Beer and Buns in Liverpool Street

hirata buns beer and buns liverpool street london

Japanese beers (and sake) and fluffy buns (and wings) are the order of the evening at Beer & Buns. And they come with an extra side of fun – foosball and pinball tables… and sake bombs.

sake bomb beer and buns liverpool street london

Sake bombs (pictured left) require a little bit of explanation – a shot of sake arrives balanced on chopsticks above a glass of beer. You’ve got to knock on the table to get the sake to drop into the beer [*splash*] before downing it.

If that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, the frozen margaritas are highly commended, and there’s whisky, cocktails and lots of beer available too.

Food-wise, buns are the obvious choice – the signature chicken bun was our favourite – and there are also duck, roast pork and veggie options. The menu is quite meat-heavy: the fried chicken wings are great, but super messy (thankfully they give you hand wipes), and there are a selection of sides. The beauty of dining here is that it’s all very informal and hands-on.

Beer & Buns is a cheap mid-week eat (there are offers on food and drink and the foosball tables are free to use). It also works as a casual date night spot and is buzzing with suits on a Friday night.

asahi japanese bar beer liverpool street london

For both food and drink it’s a pay-as-you-go bar service. The service was really quick when we visited, which had me questioning whether the food is pre-prepared and reheated, but nonetheless it’s a cheap meal and it does hit the spot.

 

Pick your own lavender in Hitchin

hitchin lavender field hertfordshire

As the wind blows, the calming scent of lavender pours in through the open car window. We’re close.

We drive a good few metres forward and then we see it. A gigantic field speckled with the colour purple.

Rows of lavender roll on for miles. It looks even better than the pictures on Google.

We’ve just pulled into the entrance to Hitchin lavender farm and soon enough we’re parked up and making our way through the sea of purple.

lavender field london

At the entrance we pay a small fee (£4.50 for adults, £1 for children) in return for a pair of scissors and a roomy brown bag. It’s time to get cutting.

But of course, first things first: pictures! We can’t help but whip out our cameras and get clicking.

We decide to trek all the way to the top of the hill to get the best view (comfy shoes are recommended).

As we walk amongst the lavender rows, the sound of bees buzzing fills our ears, and the small black and yellow creatures are everywhere (you might want to wear clothing that covers your shins and ankles when you visit, just in case).

pick your own lavender london

The view is spectacular from the top, with the lavender immersed against the great British countryside. We take a long rest and soak up the view.

On the way down we begin cutting. It’s harder than it looks, and we are surprised by how long it takes to build a bundle.

Lavender picking is a great alternative to strawberry or vegetable picking, and it’s only available to do for a limited time of the year (call ahead to the lavender farm to check it’s available before you visit). If you’re closer to south London, you may want to try Mayfield lavender farm instead.

lavender london

It’s lovely to see people of all ages getting stuck in, and on the sunny day we visit, the field is filled with visitors. One newly wed couple has even come to get some snaps for their wedding album.

After a couple of hours in the field we have picked to our heart’s content, but there is still room in our bags to fill!

Tired and thirsty, we head for the farm shop and café where we sip lavender lemonade and feast on cake. On the menu I spot scones with lavender jam, and make a mental note to return to try them. There are also sandwiches, jacket potatoes and lots of cake so you can make a day of it. All sorts of lavender products are also available to buy.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle of city life in London, so a day out in the fresh air in the suburbs, within a beautiful field of purple is ever so refreshing. Give it a go, especially now that the sun is out!

Scoffing sourdough pizza at Franco Manca

franco-manca

It comes as no surprise that sourdough pizza chain Franco Manca has been named the best Italian restaurant in the UK by Yelp users.

It was only earlier this year that I was introduced to the restaurant myself – yet it’s rapidly become one of my favourite places to eat out, and I’ve been raving about it to everybody who will listen…

The pizza at Franco Manca’s really is the dream – the sourdough is light, soft and fresh, and doesn’t bloat your tummy afterwards. It’s actually so good that you want to finish off the crust too. Plus, the pizzas are huge and super cheap: under the £7 mark.

Perfect for a casual, quick eat, the chain has a very short and simple menu with a handful of pizzas and salad – no dessert is served.

There are restaurants dotted all over London, although very few take prior bookings, so you may have to wait for a table – but it’ll be worth it.

Fun fact to think about when you visit Franco Manca… Your pizza was blasted in a wood-burning brick oven for a minute at 500C before landing on your plate!

Despite having scoffing it last night, I simply cannot wait for my next fix.

Refuel at Pump Shoreditch

nosteagia bubble waffle london

Popcorn chicken, bubble waffles, chilli cheese fries… street food is made seriously fun at Pump Shoreditch.

The mini street food market square, which is housed on the site of a disused petrol station on Shoreditch High Street, sees vendors rustle up tasty and eclectic delights from small colourful huts all day (11am-11pm).

