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 Gets Out of Town: Barcelona

This year the Mr and I have spent all of our annual leave on attending 10, yes, ten, weddings (two of which were/are aboard) and all the corresponding stag and hen weekends. As such we didn’t have much leave left for a “proper” holiday. Or, more importantly, any money with which to purchase one! This left us in a bit of a quandary as taking time out to go exploring around the world is kind of our thing. Also, with such busy lives (as we all have) often, a holiday is the only time you get to truly spend QT with each other… and catch up on your sleep debt! So what to do, what to do?

Well Mr G thought we could cope until 2014. I vehemently disagreed and set about finding a cheap and cheerful (but still up to Florence Findette standards!) mini-break that:

  1. Started and ended with convenient flights at civilised times from one of our closer airports (Stansted, City or Southend),
  2. Was close enough that we didn’t waste too long on the plane,
  3. Had enough to “do” to keep us out of mischief but also not so much that we felt guilty if we wanted to chill out and ignore all the culture and sights
  4. Would be achievable within Mr G’s set of rest days between shifts.

Tricky.

After a long process of elimination we finally settled on Barcelona when I found super-convenient flights with EasyJet from Southend, at the civilised time of 9.30am on a Monday morning.

I’d been before, and enjoyed it but I wasn’t as excited about it as everyone else seemed to be, so I’ve spent the last seven years wondering what I missed and wanting to return! Also, Mr G hadn’t had the pleasure so it was decided. Barcelona it was.

The Hotel

I found the Melia Sky hotel on Mr and Mrs Smith, did a quick search and found it at a lower rate on Expedia with the flights in a package so it actually came out as a bit of a bargain. Shop around people, shop around!

The hotel is cool, modern, clean, funky in style, full of nice quirky touches and, although I normally try to get out of the hotel when I’m away and discover new places, I found it actually quite a nice place to hang out.

NB: Be careful not to book the Melia Hotel! The Melia Sky is the one you want – it’s the one with the outdoor swimming pool. We made this mistake and had to hastily re-book. Be warned!

Highlights included the light and airy rooms with floor to ceiling windows looking out to sea, the swimming pool area on the 7th floor roof terrace, which had just enough of a “cool kids pool-party” vibe about it to keep it young and fun (but not so much that I couldn’t just chill out like a grown up and read my book*), the bespoke scent that was piped in to all the public areas (similar to Jo Malone wild fig and cassis I think) and a lobby/lounge/bar area with apothecary jars full of flumps, complete with flump tongs! You can take the girl out of Essex but…

It’s slightly out of the way from the busier parts of the city, in a residential area but it’s only a short walk from the Metro station so within ten minutes you can be in Port Olimpic or on Las Ramblas. My only criticism would be the price of breakfast (if not included in your package), but we took ourselves out wandering most mornings in search of food and so managed to save ourselves over €40 a day by eating in little cafes nearby.

Where to eat, drink and people watch…

On our first night we followed what felt like a thousand tour groups to Las Ramblas to look for something to eat. We thought it would be a bad idea, but we went with it anyway. After negotiating hordes and hordes of tourists fighting for jugs of cheap sangria, we eventually found somewhere to eat, just off the main strip in Placa Reial called Ocana we ordered waaaay too much tapas and some yummy pink mojitos (served in jam jars) and sat back to people-watch on the square. All of a sudden it dawned on me that was the exact place we’d spent our first night the last time I visited the city. I must have been drawn to it!

Thereafter we stayed out of the main city and ate at various places in Port Olimpic. Much like a book and it’s cover, you shouldn’t judge a bar or restaurant by its décor, but most of the time I’m drawn to the prettiest ones in the street. Along this strip you are spoilt for choice with gorgeous eateries and drinking establishments ranging from the super-modern full of white sofas, mirrored surfaces and candles to rustic al fresco parlours on wooden decking where you eat in amongst tubs of herbs and spices.

This strip is bustling with beautiful people, in beautiful bars, drinking beautiful cocktails along the beach-front promenade. I’d recommend Gallito and Bestial for food, and Opium for cocktails and lounging early on and then posing and dancing later in to the night. I also heard great things about Shoko and the rooftop bar of the W Hotel.

What we did…

Chilled! With a capital *chuh*.

We made a lame attempt at sightseeing by jumping on one of those open-topped tourist buses, briefly stopping by the Sagrada Familia and in Parc Guell, but we got sidetracked by the beach front bars full of squishy couches, extensive cocktail menus and the prospect of lazy sun-drenched people watching and gave up our tickets.

So that brings me to my next point: Who has some recommendations? Bars, restaurants, sights, getting away from the tourist traps… leave a comment and share your Catalonian secrets!

Victoria x

*ironically not a grown up book, but some awfully addictive YA fiction. Best we steer well clear of this topic eh Mahj and Becca? ;-)

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

Summer Reading: Florence’s readers recommend…

In the absence of Rachel (whilst she is on maternity leave getting acquainted with her beautiful baby daughter Alice,) I thought it would be fun and fascinating to get some reading recommendations from you, the Florence Finds readership, for summer holiday reads. I asked followers on Twitter and Facebook to send in a short paragraph reviewing their favourite recent reads and I know I have made a subsequent purchase or two as a result – I hope you all find something you fancy too.

