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: Drink, Dine, Do

This afternoon, Victoria is back and my goodness, she has had a busy month! Sit back and get ready to be very jealous whilst frantically checking your diary to see if you can get in on some Girl about Town action!

This month was full of exciting high points, and I say high in the literal sense of the word – climbing the O2, eating dinner 40 floors above street level at Duck and Waffle, gazing out over Knightsbridge from the Fifth Floor Bar and Restaurant at Harvey Nichols and Trafalgar Square from the roof of Vista Bar, watching Lady Gaga from up in the gods at Twickenham Stadium, the emotional high of seeing Team GB and Paralympics GB parade the streets of London to celebrate our Olympic and Paralympic successes.

I’m going to tell you about three of those things this month, because Florence Finds is here to help and wants you to enjoy your time in our great capital!

Drink: Quirky Cocktail masterclass at Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor Bar and Restaurant

Myself and a friend booked a cocktail masterclass at Harvey Nichols as a present for one of our besties and, selfishly, it turned out to be one of the best birthday outings we’ve ever planned for someone else. It was an early start for a Sunday – a meeting time of 9.30am, but it was worth it. We were met on the street outside Harvey Nichols by Stani, our masterclass tutor, and chief mixologist for the day (I promised him a shout out!). Seeing as the store itself doesn’t open until later on a Sunday we were ushered through the staff entrance and then up to the empty Fifth Floor Bar and Restaurant. While we waited for the other members of the class to arrive we felt very behind-the-scenes or at-school-on-a-Saturday, and so we did what any self-respecting Florence Finder would do…. and posed like nerds all over the empty chaise longes and sofas. Until, that is, we were caught out by the waiter who came by to take our hot drinks order. Over coffee and miniature pastries Stani gave us an introduction to himself, the bar, the order of the day and a few advance apologies for any risqué jokes he might tell. The three of us were giggling like school girls within minutes. The rest of the participants (young couples on special dates) maintained a dignified (but slightly boring) silence until much later in the proceedings – I’m assuming that had something to do with the cocktail testing!

After the introduction we moved over to the bar area (diamante studs, white leather and pink neon lights – sounds hideous, looks amazing), met Chris, another mixologist, were issued with name plates, note paper, recipe lists and pens and the session got underway. To start with Stani talked us through some cocktail making essentials, namely picking high-quality spirits, working with the best tools, selecting superior fruit juices and mixers and understanding the right methods for preparing the drink. A few demonstrations of equipment usage, a sniff of this, that and the other from some colourful bottles, a quick taste test or four and then we were in to our first of the Quirky Cocktails on the list: the Pink Chelsea. I won’t spill the story as to how and why this got its name, but it’s very probably my new favourite cocktail.

Before we had a chance to finish it the second cocktail demonstration was well underway. The Rocker Margarita was an intriguing take on the classic margarita flavours with the addition of rocket leaves. Sounds weird, tastes YUM!

The third item on our cocktail menu was another interesting one, entitled the Limousine. If the Pink Chelsea was a refreshing appetizer, and the rocker margarita was a sweet but savoury salad-y drink, this was definitely pudding! A creamy cocktail with a palate-cleansing shot of bubbly on the side was a great way to end.

After the three demonstrations we then had the opportunity to get behind the bar one or two at a time and make like Tom Cruise. After a quick safety briefing (i.e. don’t shake like a nutter and knock over our VERY expensive bottles of the hard stuff!) and a few hilarious stories about some minor behind-the-bar disasters, Stani and Chris asked us individually about our favourite drinks, what kind of things we had in our cupboards and what kinds of flavours we liked and then we went on to make a variety of different cocktails. Some of us went for classics, some made bespoke drinks and some of us were inspired by the bar’s own cocktail menu.

A short de-brief and a quick re-group where we swapped recipes and sampled each others’ masterpieces and we were ushered through to the restaurant for a quick, light lunch. It was a two course set menu which started with a seriously tasty tomato soup, and was followed by a creamy chicken and sweetcorn risotto. Which was perfect for sobering us up slightly! Stani presented us with our personalised certificates once we were finished at which point the course came to a close.

