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Is it time to rent your next dress?

Ever had the feeling when you delve through your wardrobe before a night out and can’t find anything that feels right or fits the occasion? Of course you have and us women (and I’m sure men feel the same) seem to be in a continual search for the perfect outfit, hairstyle or look.

Luckily for us if your bank balance isn’t set up to pay for a new dress every time you feel indecisive there is an answer on hand, and that’s to borrow. Of course if you’ve got willing housemates or friends they are a good place to start but if you’re not the same size as those around you and want something a little different and a little more designer then why not hire from an agency?

One such place is That-Dress which promises to take the stress out of shopping and end the eternal question of “What should I wear?” And from the surface it looks like an easy solution for the time short and fashion hungry. Whether it’s a wedding, drinks reception or a special Birthday – if you’re not prepared to cough up for a brand new label then it’s worth trying out.

Although it’s not been around for long, That-Dress has an impressive range of outfits to choose from. At the moment most are Italian-inspired and there are all the names you’d expect – Versace, D&G, Diane Von Furstenburg – and several new designers such as Ophelia is Lost and Narciss. Prices start from around £28 per dress and seeing as most of these dresses cost at least £300 to buy new, it’s a brilliant way to always be wearing something different without running up massive debts in the process.

So you pick a dress from the website, pay for it, and in no time at all (around 12 hours) it’ll be couriered over to your desk. The day after you can pop it back in the enclosed pre-paid packaging and return. If it arrives and it doesn’t fit you’ll be refunded the price and there’s instant help – via phone, email or instant messenger – if you need any advice about sizes and what to wear.

As well as an impressive range of dresses there’s also all the extras you know you’ll need – such as fashion tape, ballet pumps, handmade jewellery and tights – so you’re all set for the perfect outfit.

That-Dress is not the only site around for dress hire but it’s quite an easy one to navigate through and most of the dresses on offer come in sizes 8-14. It’s up to you how you use the site – either through renting a one-off dress or if you get into it, becoming a member and renting a few a month (which works out cheaper per dress).

There are also a lot of extras, such as discounts and points to collect for renting which can be redeemed off the price. Jon Hammond, the director, has also arranged events for members to meet new designers, including an evening with Alise Trautmane who recently won the Baltic Fashion Federation designer of the year for the second consecutive year.

Hammond says renting is the “ultimate recession chic” and an answer for all those people in search of something new to wear without the endless budget to do so. You can also get £15 off the first dress you hire with the code ‘welcome’ at the checkout.

“For the same price as a dress from H&M or Topshop you can have a Versace cocktail dress for the night, it’s no secret celebrities ‘borrow’ designer dresses for big events, and men hire dinner suits and morning suits, so why shouldn’t women be doing the same thing?” argues Hammond.

“This way you have access to a constantly evolving wardrobe of beautiful designer dresses to hire, at a fraction of the retail cost. It’s ‘our little secret’ and there’s one for every occasion,” he adds.

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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The Jugged Hare

The line between gastropub, plain old pub and fancy restaurant has become very blurred lately. Attaching the ‘gastropub’ label onto an ordinary looking pub usually means an excuse to rack up the prices while luring in unassuming diners who were looking for some pub grub.

Well pub grub is certainly not what you’ll find at The Jugged Hare and despite the slightly haughty atmosphere and higher-than-average prices the food is well-presented and most importantly it tastes good.

This is the 10th in a line of gastropubs owned by Tom and Ed Martin and it’s clear to see they know what they’re doing. Walk in through the main entrance and you’ll be met by crowds of local workers enjoying the impressive drinks menu. It’s got its own ‘by the glass’ machine creating seasonal wines from local producers and if you’re indecisive, go for the wine flight – you get three glasses of seasonally picked out wines for £10. If wine’s not your thing try the Jugged Hare pale ale, brewed in conjunction with Sambrook’s brewery in Battersea.

If you’re peckish, or you’ve booked a table (recommended for most evenings), walk through the crowds towards the smell of meat and you’ll reach the restaurant area where an open kitchen takes centre stage. For those of you who enjoy watching cookery programs you’ve come to the right place. Here you can stare at the chefs to your heart’s content and watch them popping out intricate looking meals, but a warning – it’s no fun for fellow diners if you spend the meal commenting on events in the kitchen which they can’t see.

For people who find it hard to say no to a starter (like me) you won’t be disappointed and I went for the honey roast kiln salmon (£8) while my friend had the diver king scallops gratin (£9.50) with a creamy sauce to melt any fish-haters heart.

The food available is all local, organically sourced (fish from Billingsgate Market) and what you might expect really and there’s a different meat available everyday from the spit roast and some hefty steaks on offer. Most of the main meals are around £17 but you do pay for what you get and the meals are fresh, delicious and perfectly matched with the sides (although you have to pay extra for these).

Greedily I also tucked into a pudding and despite being a bit of a connoisseur in this sector, the lemon junket (light mouse) with blood orange jelly is one of the best fruity treats I’ve ever eaten – and an ideal way to end a heavy meal. It’s light, airy and sweet enough to make you feel light you’ve been transported to some kind of magical land but doesn’t leave you feeling like you need a root canal.

