybe cry himself to sleep at night). As a firm part of my north London circle, no pub visit is complete without Rupert blustering in an hour late, shouting “Darling! How are you?” while wearing some chunky knitwear.

Here Rupert, ever-tolerant and entertaining, talks football pubs, his karaoke track of choice and trying to illegally board a train bound for Paris…

Name: Rupert Cross
Job: Composer
Neighbourhood: Holloway

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I love London because… it’s a  giant smörgåsbord of everything from architecture to the arts.
London is at its best when… nippy springtime gives way to full blown barbecue summer. The mood of London is epitomised by the 10 people opposite you on the tube, and in summer they look like they may just make eye contact and smile. You can almost forgive the guy wearing his shiny new Ray-Ban sunglasses underground – although seriously: never be that guy.
The Swimmer on Eburne Road
The Swimmer on Eburne Road

My ideal day off in London would be… a Saturday. I dream of this perfect day of waking up not too hungover, opening the windows to sunshine before writing music throughout the morning. Content with a hard day’s work by midday, I head to lunch at the Swimmer at The Grafton Arms pub in Holloway, where Laila and Jon [the staff] greet me and my friends like the opening from Cheers. Sitting outside drinking pints of Brugse Zot, my friends and I discuss where to watch the afternoon’s football – a debate utterly irrelevant as The Tollington Arms on Hornsey Road is excellent and we’ll be going here. As this is a fantasy day, we watch Manchester United not lose horribly and all my Arsenal supporting friends break down in tears, admitting they have been closet Reds all along.

The evening will end with karaoke, probably in the Birdcage in Columbia Road, so the post football journey is all about the most exotic and exciting route to take. Along that route is The Lamb on Holloway Road which has an excellent selection of local beers and the staff are impeccably friendly. By 9pm I’m panicking that it’s getting late and I need to submit my karaoke song choice so we all cab it to Shoreditch. I’m in luck – they always have space for R Kelly’s “Ignition” (Remix).
In this perfect day I probably have a dog, and his name is Marco Fu.

I absolutely love this little-known place… called Shoreditch. I think it’ll catch on.

The best night I’ve ever had in London was… one that ended at 8am at St Pancras International pleading with the ticket office to let us on a train to Paris without our passports. At the time I imagined it looking more Withnail and I than Fear and Loathing. Now I’m not too sure.

L'atelier de Joel Robuchon
L’atelier de Joel Robuchon
My favourite restaurant is… L’atelier de Joel Robuchon in town. I had never eaten in a Michelin-starred restaurant before and a deal had arisen on Toptable for this restaurant. Although it was clear to everyone there that our wine-less, shared starter, shared desert, 2-for-1 mains order was designed to absolutely minimise the overall cost of eating at the restaurant, the staff were kind and courteous throughout which left me with a strong desire to return.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… Borough Market, and if I’m honest, two thirds of that will be on cheese. Anything left over will be spent in Bang Bang, a vintage clothes shop in Soho where I can safely say that pretty much all of my clothes are purchased from. Not underwear, that would be weird.
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… Oval House theatre in Oval. They very kindly gave me one of my first breaks in theatre, and the team that run it work incredibly hard providing opportunities for youth in South London.
The Hoxley & Porter on Upper Street
The Hoxley & Porter on Upper Street

One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is… the best espresso martini is made at The Hoxley & Porter in Upper Street.

London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… when bus drivers don’t wave to each other when they pass one another. There is no excuse for this.

I’ll leave London when… I’ve had the perfect day mentioned above, but luckily my non-Manchester United-supporting friends are so entrenched in denial that this could take years.

You can follow Rupert on Twitter at @Rupertx
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Restaurant Review – Patty & Bun, Liverpool Street, EC2M

One of mine and my brother’s favourite stories about our dad is the time he complained about the service in the Tunbridge Wells branch of McDonalds. Patience isn’t the Hedges’ strong suit, and my dad took issue with the fact that he had to queue for “fast” food. I have inherited this trait. Andrew’s most worn-out phrase to me is, “Zos, just chill out” because I am so impatient in that awful muttery under breath kind of way. And you know who else I’ve discovered isn’t patient? City bankers.

More often than not I work in Shoreditch, and sometimes I have cause to go into the City – the Square Mile where apparently all bankers congregate to get bonuses and screw over Iceland (hazy on the details). The cause this week was to pay in a cheque like it was 1995. I don’t like going into the City much because I hate sharing space with bankers or whoever they are (lawyers? other people who still wear suits to work – who are they?!). City-dwellers are, on the whole, consistently incredibly rude and arrogant – constantly ploughing into people on the pavement with a kind of “I’m more important than you” attitude and sighing when shop assistants don’t give them special treatment and bump them up the queue just because they’re wearing a suit from T. M. Lewin. Basically The City is like Berkmageddon and I hate it.

When I was down there yesterday on my lunch break I decided to cheer myself up with a trip to Patty & Bun’s new branch on Liverpool Street. It’s more of a takeaway feel than their site in Fitzrovia, but the menu is the same – burgers and chips. The place pulled me in like it had a tractor beam.

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It’s set up sort of like a rustic version of McDonalds. You go to a counter, order your food and then you’re given a receipt (novel!). If you’re eating in then you can sit at one of the little tables around the sides of the restaurant but if you’re taking out you’re told to go outside and wait by a window for your food to be passed to you. I am not sure what they will do when it’s raining, or have really considered that people might want to wait in the “10-15 minute” wait for their food – I’m sure it’s a stumbling block they’ll overcome.

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As I waited for my food (which took 5 minutes max), a steady stream of suits strode up to the window and demanded to know where their food was. One suit turned to me and I gave him a sympathetic smile and he said “Don’t think they’ve figured this thing out yet, huh!” to me. I just raised my eyebrows (I don’t like talking to strangers – I am not friendly). He had come directly out of the restaurant to the window and complained. What a… banker.

My food arrived in double-quick time. I picked it up from a girl who looked so deeply sad and panicked at the same time – like someone facing the firing line. Who can blame her when dealing with tosspots all day? Anyway, I took my food – in a massive MASSIVE bag – and dashed back to the safety of Shoreditch.

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I went for an Ari Gold, which is a hamburger basically. It was delicious. Medium-rare tasty patty, lots of lovely pickles and a sturdy brioche bun to keep it all together. My desk buddy, Kat, was very annoyed that I had such a delicious lunch. She had Covent Garden soup. Haha.

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The chips were, well, they were chips – neither outstanding nor terrible. They didn’t have enough rosemary on them to really constitute being called “rosemary fries”, but this is a minor quibble.

And as for those impatient bankers? Well, I didn’t have a problem waiting five minutes for my lunch so I don’t see the problem. I can imagine even my dad would wait that long… and he’s a retired banker.

Service: 5
Venue: 3
Value: 3
Overall: 7/10

Patty & Bun, 22/23 Liverpool Street, London EC2M 7PD

Nearest tube: Liverpool Street (30-second walk)
Patty & Bun Liverpool Str. on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Pub Review – The Truscott Arms, Shirland Rd, W9

I don’t really trust west London – I never have. I once worked for the BBC, who at the time were based in White City (aka Shepherd’s Bush – or “SheBu” if you’re a twit/Cressida Bonas). That’s a grim little corner of London best forgot. For me, all of west London is this same uninterrupted sea of grey dual carriageways and enclaves of Aussies talking about TimTams like crack addicts talk about, well, crack. They have the same look in their eyes. I imagine, anyway – I don’t know any crack addicts personally.

I digress. Oh yeah, I hate west London. Sorry – I mean I “don’t trust it”. Anyway, I had cause to go there recently on a fact-finding mission. Specifically I went to St John’s Wood (shh, it IS west London) and Maida Vale. As I clearly don’t know west London from Manley Beach, I asked some Twitter buds about where was good to go – and I was inundated with recommendations, as if all of west London had just been waiting to be asked and I had opened the flood gates.

Most people recommended The Truscott Arms, and one person in particular – Sam – told me about a thing they sold called beef shin chips. Beef – good, chips – good, shin… um, good…? So I went to The Truscott to see what the heck all the hype was about.

I got there alone and had to wait for my companion (because he is always. running. late.) so ordered a nice, healthy (massive) glass of red. I instantly regretted this after Andrew arrived (late) and ordered some kind of macho cocktail called a Lady Truscott. It was bloody yummy and I was jealous.

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We ordered from the bar menu – I went for a wagyu beef burger and the tardy one went for a pulled pork sandwich with a side of beef shin chips. I forwent the extra foie gras topping on the burger because, well, it was lunch and I am not Rockefeller.

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The burger was OK, but the patty was slightly dry and uninspiring. It was meant to be wagyu beef, and while I have no doubt it was, I’m not sure the burger did the beef proud. A cow drank beer and had it’s tummy massaged and all it turned into was a dry burger.

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The best part of it was the onion relish, which was sweet and sour and really sung out among the rest of the slightly insipid burger.

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The beef shin chips on the other hand were sublime. They’re made by slow-cooking beef shin (win), pulling the beef apart and then making it into a terrine (I’m on board), which is then sliced into chunks, coated in polenta (ohhh yeah) and deep-fried (POW!). FEEL THE HEALTH. They were served with a hot, meaty gravy. They pulled apart deliciously and were crunchy on the outside and beautifully succulent on the inside. A marvel. (Sorry for the crappy photo that follows…)

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The pulled pork looked like this. When I asked Andrew how it was, he said “yeah, good”. High praise, indeed.

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When pressed further he gave the startling admission that there was an apple relish inside, which was really good. I had a bite and can confirm it was pretty good – meaty yet light somehow.

The Truscott Arms was a really nice venue – the staff were so friendly and helpful, and the bar was bright and airy. The cocktail list is something that I am still mulling over even now, plotting a time I can sneak back to west London and sample the whole list. It seems The Truscott has changed my philosophy on west London entirely…

Service: 5
Venue: 5
Value: 3
Overall: 8/10

The Truscott Arms, 55 Shirland Rd, London W9 2JD

Nearest tube: Warwick Avenue (10 min walk)

The Truscott Arms on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Restaurant Review – On the Bab, Old Street, EC1V

I have acquired a Korean food expert in my family. She is an expert because she’s Korean. Well, she’s American but her parents are from Korea. I have acquired her because my brother had the good fortune of her agreeing to marry him. The first time I ever had Korean food, my sister-in-law (let’s call her Irene, as that’s her name), Irene’s mum ordered it for about 20 people at a Korean restaurant in LA. It looked like this:

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Korean food in LA is good, but I had no point of comparison apart from Irene’s Mom’s cooking, which is excellent. If, like me pre-2005, you don’t know what Korean food is like it’s a lot of barbecued marinated meats, pickled vegetables, noodles, spicy sauces – that kind of thing.

In recent times, I’ve tried Bibimbap in Soho, which is alright for a quick meal. And then last week I went to On the Bab, a Korean place in Shoreditch that had been recommended to me by the great and good of Twitter. I don’t really feel that optimistic about Korean food in London as it’s not like there’s a booming Korean community here. Not that you need a massive community but it does seem to help, like the amazing Chinese food in San Fran or the Jewish food in New York. ANYWAY, on to On the Bab…

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I went for a takeaway option, ‘cos I gotta work yeah? On the smaller-than-eat-in take out menu they do a range of dishes including bibimbap with bulgogi (a barbecued marinated beef), which I got. It took a pretty long time to arrive, but that means it’s fresh right? As I waited I was asked to go outside with all the other takeout gang. There’s no waiting area and the restaurant is pretty small, so kind of understandable and I was amiable about this because it was sunny. UNLIKE the huddle of ladies at the counter who muttered “Go outside? Us? He can’t mean us! Let’s just stay here,” because apparently they were too good for the pavement unlike me – pavement troll extraordinaire.

I eventually got my plastic bowl and scuttled back to the office. Here’s what it looked like:

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My work buddy Kat looked over in disgust. “What IS that?” she said. “Um, barbecued meat, pickled vegetables, rice and a fried egg,” I replied trying to sound casual and like it was a nice lunch she should be jealous of. “Sounds RANK!” she said, turning back to her screen.

It wasn’t rank, but it wasn’t amazing either. The egg was ok – the runny yolk leaked pleasingly into the disk, the beef wasn’t without flavour but also I can’t really remember it being standout which says something. The rest was just vegetables so really, what skill is there? They were… nicely chopped?

Maybe I went for the wrong thing, maybe I am being a dullard snob, but I should be able to pick the national dish and expect it to be done with some flair. Especially as it cost me £10. It was just lacking… lustre. I think what London needs is a decent Korean restaurant, but I am yet to find it…

Service: 1
Venue: 4
Value: 1
Overall: 4/10

On the Bab, 305 Old Street, EC1V 9LA

Nearest tube: Old Street (5min walk)

On The Bab on Urbanspoon

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CamProf

My London… with Camilla Brown

You know you’ve found a friend for life when you’re running through Vauxhall Station at midnight, both dressed as brides (neither of us were getting married, it might surprise you to learn) shouting “ALAN!” at the tops of your voices. This person to me is Camilla (along with a few other blushing brides). There is NEVER a dull moment with her around, and she has a unique perspective on life (she once tried to compliment one of my friends by telling him, “You’re the exact opposite of Will Smith”). So it’s no surprise to see her go from strength to strength in her career too and become the PR guru she is today. Now running her own agency, I thought she’d know some great London places and she agreed to share some insights into her London. Take it away, Millington…

Name: Camilla Brown
Job: Co-founder of Campbell Brown
Neighbourhood: Technically Oxford but Clerkenwell 4-5 days a week.
CamProf
 
I love London because…
 The underground. I find it fascinating and love how you can be somewhere completely different in minutes. Coming from a small village, this just blows my mind. Oh, and the boozers are ace.

London is at its best when…
It’s summertime and everyone is smiling. You get that buzz around 4pm on a Thursday and you just KNOW that your colleagues are thinking the same thing: pub garden. People are tanned, toned and generally more attractive, which makes the commute SO much better. Also, a bit of al fresco never goes a miss…

My ideal day off in London would be…
Waking up with your man, sun streaming through the curtains, no doubt hungover. We both need bacon and a bloody mary, so we head to our local cafe/bar to do just that.  Once fuelled, we’d head to Borough Market to utilise the free samples and mainline some fizz, before heading back home to get our glad rags on and meet a bunch of friends somewhere East for dinner and more beverages. We’d dance into the night and due to my imagination running wild, we’d end up in a posh hotel and mainline the mini bar until the early hours. As long as it wasn’t a random mid-week day off?

 

Borough Market near London Bridge
Borough Market near London Bridge

I absolutely love this little-known place…
OK it’s not exactly ‘little-known’ but my good friend JJ Goodman owns the London Cocktail Club bars and I absolutely adore them. Best cocktails in London, fact. (You HAVE to try the Bacon & Egg Martini).

The best night I’ve ever had in London was…
My birthday with an ex. My parents very generously got me dinner at The Ritz so we decided to spend the day living like Kings. We dressed up in our finest, ate amazing food, sipped gorgeous champagne and ended the night in the Hoxton Hotel. I like to pretend I’m rich, so it was right up my street.

The Ritz near Green Park
The Ritz near Green Park
My favourite restaurant is…
The Ledbury in Notting Hill. Once a year, my parents and I go for a very special Christmas dinner. I’m working my way through Chris Pople’s list from his blog, and this one was stand out epic.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in…
American Apparel
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is…
I loved Liechtenstein at The Tate. I’m not hugely into art however this really stood out, especially as my client at the time had brewed a beer just for the launch. Not a huge theatre goer, I prefer kooky cinemas like The Prince Charles.

One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is…
How many people think it’s such a big deal to visit. I like that, though. It feels special to live here. I was on the train this morning and a load of middle age women were taking selfies because they were visiting for the day, it made me smile.

London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is…
 Slow walkers. I walk stupidly fast and hate it when people dawdle, or worse, stop abruptly in the middle of the street. I sometimes pretend I’m Yoshi in Mario Kart and slipstreaming by all the tourists just to make things a little more interesting.

