Aim for bullseye at darts joint Flight Club

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Darts just got cool. For a long time it’s been a game associated with old men and dated pubs – but that’s all been thrown out the window now thanks to Flight Club.

This fairground-themed bar brings fancy computerised score-keeping and exciting team-based knockout games to make darts fun and social.

Think of what Top Golf did for golf; that’s what Flight Club has done for darts.

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Add inventive cocktails, tasty tear-and-share food (that’s brought straight to your area at the touch of a button), a buzzing atmosphere and feel-good music to the mix and you’ve got a winning combination for an alternative experience in London.

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Choose from four different games on a slick, touch-screen system, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve never played before, you’re likely to be hooked after a few turns.

The smallest details have been thought of, from engraved throw lines, also known as ‘oches’ – marked ‘rookie’, ‘regular’ and ‘pro’ so you can match it to your ability – to coat hooks in every area, and the capability for every player to take a mug shot at the start of the game, which will flash up every time it’s their turn.

Hire an area well in advance, and we’d recommend booking for a minimum of two hours to give yourselves sufficient time to get through all the games. It is perfect for a group of friends/colleagues/family members – we had 10 people in our game.

The carousel-themed bar downstairs in the Bloomsbury branch is vibrant and inviting, so even if you don’t go to play, this is a cool place for drinks.

While ping pong has had its moment – proving popular for team building events, dates and birthdays – now’s the time for darts.

…And it’s not just for boys.

Flight Club has two venues in central London – Shoreditch and Bloomsbury.

Step into the home of Charles Darwin at Down House

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A visit to the gorgeous, sprawling estate in Downe, Kent, makes for a wonderful day out.

Once home to Charles Darwin and his family, the beautifully restored, classically English Down House is a short journey from London.

Whether you know much about the father of evolution or not, it doesn’t matter, for you will leave enriched with interesting insights about his life – from the voyage across the globe that inspired his evolutionary theory, to his marriage to his cousin Emma.

Set aside a minimum of two hours to explore the house and the grounds: upstairs is like a museum, with display rooms and artefacts about Darwin’s early life as well as the restored main bedroom – complete with dress-up room and four-poster bed. The ground floor of the house contains the restored living room, Darwin’s study (where he wrote The Origin of Species), billiard room and dining room – hosting a dinner party here would be dreamy.

The upstairs is a thought-provoking self-guided tour but downstairs you can pick up an audio-guide – which is included in the entry price – and hear David Attenborough narrate about what life was like in Darwin’s day and how he and his family used the space for the 40 years they lived there.

 

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Head outside and you can explore the extensive gardens where Darwin carried out various experiments, and the greenhouse, laboratory (with live bee hive), tennis courts and orchard – a lovely amble on a pleasant day. The audio guide extends to the outdoor spaces with Andrew Marr narrating.

A tea room is located in the corner of the house but don’t count on it being cheap or on you bagging a seat. You could take your own picnic and snacks, although there are limited places to enjoy it as you’re not allowed to picnic on the grounds.

Don’t fret, as down the road there are a couple of pubs, the Green Dragon (pies, mostly) and The Queen’s Head (pub grub) where you can stop off for food before heading home.

Ample free parking is available at Down House. Entry is free for English Heritage members.

A night of mayhem at Bogan Bingo

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Bingo has shaken off its granny rep in recent years thanks to the likes of Rebel Bingo and Musical Bingo et al, and with live comedy game show Bogan Bingo it takes another entertaining and rowdy turn.

Presented by a couple of awesome bogan (derogatory Aussie term for an uncouth, poorly educated person) bingo callers, the focus here isn’t on handing out life-changing amazing prizes, but on amusing (and sometimes embarrassing) the players.

Bring a brave and unserious face, for the bingo callers are brash and there are no shortage of crude jokes and sexual innuendos to be heard – no wonder it’s dubbed “bingo with balls”.

This is a noisy affair that quickly descends into a messy drinking game – and it’ll have you lol-ling all night.

You’ll find yourself making friends with strangers beside you (many of whom are Aussies and Kiwis) and singing along to anthems from the Eighties and Nineties. There will be people dancing on tables, drinks will get spilled and it will get chaotic, so this isn’t for the weak. And at the end of the mad bingo session, the benches are pulled aside to make way for a party.