Downstairs there are more tables and it would be a good place for a group meal such as a birthday and once you’ve gorged on the meaty feast the bar is perfectly situated to finish off your night.

This review was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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Comptoir Libanais

South Kensington is a place I often find myself, either after wondering around the V&A or one of the surrounding museums and I continually have a problem trying to find anywhere good to eat or drink.

Every place I stumble upon seems to be ridiculously over priced or just rubbish and surviving on the fact that so many tourists, and non West Londoners like myself, are hungry or thirsty and will just drop into anywhere nearby. Luckily I’ve found a few options to safeguard against this and one such is Comptoir Libanais on Exhibition Road.

This is the second in the chain of ‘fast’ food Lebanese restaurants and it’s ideal for a quick, tasty meal that won’t break the bank. You can choose from several platters piled up with deliciously comforting treats such as smoky aubergine baba ghanoush, falafel, hummus, and salads with pitta bread for dipping and fried vegetable samosas. These are to share but if you’re feeling greedy and a lover of  creamy hummus topped with pomegranate seeds, and let’s be honest who isn’t, then you might be able to go for one.

For the main meals there are lots of small dishes and I had the prune and lamb tagine which was so tender it virtually melted into one. There are also meat koftas with side salads, whole salads for those attempting to be healthy and lovingly prepared mousakas with crispy fried onions and fresh pomegranate seeds on top – it doesn’t sound like it should work but it does. A mouthful of this feels a bit like a giant duvet wrapped around you, it’s delicious, warming and will leave you feeling comfortably full.

The pudding selection is a bit of a must. There are lots of beautiful looking sweet treats, from rose water macaroons to more varieties of baklava then I ever thought possible and as they’re so tiny you can almost believe they’re calorie free.

All the dishes are around £7 which is a bargain given the location and the quality of the food. It’s a little bit like Leon but better and the bright paintwork and pictures create a cheery atmosphere which is a must at this time of year.

One thing I would avoid next time is the wine. Despite the good value and tasty food, the wine was expensive and the quality was no where near as good as the food. Instead I would go for one of the freshly made juices or some traditional green tea.

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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Adventure Bar

Adventure BarIf you find yourself in Covent Garden and in need of a cocktail, the Adventure Bar is here to quench your thirst. It’s located about 10 minutes from the tube station on Bedford Street and is a small underground bar offering almost every cocktail imaginable.

It’s got all the classics, such as a Margarita or Tom Collins, but also numerous twists on these and new creations. Take the Flaming Zombie, an exciting drink to watch being made, it’s mixed with a selection of rums, lemon juice, mango puree and pineapple juice and to top it off a flaming passion fruit shell is artistically balanced on top.

Or maybe the Fallen Angel – a slightly more sophisticated cocktail made of a light blend of vodka, pear liqueur and apple juice. If you’re on a heavier night there are also shots available (unsurprisingly) and you can choose from a whole host of retro sweet-flavoured spirits like sherbet flying saucers or rhubarb and custard.

A lot of the cocktails mix unusual blends together, such as pineapple and chilli or basil and cucumber, but it works well and if you’re not the adventurous type the bar staff can make up anything you fancy.

The bar is small, dark and slightly dingy with music to suit most tastes but verging on cheese. In the few hours I was there I heard (and sang along to) Abba, Oasis and Guns and Roses to name a few. The customers inside were mainly made up of male workers in suits (on a week night) and it’s a good place to go with a group as the tables are laden with party hats and poppers and you’ll get a free bottle of champagne with bookings of eight people or more.

But what didn’t really mesh well were the impressive, but expensive, cocktails in the grungy environment. It seemed like a mix of sophisticated cocktail bar with cheesy night club and there was a whole lot less adventure than I had hoped for. Maybe my imagination is a little too extravagant but I was imagining hands-on games, quirky furniture and décor or maybe a retro cartoon or two adorning the walls. But sadly for a bar (and a website) with so much promise it was all a bit too minimal for me.

It’s a handy bar to know about if you’re looking for a good cocktail away from the crowds of Covent Garden, but at around £8-9 per drink for a pretty average bar, I’d recommend visiting in happy hour (5-7pm) or taking advantage of the free drink voucher you can get when you sign up to the bar’s newsletter.

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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Gospel Brunch

Gospel Brunch

If you share my passion for American gospel music and singing aloud (on occasion) combined with huge breakfasts than you’re in for a treat. The restaurant at the top of the Milbank Tower – Altitude 360– has successfully blended the two together in an winning combination of soul music and pecan pie.

The venue is breath taking with views stretching out across London in every direction. And as you take it all in you get to feast on a traditional southern American brunch.

To start there’s a tempting selection of homemade breads, from brown sugar cornbread – a bit like gingerbread without the ginger- to sweet brioche with caramelised onion and rosemary and pumpkin bread. A word of advice though – don’t fill up on the bread as however good it tastes, you’ve still got two massive courses to get through.

