Monday, 17 September 2012

Blackpool illuminations centenary - photos

A recent visit to the annual Blackpool illuminations resulted in many, many photos, so I decided to share a few here. Apologies for the blurriness of some of them - we were driving through the lights in a moving car! It was a good year to visit, as it was the centenary celebration of the lights.

Naturally, sponsorship was rife. There was even a McDonald's-powered section, introduced by the slogan "I 'm lovin it" in lights.

Old TV favourite Basil Brush
Although the famous Blackpool trams have recently been replaced with more modern versions, some of the old ones were revitalised and running again for the centenary. This ship and train were running up and down the seafront on the night we visited.

Hickory Dickory Dock

My one memory of visiting the lights as a young whippersnapper (other than the indoor play area at the Norbeck Castle Hotel) was the Postman Pat display on the seafront. I was mighty chuffed to see him there again this year, although whether he has been there for the intervening 16 years, or whether he was brought out of retirement for the centenary display is unknown. Needless to say my childhood memories have been somewhat tainted by the scantily-clad women behind him!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Sensorites - Fool.

Check out my current jam, "Fool" by Sensorites. Yeah, I was never street enough to pull off "jam" was I? Nonetheless, this song has been on constant repeat in my room for the last couple of days. As I've said before, writing about and reviewing music is not my strong point, but to me they sound like a raw, edgier, less mainstream take on contemporary Indy Pop. Undeniably catchy, very laid back and less manufactured than most music you hear these days, "Fool" unsurprisingly won Indie London's Single of the Week.

I found out about the band through Trespasser Film, who made the wonderful video below.  Through Trespasser I also heard a couple more songs by Sensorites, and I like what I hear.

Have a watch, have a listen, let me know what you think, and check out Sensorites' website. Fool.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

A high school* reunion

Today I attended my first secondary school reunion, and contrary to convention, quite enjoyed it. Then again, I was always one of those weirdos who loved school, and the higher up the school I got, and the tougher the exams became, the more I thrived from it.

Billed as a celebration for the 50th anniversary of the school, all past students and staff were invited along to the event. Being unemployed, single and living at home, I hardly had the best weapons to launch into the unspoken psycho-social battle for who had achieved the most, which  I had anticipated.

However, there were surprisingly few people from my year present, despite the fact that most of us have just moved back into the area after graduating. However, it was still a great chance to catch up with a few teachers and have a nose around the buildings (which have not changed much, save a half hearted canopy against the school hall.)

* The fact that I now refer to it as high school is testament alone of the fact that I have changed since I left. Until I moved north and heard people in Yorkshire use the term "high school"  I thought it was an Americanisn that had not reached our fair isle.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Scouting for Girls- The Light Between Us: Album review

No artist has held me captive for more than two albums since the Spice Girls, so I  wasn't sure what to expect from Scouting for Girls' new album, The Light Between Us.

I've always been a fan of Scouting for Girls since their eponymous debut album, and never before have I so keenly awaited a new album release, damaging my already precarious bank balance by pre-ordering the album and buying tour tickets in the same week.

Within a few seconds of putting the album on, the unmistakable sound of SFG was there. The Light Between Us has as many tongue in cheek lyrics as other albums, which Scouting for Girls are known for (however, nothing quite as good as "Posh girls have good manners but they go like the clappers coz they never got to hang around with boys in school" from the second album.

Many of the songs have a more mature feel than the previous two albums, yet they still remain as anti- high brow as ever. Catchiest song has to be Summertime in the City, but after a few listens, it's as if SFG have never been away.

Tour review to follow. Bring on the fourth album.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Sweet Couture, Covent Garden

It seems like cupcake consumption is the sole purpose of my being at the moment, and the raison d'etre for this blog. However, this will be the last cupcake powered post for a while, as I have a bikini-centric holiday looming less than 2 weeks away.

Yesterday I moved away from the A-listers of the London cupcake scene (such as Hummingbird and Primrose Bakery) and onto a more unique store, Sweet Couture in New Row, near Covent Garden. Perhaps unique is the wrong word, as I later discovered that they have four branches spread across London, but certainly less well-known at present.

