Antipodean floating restaurant to open in Paddington Central

Fire Roasted Aubergine Pacific Tiger Prawns & Watermelon Salad Byron Bhel Puri (Photo Credits Leyla Kazim)

Fire-roasted aubergine; tiger prawns and watermelon salad; bhel puri. Photo: Leyla Kazim

A brand new floating bar and restaurant, formed of two barges named Darcie and May Green, opens on the Grand Union Canal in Paddington Central on Monday.

It will be open from morning till night every day, and comes from Australian restaurant group Daisy Green Collection, bringing fresh and tasty Antipodean-inspired food – and cocktails too.

Brunchers can look forward to coconut French toast, a fancy bacon roll, an award-winning banana bread sandwich, and a lot of smashed avo on charcoal sourdough.

Lunch-goers can choose from plates such as halloumi fries, sticky beef short ribs, Szechuan soft shell crab and the chicken Parmigiana, alongside lighter options such as the vegan celeriac steak, seared sashimi grade tuna and Asian chicken salad.

The drinks menu includes a raspberry sour, an innovative take on an espresso martini, an array of festive cocktails and warmers. Once the warm weather returns, the top deck will be a lovely spot to enjoy a drink on a balmy day.

The barges are hard to miss, with bold exteriors designed by legendary British pop artist, Peter Blake, but the address you need for Google Maps is: Sheldon Square, Paddington Central, W2 6DS – just a short walk from the buzzing Pergola Paddington Central.

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All-you-can-eat sushi in Soho

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Now that you’ve seen the words “all you can eat”, I bet you’re fired up and ready to go. Before you do, here’s the small print: the bill at Sushi Eatery must be paid in cash, you’ve got an hour and a half to be in and out and drinks are paid on top. Now off you go.

It’s the same premise here that you get with the sushi buffet at Sushimania, where you’re given a small card on which to score a tick beside the dishes you want. You can get up to six rounds of the sushi and sashimi dishes, and only one for the hot dishes (featuring tempura dishes, gyoza, calamari and noodles etc), so make your choices wisely – and fast, the clock is ticking.

When we visit on a Thursday evening the place is packed to full with mostly Asian clientele. The food is decent – perhaps not the freshest or the best you’ll taste – but a good way to sample a lot of different things. I tasted something called Japanese butterfish and enjoyed the tuna sashimi and salmon and avocado sushi, washed down with a cup of Japanese tea.

The portions are generous and we just about make it to the fourth round. I don’t think it’s possible to get through more than four rounds, but if you do, you deserve a pat on the back.

The menu is fairly extensive and obviously fish- and meat-heavy. If, like me, you like raw salmon you’ll be happy.

Service is brisk at this small restaurant, which is set over two floors. The seating downstairs consists of long communal tables sunken into the ground – you almost feel as if you’re sitting on the floor (soft cushions are provided) – and it is difficult to elegantly enter or exit the seats; you have been warned.

Sushi Eatery doesn’t accept reservations and the cover price is approximately £20 per person.

If you can’t quite move at the end, you’ve probably got your money’s worth. Good work.

Win a gift card for London’s new “Free Willy” extreme water sports experience

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Thrill-seekers will be able race across London’s Victoria Dock in a high-powered whale-shaped watercraft – a hybrid of a speedboat and submarine – from February next year.

The extreme water sport experience takes place in an 18ft Seabreacher vessel (call it Free Willy, if you like), and can reach speeds of up to 60mph on the surface, and 40mph submerged underneath the water.

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Adrenaline junkies can experience tight turns, doughnut spins, jumps above water (up to six metres above the surface) and more – just tell your pilot how wild or mild you’d like your ride to be, and do put in a request for that Free Willy jump.

The Seabreacher is a millionaire’s toy – costing upwards of £40,000 to buy – so this is your chance to take the plunge and experience a whirlwind ride.

Passenger rides start on 1st February. To win a gift card worth £99 so you can be one of the first to get a ride, simply provide your name and address below by 12th December 2017.

 

One gift card worth £99 is available to win. The winner’s name and address will be shared with Predator Adventures, who will post the voucher to the address specified.

“Dope” times at hip hop brunch

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Don your chunky gold necklace, snapback hat and bandana headband for this daytime party with a hip hop twist.

It’s dubbed “brunch” but what you actually get is a five-hour party session comprising an hour of bottomless booze, a three-course sit-down meal and endless entertainment in a club venue.

