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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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Boxpark Shoreditch

This weekend was one of firsts for me. The first time I’ve properly begun to celebrate Christmas and overdosed on mulled wine and mince pies and secondly the first time I’ve ever visited a pop up mall.

Five years ago if you asked me what a ‘pop up’ shop/art gallery/café meant I would have no idea. But today pop up shops and the like have become as popular as the concrete things themselves. Take Franks in Peckham – a pop up bar in an old multi-story car park. Something you think just can’t really work but somehow does. And because of the idea of it being pop up and temporary, people are streaming to see it because of the thought it might be gone at any moment.

So this weekend the long awaited Boxpark was opened in Shoreditch. It’s a bit of a mix between a market and a shopping centre and made out of 100 empty recycled shipping crates.

Not only does it look visually impressive, it’s also a great place to go if you’re in need of some retail therapy with a bit of a difference. There are 60 containers which are stacked two stories high and five rows wide.

It’s largely made up of fashion stores but there are also food and drink crates for when you’re in need of some sustenance. A favourite of mine is Pieminster, where I spent a little too much time and I highly recommend the Heidi pie – a delicious mix of goats cheese, spinach and butternut squash pie. After the pie I was also able to fit in some Frae frozen yoghurt with kiwi, blueberry and honey piled on top which left me feeling slightly holier than thou.

The fashion brands have been chosen carefully and there are many well know names included like Calvin Klein, Dockers, Vans and Puma but also some lesser known independent stores, such as Original Penguin and Palladium. If you’re looking for some lovely vintage pieces, Farah Vintage will be right up your street with collections from different eras. There’s also the Amnesty Shop to visit with collections for men, women and children with the money going towards the charity. This is a good start for Christmas cards and decorations which you know are actually helping someone else out rather than lining the pockets of a multi-national company.

On the opening day a massive party was held with live music and a DJ set from Dizzy rascal and it was packed with people there for the party but also curious shoppers wanted to experience the bizarre shopping set-up.

The man behind it all is Roger Wade who became famous when he created the fashion label Boxfresh in the 1990s.  He says Boxpark is the most environmentally friendly shopping centre ever. This is because there were minimal carbon emissions when the mall was created as there were minimal building materials and work needed. Also there’s the bonus that if one of the shops wants to move, or even the whole thing, it won’t take a huge destruction project as the containers can just be dismantled and then put up again wherever they next choose.

If you want to head down, it’s right by Shoreditch High Street station and around a 10 minute walk from Old Street and Liverpool Street tube stations.

It’s a little more exciting than heading to either of the Westfield shopping centres and you’ve also got the added benefit that it’s the first of its kind in the World – and you’re there.

You can find Boxpark at Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 6JE

This article was originally written for Who’s Jack.

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French Steak On A Budget

Chez Gerard

I love a good steak and I hate the kind of people who believe you need to spend an excessive amount in order to find a good quality slab of meat, especially in London.

I set out to disprove this theory and was recently proved right as I sampled the tasty French food on offer at Chez Gerard. I had always dismissed Chez Gerard for some reason and would never have picked it as a first choice but when entering the charming, Parisian-style restaurant I was quickly proved wrong.

Firstly the food is good, really good, and once inside you feel a bit like you’ve been transported to a classy restaurant somewhere in the French capital.

The menu is full of tempting dishes but I would highly recommend the steak. Depending on your budget you can choose anything from the Onglet (£16) (which for those of you not up to speed with your French lingo is also known as hanger steak and best served rare) right the way up to the Chateaubriand for two people which is a 16oz beast.

If you’re not a steak fan there’s plenty to keep you entertained, take the sea bass, mussels or slowly cooked melt-in-the-mouth boeuf bourguignon and even one or two healthy-looking vegetarian dishes like the timbale of carrot and courgette filled with spinach, roasted red peppers and a creamy goat’s cheese sauce for those less keen on meat eating.

To finish it off there’s a desert menu to please even the fussiest sweet tooth and I went for the classic tarte au citron which was fresh, zingy and delightful but my friend had the poire pochee – a beautifully cooked pear desert cooked in mulled wine syrup and a mandarin sorbet which left me fighting with food envy.

