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.

Meet and Greet: Victoria (a.k.a. Girl about Town)

Good Morning readers! As we have a growing roster of regular contributors, some new, some old timers, I thought it would be fun to get to know them a little better. Victoria is now my longest standing contributor of the Girl About Town series and I’ll be bringing you a post from her tomorrow but for now, have a little read of this and find out more about why she is super qualified to be our monthly stylish city hostess with the mostess!

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I’m a married, early-thirty-something, marketing and business development manager who works crazy hours at a large global law firm by day, but by night/weekends/annual leave days I’ve made it my mission to visit the world’s coolest bars, sights, cities, beaches and parties.
I love to travel, party, explore, decorate, event-plan, outfit-assemble and generally seek out the best that life has to offer. I love to eat, but I can’t bear to cook. I pride myself on always striving to be the Hostess with the Mostess and cocktails are my life skill.
I’m fiercely independent, but really, I just couldn’t do “it”, or be “me” without my amazing and inspiring friends and family nor my long-suffering husband, without whom I would likely never eat meals that require knives and forks, nor would I ever get out of bed in the mornings!

What do you write about?

All the fun stuff I find to do, eat, drink or experience in London and any other city I happen to be visiting.

What is your weekday/weekend uniform?

You’ll either find me at one end of the spectrum or the other… I’m either dressed up and ready to stalk the halls of my office/to party in a black dress and killer colour-pop heels (tights on for the former, off for the latter) or dressed down in jeans and boots, or my fave pyjamas!
I’m all about the accessories. For me, they add my personality to an outfit and make me feel like me.

Favourite Food?

Does tequila count? No? OK, so, depending on the day of the week I could be craving any of the following: Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Lebanese or Italian. If it came down it, I’d have to go with my mum’s lasagne. It’s a recipe that’s been handed down from the Italian side of my family, and which I have no intention of ever learning. However, over the last 10 years, my husband has come very close to perfecting it! I’d have it with a rocket, tomato and avocado salad with a homemade dressing!

Holiday destination recommendation?

So, so, so many! Holidays are kind of my “thing”… tweet me, or message me and let’s chat! @VictoriaHale

Can’t live without Beauty product?

Karin Herzog Vita A Kombi Oil.

Last book I read…

I have a number on the go on my iPad but the last tangible book I read was a recommendation from Florence Finds in fact: The Girl with all the Gifts. It had me hooked from paragraph one.

What does your perfect weekend look like?

A lie in and a leisurely breakfast and quality time with my husband (he works shifts and I work long city hours, so QT is rare!), over which we plan travel, home improvements, social events and talk about work. Then I or we get dressed up and hit the town or a party or get dressed down and snuggle up on the sofa or in the local for catch ups with friends. Sunday is brunch day at home or out, just us, with family, friends or both, catching up on chores and jobs and then a family dinner followed by some Sunday night telly as I relax before another crazy week at work. Sometimes my weekends are more tiring that my working week, but I love them and I wouldn’t change them for the world!

Come back tomorrow for the latest instalment of Victoria’s Girl About Town series, on a pop up dining experience with a difference!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

[Girl About Town] What to Wear: To an Indian Wedding

It’s not me sharing outfits today but Victoria. I saw her recent escapades on Facebook and just had to ask her to share her outfits, pulled together for what looked like a fabulous Indian wedding. Victoria is always glamorous and her four (yes, four!) outfits didn’t disappoint so I hope you enjoy looking and perhaps get some ideas for weddings you are attending this summer (or share some of your own outfits.)

I’ve been to a lot of weddings. 37 to be precise, not including our own, and I have four more over the next 12 months. I therefore have a lot of practise in putting together wedding outfits. Some of you that follow me on Instagram may have seen me in my wedding outfit planning efforts. I treat them in the same way I treat work projects – lots of preparation, diagrams and chat about the final product, but all thrown together in a panic in the last few moments, that often works out quite well, but is very different from the original plan. Shhh, don’t tell my boss!

