Girl About Town: The Art of Dining – The Colour Palate

With the job that I do, I regularly get emails full of “check out this amazing experience” ideas, lots of which actually aren’t that exciting or innovative. However a few weeks back, one thing did stand out amongst all the “uber cool” Shoreditch bar recommendations or “uber exclusive” private members club launches (with “live PAs form the cast of the latest reality TV series” no less!), and that was a link to the Art of Dining website. I’ve never heard of them before, but have seen similar concepts and so I was eager to try them out.

So I hit up a foodie friend of mine who I knew would also be in for a colour-and-light themed dining experience and booked us some tickets.

We arrived at a non-descript building, not far from Baker Street tube, identifiable as our destination only by a man with a clipboard standing next to instructions chalked on the concrete step outside. We were ticked off a list, ushered down some candlelit stairs to an underground space, washed in green light, handed a Green cocktail each and showed to our seats at the long communal table, laid with green paper, the usual dining accoutrements and, unusually, rather large tree centrepiece.

Once the room filled up with guests we were called to attention by the creative team behind the concept, who briefly talked us through the evening’s proceedings and we were then served our first course: the Green course, consisting of light, leafy, herby, green food on green plate with green napkins accompanied by a paint pot of green sauce and a paint brush (not green) with which to serve it!

When we had finished, serving staff informed us we should rip off the top layer of the “table cloths” to reveal the next colour: White. The tree was taken away and replaced with a silver candelabra and the green light slowly transitioned to soft white.

As a quick aside, a lot of my GCSE science and art came back to me. White light is actually a rather beautiful combination of colours, and it seems that green light washes out colour entirely so my dining companion and I looked like black and white photographs of ourselves! Which is a good point to note if your complexion is looking less than flawless in real life before a big event – put on some red lippie and change your light bulbs to green, you’ll look like a thirties movie siren!

Sorry, back to the dining experience. With the White course (a soup) also came a small glass of colouring pencils so we took to doodling all over the table tops as our neighbours played a heated game of hangman. We decided against the corresponding White cocktail, and stuck with the Green as it was so tasty!

After White came the main course, Yellow, complete with massive vases of sunflowers, yellow table tops and sunny yellow light followed by Black, where the lights were dimmed to almost complete darkness, as we finished off the savoury dishes with black food almost invisible against black plates and table tops by the light of tiny candles.

We ordered some Orange cocktails to match our Orange pudding which arrived (along with the matching tableware, of course) as the lights came back up to a warm glow and our tables were adorned with sprays of orange roses.

The food was interesting and tasty, enhanced by the “concept” in which it was served, and overall it made for a really great night out. Tickets cost £50 for five substantial courses and a welcome cocktail. Drinks thereafter were very reasonably priced for London.

As it’s a pop up, The Colour Palate disappeared as quickly as it arrived, but keep an eye on the Art of Dining website for future pop ups, and check out some of their previous events here which look equally as interesting and exciting.

With my appetite for concept pop-ups fully whetted, have you lovely readers any recommendations? Let me know!

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Recommended: Wilderness Festival

Florence Finds, Michelle Kelly, Pocketful of Dreams

Today the very lovely and stylish Michelle from Pocketful of Dreams is taking over the blog with her review of Wilderness Festival. If you happen to be a festival aficionado or just like to see how other people get their groove on, then you’re in the right place as this particular one looks EPIC…

I seem to be the only 30-something in the land never to have attended a music festival. Madness I know, particularly given the fact that I plan events for a living. But all that has now changed and last weekend I popped my festival cherry with the one dubbed ‘Poshstock’ otherwise known as Wilderness Festival.

Held in a tranquil lakeside setting in the Oxfordshire countryside, this festival, I imagine, is the antithesis to all other festivals. Magnificent curiosities abound and you would never find yourself short of something to do at Wilderness, from the sumptuous wood-fired hot tubs lining a lake filled with brave swimmers, to the gourmet banquets and food trucks galore and the plethora of workshops, talks, activities and live music taking place across the weekend. It’s a culture-seekers delight, a little too try hard at times, but a lot of fun nonetheless.

My attendance at the festival was a totally last minute affair, I was gifted the tickets just last Monday by clients of mine as a thank-you for planning their own festival wedding, and by Thursday we had packed up the car and headed South. This spontaneous adventure meant we were attending with a totally open-mind and lack of preconception about what was in store. It also meant we’d well and truly missed the boat when it came to trying any of the fantastic activities in offer, everything from the yoga sessions, to the hot tubs to the gourmet banquets was fully booked and despite asking at the elusive ‘info tent’ on arrival the only way we could get in was to keep calling back 10-minutes after each thing was due to start to see if there’d been any no shows, needless to say we opted out of that kind of to-ing and fro-ing.

It was slightly disappointing to not be able to try these things out and I think we’d have had a very different and more rounded experience had we been able to sample a little more, but we still had a great time and saw a lot. Here’s some of my highlights and observations about the festival for those thinking of going next year…..

WILD SWIMMING & WOOD FIRED HOT TUBS

Perhaps something everyone should try at least once in their lifetime is wild swimming, the lake was pretty much always full of swimmers in the daytime, with many taking their pew along the lakeside to catch some rays (whilst the sun was out that is). It was reminiscent of childhood summer holidays in the alps and you couldn’t help but to feel adventurous and carefree even if not partaking in the swimming yourself.

Although we didn’t manage to enjoy the hot tubs at Wilderness we have seen these in action having booked the very same ones for our clients festival wedding earlier in August. By Bathing under the Sky, these beauties are divine and pure luxury, the staff are superbly attentive and really what better way to spoil yourself than in a hot tub in a beautiful forest, champers in hand?

FOOD AND DRINK

Wilderness is without a doubt a foodies delight and we were spoilt for choice when it came down to dining. From the breakfast trucks in the camping area we enjoyed toast, bacon rolls, tea and freshly brewed coffee. For a slightly more relaxing breakfast we headed to the Sanctuary to a lovely little pop-up restaurant (name eludes me) with red and white checked tablecloths enjoying Huevas Rancheros and a chilled coconut water, delish.

