Monday, 27 January 2014

Monday music motivation

We all struggle of a Monday morning, no matter how much we love our job. If there's one thing I've learnt over the last few months, it's that music goes a long way to easing the pain- the more upbeat, the better - which is why I've started this new Monday music motivation series. Enjoy.

Sunny climes, beautiful people, wealth to burn...happy Monday y'all!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Cake Shed, Tunbridge Wells

If you wander down to The Pantiles these days, it seems that every second shop is a cafe or coffee shop- perfect for a stomach-led explorer like myself.

On a particularly rainy day like today, it's nice to just curl up in a cafe and watch the rain roll down the windows from behind a steaming hot chocolate. I visited The Cake Shed (they had me at 'cake') and did just that.

Happily, on entering, there was only one other set of customers in there, so the soft, inviting sofa was all ours. I ordered a hot chocolate with all the trimmings and some lemon drizzle cake. For a venue that operates on the premise of cake, I was disappointed with the lack of cake choices, but as my lemon drizzle cake demonstrated, what they lack in variety, they more than make up for in quality. The hot chocolate was lovely too, thick and creamy as if it was made from real melted chocolate, and beautifully presented.

But the absolute highlight of The Cake Shed is downstairs, which sadly I didn't get to see until near the end of my trip, when I visited the bathroom. If you ever get a chance, check it out, it's the perfect rainy day hangout, all Moroccan-style decor and tempting bookshelves.

Quote unquote

I came across this quote a while ago whilst browsing in a book store, and it amused me for several reasons. I had been trying to find it again and finally dug it up today, and felt it worthy of sharing!

"The London Zoo is an animal microcosm of London, and even the lions, as a rule, behave as if they had been born in South Kensington."

-Leonard Woolf

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Hotel review: Guy Fawkes Inn, York

 For most York residents, the Guy Fawkes Inn is the pub that is too crowded to get into on Guy Fawkes night, but is forgotten about the other 364 days of the year. Despite it's location in the shadow of York Minster, it is somewhat overlooked, and despite living in York for 3 years, I never realised that it was a hotel too (the "inn" moniker being applied far too liberally to pubs without sleeping facilites).

So on a recent trip back to York with The Boy, we opted to stay in the Guy Fawkes Inn. Despite reservations that it may be quite small and dingy, we were pleasantly surprised. The room was very spacious, and manages to keep its character without seeming too dark. The bed was very comfy, the pillows being the generous kind whereby waking up in the middle of the night requires an Everest style expedition to regain your place at the peak. The en-suite, although small, was very modern.

But the highlight of the room was the view of the Minster. We were tempted to sleep with the curtains open. There's something to be said for waking up to this:
The view from our room
 Breakfast was lovely, although somewhat confusing as to whether it was self service or table service. This, combined with the confusion which led to them charging us twice and then refunding us, even though we insisted we'd already paid, led us to comment that the service could have been better.

Downstairs in the bar and dining room, the decor was very atmospheric, very York, if you will. There's something quite lovely about starting the day with breakfast by candlelight.
The atmospheric dining room

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Review: Jamie's Italian, York

I'm not a great believer in restaurants run by famous chefs. Gordon Ramsay doesn't slave away in the kitchens at Foxtrot Oscar. He doesn't cook your meal personally, but jacks up the price of your meal merely for the privilege of his name being above the door. Add to this the fact that in many celebrity chef restaurants you can spend upwards of £100 for a few sticks on a (probably designer) plate, and you can see why I'm not keen.

However, when Jamie's Italian opened in York a couple of years ago, whilst I was still living there, I was keen to try it. I finally got round to it on a return visit to York.

When we first approached Jamie's Italian, we weren't even sure it was open. Set back from the road down the alleyway that used to lead solely to Lendal Cellars, the building seemed to be in darkness, and it wasn't obvious which door to use. We headed for the downstairs door, which opened into the shop area of the restaurant (Jamie Oliver goodies galore) and a waitress met us and showed us to our table, upstairs.

