The best dosas outside of India at Chennai Srilalitha

Ever eaten something so incredibly good that you’ve caught yourself thinking about it days later? Guilty. I’ve been having daydreams about the crisp, moreish masala dosa at South Indian restaurant Chennai Srilalitha in Kenton, which were as good as the ones I had a few years ago while travelling through Kerala.

The spice-rich, sticky onion-laced potato filling that was dolloped into the firm golden-hued dosa (a large, crepe-like form made from lentils and rice), the liquid coconut chutney, the warm dal – bringing them together made for a meal that I would like to eat again and again. And again. All of this, presented in a thali plate, came at us for under six quid. For those who haven’t had dosa before, break off a bit of the crepe, pile on some masala filling and a few dollops of chutney, then dip it in the dal (or pour the dal over the entire dosa beforehand if you prefer) and pop in your mouth.

The menu at Srilalitha vegetarian restaurant is vast, with more than 10 varieties of dosa, which is their specialty. The spongy onion uttapam – a bit like an egg-free Indian omelette – was also delicately spiced and delicious. It came with the same condiments as the dosa, and oddly, it worked just as well. The crispy battered vegetables were equally good, with every bite delivering a brilliant satisfying crunch – no greasiness whatsoever. On our visit we also noticed that the restaurant creates special dosa for kids – ones with a little spinning top – so ask for those if you have little ones in tow and want to create a bit of excitement.

This restaurant, which has been operating for 13 years, has been added to my list of favourite places to eat in London. The food is fantastic, but a note on the place itself: some people might turn their noses up at the wipe-clean plastic table cloths, plastic covered seats and mixed levels of customer service, but once you taste the dosa, any doubts you have will be quickly forgotten. Trust me, they are worth venturing to zone four for.

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A taste of Ethiopia in north-west London

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It’s best to give your hands a good wash before you sit down to eat at authentic Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia, because if you’re embracing the dining experience, you won’t be getting any cutlery.

The restaurant in Cricklewood, north-west London, prides itself on being the first and oldest Ethiopian restaurant in the city. As first-timers to the cuisine, we took guidance from the smiley owner on what to order. Within seconds he’d decided on two dishes: the vegan combo and the meat combo (each about £26, and big enough to serve at least three people). 

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Soon enough, two extra large plates were placed before us. On one, mounds of colourful vegetable curries and stews were dotted atop a giant spongy sourdough flatbread (known as injera). On the other, a mixture of vegetable and meaty curries, following the same formula. Two baskets of extra injera rolls were also placed on the side. 

The idea is that you tear a piece of the injera and use it to scoop a mouthful of curry. It’s very much a hands-on, sharing experience, as you’re all eating from the same gigantic plate.

The vegan version was everyone’s favourite. It featured different mash ups of veggies, lentils and pulses, that were in turn spicy, nutty, creamy and delightful. The meaty mounds were well spiced and tender, and also very good, but the simplicity of the vegan combo really got our attention – and it tasted fresh and healthy to boot.

The soft, spongy injera had a great texture, so it was fun to touch. We kept picking at the food all evening – chatting and taking short breaks in between scoops. The beauty of it was that we felt very satisfied and full by the end – a ‘good’ full, not the sort where you’re in need of a lie down, which could be down to the fact that all the food was gluten free. After all that dipping and scooping my fingertips had received a good bathing in curry sauce, which reminded us of the similarity between Indian and Ethiopian food.

The portions were very generous – between the five of us we were shocked that we didn’t manage to clear either of the plates – and very well priced (the bill came to just £80, including two bottles of very good red house wine). We all thoroughly enjoyed the food and the relaxed service, and agreed we’d like to visit again. 

A note on the restaurant itself: it’s small, simple and basic looking (and probably in need of some loving). There’s no extensive wine list – just a house white, house red and house rosé – and there’s not really a need to reserve a table in advance or dress up. 

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PS Sorry for the silence lately, I’ve been busy scoffing food for Time Out – you can read my latest restaurant reviews here.

 

Got a head for heights? Abseil down the ArcelorMittal Orbit in Stratford

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Urban thrill-seekers will be able to abseil down the ArcelorMittal Orbit – the tallest sculpture in the UK – from Saturday 31 March.
Abseilers can take in the panoramic views across the city as they step off the tower’s viewing platform in the heart of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford for the 80-metre descent.
Instructors are on hand to guide every step of the way and abseilers have the option to record their experience on a GoPro helmet camera.

The 114-metre tall tower became a recognised landmark after opening as part of the 2012 London Olympics and is now also the site for the world’s highest slide.

To book an abseil experience and to find out more, go to wireandsky.co.uk.

Step into London’s Bake Off tent: could you be crowned star baker? Plus, speed dating meets baking

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Have you always wanted to take part in the Great British Bake Off? You’re in luck – a baking tent has popped up in Tooting and you can head down and compete for the chance to be crowned star baker.

As well as baking competitions, the tent is also the setting for something a little more unusual: a speed-dating baking event, First Bakes. It’s a bit like First Dates meets Bake Off, and it’s a laughter-filled evening – much less intense and cringe-inducing than bog-standard speed dating.

