London Bridge

In the past fortnight, I’ve cried for hundreds of strangers who have lost children and loved ones, including in a despicable attack at a funeral.

Last night, things were closer to home. This time meant checking that friends were OK. It meant a sleepless night waiting for my boyfriend, working for the emergency services, to come home. My heart breaks for the people whose loved ones did not.

I’m running out of words in response to these attacks that keep happening all over the world. I have read a lot of other people’s words since last night – lovely words about our emergency services, even funny words, as Brits react with the dark humour that is part of how we deal with difficult situations.

There have also been comments that have made me want to keep away from social media for the rest of the day, as some people don’t realise that they are creating divisions among those who actually want the same things. There is no simple solution, no matter how much people wish that there were, or how much I would like to be wrong on this.

It is scary. There are moments when I think that if I thought about it too much, I might never leave the house. Yet if this fear stops you from living as you want to, isn’t this another life lost?

I wish this didn’t have to be said, but I hope you have a safe week. I hope you see kindness, and show it. And I hope you spend time with your loved ones, and don’t take it for granted.

Sail Loft, Greenwich

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I had been to the Sail Loft once before, because Greenwich is far and away the nicest part of London and, right on the river, this was a lovely place to go for a drink on a summer evening. Consequently, I was so excited to be invited along to Fuller’s Secret Supper, a showcase of the new autumn/winter menu.

It’s a gorgeous venue across two storeys, decorated with boats and ropes, and wooden floors like a ship.

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The Sail Loft is one of the newest venues owned by Fuller’s, the brewery behind London Pride. However, what I didn’t realise is that they are also hugely focused on their food menu. Present at the event was Paul Dickinson, Head of Food, and Gavin Sinden, who won their Chef of the Year competition this year and is Head Chef at the Stonemason Arms in Hammersmith. Chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants have left to work for Fuller’s, hearing their vision for their food. Menus vary from restaurant to restaurant as chefs have freedom over what they make.

This menu certainly wasn’t straightforward pub grub (much as I love it). They did have some pub classics on there: fish and chips, and burgers. However, this was interspersed with dishes like ricotta, black fig and truffle honey quiche.

A couple of plates of each starter were brought to the tables so that we could try a bit of everything. There was venison Carpaccio, oysters and octopus amongst others. My choice would be the cured meat platter.

We got to choose our own main, and despite the choice, I still opted for the burger. It was a great burger though! My boyfriend said the duck was excellent. Other choices were steak, sea bream and wild mushroom ravioli.

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We had the chance to meet more of the Fuller’s team – Georgina, Jo, Jane and I’m so embarrassed to have forgotten a name but everyone was lovely! It was such a fun meal.

The desserts were brilliant – again, they brought a selection so we could sample each. The baked Alaska was particularly good, and I’m never usually a fan of meringue-type desserts. There was also chocolate cake and salted caramel ice cream and one that I’m looking at the picture of and still can’t remember what it was! (Good though.)

I was so impressed by how much attention they pay to their food as I think there is a preconception that pubs just microwave their food and there’s not really much cooking going on! However Fuller’s really is making it as much of a priority as they drinks they serve, and I thought this menu was a good balance between dishes we all expect from a  pub and something different.

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As much as I enjoyed the meal, I would have gone back even if they just served bread and butter, because the Sail Loft is a stunning venue – easily one of the best-looking and best located in London. I almost don’t want to sing its praises too much so I can keep it for myself and those of us living in the southeast!

Thank you so much to the team at PR&EI for the invite, and to the brilliant team from Fuller’s who ensured we had a great night.

A little gem: Gem Bar, Soho

Recently my friend and I attended the relaunch of Gem Bar in Soho. Just off Beak Street, five minutes from Oxford Circus, it’s perfectly placed for a post-shopping drink.

Before the event we were asked our favourite spirit and whether we preferred sweet or sour drinks, so we could have a bespoke cocktail waiting for us on arrival. I was given a Zamora, which included Amaretto, Oakheart rum, lime and Cola, and tasted like cherry cola. Sarah had a Watermelon Fresco, which she enjoyed so much she just kept having the same.

Mine was good, but the next cocktail I had was a Zoom, which was even better: Midori, vodka, Triple Sec, raspberry, cranberry and orange, unmixed to appear like traffic lights.