I’ll leave London when…
 Well, technically I have actually left. I moved back to Oxford to set up my new PR agency, Campbell Brown. It was only meant to be for a few months however I’ve found the commute absolutely fine, and I feel more in love with London now than I did when I was living here as I get to be a visitor for the day, four days a week. I might come back one day, but I think a 5 year stint has eased the curiosity for now ;)

 

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GUEST POST – The M Factor with Martin [Manners]

You know when you write a poem for someone on Twitter that you’ve found a friend, and this is essentially how Martin and I become friends. I creepily wrote him a poem and he agreed to be my friend. But not just that, he also agreed to be a contributor on the Z Factor writing about all the things that annoy him. So take it away, Martin… Zx

So about me, I’m 31, residing in Manchester and tweet quite often @office_monkey. I followed Zoë through a mutual friend – well, friends – and she’s given me the chance to write about just what gets on my nerves, so without further ado. Here we go!

Commuters

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I encounter these idiots on the train/metrolink every day without fail. I really don’t understand how it can be such a hard task to let people off before you get on the train. It’s common sense and believe it or not, letting people off before you get on will speed things up.

Also, the doors will not open until the train stops. This also seems to be a concept that some cannot cope with, as every single day I see idiots pressing the doors open button and the train/tram hasn’t even stopped. I actually live for the day that it opens and they tumble out – possibly harsh but fair, no?

Another huge annoyance is when commuters will take up a full seat that sits two, or even worse a three. There’s plenty of room for someone else on that seat you selfish swine. Although, I’m not sure what’s worse: the fact that they hog the seat or when they decide to sit next to me they take up pretty much all of my personal space.

Eating on the telephone

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I work in customer service and my biggest annoyance is when I’m talking to someone on the telephone and they are eating at the same time. They make that hideous lip-smacking noise while I’m trying to help them. I fully understand that some people may need to call up when they’re on their dinner (it’s not lunch! [Ed: Err, Martin – you’re wrong here, but continue…]) but please, a bit of decorum and think about the poor sod on the other end of the phone who has to listen to you while you gobble your food like Homer Simpson.

Basic Manners

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If I hold the door open for you then a thank you isn’t too much to ask is it? Manners cost nothing and my biggest bugbear is when someone doesn’t use the words please or thank you. It’s really not tough to say a please or a thank you when someone has done something for you. I have an annoying habit of if someone asks me something without saying please then I’ll say “sorry” until they get the hint and finally say please!

There’s more to come from me, but for now I must say adieu. If you wish to follow me and see my ‘live’ moanings then do follow me @office_monkey.

Betty modelling Betty's Boutique's spotty harness - available for purchase very soon

INTERVIEW – Jo Lewin @ Betty’s Boutique

When you start dating, get together, go steady – however you want to phrase it – with someone, you sort of inherit their family, don’t you? You have a whole new load of people to get drunk on Amaretto on and argue over board games with at Christmas. Luckily for me, I inherited a bloody amazing family when Andrew and I got together. They might be small (trust me, I feel like a giant around them and am contantly banging my head on things at their house, which they fit under easily) but they are mighty.

And this is how I met the subject of this post’s interview – Jo. She’s Andrew’s little sister. Jo set up a dog accessories business a few years ago. I know a lot of dog owners visit The Z Factor, so I thought some of you would like to hear about Jo’s business and her very cute little pug, Betty.

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Hi Jo! Can you tell us a bit about Betty’s boutique – what products do you sell? What’s your style?
Betty’s Boutique was initially a small business selling branded dogwear (collars, leads, harnesses, dog coats) and accessories, such as Puppia, Mutts & Hounds and Danish Dog Designs. However, in 2014, I moved in a new direction and have begun making my own products. Betty’s Boutique offers products to dog owners who wish to show off their dogs’ lifestyle and personality through their dogwear i.e. collars, leads and harnesses. The ranges that I have developed use quite classic fabrics as I am big fan of rustic chic design. I also believe that classic fabrics illustrate the simple beauty of the English countryside – no unnecessary additions – it is just delicate, pretty and simple.
Betty's Boutique's dotty range
Betty’s Boutique’s dotty range
Do you make any of your own products?
We now produce our own range of dog collars, matching leads and harnesses in three different styles – dotty, rustic stripe and retro floral. Collars come in 5 different sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL),  leads come in 2 sizes (M &L) and harnesses come in 3 sizes (XS, S & M). These ranges are slowly expanding. We will also be producing our own range of matching dog coats by winter which is exciting!
Betty's Boutique Turquoise Stripe range
Betty’s Boutique Turquoise Stripe range

Do you have a favourite product? If so, which is it?
My personal favourite product is the dotty harness (see photo below), firstly because it was the first item that I worked hard to produce and therefore took a lot of time and effort to get it right and, secondly, as it is just a simple, pretty material that looks great on our little Betty. It shows off our Country lifestyle with is a ‘pretty, simple and a country chic’ vibe.

Betty modelling Betty's Boutique's spotty harness - available for purchase very soon
Betty modelling Betty’s Boutique’s spotty harness – available for purchase very soon

Why did you set up Betty’s Boutique – did you always want to set up a dogwear company or was it only when you got Betty you thought about it?
I set up Betty’s Boutique as a result of meeting our little puglet, Betty. In April 2012 we met her, only 8 weeks old, and instantly knew that we were meant to be a little family. She had the characteristics that we were looking for – a cheeky, adventurous little soul – a slice of mischief! Through becoming involved in the ‘doggy community’, I was surprised at how many poor quality dog clothes there are in the marketplace. I wanted to find a website which would allow me to buy products which would show off Betty’s little personality but there was nothing quite right. All of the main websites selling doggy clothing were quite generic. So I started Betty’s Boutique. We sourced different brands initially which would allow people to buy products to show off their dog’s personality and lifestyle and, in 2014, I began producing my own range of goods which combined my love of the English countryside and the lifestyle that Betty is part of. The business has now been recognised by the magazine Berkshire Life and we regularly send photos of our dog walks in to show off all our lovely local dog walks.

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What’s the best part of running Betty’s Boutique?
I mainly love the fact that I am constantly coming into contact with people who are bonkers about their dogs – like I am! It’s very comforting to know that there are lots of other people who find their dogs as fascinating as I find Betty. It’s lovely to share each others experiences of doggy behaviour and their personalities.

Where can people buy your products? Are you based in particular shops or online?
The main place to buy to buy Betty’s Boutique products is my website – www.bettysdogwear.co.uk but I will also shortly be selling my products from some local Berkshire boutiques – Pink & Brown in Sunninghill, Ascot, the Groom Room in Windsor and WagsPetBoutique in Eton.

The Orla Kiely range from Betty's Boutique
The Orla Kiely range from Betty’s Boutique

What’s the future for Betty’s Boutique? Will you do clothes for larger dogs or expand into more shops or start doing dog accessories?
My hope and plan for Betty’s Boutique is that firstly, get the production and supply of Betty’s dogwear right. As I only began this thread of the business earlier this year, I want to ensure I can keep my customers and the boutiques happy. Following that, I would like to expand the ranges that we have to offer our customers, including a spring/summer, then autumn/winter range and possibly a bespoke range which would cater for all sizes of dogs.

betty vintage

 

 

Herman ze German bratwurst (with mayo)

Food Review – Herman Ze German, Villiers Street,

It was Friday lunchtime. I didn’t want to leave the warmth of my lofty publishing office to go out for lunch, but I had to. 1. I needed to buy a birthday card for my friend (spec: must have a cat on, must say “happy birthday”. Paperchasiér came up trumps, FYI) and 2. I needed food.

My plight saw me stride down the Strand and I found myself on the ever-claustrophobic Villiers Street. This was my first mistake. No good lunch could come out of a street that always makes me feel a bit ill – it’s a combination of the smell, the damp and the fact sunlight hasn’t touched its pavements in over 200 years.

I went for Herman Ze German – this was my second and most costly mistake. There was a queue to order. “This must be a good sign,” I reassured myself, stepping inside among a horde of German teenager tourists queuing eagerly – hey, when in Rome!

For those not in the know – as I wasn’t, and information is power, guys – Herman Ze German was set up by a photographer and a hairdresser. What could go wrong? This carries all the hallmarks of excellent food. Guys, the hairdresser and photographer-combo toured their German wurst around festivals such as Oxygen Festival Kildare. Such heady heights could only be reached by someone who sold amazing food, right?

When I stepped inside it smelt a bit like a kennel, made worse by the man in front of me having a flatulence problem so bad he should probably seek medical help. Either that or the smell was emanating from the kitchen. I did not solve this mystery. I don’t know which option I would prefer.

The decor was pretty makeshift. Rustic is perhaps what they were going for. Everything had “quirky” signs, where to German-ify them they had put “ze” in front of them. The, sorry, ze drinks cabinet was stocked with what I assume was their own soda. I didn’t select any of them. Tap water felt safer.

Eventually I was served at a McDonalds-style till by a man so softly spoken I had to ask him to repeat everything twice. I annoyed him. But perhaps it was a two-way problem as when I asked for my Bratwurst to be topped with mustard and ketchup he replied “mayo and ketchup, OK”. What? Who has mayo on a hot dog, German or otherwise?! I said, “No, not mayo – MUSTARD!” He waved in my face, so I assume this meant, “I know, I am sorry, I said the wrong thing.” In hindsight what it meant was, “Whatever”.

I waited for my hot dog and with every passing second my feeling of regret and sense of foreboding increased. Everyone in the place was miserable – staff and patrons alike. Only the German teenagers seemed happy, and I imagine that’s because they had managed to throw off their boring English teacher who had been droning on about Christopher Wren for the last 24 hours.

My hot dog arrived already packaged up, but I’d been watching them like a suspicious hawk, and knew that the sausage in my cardboard box had mayo and not mustard on it. I said this to the lady who handed it to me. She offered to cook me another one, but I just wanted to get out of the place so I just asked her to add mustard. I took my hotdog and chips – £7 lighter! – and scuttled back to the office feeling truly ashamed of what I was carrying.

Herman ze German bratwurst (with mayo)
Herman ze German bratwurst (with mayo)

I ate my hot dog at my desk like a mongrel guiltily eating something it had stolen off the kitchen work surface. It was disgusting and I hated myself, but I wasn’t sodding buying another lunch having paid £7 for this hot dog.

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The inside, which I didn’t get a picture of due to my wurst shame, was the colour of cardboard – grey and dry. It tasted like cardboard too. It was the worst lunch of my life. THE WURST LUNCH OF MY LIFE. At least I can laugh, right?

It’s a testament to the stupidity of tourists and myself that in London with all it’s amazing food – from fast food to fine dining – that a place like Herman Ze German continues to exist. At least the tourists have the excuse of not knowing the area. Me? I’ve got no excuse.

Service: 1

Venue: 0

Value: 0

Overall: 0.5/10

19 Villiers Street, WC2N  6NE

Nearest Tube: Charing Cross (1min walk)

Herman ze German on Urbanspoon

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Classic Car Boot Sale

Andrew and I when we were young and had dubious taste in eyewear.
Andrew and I when we were young and had dubious taste in eyewear.

Andrew and I started “going out” (for want of a better phrase) nine years ago last Sunday. It seems bonkers that I was 21 and he was 22 when we got together. Although I feel like I can barely remember a life before him, those nine years have gone fast. Probably because we’ve crammed a lot in.

After dating for five months we decided to go travelling together for eight months. We booked our tickets, packed our backpacks and boarded a plane to Singapore without a second thought. In hindsight, this was a rash decision as we essentially barely knew each other. But in a make/break situation, it made us.

Travelling wasn't all sunsets and hammocks. I almost killed Andrew on a night dive, once. Lesson: don't let me be your dive buddy.
Travelling wasn’t all sunsets and hammocks. I almost killed Andrew on a night dive, once. Lesson: don’t let me be your dive buddy.

Since then we’ve returned home (obviously) and been through various rites of passage such as starting careers, having quarter-life crisises, watched all of our siblings get married (apart from his brother, who is getting married this summer – big up Willophie) seen the births (not literally) of our niece and nephews (who totally consider me “Uncle Furry Face’s” less-entertaining sidekick), moved to London, watched lots of our friends get married, bought a flat together.

Willophie and Zandrew Unite
Willophie and Zandrew Unite

To celebrate the passing of nine years of being together we decided to stuff our chubby little faces, and headed to the Classic Car Boot Sale, which had set up shop on Southbank. It was graced by a beautiful Spring day and I had several food trucks I wanted to visit…

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Yeah, yeah. Cars and loads of vintage tatt. You get the picture. Now for the food…

First stop was to these guys

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Spit and Roast specialise is finger lickin’ chicken that sends KFC right back to where it came from (hell?). They serve rotisserie chicken and buttermilk fried chicken. I went for the latter, with hot sauce and slaw in a bun. CUE PICTURE:

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The chicken was succulent and juicy and fell apart (rather embarrassingly) when I bit into it. The sauce was piquant without dominating the chicken too much and the batter was absolutely to die for. It was a total mess to eat, but I loved every minute and Andrew was extremely jealous.

So he paid a visit to Engine Hotdogs.

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He went for a Beef Richard because, hey, when in New York a carpark in Southwark you need to stay true.

There he is!
There he is!

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The small bite he allowed me was delicious. Those pickles! Ooof. Definitely on-par with Big Apple hotdogs.

We also paid a visit to Zan at Bleecker Burger... I told you we stuff our faces
We also paid a visit to Zan at Bleecker Burger… I told you we stuff our faces

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We got a Bleecker single cheeseburger, which was bloody amazing. Bleecker is totally my favourite food truck in London. And they’re on Southbank every day of the week at the moment by the skate park. GO!

There were loads of food trucks that looked amazing, which we didn’t get to try. But it was a brilliant day out and a lovely way to round off a relaxing and sunny anniversary weekend.

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Top 5… Recipe Books

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I think I fall into a trap a lot of people do when you’re busy and feeling uninspired: I cook a lot of the same meals with semi-regularity. I mean I am a self-confessed foodie, as this blog shows, but I do have a few fall-back meals that I cook over and over because they’re easy and after a hard day at work, plus a commute and maybe a gym session: I just can’t find the energy to whip something new up.

My favourite fall-backs are chicken zorba (a really easy Greek-style meal that I’ll post up here some time), extra spicy fajitas and good ol’ spag bol. But I do plan meals a bit better now thanks to my goal of being more organised in 2014. And I’m really enjoying trying new things and adding them to my repertoire along with the old stalwarts.

And I’m a sucker for a recipe book. I pour over the pages, oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the photography and getting all excited about the new food I’m going to cook.  Quite often I read them late at night, when I have no intention of starting to cook. I just love feeling excited by possibilities. Having said that, I much prefer a functional recipe book to one that’s style over substance. I want the recipe to be clear, the ingredients to not involve getting a rocket to the moon to source some space dust and also written in a friendly yet informative way.

So I thought I’d share my top 5 go-to recipe books at the moment (they’re liable to change as I’m always buying new ones to add to our already-overflowing bookcase)…

1. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

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I wouldn’t be an Islingtonite if I didn’t bow to the foodie might that is Ottolenghi. Israeli-born Yottam Ottolenghi owns a small chain of self-titled restaurants in London, as well as NOPI. His style of cooking is a wonderful fusion of anything that captures his attention, but mainly lies in North African, Lebanese and Italian cuisine. The result is lots of delicious salads, perfectly marinated and cooked meats and veggies done in lots of surprising and delicious ways. His cookbook reflect this, as one would hope, and have lots of Ottolenghi favourites that you can make from home.

2. Hamyln All Colour Cookbook

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This 70s beauty is iconic within my family. For us, it’s one of those recipe books you hear people mention sometimes: it’s got all our the meals of my childhood inside it and just hearing the spine crack as I open my copy takes me back to helping my Mum make brownies when I was little. And I am sure it can’t just be a nostalgic hit for my family (me and my siblings all have our own copies now) – there’s so many delightful and forgotten gems in there. And also the best flapjack recipe there its.

3. Neal’s Yard Healing Foods 

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I bought this book relatively recently, but I already know it’s going to be a much-used and often-turned to book in my library. It has a wonderful section at the front that goes through a lot of different foods (fruit, veggies, pulses, meats etc) and lists why they’re good and healthy for you, what they do to your insides and all that good hippy stuff. The back section is crammed with recipes and even has a day’s menu of meals for targeting particular aliments. Although I am a self-confessed “foodie”, I have to admit that I don’t know enough about nutrition, and it’s something I am really enjoying learning about from this bible.