Fill your arms with all the food you fancy before taking a seat at one of the many benches available and tucking in.

pump shoreditch food market

If you’re familiar to the east, Pump is a a smaller-scale, snug version of Dinerama/Street Feast, but with a host of different food stalls, and it’s small enough that you won’t lose sight of friends. It’s mostly sheltered, but can get breezy so you’ll probably need a coat, at least until the weather warms up.

makimayo fried chicken pump shoreditch

Eat your way around the stalls: start at Makimayo, which takes fried chicken to a whole new level. We chose the chilli mayo-drizzled chicken (£5) and the Gangnam chicken (pictured above); both were finger-licking good, although the latter was quite spicy. Next, pick from Italian/Venezuelan/Peruvian/Japanese/Argentinian dishes before finishing at Nosteagia for bubble waffles (£4.50 each). A Chinese variation on the dessert waffle, the distinctive shape will impress, as will the fact that it’s made fresh in front of you. Choose your toppings (Oreo, strawberries, chocolate, cream, peanut butter, etc. Coco Pops is an option too!) and enjoy. They’re soft yet crisp to the bite, -and surprisingly light – a great way to round off the eating extravaganza – just make sure you leave some room for them!

nosteagia bubble waffle shoreditch london

Take yourself back to Asia at East Street

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I felt like I’d been transported back to the bustling streets of Bangkok when I entered East Street.

Illuminated signs screaming “Asahi” or “Coca Cola” hang from the restaurant’s ceiling, jostling for attention, while a fragrant spiced aroma – reminiscent of the faraway street food bazaars of Asia – fills your nostrils.

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East Street serves up a variety of small and large dishes from Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, so you could have a beer from Laos, Vietnamese spring rolls, a Thai curry and finally, Malaysian pancakes for dessert, say.

This is a vibrant, fun restaurant that’s good for a casual lunch or dinner. Variety, speedy service and good portion sizes characterise the dining experience, and you’d be surprised that the eatery is hidden away just off Oxford Street (Tottenham Court Road is the closest station).

If you’ve ever been to Asia, it’s sure to have you reminiscing about your adventures!

A chocolate lover’s paradise: Said in Soho

said soho hot chocolate best in london

Word on the street is that Said serves up one of the best hot chocolates in London. It’s true. A cup of heavenly thick, rich molten chocolate, it is best devoured with a spoon. The taste of pure, melted, quality chocolate comes through with every mouthful – and between them it’s so satisfying to dip and swirl a spoon in the gooey liquid before you.

Said Dal 1923, as it’s officially known, is the London branch of a well-established chocolate shop in Rome, so it uses real handmade chocolate in its drinks – there’s not a trace of that powdered or watered down stuff here. And while the hot chocolate deserves to be shouted about, there’s another hidden gem here that shouldn’t be missed.

Chocolate bubbles behind the counter of this cosy little boutique shop-cum-café on Broadwick Street in Soho, and slabs of chocolate line the window and shelves. When we arrive at 8.45pm on a Monday evening, every seat is taken. To reiterate, it’s Monday evening, and it’s a full house.

said soho chocolate london

It’s clear to see that Said’s hot chocolate is popular – looking around at least 60% of customers have an empty cup in front of them, but there are also quite a few people forking cake into their mouths, sipping on coffee and munching on chocolate.

We’re soon seated next to a roaring fire in the centre of the café, it’s the epitome of cosy. Browsing through the four-page menu, it is full of sweet and savoury delights. As well as chocolate-coated strawberries, homemade cakes, profiteroles, tiramisu, ice cream, cheesecake, chocolate pizza (yes, it’s a thing, coated with Said’s own version of the popular Nutella spread, jars of which are available to buy), there are teas, coffees, and savoury items available.

There’s so much to tempt us that we can’t quite make up our minds. I quickly decide that this will become my new dessert spot so I can work my way through the entire menu.

After much umming and ahing, we opt for one milk hot chocolate (£2.50) and one dark hot chocolate (£2.50). It quickly arrives, and as we’re trying to scoop up every last drop, a plate of profiteroles arrives at the table beside us. There are three large profiteroles, each respectively drenched with warm white, milk and dark chocolate. The guy seated opposite me is about to take a bite and sees me eyeing them up. “They’re really good,” he says. I put an order in for them.

said soho chocolate shop

The profiterole-eating man couldn’t have been more right. I’m so deeply grateful for his tip-off. The profiteroles (£8) are a MUST – the best I’ve ever tasted in all my 26 years on this planet. But eat them quick, while the chocolate is still hot. And eat them in this order: the white, the milk and then the dark, so you get the optimum flavour from each. If there are two of you and you only order one plate as we did (it’s plenty!), cut each one in half so you get to sample every chocolate flavour. You can thank me later…

Bar spy: The Blind Pig, Soho

the-blind-pig-dill-cocktail-london

You might have walked right past The Blind Pig before without batting an eyelid. It’s one of those unmarked speakeasy-style Soho bars hidden behind a secret door. The mystery! Search for an optician’s sign, and below it, a door with a knob resembling a pig’s head. Got it? You’re in, if you’ve made a booking that is…

Head up the stairs, past the entrance to owner Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House restaurant, and a doorway adorned by dark velvet curtains leads to its bar, The Blind Pig.

the-blind-pig-soho-londonCharacterised by dark, woody tones, the bar is dimly lit and charming, with comfy leather booths and smaller tables. Here, cocktails are concocted from the most original ingredients such as jalapeño syrup, pea cordial and smoked salt. And it’s a place that’ll have you drinking cocktails out of a milkshake cup, with customary striped straw. Table service means you don’t have to waste time standing at the bar.

Start with the refreshing Dill or No Dill cocktail, a refreshing mix of gin, cucumber, elderflower. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, go for the the Kindergarden Cup – an exciting mix of Skittles vodka, Aperol, lemon, egg white, “Wham Bar” syrup and vanilla bitters. It’ll have you squealing (sorry).