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The place looks great following a massive refurbishment. The basement floor seems to be more of a club area, although they also have events there, while the main floor is a fairly big bar with plenty of booths and tall tables. I imagine it will get busy on Thursday and Friday evenings, but at least with this amount of space there is more chance of a seat! (And as an old lady at heart, these things are important to me. And no, the music wasn’t too loud either!)

As well as a little arcade area on the first floor, I also appreciated the lighting:

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I need to get myself a light box!

An added bonus was that we had a chance to try the bar snacks. (Or, more accurately, stuff ourselves with a platter between the two of us). We got a classic sharer platter, which comes with garlic bread, calamari, chicken goujons, Bloody Mary meatballs, nachos and sweet potato fries. We also got some barbecue chicken wings, which were great, but obviously messy!

I don’t like calamari, so Sarah was delighted to have it all to herself, but I thought everything else was great, especially the chicken and Bloody Mary meatballs. As well as platters, they also have an offer where you can order three small plates for £10, or five for £15.

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For those who work centrally, Gem Bar is a handy, laid-back place for a few after-work drinks, and, as I said before, ideal for those who have braved Oxford Street. The cocktails were great, the food is ideal for snacking and we really enjoyed our evening here.

Thank you to the Gem Bar staff for your kind hospitality, especially Mark and the lovely toilet attendant who complimented my accent!

Caribbean food and cocktails at Sugar Dumplin, Kingston

One of the things I love about being a blogger is having the opportunity to try places I might never have visited for myself. I have started eating a greater variety of food since moving to London (yesterday marked two years since moving – post on this soon!) but I had never been to a Caribbean restaurant before an event at Sugar Dumplin, Kingston, a couple of weeks ago.

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We were welcomed with a Flaming Zombie (cocktail, just in case there is any ambiguity there) with a passion fruit burning away on top of it. Not only was it excellent for Instagram, but it was easily the best Zombie I’ve ever had. (Why do cocktails have such odd names?)

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The restaurant itself also looks amazing, with booths designed like beach huts, ‘lampshades’ made of old bottles and multicoloured string lights across the ceiling.

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We settled into a booth and got the chance to try two of their sharing cocktails: Piña Colada and Unleash the Beast, which was brilliant – Kraken dark rum, coconut and orange liquor and tropical juice.

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Then it was time for food – lots of it! We tried the jerk chicken, surrounded by four sides – sweet potato fries, house fries, plantain chips and red coleslaw. I don’t like coleslaw as a rule, but this was great, as were the fries – I don’t think I’ll ever be sold on plantain though! The chicken was perfectly cooked, but I needed chips-and-coleslaw intervals because I’m still trying to train my taste buds into spicy food.

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What was interesting was that the curries weren’t actually as spicy as I was expecting. This was something pointed out by Norris Panton, one of the co-founders, who joined us for a chat. There is sometimes the misconception that Caribbean food will be incredibly spicy, but these are all about the taste, rather than blowing your head off!

There were two curries: goat and butternut squash. My friend could have eaten two portions of the goat’s curry, which she thought was amazing, but I quite liked the butternut squash because it was a bit lighter. It was served with rice and peas, although you could also have the choices of the sides mentioned before.

It was excellent to have one of the entrepreneurs there to be able to hear about the inspiration for the restaurant. He wants Sugar Dumplin to capture a laid-back vibe, like being on holiday. (There is also the idea of being on holiday and falling in love, as your sugar dumpling is your sweetheart.)

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Ginger cake and rum cake

The food for him, though, is all about dishes he enjoys cooking at home with his family.  The menu is small, so they can do a few dishes well. The restaurant is also relatively small (60 seats), to be able to keep up quality in the kitchen.

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We had a really great evening at Sugar Dumplin, and by now a fair few people have too: the first restaurant only opened last year, in Glasgow, followed quickly by two in 2016 – Camberwell and here in Kingston. Wembley is next on the cards.

Many thanks to PR&EI for the invite, to Sugar Dumplin for hosting us, and to Norris and the lovely staff at the Kingston branch who were absolutely brilliant. (And thank you to my friend, Laura, for many of these photos – I forgot my camera, again…!)

 

Photo diary: a weekend in London

This weekend, my sister came to visit. And it seems that we spent most of the time eating and drinking…

TGI Friday: I thanked God it was my Friday on Thursday evening, with cocktails, Cajun chicken pasta and cookie dough cheesecake.