4. Eat, Cook, Enjoy

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Err, yeah, it’s a Weight Watchers book but WAIT! Bear with me! I only bought this book after my lovely sister-in-law cooked something for me out of it – and she wasn’t on WW either, she just liked the recipes. And most recipes are a winner. So much so, my Mum also bought the book after I cooked her a few meals out of it. My copy has the hallmarks of a well-loved cookbook: split spine (ugh, I know), splashes of food all over it, warped pages from being propped up in a steamy kitchen. Even though I am not on WW and pay no attention to the Points values, the recipes are WINNER. I love the maple chicken traybake and the citrus-crusted salmon. Seriously, none of the recipes I’ve made from it have tasted like “diet food”.

5. Delia’s How To Cook

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This is Delia’s comprehensive guide to, well, how to cook. From boiled eggs, rice, making a white sauce and how you should be cooking fish, this book is surely a fixture in every keen cook’s kitchen. Sure it has the basics of how to make things, and then it gives you recipes where you can apply the skill and maybe take it up a notch to the next level. It has loads of my meal staples in here, but the out and out winner for me is the Toad in the Hole recipe (renamed Huskies in the Drift by Andrew’s Scandinavian side of the family) with caramelised onion gravy. It’s a winner every single Goddamn time.

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RECIPE – Amaretto and chocolate mousse

When we first moved to London we lived in a huge houseshare. People used to say to me, “Do you still live in that crazy house with 15 Australians?” I used to always have stories for people about the pass agg notes, the arguments over what the communal funds were being spent on and we always had incredible houseparties.

 

A handful of people I lived with in the crazy houseshare...
A handful of people I lived with in the crazy houseshare…

There were actually eight of us in total, in a huge Victorian terrace in Highbury, and not everyone was Aussie. I can safely say it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.

I also lived with most of these people...
I also lived with most of these people…

When we lived there – for Andrew and I lived there together and became the reluctant “parents” of the house, until the “kids” became too unruly and we flew the nest –  we couldn’t have friends over for dinner really. Not without either feeling like you were denying six other people use of the dining table, or having to cook for your guests plus whoever was about so they didn’t feel excluded. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault – it was just the situation. If you live in an eight-person houseshare you can’t really live an adult life.

The theme was "Your Worst Fear"
The theme was “Your Worst Fear”
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“Evil People: Fact of Fiction”
Oh God, our poor kitchen...
Oh God, our poor kitchen…

Since we’ve moved to our own place we’ve enjoyed having people over. Gone are the 200-person fancy dress houseparties (much to most people’s disappointment) and here are more intimate gatherings. This doesn’t so much reflect the fact that we’re too old for houseparties, but more the fact our flat is sadly not a five-storey Victorian terrace and also we have new cream carpet that isn’t conducive to people slopping snakebite everywhere.

However, now we can have gatherings without feeling guilty, and I’ve been really enjoying cooking for people and having them over for drinks. And one thing I made recently, which went down a treat with Andrew’s siblings (one of whom is the devil pictured above!) is my chocolate and amaretto mouse. So I thought I’d share the recipe with you…

Chocolate and Amaretto Mouse

Serves 8 | Time: 30mins plus chilling time (1 hr minimum)

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You will need…

6 eggs, separated
200ml double cream
100g caster sugar
2 shots of amaretto
200g dark chocolate (at least 70% dark cocoa solids)

To serve
16 small amaretti biscuits
3 tbsp Nutella spread

How to make…

1. Break the chocolate up and melt in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. You don’t need to watch this happening – just check every now and then that it’s not burning. It should take about 10 mins max.
2. With the egg whites in a very clean and fairly large bowl, whip them until they form stiff peaks. This is to say that when you lift the beaters out of the mix, the mix will have stiff trails that you have left behind. This is what will make the mousse light and fluffy, so make sure you get them eggs nice ‘n’ whipped.
3. In another bowl, mix the egg yolks with the sugar and amaretto so it’s all combined.
4. In yet another bowl, whip the cream until it’s thick but not as thick as the egg whites. Soft peaks it’s called.
5. In whichever bowl in the largest, mix in the egg yolk mixture with the chocolate and the cream, so it’s all combined.
6. Then really gently fold in the egg whites. Take your time with this as you don’t want to knock out the air you just spent all your time getting in there by whisking them so well. Fold until it’s all combined.
7. Spoon into whatever receptacle you liked. I used tea cups, but ramekins would work just as well.
8. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge to chill for at least 1hr.
9. Before serving, use Nutella to sandwich together two ameretti biscuits together, then pop them at the side of the desert. Enjoy!

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Foodie Event – Hawker House

On Valentine’s Day we decided to spurn the cheesy restaurants, champagne and roses and go to Hawker House with our pals.

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Hawker House is run by the Street Feast folks, who run night markets in London that bring together food trucks, booze vendors and the hungry hordes throughout the year.

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As it’s cold right now, they’ve retreated indoors to a warehouse in Bethnal Green. Hawker House was inspired by Singaporean-style night (hawker) markets where people grab what they want from different vendors and then sit on communal, canteen-style benches and eat together.

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I don’t know why our faces are so red… Valentine’s Day-themed selfie?!

It would be hard to ignore the food truck scene that’s exploded in London over the last few years, and the beauty of Hawker House is that it allows you to sample lots of different trucks all in one place. This is ideal for someone like me who wants to try everything. Right. Now.

The vendors at Hawker House change slightly every week, but when we went there was Bleecker St Burger, the Grilling Greek, Roti Chai, Yum Bun, Breddos Tacos, Street Vin, You Doughnut and a few more.

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Having tried Bleecker St Burgers before at #NationalBurgerDay and deciding them to make the best burgers in London, I made a bee-line right away. Zan, who started up Bleecker and was serving at Hawker House when I was there, is totally focused on creating NYC-style burgers. Look, I haven’t been to New York (I know, right?!) so I can’t speak to how they compare to New York burgers… But I have eaten a burger before and mine was amazing. They’re SO meaty and rare and juicy and just, ugh, totally perfect. Zan whipped me up a triple cheeseburger off-menu, which I shared with Andrew. We also had sweet potato fries, which were so crunchy, fluffy, sweet and moorish that it was pretty hare to share them.

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It's McNulty Pup!
It’s McNulty Pup!

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I then went for a Grilling Greek chicken souvlaki. While I was there I caught up with some long-time Twitter friends I’d bumped into. Everyone was so friendly at the event. It was so great to put some faces to some Twitter avatars! Anyway, the souvlaki was OK but I think I’ve been rather spoilt by living in North London close to some of the best Greek and Turkish restaurants in the UK – and my Grilling Greek didn’t totally match up. Noa and Petek, you still have my heart.

After this I took a massive breather, and focused on drinking wine from plastic glasses and chatting to my friends. The rest of the crew indulged in Roti Chai (not amazing, apaz), Breddos Tacos (really good – I was sad I couldn’t fit these in) and Yum Bun (the all-round favourite of the night).

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One last push saw me heading for a sweet treat, and to the You Doughnut stand!

 

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I went for cinnamon sugar doughnuts with warm salted caramel sauce and marshmallows. Ooof, they were ruddy amazing. Fried to order, they were little nuggets of sweet cinnamonny clouds with a delicious warm caramel sauce. I feel a bit jealous of myself right now for having eaten them.

Hawker House was a really fun night. It was a bit cold inside there, so wrap up warm and get there early-ish as the tables fill up.

Hawker House is running every Friday and Saturday evening until the 22nd March. For more information visit Hawker House’s website.

rikke & Elvis

INTERVIEW – Rikke Rosenlund @ BorrowMyDoggy

It doesn’t take long browsing this blog to realise I absolutely love dogs. I am totally obsessed with them. I grew up with dogs as pets, and really think they add an incredible amount of love to owners’ lives.

As you know, I take pictures of dogs when I’m out and about. I also talk to them and stroke them whenever I get a chance (Andrew gets kind of mad when I stroke them!), and often buy homeless people’s dogs treats when I can. I also have quite a lot of dog accessories.

So often people ask me why I don’t have a dog of my own. Trust me, I would love a dog of my own. But my lifestyle would make it completely unfair on the pup. I work long hours and like to go out socialising too, and a dog needs plenty of love, affection, routine and care. So at the moment, I just can’t have one.

But recently a few friends – normally fellow dog lovers – put me on to BorrowMyDoggy. This is where dog owners are matched with dogless people who want to spend time with a dog, so they can take the pup for walkies or even dog-sit when the owner needs an extra pair of hangs.

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I loved the concept and signed up straight away to be a borrower. I’m yet to be matched with my perfect pooch, but live in hope. In the meantime, I’ve been chatting to the lovely Rikke at Borrow My Doggy and she agreed to do an interview for The Z Factor. And here we are.

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Can you briefly explain the concept of BorrowMyDoggy?
Of course! BorrowMyDoggy is a trusted community of dog lovers, where borrowers help take care of dogs when the owners are busy either for walks, playdays, weekends or happy holidays. Our aim is to leave ‘Pawprints of Happiness’ on the lives of dogs and people.
Why did you set up BorrowMyDoggy?
I came up with the concept for BorrowMyDoggy last year when I was looking after my neighbour’s dog for the day. It worked out great for all of us. I spent the day taking care of Aston (a very cute brown labrador), and my neighbour’s mind was at ease knowing that his dog was being watched by someone who really cared for her instead of being stuck at home alone. Aston spent the day in the park having fun, and looking after her made me so happy.
During the day I thought, “There should be a site where dog owners can have their dogs taken care off by people who absolutely adore dogs and miss having a doggy in their life.”
All owners need to be away from their puppies from time to time. There is no need for a doggy to be home alone or for owners to have pay for a dog walker or kennels when there are lots of people who adore dogs but unfortunately can’t have them (due to work, travel etc), who would love to take care of doggy for free. As an added bonus, BorrowMyDoggy allows owners and doggies to get to know more people locally and spread lots of happiness.
IMG_1844LRikke and BorrowMyDoggy co-founder, Les
Who have you found has signed up to BorrowMyDoggy?
We have a huge variety of members in the BorrowMyDoggy community. Our lovely members are everything from families, to students, older/unwell people, singles and everyone in between. I don’t there’s a demographic unaccounted for!
Is the service used for one-off dog walks or are people building long-lasting relationships by repeatedly seeing the same dog?
The way our members use the site is as varied as the type of people we have signed up. Some dog owners require a stable ongoing arrangement, some need help from time to time and some people have signed up their pooch just to make other people happy.
We’ve found that members are building local relationships with both new people and dogs, and they’re making new friends in the process, which is lovely. We have some wonderful examples of neighbours meeting for the first time, despite living beside each other for years, through BorrowMyDoggy.
Is there anything people can do to increase their chances of getting matched?
Owners generally contact borrowers who are close by and available when their pooch needs looking after. This means that how long it takes to hear from an owner depends on whether there are any pups in your area who need walkies and looking after at the times you’re available. We are also finding that owners prefer to get in touch with fully verified borrowers.
We encourage people to stay at the front of the pack by keeping an eye out for new pooches in their area and favouriting any they think they’d be able to help, as this sends their owner a notification of your interest. We also advise borrowers to make sure that they keep their profile up to date with as much info and availability as possible. We have some handy tips on our blog about how best to do this.
If borrowers only have a few hours a week are their chances slim of finding a dog they can build a relationship with?
There are so many different doggies out there with so many different doggy sitting needs so it is completely dependent on the doggies that are signed up in your local area. We have thousands of new members signing up to BorrowMyDoggy every week and hundreds of messages are being sent all over the country every day.
What kind of feedback are you getting?
Since we started, we have received the most wonderful feedback from our community. Our members are making a difference to each others’ lives every day and we love hearing about the happiness that both people and dogs are spreading.
We also receive lots of pawsome feedback and suggestions from our members about what they would like to see on BorrowMyDoggy. We are so appreciative of all the support that we get from our amazing community and we are working as hard as we can to make BorrowMyDoggy as wonderful an experience as it can be.
What’s the future for BorrowMyDoggy?
We are still a young pup of a company and we are keeping our paws busy doing everything we can to continuously launch new and exciting features based on our lovely community’s feedback.
Everything we do is centred around our aim to leave ‘Pawprints of Happiness’ on the lives of people and dogs as we exist to make a positive difference.
If you’re interested in signing up to BorrowMyDoggy, you can find out more information here.
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RECIPE – Perfect lemon, garlic and herb roast chicken

Growing up, my family were obsessed with Sunday lunch. That is to say a roast. Some of my strongest “home” memories is of The Archers being on in the kitchen as my Mum created the most delicious roasts known to man, the windows all steamed up, my two teenage brothers raiding the larder and my Dad outside in the garden doing whatever it is gardeners do… on one of those damp, grey Sundays that seem to be a permanent fixture in autumn.

My Mum makes the best roasts. People other than me have said this. And no, I don’t mean my Dad. As I grew up I enjoyed helping her out in the kitchen here and there – she’s really where my love of cooking stems from. So over the years she has shared some tips and tricks with me, which is sometime in time – if I’m lucky – I hope to pass on to my children.

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The other day I made Andrew and I roast chicken. I find this an excellent economical choice for a Sunday meal – leftover roast chicken is surely one of the perks of Mondays? Indeed, the leftover meat is perfect for packed lunch sandwiches, stir fries, curries or even making some kind of special fried rice for the Monday evening. I often end up getting not just one delicious meal out of my chicken, but maybe two or three more.

So, without further ado, here is how I make my standard roast chicken, which is stuffed with lemon, garlic and herbs. It’s super easy.

Perfect lemon, garlic and herb roast chicken

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You will need:

For the chicken
1 medium-sized chicken. If your budget stretches, go for free-range. Happy meat tastes better!
3 carrots
1 brown onion
2 sticks of celery
1 lemon
2 cloves of garlic
1 large knob of slightly salted butter at room temp
A handful of woody herbs – I used rosemary and thyme

For the gravy
1-2 tbsp plain flour
250ml of good-quality chicken stock
1 large glass of white wine

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Method

Roast chicken…

1. Wash the celery and carrots under cold running water, then chop them into chunks – 5cm lengths is perfect. Pop them in the bottom of a large roasting tray.
2. Peel your onion and then slice from top to bottom through the middle. Cut into chunky wedges. Pop this into your roasting tray and mix with the celery and carrots. You’re going to use the veg as the trivet to keep the chicken off the bottom of the roasting tray, so that’s why you want to make it chunky. They will also help make your gravy corking.
3. Take the chicken out of the packet, but before you throw it away reading the cooking instructions. It tends to calculate as 45mins per kg (so look at the weight of the bird, which will be printed on the packaging) plus 20mins. So for a 1kg bird you’d cook it for 65mins.
4. Some people wash their chicken under running water. I don’t bother and I haven’t died yet. Pop your chicken on a clean chopping board.
5. In a small bowl, zest your lemon. You can do this with a zester, or by using a regular vegetable peeler and then chopping the peel up into thin strips. Then add your garlic cloves (crushed) and some chopped up herbs. Add the butter and use the back of a fork to mash all this up, so it’s combined.
6. Back to the chicken. Use one finger to gently poke a pocket between the skin and the breast meat. You just want to create a gap there so you can stuff in the buttery mixture between the skin and the meat. It sounds ickier and harder than it is. Be brave.
7. Chop the lemon into quarters and then push it into the cavity. Pop the chicken onto the veg in the roasting tray and cover with tin foil. Put the whole lot in the middle of a 190C oven. Check it at regular intervals, and use a spoon to scoop up any liquid in the pan and pour it over the chicken to keep it moist. About 20 mins before it’s due to come out, take the tin foil off to crisp up the skin.

For the gravy
1. Once the chicken is out, take it out of the roasting tin and pop on a warmed plate. Cover it in tin foil and then cover that with a clean tea towel and leave it to rest.
2. Put the roasting tray with the veg on the hob and turn the heat on. Sprinkle over the plain flour and then mix it with the veg until it creates a paste.
3. After you’ve made the paste (this is actually called a roux, factfans), slowly add the stock bit by bit, stirring the veg and roux until the liquid is absorbed. Gradually the paste with loosen until it turns into fairly thick gravy. Splash in the wine and leave to warm for a while – the alcohol will steam off fairly quickly, but it will make a nice, sharp-flavoured gravy that goes well with the lemons.
4. At this point I strain off the veg, leaving a few onion bits in there as Andrew likes those. But you can leave the veg in if you like – they’re completely cooked, but this does make for a rather “unrefined” and chunky gravy.