Peckish? Pig out (sorry, again) on the dishes from the “Bites and Jars” menu, which are made by Atherton’s expert chefs in the restaurant below: the duck fat chips are said to be great.

The Blind Pig is a great place for a date – stylish, intimate and relaxed, and you can hold a conversation without having to scream. Plus any date would be flattered to know you’ve sought out such a hidden gem… Just promise me you won’t make a pig’s ear of yourself! (Apologies, might have overdone it.)

Put on a brave face for Goosebumps Alive + win a pair of tickets to see it

Goosebumps Alive Waterloo immersive experience

If Goosebumps gave you thrills as a kid and you’ve still got plenty of nostalgia for the series, you’ll be intrigued to hear that there’s a spine-tingling immersive experience coming to London that’s inspired by R.L Stine’s most memorable creations.

From 6 April, you’ll be able to find out what happens when your childhood fears become your adult nightmares as you journey through the dark, abandoned railway tunnels under Waterloo, and step into the beautifully haunting world of Goosebumps Alive, a chilling, modern update of the Nineties cult horror series.

Brilliantly reimagined from the classic tales of R. L. Stine, whose first book was published in 1992, it’s equal parts terrifying and riotous. The only way out is through 19 rooms populated by the residents of your darkest dreams, so you’ll have to walk the knife’s edge of fright and fun in this chilling promenade.

Go with friends or colleagues, but leave the kids at home – this is the Goosebumps of grown-up fears.

 

THIS COMPETITION HAS NOW CLOSED

Win a pair of ticketsgoosebumps alive waterloo experience april spooky

For the chance to win one of two pairs of tickets, simple answer this question correctly:

What year was the first book in the Goosebumps series published? (Clue above!)

  1. 1992
  2. 1991
  3. 1995

To enter, leave your answer, full name, contact email and number here. Closing date: 23 March 2016.

Terms and conditions                          

Winners will be selected at random from all correct entries. Each winner receives a pair of tickets to see Goosebumps Alive. Winners can redeem their tickets any time from 6 April until 13 April. For a full list of performance dates and times visit www.goosebumpsalive.com. Tickets to be collected at the box office with no cash alternative; value if specified based on highest price bracket. Tickets are subject to availability and are non-transferrable and exchangeable. Competition is run by www.booments.com on behalf of Goosebumps Alive.

Tapas at José Pizarro in Liverpool Street

jose-pizarro-broadgate-circle

It’s a Tuesday evening at José Pizarro’s all-day tapas restaurant in Broadgate Circle and there are suits aplenty.

Detracting slightly from his cosier Bermondsey outposts, José and Pizarro, the Spanish chef has created this restaurant, his third, in a sleek, airy style, so it matches the City worker crowd well.

An extensive wine list featuring all-Spanish varieties is pleasing to see, while small tapas dishes and sharing plates of meat and cheese dominate the small menu.

Considering the size of the menu, which is a sheet of A4, we spend a lot of time mulling over what to eat. Vegetarian dishes aren’t flagged up, which is slightly frustrating considering I’m dining with a pescatarian companion. Some of the dish descriptions are also strings of Spanish words (it certainly feels authentic!), so we busy ourselves Googling translations on our phones.

To start, we go for the gordal olives stuffed with manchego (£4) – the Spanish cheese inside the olives is incredibly rich and creamy, and a little overpowering – but the spicy prawn fritters with alioli (£8.50) are memorable and moreish, perhaps one of the stand-out dishes.

Mid-way through the starters, a plate of juicy-looking king prawns lands on our table – which, it turns out, are intended for the diners seated beside us, who are eyeing them up suspiciously. We pass the plate on, and carry on with our meal.

Next we order patatas bravas (£5) and empanada with spinach, torta del casar and pine nut dressing (£7). The patatas bravas is great to start, but the potato chunks nearer to the bottom of the pan are overly salty. The empanada, a pastry with a cheese and spinach filling, is coated in an odd dressing that ruins the flavour, such that we nibble on a bit and leave the rest.

We move on to a dessert of warm apple tart and vanilla ice cream (£4.50), which is absolutely lovely – crisp, flaky and so enjoyable that I could devour another plate. Also on the dessert menu is a dish that intrigues me: chocolate pot with salt and olive oil (£4.50). It’s just as popular as the apple tart, the waiter tells me, and is a little like a pot of rich Nutella, served with bread, but I’m too full to give it a go.

Perhaps my incredibly positive and fulfilling tapas experience at Brindisa the night before is overshadowing my experience, but I can’t help but feel too satisfied. Maybe I should’ve chosen some meaty dishes. I’m told that the menu has recently changed, so maybe that’s got something to do with it. Still, the setting is pretty and the service is great (other than the slip of the prawns!) – I can’t help but feel that José Pizarro, which opened last May, could be even better in the summer months, when diners can dine on the outdoor terrace.

Regardless, the magic of tapas is that you get to fill up on a variety of small things, and while it feels like you’re eating less than normal, you feel full fast. We set off out of the restaurant and the grand amphitheatre-like Broadgate Circle with our bellies full, at least.

Play ping pong at The Bat and Ball bar in Stratford

the bat and ball ping pong bar london stratford westfield

A new ping pong bar has taken up residency in Westfield Stratford – and it’s got an atmosphere as cool as rival chain Bounce.