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Friday, Breakfast Club: we both opted for the All American breakfast at the Breakfast Club.

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Aqua Shard: The most expensive drink I’ve ever had.

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Although the view wasn’t bad:

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House of MinaLima: We had a wander around the pop-up shop of the team behind the Harry Potter graphic work.

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BYOC ft. James Cochran

Last week, my friends and I went to a launch event for the new BYOC in Soho. BYOC is ‘Bring Your Own Cocktail’, so you can bring along a bottle and the bar staff will mix you something. It aims to capture the spirit of American bars in the twenties, when prohibition led to the birth of the speakeasy. They ‘strive to deliver everything that was great about the speakeasy without the danger of being busted by the coppers at any moment’!

Mango solero cocktail

The evening started in the bar on the first floor (there is another on the second floor) with champagne and oysters if you fancied them. Grace loves them so she and Sarah tried them – they were giant!

Oysters and champagne

If you go for the bar, you would be asked to pay £25 on arrival to cover the cocktail-mixing for the night. Depending on what bottle you bring, this could end up cheaper than your average night out in Soho. (In most bars outside happy hour, the average price of a cocktail is around £10.)

Making cocktails, BYOC

This very dapper-looking man mixed us a mango solero and a lime and lemongrass cocktail. The mango solero had a marshmallow in it, which was an added bonus.

At this point, there were Scotch eggs and chicken as snacks.

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I am glad Sarah tried the chicken before me, as she took one bite and immediately reached for the nearest drink. Tip: the red sauce on the chicken that looks like ketchup is seriously, seriously hot. Sarah loves all food, whereas I am only just starting to like spicier food, and it took about ten minutes for her taste buds to go back to normal. I only tasted the tiniest bit of the sauce and it was very, very hot. The chicken was great though! (Another tip: it could have been a placebo effect, but the marshmallow might have helped take the edge off the hot sauce.)

We then got to sample the menu in the restaurant on the ground floor, as BYOC have teamed up with James Cochran, former chef at the two-Michelin-starred Ledbury.

It is pricey, so it is probably a place for a special occasion or one for any dedicated foodie friends. Fortunately, I had brought two of mine! We got to choose four small plates each, which allowed us to taste almost the entire menu.

BYOC menu

We had everything from the mackerel to the end (except for the cheese, which they forgot to bring, but we had eaten so much by this point it was probably OK). I am not a massive fan of seafood (just fish and chips), so I left most of that to the other two.

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Smoked salmon, apple and whiskey jelly, radish, smoked cod’s roe, mustard cress

They agreed the smoked salmon was probably the best salmon they have ever had, and enjoyed the mussels but not so much the ray wing. (I can now say I have tried ray wing, which is definitely a new one for me.)

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Mussels, savoy cabbage, mace, granola

As for the meat dishes, the beef and the pork belly were amazing. Sarah managed to eat most of the beef without us realising, and she was unapologetic.

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This is my phone’s attempt at a photo in dim light. After editing…

I am a dessert person, so I was very happy with the four we got to try. There was the chocolate malt parfait; elderflower, strawberries and long pepper meringue (elderflower and strawberries – amazing); raspberries with feuilles de brick; and the rhubarb doughnuts.

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The parfait was too far away from the others to get in the group photo.

Despite being a chocoholic and never normally one to choose meringue, I would probably pick the meringue as the best one. My friend confirmed she was completely full by this point, but just had to have another piece.

It was a brilliant opportunity to get to know BYOC, and experience their foray into the world of food. The staff were brilliant, especially the man in the restaurant who found Sarah a New Zealand Sauvignon. (And then poured the biggest glasses of wine I’ve ever seen.) Photos of the Brighton and Camden branches also look amazing.

Thanks to BYOC, James Cochran and PR&EI for inviting us along. Thank you also to Sarah for the photographs, since I forgot to bring my new camera! Oops!

Cocktails, BYOC

16 Goals in 2016: Half-Year Progress

1. Visit fifty new places. I checked my list two days ago and saw the last thing I wrote was Puerto Banus, which was in March, so obviously I have forgotten a bunch.