 

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Restaurant Review – Banh mi 11, Great Eastern Street, EC2A

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A market in Vietnam

When I was 22 I went travelling around the world and was lucky enough to spend four months in Asia. What I wasn’t ready for when I got to Asia was the culture shock. I got incredibly homesick at times for people but also things. I was a typical western brat who missed the familiarity of things I knew. Everything in Asia seemed so alien.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a great time, but by the time we reached Vietnam, three months into our tour, we were craving a taste of home. And boy were we excited when we discovered banh mi. Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich – a sandwich! I hadn’t had one in three months! – and it came in a French baguette-style loaf – again, bread! Amazing! Banh Mi is sold from lots of little stalls and carts on the road in Vietnam, along with the other Vietnamese favourite, pho.

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Pho being made and eaten on the curbside in Hanoi.

So anyway, banh mi is more to me than a sandwich – it brings back to me all these lovely feelings of comfort while away from home, when I was feeling a bit scared and afraid (I know, I was a wimp!).

So recently I went to sample on of Great Eastern Street’s many banh mai offerings at Banh Mi 11. Accompanying me was the lovely Abby (Wanderlust & Bake). image (7)

There was a queue out of the door – both a good and bad sign – but it was moving steadily. Amazingly this place is just around the corner from one of my clients’ office, but I’d never heard of it before. And I was missing a gem!

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There was a lot to tempt me, not least the yummy looking summer rolls. But I kept focused and went for a pork belly banh mi, which came with crackling and lots of yummy Vietnamese-style pickles and herbs.

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The bread was lovely and fresh – the outside crust was crunchy but yielded under a bit, just like the ones from my memories of lunches in Vietnam. Inside the pork belly was soft and sweet with a generous portion of headily savoury crackling. The pickles and herbs gave it that lovely fresh and sweet kick that is so much part of Vietnamese food.

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And all for under a £5. It was brilliant and I will certainly be going back. Wonderfully, Banhmi11 do take out for those who need lunch in a hurry.

Service: 4

Venue: 3

Value: 5

Overall: 8/10

Banh Mi 11, 101 Great Eastern Street, London EC2A 3JD

Nearest tube: Old Street (5min walk)
Banhmi11 on Urbanspoon

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Top 5… Anti-Love Films for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day draws apace like the consumerist behemoth that it is. And although I am in a happy relationship, I can honestly say: fuck that shit.

If you’re not in a relationship, V-Day (as it is rather disgustingly referred to as by those who don’t know any better) is all up in your grill making it seem like everyone else has their lives together and are in these smug, happy relationships and you’re the only one, alone with cold soup for dinner, watching Roy Cropper have an existential crisis. I know this isn’t actually what single life is like, but this is what Valentine’s Day tries to make single life seem like.

If you are in a relationship, Valentine’s Day is a guilt trip riddled with meaningless sentiment that you could do without. I am all in favour of people being in loved and proclaiming it so (as long as it’s not a. vomit-inducing or b. on Facebook – let’s keep these proclamations to weddings and birthdays, yo). I don’t want to be guilt tripped into telling my boyfriend I love him. And I certainly don’t want to do it over a three-course set menu in an average restaurant while at the same time swapping cards adorned with grey teddy bears with blue noses. It’s so unimaginative and generic, which to me is the antithesis of what love is. But if you’re not doing anything and someone annoyingly trills at you, “Sooo, what’re your plans for Valentine’s Day?” and you say you’re not doing anything  you’re met with a sympathetic look that says, “Your relationship is over”. What’s wrong with a bit of ruddy spontaneity and declaring your love as and when you see fit? I know the answer: nothing.

I don’t want it. I don’t want any part of it. Get out of my God damned face, Valentine’s Day.

So, with my thoughts on that covered off, I’ve compiled a list of films that are anti rom-coms. Sure, they’re about love but they’re realistic and will remind you relationships aren’t all flowers and love hearts. And Ashton Kutcher doesn’t start in a single one of them. So if you’re looking for something to do this Valentine’s Day and don’t fancy all the consumerist BS, I suggest you give one of these a go…

1. Closer

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Perhaps one of the most depressing takes on love in modern cinema, Closer sees a cast of four systematically break each other’s hearts and become embroiled in bitter tit-for-tat mind games. Starring Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Jude Law and Julia Roberts, it is perfectly acted and is at times funny, sad and romantic. Andrew and I went to see this at the cinema on our first date – it was like a warning. Luckily I have not had cause to don a pink wig or emigrate… yet.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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I think the vast majority of us have gone through a phase of wanting to delete the memory of someone from their brain; to erase the hurt or the constant over-thinking. This film explores what would happen if you could do that, with a bitter-sweet outcome. Joel (Jim Carey – but don’t hate the film for that) decides to wipe his ex (Kate Winslet) from his memory, but changes his mind mid-wipe and then tries to remember her as much as he can. Quite sweet, really.

3. 500 Days of Summer

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Bit of a divider of opinion, this film. It’s also toe-curlingly twee. Zooey Deschanel plays Jess Day a kooky lady who gets falled in love with (that’s a term) by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Funny, sweet and ultimately ending in heartbreak, this film makes you never want to fall in love. And might also make you want to kick Deschanel’s head off (and steal her hair to wear as wig. Creepy?!).

4. Brokeback Mountain

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They’re macho cowboys who are totally in love with each other, but can’t be together. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking, and food for though: even if you are eating your cold soup with Coronation Street, at least you’re not one of these guys.

5. American Beauty

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Kevin Spacey makes everything better, every single time – even when you don’t need things to be better. He’s like a brilliant, exciting Uncle who is fun to be around but ultimately makes you feel safe. Or is that just me? Anyway, Spacey plays a doomed suburban Dad who becomes infatuated with his daughter’s bestie, meanwhile the kid who lives next door isn’t having a laugh riot either.

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Restaurant Review – Honest Burger, Camden Lock Place, NW1

I met one of my closest friends, Josie, nearly 15 years ago – gulp! – when first started Sixth Form. We had our “frees” together, and spent most of them in the sixth form common room talking about boys and whether we should go to the local shop on a snack run or not.

Jos and I, circa 2005
Jos and I, circa 2005

Fifteen years, countless nights out and a few “boys” later and here we are. Josie is married to the lovely Ash and they’re off to live in America. Although excited for them, I am sad to be saying goodbye to Jos – even if we both know we’ll always be close. So I’m trying to cram in as many meet-ups with her as I can at the moment! When Ash suggested Andrew and I go and see Scroobius Pip with them I was all over it.

So this Monday we headed to Camden, stopping off for a meal first… We decided on Honest Burgers, as going to burger joints has become our go-to choice recently.

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Honest Burger is pretty no-frills, with burgers and fries served in large enamel bowls and the venue having bar-style seating around the edge of the open kitchen. Oh, and the wine is served in tumblers (see above).

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However, what you get for this no-frills venue is reasonably priced and very decent food. I went for the special, which came with red onion rings and pickled green chillies. At £11, it also came with a generous portion of the house signature salt and rosemary fries, which were perfect – crispy, fat and fluffy. The burger itself was delicious, too.

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The patty was hella juicy and perfectly pink, and the other fillings gave the burger a lovely sweet, salty and then spicy undertone. The bun was also perfect – mopping up the massive amount of juice and staying light and fluffy, holding together the burger to the last bite.

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This is the “Honest”, which is red onion relish, beef patty, smoked bacon, mature cheddar, pickled cucumber and lettuce. I was allowed a small bite and can confirm it was spanking good, too.

As for the gig – it was brilliant, with an added surprise of seeing Andrew’s brother and his best mate there. A good night was had and added to the 15 years of brilliant memories I have of Josie and mine’s friendship – here’s to many more.

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Service: 4

Venue: 3

Value: 5

Overall: 8/10

Honest Burger, Unit 34A, 54-56 Camden Lock Pl, NW1 8AF (There are branches throughout London – see the website for more details)

Nearest Tube: Camden Town (13min walk)
Honest Burgers on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Restaurant Review – Otto’s Restaurant, Gray’s Inn Road, WC1X

My parents have been a great lesson in how to maintain a relationship. They’ve been happily married for over 41 years, and with the advent of SatNav now barely ever have a cross word. I find it incredible that they still can make each other laugh, can genuinely surprise one another and that they get such pleasure out of being in each other’s company. I know it’s rare to have a love like they do, and it’s made me determined in my relationships to not settle while also realising relationships need a certain amount of effort, compromise and patience. And if you’re very, very lucky – then relationships just might last like my parents’ has.

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My Dad and Mum, living it up in the 80s.

And they are still kind to each other, still want to go out of their way for each other. So when my Mum’s birthday came around my Dad booked to take her to one of their favourite restaurants – Otto’s. For some reason, apparently because they like our company, my parents also invited Andrew and I. We snatched their hands off…

Otto’s is a traditional and classic French restaurant in the midst of Bloomsbury, Holborn and Russell Square. Modest in its facade, with curtained windows, you’d easily miss it on the often grey and bleak Gray’s Inn Road. However, step inside and it’s like being whisked to an upmarket bistro in Paris.

Rich, ox blood red banquettes line the walls as French waiters and waitresses bustle, providing much theatre by carving huge sides of smoked salmon and mixing steak tartare at the table side. You’re welcomed in and sat with a drink in front of you before you really have time to consider much.

The restaurant’s speciality is canard a la presse, which is whole rare roast duck prepared and served at the table in quite an elaborate way. We didn’t go for this, as you need to order in advance. However, the rest of the menu has many exciting options.

For starter, I went for a light option of saumon fumé coupé à la minute with traditional garnishes. A whole side of smoked salmon was brought to our table and lovingly sliced into wafer thin cuts, then whisked away again. I was brought various garnishes to complement my salmon, and I went for soured cream, shallots and capers. The salmon was absolutely delicious – soft, fresh and beautifully smokey.

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We also went for terrine de Foie Gras marbrée aux figues, gelée au verjus with crème de dattes. This is basically fois gras terrine with figs, grape jus and dates.

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Brique de brochet aux ecrevisses, etuvée de fenouil aux algues (shelled fresh crayfish on pike mousse with crayfish bisque, steamed fennel and seaweed).

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And a scallop carpaccio with a rocket salad, grilled hazelnuts, beetroot petals and a parmesan marshmallow.

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For main course, I indulged in Tournedos Rossini, which is beef fillet topped with foie gras. It also came with a rich truffle sauce and potato mousseline. It was probably the best steak I’ve ever had, and I make somewhat a study of eating steak. It was also incredibly rich thanks to the pate and truffles – but so, so delicious.

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We also had…

Pan-roasted hen pheasant breast, onion and Port wine simmered leg with girolle mushrooms:

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And roast fillet of wild boar, a gingerbread crust, baked pear and celery mousseline with a grand veneur sauce:

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After all this we were absolutely stuffed, and couldn’t really manage space for pudding. We left full and content, with memories of a lovely evening. With starters north of £10 and mains averaging about £25, this isn’t really a place I’d normally visit. The regulars seemed to be solicitor/law types who have finished work and need to wine and dine clients – not my normal scene AT ALL, but great people watching for a change.

Service: 5

Venue: 3

Value: 4

Overall: 8.5/10

182 Gray’s Inn Road, WC1X 8EW

Nearest Tube: Russell Square (15min walk), Holborn (15min walk)

 

Otto's on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Dog Spot – FCC train from Finsbury Park to Moorgate

Oh hiya pup lovers! It’s been bloody ages since I’ve posted a dog spot, hasn’t it? This is mainly because I am REALLY slow to get my phone out and take pictures of dogs, and by the time I have they’ve walked off. Bums.

But today I saw a really love chap on the train and had ample time to photograph him (still a crappy photo though…) as I was lucky enough to stand next to him.

He was very obedient, and was happily giving everyone a subtle and gentle sniff as they boarded and disembarked the train at various stops.

I’m not sure what bred he was, but suspect he is probably a mix. He looked like a collie, but had the dimensions of a sausage dog – intriguing and very cute!

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RECIPE – Buttermilk pancakes with caramelised apple, pecan and maple syrup sauce

At the moment, one of my favourite things to do at the weekend – after a long lie-in, of course – is make a lazy brunch. After rushing around in the morning every week day (early starts aren’t my talent in this life), it feels like a real treat to shuffle around the kitchen, rustling up something more decadent than bran flakes. I think it makes the perfect start to a weekend day.

In the run up to Christmas, my lazy weekends seemed to get jam-packed with weddings, present-buying missions and birthdays. Lazy brunches were out of the window in favour of manically trying to wrap presents while directing Andrew in where to put up pictures in our new flat. It was hectic and I felt strung out. I missed our lazy lie-ins and brunches.

As part of my aims for 2014, I’m trying to not let my schedule get so out of control. And this has meant I have been able to get back some time for brunchtime pottering. To celebrate I made buttermilk pancakes, which were so crazily light and fluffy I just had to share them with you. They are quite a lot of faff, but well worth it.

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Buttermilk pancakes with caramelised apple, pecan and maple syrup sauce

Serves 4 | 50 mins

Ingredients

For sauce

– 3 eating apples
– 25g butter
– 85g pecans, cut in half lengthways
– 175ml maple syrup

For pancakes

– 100g plain flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
– 1 tbsp golden caster sugar
– 2 large eggs, separated
– 284ml buttermilk (if you can’t find buttermilk, plain natural yogurt with a squeeze of lemon juice in will do)
– 25g butter, melted

How to make these chaps:

1. Peel, core and cut the apples into quarters. Now slice the quarters into four (that’s eighths, if you please).
2. Pop the butter in a large frying pan and heat until melted. Tip in your apple slices and fry them until they start going golden (or slightly black if you leave Andrew in charge). Don’t let them get to the stage where they get crumbly and broken down. You want them to hold their shape. Stir in the pecans and maple syrup and let it heat through and combine. Remove this frying pan from the direct heat, but keep the apple mixture warm (put foil over it, essentially).
3. Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarb into a large bowl.
4. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. They will look white and glossy, and when you lift the whisk out of the eggs they’ll retain a stiff peak in the surface.
5. In yet another bowl, mix the yolks, butter and buttermilk together. Then tip this into the bowl with the flour in and mix until combine.
6. Gently add the egg whites to the mixture, folding in slowly until it’s all combined and you have a nice airy batter. Go slow – you don’t want to knock out the air, this is what gives the pancakes their fluffiness.
7. Heat a large frying pan and melt some butter in the pan – just a bit. Then drop puddles of batter into the pan using a large spoon. Wait until the puddles loose their glossy look and bubbles start to form in the top, then get a spatula or whatevs and flip them over. This can be messy, but do NOT panic. They will taste the same (so long as you don’t burn them) and will look nicely homemade. Or that’s what I told myself.
8. Remove pancakes from pan after a minute or so after you’ve flipped them. Create a stack of them on a plate, then spoon over some of that apple mixture you made.

Adapted from BBC Good Food

 

 

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Restaurant Review – Salvation Jane, Oliver’s Yard, EC1Y

My lovely friend, Lucy, is returning to her homeland of New Zealand. I am Very Sad about this, for selfish reasons revolving around the fact that I like her and don’t want to not be able to see her on a bi-weekly basis.

The upside of her getting ready to leave is that she’s finished work and is footloose and fancy free, so she has been meeting me for lunch. We have made Salvation Jane our lunchtime hangout. It’s very close to my work and serves lovely food. That’s pretty much our criteria met!

SJ, as none of the cool kids are calling it, is the little sister of the brilliant Aussie cafe, Lantana. It was set up by an Aussie and very much celebrates the Aussie love of decent brunches and amazing coffee, as well as a friendly, informal atmosphere.

The lunch menu at Salvation Jane is quite brunchy, with antipodean-style corn fritters stacked with streaky bacon, fresh spinach and slow roast tomatoes served with a avocado chilli lime salsa and crème fraiche a sure-fire favourite.

Luce and I always go for their tart of the day with two side salads. They’re ever-changing and always bright, innovative and full of healthy flavour.

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This was some kind of pesto and tomato tart, I think. It came with a potato salad with lots of fresh greens mixed in, and a giant-cous cous salad with roasted root veg. It was as delicious as it looks.

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This tart is some foxy courgette number, served with a red cabbage salad and a butternut squash salad.