I used to buy something new for each one – a new hat or dress, shoes or clutch… but then I totted up 12 invites in one year, some of them being two or three day events (so you know, you also need a special outfit for the big “night before” dinner and then something fancy-but-hangover-comfy for the morning/day after “survivors” gathering) and seeing as I’m neither a Kardashian nor a Middleton, it all got a bit much for my bank (in)balance and so I started recycling. I now have a pretty good suite of “occasion wear” from which I can mix and match future outfits.

So for 2014′s five weddings I sorted all my outfits out at the beginning of the year and knew exactly what I was going to wear…. and then I realised one was an Indian wedding and I had literally no clue where to start.

Thankfully the bride was on the ball, arranged a number of shopping trips for us less-clued up guests, provided a handy “what to wear, when” guide for the girls and boys for the various events and was kind enough to pick up little bits and pieces for us on her numerous trips to India.

So, here’s a run down of what I actually wore…

Civil Wedding (Friday afternoon)
For the Civil Wedding, the guideline was “British summer wedding” and having checked out the venue (One Marylebone) and spoken to the bride about her colour schemes (soft colours, white and pale pinks) at length I knew exactly what to wear.  I pulled out a dress (special edition Olivia Rubin/Dorothy Perkins collaboration), a white Whistles clutch, some H&M hair clips (as I couldn’t fit a hat in my overnight bag) and my old faithful pink Louboutins (my wedding shoes – still the comfiest heels I’ve worn in five years!) and a fussy H&M pale pink necklace. I had intended to wear some new baby blue ankle strap shoes from New Look, but it was far too hot and I didn’t fancy “ankle-muffin top”.

Sangeet/Mehndi party  Friday evening
For the celebrations on Friday evening the guidance for Indian clothing was a trouser suit/Salwaar Kameez/Anarkali or Lengha (a skirt and a top with a scarf) and for western clothing, something bright. On a shopping trip with the bride, I found a nice hot pink and rose gold anarkali (a long floaty dress/top, trousers and a long scarf) which I dressed up with a pair of neon blue pointed courts (super cheap but super comfy from Linzi), some large gold chandelier earrings, some hot pink and gold bangles (a gift from the bride) and a rose gold evening bag from Mulberry.

We were performing a dance to Jai Ho as a tribute to the bride and groom at the event, and as it was incredibly hot and sticky that day, it was a no brainer that my hair was glued up and off my face in a bouffy beehive. It may look fancy, but let me assure you it’s not, I got dressed in a corridor and my hair is held up with a ton of dry shampoo, a gallon of elnett and quite a lot of sweat. Gross! Sorry!
Saturday was a day of rest and recovery for me, not so for the bride who had another two outfits to rock!

Hindu Wedding  Sunday day
The guidelines for this included “any type of Indian clothing, most guests will be in a sari” or if I chose western clothing, to be respectful and make sure it wasn’t too short or revealing. I was worried that wearing Indian clothing might have seemed odd, or offensive, seeing as I’m not Indian, but the bride assured me it was a good idea and even lent me one of her saris – in a beautiful pistachio green, embroidered and embellished in gold. It consisted of a petticoat, a blouse and a long, loooong piece of material which you fold, wrap, gather, tuck and drape around your body.

Thankfully, the bride’s mother had pre-folded and sewed the pleats at the front, so when I arrived (in essentially my underwear at a posh five star hotel (The Grove)  it was only a case of wrapping, tucking and draping in the nearest toilet cubicle (which was thankfully rather plush, considering the venue). I found someone to pin everything in to place so I flashed no tummy (too soon in the year for that!) and to keep everything secure. I accessorised with big gold earrings, a sparkly hair band, more bangles from India (another gift from the bride) and some gold sandals I wore as a bridesmaid 7 years ago, from Faith, which are still going strong! I took along my trusty Lulu Guinness lips clutch for a pop of colour!