Old and new hip hop beats, including the classics from Biggie and Tupac, blare out the speakers as you enter the location, which is kept secret until a few days before the event for added mystique.

There are inflatable boom boxes, microphones, and cardboard cut-outs spread across the venue, which you can stick your head through for Instagram-worthy shots.

The bar is crammed, especially for the first hour, as everybody gets their fill of bottomless booze. Just don’t go overboard and sink a few too many, such that you need to be Ubered home within half an hour (as I have done on a previous occasion).

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Join the queue at the temporary tattoo station where artists will draw hip hop icons on to your body, or sit back and enjoy the music. There’s a talented magician doing the rounds with his tricks to leave you gob-smacked, a beat-boxer comes up on stage, and you all crowd round in awe at his skills. The lively hosts keep things moving: if you’re brave enough to step up to the mic and do some hip hop karaoke, you better get your name down on the list.

Meanwhile, food is being served to your table. We were served a quiche Lorraine for starters, barbecue chicken, fries and slaw for mains and a brioche bun and ice cream for pudding. It was okay – not outstanding – but good. As you may have realised, while most brunches are designed around the food and eating experience, hip hop brunch definitely isn’t – you won’t find any avocado on toast on the pre-set menu – it’s all about the entertainment.

Go in a group and you’ll have your own dedicated area and table, so it really feels like a unique celebration. Go for your birthday and you’ll have your name screamed out by the hosts numerous times, and be called up for  shots on-stage.

The vibe is great: everybody is there to dance, drink and party like it isn’t just 3pm. What’s great is everybody also gets dressed up. You may ask, as I did, what to wear to hip hop brunch. You can always simply rock an all-black ensemble, but if you want to get in the mood, put on a baggy tee or crop top, chunky gold hoop earrings, dungarees, leggings or sweatpants and trainers, if you like.

By now almost everybody is up on their feet, singing and dancing together. A dance troupe puts on a performance, then it’s time for the closing hip hop karaoke, perhaps one of the highlights of the brunch.

The event sadly wraps up at 5pm, although it feels more like 5am as you exit the venue bleary-eyed and struck by daylight. Brave souls carry on the party elsewhere until the early hours. I only made it till 9pm.

Tickets start from £45, and you have to pre-book online.

 

Sri Suwoon is the Thai gem hiding in Pimlico

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Discovering an excellent independent Thai restaurant hidden alone in the quiet residential streets of Pimlico was a bit like finding treasure – I was pleasantly surprised, yet uncertain about who else knows it’s there.

You probably wouldn’t find cosy two-floor restaurant, Sri Suwoon, if you weren’t looking for it (or without Google Maps). It appears that the locals are in on it though, because shortly after we arrive on a Monday evening, the restaurant is nearly full.

Visiting with a bunch of cousins meant we got lots of dishes to share – my favourite way to eat out. For starters, the chilli oyster mushrooms and chilli squid tempura were outstanding – the seasoning is just so and they both had a good crunch. The appetiser selection was generous and included all the classics: chicken satay, prawn toast, spare ribs, prawn tempura and some sort of bean curd patty which was very tasty.

The food crept closer to five-star with the mains: the drunken sea bass was mind-blowing (and that’s coming from someone who isn’t the biggest fan of fish). The chargrilled steak salad was refreshing; the beef pieces melted in my mouth. The vegetarian Thai green curry was perfection in a bowl; it’s as good as that from nearby Thai chain Mango Tree, and £4 cheaper too.

On that note, Sri Suwoon is pretty good value for money: our two-course meal for five people came to £110, approximately £22 each, and it’s just a seven minute walk away from Victoria station. Despite its proximity to this commuter hub, the independent restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere with a local feel.

Our meal really surpassed our expectations; Sri Suwoon is suddenly up there as one of my top five Thai joints in London.

A colourful, feel-good vegetarian dinner at Casita Andina

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Friends and colleagues always swoon at the mention of Peruvian food, so Ceviche and Andina have been knocking around on my restaurant list for a while. I’ve never visited South America and have no knowledge of the cuisine, so I’m not sure what to expect as we arrive at Casita Andina in Soho. It’s a cute and homely little spot, which comes from the makers of both Ceviche and Andina.

We start with a Pisco sour – Peru’s national cocktail – to get us in the mood. Sweet and smooth, it sets us up nicely for what’s next.

To nibble on, we get aubergine fries (good), and avocado fritters dipped in chilli and anchovy salt (outstanding).