The premise is fun and simple at The Bat and Ball: play table tennis while sipping on beer and munching on chicken wings (or cocktails and pizza!) in a giant games hall with dimmed lighting and music pumping in the background. With balls flying all over the place and games of beer pong making things a little messy, it’s a recipe for fun and laughter.

beer pong at the bat and ball ping pong bar stratford

The Bat and Ball is a year-long pop-up set over three floors: there’s a restaurant and bar, a roomy games hall with 12 championship tables, plus a private games parlour.

Don’t be put off when you hear that it’s in Westfield Stratford – it’s a quick five-minute walk from the Tube – enter the shopping centre, go up the escalator and take a right out on to The Street. Walk a few minutes and you’ll see it on your left.

If The Bat and Ball is too far out for you, there are lots of other ping pong bars in London: try one of the Bounce branches or Ping!

cocktails and ping pong table tennis bats at the bat and ball bar stratford westfield
chicken wings the bat and ball bar stratfordthe bat and ball bar westfield stratford ping pong

Slurp noodles at the new Ichiryu Hakata Udon House

ichiryu udon house tottenham court road london

A brand new “Udon House” has opened its doors on New Oxford Street.

Ichiryu, the brainchild of Take Tokumine, the CEO of Shoryu and Japan Centre,  prides itself on its thick, chewy white udon noodles, which are handmade on site and served up either hot or cold with toppings such as prawn tempura, fishcakes and beef.

The menu also features sushi, tempura (cod, aubergine, chicken, fishcake, burdock root and courgette variations, all cooked in rapeseed oil), rice bowls, and Japanese classics such as edamame, miso soup and Hirata buns. Plus, there’s sake, beer and Japanese tea to wash it all down.

Located just a few minutes from Tottenham Court Road station, the eatery has been designed in a grab ’n’ go-style perfectly suited to the work crowd, although there is a small relaxed seating area for those who wish to dine in.

At the launch, Mr Tokumine revealed that every Ichiryu employee is gifted a share in the restaurant upon joining (in a similar way to John Lewis’ organisational structure) – so the company’s success will be shared by its staff.

A chef at Ichiryu also explained what makes udon dishes a little different: while Ramen, the Japanese noodle soup, is most often flavoured with pork-based broth, udon dishes have a fish broth base.

Standout dishes, in my opinion, are the sushi and the refreshing chilled udon dish, Buta Shabu Niku – I’ve only ever tasted udon noodles steaming hot, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Find it: 84 New Oxford St London WC1A 1HB, nearest station Tottenham Court Road

Can you keep a secret? Weekend film club at The Soho Hotel

Soho Hotel film club

There’s nothing better than kicking back for a movie on a Sunday afternoon – except, perhaps, doing it in style.

Think comfy leather seats, free popcorn, and drinks delivered directly to your seat…

Intrigued? A well-kept secret is that The Soho Hotel runs a fantastic ‘Weekend Film Club’ where you can watch the latest releases in the luxury surroundings of its state-of-the-art screening rooms.

With twinkling ceiling lights, and chunky smooth leather seats, the intimate screening rooms do not attract the likes of youth who spend the entire length of the movie on their iPhones, but a well-heeled audience, many of whom are carting around their shopping bags from Oxford Street – and you don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to take advantage.

Tickets for the film screening alone are £15, but most people make an evening or afternoon of it (as we did) – for £35 you can enjoy afternoon tea, lunch or dinner in the hotel’s Refuel Restaurant before making your way down to the screening room for the movie of the week.

What’s great is that as you enter the screening an air of calm descends, and you’re invited to pick up a free box of popcorn and take it to your seat. Seats are not pre-allocated – it’s a choose-as-you-arrive situation.

The screen is large, sound quality is as good as you’d expect, and there’s a generous amount of leg room. The cherry on top is that you don’t have to sit through a row of adverts before the film begins – and it starts bang on time.

Also, note that if you want a specific drink and you place your order before you enter the room, a waiter will bring your beverage to your seat.

Film screenings take place on both Saturdays and Sundays – see the line up for The Soho Hotel and the Charlotte Street Hotel, which runs the same thing.

So if you’re looking for something a little different – but relaxing – for next weekend, this might just be it.

Winter exploration: a day trip to Bristol

bristol ice rink

The biting, chilly winter winds have arrived in full force, work Christmas parties are fast approaching and the festive hype is beginning. It seems about the right time to slip into the Christmas spirit – and that I did, while outdoor ice skating this weekend in the city of Bristol.

One of Bristol’s festive attractions, the recently-opened At-Bristol Ice Rink gives visitors the chance to skate around a small-scale rink, with feel-good festive such as Frozen’s Do You Want to Build a Snowman, Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car and Frank Sinatra’s New York playing in the background. When we visited on Saturday afternoon, it was mostly full of young children and families. What’s great about its location [for a family outing] is that it’s beside both the planetarium and the aquarium, and the harbour.

ice skates on iceFor festive food, we made our way to the German Christmas markets located in the heart of Bristol’s shopping area in Broadmead. Rows of traditional wooden chalets selling traditional German Christmas decorations, gifts and food combine with Bavarian-style beer houses to create a buzzing atmosphere. It’s a great place to while away an hour or two sampling festive food – from hog roasts, crepes and waffles to spicy mulled wine and cider.

On my to-do list for the day was a more hands-on, creative festive experience offered by Bristol Blue Glass, a renowned company that makes and sells glassware in the city. For a limited time it is offering a special glass bauble blowing experience that sounds intriguing and rewarding.