Reception  Sunday night
The instructions for the reception, the big finale, were “think black tie – go glam”… now those instructions I had no trouble with! I wore a bargain ASOS dress, that looks way more expensive that it was. I also have it in white, but I thought for the evening’s decor and theme, Art Deco London, the black would be better, as I last wore it at a Claridge’s Christmas party. You may have also seen it on the wonderful Rebecca as well. Great minds think alike and all that!

I accessorised with a box clutch (a fiver in an Oasis sale years ago, and until now, unused, due to its rather unuseful size!) pewter peep toe heels from the Ted Baker sale, also years old but dead comfy, some Swarovski earrings which were a 30th birthday present, a super-bling chunky bracelet – also a 30th birthday present – and again some bangles from India, given away as favours at the Sangeet/Mehndi party.

On Monday I wore pyjamas, lots of Sudocrem and Vaseline on all my sequin chafe and allergic flare ups from all the safety pins and soft, soft socks on my dance-weary feet.

I can’t publish photos of the bride without her permission, but rest assured, no matter what effort we put in, we paled in comparison to how stunningly breathtaking she was. Her outfits (designed bespoke to match each venue, theme and setting), accessories and make up had my jaw on the floor.

When she’s back from her well-deserved honeymoon, perhaps I’ll convince her to give you a sneaky peek.

How do you plan for wedding outfits? Or is it just me that’s this bonkers about planning?

Victoria x

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

Girl about Town: Chocolate walking tour of London

Easter weekend is on the way. I am excited for three reasons:

1) Two free days off work! Oh how I need the sleep.

2) Family time! In my house, Easter is like Christmas we gather, we play games, we (even in adulthood) hunt out eggs and we dine en masse.

3) Gluttony! If you’ve been abstaining from treats and indulgences for Lent, Sunday is the day it all comes to an end (just to clarify, I have abstained from nothing this year, I’ve been a glutton throughout Lent. My bad).

In light of this list, Rebecca thought I should tell you about something that combined all three, in particular a chocolate walking tour of London, that I did with my family over a chilled weekend the end of last summer. I booked it through Great British Tours with a 50% voucher from one of those well known discount sites (either the pink or the green, I don’t recall) which made it very reasonable indeed. During the tour we visited some of my favourite chocolateries (where we had tastings and were entitled to a discount on most purchases), wandered through Soho at a leisurely pace soaking up the atmosphere and we found a couple of hidden gems that I’ll definitely be re-visiting.

The meeting point was the Algerian Coffee Store on Old Compton Street where our guide greeted us with a large cup of chocolate coated coffee beans and a gigantic grin – imagine if your job was to wander the streets of London eating free chocolate? I’d grin a lot too!

First stop was Hotel Chocolat where we bought chilli hot chocolate powder and tested out their new line of chocolate themed toiletries…

…then on to Paul A. Young where the team introduced us to unusual recipes such as limoncello and cucumber, pink guava and lychee, goats cheese, rosemary and lemon and Marmite truffles and where we also sampled their delicious Aztec hot chocolate…

… a quick pit stop at Freggo to refresh the palate with some Malbec and berries sorbet (new fave thing ever!)…

…a browse around the sweet counter (and a quick dash to the loo) at Fortnum and Mason…

… a brief history lesson about the birth of the truffle at Prestat and sampled some boozy treats…

…all ending up at Charbonnel et Walker where I stuffed my face with my favourite violet and rose crèmes (apparently also the Queen’s!).

All in all a fun filled day!