I’ve also had those pancakes, and they were a winner.

So not only now will I desperately miss Lucy when she goes home, but I will miss an excuse to pop to Salvation Jane for lunch every week. Luce: DON’T GO! Me ‘n’ the tarts need you!

Service: 2 (they always bring us something we didn’t order and then always add it to the bill!)

Venue: 4

Value: 4

Overall: 7.5/10

Unit 2, 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Rd  EC1Y 1HQ

Nearest Tube: Old Street (30 second walk)

 

Salvation Jane on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Food Review – Glazed & Confused doughnuts

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Clockwise from pink doughnut: raspberry and chocolate, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate, lemon drizzle, lemon curd, rhubarb

We’re on deadline at work at the moment. It’s a pretty stressful time in the office when the quarterly magazine I co-edit starts going through the final stages. There’s a lot of diplomacy, patience and accuracy needed. What’s also needed is a heady sugar hit, and yesterday my office was treated to doughnuts from Glazed & Confused.

They absolutely hit the spot. I went for a cheeky raspberry and chocolate number. I was assured by the nice G&C people that there are no artificial colourings in the glazes – just lots of fruit to give it it’s gem-like pink hue.

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It was delicious, and not too sweet. The doughnut was quite cake like, but the glazed complimented it perfectly. It was a ring doughnut though, and I prefer filled doughnuts, so um, I shared another doughnut with a sub-editor here. Ooops.

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We shared a lemon curd doughnut, which was bloody marvellous. Really nice sharp, citrusy tang from the generous curd filling. image (1)

All the doughnuts received good reviews from our office and were gobbled up with enthusiasm.

Glazed & Confused supply doughnuts for events, and various cafes and restaurants around the capital. You can tweet them at @GlazedLondon for more info.

Glazed & Confused sent me complimentary doughnuts, but free baked goods by no means guarantees a favourable review! 

 

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers

Top 5… Aims for 2014

So 2014 is in full swing now, and I’ve got some plans for it. I thought writing them down here and sharing them with the whole wide internet would make me more accountable when sticking to them. Here goes…

1. Be less busy

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At the end of last year I got in a bit of a state. I had made arrangements to do something every day and every night for about three weeks. At the end of it, I was a wreck. After a stern word from my mother and Andrew, I realised I try to cram too many things into my schedule because I’m the kind of person who wants to do everything. The result is I end up strung out and emosh. But not in 2014. I plan to block out several weekend days a month where I do nothing, and spend more time at home in the evenings after work too. So far I’ve stuck to it and I feel much more on top of things, organised and think that when I do see people I am less frantic/stressed/tired, so they get a better version of me. Win/win.

2. Travel

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I know, this is pretty standard, but I really want to travel a bit more. Not necessarily great long trips (although that would be nice, too!), but weekend trips, little jaunts – that kind of thing. So far I have penciled in a trip to the south of France to go wild swimming, and I think my whole family – there are 12 of us now! – are going on a summer holiday to Italy. I’d also like to visit Budapest, and my dream would be to go to Costa Rica, but that’s not going to happen in 2014 I don’t think. Boo.

3. Worry less

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I am a big worrier. It’s very annoying for everyone. One of the things Andrew says to me most is, “Zos, just chill out!” (which is kind of annoying – I don’t want to worry!). But I think there are a couple of things I worry about more than I should, so I am going to focus on not worrying about them. They’re not even important things, and not worth my energy.

4. Focus on my career

I had a pretty good year work-wise last year, and the most enjoyable in my career. However, instead of sitting back and letting things happen, I’m going to go out and grab opportunities. I love what I do now, and I want to build on my achievements from last year. So far in 2014, this is going well. However, I need to finish making my ~professional website~.

5. Be more organised

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I am pretty organised anyway, but it makes me feel much more relaxed if I have things planned a little. This is mostly Andrew and mine’s schedule, which sometimes is a little hectic (see above!) and jumbled. And also we’re terrible at planning meals and often end up grabbing things that are bad for us at our Sainsbury’s Local. With this in mind, we have set up a corner of our kitchen for organising our lives (see picture above). We’ll see how long this lasts before it descends into drawing immature pictures…!

I have lots more plans for 2014, but these are the little ones I am happy to share for now.

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Top 5… New Restaurant Openings in Early 2014

So 2014 has got off to a great start (ignoring the fact our roof has a leak and my train has been late every day this week). I’m not drinking in January, and people are actually sponsoring me to do this. And there’s lots to look forward to in 2014, including lots of lovely, new restaurants opening in London for me, you and the rest of London to try out.

I thought I’d compile a list of the five places I am most looking forward to visiting (in no particular order of preference) in early 2014…

1. Q Grill, Chalk Farm Road, Camden

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Q Grill will be offering a London slant on the now-ubiquitous-in-the-London-scene American barbecue restaurant. From the team behind Islington’s Fish and Chip Shop, Q Grill will see chef Phil Eagle from Hix fame serving up a range of “raw, charred and smoked favourites” including moonshine-battered shrimp, queen scallop ceviche and pecan wood-roasted chicken. There will also be a strong line in cocktails, with American spirits playing front and centre roles. With a 150-cover capacity, Q Grill is going to be a big player in 2014. Opens January 25th, 33 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AJ

2. The Big Easy, Maiden Lane, Covent Garden

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The Big Easy “Bar.B.Q and Crabshack” already has an outpost on the King’s Road, but February 2014 will see them opening a second branch in the heart of Covent Garden. Similarly to the aforementioned Q Grill, The Big Easy will be serving up a range of American-style barbecue dishes. Their signature dishes in Chelsea include canadian lobster; fresh crab and shrimp; a  classic chophouse burger; and surf and turf. With a huge following out west, The Big Easy is sure to be a huge hit in central London too. If you sign up on their website (link above) then you can receive more info and get an invite to their 50 per cent off soft launch. Opens February 2014, 12 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, WC2E 7NA

3. Brooklyn Bowl London, O2 Arena

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Slightly more than “just” a restaurant, Brooklyn Bowl, the acclaimed NYC nightlife destination hailed by Rolling Stone as “one of the most incredible places on earth,” is opening its first branch this side of the pond. The venue will be in The O2 (stay with me on this, guys!) and will be a medium-sized concert venue with 12 lanes of bowling (some of which you can hire in a private area, if you hunger for more clandestine bowling…). Food will come from the Bromberg Bros. team and will include oyster po’ bos, cajun catfish, egg shooters and fried chicken. Beerheads will be kept happy with beers from the local Meantime Brewing Company. Opens January 16th, O2 Arena, Peninsula Square, SE10 0DX.

4. Oslo, Hackney Central

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Enough American-style cuisine! All things Nordic are set to be a big blimmin’ deal for 2014, so this opening in the old Hackney Central train station is coming just at the right time. Oslo will be an all-day eatery that turns into a live music venue in the evening, with a late license ’til 3am. Alright then! Food-wise, head chef Dave Ahern will be fronting a menu that takes on strong Nordic influences. Expect pickling, smoking, curing… and I hope some kind of mushroom sauces, lingonberry… meatballs? Come on Dave, be a pal. As a massive fan of Scandinavian culture, I am very excited about this opening. Oslo opens on January 17th, 1a Amhurst Road, Hackney, E8 1LL.

5. Polpetto, Soho

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Fresh off the back of various successful 2013 openings, including Ape & Bird, the Polpo team are opening – or should that be re-opening – Polpetto on Berwick Street, Soho. Having been hugely over-subscribed for when it was first open, the new venue will seat many more people craving it’s Italian food. The same head chef, Florence Knight, from its previous incarnation, is on board at new Polpetto so expect much more of the same: delicious Italian sharing-y food, but with the added bonus of actually being able to score a reservation. Opens January 2014, 11 Berwick Street, W1F 0PL.

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Crafty How To – Make a Bath Tea Bag

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Every year I make the ladies in my life something homemade for Christmas. This has seen me making caramel-filled truffles, a world of chutney and industrial amounts (well, not quite!) of sugar body butter scrub.

Nearly every time I take on my Christmas project I have an near-on emotional break down, get fed up half way through and wish I hadn’t started the project. But it’s always worth it when my friends and family open their homemade gifts and – at least to my face – seem to truly love them.

This year I decided to make bath tea bags. These are like tea bags, but you put them in the bath and they infuse the water with lovely scents and some goodness too. All the recipients had to do was run a bath, chuck one in and then relax in their own little spa.

I got a recipe from a website and then sort of made it up. I knew I wanted them to be lavender-based, mostly because I find it headily relaxing and hoped they would too. And I also wanted them to be nourishing and help muscles relax, so they did some good instead of just smelling fancy.

This resulted in me putting in rolled porridge oats and Epsom salts. The oats make the water soft and moisturise the skin while Epsom salts are great for aching muscles as they draw toxins from the body.

This is what I ended up putting in, in full:

4 parts dried lavender

1 part dried hibscus (I would leave this out if doing it again, as I don’t think it added much)

2 parts rolled oats

2 parts epsom salts

1 part lavender essential oil

I bought sealable tea bags from Soap Posh, where you can also get a range of dried flowers and Epsom salts.

How to:

1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Fill bags about half to 3/4 full.

3. Iron the bags shut, if you’re using the kind I did. Otherwise you can sew them shut or you can get draw string ones too, which is pretty self-explanatory.

4. Parcel up and gift to those you love.

I popped about 3 tea bags into lovely paper bags, which I bought from a seller on Not on the High Street, but you can pack them up however you want. I also included a list in each paper bag of what was in the tea bags and how to use.

So far the feedback I’ve had is good on the teabags, but no one is going to be rude are they?! However, I have used them myself as I made more than I needed and they are really lovely. I like squishing them in the water so all the oaty moisturising goodness some out.

Oh, and if you squeeze them out then leave them to dry then you can use them two or three times more.

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Restaurant Review – Pizza East, Shoreditch High Street, E1

Pizza East has been kicking around for a while, so I am not really sure why it’s only now I’ve paid it a visit. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I got myself down there eventually as I really enjoyed my food there.

Pizza East is mostly a pizza place that does a few other dishes. They are focused around rustic simplicity and sourcing good ingredients… but who isn’t these days? I know that’s my life’s manifesto. So far I am very simple and fairly rustic…

Corporate doublespeak aside, Pizza East is a decent, reasonably priced restaurant chain with branches in Shoreditch, Kentish Town and Portobello. I visited the Shoreditch High Street one.

We were greeted – and I use that word lightly – but hipster hosts who kind of ignored us/served us/chatted among themselves while they allocated tables. Most of the tables in the place were empty, but they still insisted on sitting everyone at the huge communal tables. Fascinating policy. Whatever though, I don’t care very much apart from the fact Andrew’s elbow was lodged in my rib for much of the night as we were so tightly packed.

I’ll move on from the service in just a sec, but first let me tell you a thing that happened…

Waitress: Do you want to order some drinks?

Andrew: Oh, we’re actually just waiting for our friend who… [he was going to say, “is just hanging up his coat”]

Waitress: I CAN SEE THAT! What do you want to drink?

[We all order our drinks, feeling told off but also trying not to giggle at being told off]

Anyway, on with the food…

We got some starter bits to share, which were San Daniele and puzzone croquettes; burrata, fig and honeycomb bruschetta; fritto misto and a platter of speck ham.

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The bruschetta was totally delicious – sweet and light and creamy. I totally love a fig and cheese combo anyway, but this was simply dreamy.

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“There’s no way to make those look good, Zoe, I don’t know why you’re bothering!” said one of my dining companions. He was right. Anyway, these were really tasty too – full of rich béchamel sauce that oozed out studded with ham. Definitely could only manage a few at best.

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Who doesn’t love cured ham? Crazy folk. This was wafer thin and salty-ly good.

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That looks like a massive slice of lemon, doesn’t it? Anyway, the fritto misto was probably my favourite starter. It was light and delicious, with a good range of seafood from prawns to squid and whitebait. The tartare was a let down as it was really mayonnaise – totally not enough capers it in.

For main course, feeling stuffed, I plumped for the most rich dish I could find: veal meatballs, prosciutto and cream pizza. Andrew went for a prosciutto cotto, tomato, mozzarella and artichoke pizza, so we went halvies on each and created this beast:

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God, it’s like Frankenstein’s monster. Anyway, it was delicious. The veal meatball pizza was INCREDIBLY rich but absolutely delicious – really meaty. However, it had truck loads of oil oozing from the meatballs which made it slightly too… well, oily.

Andrew’s side was much lighter – and between you and I, a much more sensible option given that we’d eaten starters – and had truck loads of delicious ham on it.

The service left a lot to be desired at Pizza East, but the food was good. I would go back, if not in a tearing hurry.

Service: 0

Venue: 3

Value: 4

Overall: 6/10

56 Shoreditch High St, London, E1 6JJ

Nearest Tube: Old Street (10 min walk) – Shoreditch High St overground is right next door, though.

Pizza East on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Late 2013 Round-Up

I owe you an apology. Yeah, you. I know you’ve been anxiously refreshing The Z Factor, hoping for a new post. And I’ve let you down. I’ve also let myself down. The run up to Christmas and then Christmas itself was really busy, and I neglected write blog posts in favour of alcohol, cheese and friends. But now I am back to share the spoils of my fun and also to wish you a very happy new year.

Here’s what I got up to while AWOL…

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I was Christmas shopping and then wrapping presents. I had to do it mega early this year as I wasn’t seeing my family. They were off to LA and I was off to Andrew’s folks’, so we exchanged presents in early December. These are some of my gifts to my lovely family…

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Then my family came to visit. This is my niece trying to get Andrew to concede a game of “Sleeping Lions”. Little does she know that Andrew is very competitive, even against five-year-old little girls.

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Mid-December marked the nuptials of some of Andrew and mine’s nearest and dearest friends. It was a brilliant wedding and the perfect way to kick off the festive season.

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This is Andrew and a couple of his besties at  said wedding.

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These are some of life’s good guys, right here.

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Then is was Christmas, which meant it was high time…

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To make our flat cosy.

We…

image (7)Bought cheese (brie with truffle in it – phwoar!)

image (8)Were cheesy…

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image (10)Hand terrible hang overs…

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Eventually we retreated home.

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And saw Andrew’s family. We played board games and ate aforementioned cheese (did I mention the truffle?).

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We saw our home friends and ate a huge burger at The Flying Pig.

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Went to the soft launch of House of Ho. (OK food, terrible service)

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We kicked off the new year with another hangover.

image (16)But now it’s time to rest, relax and embrace 2014.

Looking forward to the year ahead very much – hope you guys are too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fire at The Swimmer

Top 5… Cosy Pubs in London

As I have said before, rather recently, I love cosy pubs at this time of year. I love nothing more than heading to a warm pub, settling into a nook and drinking wine, chatting with good friends and watching people come and go.

I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 pubs to do this in, incase you want to do similar.

1. The Swimmer at the Grafton Arms

The fire at The Swimmer
The fire at The Swimmer

This pub is pretty close to where I live, and very much makes up part of my regular pub list. It’s tucked away behind the grim Seven Sister’s road, and is an absolute gem. It has board games, generous and yummy food, a good wine list, an open fire and even a sort-of adopted pub cat called Tallulah.

A pic of me and one of my besties (he'll love being called THAT!) last Christmas
A pic of me and one of my besties (he’ll love being called THAT!) last Christmas at The Swimmer

 

It lacks any pretension and is just a good, honest boozer without being stinky or too local. I absolutely love it here and will no-doubt be having Christmas sessions in here before long.

13 Eburne Road, N7 6AR

2. The Flask, Hampstead

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A few of us have a traditional walk on Hampstead Heath on New Year’s Day. Nothing blows the cobwebs away like climbing Parliament Hill to enjoy the view!

After a chilly walk, we normally head to The Flask in Hampstead for a mulled wine and a chat about our resolutions. It’s a small pub, but always has a lovely warm welcome. Again, it’s nothing fancy but I love that about it.

14 Flask Walk, NW3 1HE

3. Smokehouse

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Smokehouse, Islington

You can read a more extensive review here, but this pub is the epitome of cosy. A friendly welcome, lots of people have a good time, and again, an open fire. It helps that the beer and wine list could have you busy for several days of non-stop drinking and the food is amazing – all conspiring to make you say, “I’ll just have one more, then I really must go…”

63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG

4. The Hunter S Bar

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Low lighting, fun decor and a warm, bustling atmosphere help this pub feel super-cosy. The taxidermy animals dotted about and the various different seating layouts make it quirky without staying into tedious hipster territory. The food is also great, with everything made fresh in-house every day and a wide and interesting menu.

