Monday 20 October 2014


Tom’s Kitchen, Chelsea

Tom Aikens was first brought to my attention on the BBC’s Great British Menu, which in 2013 asked the chefs to design a four-course meal for the Comic Relief anniversary banquet. I found his creative dishes absolutely inspiring (in particular his “Egg Chicken / Chicken Egg” starter and Rabbit in a Hat main), and so was hugely excited to finally get to go to one of his restaurants. Tom’s Kitchen appears small and canteen-y, but has a menu to make you salivate. The temptation of truffled macaroni cheese, triple cooked chips and baked Alaska was almost too much to bear, but trying, as ever, to make sensible eating choices, I had a more slimming dinner of a steak tartare starter, sea bream special and half a raspberry crème brulee (accompanied by a delicious Chelsea Gardens cocktail made of gin, cucumber, apple and elderflower).

My starter, pud and drink were perfection, but on reflection I may have opted for a different, more exciting main. For the price, it was a shame to eat something I could have cooked for myself at home. Next time I eat at Tom's Kitchen, those chips will be goin’ down!

Borough Market 1000th Birthday

No, you did read that right. On 20th September, Borough Market celebrated its one-THOUSANDTH birthday. How many other businesses can say that they’re just as popular now as they were with the crusaders? It’s unlikely that they would have indulged on the Borough Market delicacies that I did though: toasted cheese sandwiches, duck confit salad, macaroons and marshmallow flavoured vodka, but hey, we can’t say for sure, can we? I also took home two incredible Turkish treats; my giant Turkish figs made a delicious Sunday lunch pudding, and although I’ve never really been a fan, the Turkish delight was, well, delightful. Over the week or so there were a variety of special anniversary events, including visitors walking through paint and leaving a trail of multi-coloured footprints throughout the market.

Whenever I go to Borough Market I wonder why I’m not there every weekend. It’s such an experience, for all the senses.                                                                                                                                                       

Originally written by Kevin Elyot twenty years ago, ‘My Night With Reg’ was brought back this year to the Donmar Warehouse, for its first major revival, by director Robert Hastie. Set in 1985, the play focuses on the lives of a group of gay friends and begins with their reunion after several years of separation. Like with any reassembling of loved ones there are both laughs and heartbreak; I’d hate to give too much of the plot away but as the title suggests, Reg has some explaining to do… The play, however, is hugely bittersweet; without a direct mention the plot revolves around the underlying theme of Aids, and the fears within the gay community at the time.

I know I probably say it every time, and prepare for me to contradict myself in future blog posts, but THIS was my favourite Donmar production to date. An extraordinary cast produced an extraordinary play.

Foxcroft and Ginger, Bethnal Green

You’ve guessed it – I’ve been stuffing my face yet again! When finding myself in Bethnal Green with an empty stomach and an hour to kill, I stumbled across Foxcroft and Ginger on the Mile End Road. Named after the owner Quintin Foxcroft and his redheaded wife, this trendy and relaxed café prides itself on using locally sourced ingredients. There’s a wide variety of dishes on the menu including lots of breakfast options. I was very jealous of the man next to me who was munching on homemade hash browns (one of my fave breakfast items). I also watched as an array of doorstop-sized sandwiches went past, all made using their special sourdough breads.

Nevertheless I had a delicious and satisfying chicken salad made with chickpeas, butternut squash, spring onions, peppers and a spiced yoghurt dressing. Yum, yum, YUM. There’s also a branch of Foxcroft and Ginger in Soho – sounds like a good wintery lunch spot to me, or even a quick coffee-and-a-croissant pit-stop.  

Before I Go To Sleep

A mysterious thriller starring two of my favourite male actors and Nicole Kidman, who really is growing on me after all of these years! She plays Christine Lucas, plagued with a memory span of only one day after a traumatic accident. With the help of a video camera, Christine starts to piece her missing years back together, but who is she to trust; her loving husband, or her professional doctor?

There are some serious spine chilling moments, a few tear jerkers, and there's no way anyone could predict all the twists that this plot provides (you'll change your opinion of the characters at least twice). Do go and see 'Before I Go To Sleep' for a great story and a super performance from all.

Monday 6 October 2014

Mad Men Themed Party

Want a suave and sophisticated party? Here is all you need to have a ball with your pals.

I LOVE Mad Men. The plot, the actors, the script, the outfits, the music, the décor, the cars... I just love it.

And then there was this dress. Made by Lindy Bop, it called to me from the rails at a vintage fair in Hastings. Modern made but based on a classic 1960s cut I needed to buy it. But then, of course, I needed a party to wear it to…

So the invitations to our Mad Men themed flat-warming party were sent out! When I have a party, I like to go all out, in the hope that my guest will have as much fun at it as I have had organizing it.