Great British Tours do some other interesting walking tours including a cupcake and macaroon tour which I have my eye on for my next free weekend…

Victoria x

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

Girl About Town: The Drowned Man

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable – A Punchdrunk production

There’s not a lot I can say about The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable without ruining it, other than, it’s not really a play, it’s more of an experience, an emotional journey. One designed to take you out of your comfort zone and make you think – even if you’re not thinking about the play itself, even if you don’t like the story, I guarantee you’ll be thinking about the dance talent, the amazing sets and the curious artefacts you’ll find along the way, for a long time afterwards. Let me also qualify this post by saying that this is not a review, I’m not a theatre critic, I just like to be entertained. And entertained I was. In fact I still am. Since seeing the play I’ve lost hours on the internet Googling reviews, reading online discussions and stalking the cast members on Twitter to see what others made of their experience.

I booked tickets upon recommendation that it would be “weird, thought provoking, like nothing you’ve ever seen before and right up my street”. I was glad I took up the suggestion and I reiterate the advice to you!

It’s a promenade performance, by the brilliant Punchdrunk, set in a disused four storey building next to Paddington station. Upon arrival you check your bags (so you don’t pilfer things from the amazingly intricate, lovingly accessorised sets), you are issued with a mask (to clearly mark out the audience from the actors), and given a slip of paper with two paragraphs which loosely detail the two parallel story lines of love, adultery, paranoia, betrayal, social struggle and murder.

You are welcomed to “Temple Studios” by a glamorous employee with a brief introduction and then you are encouraged to leave your companions behind, open your mind and follow your own path…

And for three hours that’s what I did.

I lost my family within minutes as I got my bearings in a dark “street” lined with “shops”. I found a few characters and became engrossed in their stories, following them in earnest as they tore through the “desert”, “forest” and on to “movie sets” up and down stair wells, through dimly lit corridors and feeling uncomfortably voyeuristic as I peered through key holes and “bedroom windows”. I got hot and sweaty running up and down staircases (one covered in fresh, bloody hand prints), I shivered as I watched a narrated movie scene play out on a snowy mountain and I ruined my suede boots on a sand dune and had to step through a puddle of water around a bathtub in the middle of a “chapel” in a “trailer park”.

I put those words in quotes as I was well aware I was walking on a set, amongst scenery, but the eerie lighting, disconcerting music and smells, mist and different underfoot textures made the sets feel spookily real. Although I knew I was perfectly safe and was watching a show, my over-active imagination went hell-for-leather and I had a few freak out moments as an audience member was “kidnapped” by a cast member and taken in to a locked room, and I was left virtually alone in a dark corridor next to a shrine to an “ageing actress” and was then taken by surprise by an elegantly dressed lady, appearing at my shoulder literally out of nowhere.

I know, I know. It sounds like I’m talking gobbledegook!

Well I am. And that’s all I’ve done since leaving that building, talking non-stop about how amazing it was to people who haven’t seen it, who clearly think I must be going crazy.

I managed to follow only one of the stories, albeit twice over, thus from two viewpoints, and at the climax I realised that not only was there the parallel narrative detailed on the slip of paper at the beginning, but a number of other subplots and about 10 additional members of the cast that I’d completely missed! I also had a small tantrum (in my head) at the beginning where I got all stroppy that I had absolutely. No. Idea. what was going on. But on speaking to other people, I clearly wasn’t alone at that stage.

I was also worried that I wouldn’t know when it was over, that I’d end up wandering the deserted floors until the small hours, but after a very definitive ending we filtered through in to an on-set bar to be reunited with our companions where we flitted between stunned, reflective silences and garbled chatter where we all spoke over each other in our excitement to relay the things we’d seen, done, felt, touched and experienced. Each and every one of us had seen a different story. Different details, characters, rooms and props. We’d all had utterly unique experiences within the same building in those three hours. Our discussions continued via text and email long in to the night.

I can’t describe it to you without ruining it for you, but I whole heartedly suggest, nay, urge you to read a few professional reviews, check out this synopsis and watch this trailer.

Even if you don’t like it, I guarantee you you won’t regret it. You can book tickets here.

And if you’ve seen it already please, please, message or call me so I can talk to someone about it.