The first impression of the restaurant was that it was very atmospheric. Being in a conservatory style building raised off the ground, we felt like we should be beside the sea, a lovely feeling at first, but I found the room quite uncomfortably cold as the night went on.

  For the starter, I went for the Italian Spiced Chicken Wings, and The Boy went for the Cauliflower & Cheese Fritters. Some spiced things have a kick, which is what I was expecting from the wings, but they practically booted me into the middle of next week. As soon as I has finished, I was eagerly awaiting the next course, for something to take away the burning sensation at the back of my throat. Happily, my Wild Mushroom & Wild Mushroom Risotto was perfectly creamy. On first glance, the portion looked quite small, but I quickly remembered how filling risotto is, and by the end of the course, I was sure it was the perfect portion size. The Boy had the Seafood Bucatini, which was amusing to watch as it probably was too eat- all manner of seafood required picking out of shells.

The meal ended with pudding- we both opted for the Brownie, topped with popcorn which was a bit of an odd one, but the Amaretto Ice Cream was delicious (if you like marzipan, you'll love it).

A three course meal for two, including drinks, came in at just short of £50, which was a pleasant surprise. Jamie, you done good.

Would I eat there again? Probably not, but I am keen to try out Jamie Oliver's other chains (he's a busy guy).

Monday, 20 January 2014

What is a parmo?

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a parmo - or had mistaken it for a type of shoe perhaps, or a schoolboy nickname - it is to Middlesbrough what a pasty is to Cornwall. A local delicacy which the people are fiercely protective over.

Admittedly the parmo hasn't gone quite as mainstream as the pasty, but I had been told in no uncertain terms that my trip to the North-East would not be complete without sampling this local offering. If you've managed to resist hitting Wikipedia thus far to identify a parmo, it's basically a giant chicken nugget topped off with cheese and bechamel sauce.

So off we trotted to The Buck in Great Ayton. I opted for the small (having been warned that large was immense) chicken parmo. Other meats were available, as were extra toppings such as pepperoni, but I decided to keep my inaugural parmo experience simple. It was just as expected - proper stodge that would make a good morning-after-the-night-before brunch. I couldn't help thinking that it could've done with something to add a little pizazz - some tomato perhaps, or barbecue sauce.

Would I have a parmo again? Yes, once my arteries have recovered from the cholesterol of this one- and I'll definitely be having the extra toppings next time.

Apologies for the poor image quality- in my excitement to try the infamous parmo, I forgot to take my camera with me, so had to take photos on my phone.

For more Scribbling Lau food articles, click here.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

A continuation of a tour of Great Ayton

We continue our tour of Great Ayton with a visit to local legend, Suggitt's. (Missed the first part of the tour? Hop onboard here).

Suggitt's ice cream shop is apparently renowned worldwide for it's ice cream (perhaps Captain Cook spread the message to Ozland?) so don't resist popping in on the tour- in fact, it'd be rude not to. Ignoring the fact that it was January in Yorkshire, I entered the shop/cafe in pursuit of an ice cream.

The left part of the building is the shop, selling mainly sweets and postcards, which feels slightly as if it's trapped in a gentle, nostalgic time warp. To the right of the door is a cafe area. In the summer, people queue down the street for one of the ice creams, so unsurprisingly, it is good ice cream, lovely and creamy.

Lastly, take your ice cream, cross the street, and eat it whilst watching the ducks trying not to fall off the edge of the picturesque waterfall. Such fun and games to be had in Great Ayton.

A tour of Great Ayton

Chances are, unless you are an avid student of the life of Captain Cook, you won't have heard of Great Ayton, a village neighbouring the North Yorkshire moors, and boyhood home of the legendary Captain Cook. Local legend has it that some Great Ayton villagers haven't even heard of Great Ayton, so I'll forgive you for your oversight.