First of all, the outfits. I was pretty much sorted; all that was needed was a trip for to the hairdressers a few hours before my guests arrived to get my Betty curls in place, and an apron to really perfect the hostess look. My boyfriend simply updated his Great Gatsby outfit by swapping his white shirt for a navy polo and his bowtie for a pair of Aviators. Our guests looked great. The guys were sleek and gelled to perfection, and the gals wore pearls, petticoats and a good bit of eyeliner. Our best dressed mad man (prizes awarded) rocked a navy double-breasted jacket with matching handkerchief and tie, and our dressed best mad woman glittered in a gold strappy frock and heels. I was so pleased that everyone has made such an effort.

Decorating the flat wasn’t too difficult, as my walls are permanently decked with posters of New York and vintage car posters. As an extra little touch however, I did print character masks from the AMC Mad Men website. Great fun was had striking a pose with these!

To set the mood, I had Mad Men episodes playing on the TV and music blaring out of the speakers; after a rummage through my iTunes library I managed to compile a 9-hour playlist of appropriate tunes…

Now it wouldn’t be a 1960s party without a tipple and a nibble, and like a true housewife, I put on a full spread. We had devilled eggs, hot dogs and gherkins, Ritz crackers with Pete Campbell’s own onion dip recipe and of course, pretzels. The booze was flowing as my boyfriend prepared Watermelon Martinis and Moscow Mules in the kitchen, and the gin and tonic jellies and cherry liqueur chocolate brownies were gobbled up quick (and let's not forget the essential candy cigarettes...)

The drinks and tunes flowed into the early hours and a good time was had all round (and may I say, they all look faaabulous too). Don and Rog would’ve approved, I’m sure of it.

Sunday 5 October 2014


 Guardians of the Galaxy
I’m starting to think that you just can’t fail with a Marvel movie. A sleazy raccoon? A monotonous tree? The trailers weren’t really selling it to me as a smash hit, but boy, was I proved wrong (not to mention the box office figures – did you know this is now Vin Diesel’s highest grossing movie, despite him only saying one line?!).

This supernatural story of a band of unlikely superheroes was action-packed, CGI crazy, hugely humorous and has a terrific soundtrack… and Chris Pratt? Certainly a new pin-up.

Summer Exhibition
I love visiting the Royal Academy’s annual Summer Exhibition. There’s no white space on their gallery walls as every inch is packed with artwork of all kinds. Make sure you get down next year if you haven’t been before as there’s something to suit everyone’s interests, whether you want to whizz round in 10 minutes or stay for hours. Picking up a brochure at the door and indulge in a great game of “HOW MUCH?!” is also great fun.

Some highlights for me included David Mach’s Van Gogh and Marilyn portraits made entirely from pins, Rob and Roberta Smith’s letter to Mr Gove, and Yinka Shonibare’s Cake Man II.

School of Wok, Chandos Place
Hidden away in Covent Garden’s Chandos Place, the School of Wok offers a huge range of excellent cookery classes. I had a fantastic afternoon at their Introductory Dim Sum course (another nugget of knowledge – did you know Dim Sum translates as “touch of the heart”?). Go hungry as you make lots, and get to eat EVERYTHING. Doggy bags provided if you’re defeated.

On the menu that day were BBQ spare ribs, pork dumplings, vegetable spring rolls, and an incredible glutinous rice parcel with my new favourite ingredient lap cheong (Chinese sausage). As well as the cooking we learnt some essential knife skills, and had a beer and a laugh with some wonderful instructors.

The Brasserie, Brompton Road

You may be familiar with the Brasserie on the Brompton Road, but did you know that on a Sunday or Monday afternoon you can have a two-hour cocktail master class for only £10 a head? I thought this would be an excellent moving-in present for my boyfriend as our Mad Men themed flat-warming party was the following weekend. During the session you get a complimentary glass of wine and then get to make a cocktail of your choice from the menu. I picked a classic vodka martini, and my boyfriend chose a Moscow Mule.

Alex was a great teacher and gave us ample advice for our party including an extra Watermelon martini to sample. By the time 8 o’clock came we were skipping out of the Brasserie! An afternoon incredibly well-spent and we were the hosts with the mosts at our bash, showing off our shaking all night long.


My first trip to the Shard last year when it opened was blissful; no queues, no crowds and no restrictive time slots. When I took my Grandma back in August, I didn’t expect it to be as before, but surprisingly we had exactly the same relaxed experience. It goes without saying that the views were fantastic, especially when the poppies were still on display at the Tower of London, but I would certainly put it on the list of tourist attractions I would be happy to go to over and over again.

Visitors and Londoners alike, you’re unlikely to see a better view; impressive even on a slightly cloudy day.

Saturday 2 August 2014

History of The Eagles, O2 Arena

When it comes to hearing music live, I've been a pretty lucky girl. With family and friends all having a passion for the good stuff, my list of concerts and gigs has got many of the greats ticked off: The Stones (twice!), Paul McCartney, The Kinks (also twice), Eric Clapton, The Who (...twice again...), as well as some modern stars too like Foo Fighters and Katy Perry (and watch out for my Lady Gaga review come October). You'd be hard pushed to beat me in a game of "Heard this live!".