194 Southgate Rd,  N1 3HT

5. The Dove

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I’ve spent many an evening here, growing foggy while enjoying the wine list. However, The Dove’s forte is Belgium beers, and their list is probably one of the most impressive in London. The pub itself is cosy and constantly busy, with the tables set close together and the unisex loos – everything is very intimate.

24/28 Broadway Market, E8 4QJ

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Top 5… Christmassy Things to do in London

I am a bit of a grumpy lady about people celebrating Christmas too early. Christmas adverts in September, the festive music in the shops in October and special offers on mince pies in the supermarkets in November. NO! December is the month of Christmas. Even then, putting up a tree in the first week of advent seems a bit premature to me. I fear suffering from Christmas burn-out, so by the time Christmas Eve (REAL Christmas) rolls around nothing feels special any more.

Having said that, I love Christmas a lot. And now we’re past my Christmas embargo date, I am feeling well excited about all the Christmas things I have planned. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of my favourite things to do over Christmas in London.

1. Ice Skating

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Every year Andrew and I go ice skating just before Christmas. It seems so romantic. But in actual fact, ice skates seem to have been designed by a sadistic cobbler, and I feel queazy at the thought of putting my foot in a cold, damp boot that’s been on loads of other people. That’s before you get on the ice, and realise you’re more Bambi than Torvill. “We hate ice skating,” Andrew and I say to each other, “why have we come? We suck at it and it’s beyond painful!”

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However, we always go out of duty. It’s now a horrible Christmas tradition, but I kind of love it.

There are lots of places to go ice skating in London, and I have sampled a lot. My favourite would be Somerset House, followed by the Tower of London.

Afterwards I prescribe a strong mulled wine to rid yourself of the aches, pains and cold that you will have acquired.

2. Choosing a Christmas Decoration

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My Mum and I have a festive tradition where we go out together with the sole purpose of choosing one new decoration for our – well, my parents’ now I suppose – tree. We’ve done this together ever since I can remember. We spend a long time oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over all the pretty (and hideous) sparkly thing, before selecting one and scampering off for a cup of tea.

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Last year we went to Heal’s, which has the most amazing array of festive decorations (and homewares – man, I love Heal’s). It feels and smells so festive in there, and Paul A. Young has also just opened a cafe next door – ideal for our victory afternoon tea.

3. Christmas Markets

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Winter Wonderland and Southbank Christmas Markets are my favourites, but there are all kinds of festive outdoor adventures to be had in London. I love wrapping up warm, linking arms with a buddy and carefully choosing where to buy a festive feast from. And it’s all the better when it’s washed down with a heady mulled wine before getting on a fairground ride of dubious safety standards.

4. Getting Cosy in Pubs

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I love pubs anyway. They’re such a uniquely British thing, I think. Sure, everywhere has bars, but the British pub is something that just can’t be replicated anywhere else.

And in December they really come into their own. Walk in out of the cold into a blast of buzz, warmth and the scent of mulled wine. Huddle into a booth with friends and watch the sky grow dark by 4pm while knocking back festive drinks, all while you’re being warmed by an open fire. Extra great points if there’s a pub dog in the mix.

This year I’m going to the Draper’s Arms for a Christmas carol sing-a-long with friends. I cannot think of anything more festive.

5. The Nutcracker

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Every year my Mum and I go to the Nutcracker, either by the English National Ballet at the Coliseum or at the Royal Opera House. I love getting swept away in the Christmassy story and gasping at the amazing costumes.

I also love seeing all the other families who have come to watch for a Christmas treat. It feels so magical and special. I cannot wait to go this year.

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Restaurant Review – Jackson & Rye, Wardour Street, W1D

Last night I headed off to the soft launch, or even pre-soft launch, at Jackson & Rye, a new bar/restaurant in the middle of Soho. With the influence of the owner of Grillshack, Jackson & Rye is a New York-style venue with a 1920s flavour.

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It was very much still in its training stages last night. However, if last night was anything to go by (and I hope it was) and they manage to maintain the excellent standards on display when they open fully, Jackson & Rye will be a contender for my favourite Soho haunt.

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The menu is very reasonable for the quality of the food, and is obviously focused around modern American cuisine. Think fried chicken, whipped potatoes, steak, chowder. All that good stuff. They also have an extensive selection of rye to drink, with bourbon cocktails being their forte. One of my dining companions claimed they mixed the best Old Fashioned they’d ever had (and between me and you, they’ve had their fair share).

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I went for a prime fillet steak, which was served with fries and a béarnaise sauce. I asked for the steak medium rare, which was cooked perfectly for me – pink juices a go-go. The steak was however a little chewy, which I found a bit of a shame. The sauce on the other hand was perfect – rich with a sharp tang, perfectly wobbly. And praise where praise is due: the fries were as good as any I have tasted.

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Also on our table was a fillet of seabass, which was soft and perfectly cooked, with a gentle fishy flavour and was served with a caper sauce. A much lighter choice!

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The HUGE rosemary and lemon chicken was sublime, and was juicy and incredibly flavoursome. However, it came with shoestring fries that were ever-so slightly undercooked and chewy.

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Lastly, the buttermilk fried chicken had our table in raptures. The batter was light, fluffy and crispy and the chicken wonderfully juicy. The portion was generous too, with two large pieces of breast served up.

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Although feeling stuffed, we moved on to dessert. I chose a melting chocolate sundae. I think it was probably the best pudding I’ve had in my life. Served solid, when warm caramel is poured over a decadent dark chocolate dome, the chocolate melts revealing fluffy, rich ice cream underneath. The caramel then half-sets, creating kind of delicious dime bar-style nuggets in the ice cream. Oh my God, I want to eat it all over again.

We also ordered a frozen souffle, which was fruity and light but didn’t really going anywhere and wasn’t varied in texture or flavour. If it had some fruit or sauce with it, it would have made the dish much more well-rounded.

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The blueberry and apple cobbler was great – the apples had been perfectly cooked so they held together and gave a lovely munchable texture, while the blueberry flavour came through strongly. I normally find blueberries a bit insipid, so I was pleasantly surprised. However, the pudding was brought down slightly by the custard that was the consistency of whole milk, meaning it all sort of disappeared as soon as it was poured over.

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Rounding off the puddings was a pecan pie – which was just as it should be. I don’t know if it was anything spectacular, but it was fine.

The selection of Ryes at Jackson & Rye
The selection of Ryes at Jackson & Rye

As I said, Jackson & Rye was in the training stage, so it will hopefully work on these very minor issues and bring everything up to match the spectacular level of the buttermilk chicken, Old Fashioneds and chocolate sundae. I will definitely be back again. The atmosphere was delightful and buzzy, the staff friendly and eager to help and the food varied and fun.

Service: 5

Venue: 5

Value: 4

Overall: 9/10

Jackson & Rye, 56 Wardour Street,  W1D 4JD

Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Square (5 min walk)

Jackson & Rye opens fully on December 11th.

Jackson & Rye on Urbanspoon

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Gordon's Wine Bar on Embankment has played host to one of Alice's best nights out in London.

My London… with Alice Judge-Talbot

I’ve known Alice for quite a number of years through the wonderful world of blogging. She’s an all-round superwoman and lady of excellent taste. Here she shares with me a few of her London things…

Name: Alice
Job: Blogger and Marketing Consultant
Neighbourhood: I moved out of London when I had kids and now live in Buckinghamshire (boohooh). But in my time in the fair city I lived in Kentish Town, Shoreditch, De Beauvoir and Muswell Hill.

Alice with her ridiculously cute son, Hux
Alice with her ridiculously cute son, Hux

I love London because… of the diversity! There aren’t many places where you can experience such a rich mix of cultures and languages. You always meet someone with a story to tell.

London is at its best when… Frosty and twinkly or sunshiney and happy. Both as lovely as each other.

Borough Market would kick of Alice's perfect day.
Borough Market would kick of Alice’s perfect day.

My ideal day off in London would be… starting at Borough Market I’d walk along the Thames to Embankment, stopping off at The Savoy for a cup of tea. I’d get the tube up to Camden to visit some of my old haunts before powerwalking up Parliament Hill to marvel at the amazing view. I’d finish the day with prosecco at The Dean Street Townhouse or maybe Shoreditch House, followed by espresso martinis. And karaoke.

 I absolutely love this little-known place… the sushi cafe above the Japanese shop at Centrepoint. In my opinion it’s the most authentic (and tastiest!) sushi in London.

Gordon's Wine Bar on Embankment has played host to one of Alice's best nights out in London.
Gordon’s Wine Bar on Embankment has played host to one of Alice’s best nights out in London.

The best night I’ve ever had in London was… too many to count! I was recently introduced to Gordon’s Wine Bar – the oldest in London – and had a very raucous night in there with a very fun friend.

My favourite restaurant is... what a difficult question! I seem to eat at The Dean Street Townhouse a lot these days (love their chips and salad) but you really can’t beat the shortrib nuggets at Hawksmoor. Also, the Street Feast/Mr Hyde burger festival in Dalston earlier this year was bloody brilliant

 If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in...Cos, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie. Harrod’s Beauty Hall. I can’t decide!

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

 My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is absolutely breathtaking. I saw To Kill A Mockingbird there in May and despite the freezing rain it was a wonderful experience.

 One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived there is… How accessible everything is on foot! I try not to use the tube or buses if I can walk, it’s a much better way of travelling.

 London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… SLOW WALKERS!

I’ll leave London when… I will never move further than 30 minutes outside of London. It always leaves me feeling energized and happy.

Your can head to Alice’s blog, morethantoast.org, and find her on Twitter.

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Pub Review – Ape & Bird, Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H

Ape & Bird opened last week to much fan fare. In a huge old Victorian pub in Covent Garden, the team behind Polpo, Mishkins and Spuntino have brought something to the area that was desperately needed: a decent, large pub. Soho and Covent Garden aren’t exactly famous for their decent pubs with great customer service. It’s more of a “drink on the pavement, try not to get run over and fight your way to the bar” type vibe in the rest of the area. Ape & Bird is an oasis of calm in comparison.

Last night I went along with two of my favourite people to see whether the place lived up to the hype. On entering the pub, it was totally empty. “Err, hello?” I said to the three front of house staff who were eagerly waiting to greet people. The place was dead, but it was 5.45pm on a Monday evening. I was swiftly taken through the main pub/more formal dining room to a back “public bar”.

The lighting was soft, the decor was tasteful and the wine was expensive. They only had three red and three whites on in the bar out of a longer list, which was a slight shame. Later in the night the beers also dwindled as we were told our choice beer was “off” now. Teething problems, I am sure, as the pub is only just out of its soft launch phase.

We decided to have food, so were ushered into the main pub bit, which was adorned by fairy lights, candle lights and gentle music. We decided it was a perfect date venue, and, being terribly boring, the music wasn’t too loud so we were able to hear each other. There’s nothing worse than having to nod along to someone’s story but not really getting a word of it.

An extremely under-lit menu
An extremely under-lit menu

The menu is modern British cuisine: chestnut and mushroom shepherd’s pie, steak and chips, trout with shrimp and tarragon butter. I went for a cheeseburger with a side of cheese and truffle fries. Andrew also got a burger but with rosemary and salt potato skins, and Amy got the veggie shepherd’s pie.

The portions were modest, but on reflection I think this is because I have become used to places overloading the plates. I admit these photos aren’t great but this is 65% because of the “date lighting” there and only 35% because I am terrible at taking photos.

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The burger was really decent – plenty of sauce, nice and meaty and a good ratio of sharp pickles. The fries were really rich, but provided an excellent salt and fat hit. Andrew’s potato skins were crunchy and deliciously herby, but I think the fries were best.

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The service at Ape & Bird was a bit hit and miss, and slightly on the cold side from some staff members, but for this you have to be forgiving in the opening days of the place. Despite this, Ape & Bird is a warm and relaxed venue, and with many other bars within the venue (including an amazing-looking subterranean cocktail bar), I am already planning my next visit.

The bill came to about £60 for three, with service and drinks.

Service: 3

Venue: 4.5

Value: 3

Overall: 7.5/10

Ape & Bird Public House, 142 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8HJ

Nearest Tube: Leicester Square (5 min walk)

The Ape & Bird Pub on Urbanspoon

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A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room

Restaurant Review – Smokehouse, Canonbury Road, N1

Before we moved, Andrew and I promised ourselves we’d go out for a really lovely celebration meal together once we completed on the sale. However, as ever with us, we were optimistic about how much free time we’d have after completing.

Since we became homeowners our lives have been a heady whirlwind of filling walls, buying sanders (I am now the co-owner of multiple sanders! Try not to feel too jealous, guyssss), painting and shouting, “Have you seen my red jumper anywhere?” across the house as we live in a semi-unpacked dystopian nightmare. So we haven’t had time to go for dinner, and we hadn’t unpacked any nice clothes to go out for dinner in. I’m pretty sure any maître d’ would turn his nose up at my paint-covered hoodie. I mean, I turn my nose up at it and I’m a slob.

But the clouds lifted on Saturday. We finished our decorating, I found my nice shoes (one pair, natch) – it was time for our celebration meal. We wanted to go somewhere local, that wasn’t stuffy but served good quality and interesting food. There’s quite a lot of that on offer in Islington, but eventually we plumped for the Smokehouse.

Our 'excited to be out and not painting' faces. Andrew's playing it cool, as ever.
Our ‘excited to be out and not painting’ faces. Andrew’s playing it cool, as ever.

Smokehouse is owned by the guys behind The Pig & Butcher and has Neil Rankin, of John Salt and Pitt Cue fame, as the chef. Smokehouse specialises in all things smokey and firey and has a smoker on site. As well as this, the emphasis is on the quality and provenance of their ingredients. As well as the best possible produce, Smokehouse also has a startling array of ales and beers and a stellar wine list, for it is a cosy pub as well and not at all ‘just a restaurant’.

A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room
A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room

We got a great table in the restaurant (needed to book ahead), and had an amazing waitress who was just the right level of attentive. She was battling on even though she’d sliced open her hand on a bread knife too. That’s the commitment I like! She was also really knowledgable about the menu and seemed to be passionate about the food she was delivering to us. Full marks to her!

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I opted for a starter of foie gras, apple pie and duck egg. It was so delicious I stopped on my first mouthful and sighed! The foie gras was lovely and rich, with the duck egg perfectly cooked (so much so I asked Andrew in a frustrated tone, “but how do they get it this perfect?” – side note, I am rubbish at cooking eggs). The apple pie was perfect for cutting through the richness and adding a lovely tang to the plate.

Foie gras (two generous pieces!), apple cake and duck egg starter
Foie gras (two generous pieces!), apple cake and duck egg starter

Andrew went for a chopped brisket roll & gochujang. Gochujang is a Korean condiment that’s essentially like a chilli mayo. The chopped brisket was perfect: smokey and headily meaty, while the gochujang added a beautiful chilli kick.

The chopped brisket
The chopped brisket

We followed these up with a shortrib bourguignon (me) and peppered ox cheek (him). We also got a side of roast potatoes, but the stew came with mash anyway.

Short rib bourguignon with creamy mash
Short rib bourguignon with creamy mash

The bourguignon had a real depth of flavour and a melt in mouth texture. It had some chillies on the plate, which added a lovely firey hum in the undertones. It was incredibly rich and decadent, and absolutely superb.

The ox cheek came with cauliflower cheese, which was just insane. The cauliflower, which is an easy vegetable to overcook and ruin, was so sweet and nutty, and the cheese sauce covered the cauliflower but didn’t overpower it.

Peppered ox cheek with cauliflower cheese and gravy
Peppered ox cheek with cauliflower cheese and gravy

Feeling rather full of rich meaty food, we weren’t to be beaten by pudding. I went for a Double D pie, which is inspired by a Double Decker chocolate bar. A layer of coco pops, a layer of nougat, a layer of peanut butter, a layer of the richest chocolate known to man. Kapow! It was amazingly nutty and chocolatey. The pistachio ice cream it came with wasn’t quite powerful enough to beat those flavours. Bums, as I love pistachio ice cream – it’s a firm family favourite in my crew.