Time was running out, so instead of visiting Bristol Blue Glass, we took a detour for a free dose of culture (and to warm ourselves up!), by heading to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, in the hope of finding something by graffiti artist Banksy, who was born in Bristol. As you enter the museum, you find Banksy’s famous ‘Pink Angel’ sculpture, an angel with a paint bucket slung over its head, and pink paint trickling down its body. Much of the rest of Banksy’s work is dotted around the streets of the city, so street art and graffiti tours have become established as a must-do when visiting Bristol.

death exhibition bristol museum

Whilst at the museum we also queued for a short time to make it into the ‘Death: the human experience’ exhibition. As a society we’re quite reluctant to talk about death and dying – it’s not something I’d choose to start a conversation about – which is why this exhibition, which is on until March 2016, was particularly eye-opening and insightful. It was a ‘pay what you think’ exhibition, so as you exit, you’re able to decide how much you enjoyed it and what you’d like to donate – a smart idea, I thought.

st nicholas market bristol

St Nicholas Market

Hunger struck again, so we made a beeline for the artisan food stalls in the covered section of St Nicholas Market. This is an unmissable foodie stop and the laidback, cool vibe of the city really comes through. Independent retailers selling everything from fresh made-before-your-eyes falafel to Jamaican specialties, smoothies, or pies and gravy from local favourite Pieminister, make this is a brilliant and quirky stop. The other areas of St Nicholas Market, which were established as early as the 1700s, contain stalls selling everything from artwork to jewellery and vintage clothing, so the area is great for exploring, and picking up a few unusual bits and bobs.

st mary redcliffe church bristol

St Mary Redcliffe Church

pieminister pie shop bristol

Hearty fare at Pieminister in St Nicholas Market

Before heading back to catch the train home to London from Temple Meads Station, we stopped in at the strikingly beautiful St Mary Redcliffe Church. It’s a masterpiece of gothic architecture, which has been around for some 800 years. Look out for one of the stained glass windows in the east end of the church that depicts Noah’s Ark, with 22 species of animals in pairs.

A day isn’t enough to see everything that Bristol has to offer – and the hilly city can really bring the tiredness out in you – but on my list of things to see for next time is:

  • SS Great Britain, the world’s first luxury cruise liner. Restored and reinstated to where she was built, you can climb aboard and explore everything from the posh first-class cabins to the cramped workers’ quarters and the engine. It gives an insight into Bristol’s maritime history – and its past as a port, which stretches back to 1051.
  • M Shed has a permanent exhibition that charts Bristol’s history for a fuller picture, and there are also pirate tours to explain Bristol’s part in the triangular slave trade.
  • Clifton Suspension Bridge, which can be considered the defining image of Bristol, sits spectacularly on the cliffs of the Avon Gorge. It was built by great Victorian Engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the same man who created the SS Great Britain, and the Temple Meads Station.

If you’re thinking to visit Bristol on a budget, here’s a list of attractions with free entry:

  • Arnolfini
  • Arnos Vale Cemetry
  • Blaise Castle House Museum and Estate
  • M Shed
  • The Georgian House Museum
  • The Red Lodge Museum
  • Bristol Cathedral
  • Spike Island
  • The Architecture Centre
  • The Matthew

Beside the seaside: a day trip to Hastings

hastings beach

The last time I uttered the word “Hastings” was when I was aged 13 and bored silly in a history class at school. You guessed it – I was studying the Battle of Hastings, which, I only recently discovered didn’t actually take place in Hastings – it took place several miles away, in Battle (Hastings was the nearest, largest town, so it earned the name). Something they failed to mention at school, or perhaps I wasn’t paying attention.

old sweet shop hastingsMy preconceptions about Hastings, therefore, were somewhat skewed: I’d imagined a boring little place stuffed full of historic sights and history types wearing ghastly walking shoes. What I found, though, was refreshing: a pleasant seaside town with a good mixture of old and new, and plenty of options for the hungry visitor.

Ideal for a day trip, Hastings is a bit like Brighton’s much younger, less polished sibling. It’s a little rough around the edges, but very family- and dog-friendly, and there’s something for history buffs and non-history buffs alike.

In 2016, Hastings Pier will reopen – it was party destroyed by a fire in 2010 – and the town will also celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in September and October, with a big arts festival and lots of events planned, so it could be a good time to visit.

To help you get an idea of what there is to see and do in Hastings, here are some ideas:

tush n pats fisherman rolls stall hastings

Tush and Pat’s Fisherman Rolls stall

Wander down Rock-a-Nore Road

Hastings is home to one of Britain’s oldest fishing fleets – fishermen have worked from the shingle beach, known as The Stade, for more than a thousand years. If you wander along the seafront, past all the children’s amusements, you’ll reach this section. Freshly-caught fish is sold from small sheds, and here you’ll find the historic black net shops that are unique to Hastings. They look a bit like towering beach huts – but they are actually made using half an old upended fishing boat. Split over two or three floors, fishermen used them to store their nets, ropes and fishing gear.