There was such a vast selection of food trucks serving a multitude of foods: burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork, curry, smoothies, ice-cream, fish and chips, paella, duck, lobster rolls, tacos, you name it you probably could have found it. For lunch I opted for a freedom Gyoza box from Rainbo which included a chicken and miso Gyoza with fresh slaw and edamame beans…..delicious, healthy and colourful. We also tried the wood-fired pizzas from Pizza Tabun which were so delicious we ended up back there again the next day. The food at Moro looked delicious too.

Drinks-wise there were a few bars onsite serving the standard spirit and mixer, priced around £5, we sampled a glass or two of the wine also but soon gave up as it was revolting AND warm. We were also a little disappointed by HIX as it looked fantastic and I’d heard great things, they had a cute outdoor chill-out section under a canopy with vintage furniture that looked so inviting, so we thought we’d enjoy a bottle of champagne and watch the afternoon unfold in front of us from the comfort of their lounge. Unfortunately though they didn’t offer ice buckets or any facility to chill it for us once purchased so we gave up and headed back to the Laurent Perrier Champagne Orangery for the second time since we’d arrived. This place was a little slice of refinement in the otherwise madness of the festival. I enjoy getting down and dirty at an event but sometimes you just want a cold drink and a comfortable seat.

Another favourite was the Zubrowka Bison grass vodka pop-up, a welcome respite from the rain on Friday evening with delicious cocktails, plus some pretty cool styling. Moro provided us with delicious white vermouth cocktails, refreshing and zingy.

FASHION

I could have sat for hours people-watching, everyone made such an effort with their outfits, even the kids with their face paints and funny tails. The festival themed each day with Altered States Friday, Disco Renaissance Saturday and the Cosmos on Sunday. And so ensued an explosion of glitter, sequins, spandex and feathers, with a few masks thrown in for good measure. Personally with little time to prepare it was a case of whatever we could get our hands on so I dug deep into my closet and picked out a few outfits, diy-ing a disco cape from some party decor I had knocking about my studio and buying a glittery cat mask online. Although we could have just turned up and headed to the various vintage and dressing up emporiums (so many) and found some outlandish outfits to wear.

I had a wander round a few and ogled the shiny delights on offer: Secret Emporium was like a party within the party and where I had my face painted by In Your Dreams, Rosa Bloom had some divine feathery and sequinned capes, Violets Box had a fab selection of outfits too.

It was clear this festival was a fashionista’s paradise and we saw so many fashion bloggers and fashion media strutting their stuff with plenty of street-style photographers snapping the action too. My only advice when it comes to dressing is to take lots of layers and flat shoes only, I ended up wearing mainly cut-off denim shorts with bodies and a variety of cover-ups, my anorak quite a lot as the rain was so sporadic and my hunter wellies.

THE DECOR

As a wedding and event planner I am always looking at how brands style and market themselves at events so for me it was like an being in an aladdin’s cave of inspiration. Colourful bunting as far as the eye could see and cute little styled spaces to interact with.


Some of my favourites included the Mulberry craft tent (annoyingly booked up all weekend so I didn’t actually get inside) and the Accessorize tent which had a cool wishing tree with colour-dipped feathers. I also saw lots of fashionable ladies walking around the site with their gold Mulberry balloons and branded picnic hampers, only to find out later that Cara Delevingne had been there to host a private picnic – my invite had clearly got lost in the post.



And as mentioned above the Zubrowka space with its forest-inspired teepee and 3-D paper art installation hanging from the ceiling was definitely one of my favourites and the most thought through design-wise, it looked like a mystical magical space that had literally grown amongst the woodland.

The Laurent-Perrier tent also looked beautiful with a gorgeous string installation over the bar – but I had already spied this on pictures from a previous year so was surprised they’d not done something fresh.


Oh how I’d love to design one of these spaces one day….brands take note.

ENTERTAINMENT

The music side of things, I felt, was quite average, and this comes from someone with hardly a passing interest in current music. It did seem that this element really took a back seat to everything else going on and I rarely saw the stages fill up with the kind of crowds we’ve all seen at the likes of Glastonbury et al. We watched a couple of sets on the main stage but couldn’t even tell you who.



For us the highlights were the late night revelry acts in Pandemonium, an amphitheatre in the valley which came alive at night. We had such a blast dancing our masked faces off to Horse Meat Disco, Greg Wilson and Futureboogie, the sound and lighting was immense topped off by a theatrical acrobatic performance by The Box. The Styx stage was another cool highlight, held on a carousel, as was the burning of the effigy which we watched from Pandemonium. Finally the hidden gem we found was the Artful Badger tent, a tiny space with fabulous music.

ACCOMMODATION

And now for the more practical elements which is where I feel Wilderness fell a little short of the mark and I guess this is the events organiser in me that has little tolerance for poor organisation.

With your ticket you also get access to general camping which allows you to pitch a tent in the main campsite. It has a few different sections including a Quiet Camp for those who actually want to sleep, a Family camp for those with kiddies and the free-for-all general area. There are food trucks close-by this area, plenty of toilets, showers etc and also the big green lockers should you wish to keep things secure (which are actually tiny and just fit your phone and wallet in them ), but definitely worth paying £25 for a weekend pass as you can also charge your phone in them.

This is where my experience was marred slightly with an unfortunate incident occurring on the Friday morning when we were abruptly awoken by a team of security guards telling us to move our tent as we’d pitched in a fire lane, along with about 100 other tents. Annoyingly when we’d arrived Thursday evening, after our 5-hour drive it was pretty dark, there were no maps and limited signage to direct you where to go. The campsites seemed pretty full and and were spilling out into the area we ended up camping in. We checked with the stewards and security manning these areas and we’re told it was fine to camp there so felt pretty irate when told we had to move the next day, particularly as the campsites were full to bursting by this point. Several hours later we’d managed to pack up, repitch the tent and unpack again but it left a pretty sour taste in the mouth. We actually ended up in the Quiet Camp which was anything but, the stewards tried to keep noise levels to a minimum but failed miserably resulting in quite a few sleepless nights.

Overall the camping facilities seemed to be badly organised and we heard many people complaining about it over the weekend, it seemed they had not anticipated the capacity with some reporting 30,000 people this year compared to 15,000 last year. If I attend again then I’ll definitely be glamping or staying offsite.