For the main event there are several dishes to choose from and I picked the barbecued ribs with rosemary parmentier potatoes. The ribs pretty much slipped off the bone with tenderness and the whole dish was deliciously coated in a sticky barbecue sauce. There were sweet options also, crepes and banana French toast, and a few classics including chicken and Cajun spiced potato wedges and barbecue chicken with black beans and yellow rice.

The portions are American-sized so by now I was feeling happily full and in need of a lie down but the sight of the key lime pie woke up my pudding stomach. I also managed to try the Mississippi mud pie which was heavenly although defeated me to only a few bites.

Gospel BrunchI could talk about the food all day but what really deserves a separate review is the London Community Gospel Choir singers who did four sets during the three hours we were there. The whole thing was very American and while it may work in New York I never expected us oh so reserved Londoners to enjoy such a  spectacle. But even my cold hearted musical-hating friends were singing and clapping away to the songs which were emotional, uplifting and all together other worldly.

There was everything from traditional American ballads to Bob Marley and Beatles covers and a few numbers from Sister Act.

The experience was different but brilliant however at £49 a person (not including drinks) it’s a very expensive treat.

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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Vertigo 42

Vertigo 42

As far as views of London go, Vertigo 42 is up there with the best of them, and possibly tops the list. With panoramic views across London from the 42nd floor of Tower 42 you’re in for a treat.

It’s the highest bar in the UK and well worth a visit – even if you just go up there to stare out of the windows. You can see practically all of the capital, from close by landmarks like St Paul’s stretching all the way to Hyde Park and the west end, and it offers one of the best views of the Shard any building has to offer.

Once you’ve stopped staring, and possibly recovered from slightly nauseating feelings of Vertigo, it’s time for some cocktails. First things first – in a bar with such stunning views nothing comes cheap so be prepared to make a severe dent in your bank balance. It’s a Champagne bar and there are over 30 to choose from and most of the clientele will be sipping on the sparkly wine.

If you want something a little different try the autumn Champagne cocktails. These are £14 each and each one has a different seasonal flavour. Some are more obvious, like the orange and raspberry or rose and plum, and others are a little different. Take the Lychee and hazelnut – not a combination you’ve probably put together before, especially not in a cocktail, but somehow it really works. The smell is deliciously nutty and welcoming but the taste of lychees gives it a lighter fruity taste.

If you’re afraid of heights this one might not be a good idea but if you can handle a view from 600 feet it’s definitely worth going up for a drink. It’s also not somewhere you can pop into on a whim as the waiting list is usually a month long – more in peak times – and you can only visit with a reservation.

One of the best things about the bar is you can sit right up by the window and every seat has a great view. Vertigo 42 is an impressive but expensive destination and should be reserved for special events such as Birthdays. It’s somewhere all Londoners should visit, and an ideal place for taking visitors, but the views are the best thing about it so only stay for one drink if you don’t want the financial strain.

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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Bistro du Vin

Bistro du Vin Soho When walking through the door at the Soho branch of Bistro du Vin you’re immediately met with a bright, open restaurant decorated with light, modern features. The bar stretches along one side of the room and nestled in the corners of the room is a cheese room which is opposite an impressive wine cellar.

The bar offers a wide range of cocktails, from your usual gin and tonics to specially created and blended seasonal drinks, and if you fancy a quiet one it’s an ideal Soho spot.  The menu changes every few months and each ingredient is perfectly balanced to create a mixture of flavours to compliment each other. As it’s Christmas there are several current delights on offer, and if you’re bored of mulled wine already try the light and creamy eggnog drink with bacon flavoured whisky (needs to be tried to be believed).

After you’ve exhausted the cocktails, it’s time to move on to the menu. It’s a step down from Hotel du Vin, but only in price as the quality offers every bit as much. From delicate rabbit terrines and soup to rich seafood platters, you could probably spend an evening on starters alone so make sure you restrain yourself for the main event.

The meat is the big player in the mains and if you’re a steak fan go for something cooked on the Jasper Grill. It gives the meat a succulent moist texture but with a smoky flavour to make you think it’s just been thrown on the barbecue. If you don’t love your meat, do not fear, there’s plenty more to indulge in and I would recommend the bream doused in roasted garlic, butternut squash ravioli or if you’re feeling extravagant the lobster. Prices for mains lie around the £14 mark.

Next is the (mandatory for some) cheese course which if you miss out on you will regret, guaranteed. The cheese room is stacked with your old classics and some regional specialities and you can go in and choose whatever takes your fancy or leave this up to the experts to pick for you.

Another must – desert. Chocolate tart with crème chantilly or if you’re feeling full the gratinated figs with marsala. To wash it all down there’s an extensive wine list so unless you’ve spotted your favourite, ask for a recommendation – the waiting staff were falling over each other to help (but not in an annoying way).

Bistro du Vin is not trying to be something it’s not – it is a chain restaurant and you can get cheaper Plat du jour dishes through the week. If you’re looking for something a bit nicer than Strada and Café Rouge but for around the same price this is it. It says “We don’t do pretentious” (which in itself sounds a little pretentious) but it really isn’t. It’s an affordable treat and every part of the experience is enjoyable.

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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