They're in my top greats for sure, and now can be added to the concert list too - The Eagles arguably put on as good a show now as they ever could.

I've always thought that the O2 is a brilliant music venue if you have to venture out to one of the larger arenas to see big names. Two tips I'll give you for free: 

1. Take the Thames Clipper. The river boat service is relatively cheap (about £13 return, I think) and means that both journeys are hassle-free, with a guaranteed seat on what is practically a Thames sightseeing cruise. There are stations at London Eye, London Bridge and Canary Wharf and for a small upgrade you can have a glass of champers on board too (got to be better than the Jubilee line, surely).

2. If you can't afford the prime seats in the arena (which could set you back hundreds), go for up the top at the back, as directly opposite the stage as is available. I've never been disappointed with these seats, which are often the cheapest, and have sat in them many times. Your view won't be distorted or blocked, and to be honest, the large screens either side of the stage mean you won't be missing out on anything. It's all about the sound anyway, right? Now there's the 60s groover in me coming out strong.

So now you're there and seated, let's get on with the show. I'm always surprised when people say they only know the one Eagles song (no prizes for guessing which one...) because there are so many amazing tunes. What struck me most about the night was, despite being a reasonably big fan, just how many I'd forgotten! Forming in 1971, there are quite a few decades and albums to get through, it's true. 

The show was cleverly put together chronologically, starting off with the two founding members Don Henley and Glen Frey retelling The Eagles' story and then introducing the others as they arrived in the history. The stage also evolved with them, and the band went from sitting on amps in front of a dust-sheet backdrop to fronting an electrified set with lights and flashy graphics projected behind them.

The history was fascinating for a fan, but I also hugely enjoyed the light-hearted banter that interjected the show, like Frey admitting that the recording of one album was such a drug-induced blur that it's hard to keep track of what happened in that period ("This was recorded in August 1976, or at least that's what somebody told me. To be honest, ladies and gentlemen, it's a miracle that we're all still here"). At the mention of their recordings in Olympic Studios in "Barrrrrrnes" (Frey's Michigan accent made it sound rather exotic), I was sadly the only one in the whole O2 who whooped. SW London and proud, people!

As for the songs themselves, how could you fault them? There were no keys changes or slowed down tempos as far as I could make out, and the harmonies were all still in, well, perfect harmony. They can all still sing and all still play, and can all still do both things at once, especially Henley who sounds like he hasn't aged a day since the tracks were first recorded. There were however different versions of Witchy Woman and Heartache Tonight, but if these were somehow cover-ups, who cares - they were hugely entertaining.

It would be wrong not to single out one man's contribution to the show. If anyone had been snoozing off to the sweet lullabies of Best of My Love and Tequila Sunrise, their alarm clock was to come in the form of Mr. Joe Walsh. The guitarist, best known for his infamous Hotel California solo, was a lightning bolt of energy whenever he was present on stage, whether taking part in a riff-off with Frey or running about with a camera attached to his baseball cap, filming audience members of the front row. The performances of his solo hits Rocky Mountain Way and Life's Been Good were certainly highlights.

As a whole, the audience cheered, whooped and sang together, and all seemed to have a great time (well, apart from the fight that broke out in front of us, but I'm sure The Eagles have seen it all before). When queuing for a beer I overheard a man, completely blissed out and on the verge of tears of joy, who said he had waited all his life to see The Eagles. That surely proves that these men are rock royalty. An incredible evening out, and I look forward to maybe adding a "twice" after them on the list too.

Wolf Hall / Bring Up The Bodies, RSC at Aldwych Theatre

Hilary Mantel is fast becoming a national treasure. She's won the Booker Prize twice (the only woman ever to do so), and recently had her portrait hung in the British Library. For the bookworms amongst you, she is probably best known for her novels, which tell the stories of King Henry VIII and his wives, from Thomas Cromwell's point of view. Although fictitious, Mantel weaves the facts into her intriguing plots, leaving you wondering "Hmm, I wonder..."!

The Aldwych Theatre is playing productions of Mantel's first two Cromwell novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies (the last of the trilogy is currently being written). On Saturdays they are played back to back in a matinee and evening performance - with enough time in between to pop out for a bite to eat and a natter about what might be coming next.

The cast stays the same for both performances, lead by the fantastic Ben Miles (you'll know his face, probably from Coupling). The dialogue was fast, snappy and surprisingly humorous, making it easy for a modern ear to follow; it's hands down my favourite historical era anyway, but it can be a shame with any period production when you feel the script needs translating. The set was simple but effective. A roaring fire in the corner is enough to evoke a Tudor palace, or a spot of drizzle to symbolise a stormy sail up the Thames. Hats off (excuse the pun) to the costume department as well, who had royalty dripping in jewels and silks. 

So if you're a fan of the novels, the era or even just good theatre, get yourself to the Aldwych. The run has been extended through to September, and you can either see the double performances on a Wednesday or Saturday, or watch them on consecutive nights (Wolf Hall, Monday and Thursday; Bring Up The Bodies, Tuesday and Friday).