The Double D
The Double D

Andrew asked for an affagato, which wasn’t actually on the menu, but they knocked it up for him.

And breathe!
And breathe!

Smokehouse was everything I hoped it’d be: cosy, without pretension and serving excellent, exciting food. It’s the ideal place to snuggle down in, eat until you’re full to bursting and then relax in front of the open fire. A new favourite for me!

Sorry this photography is a bit Martha Stewart!

Service: 5

Venue: 5

Value: 5

Overall: 10/10

The Smokehouse, 63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG

Nearest Tube: Highbury & Islington (10 min walk). The 271 goes right past it though!

Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

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Restaurant Review – Joe Allen, Exeter Street, WC2E

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This week was Thanksgiving in America. In the UK, this tends to mean that everyone turns to each other and says, “What is Thanksgiving anyway? Is it just a dinner?” I don’t think any conversations I had drew any conclusions further than: dinner, watch football (not the UK version, obvz), don’t work. Apart from the football aspect, I’m on board.

Now, more about that dinner… On Thursday I headed to Joe Allen in Covent Garden to have a Thanksgiving feast with some other delightful food bloggers.

Joe Allen is an American bistro deep in the heart of London’s theatreland. Having opened in 1977, Joe Allen has recently come under new management and has benefitted from some subtle and sensitive tweaks that breathe new life into the London institution.

Delightfully tucked away down a side street, not much marks out Joe Allen from the road. It’s like a private members club for Americans. And the Americans in London had made a pilgrimage to the place to enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner away from home.

The place was bustling, to put it lightly, but had a wonderful buzz about it. It certainly felt like the place had history and soul to it, and I thought it’d be the ideal location for a big, hearty and jovial group dinner.

Speaking of dinner, I went for a starter of roasted vegetables with creamed goats cheese and truffle. It was my ideal starter for a large meal – fresh, light but still packed with lots of different and complementary flavours. The earthy beetroot was delicious with the sharp, salty goats cheese.

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I then went crazy and didn’t order turkey for my main course. Why? Cos I hate turkey. Judge me all you want, but we all know turkey is a paltry (GEDDIT?!) version of chicken. Anyway, I went for honey roast ham, which came with plenty of fresh veggies. It was perfectly cooked, lovely and rich with a salty and sweet flavour. I love me some roasted ham.

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I finished up with a traditional Thanksgiving dish that I’d never tried: pumpkin pie. As my first pumpkin pie, I obviously have no reference point from which to compare it, but it was tasty – full of warming winter spices but yet sweet.

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Joe Allen’s regular a la carte features ribs, wings and all that good American stuff. However, it’s classier and more refined – and dare I say it, slightly more traditional and old school – than Bodeans, The Big Easy etc. This place is more white table cloths and strong Old Fashioneds than plastic bibs and wet wipes.

I would definitely go back again, if nothing else than to try their famous off-menu burger. There has been much hype about it! And also their cocktails are wonderfully sophisticated and pack quite the punch. It’d be a great place for dates too – sipping cocktails, listening to the pianist do his stuff (I’m a sucker for live piano music)…

Service: 5

Venue: 4

Value: 3

Overall: 8/10

Joe Allen, 13 Exeter Street, WC2E 7DT

Nearest Tube: Covent Garden (7 min walk), Charing Cross (7 min walk)

Joe Allen on Urbanspoon

I was invited to review Joe Allen, and given a complimentary meal. However, this in no way means I offered them a favourable review in return.

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Restaurant Review – Flesh & Buns, Earlham Street, WC2H


I often find myself searching for places to eat in Covent Garden. This is because it is the most convenient place for me and my closest group of friends from school to meet up. We essentially have a semi-regular non-booking at Wahaca, but even I, life-long crazed Mexican food fan, can grow tired of their “healthy pork scratchings” (that’s a lie, and it hurts me even to type it; I will never stop loving you, my porky pals).

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Erm, anyway, for a change we decided to head to Flesh & Buns, which is a subterranean restaurant a hop, skip and jump away from Seven Dials. Set up by the Bone Daddies crew, Flesh & Buns is a Izakaya -style joint (that, between you and I, is a Japanese eating and drinking establishment – a pub, I like to call them but this is probably quite far from what a Izakaya is, but I don’t know – never been to Japan, innit).

Inside, there are loooong high tables, and more exclusive-looking booths. I was on the high table with the rabble, obvz. It’s worth noting that I walked in at about 7pm and got a table no problem. It was probably mid-week, so hardly crazy-town busy time but still, not to be glossed over.

F&B, as no one is calling it, serves “raw” food – mainly sushi and sashmi – which we skipped over because I was dining with my pregnant pal, Is, or MEAT. We went straight for the meat and ordered some flesh and buns.

Basically, it’s like you construct your own sandwich – they bring the meat and veg, along with some steamed buns and you whack it all in a steamed bun and enjoy. I got Flat Iron Steak with BBQ sauce, and Is got crispy duck leg with sour plum sauce. I asked for my steak medium-rare, and it came on the edge of medium. I prefer to err on the rare side, but Is said she thought it was slightly too rare. Prone to agree.

Flat iron steak - super juicy!
Flat iron steak – super juicy!

Annoyingly, the steak was suuuper chewy and therefore not conducive to being put in a sandwich to take bites out of. One bite and the whole steak slice came out and you were left with an empty bun (and a full, unattractive gob – Isabel felt realllly happy to be seen out with me, I am sure).

Crispy duck leg at Flesh & Buns
Crispy duck leg at Flesh & Buns

The duck, however, was a dream. It brought back lots of fond memories of duck pancakes at Chinese restaurants, as the taste was pretty much exactly that.

We had to order more buns because there was way more meat than there were buns – sneaky sneaky. But out of the two I suppose better to have more meat than bread. Rules to live by, right there.

After our bun feast, we went for a Bone Daddies Sundae, and I felt in love with green tea ice cream. I HATE green tea as a drink (reminds me of being ill in Vietnam, weirdly), so have avoided all its incarnations so far. Until that night, when I realised in ice cream form, me and green tea were actually alright.

Bone Daddies Sundae
Bone Daddies Sundae

The atmosphere was nice and buzzy, without being loud or irritating, and the service was allllright. Wouldn’t go higher than that though, as I had to ask about a billion times for the bill.

Service: 3

Venue: 3

Value: 3

Overall: 7/10

Flesh & Buns, 41 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LX

Nearest tube: Covent Garden (5 min walk), Leicester Square (8 min walk)

Flesh and Buns on Urbanspoon

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Top 5… Tips for People Moving

I have a HUGE backlog of posts I need to write up, but you see the problem is that I’ve just moved and my life is chaotic to say the least.

I know there’s the old trite thing about moving/buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do. But I can only take from it that the people who say these things have never edited a magazine that has a ridiculous deadline, or organised a school sports day, or backpacked around a county where you can’t speak the language and you’ve just had $800 stolen. Buying a house is stressful, but it’s hardly the most stressful thing.

Anyway, because I’ve been engrossed in the tedium of packing, unpacking et al, I haven’t caught up on my posts. And I am still not going to. In lieu of a decent post I am going to tell you the top five things that I have learnt from moving home (to make it less stressful).

1. Ask for help – bribery is OK

These are some of our amazing friends who helped us move once. The guy on the left's face says it all...
These are some of our amazing friends who helped us move once. The guy on the left’s face says it all… One of these people is now recovering from a hernia operation. Whoops.

One thing guaranteed in life is that you’re probably going to have to move house at some point. Therefore, let’s get together and help one another. I couldn’t have moved if it wasn’t for the help of my parents, Andrew’s brother and future sis-in-law and our friends. Many hands make light work, guys. Sure, it might mean that in future you have to get up early one Saturday morning to return the favour, but that’s part of being friends, yeah? (Going forward, maybe start selecting friends based on how much “Stuff” they have, going forward. Friends with little clutter = BFFs, Friends with loads of crap = Time to be “phased out”) We obviously bribed our nearest and dearest with offers of breakfasts and roasts on us in return for their help. And don’t worry Toby and Rob, we’re aware we still owe you both a full English…

2. Find a Good Man ‘n’ Van

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I think being a man and van would be my worst job ever. You drive a van (stressful) and then have to help slightly hysterical home movers (me) move all their worldly possessions and then unload it all (tiring). Anyway, the service offered by mans and their vans is varying to say the least. What you don’t want is some dude in a clapped out van who turns up, lets you loads your stuff in, slams the door and drives off to the next place, then lets you unload for £100. No thank you. We managed to find a lovely guy who helped carry stuff, load, unload and all the while he never complained about how much stuff we had or that our bed is bloody massive (OK, he did slightly complain about that). If you’re London-based, I thoroughly recommend this company. If you’re not London-based, ask friends/family for recommendations.

3. Get a Nectar Card

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This is mostly for homeowners, I guess, as I hope those who move into rental properties don’t have to do much DIY, but anyway… We’ve spent shed loads of money in Homebase recently. I basically could work there now, I know the shop floor lay out so well. Paint? Dulux? Aisle 1. Step ladder? At the back in Aisle 9. Yeah! (God, that is so pathetic). Anyway, the only bonus – and it is a crap one at that – is that we have a Nectar card and have been collecting Nectar points. I have then spent all of these Nectar points on champagne and ice cream.

4. Drink

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Perhaps the only thing that got me through this move was alcohol. It kept me motivated while packing, and having a rewarding glass of champagne after moving day was brilliant. I realise this makes me sound like an alcoholic, but this is my reality. (P.S. I’m not an alcoholic)

5. Don’t EVER move

Seriously. It’s rubbish. Don’t do it.

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Theatre Review – 1984

A few weeks ago Andrew and I bundled our way to Richmond to see Headlong Theatre‘s production of the George Orwell dystopian classic, 1984.

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I love the theatre – hate musicals though. But I quite rarely go, or at least not as much as I feel I should for someone living in London. Something I always espouse about living in London is there’s so much going on. Yes, so I really should actually take advantage of it.

I’d never seen a Headlong production before, but had followed this tour fairly closely – they went to Liverpool, Cardiff, Nottingham… some other places… This is because my amazingly talented friend was on the production team. As the five star reviews from virtually every paper rolled in, we booked our tickets.

I wasn’t exactly sure how they’d make a show of 1984 – it is quite a tough book to replicate on stage, I think. I must admit I didn’t fully remember the entire story, as I read it in my early twenties (YEARS AGO!) and straight after read A Brave New World, so the stories have become slightly muddled together in my mind. But this production was so clever, and the story came flooding back to me like remembering a horrifying nightmare I once had.

There was a huge amount of media used to tell Winston Smith’s story of falling in love while questioning the leadership in a futuristic totalitarian state. I won’t spoil all the amazingness and surprises if you do go, but the set was ingenius and the performances were first class. It was both intellectually stimulating and quite traumatising in parts. There are quite a lot of flashing lights and high-pitched noises!

After so many amazing reviews and such highly heaped praise, 1984 is transferring to The Almeida Theatre in Islington, so you still have a chance to view it. It’s running for the most part of February and March.

If you prefer going to the theatre for a sing-song and aren’t interested in long monologues, this won’t be for you (get thee to ‘We Will Rock You’), but otherwise I highly recommend you go. Especially, if like me, you really feel you should take advantage more of all London has to offer…

Poppy rides the train to the big smoke

Dog Spot – Hastings to London Southeastern Service

Poppy rides the train to the big smoke
Poppy rides the train to the big smoke

So my Mum has now got in on the dog spot action too. She spotted this lovely long-haired dachshund while on the train to London to meet me. The dog is called Poppy and her owner, Jo, says Poppy is gorgeous but a little terror. I like a cheeky pup, so I’m a massive fan of Poppy’s… I just wish I’d met her myself.

Another shot of Poppy!
Another shot of Poppy!
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My Penance and a Giveaway – Islington Bootcamp Classes

So with all the eating I do, it’s time to get serious about burning off some of those calories (boo!).

I started doing Free Form Fitness‘ bootcamps about three years ago, when I lived in Highbury. Over the past year I haven’t been living there, so have fallen off the bandwagon somewhat. But that’s all about to change as we’ve just bought a flat back in Highbs, so there’s no more getting out of it… It’s time to hit the deck and pump some, err, iron?

Free Form Fitness owner, Sybille, talking a class through their next exercise
Free Form Fitness owner, Sybille, talking a class through their next exercise

When I started at bootcamps I was kind of nervous. I admit I feel a little intimidated by fitness classes (I won’t know anyone, everyone else will be better than me, I’ll be wearing the wrong thing…), but as soon as I got in touch with Free Form’s owner, Sybille, she immediately put me at my ease. She was knowledgable and encouraging, telling me more about an injury I had than even I knew, and started me off gently. As everyone in the classes are at different fitness levels – some are marathon runners, some are new mums trying to lose some baby weight, some are flabby food bloggers (OK, just me in that group) – Sybille has different levels of exercises to suit everyone.

Andrew ended up doing extreme press ups. I... did not graduate to this level.
Andrew ended up doing extreme press ups. I… did not graduate to this level.

The first session I went to was just the right level of hard. Then I woke up the next morning and couldn’t actually move. I have never experienced anything like that – my muscles were in shock. BUT in a good way – I was just using muscles I’d not used since I was a kid.

Classes weren’t something I looked forward to, but once I got there they were enjoyable and everyone in the class was really friendly. I’ve made friends at bootcamp that I still see now and count as very good friends indeed (hi Simon and George!). It’s a really nice community event, as everyone lives around Highbury Fields who comes to my class. A happy result was I toned up, lost weight and improved my posture without really – I wouldn’t say trying, because a lot of sweat went into it, but perhaps without really much thought. Sybille does the thinking, I just do what she very gently instructs!

This is my worst exercise - rotational press ups. Unfortunately they're amazing for core strength.
This is my worst exercise – rotational press ups. Unfortunately they’re amazing for core strength.

As I say, I’ve now moved away but am coming back! And just in time for a new class Sybille has devised called “Cardio and Core Blitz”. This is a 30 minutes high intensity workout, focusing on fat burning and core work.

Sybille says of the class, “By using a class format comprised of HIIT (high intensity interval training) and functional core work we have created a workout that will help increase the body’s ability to burn body fat without putting it through the strains and risk of overuse injuries associated with traditional boot camps or high impact cardio workouts. You will be working hard for 30 minutes but you will leave feeling super energised and de-stressed!”

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Sessions are £5/class or you can buy 11 for £50. The classes run in Highbury Fields at the moment, but will soon be running in Liverpool street, Green Park, London Fields and Tower Bridge in the mornings, at lunch times and in the evenings.

Free Form Fitness have teamed up with me and are offering Z Factor readers a free first session. All you need to do is email booking@freeformfitness.co.uk with the subject line “The Z Factor”.

Hope to see you all down there!

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Brunch Review – The Modern Pantry, St John’s Square, EC1V

The Modern Pantry is situated on a lovely square in Clerkenwell
The Modern Pantry is situated on a lovely square in Clerkenwell.

Andrew was getting stressed about his birthday (he doesn’t like his birthday), so I asked him what he really wanted to do. His response? He just wanted to go to brunch with me (n’awww). So I decided to go to a nice (but not fancy – we’re not fancy types) brunch. I did some research and whittled it down between Duck & Waffle and The Modern Pantry. After glancing at both menus, I picked The Modern Pantry (still want to go to D&W though) as it had more things on the menu I knew Andrew would like. He loves fusion food that are packed full of lots of flavours, and head chef, Anna’s menu certainly seemed to cover a lot of those bases.

The Modern Pantry Dining Room
The Modern Pantry Dining Room

So we trotted off with our hangovers (we’d completed on our flat the day before, so celebrated hard the night before!) to Clerkenwell. We ordered our drinks, which came with speed, and started analysing the menu.

This is what a hangover looks like.
This is what a hangover looks like.

There was loads to choose from, and Andrew started looking a bit panicky that he wanted everything.

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In the end we went for, ahem, three dishes to share.

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This is grilled cornbread, chorizo, a fried egg, charred sweetcorn, avocado and red pepper salsa. It was pretty dry, but the egg broke open to reveal a soft and silky yolk which helped the whole dish massively. There was a gentle hum to the dish, but it was really surprisingly light.