You don’t need to be a pro baker to sign up – you’re provided with the recipe, ingredients and equipment, and there are helpers floating about all the time to give you a hand if you need it. The ladies stay at their stations and the men rotate every 10 minutes. While I don’t want to give away too many details, it’s a formula that does work: there are rarely awkward silences because you’re both focused on building a brilliant bake. As you’ve instantly got something to bond over the conversation flows easily and by the time the 10 minutes are up, you’ve also got a sense of your date’s culinary prowess. If you’ve dabbled with online dating apps previously, think of this as a good way to cut out days of swiping/sending introductory messages back and forth, as you can decide straight away whether you feel there’s a connection.

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Just like on the television programme, the competition really heats up at the end: time’s up and you have to bring your bakes to the head table for inspection. The judges – sadly no Mary Berry, but some bubbly hosts – sample the delights and pick a star baker. The lady chosen must then pick her best male helper (plot twist!) and both get to take home a lovely little gift. You can taste each other’s bakes and take the rest home. Plus, there’s all of the mess and none of the washing up – whoop.

The love bit: after the judging you submit your scorecard – stating who you would consider going on a date with, who you’d like to be friends with, and who you wouldn’t want to see again. It’s all calculated there and then, and you get a lovely handwritten note with any mutual matches and their contact details.

I headed down for the launch event on Valentine’s Day, and although it suffered the same problem that most speed dating events do – too few men and too many women (8:10) – it didn’t matter too much. Although learning that the organisers had to ship in their housemates/friends to fill spaces was a tiny bit annoying, considering the £47 ticket price. Having a cameraman pointing his screen at you during sections of the evening was a bit unsettling but on the whole it was a brilliant night – and I may or may not have come away with a hot date match and a friend match…

Big London Bake takes place in the garden section of the lovely Castle Pub in Tooting.

Going loco for Lobos Tapas in Borough Market

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Tucked away in a corner of Borough Market, this tiny Spanish tapas restaurant is in the heart of foodie land – and its offering tantalises the taste buds just as you’d hope.

Lobos Tapas brings a meat-heavy menu and a good wine list to boot. Considering that the restaurant was started by former Brindisa employees (another one of the great tapas joints in London), you know to expect great things.

Walking into the dimly lit eatery without a booking on a Saturday evening was risky, but we were lucky that a table had freed up after a last-minute cancellation. We were shown to our seats on the second floor in an atmospheric little cave, which gave Lobos points for ambiance, although the waitress’s immediate request that we return the table within an hour and a half was a little jarring.

We kicked things off with the brilliant croquetas – six balls of deep-fried joy stuffed with creamy ham, chorizo and smoked bacon ­­– and savoured every last one. Also outstanding was the baked tetilla cheese (pictured above), which arrived in a little frying pan. Bits of roasted veg poked out from the bubbling cheese, and pieces of crusty bread were laid down beside to dip and dunk. The creamy cow’s cheese was pleasingly stringier than Cheesestring and great fun to disassemble.

The mixed mushrooms, with truffle oil and broccoli, were a delight – the subtle truffle flavour was on point and the mushroom pieces slid down my throat in glee. Although the one dish we didn’t bother to finish was the Spanish specialty known as arroz con costra – basically crispy saffron rice with chicken, chorizo and egg combined together to look a bit like an omelette. The taste was bland and the chunks of meat were barely visible.

Thanks to its high quality food, swift service and stylish setting, this little restaurant, which has one other site in Soho, is definitely giving Brindisa some serious competition. As there’s so much choice on the menu, I’m certain to go back for more.

Misato’s chicken katsu curry is better than Wagamama’s

 

The long queue outside Japanese eatery, Misato, suggested that the food must be good, yet, looking inside, my confidence waned. Diners were crammed tightly together on basic wooden tables and chairs, and the plain beige walls lining the small space desperately needed some cheering up. It seemed to lack ambience, especially for a Chinatown restaurant. Still, every table was full and diners were chowing down on bountiful portions of sushi, noodle and curry dishes. I decided I had to leave my preconceptions at the door.

Following a twenty-minute wait in the queue, we were seated and quick to order. As the chicken katsu curry promptly arrived at our table, I was alarmed at the presentation. The rice was piled up messily and there was a huge breadcrumbed chicken portion resting on top with a generous drizzle of thick curry sauce. A mixed salad sat beside it all. The meal looked like it had been hastily thrown together by someone eager to clock off from their kitchen duty, but as I looked around, I noticed fellow diners’ dinners appeared in the same fashion.

As I got stuck in, I was pleasantly surprised. The fried chicken was crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, and the curry sauce was flavourful. The salad was dressed well and complemented the flavours with every mouthful.

Misato gives Wagamama’s much-loved chicken katsu curry a run for its money – plus you get almost double the portion for less money (£6). Now the rice did not arrive in a perfectly-formed mound as you would get at Wagamama, but the salad portion was sprawling, and the overall taste of the meal was as good as, if not better than that you get at the restaurant chain.

At Misato, it seems the food is cheap and tasty and the portions are big. Our meal for two came to just £18 (payment is cash-only), with drinks and service included – something that’s often unheard of in London. The queue outside Misato is worth the wait and, as that old saying goes, looks can be deceiving. 

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.

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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).

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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!

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.

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.