It seems I lied in my first line. There IS a lot I can say about this play, in fact I can’t stop saying things about this play…

Victoria x

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

Girl about town: (Working until) Midnight in Paris – Part 1


A few months ago I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to spend some time working in my firm’s Paris office. Erm, sorry, let me pinch myself whilst I just digest that.

You’re going to put me in a rooftop apartment in central Paris, send me to work in the most beautiful surroundings (on Place Vendome, next door to the Ritz,) and you’re going to pay me whilst I do it? Amazing! Where’s the catch?

Oh… I will be doing two jobs and working 13 hour days, every day, for the entire six weeks? Ahhh, there we go!

Needless to say, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time “about town” and I’m not going to lie I spent a lot of my spare time sleeping off my exhaustion. However, when I did get out, I wandered, ate, drank, observed, shopped, snapped and absorbed everything Paris had to offer with the hugest smile on my face and a skip in my step. After six weeks literally living la reve en Paris, I returned to rainy London (and my husband) last weekend and thought I’d share some of my favourite Parisian delights:

Brunch
I didn’t realise brunch was a “thing” in France. I went out there three days after landing back from the US, where brunch is the biggest “thing” and I was surprised to discover that they do it just as well. A colleague recommended the Marais area, specifically Rue de Bretagne, for brunch and made a few restaurant suggestions.

I picked the Grizzli Café, mainly because of the name, but also because of the description of a four course feast for a very reasonable price… “reasonable price” not being a phrase you hear often in Paris. It turned out to be a great decision – we started with fresh coffee and juice with a bread selection and pastries, followed by Eggs Benedict, a choice of salmon skewers or steak tartare and finished off with fromage blanc and fruit coulis. We got there just in time to get a seat, but it’s recommended that you book on Sundays as it gets busy! [For more details/pictures check out this post.]

Treats
I was undecided whether to tell you about the Laduree Salon du The or Angelina under this heading. I weighed it up and decided that it’d have to be both. The hot chocolate served at Angelina is infamous for a reason – it’s amazing. Thick, creamy and with just the right balance of bitter and sweet – it was totally worth queuing.

Although the sweet treats served here are as famed as the hot chocolate (in particular the Mont Blanc speciality,) I think the confections on offer at Laduree just edge it.

Of course there are the quintessential macarons (pistachio and orange blossom on this occasion), but in addition my mum and I tried the pistachio éclair and the rose raspberry Saint-Honoré which was almost too beautiful to eat. It consisted of a puff pastry base, topped with dinky cream puff pastry balls filled with light rose petal custard cream and raspberry compote, rose-flavoured Chantilly whipped cream, rose syrup fondant and raspberries. Of course there’s only one thing to drink with such pretty, delicate, pastel coloured confections – pink fizz.

Dinner
As I mentioned in a previous post, I like a restaurant with a difference, so when Mr G came out to visit me, I tasked him with finding a restaurant to fit the same brief. He did well and found La Gare not far from Trocadero.

As the name suggests, it’s an old train station that has been transformed in to a restaurant. You enter at ground level in to a funky bar (that serves a decent margarita whilst you wait for your table) and then head down a very grand staircase in to an enormous dining hall. At first glance I was worried that the size would make it feel over-crowded and like a canteen, but a clever layout and good interior design means that when you’re seated it feels much smaller and intimate. We went for a three course set menu and wines and fizz by the glass, all of which was delicious, and in a city notorious for its awful service, we were pleasantly surprised by how good it was!

Cocktails
At the other end of the size spectrum to La Gare is Jefrey’s. At about midnight one Saturday, my friend and I went in search of the Paris branch of the Experimental Cocktail Club (also very good and worth a visit). We were wandering down the road and saw the door to a teeny-tiny bar standing open. It was so small and well hidden we almost missed it, but after a double take and a quick confirmation that it was in fact a drinking establishment and not someone’s house, we took up residence at the bar and started working our way through the cocktail list.