Having been charged with the all important task of showing the rather Welsh and very lovely @rhididdy_ London's finest offerings, I was feeling the pressure after a disappointing trip to KFC and a Pret-A-Manger disaster. I had a very hungry Welsh dragon on my hands.

Tucked down the lovely side street of New Row (which doesn't appear on many printed maps of London, so  befriend Google Maps if you're planning a visit) between Leicester Square and Covent Garden, the premises are very small. Visiting at about 4pm on a Tuesday, the 4 or 5 bar-style stalls were occupied by businessmen on laptops.

Walking back past later, there were empty seats. 

As cupcake cafes don't tend to be the main hangout for London businessmen, I hoped this boded well - this place must either do very good cakes or very good coffee to tempt them away from the nearby chain coffee shops. Outside, the solitary table was taken by a woman who showed no evidence of actually being a Sweet Couture customer. Seems she had just decided to take the weight off for a few minutes, and take the opportunity to fire off a few emails. When a couple of minutes worth of pointed glaring failed to move her (fairplay, she was ballsy), we were resigned to taking our cakes away, which then produced the problem of transporting them with minimal damage, a technique I have perfected through recurrent visits to Sooty's Cupcakery

There were about 8 flavours to choose from - the usual ones such as vanilla with chocolate frosting sitting alongside more unusual flavours such as blueberry, and lemonade. Contrary to many similar stores, they were still well stocked, despite us visiting quite late in the afternoon. Evidently great minds think alike as we both  went for the chocolate and vanilla marble cake.

A short walk down the road later, we found ourselves in what appeared to be a park, but later transpired to be a churchyard, and the munching began.
The lovely @rhididdy_

The first thing that struck us was the icing - it was a deliciously creamy buttercream, far more flavoured than the usual fondants that cupcakes are iced with, replacing this Americanism with a more British alternative. The cake itself was good, although it didn't really taste as expected of marble cake, and was quite crumbly. Overall a good experience, and I think I'll have to return another time to try their more unusual flavours. Somebody's gotta do it...

@rhididdy_ 's conclusion? "Sickly, but in a good way." (This after she was forced to wolf the last bite down when an important looking man with keys came to throw us out of the park/churchyard, like a cakey last orders.


On the way home I went via Leicester Square and caught the world premiere of Anna Karenina taking place, whilst Jude Law was being interviewed on the red carpet!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Primrose Bakery - an olfactory time machine

Anyone in the know about bakeries and other such things in London will have heard of Primrose Bakery. With two branches, in Primrose Hill and Covent Garden, their cakes have always been on my list of culinary goodies to try, as their cookbook has always been on my list of books I must own.

Imagine my combined joy and anger recently then, when I discovered that the Primrose Hill branch is a mere two minute walk from where I been working for the past two months, and where I spent last summer working too; joy that I could now make my long-intended pilgrimage, but anger that I had been missing out for more than a year. In hindsight, my waistline and bank balance will both have benefited from my ignorance, so it's not an entirely bad thing.

Naturally, I visited at the first chance I got. Situated among the beautiful terraced houses on the edge of Primrose Hill, just a stone's throw from Regent's Park, lends an aspirational air. Walking down these streets, you want to live here. You want to be part of the Primrose Hill set who can pop into the bakery on a whim, on a quiet Tuesday morning. The location makes the bakery feel secret, as if only a select few people know about it and you are privileged to be one of them (the success of the Primrose Bakery cookbook suggests otherwise, but a girl can dream).

Entering the bakery, the dream continues. Your senses are overwhelmed by the smell of cupcakes baking. Real, traditional, home made cupcakes, the very same smell that lingered in your kitchen when you made cupcakes as a child, an olfactory time machine transporting you back to a sprinkle topped, icing drenched childhood. I've been to more than my fair share of cupcake bakeries, and written about many of them, but I never realised until now, none of them have THAT smell, a smell that you can relate to, and that people all over the world will instantly identify as fairy cakes or cupcakes being baked. Sure, other bakeries smell of cooking, but more industrial cooking. Be it by accident or design, this made the experience even more personal for me.

I went for a chocolate topped vanilla cake, the same flavour that I had opted for a few days before at the Hummingbird Bakery in Kensington. En-route to work, I opted for the take away option and was delighted when my order was put in this cute box:

The joy thickened a few hours later, when, after a long shift at work I got on the train and opened the box, the smell of chocolate escaping instantly, to discover the cake nestled in a doily.