To wash it all down there’s a vast selection of alcoholic drinks to take your fancy. From delicate French cocktails to rich red wines – there’s a drink to match any budget and dish.

I went down to the Chez Gerard on the South Bank and it was a welcome change to the chainy restaurants down there. The décor is clean and fresh but traditional and the staff fell over themselves to be friendly and helpful (but not in an annoying way).

It’s perfect for a late lunch or a Friday treat away from the office and you can have two courses off the a la carte menu for £15.50 or three for £19.50 if you go in before 7pm.

It’s less pretentious and expensive than many French restaurants across London, but classier, tastier and all together more enjoyable than many other French chains and it won’t break the budget.

This article was originally published on Who’s Jack.

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V&A late night and Bombay Sapphire Imagination Bar

What better way to spend a Friday night than surrounded by craft workshops, original and exciting new designs and a few specially designed gin-based cocktails.

This is exactly the concoction created for the latest Friday late night at the V&A, based around the recently launched Power of Making exhibition.

Crafting has become an overnight sensation and more people than ever are donning a needle and thread and knocking out anything from bunting to a floor length dress. The V&A has trumped on this trend creating a lovely collection of hand crafted curiosities from the puppets from 2009 film Fantastic Mr Fox and a six-necked guitar to a working wooden bike, a lion-shaped Ghanaian coffin and a spun metal rotating chair.

The exhibition isn’t huge but it’s well worth a visit – even if you’re not into craft you’ll be impressed by some of these creations, such as the giant gorilla made from coat hangers.

To match the eclectic nature of these crafts – Bombay Sapphire made some perfectly suited cocktails to enjoy. For gin lovers this bar is a little piece of heaven offering twists on classic drinks. The most impressive visually was the Imagination cocktail – served in a giant martini glass with the words “Imagine” magically formed on top in a bright blue sherbet. The light cocktail is made with lemon juice, Maraschino liqueur, Crème de Violette, gin (obviously) and egg white and the flavours balanced each other perfectly creating a mythical-looking summer cocktail.

The Imagination Bar was located in the V&A courtyard – an excellent choice for such an unseasonably hot night – and the bar was busy all night with thirsty crafters. This was a great end to the V&A’s series of summer camps and we hope they will return (along with the nice weather) next year.

This article was originally published on Who’s Jack.

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Review: Tim Minchin At Greenwich Comedy Festival

If you want to laugh a lot, Tim Minchin is a pretty safe bet. The hugely successful Australian comedian received a warm reception last night at the opening of the London’s Greenwich Comedy Festival.

Playing a mix of old favourites and a few new songs, Minchin had the audience singing and laughing along between a mix of comic and tender pieces.

He successfully caused the tent to shake with laughter – and despite a few technical blips with the wiring in the venue – Minchin and the other acts complimented each other leading to a hilarious evening. Standout tunes included his anti-lullaby to his sleepless baby whereby he expresses hope of a hungry Dingo to take the screaming child away from him and “Context” – played twice, first as “Cont” with each line offending a different member of the population and the second time leaving members of the audience crying with laughter with a middle-class awkwardness at having laughed at abusiveness of the first verse. And obviously not forgetting his classic “Prejudice” about people who bully gingers which most of the crowd sang along to.

His makeshift appearance of bare feet, a mass of red hair and blackened eyes might not be what you would expect from an exceptionally talented musician. But despite his ability to make you cringe and laugh almost in the same sentence – Minchin is a truly fantastic musician.

The warm up was a treat to the ears as well. Starting with triple Perrier Award nominee Dan Antopolski who possibly received the loudest laughs of the night, second to Minchin. He was followed by the equally entertaining Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Tim Key and Mock The Weeker Holly Walsh.

In its third year, this fantastic festival has presented massive acts such as Russell Howard, Bill Bailey, Jo Brand and Reginald D Hunter.

Last night Minchin topped a richly entertaining evening of comedy and music which the rest of the week’s line up will be hard pushed to follow.

This article was originally published on Who’s Jack.

