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.

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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.

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.

Ekachai: South East Asian dining in Wandsworth

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The vibe: A new authentic South East Asian restaurant specialising in street food dishes from Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong. Think: creamy curries, crunchy stir fries and oodles of noodles.

What’s cool: A lot of attention has been paid to the décor in Ekachai, which gives the restaurant an authentic feel and transports diners from South London to South East Asia. For example, domed light fittings are actually fishing baskets imported from Asia, and bamboo sticks feature in the wall panels and ceilings, while multi-coloured wooden tables and chairs are dotted throughout the restaurant.

“Every day when I come to work, I’m reminded of my home town,” says restaurant manager Eddy Lo, who comes from Malaysia. “The lampshades in the ceiling are what they use back home to catch fish.” There’s also an open plan kitchen, so you can see the chefs at work.

What’s great is the prompt service and the fact that Ekachai offers good value for money.

What’s not cool: the location. Ekachai is located next to the Cineworld cinema within the upper concourse of the Southside Shopping Centre, which makes it feel like a more casual dining experience than it has the potential to be.

The presentation of the dishes is very simple, and most of the food is served on basic plastic-like white plates and bowls, so if it’s extravagance you’re after, this might not be for you.

The food: “The most popular starter dishes are the pork dumplings and the soft shell crab. For mains, customer favourites include the Seafood Curry Laksa, which is a giant portion served in a huge bowl, and also my personal favourite. The Beef Hor Fun, which comes with noodles is just as popular,” says Eddy.

For starters we enjoyed the Thai fish cakes, which come with a sweet dip. We also had the vegetable dumplings, although they were quite bland in comparison.

For mains we went for the Malaysian chicken Kapitan curry, which was very flavourful, and the chicken cashew stir fry, which came with more veggies. We liked that we could choose between jasmine, coconut or egg-fried rice to accompany the main dish.

The dessert menu is very small, but it features a Malaysian pancake (“roti kanai”), which is like a meal in itself. It’s sweet, flaky and pastry-like, and it’s served with ice cream and fruit – order one to share!

Find it: the Wandsworth branch of Ekachai is situated within the Southside Shopping Mall, next to the Cineworld. It has recently opened and is busiest on Friday evenings and all day Saturday and Sunday. The chain has two other locations in London – Liverpool Street, and a concession in Selfridges London.

Final thoughts: a pleasant dining experience, but the location is probably only ideal for cinema goers and shoppers.

Shoryu: Japanese dining in Soho

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The vibe: a loud sit-down Japanese restaurant famous for its generously portioned ramen dishes, located behind Piccadilly Circus.

What’s cool: Shoryu’s menu includes a glossary on the last page, which helpfully simplifies the Japanese terms you find dotted through the descriptions. Plus, this particular branch has the largest selection of sake, shochu and umeshu, with over 130 to choose from.

What’s not cool: you might have to wait for a table, they don’t take reservations. At 7pm on a Thursday evening when we visited, there was a queue of about 12 people waiting [outside, in the rain] for a table.

Don’t be alarmed by: the bang of a loud drum when you enter the restaurant. It’s the staff welcoming you in. For the first fifteen minutes or so, you’ll be startled by it every time someone new comes in, before slowly becoming accustomed to it.

We drunk: Kirei Momoshu plum wine – peachy and fruity liqueur with “added youthful hyaluronic acid” according to the menu, ooooh! It was sweet and refreshing and didn’t taste alcoholic, although it was.

We ate: Shoryu Buns (£4.50 per piece) – nice, but Ippudo and Bao’s hirata buns are way better.

Shichimi Mushrooms (£5.50) – avoid.

Chicken Karaage (£6) – chunks of tender chicken with a tasty dip. Get this dish.

Salmon sashimi (£9.90) – yum.

Miso Wafu Chicken (£11.50) – the ramen dish was good, and huge, enough for two people!

Final thoughts: the portions at Shoryu are generous, and provide good value for money. The food is good too, I’d give it a 6.5/10.

Crazy for cleansing balm

While I was working at a women’s magazine about 4 years ago, I was recommended by the beauty editor to invest in a skin cleansing balm. I didn’t quite get the idea of cleansing balms at the time, but after work that same day I picked up the Eve Lom cleanser (the beauty editor had suggested the Eve Lom, Emma Hardie or Liz Earle one) from Space NK, and went to the till to pay. I was flummoxed when the shop assistant told me the price. ‘Why would such a little pot cost so much?’ I thought. Nevertheless, I went ahead with the purchase it was recommended by a beauty expert, after all and excitedly rushed home to give it a try.