Unfortunately this picture does not do it justice, but the sprinkles were ever so brightly coloured, similar to those I remember on Dunkin Donuts in the States when I was little.  As anticipated by the smell, the cake had a certain home made flavour to it, although the icing did have the American donut frosting taste.

In terms of flavour and service, this is the closest I have come to filling the gap in my heart left by Sooty's when I moved back down South a couple of months ago. Contrary to other bakeries, they both feel unique and homely, a secret you have stumbled across and don't want to share. I only hope my bank balance can take the hit it's about to receive due to my daily proximity to such sugary delights.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Hummingbird Bakery, Kensington.

Around a year ago, I visited the newly opened Hummingbird Bakery in Spitalfields, and found it to be a bit of a disappointment. Maybe I visited on a bad day, but as a self-confessed cupcake connoisseur and all-round sugar head, I was left disappointed by my pilgrimage to one of the most famous cupcake bakeries going.

Recently, then, I jumped at the chance to visit the older and wiser sister, the longer established South Kensington branch of Hummingbird Bakery, and I'm pleased to say that this wonderful brand wiggled it's way back into my good estimations.

The premises of this branch seem smaller than the Spitalfields branch, and late on a Saturday afternoon, we managed to grab the last available seats. The cozy and limited seating arrangements give it an air of exclusivity, particularly when coupled with the desirable postcode in which the bakery resides, and the constant flow of customers creates a more lively atmosphere than that which I experienced at the Spitalfields branch.  The recognisable pink and brown branding confirms that this is the infamous bakery synonymous with the cookbooks I always eye up in WHSmiths but which somehow never make it onto my Christmas list. Maybe this year.

Not the best photo- the lighting was quite dim, and the dark wall colours didn't help. It was beautifully decorated though, with cupcakes images lining the walls and the brown and pink theme adhered to throughout.

I opted for a chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing for £2.30 and my friend went for the biscuit bar (a rocky road type concoction). The cake was delicious, the icing creamy, smooth and moist with a good flavour, and the sprinkles made the perfect texture.

The whole experience was a massive improvement on the Spitalfields experience and I think I may have been to hasty to judge this brand. Had I visited the Spitafields branch on a weekend, perhaps the atmosphere may have been more lively. I guess my only option is to visit the Soho, Notting Hill and Islington branches to get a full brand experience. Perhaps even a return visit to Spitalfields now that it's been open for a while longer to see if it's improved. *Sigh*. It's a tough life but someone's got to do it.

Unfortunately, so excited was I at the prospect of my next stop (Harrods) that I forgot to take a photo of the   bakery. But it's pretty hard to miss. Just follow your nose.

Monday, 3 September 2012

A bitter-sweet disappointment: Candy Kittens

As well as the Olympics, London played host to another supposedly big event this summer - the much anticipated (in certain circles) opening of Candy Kittens.

Conceptualized by Jamie Laing, star of reality TV show Made in Chelsea, viewers of the show have had the chance to watch the development of the business from conceptualization to the all important auditioning process for the Candy Kittens themselves. Yet it is still not clear what this business IS exactly...and a visit later, it's still hard to tell.

Jamie's original idea seemed to be a sweet shop run by scantily clad models  (hey, it's in Chelsea so that makes it classy...right?). However, following Jamie on Twitter and seeing that he was personally making milkshakes and smoothies for customers one weekend suggested that it was more of a cafe than a shop. More on that later.

The first problem was actually finding the place. Situated on the rather glamorous Kings Road (where else?), the website fails to give an address*, however this crystal clear map gives a very precise location on the corner of Flood Street and Kings Road.

If you are planning a visit, DO NOT TRUST THE MAP, MY FRIEND, for it is all lies.

Taken from Candy Kittens website

If you  follow this map, you will find yourself in front of Anthropologie, a lovely shop, but not a whiff of the promised sugar in sight.

This map, adapted from Google, shows the real position of the store, approx. 400m away from where it should have been.

Real position.