It’ll be easy to get into the spirit of it all if you’re a little sloshed – and it’s best enjoyed with a bunch of friends or workmates sat by your side.

P.S. Don’t be the dude who mistakenly ticks off a wrong number and claims to have got a winning row, because if the crowd’s anything like it was last night, you’ll be booed off the stage and have things thrown at you. He probably won’t forget this night in a hurry – and neither will I.

Munch on Indian tapas at Talli Joe

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Cast aside everything that comes to mind when you think of an Indian restaurant – i.e. piles of poppadoms, giant pots of curry and stacks of naan – because Talli Joe is nothing like its counterparts.

Specialising in small plates (read: Indian tapas) and cocktails, this Shaftesbury Avenue restaurant does things with a twist.

In place of table cloths and the dated decor you’d usually expect from your Friday night curry house, is a fresh, vibrant interior with a buzzing atmosphere and a bar area to boot.

Many of the dishes on the compact menu are inspired by different regions of India, from the Old Delhi chaat to the lamb roast from Kolkata, so it’s an experience for your mind as well as your taste buds.

The portions may be small but they sure do pack a punch: the flavours are truly authentic.

You’ll need a minimum of three dishes per person (£2-10.50 each) to feel satisfied – and some could say it’s expensive for what you get (meal for two, with a drink each was £47) – although the food is very flavourful and enjoyable.

Don’t overlook the cocktail menu, which is inventive and intriguing, using everything from masala tea in the masala colada to cashew nut purée in the milk punch.

Service is great, and most important of all, Talli Joe takes advanced bookings… Eat that Dishoom.

Bubblewrap: Insta-famous bubble waffle store is opening in Chinatown

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The Hong Kong-inspired bubble waffle cone doing the rounds on Instagram is setting up shop in Chinatown from 8 March.

For the past two years, Tony Fang, founder of the aptly named brand Bubblewrap – which started life as his university project at Imperial College Business School in 2015 – has been serving up these yummy waffles (£6~ each) at markets across London.

To celebrate the opening on Wardour Street, Bubblewrap is offering a two-for-one deal on waffles purchased within the first two weeks. You can completely customise a Bubblewrap with the choice of three flavours of waffle (plain, cocoa, matcha), six varieties of gelato, fourteen toppings and nine sauces.

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The sweet, crisp waffles originate from Hong Kong and are much lighter on the stomach than you’d think. Eat bite has a gentle, satisfying crunch, and this makes for a great dessert, or just a snack.

It’s hard to eat a Bubblewrap in a civilised manner (especially if you get one with whipped cream), but I’d recommend this: hold the card wrapper at the bottom with your hand and use your fork and your mouth interchangeably to get it in your gob.

How did the concept come about? In the early 1950s egg waffles first appeared in Hong Kong to avoid wasting broken eggs that could not be sold to customers; industrious stall-owners created an egg-shaped iron machine and blended the broken eggs with milk and flour to make this meaningful and tasty waffle. It has since become a popular street snack in Hong Kong and now London.

Find Bubblewrap at 24 Wardour Street, WID 6QJ, seven days a week from 10.30am -11.30pm.

PS, if you’re closer to east London and tempted to try this, there’s also Nosteagia at Pump Shoreditch, which serves up a very similar snack.

Cook your own dinner at Hot Pot in Chinatown

Hot Pot

Credit: Rob Grieg

A new restaurant dedicated to the ancient Chinese communal dining activity known as ‘hot pot’ has opened in the heart of Chinatown.

The appropriately named Hot Pot, a Bangkok-based chain, has opened this first London outpost on Wardour Street.

Hot pot is a process of cooking ingredients in a boiling broth, then seasoning them with a dipping sauce – and best of all, you’re in charge of the cooking (see steps below).

Hot pot is thought to have originated in Mongolia 1,000 years ago, and is experienced at a slow pace, allowing groups of friends and family to cook together and socialise. It has gained vast popularity across Asia.