Obviously we took ourselves back to the bar to sample a few more delights from the cocktail list and then by about 3.00pm we were ready to leave for some serious sofa surfing. At about 10pm that night my hangover kicked in. Ouchie!

Click here for more details and to book. I recommend that you do, it’s a great day out, especially for a group. Don’t be scared of taking the boys along as well. They seemed to love it even more than us ladies!

Dine: Duck and Waffle at The Heron Tower

Duck and Waffle is situated on level 40 of the Heron Tower on Bishopsgate, above the London Branch of Sushi Samba. I visited the latter for work reasons and insisted that Mr G take me back for a special dinner at some point. The problem? He doesn’t eat fish. Hmm. Sushi becomes slightly less fun if you can’t eat it. I researched the venue a little bit more and then discovered Duck and Waffle’s menu was much more appealing for a non-fish eater, and so we set the date for our 3rd wedding anniversary, last week.

On arrival we had to ring a door bell at the big glass entrance at floor level at which point a burly, surly doorman came out and asked questions as if we were under CIA interrogation before even allowing us past the rope, let alone through the door. We gritted our teeth and stuck with it as I knew that the meet-and-greet and serving staff in the actual venue are much more polite, welcoming and humble, and the views and setting were worth it. After little bit of queuing (despite having made reservations and confirmed them, twice), being asked to “stand over there” (apparently a VIP queue or something) and being jostled slightly by other perturbed street-queuers, we were in and waiting for the lift. From this point onwards our experience got much better. In hindsight I understand that in the building with such controlled and limited access there needs to be a strict entry system, but I do feel that there are nicer ways to go about implementing and enforcing it.

The high-speed, glass, exterior lift is not for the faint hearted but you get some great views of the City on the way up so do try to open your eyes, even for just a few seconds. On arrival at level forty we were met by the welcome staff, seated in the “open” bar and talked through the “concept”. Rather than a traditional bar area (i.e. a counter, mixologists standing behind it, servers taking orders or you standing at the bar to order a drink) the bar is more of a central work station around which the bar tenders stand to mix up your concoctions to order. There is a short but sweet cocktail menu available, but the idea is that you are able to interact with the bar tenders so they can make your drink to your specifications. Essentially you are involved in and close to the process. Well, this is how I see it anyway. I asked for a “Cosmopolitan (obviously) with an update”. It came back with a, and I quote “smooth peach undertone and a dry, apple aftertaste”. Basically, it was gooooood.

On being seated at a table (less than 20 cm from one of the floor to ceiling windows – again not for the faint hearted) we were talked through the concept of the menu. Everything is intended to be shared and eaten all together, a bit like tapas. So we got stuck in and ordered our little hearts out! We started with mini battered sausages with mustard and pea and mint arancini, followed by duck rillette with sourdough bread, beer chutney and pistachios and the foie gras “all day breakfast”. Next up were the lamb cutlets accompanied by smoked aubergine and the dish from which the restaurant obviously takes its name, the Duck and Waffle (crispy leg confit, fried duck egg, mustard maple syrup on a big fluffy waffle).

With all that on the table our attention was diverted away the views out over the east London and back towards the sun setting over the west end and toward the task at hand – consuming all that rich food. Thankfully, although there was a lot on the table, the actual portions aren’t massive which means that you can order more than you would normally, so you can try as many dishes as possible, but you don’t feel like you’ve over indulged – well not too much! We finished off with a shared dessert – gooey, appley, mapley, ice creamy, yumminess in a pan, (– a possible rival to the tipsy pudding at Dinner) and a glass of home-grown Sussex bubbly.

Considering how much we ordered and the unusual setting I was surprised at the bill. I thought it would have been much more. To clarify, it’s not a cheap and cheerful dining option, but all factors considered I felt that it was more than reasonable. So, seeing as they now have 24 hour dining in place, and it’s not too outlandishly priced – this perhaps isn’t just a restaurant for special occasions as I once thought, but also somewhere to hole up in the cold winter months when you miss your last train and you need some food and alcohol to see you through until morning. Or maybe that’s just me…

Overall, if you can get past the rude door staff and the uncivilised queuing system, it’s worth it for some great views, some unusual food and some great cocktails on the highest roof terrace in Europe.

