Two Foodie Events – Ben & Jerry’s and Free Bagels

First is the annual Ben & Jerry’s Double Scoop Sundae Festival, which takes place on Clapham Common on the weekend of the 23rd and 24th July. 15,000 tickets are available on each day and this year’s festival is being headlined by Maxïmo Park and Ocean Colour Scene. Maxïmo Park will be supported on Saturday by Ash, Fun Lovin Criminals and others, while on Sunday Gary Numan, The Duke & The King, Little Comets and Sound Of Rum will be adding to the atmosphere for headliners Ocean Colour Scene.

You’ll also be able to visit the staple of Ben & Jerry’s festivals, a petting zoo, and there’ll also be a fairground and bare toe wrestling competitions… Unsigned bands are also being invited to take up slots on the main stage through a competition called ‘Be Herd’. Acts can submit music and video at the festival site and also be in line for a cool £1000 prize to the overall winners. Tickets are now on sale at £17, but as this is a decidedly family-friendly festival children 5 years or under are admitted free (as long as they’re with an ice-cream loving responsible adult of course!). Keep an eye on Ben & Jerry’s Facebook and Twitter for further announcements regarding acts that will be appearing on stage.

 
 

Secondly, there’s a freebie coming up in the form of free bagels from the New York Bakery Co. who are celebrating American Independence Day on 4 July. Head over to Canvey Street, behind the Tate Modern, from 12 lunchtime and you’ll be able to sample one of their bagels, but don’t wait too long otherwise the bagels will run out!…

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TheLondoneer: Tequila Tasting @ Wahaca Soho

On arriving we were ushered downstairs from the main restaurant floor down into their more intimate bar space for a tutored tasting in that classic Mexican spirit, tequila. Before going on to describe how the evening developed I will just mention the decor – there’s a long coloured chainlink curtain that runs almost the whole length of the bar which is picked out with a Mexican ‘day of the dead’ theme that is very odd indeed, as are the strange arrangement of wall lights. That and the bank of table football contraptions overlooking the outlandish WC area makes for rather a jarring experience – the atmosphere is certainly not that of your typical soho bar… Before we got down to business we were invited to try out their unusual cocktails – I had a spiced chocolate cocktail that I can only describe as a punch in the throat from a velvet glove. I can imagine that if chocolate isn’t your thing you’d absolutely hate it, but the next time I’m back there its going at the top of my ‘wants’ for the evening.

So on to the tasting then , which was conducted by their chief tequila guru. Not many people are aware of the way in which tequila is made, so before I go on to describe the particular ones that we tried last night I’ll tell you some interesting facts about the drink itself. Tequila is made exclusively in the Mexican region of the same name (much like champagne can only come from the Champagne region in France) by harvesting the blue agave plant found in the valley of Tequila (from 1400-1500 metres above sea level) or up in the Highlands (at over 2100 metres) after it has been allowed to grow for a period of between 5 and 9 years. After it is picked this fibrous plant is then slow-cooked to bring out its sweet and syrupy qualities in traditional brick ovens or by using a more modern autoclave method, and then distilled in pot or column stills (not disimilar to the way in which whisky is produced).

Although blended tequilas are available, the ten different varieties that we tried tonight are all 100% (well 99% actually – producers are allowed to introduce 1% of a very limited number of additional ingredients if they wish to) and came from the three main kinds of tequila – tequila blanco (which is made from unaged spirit), reposado (which is allowed to age for up to two months) and anejo (which can be aged up to 1 year but only made in quite small batches). There are two other types which we didn’t try tonight but I’ll mention them for completeness – gold tequila, which is a mixture of blanco and the more aged spirits and extra anejo, which as you might guess is aged for up to 3 years.

Now I won’t go into copious detail about each one on tonight’s menu but I will just mention that the …

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Spitalfields Life – Book Review

Spitalfields Life, published earlier this year, is an intimate literary record of everyday life in the historic area of Spitalfields, just to the east of the City of London.

Built up over two years, and the product of over ten thousand posts gathered from spitalfieldslife.com, this anonymously penned tome (authorship is ascribed to ‘The Gentle Author’ ) paints colourful pen pictures of Spitalfields workers, residents and visitors, both past and present.