TOILETS AND SHOWER FACILITIES

This was the part I was dreading the most but I needn’t have been concerned, there was an abundance of toilet areas both in the main arena and across the campsite and I never once had to use my own loo-roll as they never ran out. The queues were pretty much non-existent apart from key points in the day, mainly mornings and early evening as everyone started to get a little inebriated but even then I never queued for longer than 5 minutes.

The showers were clean and HOT, but annoyingly were only working one out of the four times we tried to use them on both the Friday and Saturday. I imagine we were probably cleaner than most festival goers having showered and washed whilst there, but still, if you promise hot showers at least make sure they are working!!

MAPS AND SIGNAGE

Again another element that needs improving, finding your way around is difficult and no-one knows what’s going on when you ask them. You don’t get any kind of map when you arrive and have to pay £8 for a programme containing one which then doesn’t tell you the various food trucks on offer so for me was a waste of time.

It would have been much better with large maps dotted around the site or at least having something online that you can print yourself and /or work things out before you get there.

Despite all the above it was an incredible first festival experience and even though I was terribly sleep-deprived and had to pack up our tent in the midst of a hurricane I look back now with only fond memories of my experience. Roll on next year, who’s with me?

Michelle x

You can find Michelle at www.pocketfulofdreams.co.uk, an experienced events organiser planning individual and spectacular weddings and parties for clients across the UK and Europe.

Recommended: Lion + Pheasant, Shrewsbury

Last weekend we took a trip away to Mid-Wales for the other half’s birthday, staying at the Drawing Room in the Elan Valley (on Rebecca’s recommendation) over the Friday and Saturday evening’s. As it’s somewhat of a tradition for us to head out for Sunday lunch somewhere new at least twice a month we wanted to add this into our weekend somehow. We have tried almost every decent gastro-pub across Lancashire and Cheshire in our quest for the best Sunday Lunch, so after reading with interest in Red magazine about the Lion and Pheasant in Shrewsbury we added in a short stop on our way home to the Ribble Valley.

And boy are we glad we did!

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The Lion + Pheasant, a pub with 22 rooms and a Mr & Mrs Smith property, is a stunning conversion from coaching inn to stylish townhouse with a scandi-chic meets colonial New England interior. The Farrow and Ball-esque grey painted walls sit perfectly alongside pale oak and flagstone flooring with mismatched wooden furniture and industrial tolix chairs and stools creating a stylish yet laidback space. From the entrance on Wyle Cop we were greeted by a light and bright open-plan bar and reception area, where there is a wide variety of seating on offer from long dining tables to sofa’s and comfortable little nooks for two. Every aspect of the interior feels well thought-out with many clever designer touches that I loved, like the mason jar lighting over the bar area and the simple Christmas decor of holly branches in clear glass vases.  The hotel was actually remodelled by Rachael Chidlow of Paul Keogh Architects who is related to the owner and it is quite evident there has been a professional design-hand at work here.

We chose to dine in the buzzy bar area instead of the more formal split-level restaurant space upstairs, inviting as it was dressed with crisp white linens and gleaming glassware. We had a lovely long table to ourselves tucked away in a corner by the bar offering some privacy but still feeling part of the action. There’s also an inglenook, open-log fireplace in the bar area, perfect for enjoying a mulled wine (or three!) on long, lazy winter-days.

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Images by: Steve de Jetley Marks via Mr & Mrs Smith

The cocktail list was incredibly enticing, with seasonal variations of the classics on offer, I plumped for a Pear and Port fizz whilst the other half stuck with his standard Peroni. Despite arriving over an hour early for our reservation the staff could not have been more helpful and accommodating, seating us straight away.

Head chef Matthew Strefford has been awarded two AA rosettes for his outstanding and innovative dishes. We plumped for the traditional Sunday lunch menu and I wished we’d not spent the last two days stuffing our faces so I could try the full 3-courses on offer. The Mr opted for a root vegetable soup with creme fraiche, served with a basket of different breads which I helped him to mop up, the soup was perfectly spiced with the delicate creme fraiche and chives adding an unexpected yet delightful twist. We also both chose the Rib of Beef next with all the trimmings which included perfectly fluffy roast potatoes, caramelised whole carrots and parsnips with a delicious meaty gravy and of course crisp yorkshire puddings. The meat was served pink, which our waitress checked was okay for us, and it literally melted in the mouth. One of the best Sunday roasts I’ve tasted in a while – also on offer was belly of pork and turkey (given the proximity to Christmas). The wine list was extensive with both standard, purse-friendly options through to the more extravagant. A glass or two of cassis-rich Cabernet Sauvignon was the perfect partner to our lunch.

The dessert choices were mouthwatering to say the least with treacle tart, orange cake and many other delights on offer. Our waitress insisted we could still order after resting for a while, despite the fact the kitchen stopped service at 3.00pm and it was now some way past that – another little tick in the goodbooks and so refreshing against other establishments and their ridiculous ‘rules that cannot be bent’. Alas it was not to be I’m afraid, I just could not fit it in….a reason to go back if ever there was one! The other half however had room for more and chose a cheeseboard which came with 6 delicious cheeses, a variety of artisan crackers, celery, walnuts and a slab of quince, all served up on a wooden cheeseboard and cleverly delivered to our table with two plates so we could share. And I can confirm every bit as delicious as the other two courses, I managed to squeeze in a few mouthfuls, much to the Mr’s disgust (hates sharing food!).

As a pub with rooms these guys have hit the nail on the head, combining superbly warm hospitality with delicious, flavoursome food and stylish yet unpretentious surroundings.

Also try….
Whilst there we had a little walk around Shrewsbury itself, meandering the olde worlde streets filled with independent boutiques and historic buildings. Unfortunately for us most of the shops were shut but I quite quickly determined this was a place I could easily spend hours having a good old browse. Some of the shops that caught my eye included:

  • Urban Folk - Hidden down an alleyway off Wyle Cop is this really quirky and creative shop with design-led gifts and accessories
  • Rustic and White - a beautiful French Vintage shop, selling home accessories @RusticandWhite
  • Vintage Shrewsbury - A shop that celebrates good ‘old-fashioned’ design
  • Appleyards Fine Foods - Located on Wyle Cop – luckily for us this one WAS open and it’s fair to say I was like a kid in a candy shop. A totally traditional deli packed to the rafters with gourmet fine foods. We stocked up on stinky cheeses for Christmas.