For someone who was used to removing her make up with wipes or Johnson’s Baby Lotion and cotton wool, the cleansing balm ritual was a revelation  the first time I learned to properly wash my face  and it was then that I banished those wipes to the bin.

Cleansing balms are basically oil-based cleansers that effectively remove make up, as well as grime and impurities, without drying the skin. They usually come in a solid form (although some are liquid), and are designed to be massaged on to clean dry skin (on top of make up), and removed with a hot muslin cloth or flannel for best results. The outcome is that all traces of make up are removed, and the skin is left soft, conditioned and hydrated.

There are so many cleansing balms on the market that it can be difficult to choose which one to get and considering the prices of some of them, you don’t really want to get this wrong.

merumaya cleansing balm beautyWhen the Merumaya Melting Cleansing Balm (£14.50 for 100ml, available at John Lewis) landed in my hands earlier this month, I was unsure of it, as I hadn’t heard of the brand (it’s a bit of a newbie, having been around for two years this October, while Eve Lom has been around for over 25 years). But considering that beauty guru Caroline Hirons had recommended it as a much more affordable alternative to the much-loved Emma Hardie cleansing balm, it had to be good, right?

From the off , I wasn’t too drawn to the simple, somewhat boring packaging. Yet the squeezy tube was really convenient, and more hygienic than other cleansers which come in a pot, such as Eve Lom, and result in you sticking your fingers inside to get at the product. I was pleased to discover that appearances can be deceptive: the packaging gave way to a really lovely, gentle and effective product. The balm glides onto skin (and literally does melt in, as the name suggests), and it has the beautiful trademark Merumaya scent, which induces a feeling of relaxation and luxury, and creates an essence of a spa in your bathroom.

The cleanser contains RevitElix, a source of Omega 3, 6 and 9, that’s proven to regenerate the skin, reduce lines and wrinkles and make skin smoother and softer, and it really does the latter. It removes make up properly, and leaves you feeling clean-faced after use, without any greasiness. Skin also feels really comfortable after use, not at all dry or tight. The balm can be removed with either splashes of water or a flannel (I prefer to use a flannel as it offers a deeper cleanse), but both work really well. I also seem to prefer this cleansing balm to my usual Eve Lom, which costs almost double the price, and feels a little bit more grainier than Merumaya (but perhaps offers more exfoliation).merumaya-cleansing-balm

How to use: At the end of the day, massage the silky product over dry skin in circular movements, including eye lids and lashes. Add a touch of water to turn it into a milky consistency, and either remove with splashes of water or warm a muslin cloth or flannel under warm water and use it to remove product from the skin in circular movements.

Once you move to cleansing balms, you won’t look back…

 

Other cleansers worth considering for sensitive skin:

moa-green-cleansing-balmMóa The Green Balm: Made with 100% natural ingredients, this little pot of green goo does everything, from healing bites and soothing dry skin, to giving it a good clean. It works just as well as a cleanser and moisturiser – would you believe – on the hair, face, skin… you can even gurgle it as a sore throat remedy, although I haven’t tried that yet! (£4.99 for 15ml)cetaphil cleanser

Cetaphil Cleanser: Soap and fragrance-free, it’s made for people with conditions such as eczema and acne. It has a medical appearance, and offers a squeaky-clean finish. Comes in a handy pump form, so is hygienic too. (£8.99 for 236ml)

eve lom cleanserEve Lom Cleanser: This gentle cleanser contains Clove Oil that encourages clear skin as well as Eucalyptus Oil, which helps drain away toxins. The little beads in the balm provide mild exfoliation too. Although it’s a little pricey, it lasts a really long time as you don’t need much every time you cleanse. The signature massage technique renewing rose cleanser aromatherapy assocites reviewis a good one to learn, to apply whenever you use any other cleanser. (£55 for 100ml)

Aromatherapy Associates Renewing Rose Cleanser: Smells heavenly (key ingredients are damask rose, jojoba and geranium), and has a creamy consistency. Leaves your face feeling fresh, hydrated and fragrant. Occasionally tingles a little bit when you’re massaging it in. (£25 for 200ml)

Roger & Gallet: gorgeously-scented luxury every day

It’s not often that I have a new beauty brand crush, but after discovering Roger & Gallet, a Parisian brand, earlier this year, I have become a little bit obsessed.

The main reasons why I’m digging Roger & Gallet is because its products feel luxurious, and each carries its own exquisitely rich scent, which lingers on your skin after use.