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Swing Down To Circus London In Covent Garden

Circus London

We urge you to swing (literally) down to Circus London in Covent Garden where an array of performers are on hand to entertain you on any evening of the week.

As you approach this west end cocktail bar it’s easy to miss the entrance, formed of two large steel black doors and a lack of any obvious direction. Once you manage to get in the entrance hall is cloaked in darkened lights and mirrored walls, which add to the bar’s magical charm. The venue is lit with candles, glitter balls and mirrors (less tacky than it sounds) with a large granite table taking centre stage.

If you’re sitting here be warned – this is not a spot for the faint hearted as the artists will swing over and around you, within centimetres of your cocktails, and may even take a swig if you leave your drink in their way. The performers change all the time so you’re unlikely to see the same thing twice – a clever way of keeping Circus shrouded in secrecy. But you’re unlikely to be disappointed, just in one evening I saw everything from gymnasts who make their bodies contort in unnatural directions, fire-eaters with no pain nerves left to glamorous burlesque dancers and traipses artists.

Between courses the lights will go down and shutters block out the kitchens while the performers appear and make standing on one arm while balancing their body weight seem to be quite an easy task.

Located in Endell Street, it’s less exclusive now than when it first opened but don’t be surprised to see a celebrity or two here and prepare to pay for the night with prices starting around £70 each. The bar is by no means just about the performers either and offers a delicious selection of Pan Asian food to tuck into while watching the artists balancing on their heads or eating fire sticks. As you’re meal is split up between acts, platters or sharing plates are ideal and there’s a wide range to choose from, including Thai green curry, tuna sashimi and fresh noodle wraps. The cocktail menu is also in a level of its own with fresh concoctions and twists on the usual favourites to try out (starting at around £9).

I enjoyed the hibiscus margarita not really knowing what to expect and was impressed by the fruity blend while a friend ordered the mixed berry julep served in a golden cup similar to those used by a Roman emperors. Circus has managed to create something a little different from your normal restaurant or bar while successfully avoided the novelty cliché. It’s the ideal place if you’re looking for an alternative night combined with great cocktails and food. Despite the theatrics the bar remains a trendy spot for cocktails and because of its popularity table bookings are a must.

This article was originally published on Who’s Jack.

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Marching for the alternative

Last weekend I joined my parents on the TUC anti-cuts demonstration through central London. The only march I’d ever been on before was in San Francisco where hundreds of people marched through the streets as an act against the government’s actions in Iraq.

This march had a similar vibe. Around 500,000 people attended walking from Embankment to Hyde Park and it was a peaceful atmosphere on the whole. The majority of people I saw were families, young children, NHS workers and pensioners all walking together with an array of banners, some with witty slogans, “Get us out of this Eton Mess” and others with the facts “£20 billion in cuts to the NHS”.

The previous week the Guardian had a powerful article in its G2 featuring a range of different people, including a student, NHS worker and pensioner, and listed their reasons for marching. The cuts will impact on everyone’s lives but most of all those in the public sector and its these people who in the long run support us and keep the UK running. Doctors, police, firefighters, teachers – these people support us throughout our lives and to make such harsh cuts too fast will ultimately lead to another crisis.

On the other hand I feel a lot of empathy towards the students. Although I was lucky enough to go to university before the last tuition fees increase, I’ve still got a massive amount of debt to repay. Students now will not pay anything back until they’re earning at least £21,000 but they’re going to have a sum of on average £30,000 to repay.

Nothing is being done either about the lack of jobs. Most graduates I know have had to do a Masters (yet more money) or work experience in order to get a job they actually want. But how can someone afford to spend £9,000 a year and still not be sure of a job at the end of it? If the problem is too many people going to university then I think it would have been better to increase the entry level, rather than the cost.

The march brought together a huge range of people and although it’s likely to have much impact in government, it’s an eye opener that a large proportion of the population are not happy with the new coalition or the brutal public sector cuts. Yes, we’re coming out of a recession and there needs to be cut backs, but with government-owed banks announcing back-breaking bonuses, and an MOD budget for this year already into the trillions and way over target, there seems no justice in where these cuts lie.

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