How to spend a long weekend in Jersey in summer

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The full moon walk off shore to Corbiere Lighthouse

Jersey is a bit of a random place to go, but it’s attractive because it’s got beaches as good as those you’d find in Europe; flights to the island are dirt cheap (our return flights cost £30); everyone speaks English so there are no language barriers; the currency is pounds; and it’s cycle friendly. Plus, while we were there, it never felt busy.

After snagging budget airline return flights from Luton for a long weekend in July, we scoured Airbnb and settled on an apartment located a short walk from the waterfront in St Helier, the capital of the tiny Channel Island.

When we landed at 10.30pm on the Friday, we hopped on the bus to town (approx £1.50pp) as there weren’t many taxis about – nothing listed on Uber either – which gave it a very ‘small’ feel. Boarding the bus, we discovered that when you pay in cash you’re likely to be given back ‘Jersey pounds’, which can’t be used in England, so get them changed back before you leave, or avoid using cash where possible. The journey to town was interesting: we got the impression that Jersey was a quiet, sleepy place as there were few people about despite it being a Friday evening.

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Cycling along the coastline

DAY ONE

The next morning we hired bikes from the waterfront – there were lots of places to pick some up. It cost about £20pp for two days of hire. We took full advantage of the marked bike trails, cycling along the coast up to St Aubin. The roads were full with cars but we were surprised to find most of the beaches empty – despite it being a hot day. Still, it was great to have all that space to ourselves. Eager to try fresh Jersey ice cream, we stopped off and had a taste of the exceptionally creamy stuff – delicious!

We cycled to the Jersey War Tunnels, a museum in the now unused war tunnels that gives an insight into life during the Second World War, when Jersey was occupied by the Germans. It’s packed with lots of stories and interesting insights. Towards the end of the museum, as you get deeper underground, it gets really cold so pack an extra layer for comfort.

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The start of the guided moon walk – before it turned to complete darkness

That evening, after dropping our bikes back, we undertook my favourite activity of the weekend: a three-hour guided full moon walk with Jersey Kayak Adventures (£21pp). After catching sight of the beautiful sunset (they’re particularly great in Jersey) together we hiked three miles all the way out to Corbiere Lighthouse under the rays of the moon (“We hope you’ve packed your mooncream”, our guide joked).

I don’t want to give too much away but some of the highlights were: seeing glow worms, seeing Venus in the sky, venturing 1 mile off shore in the deep darkness of the night with just the stars for company and wet sand and puddles beneath us. Our expert guides pointed out various marine life and explained the history of Corbiere, which served as a post for the army during the war. Wellies and walking poles were provided (and necessary) as we were walking on soft sand and calf-deep water at some points. It was an alternative, informative way to spend our night and get to know Jersey a bit better, and I’d definitely recommend it for those who are moderately fit.

Getting back to our Airbnb that evening proved to be a bit touch-and-go: we finished the tour at about 12.45pm and the last bus was at 1ish. We’d called around various taxi companies but there were no cabs on the road, so had we missed that bus, our only route home would have been a 1.5 hour walk back to our accommodation in complete darkness! You can imagine our elation when we saw the headlights of the bus in the distance at about 1.10pm. So while much of the coastline is ideal for cycling in the daytime, and there is a bus network, to get around the rest of the island (and at night) it’s probably wise to hire a car.

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La Mare Wine Estate in St Mary

DAY TWO

We were off to La Mare Wine Estate so we gave the pedals a rest and hopped on the bus. It was nice to learn that Jersey’s the sort of place where you can greet the bus driver – and get a response!

When we arrived at the small vineyard the setting was peaceful. There were some ponies and a few small farm animals to look at in the grounds. We signed up for the vineyard tour and wine tasting (approx £7pp), although the wines were mediocre, in my opinion. The cream tea in the cafe was tasty though.

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Views from the National Trust site known as Devil’s Hole

A short(ish) 20 minute walk from La Mare, we stumbled upon Devil’s Hole – one of my other highlights of the weekend. It’s a National Trust site that guards a blowhole that was eroded into Jersey’s coastline a number of years ago. There’s a track to go and see it by foot, and you can walk further around it along the coast. On our walk down we spotted wild goats in the steep coastline walls and some birds. If we’d have known, we would have packed a picnic and eaten it there, where all you could hear were the waves crashing on the shore below and the gentle wind. There are some benches and grass to have a sit down; it’s a truly peaceful, hidden-away place that’s worth seeking out.

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Quiet sandy beaches

On the journey back, we took the bus out to St Brelade’s Bay. The sun was shining and the beach was full up with families; kids playing in the sand, mums sunbathing. We ate ice cream (yes, more) and stuck our toes in the sand. If we’d have been better prepared we could have made it a beach day. This was the busiest place we’d found on the island.

We stopped off for a late alfresco lunch at The Boathouse in St Aubin, a lovely restaurant overlooking the harbour. The grub was good and the sun was shining – what more could we want? Note that while the flights out to Jersey were super cheap, the food and accommodation weren’t – they were similar to London prices, perhaps a bit more pricey. Understandable, considering Jersey is an island so what it doesn’t grow it must get shipped in.

DAY THREE

On our final day, we took a leisurely stroll out to Elizabeth Castle – when there’s a low tide you can walk there along the Railway trail, but mind the few pools of water along the way. To enter the castle itself, you have to pay, but the walk up to it is a joy in itself.

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The leisurely walk up to Elizabeth Castle

We then walked into the town centre, had a mooch around in the shops and grabbed some lunch before getting the bus to the airport.

We had a great time in Jersey – it’s got a peaceful, quiet vibe with lots of natural beauty and spots for reflection, so it makes for a relaxing, outdoorsy break. If I was to go back, I’d probably hire a car to see more of the island, and I’d like to go dolphin/seal spotting next time.