How to eat hot pot

1. Your chosen broth (five varieties available) is brought to your table. You can choose up to two broths per pan, so if you’re vegetarian and your friend isn’t, just ask for the split pan. Wait for the broth to boil on the burner that is on your table and adjust the temperature with the control button as you like. You will be given a paper bib – it’s wise to put it on because sometimes dropping stuff in or taking it out of the broth can create a little splash. A related note: the meal can get a little bit messy, so this probably isn’t the best place to go for a first date.

2. Head to the dipping station to make your own sauce/s to eat with your cooked ingredients. There are herbs, pastes, oils and seasonings, including oyster sauce, white soy and chopped garlic. I chose spring onions, garlic, soy, a chilli paste – and the barbecue sauce is a must.

3. Cook your chosen meat, noodles and vegetables in the broth (choose from 60 ingredients including lobster selected live from tanks, chicken, seabass, king prawns and tofu). The vegetable selection is especially good. Once they’re done, fish them out from the broth with the ladles provided, dip into your sauces then enjoy.

4. Your broth will become flavoured during your meal. When you find the flavour has developed, drink your enriched broth as soup.

Hot Pot

Credit: Rob Grieg

Price Hot Pot is £8 and ingredients range from £5 (Chinese cabbage) to £27.50 (Wagyu beef).

Before you go Ask to be seated upstairs (pictured above) if possible as it feels a little more spacious and fancier. There’s also a private dining room for large groups upstairs that looks directly out on to the Chinatown gate.

Note: If you sit directly in front of the burner on the table, it is likely you’ll have steam in your face for the whole evening so try to distance yourself a little. It can get quite warm beside the burner, too, so choose your outfit wisely.

Take a bunch of friends or family for a fun and leisurely meal – it is especially good as everyone can get involved, and for once, there’s little chance that too many cooks will spoil the broth…

Find Hot Pot at 17 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6PJ

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Mercato Metropolitano: the Italian-themed foodie space in Borough

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Pictures don’t do Mercato Metropolitano any justice. Neither does its website. Nor does its unassuming entrance, which is merely lit up by a string of fairy lights come nightfall. You’d miss it if you didn’t know it was there… And that would be a shame.

What is it? Mercato Metropolitano is an Italian-themed casual foodie space slash indoor food market that is open from noon until late into the night.

There’s so much variety, and highlights include: pasta made fresh before your eyes, pizza straight outta Naples, cheeseboards via Champagne & Fromage, gelato, Italian craft beer and a build-your-own tiramisu stand. The latter, which we were intrigued by, involves everything from choosing the biscuity base, cheese (ricotta or mascarpone) to toppings. PURE indulgence.

Mercato Metropolitano is super spacious, cosy and there’s a great atmosphere about it. Plus, it’s not been hounded by the crowds of nearby Borough Market or Maltby Street – yet.

The setup of this space comes fresh from Italy, where it has already been tried and tested, and a lot of the staff working on the stalls are Italian, which adds to the authenticity of the experience. For anyone (you weirdos) who doesn’t like Italian food, I should add that there are also some non-Italian food stalls too.

In comparison to nearby Flat Iron Square, Mercato Metropolitano has a more inviting and warm atmosphere and it is much larger. There’s enough seating inside that you never have to fight for it, and the outdoor space will be wonderful come summer. There’s also a cinema and a cookery school here.

My favourite thing about places like this, including Dinerama, Hawker House and Flat Iron Square (all of which remind me of the Hawker Markets in Singapore) is that you can just turn up and eat or drink; there’s no need to book or dress up and there are few queues. Free entry too.

Don’t shudder when I say Mercato Metropolitano is located in Elephant & Castle (or a really short walk from Borough station), because when you get inside you will feel a thousand miles away.

 

Build your own cheeseboard at Vivat Bacchus

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If cheese makes you happy, you need to try the ‘Cheese room experience’ at South African steak restaurant and wine bar, Vivat Bacchus.

At its two branches in London Bridge and Farringdon, you can go into the special cheese room with an expert and build your own cheeseboard (from £14.90). What makes this experience so great is that you can enjoy complimentary tasters of the cheeses before you select them, and there’s a dedicated, knowledgeable ‘cheese expert’ (cheesepert?) on hand to talk you through each variety, where it comes from and how it’s made.