Good cocktails are hard to find in Paris, but we were lucky enough to stumble across some of the best. Like I mentioned it was tiny, with only three stools at the bar, two small coffee tables and armchairs on the ground floor and a smattering of wing back chairs and banquette seating on a small mezzanine. If you turn up too late you just won’t get in, and the cocktails were so good it’s worth turning up early to bagsey your seat. The cocktail menu is inventive and the bar is stocked with weird and wonderful liquors from around the world, homemade infusions and syrups and fresh ingredients such as mint, fruit and spices. It evoked mental images of ye olde apothecary shoppe, and the painstaking care and attention with which the drinks are made only added to the feeling that the mixologists really are creating amazing potions! Add to the mix a great playlist full of new tunes and old classics (sadly not played on the vintage gramophone by the door) and an interesting menu full of tick boxes for DIY martinis and I think I found my favourite bar, ever.

I went back repeatedly.

I want to go back right now.

Come back next week for the Dancing, entertainment, shopping and sightseeing…

Victoria x

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

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.

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.

Girl About Town gets Out of Town: Roma

This month I was going to write about a recent glamping excursion to Jollydays in Yorkshire, but I realised that Rebecca had already done that. So I racked my brains trying to think about something exciting from the past four weeks to tell you about. I’ve been to plenty of bars and restaurants, but none of them could have filled a whole post. Then I remembered that I was taking a work trip for an event in Rome. Granted, the places we visited were a bit out of my usual personal price range but they were great, so for a special weekend break I’d definitely recommend them. I’ll certainly be re-visiting the city with Mr G (and his credit card) in tow.

In a similar style to my Dublin piece I’ll open with one or two recommendations for eating, drinking, sleeping and exploring and then I’d love you guys to pitch in with some of your own!

Where I stayed
The event was for a rather large group of people, and we required conferencing space so that ruled out most of the city centre hotels, due to their age and size. The central hotels in Rome are much smaller and tend to have less on-site event space, so we stayed just outside of the city at the Rome Cavalieri. A grand hotel in a traditional style, full of super-sized art work, furniture you can’t sit on, relics, artefacts and sculptures that make you jump at every corner – especially in the dark after only a few hours of shut eye, and a flute or two of bubbly! My favourite pieces were glass cases in one of the lift lobbies that contained the actual Rudolf Nureyev costumes from a staging of Giselle. He was surprisingly tiny!

Because it’s out of town guests also benefit from a resort feel at the hotel, with an indoor pool (part of the impressive spa) and a large outdoor pool set in beautiful gardens, overlooked by a lovely patio area – perfect for al fresco cocktails before heading in to the city for dinner. The view from the rooms is also amazing, stretching right across the city to the famous Seven Hills.

We made use of this view, taking lunch and breakfast on the roof terrace and it really is breathtaking. There’s a reason that this hotel, and specifically the top floor, is home to La Pergola, Rome’s only three Michelin starred restaurant. Needless to say, the closest I got to dining in here was when I stood outside it, with some Haribo (that I had packed for those low-blood-sugar-stress-out-moments) peering through the gap in the doors.

Shuttle buses from the hotel operate free of charge and frequently in to the city centre, so despite being a little bit out of the action, you’re never far from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

Before my big event kicked off, we had to stay in a smaller, city centre hotel as the Cavalieri was full to bursting with ATP tennis players. (Yes I did spend a vast proportion of my [very little] free time scouting the halls for them. And yes I did spy one, from afar). We stayed in a much more budget-friendly hotel closer to the city centre which was at the other end of the design scale entirely. Modern in style and compact in design, the Hotel Metropolis is walking distance to some of the city’s main sights and a great choice for a long weekend.

Where I drank
All over the place, and whenever I could, basically! I’m a big prosecco lover, and it was a very stressful weekend!