In its densely packed 428 pages readers are taken on a journey that peers down every backstreet, climbs over the wall of every yard and knocks on every front door. Amongst the characters behind those doors are Molly, an old East End ‘swagman’ (the Delboy-like market stallholders who take pride in selling anything and everything that comes their way) and Fred, another denizen of the local markets who has been selling chestnuts from his roasting pan for over forty years.

In a section entirely devoted to the Spitalfields Antiques Market, Spitalfields Life takes you by the hand and introduces you to a whole succession of stallholders, including Giovanni (who sells antique Italian leather gloves) to Rishi and Thomas who have a taste for the macabre (if it’s stuffed and mounted they’ll sell it!). Columbia Road Flower Market also gets its time in the spotlight, with a behind-the-scenes look at  what goes on there on Sunday mornings, often before sunrise, when the sellers set out their displays of freshly cut flowers.

Spitalfields Life contains pages and pages of insights and anecdotes – it will furnish with far more knowledge than you could gain even in a year of wandering around the area. Given its size and heft it’s not a volume that will find a comfortable spot in a rucksack or shoulder bag however – this one is for dipping in and out of while you’re winding down at home.

I highly recommend picking this up – it’s the most lovingly crafted book of its type that I’ve seen in a very long time and which will, no doubt, keep me busy for many long winter evenings. Spitalfields Life is available from all the usual places – you can pick it up on Amazon right now for £13.50.…

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The Yvonne Fletcher Memorial @ St James Square

With the end of Gadaffi’s regime in Libya I thought it would be appropriate to revisit the event which had a direct impact on London itself, back in the 1980s. Tucked away in a leafy corner of the pretty St James Square, just down the street from the royal residences of St James Palace and Clarence House, you’ll find a modest memorial to a brave policewoman. WPC Yvonne Fletcher was gunned down in cold blood on 17 April 1984 as she was policing a peaceful protest outside the then Libyan Embassy. Fletcher’s murder by an unknown assailant resulted in the cutting of diplomatic relations with Libya for over 15 years, and to date her killer has not been brought to justice. I wonder, with the death of Gadaffi and many of the senior officials surrounding him, whether we’ve now lost any opportunity to find out the truth of what happened on that day…

If you’d like to visit the memorial and perhaps pay your respects, you can find it here:…

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The Ideal Inner-City Car For London

London’s crowded and cramped streets mean that a large saloon can become a major headache in the city. Here is our list of top five compact cars that will allow you to negotiate the back streets and squeeze into small parking spots:

Fiat Panda

The Fiat Panda is an ideal city car. Although its size means that the leg room in the rear is slightly restricted, it’s an easy vehicle to manoeuvre around those cramped and busy city streets. It has a rather unique, funky and eye catching design, as befits a metropolitan run-around. It’s also cheap to run. If you want a little more power it comes in a 4-wheel-drive version.

Volkswagen Up

Voted What Car’s City Car of the Year 2013, the Volkswagen Up is a stylish and economic little number that’s perfect for urban driving. Where the Volkswagen surpasses its Fiat designed contemporary is in space. Despite its small size, it has plenty of space to keep the driver and passengers comfortable. However, its engine power is not quite so intense and you’d find driving this on the motorway a bit of a struggle.

Hyundai I10

The most budget-conscious car on this list, the Hyundia I10 gives you a lot more than you pay for. But the savings don’t just stop there – it’s also incredibly cheap to run so you’ll find yourself making continued savings on fuel too. Despite its low cost, it a very well equipped car and pretty spacious, considering its size. Probably not best geared up for long haul journeys, but what city car is?

Kia Picanto

The Kia Picanto wins top marks for its classy interior and well-thought-out driving position. It’s comfortable to drive and has a decent amount of space for extra passengers considering its size, plus it also comes with an unrivalled seven-year warranty. Unfortunately, this car falls down on its handleability: it can prove a little jerky in traffic and its engine doesn’t offer a great deal.