My favourite product so far is the Roger & Gallet Fleur d’Osmanthus perfumed body oil (£24.50 for 100ml, but definitely worth the money). A little goes a long way with this ultra-nourishing, multi-purpose formula, which is dermatologically tested and contains apricot, sesame and almond oils. Used after a bath or shower, it leaves skin feeling sumptuously smooth and soft. It comes in a handy pump formula, so you can either pump straight onto your body or into your palm. To increase absorption, pump into your palm and warm the oil in your hands first. A couple of drops of the oil in a bath would be pleasant as well, and because of its lovely texture, it would also make perfect massage oil. You can even apply the oil to your hair – spray it directly into your hairbrush before you run it through your tips.

To leave your skin feeling sleek after a shower, the Roger & Gallet Fleur de Figuier gentle shower cream (£9.50 for 200ml) is a must. It’s enriched with shea butter and also soap- and sulphate-free, so it leaves you feeling moisturised, and it is kind to sensitive skin – it hasn’t upset my eczema. It has a divine fragrance, with notes of fig leaves and fig milk, and leaves the bathroom smelling lovely!

A nice-to-have is the handbag-friendly Roger & Gallet Fleur d’Osmanthus hand and nail cream (£6 for 30ml), which is paraben-free and contains apricot oil. It is non-greasy, absorbs fast and keeps your hands feeling smooth. I use it two or three times a day, and it leaves a scent of mandarin and grapefruit that lasts for an hour or so afterwards.

Finally there’s the Roger & Gallet Gingembre Rouge natural spray (£16 for 30ml). Although it’s not as long lasting as I’d hope – the fragrance stays with you for just over an hour – it smells so fresh and a little bit exotic: not quite fruity and not quite floral, somewhere in the middle. I think it’s a great every day, refreshing perfume, as it isn’t too in-your-face.

Those are all the products I’ve tried so far – let me know if there are any other star Roger & Gallet products that I should be hunting out, and I’ll make it my next mission…

Roger & Gallet is currently available at Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, escentual.com  and feelunique.com.

 

Submarine: Film review

This comedy-drama from Richard Ayoade, who plays Maurice Moss in The IT Crowd, explores the difficulties faced by a 15-year-old adolescent boy, Oliver Tate, to survive at school, lose his virginity before he turns 16, but also to try and save his parents’ marriage.

Submarine captures the awkwardness of Oliver’s first relationship, and the anxiety and perception of a misfit child who thinks his parents will split up.

It paints a gritty, realistic picture of the obstacles in life, and audiences could probably relate to Oliver, who carries a briefcase and has difficulty being popular.

Submarine carefully and intricately paints the rocky teenage period and troubles faced at that age.

The story line does drag on, and would’ve been better off shortened by about 20 minutes, but it is funny and insightful and takes you back to a certain time in your life, where you sat in a classroom and perhaps, like Oliver, who is played by 20-year-old Craig Roberts, became consumed by your own inner monologue and zoned out of reality.

The film feels like it is set in 1970 or 1980 – there are no mobile phones, no Facebook or laptops. Instead there are pay phones, Polaroid cameras and cassette tapes.

Ayoade intended for this – he said he wanted to remove the social necessities of now in the film, which premiered in October 2010.

Oliver’s first kiss with his first unromantic and moody girlfriend Jordana, “whose only downfall is her eczema”, is captured fantastically.

He recalls the kiss with Jordana, who is played by Yasmin Paige, like this: “Her mouth tasted of milk, Polo mints and Dunhill International.”

Submarine is full of hilarious one-liners of this kind, which really capture the essence of adolescence. Added to the mix are themes of bullying, depression and mortality.

When we meet Oliver at first, we sense that there is some dislocation within him as he endures life by imagining alternate realities.

He’s socially inept, a little awkward, but he grows through the film as we witness an awkward relationship unfold between him and Jordana, both sporting their duffel coats.

Issues between his parents eventually come between this relationship, as an old love of Oliver’s mother, who Oliver calls “a ninja”, comes into the picture and threatens to break up their family.

Watching Oliver try to prevent this by making routine searches of his parent’s bedroom, by popping pills and making tiresome bike rides, is stark and harsh, and gives a deeper meaning to his character.

Sally Hawkins plays Oliver’s mother, Paddy Considine is the psychic slash motivational speaker man who Oliver suspects is trying to seduce his mother and Noah Taylor, plays Oliver’s marine biologist dad.

I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 simply because it drags on a little too long, but will have you chuckling.

Submarine is released in the UK on 18 March.