In terms of an actual recommendation, you can’t beat the Hotel de Russie, one of Rome’s most famous hotels, and it’s beautiful courtyard gardens for a swish drink, some posing and some people watching! Set between the Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps it’s right in the heart of the action. The drinks aren’t cheap, but the setting, the service and the styling make for a special evening out,especially if you have something to celebrate. Also, if you fork out for a couple of drinks, you can save some cash and skip dinner with the amount of freebie snacks they bring out! We ordered some Italian cocktails and then gorged ourselves on fresh mozzarella and crudities, spicy meatballs, gigantic juicy green olives and small salty black ones, deep fried polenta and still-warm foccacia with oil.

The vibe is elegant, but with a funky air as the mixologists fling their shakers about to the sounds of a DJ, ensconced in a balcony high up on the wall, not too dissimilar to that famous one in Verona…

Where I ate
I tried to pick between three restaurants but I couldn’t pick a favourite, so I’ll recommend the three but I’ll keep it brief!

Something fancy: Casina Valadier is set in the Borghese Gardens, and is an old private residence, converted to a beautiful restaurant and event space. The décor, location and view are all so beautiful it made me want to fly all my friends and family out to renew my wedding vows. Speaking to some locals, it seems that Casina Valadier is something of an institution, and all “special” evenings out in the city start with aperitifs in the gardens, overlooking the cityscape. Take your camera!

Something traditional: Antica Pesa is a little bit out of the way, in one of the oldest parts of the city, Trastevere, set amongst old crumbling buildings, windy streets and cobbled paths, but it was worth the taxi ride. A lobby literally covered in photos of famous faces (James Bond through to Taxi Driver, via Sharon Stone and Will Smith – who both sent hand written notes) suggests it’s going to be a good night! The service was brilliant, the wine list was longer, bigger and heavier than the Bible (we took a recommendation!) and a menu full of traditional dishes and local ingredients all eaten in the courtyard, under the stars, made for a wonderful meal. What absolutely made my evening however, was when I chose a “traditional Roman picnic” as my starter and, expecting a plate of antipasti, was amazed when an artist’s case came out. I actually did I little squeal. I love an innovative serving suggestion!

Something modern: Molto, located in the upmarket Parioli area of the city, is contemporary and stylish. Pre-drinks on the decking outside with some nibbles (local parmigiano dipped in lavender honey. Swooooon), and then modern Italian cuisine in the trendy, black and white interior made for a perfect evening. There are wine bottles lining the walls at one end of the restaurant, a sleek bar at the other end, and slap bang in the middle, a big food station where they slice the cold meats, mash potatoes and plate up your pasta.

What I did
Of course there are the usual recommendations to visit the main tourist attractions, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Sistene Chapel, Colosseum, Vatican City, Pantheon, Borghese Gardens, the Roman Forum and the giant “Wedding Cake” (which my dad used to tell me about as a child – and was most disappointed to see when I finally visited Rome for the first time as a teenager!), the famous Piazzas Navona, del Popolo and della Repubblica and of course the famous streets of Via dei Condotti, Via del Babuino and Via Veneto with their bars, restaurants, designer shops and cafes.

You can read about those in any guide book, and I suggest you pay them all a visit if you have time.

Having been to Rome before though, the best recommendation I was given for this trip was to visit Eataly. You may have heard about them as they are popping up all over the world, they are basically enormous food courts-come-marketplaces-come-cookery schools, you can park outside, pick up a basket (or a trolley, depending on how big your case is) and spend a good few hours shopping for fresh, local produce and traditional Italian foodstuffs, taste-testing your way around the various stalls and stations and then stopping for a bite to eat in one of the restaurants, and even book yourself in for a cookery lesson or some wine tasting. Located about 15 minutes from Fiumicino airport, you could stop by on your way home…

… and eat it all on the plane.

Ooops. ;-)

So, ladies, do you have any Roman recommendations? (Ed’s note – I’d particularly love to hear any more hotel recommendations you have!)

Victoria x

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