It’s fair to say we fell a little in love with our short visit to Shrewsbury and the Lion and Pheasant and will definitely be adding it to our hitlist of places to visit again to stay for a weekend in the future.

So readers have you been here? or do you have other recommendations of similar places to try across the UK?

Michelle xx

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Introducing Esme: Family Lifestyle

Good morning readers! Today I have another lovely lady joining the Florence Finds team. Esme is a smart cookie, great writer, and Mum to 7 month old Freddie. As I know so many of you are mothers, I want to include more family life here on Florence Finds. Esme is going to be our family lifestyle contributor, talking about all things family. This month, think Girl about Town, with a BabyBjorn :)


Hello lovely Florence Finds readers! I’m absolutely thrilled to be here writing for one of my favourite blogs, especially as I will be writing about one of my favourite topics: family. So, let’s get started, shall we?

Long before we welcomed our little boy Freddie into the world, my husband and I were big fans of the National Trust. We’ve been members since we were about 19 and were lucky enough to be given a joint lifetime membership as a wedding present, so we’ve been to our fair share of properties and gardens. But since we’ve become parents our love for this British institution has grown even more – National Trust places are ideal for family day trips.

Here are my top picks for family (and especially baby) friendly days out with the National Trust.


Aberaeron

Baddesley Clinton
A 15th century house with large gardens and, most importantly, a great restaurant that offers a selection of homemade hot and cold food options (along with tea and cake, of course). We visited Baddesley Clinton not long after Freddie had started on solid food and they didn’t even bat an eyelid when he threw his mashed swede around the highchair, one member of staff was happy to show me how to use the microwave available for baby and children’s food you’ve brought yourself and there was even a bottle warmer. Baby changing facilities are in the disabled loo, which is the usual, and everything was pushchair and wheelchair accessible.

We stopped off here halfway round a circular walk that started at Packwood House and takes around 2.5 hours in total. The route is beautiful, taking you along the Stratford-Upon-Avon canal passing plenty of canal-side pubs if you fancy Sunday lunch rather than tea and cake. Unfortunately it’s definitely not buggy-friendly, but there are plenty of things look at to keep slightly older children entertained.


Anglesey-Abbey

Knightshayes
We only discovered Knightshayes this year, but it’s so lovely we’ve been there twice already and it is certain to become our default place to stretch our legs when driving to the South West (it’s 7 miles off the M5, not far from Exeter). It’s got a beautiful kitchen garden (perfect for inquisitive little ones), acres of grass for letting off steam and a perfectly manicured garden with funny topiary.

The cafe has a larger-than-average selection of cakes and I can confirm the staff are definitely not anti-breastfeeding.


Snowshill-Manor

Brockhampton Estate
This is one we’re looking forward to exploring further next time we go to visit my mum as we literally drive past it on our way to Mid Wales, but have only managed to stop for a quick lunch and to give a grumpy baby a break from the car. This is one of the things we love about the National Trust: when you’re travelling and need to stop for anything other than petrol, you can’t beat them – the food is often homemade on the premises, you’re guaranteed to find something more interesting to look at than a service station car park and the toilets are always clean and have somewhere to change the baby.

Lanhydrock
We tend to spend most of our time outside or in the cafe when we visit somewhere National Trust owned, but one of the properties you have to take time to look around is Lanhydrock in Cornwall. I probably wouldn’t recommend taking your 4 month old baby if you really want to appreciate the 100 plus rooms (like we did), but if you do then rest assured that although you can’t take your pushchair around with you, there is somewhere to lock it up securely and they will lend you either a sling or a ‘hippy chick’ (a belt that clips around your hips/waist with a hard ledge that you can rest the baby on to give your arms and back a rest) and staff will coo over them in every room even if they are crying and/or grabbing at everything.


Lanhydrock

Also, the cream tea in the cafe comes with a proper pot of tea, a large pot of clotted cream and two scones (as is only proper in Cornwall, but is unfortunately not always the case).

I can’t wait to take Freddie to some of our other favourite National Trust places such as Anglesey Abbey, which is just outside of Cambridge and has one of the best selections of trees in the country, and Llanerchaeron, the 18th century Welsh estate with a home farm that will definitely be combined with a honey ice-cream and a stroll by the sea in nearby beautiful Aberaeron – my four year old niece’s favourite day trip. Oh, and Snowshill Manor  with its quirky model villages, but maybe that’s one for when Freddie is a bit older.

I hope I’ve inspired you to take a trip to your local National Trust property, garden or coastline or to revisit somewhere you used to visit as a child.

Love, Esme.

Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or @Real_Married

** The National Trust have currently got a special offer on membership where if you pay by annual Direct Debit, you get 3 months free! A family membership with two adults (under 5s are free) is £75.72, an absolute bargain if you ask me **

Girl About Town: London Bars with a Difference…

I like a quirky bar. I like something odd or different. I like drinks and dining to be a bit of an “experience”. I used to be all about a fancy restaurant with white linen and a silver cloche, a grand dining room or a room with a view, but recently I’ve been going in for furniture glued to the ceiling, themed dining and broth served in a halved Diet Coke can. This year for our anniversary I set Mr G the task of finding somewhere “awesome” for dinner. I asked for Sketch (I took him there for patisserie back in April, because we were too broke for dinner, but I quite fancied an actual meal there). Apparently Mr G did not feel that our fourth wedding anniversary constituted a good enough reason to batter our overdrafts and make ourselves homeless. Hmph.

Hours of Googling “coolest/funkiest/oddest/quirkiest cocktails in London”, looking for something on a level with Sketch in terms of the fun factor but not on a level with Sketch in terms of the cost factor, made me realise we’d already visited quite a few cool places, so I thought I’d tell you about some of my favourites here.