The mains are served tapas-style, so we pick a mixture of hot and cold vegetarian dishes. The stand-out is the vegan Puka Picante. It’s a warm beetroot sauce with potato chunks, smoked cheese and herbs. I don’t think the description quite sells it, but it is brilliant and moreish. I also sample the pan-fried hake, which is flaky and light.

Ceviche [raw fish marinated in citrus juices] is perhaps Peru’s most famous dish, and features prominently on the menu, but as my dining companion is vegetarian, we steer clear.

Vegetable-based dishes dressed up in various flavours and marinades soon arrive at our table. All are colourful and have a satisfying mouthfeel. The ceviche de alcachofa, which consists of artichokes, sweet potatoes and black radish in tiger’s milk, has a good kick. But we can’t stomach the gemmas de los Andes, with lettuce and cured radish. It’s an acquired taste.

I feel I may have missed a trick by not trying the real deal ceviche, so I decide I’ll come again.

Our meal comes to £65 for two – in all a nutritious and fresh tasting dinner from which you come away feeling good rather than guilty.

*Swoons*

El Parador is the veggie-friendly tapas joint you’ve been searching for

When a friend suggested we dine at an “insanely good” (his words) family-run tapas restaurant in Mornington Crescent, I didn’t need much more convincing. Giving it a hasty Google a couple of hours before visiting, I was excited to see that El Parador was winning in the reviews too – always rated at four out of five stars, or higher. Needless to say, I arrived with high expectations.

Open since 1988, the restaurant is cosy, split over two floors, with basic décor, and located just a few steps away from Mornington Crescent station. There’s an outdoor terrace, but on the evening we visited in the middle of August (hello, summer?), it was pouring with rain (*rolls eyes*), so it was out of action, but this didn’t dampen my spirits.

EL PARADOR MORNINGTON CRESCENT TAPAS

The restaurant only accepts bookings for groups and there were some reservations so we were seated downstairs. Down a narrow staircase, we found a dimly-lit dining room with no actual windows – it felt a bit like a casino as we were oblivious as to when the daylight gave way to darkness, but it’s nice if you want a bit of privacy.

Peering at the menu, I was amazed at how many vegetarian options there were – as many or more than the options for meat eaters or pescatarians, which you don’t get often in tapas joints. Even better, for such a small restaurant, the menu was full of variety.

We started with the house red, which was very good, and came highly recommended by the friendly waiter. We indulged in deliciously garlicky aioli with crusty bread, followed by patatas harra, flavour-packed roasted butternut squash with oregano, garlic and feta (yum), and spinach and cream cheese puff pastry parcels (really good). Whatever you go for, be sure to try the show-stopping pan-friend artichoke hearts. I’m still thinking about how to recreate that at home. For afters, we devoured a slice of creamy cheesecake.

Dining in the downstairs capsule, we lost track of time and managed to while away three hours without noticing.  Despite being tucked away from the main action, we weren’t forgotten about, with attentive and friendly service throughout. The bill came to £66 for two, including service, a worthy price to pay for such a delicious vegetarian meal in central London.

El Parador seems like a bit of a local secret, and yes, it’s definitely worth the hype – just don’t go telling your friends.

Party to the sound of live music at Piano Works

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Pop your dancing shoes on and have some song requests ready for Piano Works, the warehouse bar with an exceptional live band in Farringdon.

It’s not often you walk into a bar and everyone is dancing and singing at the top of their voices, but that is what you find on a Friday at 9pm at Piano Works.

Yes, it gets loud and a little cramped (despite the 400-person capacity), but the atmosphere is great. Plus, the musicians only play the songs requested by the audience, so the playlist is in your hands.

Two pianists are accompanied by a saxophonist, drummer and guitarist on the night we visit, and they play everything from 80s classics to R&B. They don’t shy away from the trickier requests – despite not being familiar to the song, they managed to give a rendition of Trap Queen by Fetty Wap because it was requested by a guest.

This is more than just a piano bar, and it’s buzzing. If you’re after a quiet bar with a pianist tinkling in the corner – probably a better option for a first date – you’re better off going to Piano Kensington.

The drinks at Piano Works are on the pricier side and there are long queues at the bar as the night goes on, but if it’s a feel-good night of music you’re after, this is the place for you.

As soon as you get there, look for a napkin [they double as song request forms], jot down the song you want to hear and perhaps a little message, and pass it on to the band – the earlier you get in your request, the more chance you have of hearing it played. When it comes on, be sure to sing like nobody’s listening…

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).

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!

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.

flight club darts london fun

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.