Toyota iQ

This might just be the coolest of the cars on this list – it’s certainly the coolest looking. This vehicle is perfect for the younger driver and would suit more than a few media types down to the ground. It’s cheap to run, easy to drive and environmentally friendly, emitting some of the lowest carbon emissions of any city car going. It’s also pretty easy to slide this vehicle into a tight little parking space in Soho.

Unfortunately it costs a little more than our other picks, but what it saves you in fuel costs should more than make up for that. Luckily, Car Loan 4U can help with your car finance. Head over to their website to find the best deals on car loans.…

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TheLondoneer: Testing Out TasterLab in London

For the last few days I’ve been looking over ‘TasterLab’, a site that gathers together interesting experiences that you can have in London for the first time to see whether they might become part of your regular lifestyle…

Most of the taster sessions on offer are free (or at least heavily discounted) and don’t carry any obligation to continue with the provider, and there are quite a varied set of things you can try out. Looking at some of the listings you can see whether kickboxing might be for you with a free session at the Epic Gym in West London, look into your diet with a nutritionist from UrBod at three central London locations, or investigate one of the new collaborative working spaces springing up in London, in this case through HubCulture in Soho who are giving away free day passes so that you can check out their facilities. If there is a downside, most of the tasters only have one provider  and there are some noticeable gaps: there’s nothing on art classes or photography for example. However, I’m told that a new version of the site is going up in June which will have lots more options,  and it certainly seems to be gaining popularity in its current form – they have more likes on Facebook than I do for one thing! TasterLab is worth checking out I think – it might be right up your street if you’re looking to fill some time with a new hobby or two……

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The Admiralty Citadel

Sitting amongst the grand offices in Whitehall, central London, you’ll find an ugly brute of a building, the Admiralty Citadel. Directly behind the old Admiralty on Whitehall, it was built as a shelter for military personnel so that they could continue working during sustained bombing during World War II (it’s roof is 20 foot thick reinforced concrete!).

On the fascia of the building you can still see loupes where machine guns could be set up, giving the occupants a 360 degree field of fire. This indicates the second use of the building – as a redoubt in case of invasion by Nazi forces. Mind you, how well they expected the building to survive sustained fire from tanks or artillery parked right outside is another matter altogether! That being said, its solid construction means that it still has its uses, and it remains as a working Ministry of Defence building to this day – one can only hope that they might offer guided tours as part of the Open House Weekend one of these days, because I’d give my right arm to have a look around inside!

I also took the opportunity to snap a few other things in the immediate vicinity which you can find here – but check out this fine couple for a start……

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Food Secret, Soho

Earlier tonight I was down at Food Secret on Broadwick St, Soho, for one of their demonstration evenings with their head chef Neil Armstrong.

 
 

As I said in my post last week they’re really into nutrition and freshness at Food Secret – you can go along and put together a hot soup, sandwich or salad on the fly, selecting from their fresh ingredients to make up what you want. They even prepare their pastes, sauces and stocks on the premises – so you can be assured that the pesto, harisa and so on that you put into your soup hasn’t come out of a jar. Now you might say that there’s nothing new there – in Soho in particular healthy eating has caught on. There are any number of other venues around that will offer the health-conscious a similar service, so let me tell you about what I think makes Food Secret unique.

What they’ve done, with help from nutritionist Sanna Anderson, is to devise a rather neat software application that helps you select precisely the right food for your dietary needs. Go up to the counter and start to put together your meal and you’ll see, on a large lcd screen below you on your side of the counter, the number of calories, amount of protein, carbohydrate and so on, as well as their unique star rating system, building up as you add more ingredients. So, for example, if you’re absolutely determined that your meal has to come in at 200 calories and only include 20% of your daily intake of fat , you can take things away from the mixture to get you to that exact figure with this really unique little visual aide.

 
 

The other thing that I think Food Secret has on its rivals is style. The walls and ceiling are lined in intriguingly lit frosted glass, and art and fashion videos are projected onto the walls all around the space. I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that when the big high-fashion people are in town for a show, such as Vivienne Westwood or Oswald Boateng, Food Secret is their first choice for catering to the nutritional needs of their notoriously fastidious models!