Inamo
I booked Inamo via a deal website a while back and managed to get a good chunk off the bill. The tables themselves are the menus, becoming giant “touch screen” displays through which you can scroll for food items and drinks and then select your choices. You can order items and, without ever speaking to a human, they turn up at your table. Run out of cocktails? Order more! Fancy some more rice with that? Double tap and it’s on its way. “What’s that you’ve got there? Can I try it? No? I’ll order some of my own then…”

Once you’ve stopped ordering food and drinks (and it can get dangerous, ordering at the swipe of a finger – a bit like drunken iTunes purchases at midnight because you “really feel like dancing to that great Pitbull song” – you know what I mean… don’t you? Anyone?) then the real fun starts. The games! You can challenge other people to games like battleships, scroll through various electronic “table cloths” or use the table as an interactive area map to see where you should go next. Hours of fun!

Callooh Callay
I’m obsessed with Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass. It’s all the theming, oddness and quirkiness that makes the story so appealing to me. It’s only natural then, that a bar named for one of Lewis Carroll’s poems is full off oddness and quirkiness.
The seats are claw footed baths filled with cushions, the menu is themed like an american year book, some of the cocktails are borderline weird (mine tasted like a chilled thai green curry… odd, an acquired taste, but actually delicious!) and there are hidden bars access through a mirrored wardrobe. What’s not to love?

Flesh and Buns
I’m not going to lie, my friend and I booked this place, not for the funky group dining set up, the cloud-soft hirata buns filled with super-tasty teriyaki salmon or the fruity cocktail list, but for the dessert menu. We kept our savoury order to a minimum (squid, broccolli, teriyaki salmon buns. Yum) so we could focus on pudding.

In particular the s’mores! A fire bowl was delivered to us and we squealed with delight as we toasted our mashmallows on skewers over the flaming coals, squished them between biscuits with matcha paste, and then proceeded to get marshmallow all over our hands and faces. Not cool, but lots of fun! We also saved some room for hot, fresh, black-sugar custard doughnuts. We did a lot of finger licking.

Casa Negra
Sister restaurant to La Bodega Negra, Casa Negra sticks in my mind not because of the delicious mexican food, but because of their thoughtful cocktail menu. If like me you often can’t decide which concoction to order, their Margarita Flight is perfect. Undecided on which flavour of frozen margarita to try, they brought me a miniature one of each on a tasting board! Now that’s my kind of drinks menu!

Soho Diner
I’ve mentioned the Electric Diner on this blog before as a great place to take the boys and it’s sister restaurant Soho Diner is much the same. But when I saw that they had cocktails on tap it’s since become one of my fave girly haunts, and it’s perfectly acceptable to drag along the boys as well. Cocktails on tap? That’s right – think of the increased bottle-to-glass speed as they cut out the measuring, mixing, muddling, shaking and stirring and decant perfectly concocted classics straight to your cup.

The build-your-own burgers aren’t bad either. I often while away an hour or two day dreaming about what we now refer to as the Burger of Doom (christened by Mahj)… double cheeseburger with sliced avocado, fried egg and maple-smoked bacon. Mmmmmm… *Homer-style dribble*

Circus
I spotted this on an episode of The Apprentice and, after talking about it excitedly for weeks, my friends surprised me with a booking for a special birthday dinner. We dined on tasty Asian dishes and slurped yummy cocktails whilst being entertained by a variety of burlesque cabaret acts through the night. Most of the acts take place on or above a large catwalk running down the middle of the restaurant which also doubles as a group dining table and my group was lucky enough to be seated at this table! At the end of the night they clear away the plates and glasses and they encourage you to get up on the table and dance. It’s not often the restaurant staff assist you in getting up on to the table, rather than escorting you down from it…

So, bearing in mind my current love of weird and wonderful places, can anyone suggest anywhere I should try? Has anyone tried Dans le Noir or Dinner in the Sky?

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Recommended: CarFest North

At the beginning of this month, Pete and I went to Oulton Park in Cheshire for CarFest North. Radio 2 listeners might have heard of the 3 day festival set up by Chris Evans for Children in Need. Billed as a combination of his favourite things, cars, food and music, it’s supposed to be a great family day out and as my husband is car obsessed, I knew he would love it and snapped up tickets for his birthday in January.

We arrived at 10.45, in time to watch the ‘magnificent sevens’ hill climb – groups of 7 of various types of car (starting with the 7 Ferrari’s Chris Evans has collected,) racing one by one round the track, with commentary about their heritage. We didn’t watch them all, instead heading to grab a coffee and some breakfast whilst checking out the food offerings. There were loads of food trucks with delicious options for eating – festival in style but far beyond the usual greasy burger and chip offerings. We had coffee and headed to the paddock to see all the sevens up close and personal.

Now I’m not much of a fan of cars but I do think some of them are beautiful and in the sunshine with them all super shiny and polished, there was plenty to keep me occupied until Pete spotted the Formula one cars getting ready to do their lap – it was absolutely deafening! The highlight of Pete’s day was seeing James Hunts Formula One winning car from 1977.

Next we watched the aerial display including the Vulcan bomber which took my breath away – it was so big and so low, it felt like an alien space ship coming to take over the earth. Lunch was a huge burrito and some paella, chosen from the mix of organic, farmers market, and specialist food trucks around the main area (I didn’t get to properly investigate the pies v cakes tent full of British independent bakers of pies, cakes and some jams and chutneys but Paul Hollywood was there judging.) Next we headed to the track again, to watch the cars repeat their laps. The DB5 from Skyfall and the DBS from the Quantum of Solace were amongst the cars, as well as the car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a car made into a shed, and lots of celebrities driving their cars.

It’s a pretty long haul watching them all, but luckily for me, when we got to the ones we had seen before, it was gloriously sunny and I stretched out on the grass for a rest. With only the music left to happen, we staked out a place centre stage, only a few rows from the front and enjoyed some Pimms before the music started. It soon got busy and we had to squeeze past to get more drinks and some dinner later but it was worth it as the music was fab with an x-factor style kareoke session, followed by Noasis, Deacon Blue and then The Feeling. Everybody knows Oasis so they were great for a sing along, but I couldn’t recall anything of Deacon Blue’s until they got started and they were really incredible. The Feeling were also brilliant – so good I’m thinking of going to see them again in October when they go on tour. The headliners were actually Ocean Colour Scene, but unfortunately it started to rain and after hearing their one memorable track we left, having had a great day.