Pick up a Fisherman’s Roll

Stop off at Tush and Pat’s ever-popular stall in front of the net shops, which sells freshly made Fisherman’s Rolls. They’re incredibly tasty and cheap, and the queues for them are continuous. The rolls are famous – even Jamie Oliver has visited  – and while we were there, the locals were stopping for some: always a good sign. “I like mine with vinegar and lemon on top,” reveals co-founder Tush.

west hill life hastings funicular railway view over hastings country park

Tightly packed houses on terraces carved out of the rock to East Hill

Go up the East Hill Lift

Right across the road from Tush and Pat’s stall is the entrance to the East Hill Lift. It is the steepest funicular lift railway in Britain and provides access to Hastings Country Park, which stretches across five kilometres of cliffs and coastline. Go up with a picnic (or some fish and chips!) or buy an ice cream up top and enjoy the views. Follow one of the park’s many walking routes, or perch on one of the benches and enjoy the scenery. If you don’t want to take the lift up to the park, there’s a hidden set of steps, known as Tamarisk Steps, located between the Dolphin Pub and The Fish Hut. Follow the little alley, and you’ll find the stairs that take you to the top.

 

Get your art fix at Jerwood Gallery

Overlooking the beach, and situated within The Stade is the Jerwood Gallery, a relatively new addition to the town. Opened in 2012, the gallery, which displays contemporary and modern art, is considered a jewel in the crown of the Hastings cultural scene. It’s a great escape from the hustle of the promenade.

hastings old town george street

Hastings Old Town

Explore Hastings Old Town

It would be very easy to while away a few hours wandering around the quirky boutiques, pubs, cafés, vintage clothing and antique shops in the Old Town. It’s arguably the most charming part of Hastings. Start on George Street and work your way further inland – and don’t miss the treasure trove that is Butler’s Emporium, it’s set in a shop that dates back to the 1800s.

Something for the kids

Along the seafront, there are a host of activities for the kids, from trampolining and go karting to mini golf, football, boating, and more. There are lots of places for ice cream and sweets too, of course! If it’s raining, the Blue Reef Aquarium located along the promenade can take little ones on an undersea safari. Wannabe pirates may also be intrigued by the Shipwreck Museum.

hastings seafront promenade

Catch a movie at Electric Palace

Electric Palace is an old fashioned, charming independent cinema run entirely by volunteers. It has a quirky line up – making it an entirely different experience to your usual Vue or Odeon.

view from west hill cliff hastings

Historic Hastings

Check out Hastings Castle, the first castle built in England by William the Conqueror. It is situated on the West Hill and can be accessed via the West Hill cliff railway located at the top of George Street. Hastings Museum & Art Gallery is also nearby – set in a manor house away from the Old Town and up above the seafront, it displays art and offers the chance to learn about the local history of Hastings.

Battle Abbey

Stop off at the site of the 1066 Battle of Hastings: Battle Abbey. Learn all about the invasion of William The Conqueror and stand on the site where the future of England was determined. It’s mostly all outdoors so make sure the weather’s good when you visit.

Southeastern Rail trains run direct from London Charing Cross to Hastings.

With thanks to the Visit 1066 Country East Sussex tourist board for the invite to Hastings.

Pop up selfie-service café: smile for free breakfast in Covent Garden

 lyle's golden syrup selfie service cafe2 Turn your morning frown upside down for London’s first selfie-service café, which will be offering a free breakfast in exchange for a smiling selfie next week.

lyle's golden syrup selfie service cafeEach morning from 7.30am to 11.30am on Tuesday 6th October to Thursday 8th October, Londoners can pop in for some steaming hot porridge or fluffy pancakes and ‘pay’ for their breakfast by uploading a smiling selfie to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

lyle's golden syrup selfie service cafe1The makers of Lyle’s Golden Syrup will be hosting the pop up at 44 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9HA, which can be found between Covent Garden and Charing Cross stations.

Better get your “good side” polished to perfection…

What: Lyle’s selfie-service café

When: Tuesday 6th October – Thursday 8th October, 7:30am – 11.30am

Where: 44 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9HA

Roof walking: climbing up the O2 arena in Greenwich

“Nobody likes a cry baby,” jokes Ross, our climbing instructor, “so if you feel nervous, just hold it in, OK?”

We’re about to clamber over the roof of the O2 arena in Greenwich, and Ross, our Scottish accented, bearded guide, has us chuckling from the off, which pretty much sets the tone for the next eighty minutes.

Before we set off, we’re made to sign a waiver (“You’re doing this at your own risk”, la-di-da…), and piled into a room to watch a safety video. At this point, it feels like I’m back on a school trip, but the difference is that there are people of all ages – from teens to families to those in their forties and fifties – and in actual fact, the safety video isn’t yawn-a-minute stuff, it’s quite hilarious and insightful.

It’s here that I learn about the clever symbolism that’s contained in the design and structure of the Millennium Dome (as the O2 Arena was formerly known) – for example, there are references to time, with 12 masts of the dome representing the months of the year and the hours on a clock face. The dome is also 52 metres tall – representative of the 52 weeks of the year, and it’s 365 metres wide, representative of the days of the year.

I also discover that the dome is located close to the meridian line, which has a longitude of zero (0° 0′ 0″), and every place on earth is measured in terms of its angle east or west from this line.

After the briefing, we’re given a pair of climbing shoes and a gilet to wear – gilets are given out in the warmer months, but full-sleeved, thick overalls are available for winter climbs. What’s great is that both have a dedicated pocket for a mobile phone or small digital camera, so you can take a few snaps when you reach the viewing platform at the middle of the climb. We pop all our other belongings into a small box, tie our hair back, and climb into our harnesses as instructed.

As we approach the start line for Up at the O2, there’s a photographer waiting to take our pictures. It’s a nice touch, and it gives us a chance to show off our climbing gear. Before the first step, we’re clipped to a railing that runs the length of the climb, so we feel secure at all times.