 
 

It certainly gets my recommendation for people who want tasty food but are watching their intake – given where I am at the moment I should probably visit them fairly often! I’ll also just mention their website, where you’ll find some sample menus but also some useful tips on nutrition. Of course they’re also on Twitter and on Facebook if you want to keep an eye on what’s happening at the store.…

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Andaz Hotel Liverpool St

Today I’m going to tell you about the interesting evening I had last night, being shown around the boutique 5-star Andaz Hotel right next to Liverpool St station in central London.

Back in the late 19th century, this building started its life as the Great Eastern Hotel, built to support the expanding British rail network – it’s from the same era as the grand edifice that sits over Kings Cross St Pancras for example. A few years ago the hotel was purchased by the Hyatt group and given an extensive refurbishment – the result was the first of their new concept ‘Andaz’ hotels (Andaz, by the way means ‘style’ in both Hindi and Urdu). There are now four others in the group, all in the States – one in San Diego, one in West Hollywood and two in New York, on Wall St and 5th Avenue. In London they’ve taken great care to be true to the area – you’ll find work by East London artists throughout the hotel, such as this for example, which runs around the circular stairway at the hotel’s centre.

Anyway, on to my experience at the hotel. I always feel a tinge of trepidation when accepting invitations to tour hotels and the like, particularly classy establishments because I don’t feel that I can whole-heartedly recommend venues that I can neither afford to eat or even sleep in! For the most part that’s not a problem here, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Let me tell you first about Andaz’s distinguishing features…

For a start, the check-in experience here is rather unique. Walking in through the main doors you find yourself in a double-height reception area with subdued lighting and full of comfortable seats scattered around the space, but there’s no check-in desk in sight – the staff actually come over to you, netbooks in hand, to sort out all the details. An intriguing approach I’m sure you’ll agree! The surprises don’t end there either – while on the outside the hotel has that unmistakeable Victorian grandeur, on the inside it’s all very chic and modern. They’ve only retained the original features of the building where it actually adds to the experience – for example, the grand Italianate marble staircases remain as does the Masonic Temple on the building’s first floor (yes, where genuine Masons used to meet!). Most of the time this unique room hosts dinners and corporate events, but there are no weddings allowed in the space because of all of the Masonic symbolism. It’s all here – the astrological symbols, all-seeing eye, compasses and so on, and only intact because the room was forgotten, remaining hidden behind a boarded up doorway for many years… how spooky!

Elsewhere in the hotel you’ll also find a double-level atrium overlooked by some of the rooms and which has the hotel’s exposed industrial-style lifts in one corner, and a very funky open-plan ‘New York loft’-style space with a completely exposed kitchen at one end which …

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Beautiful Thing @ The Arts Theatre – A Review

This new production of the seminal coming-of-age story is directed by Nikolai Foster, and stars Suranne Jones as brassy South London mom Sandra, with Jake Davies and Danny-Boy Hatchard as Jamie and Ste. Sandra’s love interest is played by TV regular Oliver Farnworth (Hollyoaks, The Royal, Doctors) while Zaraah Abrahams plays Leah, the slightly unhinged girl from across the landing who has an obsession with American songstress Mama Cass.

Photo: Alastair Muir

The acting in this production really is spot on – Farnworth is particularly effective as the louche Tony and Surranne Jones plays a lovely mom, while Davies and Hatchard are perfectly convincing in their roles as the young gay lovers. The play itself has aged surprisingly well  too – the comedy lines are still strong, and while some of the South London spots name-checked in the script may be a distant memory an honest love story is timeless, and Beautiful Thing is about as honest as it gets. The love scene featuring ‘peppermint foot lotion’ was controversial twenty years ago, but thankfully society has shifted around the play in the intervening years – rather than drawing gasps from the audience, these days it elicits gentle ‘aahs’ – many of the patrons no doubt drawing on their own fond memories of early romantic encounters.

These days much of the West End’s serious output does seem to go out of its way to eviscerate audience members, and its a great relief to go and see a play that is as uplifting and joyful as Beautiful Thing. The killer soundtrack helps too of course – in what other setting could the Sound Of Music and the Mamas & Papas work so effectively together?…

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