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

“The circus arrives without warning…..” This is how The Night Circus starts and within a couple of pages it reels you in and doesn’t let you go until the end. It’s actually quite difficult to write about without giving the story too much, but suffice to say I loved it. The entire book is woven around the circus, the amazing magical circus that’s quite unlike any other circus. But this is not where the story begins and there’s a parallel narrative about a challenge that underpins the circus it’s self and this is what drives the story forward, until it all collides together. It’s so beautifully written, so descriptive and evocative you feel like you live in that world and know the characters, as if you might bump into them on the street. Or wake up one morning to see the circus in your local park. One of aspects of the story I most enjoyed is that it’s not light and fanciful. It’s imaginative, full of magic and vivid descriptions but there’s a tangible darkness to the story and it’s not afraid to be quite bittersweet at times, which makes the story feel far more real than it might have otherwise done. I was lucky enough to be given this book by someone and I’m so grateful that she did, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

- Reviewed by Zan @foxysynt

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

I heard about this book on Twitter – it was recommended with the caveat that it is quite difficult to read in parts. It’s a thriller set in Chicago where a serial killer – a misfit called Harper Curtis – somehow gets access to a house that allows him to travel around in time, from the 1920s to the early 1990s. He hunts out his ‘Shining Girls’ – women who have a spark – at different points in their lives and eventually kills them. Except for one victim, who escapes him and becomes determined to track Harper down. The book’s chronology (necessarily) jumps around quite a lot – apart from the subject matter it actually reminded me of The Time Traveller’s Wife in that respect – so particularly in the beginning you need to concentrate. The story is really well written and tense, despite the different timelines. As soon as I finished it I wanted to go back and read it again as I’m sure there were clues and details I missed the first time round. Some of the violent scenes are hard to read (the author has said that she wanted them to be so because murder shouldn’t be something that is easy to read about) but even with that in mind I would really recommend this as a well written thriller – the time travel doesn’t detract from the story and actually gives it an extra layer of tension.

- Reviewed by Katy W @KatyWells1

The White Princess – Phillipa Gregory

For those that haven’t been watching Phillipa Gregory’s Sunday night drama, The White Queen, what have you been doing? The books, although you can read them independently, form part of a mini series covering different periods of history. The most recent series, the Cousin’s Wars, covers the period during the War of the Roses. The author tends to view the period through another, lesser known, female character, adding a twist to contradict popular opinion. The first book, The Lady of the Rivers, is followed by a three way version of events covering the Red Queen, Margaret Beaufort, the White Queen, Elizabeth Woodville and the Kingmakers daughter, Anne Neville.

The latest book (although you should read the whole series because they are awesome) is The White Princess, which follows Princess Elizabeth of York (it seems that there are a lot of Elizabeths), daughter of Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen. The end of the White Queen sees Elizabeth’s lover, Richard III die by the hand of Henry Tudor, whom she then marries, thereby uniting the houses of York and Lancaster in a union brought about by the respective mothers’ Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth’s brothers’ Princes Edward and Richard were supposedly taken to the tower and killed on the order of either Richard III, her former lover, or the Red Queen – also our Princess’ mother in law, Margaret Beaufort (my money is on the pushy mother in law). The story focuses on the idea that the White Queen (who I like less and less on the BBC One drama as we go on – also pushy,) smuggled out the younger son, Richard, to be raised in Flanders, keeping him waiting for the day he will come back and reclaim his throne from the pretender, Henry VII and his wife who is, you’ll remember, our White Princess. Will Elizabeth choose to protect her Tudor childrens’ inheritance, or remain true to the House of York and the true claimant to the throne?

This is perfect for holidays because its not intellectual in the slightest (once you get your head around all of the Elizabeths,) but is more substantive than the usual genre of chick lit. Go Forth and Buy it Now.

- Reviewed by Becca @BeccanotTBTMMO

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
I think Kate Atkinson is my favourite author of all time and her latest release, Life After Life, is my new favourite book, replacing her earlier book Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It’s hard to review Kate Atkinson’s work as she’s such an amazing writer and her books are often so peculiar, but amazing, that it’s hard to do it justice, but I’ll try:

If you’ve read her stuff before you’ll be familiar with the idea of a quirky story that requires you to leave, let’s call it “reality” behind. Ursula lives her liver over and over again, from 1910 until the late sixties, meeting various untimely ends along the way. In each updated version of her life, minor adjustments are made here and there until we end up face to face with a key figure in modern history. With the opportunity to change the world and its future, not to mention her own fate, I was sucked in to Ursula’s home, her family and her journey over and over again and hungry to know more. From the first page you know exactly where we were headed but what’s exciting is to see how we get there and more importantly how, and if, we can move on from there.

I loved this book not just because it displays Atkinson’s sparkling, witty and unique writing style, or because of the delicious oddity of her stories, but also because it’s set against a period of history that we know well and it so really made me think. It spurred me to speak at length with my brother (a passionate amateur historian) my father (an avid reader of New Scientist) and spend hours reading about modern history and scientific theorems. It’s not often I find books funny, touching, gripping, philosophical and perhaps even a little scientific all in one.

- Reviewed by Victoria – Sugar Plum Slipper

Thank you so much to Zan, Katy, Becca and Victoria for sending in their reviews. Now it’s over to you guys, do you agree with them or do you have another book you can recommend?

Don’t forget, if you would like to contribute to a future round up of fab reads, just send in a short paragraph or two to hello@florencefinds.com.

Happy reading folks!

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.