You can camp for the weekend, but for us I think it was enough for the one day – other than the music, we saw everything we wanted to in one day. What was great about it was the atmosphere. There were families everywhere and people just having a great time, no drunken louts, blokes with their shirts off or kids causing trouble. Everyone was just relaxed and enjoying everything on offer. I’d definitely recommend it – particularly for a family day out if you’re not sure about taking kids or a present for blokes/dads who are hard to buy for – if they like cars, you’ll be spot on treating them to this.

CarFest South is this weekend at Laverstoke Park Farm. Are you going readers? Have you been? Gobsmacked that I’m talking about Cars on Florence Finds? Me too!!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Dream Destination: The Laura Ashley Hotel

Often when I’m planning a trip away, one of my criteria when booking the hotel is that I love the interiors. I take pride in my home so when I go away I want the place I’m staying to be just as restful or inspiring. It’s no secret I’m a fan of Laura Ashley and so when I heard that they had opened a new boutique Manor Hotel in Elstree, Hertfordshire, I wanted to share it with you all.


Premium signature suite

The hotel has an exclusive restaurant, terrace bar area and 49 bedrooms, which I had to admit were the feature that caught my eye. For a relaxing break, often I enjoy just unwinding in my hotel room, catching up on TV or taking a long bath and of course getting ready for an evening out, so the luxurious interiors created by Laura Ashley using their own range of home furnishings and decor were right up my street.

Not only that, but there’s some serious interior decor inspiration for those of you looking to create some boutique hotel chic in your own bedroom for that relaxing feeling every day. I loved looking at these and seeing how Laura Ashley have interpreted their designs into real rooms.

For a bit of Laura Ashley luxury however, you can book a room from £150 (and the property will also host weddings.) Just log onto www.lauraashleyhotels.com

What do you think readers? Those rooms look so inviting!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Girl About Town: London, High and Low

London: standing up high

I work in Canary Wharf and although people say it’s not “proper London” (pah!) I love it for many reasons, one of them being the beautiful views I enjoy day in day out of the London skyline, especially at sunset. From this vantage point, I watched The Shard emerge from its foundations near London Bridge on to the London skyline and then creep its way in to the sky, overtaking the City’s high-rise towers and iconic landmarks to become the “tallest building in Western Europe”. I became rather fond of its glassiness, boastfulness and “Shardiness” in my eye line out across my favourite city, so it was a foregone conclusion that as soon as it was open I’d be in the (online) queue for tickets to visit the viewing platform.

And so a week ago, with my family in tow, I found myself in the queue for The View at The Shard at the front gate ready for our time slot.

Entry is timed in half hour slots, presumably to control the flow of people and prevent overcrowding at the top, but also to increase the “experience” factor. It’s much cheaper to book these slots in advance online so do plan ahead, but if you have a spare £100 in your back pocket, they will grant you a “let me in immediately” pass.

Anyone that’s been to Disneyland or a theme park will immediately recognise the anticipation tactics they employ during the entry procession (and some health and safety reasons too, of course) – checking of the tickets, metal detectors, searches, scanning of the tickets, switch-back roped-off queuing, theme park ride music piped in to the cool, dark, themed spaces in which you wait for the lifts, all overseen by the most non-London-but-very-Disneyland staff who are cheerful, helpful, upbeat, knowledgeable, friendly, happy and willing to engage in small talk with their charges. In fact I’ll go so far as to say that some of them even initiated it!

*Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in London anymore…*

Two sets of lifts and a stair case (wear big knickers – you can see straight up the skirts of the people above you!) and you enter the panoramic viewing platform.

Loving London as much as I do, it literally took my breath away. I’ve gazed from the top of much higher buildings but I wasn’t looking down on my beloved London. Despite being incredibly scared of heights I loved it.

In terms of the main viewing area, there are faux “telescopes” dotted around with electronic screens for you to pick your views (day, dusk, night and live), scan the horizon, zoom in on buildings, attractions and areas and click on information links for more detail. Also on each window are icons of the famous landmarks found if looking in that direction. Helpful for someone like me that navigates London via my photographic-memory-recall of the Tube map alone and a constant recital of “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” to get my bearings!

Also exciting is that, as a purpose built viewing platform, no view up, out, left or right is blocked. In fact it’s built so that you can almost look directly down underneath your feet… if you are mad/brave enough to do so. Therefore, we were able to see straight down in to the beer garden in which, only moments before, we had been staring up at The Shard whilst enjoying a last minute pint and a Pimm’s to help my dad pluck up the courage! It was a little bit surreal.

For me, what really sets The View from The Shard apart from the other viewing platforms in the city, such as 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin) and Tower 42 is the next level up – the same view, but open to the elements! 72 floors above the street and you can feel fresh air on your skin. For me, working in air conditioned glass towers for the last six years, the feeling is utterly bizarre.

Seeing that my poor father was sweating buckets with fear we took pity and headed out to order a glass of celebratory fizz in one of the two bars (slightly lower in the tower), we were however scuppered in our attempt by a very strict door policy and refused entry on the basis that I was wearing flip flops (they were strappy leather flats!) and Mr G was wearing shorts (it was 28 degrees!) so we took ourselves to All Bar One next door instead… and happily saved ourselves a quid or two!

In summary, it’s a great way to view the city, spot famous London landmarks, get your bearings and appreciate the sheer size of our sprawling capital. But, I think £25 is steep for essentially standing at the top of a sky scraper. If you want more of a special experience, or want to enjoy the view in a more refined manner, my recommendation would be to book dinner at either Hutong* or Oblix* and put that £25 towards some pricey cocktails instead, blag your way to the top of The Gherkin or book a table at Duck and Waffle or Tower 42 instead and enjoy a glass of bubbly with your view!

*NB I’ve tried neither Hutong or Oblix due to my unfortunate shoe situation, so I have no idea on the quality and prices – if you go – let me know!

London: standing down low

In keeping with the theme of standing for a view, as well as standing and looking down, I also did some standing and looking up.