As we begin the ascent, we notice that the walkway is super bouncy (although you’re told not to bounce!), it’s like walking on a mattress. The photographer is available again to take pictures as you set off, if you want.

The climb is not that strenuous, although you do break out in to a small sweat at times, as the climb height can go up to 30 degrees. It’s good exercise and you can go at your own pace. Plus it’s not at all scary, so suitable for those who may have a fear of heights. Now I understand why Ross joked about us being nervous – there really isn’t anything to feel nervous about.

After about 15 minutes of climbing, we reach the viewing platform that sits at the middle of the climb. Here, you can unclip and have a walk around, take pictures and enjoy the view. Ross let us take all the pictures we wanted before pointing out landmarks and sharing interesting facts.

As the O2 is so far east, the main landmarks in sight are the buildings of Canary Wharf, the Olympic Stadium in Stratford and the Emirates Air Line cable cars. Further in the distance, you can see the Gherkin and from one point, you can apparently spot Wembley Stadium, although we didn’t see it.

“In terms of the view, the best climb is the one which takes place at sunset in the winter months,” says Ross. We’d opted for a 5pm climb, and although it was an overcast day early in September, it was very windy up on the viewing platform.

We spent about 20 minutes on the platform. I couldn’t help but feel that some sort of bar, refreshment or entertainment provision at this point would make the experience better.

Anyhow, what goes up must come down, and it’s a little steeper on the way down than the way up. As you finish and unclip the safety equipment, it’s a great feeling. “You’ve just walked over the ceiling of a big building,” jokes Ross, and we all give each other a round of applause.

We take a look at the photographer’s pictures – they’re great, but at £15 a pop, I’m happy to make do with the shots I took on my iPhone.

All that fresh air is sure to have us sleeping like babies, but for the meantime, we really need a hot cup of something to warm us up.

Ekachai: South East Asian dining in Wandsworth

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The vibe: A new authentic South East Asian restaurant specialising in street food dishes from Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong. Think: creamy curries, crunchy stir fries and oodles of noodles.

What’s cool: A lot of attention has been paid to the décor in Ekachai, which gives the restaurant an authentic feel and transports diners from South London to South East Asia. For example, domed light fittings are actually fishing baskets imported from Asia, and bamboo sticks feature in the wall panels and ceilings, while multi-coloured wooden tables and chairs are dotted throughout the restaurant.

“Every day when I come to work, I’m reminded of my home town,” says restaurant manager Eddy Lo, who comes from Malaysia. “The lampshades in the ceiling are what they use back home to catch fish.” There’s also an open plan kitchen, so you can see the chefs at work.

What’s great is the prompt service and the fact that Ekachai offers good value for money.

What’s not cool: the location. Ekachai is located next to the Cineworld cinema within the upper concourse of the Southside Shopping Centre, which makes it feel like a more casual dining experience than it has the potential to be.

The presentation of the dishes is very simple, and most of the food is served on basic plastic-like white plates and bowls, so if it’s extravagance you’re after, this might not be for you.

The food: “The most popular starter dishes are the pork dumplings and the soft shell crab. For mains, customer favourites include the Seafood Curry Laksa, which is a giant portion served in a huge bowl, and also my personal favourite. The Beef Hor Fun, which comes with noodles is just as popular,” says Eddy.

For starters we enjoyed the Thai fish cakes, which come with a sweet dip. We also had the vegetable dumplings, although they were quite bland in comparison.

For mains we went for the Malaysian chicken Kapitan curry, which was very flavourful, and the chicken cashew stir fry, which came with more veggies. We liked that we could choose between jasmine, coconut or egg-fried rice to accompany the main dish.

The dessert menu is very small, but it features a Malaysian pancake (“roti kanai”), which is like a meal in itself. It’s sweet, flaky and pastry-like, and it’s served with ice cream and fruit – order one to share!

Find it: the Wandsworth branch of Ekachai is situated within the Southside Shopping Mall, next to the Cineworld. It has recently opened and is busiest on Friday evenings and all day Saturday and Sunday. The chain has two other locations in London – Liverpool Street, and a concession in Selfridges London.

Final thoughts: a pleasant dining experience, but the location is probably only ideal for cinema goers and shoppers.

Shoryu: Japanese dining in Soho

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The vibe: a loud sit-down Japanese restaurant famous for its generously portioned ramen dishes, located behind Piccadilly Circus.

What’s cool: Shoryu’s menu includes a glossary on the last page, which helpfully simplifies the Japanese terms you find dotted through the descriptions. Plus, this particular branch has the largest selection of sake, shochu and umeshu, with over 130 to choose from.

What’s not cool: you might have to wait for a table, they don’t take reservations. At 7pm on a Thursday evening when we visited, there was a queue of about 12 people waiting [outside, in the rain] for a table.

Don’t be alarmed by: the bang of a loud drum when you enter the restaurant. It’s the staff welcoming you in. For the first fifteen minutes or so, you’ll be startled by it every time someone new comes in, before slowly becoming accustomed to it.

We drunk: Kirei Momoshu plum wine – peachy and fruity liqueur with “added youthful hyaluronic acid” according to the menu, ooooh! It was sweet and refreshing and didn’t taste alcoholic, although it was.

We ate: Shoryu Buns (£4.50 per piece) – nice, but Ippudo and Bao’s hirata buns are way better.

