Mercato Metropolitano: the Italian-themed foodie space in Borough

mercato_metropolitano_borough-elephant-castle

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

vivat-bacchus-cheese-room-experience

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

dsc_7209

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.

img_4994
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

 

15841851116_47d47a4578_o.jpg

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.

15039170153_77c6323390_o.jpg

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).

15660238712_84358352a7_o.jpg

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

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

529262_265402336881479_1466823726_n.jpg

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.

12593956_962640987157607_5500139020635064723_o.jpg

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