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We also ordered the sweetcorn, feta,green chilli & curry leaf waffles, smoked streaky bacon with maple syrup, which sounds INSANE, and it was – but in an amazing way! It was so packed full of different flavours and everything was balanced perfectly, so in a bit you’d get fluffy waffle, sharp cheese and then sweet maple syrup, plus a faint after taste of curry – it was extraordinary but an absolute triumph. Anna is obviously a master at flavour combinations.

The last thing we ordered takes 20 mins to cook, so it was perfect timing for us to take a break and compare hungover notes (results: we were both hungover).

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Then it arrived: raspberry and ricotta pancakes with berry and liquorice compote, crème fraiche. Oh sweet lord. The pancakes were fluffy and light and the compote cut beautiful through the creme fraiche and rich pancakes. They were extremely filling, so I started to feel quite sick by this point, but boy was it worth it.

The Modern Pantry is something a little bit special. There were lots of people in there celebrating stuff (a groom’s party who were suited and booted, drinking champagne pre-ceremony, a couple who had just got engaged and were celebrating with their excited friends), so it created this lovely atmosphere, yet it was relaxed and informal, with perfect service.

Andrew claimed it to be the best brunch he’d ever had, so it was a birthday winner!

Service: 5

Venue: 5

Value: 4

Overall: 9/10

The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St Johns Square, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 4JJ

Nearest tube: Farringdon (10 min walk)

Modern Pantry on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Facebook

Top 5… Annoying People on Facebook

Remember a time before Facebook was released to the masses, and society was a nice, normal place where people from primary school didn’t scream in your face about potty training their child? Yeah, I can barely remember it either so full is my mind of constant updates of what someone I met once’s cat is wearing today. Facebook has completely changed the way we interact with one another, and I for one pretty much hate it. Yeah, I still have a profile, obviously, but I can still hate it.

I like Facebook for it being able to connect me to loved ones that are far away, and for us to share events, pictures, jokes without it having to be a big, formal ordeal. It is useful for reminding me of birthdays, which I am prone to forget. And I suppose it’s useful for communicating things sometimes.

However, as I might’ve said before, I still predominantly hate it. I hate it because of other people – the same reason why I hate most things. Other people have ruined Facebook. Here are the top five offenders, in my mind.

1. People I don’t care about sharing strong, and often offensive, views I don’t care for

o-SOMEECARDS-facebook

BF (Before Facebook) I didn’t know that Mike from accounts was a filthy biggot, or that Michaela from primary school was a devout Christian who felt the need to preach to everyone, every day. Now, with the advent of Facebook, it’s all up in my grill all of the time.

Yeah, I have the facility to hide people, but I only do that in extreme circumstances. This is because I live in constant fear of seeing people in real life and them saying “I’m married/had a kid/whatever, didn’t you see it on Facebook?”. I don’t know what to say then. I literally panic, go red and hope to have a heart attack immediately so I don’t have to answer. Why? Because, dear reader, I am a terrible liar – there’s nothing I am shitter at than lying. So basically because of my lack of ability to think on the spot and make up lies, I cannot hide these people and my life is plagued with people’s stupid (to me) opinions. It takes all types you say? Don’t mean I want it on my feed, buddy.

(See also: those who invite me to join groups like “ALL DISABLED PEOPLE SHOULD BE FORCED TO WORK. SCROUNGERS! LOL. YOLO. ” – yeah, not the target audience for that type of thing, thanks all the same. Welcome to the cold, stark world of not being my pal on FB anymore…)

2. “It’s a times like these you find out who your real friends are” et al

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Christ! Put a sock in it, love. These attention seekers are the worst. I find these passive aggressive updates, which are obviously aimed at some poor sucker on the person’s FB friends list who has probably made a minor indiscretion, awful. I actually cringe every time I read one. Why do people think these things are a good idea?!

If you have a serious problem with your friend, which you hope to resolve, posting cryptic crap on FB is not going to get you to your ultimate goal. If you’re looking for attention, you might get that from some of your more nosey FB friends in the form of “U OK hun?”, but essentially they’re just after some gossip to fill in the ad break between Corrie.

FB is not going to help in this situation. Ever. Chalk the whole thing down to experience and move on. Get some new friends. Whatever, just step away from FB.

3. “I LOVE YOU, WHERE WOULD I BE WITHOUT YOU?” etc

someecards-facebook

This doesn’t have to be between those in a romantic relationship with one another, it can be between family members, friends um… that’s pretty much all the kinds of people isn’t it? Anyway, whatever the relationship it’s still nauseating. And I find it fake, and for mostly other people’s benefit.

If you like them so much, take it to a private channel where you can bleat at them all the live-long day.

4. Perma-holidayers

Basically this one is born out of pure jealousy on my part, but doesn’t it seem that some people are just on holiday all. the. time. When do they work? How do they afford this crazy lifestyle if they’re on holiday all the time?

I content myself with the fact that after soaking up so many rays they will look like this old age (look, I’m not saying I’m a good person myself here!):

Magda, from Something About Mary
Magda, from Something About Mary

5. People who use the word “frape”

You need to get a new word for that, guys. That particular portmanteau is pretty offensive.

 

Honourable mentions: Religious views, inspiration quotes, loads of video posts, private messaging in general, daily updates on some mundane aspect of your life.

P.S. Sorry to all my FB friends, I am sure I do all of these things at one time or another. Apart from the last one.

 

Apothic Red

Wine Review – Apothic Red

Winter is approaching at an alarming rate. Britain has just had an almighty storm. The clocks have gone back, meaning I leave work when it’s already dark. I can’t be the only one craving cosiness, comfort food and a nice warming glass of something. Add to that, that it’s Halloween tomorrow and I think I’ve found the perfect wine accompaniment: Apothic Red.

Apothic Red
Apothic Red

Apothic Red is a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvigon, which produces a really full body flavour. It tastes exactly how you’d expect from looking at the bottle – it’s like a gothic red wine, with plenty of different, rich flavours. It’s totally perfect for snuggling down with on Halloween while you’re watching your favourite scary movie (mine is Psycho, FYI). Just try not to jump at the scary bits and chuck your red wine everywhere!

It’s not a wine that will now be my go-to wine (I still love you, Argentinian Malbec), but it made a really nice change and was dangerously drinkable.

Apothic Red was sent to me to review, but this by no means I have offered them a favourable review in return.

Juliet loves walking across the river at dusk. It's rather beautiful!

My London… with Juliet Mushens

Juliet Mushens – literary agent, Twitter agent and leopard print fan – shares her London with us!

Name: Juliet

Job: Literary agent

Neighbourhood: Kentish Town

 JulietMushens

I love London because… I am never more than 20 feet away from a fast food joint at all times.

 

London is at its best when… you’re walking across the river at dusk. The sky seems to stretch out forever, and you get a real sense of how small you are, and how big and old London is.

 

Juliet loves walking across the river at dusk. It's rather beautiful!
Juliet loves walking across the river at dusk. It’s rather beautiful!

My ideal day off in London would be… breakfast at the Breakfast Club, a walk along the Southbank, ice cream at Fortnum & Mason, antique-perusing in Camden Passage, browsing Penhaligon’s, a manicure at Cowshed, a trip around the Tower of London or London Zoo, drinks at Nightjar, karaoke at Karaoke Box Soho, dancing at London Swingcats to burn off the huevos rancheros and ice-cream sundae, then chicken at Chicken Cottage to undo all the good work the dancing did.

Camden Passage in Angel. A particular favourite of mine, too!
Camden Passage in Angel. A particular favourite of mine, too!
It calls like a siren to drunken people all over London: Cottage Chicken offers drinkers a warm, greasy embrace.
It calls like a siren to drunken people all over London: Cottage Chicken offers drinkers a warm, greasy embrace.

I absolutely love this little-known place… the Elk in the Woods in Islington. It does amazing food and is very inexpensive (a fiver for dippy duck egg and toast. Yum.). Or – though everyone in publishing goes here – Honey & Co on Warren Street, which does Middle Eastern food. It’s tiny and a bit of a squeeze but the food is incredible – the lamb makes me come over all Rachel Zoe (‘I dieeee!’). Also, the Gilbert Scott bar at the St Pancras Renaissance is glorious. Cocktails are ever-changing and range from old-fashioned staples to new favourites, priced at between £7 and £10. It has high ceilings, bells, and very friendly staff.

 

The Gilbert Scott bar in St Pancras
The Gilbert Scott bar in St Pancras

The best night I’ve ever had in London was… the night I went to the Game of Thrones DVD launch. It was in the Old Vic tunnels, which had been styled as Westeros. There were actors re-enacting key moments from the show, the staff weren’t allowed to break character all night, I stood in the WINTERFELL CRYPT and got my photo taken on the Iron Throne. The attention to detail was incredible, and the cast were all there. When I left and walked out into Waterloo it literally felt like I’d left another world. This, to be honest, says more about my love of George RR Martin than it does about London… But I’ve also had brilliant nights swingdancing in London Bridge, listening to music at Ronnie Scott’s, eating at Searcys at St Pancras/pretending I’m in Brief Encounter, and doing impossible pub quizzes in North London.

My favourite restaurant is… Great Queen Street. The menu changes every day, is always intensely carnivorous, and the waiting staff are so knowledgeable. The cocktails downstairs are really good too, and the barman plays a great mix of swing and 80s pop.

If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… Fortnum & Mason. £2,000 would probably get me one teacup, mind. I always marvel at the people walking around with trolleys, casually buying their food shop.

Fortnum & Mason
Fortnum & Mason

My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… I’m not particularly cultured, but the Old Operating Theatre Museum is grisly and morbid. Just how I like it. You can see where people used to be operated on without anaesthetic, and other horrible things like that. Plus, it’s quite tucked away so never overly touristy.

One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is… that you can always find something to do, no matter what day of the week it is.

London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… people who don’t walk down inside the tube carriage. It makes me want to perform a citizen’s arrest/invest in a taser.

I’ll leave London when… I want to actually be able to afford to buy a property!

ROAD TRIP!

Our Cali Trip, 2013 – Route 1 Road Trip

When Andrew and I were visiting LA in the summer we decided to do a road trip up to San Francisco, driving all the way up the coast. It was amazing!

We hired a car and got a complimentary upgrade to a Ford Mustang Convertible.

Andrew with our hire car
Andrew with our hire car

We picked the car up from LAX (the airport in LA) and then drove through Malibu to Santa Barbara.

Stopping in Santa Barbara for lunch (actually our breakfast), I got some amaaaazing pancakes:

Chocolate chip and banana pancakes
Chocolate chip and banana pancakes

We were going all-out American on this road trip.

Driving up the coast was brilliant – we had some playlists going, we had spectacular views and got to spend lots of quality time together. N’awww.

Along Route 1, which is the coastal road in Cali, lies the Big Sur. The Big Sur is essentially an amazing piece of coastline whose beauty I could not do service to in words. It is absolutely stunning. Have some pictures instead:

ROAD TRIP!
ROAD TRIP!
Crap photo. I apologise.
Crap photo. I apologise.

 

Andrew loving our new ride.
Andrew loving our new ride.
Cheesy selfie!
Cheesy selfie!
A Big Sur beach
A Big Sur beach
A random piano on the Big Sur
A random piano on the Big Sur

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We stopped for a sunset meal on a restaurant on the cliffs on the Big Sur
We stopped for a sunset meal at a restaurant on the cliffs on the Big Sur
GoPro-ing the sunset
GoPro-ing the sunset

We stopped for a night in Carmel, but we were absolutely knackered so didn’t really get to explore that evening. However, we got up nice and early, had breakfast in our room and then went to the beach in Carmel.

The weather wasn’t great, but there were so many people out walking on the beach, and it was really peaceful.

As we were walking along the beach, a pod of dolphins were out for their morning swim. Hey guys!
As we were walking along the beach, a pod of dolphins were out for their morning swim. Hey guys!
I met a brilliant Rhodesian ridgeback on the beach. We made best friends. I spent about 20 mins playing with her in the surf. It was brilliant.
I met a brilliant Rhodesian ridgeback on the beach. We made best friends. I spent about 20 mins playing with her in the surf. It was brilliant. Andrew says he likes this photo cos it captures how crazy I am about dogs. Haha.
Paddlin' buds
Paddlin’ buds

After dragging ourselves away from Carmel, it was a relatively swift drive to San Francisco and the next leg of our trip…

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More on San Fran another time.

Photography © Andrew Phillimore

Scruffy little chap on the Northern Line

Dog Spot – Northern Line

This week has been especially grim as Andrew and I raced to exchange on the flat we’re buying. Wednesday night saw me particularly stressed, so I took myself off to the pub with some close friends to have some salving wine.

On my way home I happened across this scrappy lil’ lady. She was brilliant – just sitting contentedly on her owner’s lap. She looked so soft and snuggly I just wanted to bury my head in her fur (the dog that is, not the nice owner lady). Obviously due to social norms, I didn’t do this – I took this picture instead. Thanks for brightening my day, lovely pup!

Scruffy little chap on the Northern Line
Scruffy little chap on the Northern Line

 

My London… with Sam B

La Fromagerie, Highbury Barn is the most incredible cheese shop in London

Sam (or Blainsing Squad as I prefer to call him) is a very good friend of mine. Sam and I live very close together in Islington, and neither of us really like venturing too far out of North London. Therefore, Sam and I spend a fair amount of time together, normally in the pub mocking each other and our lives.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who loves London quite as much as Sam does. Therefore, it was a no-brainer for me that he should tell us about his favourite spots in London…

Name Sam

Job Lobbyist

Neighbourhood Holloway (most of the below is quite North London centric)

© Katherine Leedale
© Katherine Leedale

I love London because... all human life is here. And pubs, lots of pubs. Also, The Arsenal play here.

London is at its best when… it’s 5pm on an unusually warm Thursday before the long Easter weekend and roughly 78 per cent of London’s population is standing outside a pub.

My ideal day off in London would be… a long run on the Parkland Walk between Finsbury Park and Highgate to make me feel smug (also to look at dogs). Then lunch at Piebury Corner on the Holloway Road, before going on a long walk somewhere – it doesn’t matter too much where but I like the walk along Regent’s Canal from Islington to Mile End. Plenty of places to stop and drink. Impractically I’d then have to double back to meet friends at the Earl of Essex in Islington and get really drunk at one of the best pubs in North London.

Piebury Corner, Holloway Road would make the list for Sam's ideal day off.
Piebury Corner, Holloway Road would make the list for Sam’s ideal day off.

I absolutely love this little-known place… I doubt you can call the Swimmer in Holloway little known, as it’s always busy, but it’s a lovely pub off the fairly horrible (and I live there) Seven Sisters Road. I also recommend the Scooter Caffe on Lower Marsh behind Waterloo, which is a nice bar tucked away in an uninspiring bit of town.

Sam and me in The Swimming (our local) just before Christmas
Sam and me in The Swimmer (our local) just before Christmas

The best night I’ve ever had in London was… difficult to know, since I end up not remembering them. The night after a win over Sp*rs a few years ago when I met Ray Parlour in a pub on the Holloway Road is difficult to top.

My favourite restaurant is… Asseistte Anglais in Islington

Assiette Anglais, Liverpool Road is one of Sam's favourite restaurants
Assiette Anglais, Liverpool Road is one of Sam’s favourite restaurants

If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… La Fromagerie in Highbury. ALL THE CHEESE.

La Fromagerie, Highbury Barn is the most incredible cheese shop in London
La Fromagerie, Highbury Barn is the most incredible cheese shop in London

My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… I’ve not seen it since they’ve completed the refurbishment but the Imperial War Museum in Kennington is brilliant (the permanent exhibition on the Holocaust is very good indeed). Also, the relatively new Jewish Museum in Camden is worth a visit.

One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived there is… This is difficult to answer since I grew up in Essex and was in London lots before I actually lived here. Perhaps the surprise is how much you see when you just wander around with your eyes open – as alluded to above, I love just walking about town, even if it’s without a plan or any real idea where I’m going.

The other thing about London is how quickly it can change. If you’d have told someone ten years ago that the area around King’s Cross would become one of the finest sights (and sites) in London, they’d have pointed to the sex shops and laughed in your face. You can see the changes (avoiding the loaded word gentrification) in my own area, Holloway, too.

London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is... have you ever been on a nightbus sober? Christ.

I’ll leave London when… I’m in a coffin.

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