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What’s it like to volunteer with Crisis at Christmas?

Volunteering – spending our time helping those less fortunate – is probably something we’d all love to do more regularly, however, it’s often difficult to commit to it.

Volunteering with Crisis, the charity that helps homeless people in the UK, had been sitting on my bucket list for a while and what pulled me to its Crisis at Christmas appeal was that it only required me to commit to a minimum of two days of volunteering within the Christmas period – that’s it. Many people tend to book off the entire Christmas period from work anyway, so to spend a couple of days doing charitable deeds is a no-brainer.

The Crisis at Christmas appeal takes place every year for the two weeks of Christmas, where it feeds and in many cases, houses, homeless people as winter shelters are closed. It’s a gigantic operation split across various centres in London and the UK that relies on volunteers – doctors, opticians, seamstresses (to fix broken clothes) and more – to lend their time to give homeless people support. Just before the operation each year, the charity gets donations from supermarkets, butchers, bakeries and more – and then cooks up meals on the basis of what’s been offered.

How to sign up for Crisis at Christmas

It is quick and simple to sign up to volunteer – in late October last year, I registered my details on the Crisis at Christmas website (it’s different to the generic Crisis charity website, so do a quick Google search to find it) and chose which role I wanted to do – there was everything from being a kitchen assistant, a media assistant to a general volunteer. Each shift was approximately 8 hours long and you could choose between morning, evening or overnight shifts. Crisis has homeless shelters set up all over London (and a few outside it) so I found the one closest to me (Chalk Farm). My boyfriend and I applied at the same time and selected the same shifts, so we’d be able to do it together. You have to do a minimum of two shifts.

Despite having limited cooking experience, I chose the kitchen assistant role. [It’s not necessary to be an expert, just to know basic skills such as how to handle a knife and a peeler.] The Crisis online system then informed me that I had to book onto a food safety and hygiene course before I would get the stamp of approval to volunteer. Thankfully the certificate is valid for three years, so when I volunteer again in the next two years, I won’t have to worry about this little bit of admin.

The food safety course took place on a Sunday at the Crisis Cafe in Liverpool Street, a few weeks before Christmas. It cost £40, but this fee can either be donated to the charity or refunded back to you once you’ve completed your shifts. The course took a total of about six hours, followed by a multiple choice exam. It all sounds rather serious but it wasn’t too bad – the fail rate is very, very low. I picked up lots of useful nuggets of information I could use in my own kitchen: ie there’s no point washing chicken as the only way the germs are killed is through heating the meat to a high enough temperature.

In the weeks leading up to my shift, I was emailed handy information and a briefing form for what to expect on the day.

What happens on the day/s

As the shifts crept around in December, I was doing my best to remember everything I’d learned on the food safety course. We arrived and checked in at reception, picked up our name badges and dropped off our bags before heading straight to the kitchen. We put on our aprons and hair nets, and then met the chef, who told us what we’d be cooking and what needed to be done.

As it was an evening shift (3pm-11pm), we were going to be making a two-course dinner for 400 people. It was a mammoth task: I found myself peeling at least 150 potatoes (it’s not glamorous work!), cutting them into wedges and then putting them into gigantic industrial ovens. Next I was seasoning and boiling down at least 1kg of cabbage in a pan, then helping to make beef burgers. There’s a common misconception that Crisis is just a soup kitchen – I didn’t see any soup the whole time I was there – instead we were conjuring up elaborate meals.

Working in the kitchen, it was the first time in a very, very long time that I spent more than four hours without looking at my phone (phones aren’t allowed outside of pockets), but, incredibly, I didn’t even have a chance to miss it. The music was blaring in the kitchen, the vibe was busy but upbeat, and we were all pitching in to help with whatever needed doing next. In total there were about 9 of us cooking, so it was all hands on deck. Once all the food was prepped it was time to serve – but we didn’t serve the residents directly, instead we served the volunteers who then took the plates to the residents.

After serving we got to eat what was leftover, then came the clean up. Luckily, kitchen volunteers don’t do too much washing (other volunteers are sometimes brought in for this and there’s an industrial dishwasher), but there’s lots of grease to remove from hobs and jobs like that. Gloves are provided, so pop your hands in and get busy.

What I enjoyed most about working in the kitchen was the chance to get to know the other volunteers; the sense of teamwork was immense. One girl I met was bravely doing five days of kitchen shifts in a row. It got very hot in the kitchen so my advice would be to wear layers so you can take on/off items. As you’re on your feet all day, wear the comfiest shoes you own. Stay hydrated; it’s easy to get caught up in the business but take a few minutes to grab a drink and a snack from the stall outside the kitchen. I regretted having my nails painted the day before – by the end of the shift the paint was chipped and ruined! It was an exhausting eight hours, and by the end I was ready to collapse into bed, but it was very rewarding to hear that we’d fed so many people and feedback on the food was very positive.

The second shift I did (day shift, 7.45am-3.45pm), we were making two meals; breakfast and lunch. I knew what to expect this time around, and we were making a full English followed by a roast chicken dinner and macaroni cheese. Time flew even quicker on this shift, and it was nice to see a bit of daylight as we left that day.

It felt good to know we’d helped the residents in some small way, and given our time to a worthy cause. Of course, Crisis at Christmas is only a part of the charity’s work, and they are looking for year-round volunteers, but this is a good way to lend a hand at Christmas, to those that need it most. After Crisis at Christmas is over, the charity hosts a party to thank all the volunteers, so you have a chance to reunite with new friends, too.

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.

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

Paul Winch-Furness / Photographer

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. 

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.

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

Casita-Andina-soho

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

piano works farringdon london

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

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!

Aim for bullseye at darts joint Flight Club

flight club london bloomsbury

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.