I’ve long fantasised about seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe, because it’s my favourite of the Bard’s plays and it feels only right to see it in such authentic-feeling surroundings.

Add to this, my long standing obsession with seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream at midnight and I had no qualms with booking standing tickets in order to make my dream come true. For years I’ve missed out on the one-off show they put on around the Summer Solstice so this year I was tipped off by a friend-of-a-friend at a Midsummer Night’s Dream themed wedding (not a coincidence!) and managed so get some of the last few tickets.

I’ve never been to the Globe before and I was as excited about the setting as I was the play itself. A modern glass exterior leads you through in to a replica Elizabethan open air theatre with wooden seating, a yard for us plebs to crowd in to and a raised, covered stage with beautiful detailing. It would have felt magical at any time of day but arriving in the dark, as the previous audience were heading home for bed, was utterly enchanting.

Like I said, sadly we didn’t have seats so I was slightly worried about having to stand up for over three hours, but in the run up to the evening, Globe theatre aficionados informed me that standing is the best way to see a play there. I wasn’t convinced at the start but really I needn’t have worried. I’ve done longer stints standing at festivals, concerts, on stage myself, and all in less comfy shoes so it wasn’t so bad at all really and in the end I was so engaged and invested in what was happening on the stage I barely noticed that I wasn’t seated. I think I could have been wearing five inch stilettos and I’d still have stayed until the very end. At 11.59, prompt, a band of Ye Olde Englishe musicians came out and played some Ye Olde Englishe folk music to set the scene, and from the first note at the open, to the last hum at the close I was spell bound. I laughed out loud, I grinned, I gasped and I sighed as the hugely talented actors brought Shakespeare’s words to life. In the spine-tingling finale, as the fairies bless the temple, tears pricked my eyes and goosebumps appeared on my skin with the emotion… and perhaps just a little fatigue!

Sadly they only do one midnight show a year, so get your mouse hand ready for next year, but in the meantime, if you love the play I’d highly recommend seeing this version, it’s on until October!

I’d also recommend dinner at The Swan before or after the show for some tasty dishes and a reasonably priced set menu but mainly for the stunning view of St Paul’s across the river.

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Girl about Town… with a Boy

By now you all know Victoria and I don’t usually butt in on her posts but today I couldn’t help myself. I don’t know about a boy, but this might just be my most perfect day out ever. I am so going to be visiting these hotspots next time I’m in the big smoke. Thanks Victoria!

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a bit of a girly girl. Which means that when I’m out and about attempting to be a Girl About Town my eye is drawn by the girliest of locations, my interest is piqued by the pretty, my attention is grabbed by the glitzy and my appetite is whetted by sugar and spice and all things nice.

Sometimes, though, I feel like I’m leaving the Mister out of all the fun so every now and again I look for things a bit less frou-frou and frilly and with a slightly more manly edge so he can come along. To that end, I’ve pulled some of my recent slightly-less-girly exploits together in to one man-friendly post that could form the basis of a whole day out or just a quick date or catch up with the man in your life, be he your husband, boyfriend, brother, father or even the next door neighbour who did some of your “Blue Jobs” and now you owe him a drink*.

Let’s start at the beginning (a very good place to start) with breakfast, or in fact…

Brunch at The Wolseley

It’s not just for boys, but I think the old-school opulence and masculine colours and décor makes for a great setting to get a special day out started. Eating breakfast in such grandeur feels rather Bruce Wayne/Sports Superstar/other male “icon”-cool.

Mr G is a bit of an eggs benedict aficionado and I’ve eaten my fair share of American-style pancakes (with berries, maple syrup and crispy bacon, of course) in my time, so we know our stuff and I think we both whole heartedly agreed that it was one of the best breakfasts we’d eaten in the UK. The service, quality and prices were everything you’d expect from such a well known restaurant, but equally it’s not as stuffy or expensive as you’d think. We went on a weekday and it had a bustly, buzzy atmosphere with suited-and-booted corporate meetings, obvious regulars looking dapper and reading the business pages at their usual tables and a few (slightly) famous faces having discreet catch ups. Be sure to book in advance for the weekend as they get very busy.

After Brunch, my second favourite meal of the day is Afternoon Tea (Dinner, Lunch, Midnight Feast and Breakfast being third, fourth, fifth and sixth respectively). Traditionally, or at least as far as I’ve experienced, afternoon tea is always a very feminine affair. Dinky sandwiches, light-as-air patisserie, miniature scones and tea and fizz scented with floral aromas served in girly surroundings on delicate china. Afternoon tea is not often top of Mr G’s list of things to do. Until now…

Burger afternoon tea at BRGR.co Soho

Milk and sugar with your tea madam? Not here – American style iced tea, thank you very much!

Cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off? Nope – a trio of sliders (lobster, chicken and beef) and a portion of fries, complimented by BBQ sauce, burger relish and mustard.

Scones with jam and cream? Nuh-uh – how about a bowl of creamy vanilla milkshake. Yum.

Your choice of cake from the sweet trolley? Save it for next time – I’d prefer a selection of mini desserts thank you very much. Specifically, a salted caramel “doughnut hole” (sorry – that should probably be “donut hole” in here), a brownie and a de-constructed raspberry cheesecake.

Glass of fizz to accompany your treats? Well… if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Yes please!

Situated in Soho, literally just off Oxford Street, I knew it’d be a super-cool venue as the name of the restaurant contained no vowels! We were a large group and I don’t queue so I booked a table in advance for a Sunday afternoon as they don’t take Saturday bookings. The style and decor is simple, modern and understated, but colour is injected here and there with kitsch cow heads mounted on the walls. These are designed by artists, designers, celebrities and creative individuals and auctioned for charity. Click here to check out the hall of fame, or to submit an idea for your own. We were seated in front of the open kitchen and bar so there was some added theatre to the dining experience. The service was brilliant, in fact almost up to US standards, and the afternoon tea price was, in my opinion, a complete bargain!

After taking your fill of brunch and burgers (with maybe a short break in between for some culture, walking, sightseeing or shhhh, shopping?) what about a trip to the cinema to see a boy-friendly film? But not just any cinema..