It is even on the opposite side of the road from where they said it would be. It's as if they don't want customers. Perhaps making you work for it is a marketing technique to sift out all the riff-raff so that only those who are really worthy of it are allowed to experience the, er, disappointment. Maybe it's a Chelsea thing.

Either way, a disappointment it was. Having gone for an ice cream whilst we figured out our next plan of action, googled Candy Kittens and found another blog giving the real address (336 Kings Rd) we set off on a long walk from our current position outside 58 Kings Rd.

And what a journey it was, not least because we casually WALKED PAST HUGO AND NATALIE FROM MADE IN CHELSEA. If you don't watch MIC, you won't care about this. But then again, if you don't watch MIC, you probably stopped reading a long time ago, because really, this is just a blog about another posh kid setting up a sweet store with mummy and daddy's money, more of a hobby than a business, really.

So yes, Hugo and Natalie. Casually strolling down Kings Rd at 3.30 on a Saturday afternoon. He was on his phone (I'd really like to think it was Spencer on the other end), casually announcing that they'd only just got out of bed. This after I'd been up since 4.45am to get to work that day. How the other half live.  He was really tall and she was really small. They went into Habitat. We considered following them but I've already spent too much of my life following celebrities around Habitat (Antony Cotton, on the off chance you're reading this, I was one of the three 14-year old girls who followed you around Habitat in Tunbridge Wells about 7 years ago. Habitat is no longer there, but my bus ticket which you signed the back of is still stuck firmly in my autograph book alongside the likes of, er, Mickey Mouse and Pocahontas.)

So having done some real life sleb-spotting (I think we played it quite cool), we finally reached Candy Kittens (at the "wrong end" of Kings Road, apparently), and were disappointingly underwhelmed. 

Walking into a very small shop, the smoothie/milkshake bar is in front of you. However, half of the flavours (about 8 in total) were sold out on the day we went.  They also sell cupcakes, but further disappointment came when I overheard one of the staff telling another customer that they were ordered in from an outside company. The only other thing upstairs was a small table with largely overpriced Candy Kittens merchandise- notebooks, Iphone cases etc.

Following the sign downstairs to "Jamie's bedroom", the walls of the staircase are lined with photos of Jamie's childhood - school sports team pictures etc. Downstairs, another small room consisted of a bed (on which sat what I guess was one of the "kittens" but who actually looked more like a rabbit trapped in headlights.) On greeting us, we were informed that all of the items of clothing which were folded in piles a la Abercrombie and Fitch were also available to view in the wardrobe, so we didn't have to rummage. Rough translation: do not mess up the clothes! They mainly consisted of £20 t-shirts with Candy Kittens logos or phrases from the show. I quite liked the "Yea Boi!" one, but I barely have £20 to my name at the moment, so that was that.

We left, despondent and disappointed.

So that was it. No "sweets everywhere (literally covering every surface)" as promised in Tatler magazine's review of the opening. Further confusion abounds. Candy Kittens has largely been branded in the media as a "pop-up store" suggesting that it is open for a limited time only. Some sites state that it was only meant to be open for 3 weeks from 2nd August, yet it was 1st September when we visited. There is no mention of temporality on the official website, only that "The sweets are currently in the production phase at Candy Kittens HQ and will be with us this summer!" 

Furthermore, the official Kings Road website describes the shop window was "a feast for your eyes, deliciously styled with hanging sweet jars filled with tasty treats. The shop floor even has a milkshake bar with velvet seating, decorated with lanterns and lolly-pop shaped trees to create a fun, summer time garden feel." This was certainly not the case when we went, suggesting that we had missed the "Candy" part of Candy Kittens entirely, although I have read elsewhere that it will be reopening for Halloween. Whether the shop will be closing between now and then is a mystery that nobody seems to have the answers to.

 So overall, a very confusing and disappointing visit. I would be intrigued to go back if the promised sweets materialise, as the idea has the potential to be something quite exciting. As it was, we were forced (yes, forced) to take a trip to the Hummingbird Bakery to cheer ourselves up and get our anticipated sugar fix. 

*The website also fails to give opening hours, unless you look really closely on one of the blog posts, and the phone number they give may be a false one as I repeatedly got "This call cannot be connected at this time". When I emailed, the opening hours they gave me were: Mon - Sat: 10-7, Sun: 11 - 5. You're welcome.