I think my favourite new places are the Tattershall Castle, the pub on a boat; Dublin, because it was great to see a new city, and visit the zoo and the Guinness Storehouse; Puerto Banus, where I went for my friend’s hen do holiday; Rabot 1745, where I had my birthday meal; Cork and Bottle, a wine bar hidden away in a basement in Leicester Square, where we had all the cheese and charcuterie; and most recently, the Tower of London.

2. Go on two holidays. I had checked off my goal to have two holidays by mid-March, which is pretty amazing: a weekend in Dublin and a weekend in Marbella. However, I think I need something else in the diary – perhaps a week off around September time – to look forward to. I have started a list, featuring more city breaks like Vienna and Budapest, as well as the unrealistic – New York! Canada! Iceland!

3. Do three day trips. I have done zero day trips. Possibilities to consider are Stonehenge, Canterbury and Oxford.

4. Make a scrapbook or memory box. I haven’t made a scrapbook or even bought a memory box. I’ve certainly collected enough to fill one, however!

5. See three ten new shows. I achieved ‘see three new shows’ in January alone, so I adjusted the goal to ten, and I achieved that by the first week of May. This goal is a complete cheat, because I am always going to go and see lots of shows.

Most had a limited run and are now finished, but I can recommend Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for an entertaining family show; Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare, for a decidedly un-family-friendly take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream; How the Other Half Loves, which has some outrageously old-fashioned ideas of relationship roles, but is in some ways still very modern – and funny; and Motown the Musical – if you love this genre of music (who doesn’t, really?) then this show is packed with classics.

6. Read two books a month. I have managed to read at least two books a month, and I’ve enjoyed every single one. I’m making excellent reading choices in 2016! My recent obsession was the Throne of Glass series, so if anyone likes YA fantasy (or perhaps just plain fantasy) then you should definitely try this. Another special mention to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

Reading The Infernal Devices trilogy on my friend’s recommendation meant I decided to go and see Cassandra Clare when she came to London. I’m so glad I did, as it was really fun and I got to meet Dominic Sherwood, who plays Jace in the Shadowhunters TV series – added bonus!

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7. Do something different. This was vague to begin with, but I will be honest and say I haven’t done very much different.

I want to find out more about Age UK’s befriending service, which helps tackle the problem of loneliness faced by many older people. There is so much wrong with the world, there is more bad news every day, and it feels like there is nothing we can do about any of it. I need to do something, even if it only helps one person on a tiny scale.

On a lighter note, I have decided I’m going to buy a harmonica, so learning to play it can also be trying something new.

8. Take a chocolate tour. I have not done this yet, sadly, but you know it will happen.

9. Read a book in French or Spanish. I have so many great books waiting to be read that I haven’t yet sought out any French or Spanish books yet. Perhaps translations of Harry Potter are the answer!

10. Run for twenty minutes without stopping. I don’t know why I set this goal! I tend to go to the gym either post-work, when I’m too tired, or for zumba, so I’m not in the gym itself. I went this morning and can definitely run for ten minutes without stopping – and without breakfast, so perhaps if I were properly fuelled I could improve this.

11. Take care of myself. I have been eating more vegetables than I used to, but these are still outweighed by the amount of chocolate I eat. I am going out less in the week, but I’ve been reading such good books that I’m staying up late anyway just to find out what happens! Again, I don’t really remember what I meant by this goal, so I’m not sure what I wanted to achieve here. This needs a rethink!

12. Make my money go further. I have been taking advantage of free nights out, like blogger events and things advertised on Time Out, and using discounts on OpenTable and lastminute.com a fair bit. I think the most expensive show I’ve seen this year was £25, whereas there are some ridiculous top prices in the West End (£125, anyone?!) so I am definitely finding better deals.

13. Dedicate three hours each week to blogging and writing. I have definitely not done this. Perhaps this week, and this week only.

14. Write more list posts. I could do more, considering how many lists I write each day.

15. Take a photo a week. I am sure I have, but have I been carefully selecting a photo for Instagram/the blog to remind me of each week? No, no, I have not.

16. Keep a happiness jar. I moved this and forgot about it for a long time, so it’s back on my desk, ready to add to in the coming months.

So approximately four goals out of sixteen are on track, which is not the best result halfway through the year. However, that just means that tomorrow I should spend time finding a chocolate tour or a good time for a day trip, so I can’t complain!