The board arrives at your table beautifully presented with each cheese perfectly matched with garnishes, fruit or nuts and crackers/breads. You can also ask for recommendations on wine and meats (both very high quality) to accompany your selection.

There are ready-prepared cheese boards on the menu if you’re not fussy, but I particularly enjoyed picking out and tasting my own. There’s no need to book for this experience – just walk in and ask.

Did someone say cheese?

Time to play at the board games café

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Fed up with hearing about gimmicky hipster cafés? Me too.

But here’s one without the gimmick that’s worth hunting down: London’s first (and only) board games café, Draughts. If the thought of Monopoly, Cluedo, Hungry Hippos, Articulate, Scrabble, Game of Life and 400 other games excites you, you’re well overdue a visit.

This place isn’t just a pub with a few games thrown in; it’s a dedicated gaming zone with a bar to boot, and it’s bloody good fun.

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The premise is simple: for just £5 per person, you get a four hour slot and a table to play any number of games you wish. There’s food and drinks to keep you going (at extra cost, of course), so take along your buddies and make a night or afternoon of it.

The dedicated games corner has everything you could wish for, from the family favourites such as Doddle, Jenga, Articulate and Pictionary to more difficult strategy games such as Ticket to Ride. Everything is organised according to the games genre, too, so there’s no need to scramble through boxes.

What’s more, the staff AKA the ‘games gurus’ can help you pick a game if you’re unsure, or talk you through the rules.

I visited with a group of colleagues and it made for a fun-filled, alternative night out, perfect for those of us doing Dry January. We munched through sandwiches and sharing plates, and washed them down with soft drinks, wine and cider, and it ended up costing about £20pp.

Nestled under the arches in Haggerston, the board games café is a warm and cosy place to hide away in these cold months. If you are planning to visit on a weekday evening, try to book in advance as it is a very popular time. Booking isn’t required for the weekend but gamers are allowed in on a first come, first served basis, so if you’re eager to get a space you will have to get there for 10am sharp.

Bring your best game face – but maybe leave your overly competitive friends at home.

Tired of adulting? Head to the grown-up ball pit bar BallieBallerson

Ballie Ballerson Stacey Hatfield October 2016

When you feel tired of adulting in London, there’s an amazeballs place you should go. It’s where you’ll find all the big kids (note: actual kids aren’t allowed), and it involves a DJ, retro-sweet-themed cocktails and, most importantly, a ball pit for grown-ups… Very fitting for a #throwbackthursday, this bar and underground ball pit goes by the name of BallieBallerson.

Disclaimer:

1) You’ll get hit in the face with a flying ball.

2) The pictures you take will turn out blurry.

3) The balls in the pit are waist-deep: you’ll fall in and have trouble getting up again. This will be 10 times more challenging if you’re intoxicated.

4) You might lose things, such as loose change, a shoe, a ring, a phone.

5) Skip the gym: wading through the ball pit can feel like a workout in itself.

6) On your way home you’ll find a squashed up ball in your shoe. Leaving present!

From the cocktails (crafted around retro sweets such as Dib Dab; our favourite was the Bounty Colada) right down to the colourful painted balls and walls, this place has fun at its heart, and the bartenders are a good laugh.

The DJ bangs out tunes as you play/dance in the underground ball pit, and so it feels like a rave when you’re in it. With the low ceiling and dimmed light, it can seem a little dark and dingy down there, however, and the ball pit isn’t huge so if you go at peak time and find more than 18 people in there, it’s a bit of a squeeze. 

The postcode of the venue did catch me off guard. I have FOFOP (that’s fear of far-off places) and BallieBallerson is in that faraway place up north where the Tube doesn’t go: Stoke Newington. But it’s worth the trek – and proving to be so. “The place is just as packed on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening as it is on a Saturday,” the general manager Daniel says. When we visit on Wednesday evening, it’s almost at full capacity by 8pm, and it’s only been open a few weeks.