Click here for the website and to book, and here for their Facebook page which contains some cool photos. My only warning: beware of the Sushi Samba bar area clientele on traditional city drinking nights (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) – city suits and wannabe TOWIE cast made it rather unpleasant on my first visit. Thankfully these types tended to steer clear of the dining areas and stuck to the bars, and are non-existent on weekends!

Do: Up at the O2

A few weeks ago I thought it would be clever to book tickets for Up at the O2. It didn’t occur to me that being scared of heights it might be a bad idea. Or that I’m physical activity-averse and it might require some hefty physical input. Nope. I ploughed straight in, roped in a friend and booked us up for the 8pm slot. People asked us why. We said “why not?”. It wasn’t until the day before when we got a reminder email that we also asked ourselves “uh, why are we doing this?”

It turned out we needn’t have worried! We turned up at Base Camp at the required 15 minutes before departure and were issued with clipboards, pens, “if you fall off you can’t sue us” forms to sign and the obligatory information about filming and photography so as to flog it to you at the end. Our guide came in introduced himself, talked us through the forms and the whereabouts of the loos, cracked a few jokes about being scared of heights and falling off and then hit play on their safety instruction video which was a tongue-in-cheek take on a video diary from an arctic explorer at Everest Base Camp. This made me feel much, much better. If they weren’t taking it too seriously then I shouldn’t be too worried about the heights and safety.

After the safety video we were furnished with jumpsuits (with inbuilt camera and phone pockets), harnesses, carabiners and a locker for our belongings. Everyone swiftly put it all on… and then swiftly took it all back off again when the instructor told us to start again and showed everyone individually how to don the harness properly. Ah, so they WERE paying attention to safety after all!

We then lined up and had a quick demonstration about how to lock on and off of the safety wire with our harness, how to move the clip correctly and then we were off!

The start is incredibly steep and requires a bit of effort and maneuvering to get up it, but then it levels off slightly and is actually quite fun. Even for me! We took it slowly as there was a big group and we had to travel at the same pace so there was a lot of time to take in the view and the surroundings.

The walkway itself is bouncy and deliberately so, to replicate how the material of the O2 canopy might feel. Clever! We got told off for bouncing on it. Not clever! On reaching the “summit” or the viewing platform, we were disconnected from the safety wire and free to wander. At this point I noticed that everyone else was in a couple or on a date. Who’d have thought the top of the O2 was a place for romance? I suppose the lovely views over part of the city and across the river to Canary Wharf in all its luminescent glory (including the nightly light show on the Pan Peninsula buildings) is a great setting for a romantic stroll! We could also see the Orbit structure over in the Olympic park glowing red and firey in the distance. I’d like to head back during daylight or at sunset to catch a different perspective of the city.

After a little while at the top, and a few photos (I forgot my camera so my iPhone pics are all I have unfortunately, please excuse the quality,) and we were locked back on to the wire and ready to begin our steep descent. On reaching the end our lockers had magically arrived to greet us, so we disrobed, handed back our equipment, visited the gift shop to check out our videos (I looked ridiculous, and so didn’t purchase), said our goodbyes to our guide Gary (another promised shout out) and we were on our way home to bed!

From start to finish I think the whole experience took less than two hours, was really well organised and was very reasonably priced. For more information and to book please click here. If you’re looking for something fun, different or apparently romantic, to do this autumn I would definitely recommend it.

To finish, I thought I’d pass on a little bit of the O2 facts that I learned during my climb. As the structure was originally created for the millennium it appears to be a tribute to time itself: there are twelve posts that hold the canopy aloft to replicate the twelve numbers on a clock, the circumference is exactly 365 meters to represent the days of the year and the highest point of the dome is 52 meters to represent the weeks of the year. Cool huh? And we all thought it was just a big tent!

Until next time (geddit?)…

Vx

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

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