Shichimi Mushrooms (£5.50) – avoid.

Chicken Karaage (£6) – chunks of tender chicken with a tasty dip. Get this dish.

Salmon sashimi (£9.90) – yum.

Miso Wafu Chicken (£11.50) – the ramen dish was good, and huge, enough for two people!

Final thoughts: the portions at Shoryu are generous, and provide good value for money. The food is good too, I’d give it a 6.5/10.

Croissant making at Bread Ahead’s baking school

bread ahead london bridge borough market bakery school

There’s nothing more comforting than the smell of freshly baked goods straight out of the oven. I get so much satisfaction in whipping up a batch of cookies or a simple sponge – even if the results are sometimes a little hit-and-miss. It’s with that in mind that I signed on to a three-hour croissant making class with the experts at Bread Ahead’s baking school – so I could enjoy a relaxed yet educational expert tutorial, and come away with a fail-safe recipe for the French pastry.

Arriving at the bakery school, which is located a stone’s throw from the Bread Ahead stall in Borough Market (find it opposite the Fish! restaurant), I was pleased to hear that I wasn’t the only sporadic baker/cook in the enthusiastic class of nine. The lady beside me admitted to living off takeaways every day and being a bit of a baking virgin. Phew, I thought. There were two couples and a few keen mummy bakers in the predominantly female class too.

aidan chapman baker bread aheadWe stuck on our aprons, rolled up our sleeves and got stuck straight in as master baker Aidan Chapman, who has over 28 years of baking experience under his belt, broke down the croissant making process into simple steps. He demonstrated each step, before giving us the opportunity to copy.

Aidan explained that officially it takes a total of three days to make a good croissant – but the class is cleverly designed to cram those three days into three hours. Typically, on the first day the dough is made and left to refrigerate; on day two the “laminating” takes place, where you incorporate the butter into the dough and fold it in. [Side note: it’s crazy just how much butter goes into croissants, they really aren’t very good for you!] A good croissant dough requires three folds to create its flaky layers. On day three, the dough is ready to be shaped before being baked. Aidan explained that as it’s such a long process, it’s often difficult to find an authentic French croissant maker nowadays – the long production time doesn’t justify the cost it’s sold for, so many manufacturers buy frozen batches and bake them to save time.

fresh batch of croissants with jam bread ahead

What was also intriguing to learn is that croissants are specifically shaped according to what they’re made with: so straight croissants are only ever made with butter whereas crescent, half-moon shaped croissants are made with margarine or another sort of fat. Take that, pub quiz buffs.

The class was therefore informative as well as hands-on: everybody had their own work area, with equipment readily laid out, and ingredients provided. Aidan would come around and guide us if we were stuck, and everything was well organised, with assistant bakers bringing us all new ingredients and tools we needed, when we needed them. It also meant that there was no washing up to do all afternoon – winning!

The bakery school “classroom” is located right at the front of the bakery, near the heart of Borough Market, which means you sort of become the entertainment for the people visiting the market. There are always people watching in on the class– and many are armed with cameras to take pictures. I made the rookie error of choosing a workbench facing the window, so I assume I’ve been captured in multiple pictures doing all sorts of weird expressions and actions. TIP: if you’re quite self conscious, when choosing a work bench you may want to choose one with your back to the window.

The three hours flew by – one of my personal highlights was rolling the croissants into their lovely shape – and Aidan made the class engaging, educational and enjoyable – plus we got to taste a few varieties of croissants. The best bit, though, was that we each had a large batch of our own handmade croissants to take away at the end. You definitely need a lot of friends and family on standby to get through the batch you take away with you. Ultimately, hopping onto the Tube and filling the carriage with the aroma of my own freshly baked crossaints was priceless.

Bread Ahead sells a range of bakery products from its Borough Market stall, and has become particularly renowned for its doughnuts and fresh bread. Everything is made fresh at its factory, which is where the bakery school is based, too. So while you’re rolling and kneading, and getting flour in your hair/on your jeans/up past your elbows (just me?), behind the scenes there are bakers coming and going with large loaves of bread, and crates of doughnuts and bread loaves passing by all day. Note that there are no toilets located on site, but students are welcome to use Fish! Restaurant’s toilets across the street. It’s a little rough-and-ready as you’d expect in a factory setting, but it makes for an enjoyable, alternative thing to do in London.

Discover more about Bread Ahead’s baking school here.

Neapolitan café RossoTerrazza pops up on John Lewis rooftop

Escape the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street at the John Lewis roof garden, which is welcoming visitors back with Italian street food and cocktails this summer.

Soak up the sunshine atop the flagship store, where you can enjoy a variety of small plates, wine, cocktails (£10 each), Italian desserts and gelato at the RossoTerrazza café (brought to you by the restaurant chain Rossopomodoro), which has popped up on the terrace until the end of August.

It’s a family-friendly café, ideal for a quick pit stop or light meal, and seating is available both indoors and outdoors. The quinoa salad was a personal favourite, as well as the chicken pizza wrap (both pictured above).

Alongside the RossoTerrazza café, on the terrace there’s also a Joe & the Juice bar and a showcase of a selection of John Lewis items available to buy.

The roof garden is an open-air affair, so it’s probably best enjoyed on days when the weather is behaving itself.

RossoTerrazza is open from now until the end of August, on Monday-Tuesday:12-8pm; Thursday: 12-9pm; Friday-Saturday: 12-8pm and Sunday: 12-6pm.