“Every week we have people lose engagement rings, watches, phones in the balls… One day a girl lost her shoe, so we have to clean the ball pit out weekly to find them!” So before you jump in and release your inner child, dump your belongings in the cloakroom to be safe – or hold on to them really tight.

Daniel says the venue will remain in its current home for another three to six months, and may then relocate, so if you also suffer from FOFOPOCO, watch this space.

Book tickets here.

Flat Iron Square: the new foodie spot near Borough Market

  

A new food and drink market has opened its doors near London Bridge, and is just a short walk from rival Borough Market.

What differentiates this vast space, however, is that it is open from Monday to Sunday, 10am until late and there is ample seating, making it a good spot for lunch, dinner as well as after-work drinks. As it’s mostly covered, Flat Iron Square is suited to all weather conditions, and may be likened a little to Dinerama.

The food line-up includes: The South West Social Club, Ekachai, Where The Pancakes Are, Bar Douro, Burnt Lemon Bakery, Baz&Fred, EDū, Carnitas, Laffa, Tatami, Savage Salads, Manti, Lupins sunshine food. There is also a flea market with vintage stalls open once a week. Ben Lovett’s live music venue OMEARA is housed here as well as a bar, The Bar from Flat Iron Square.

Flat Iron Square covers 40,000sq ft and encompasses six railway arches and surrounding open spaces, sited between Flat Iron Square, Union Street, O’Meara St and Southwark Street.

As it still remains a little undiscovered at the moment, Flat Iron Square is a good place to go if you’d like to steer clear of the crowds of Borough Market. 

Malaysia Fest is back in Trafalgar Square this Saturday

 

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Malaysia Fest, UK’s largest celebration of Malaysian cuisine and culture, returns to Trafalgar Square this Saturday.

The free festival is on from midday to 10pm, and a large part of it will be taken up by a Malaysian food market, with approximately 20 restaurants offering a variety of dishes all priced around the £5 mark.

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As well as the usual dishes such as mee goreng, roti canai, curries, sambals and laksas there will be more unusual dishes to look out for, including:

  • Pasembur (tofu, potato, flour, senkung, cucumber)
  • Mee rebus (dried shrimp, sweet potato, chili, squid, yellow noodles, half boiled egg, tofu)
  • Lockhing satay ikan (traditional Kelantan fish satay)
  • Keropok lekor (traditional Malay fish cracker snack from Terengganu)
  • Ayam kukus (steamed chicken)
  • Ayam pedas goreng bawang putih (spicy fried chicken)
  • Udang galah pangang limau pedas (spicy friend prawns).

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When it comes to dessert, there will be traditional peanut pancakes, black rice and coconut pancake, banana, peanut and Nutella pancake and cekodak pisang (banana, flour, sugar).

After 6pm, the festival will come alive with cooking demonstrations from Tim Anderson, Ping Coombs and Norman Musa as well as energetic cultural performances showcasing Malaysian dance and theatre.

It promises to be a lively and enjoyable celebration of all things Malaysian – and the weather is looking good too. See you there!

On cloud nine with candy floss and ice cream in Covent Garden

Candy floss ice cream London Covent Garden

After the hype of ice cream cookie sandwiches (Blu Top, Chin Chin Labs) and ice cream macaroons (Yolkinmacice), now Londoners can get soft serve ice cream – basically posh Mr Whippy – served in a candy floss cloud, thanks to new dessert cafe Milk Train.

Located just behind Covent Garden, Milk Train offers three flavours of the ‘premium’ soft serve (£3.50-£3.95) – vanilla, chocolate or matcha – and charges £1 extra for the candy floss cloud. There are lots of toppings and sauces also available at extra cost, (50p) or choose from the menu for a pre-selected combination.

It might all get a little bit messy, but it sure is a lot of fun. In one bite I was transported back to the days of cheerily scoffing candy floss at the funfair as a child. The soft serve was really tasty too, however it does melt very quickly so don’t spend too much time taking pictures for your Instagram feed.

The lovely thing about this place is that everybody leaves clutching their ice cream with an even bigger grin than usual!

Find the Milk Train on Bedford Street, WC2E 9HA.

Warning: queues possible and sugar overload very likely.

Beer and Buns in Liverpool Street

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.)