The Electric Cinema:

Situated on Portobello Road, maybe a five or ten minute walk from Notting Hill Gate tube, The Electric Cinema is definitely the coolest place I’ve ever been to watch a film. The foyer feels like a cross between a ticket tent for a circus and a Victorian grocery shop, with a small booth in the corner to collect your tickets, a wall lined with wooden drawers full of traditional penny sweets and a vintage till at the Electric Donuts stand.

After loading up on goodies it’s straight in to the auditorium, full of squidgy red leather armchairs, love seats at the back, and double beds in the front row. Each seat has its own little polished table (no arguing over the cup holders), a vintage-style lamp and a leather footstool (no putting your feet on the chair in front and being told off by an usher), which contained a cosy cashmere blanket for each person and has space to store your belongings. Not really something that the boys will care about, but this made me squeal with delight as I always take an over-sized scarf or pashmina to the cinema with me to snuggle under or hide behind during the scary/gross bits, and I refuse to put my handbag on the sticky, dirty floor, instead clutching it on my lap all through the film. How very civilised!

There is a bar at the back of the auditorium which serves alcoholic beverages and yummy snacks, so your boy can kick back with a movie, a beer and a hot dog like he’s in his own living room… the living room he’d have in his Bruce Wayne/Sports Superstar/other male “icon” mansion, of course.

There are minimal pre-film adverts, so be on time, with just one or two that fit the profile of the main showing and then in to the usual, but in fact, unusual, “housekeeping” about phones off, exits, drinks/snacks and where to find the rather pretty loos. Pay attention to this bit – there are some fun surprises!

It’s not cheap, but for the experience of watching a special film in style, it’s worth every penny. After the film, if brunch, afternoon tea and Electric Donuts haven’t filled you up, you can head next door to…

Electric Diner for a late dinner:

The menu is full of simple but tasty American diner-style treats and the short but sweet drinks list contains some powerful cocktail concoctions, alongside a variety of beers and wines. I chowed down on a super-tasty cheeseburger with a shared side of fries, broccoli and the tastiest, juiciest bacon I’ve eaten in a long time washed down with a Grey Goose le Fizz (Vodka, elderflower, lime and soda). I’d highly recommend the lot!

*Apologies for the slightly anti-feminist statement there, but you know what I mean, some things are just meant for boys to do and I’m always eternally grateful to the men in and around my life for stepping in when Mr G is unavailable. This mainly involves being rescued from arachnids or collected from train stations that are not my intended destination after (ahem) missing a stop here and there late at night.

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Recommended: Liverpool

As I was brought up by the sea, I have found that the older that I get, the more landlocked I feel, longing to see the sea. Often, weekend breaks (particularly where we live with the Peak District, Wales and Lake District all close by,) are focused on historic cities or rolling countryside, yet I prefer a town I can get dressed up for, culture to absorb and a coastal influence, so en route home to Southport for Easter, we spent a day and night in Liverpool. When I was growing up, Liverpool was where I would venture for decent shopping and many a family day out was spent at it’s Albert Docks, but so much has changed since then it’s worth another look now. Liverpool gets a terrible rap whether it’s for the accent or sweeping generalisations about the people which are outdated and (like so many other stereotypes) ignorant. I’m proud of the city and I hope my little round up will encourage you to consider visiting and enjoying it – there is something for everyone.

We started off at the newly built Malmaison Hotel. Overlooking the river, it’s in a regenerated area that previously hardly existed and perfectly located next door to the Liver Building for walking along the river front into central Liverpool. I’ve mentioned the great deals you can get in most Malmaison hotels and we took advantage of a Room, dinner and cocktails for two offer, for just £99 and you can park next door for 24 hours for £10.

The next morning, after a Mal breakfast feast we bundled up (Liverpool is ALWAYS cold, due to the bracing wind off the Mersey,) and headed off towards our first stop, the Albert Docks. In 2008 Liverpool was European Capital of Culture and has been vastly regenerated as a result. We walked past the new Museum of Liverpool in it’s incredible purpose built building (free to visit) towards the Albert Docks which house the Maritime Museum (focusing on the city’s naval history and strong links to the slave trade triangle between Africa, Liverpool and the Caribbean,) The Tate Liverpool and where we were headed, The Beatles Story. I’m not a huge Beatles fan, but Pete is and wanted to see it, plus from a cultural perspective it’s an interesting take on an era. Our tickets were £12.95 and we spent about 2 hours going around with the audio guide. It was a little repetitive in places but a must for a fan, I would say.

Other cultural attractions in the city include The World Museum (a more traditional museum with egyptian mummies, dinosaurs and a planetarium,) 2 cathedrals and performances at the Liverpool Empire and St Georges Hall.

For me Liverpool was always a shopping destination and the shopping area was very disparate from the Albert Docks. The creation of the new Liverpool One shopping centre and surrounding sleek glass arcades and streets now house shopping to rival Manchester and you can literally cross the road from the Albert Docks and be there straight away. There are also restaurants and an Odeon cinema. After a quick Pret lunch we headed into the shops for a bit of a spree and ended our day walking back along the river front to pick up the car and head back to Southport. You can also explore nearby Mathew Street for a boutique area and lots of musical references as it was originally the site of the famous Cavern club.

Our Liverpool adventure didn’t end in Southport however. On Easter Sunday we drove back to Crosby to walk on the beach and see Antony Gormley’s Another Place. A public art installation, it consists of 100 life sized iron men positioned along 3km of coastline and up to 1km out. As it is an estuary, your experience of the men varies according to whether the tide is in or out and many of them are partly or completely submerged at different times of the day, particularly when we visted at the spring high tide.

The men are strangely haunting and spooky, meant to represent ‘the individual and universal sentiments associated with emigration – sadness at leaving, but the hope of a new future in another place.’ You’d be best driving here (probably 15 mins from central Liverpool or less, and there are directions, or public transport information here. We were lucky as it was sunny but wrap up whatever the weather to avoid freezing on the beach!

Have you ever visited Liverpool or have I encouraged you to plan a trip today? If you happen to be a Liverpool local and have any recommendations, for sightseeing or eating/drinking, do leave a comment below!

Love,
Rebecca
xo