The village itself is stereotypically Yorkshire; stone cottages, a village green, a river running through the centre, fed into by a waterfall. Ducks float leisurely downstream whilst horseriders trot alongside. Some businesses in the village have been going for generations, whilst others come and go. Welly-bedecked locals all greet each other, all with a backdrop of the Yorkshire Moors. In short, it's a real life Emmerdale. Allow me to guide you through the Great Ayton experience...

First stop is this Captain Cook monument (not to be confused with the Captain Cook monument on the top of the moors, or the Captain Cook statue on the village green - they are massive fans of Jimmy C around these parts). The plaque states that Cook "first spotted Australia near this point". If you're thinking there must be something in that there Yorkshire water that works wonders on the old peepers, think again. Captain Cook's house used to be on this site, and this monument used to be at Hicks Point in Australia, but the two were swapped as part of a centenary celebration.

Next up, having crossed the river via the footbridge is the village school, a very traditional and photogenic building.

Behind the school lies a small church, of which the graveyard hosts the grave of Captain Cook's parents. The man himself swanned off to Oz without a second thought for Yorkshire, but his family legacy remains.
 Walking away from the church, one reaches the high street, which is home to many businesses, from upmarket restaurants and quirky gift shops to a chemist, bank, and greengrocers. There is even a takeaway selling the local delicacy of a "Parmo" (more on which here).

To continue your tour of Great Ayton, click here.

Review: Big Luke’s, Metro Centre

“I can understand why Luke was so big”, we mumbled simultaneously as we lulled back in our seats, eyes rolling, both of us just one greasy chip away from slipping into a food coma. To this day, I have no idea who Big Luke, of the eponymous restaurant, is/was (probably the latter- if heart disease didn’t get him, diabetes certainly did).

We stumbled across Big Luke’s all-you-can-eat buffet at the Metro Centre in Newcastle, and although we weren’t exactly sure what occurred within, The Boy saw a picture of steak on one of their posters and followed his nose inside, and I was close behind.

Apologies for poor quality- I took this picture on leaving the restaurant, by which time I was rolling rather than walking.

After a brief explanation of how the buffet worked (dig in, basically), we were off, making the instant mistake of treating it as a sprint rather than a marathon.

Mainly American cuisine, the buffet mainly focused on meats- ribs, chicken, steaks, in a variety of sauces and cooked to order. Also available were sausages, jacket potatoes, chips, beans, pizza, garlic bread, curry, the obligatory salad bar, curries, pasta....a veritable metropolis of culinary building blocks, expected to culminate in a heart attack.

The food was all well cooked, as if prepared individually rather than batch produced for throngs of hungry Geordies. The garlic bread, for example, was beautifully fresh, rather than frozen and reheated. The only let down was the beefburgers, which tasted cheap, but that’s just personal opinion.

Desserts are also included in the buffet price- a choice of two cakes, or ice cream with an array of toppings. Surprisingly, soft drinks, although an extra charge, were unlimited refills. I was always under the impression that all-you-can-eat buffets made their money by charging through the roof for drinks, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Sadly (although my waistband breathed a sigh of relief) Big Luke’s is only in the Metro Centre, so I won’t be visiting again any time soon. Having said that, my visit was 5 days ago, and I haven’t yet regained my appetite, so the legacy of Big Luke’s lives on.

For more Scribbling Lau restaurant reviews, click here.

The area of the Metro Centre which houses Big Luke's reminded me of Montecasino near Johannesburg.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Blast from the past

I've been having a clear out recently, getting rid of lots of old school work, and while I'm sad to see it go, it's fascinating looking back at all my old work, most of which I don't even remember doing. Here are a couple of particular gems from primary school which I felt compelled to share:

There was a zebra from Peru,
Who spent most of his life in a zoo.
He got fed up of cages,
and threw lots of rages
and his keeper ended up in a cage too.


There was a zookeeper from Miller,
Who had an argument with a gorilla,
Said the gorilla to he,
Apologise to me,
Or get locked in with the chinchilla.


Obviously, there are a few issues with the above, which my older self now acknowledges (zebras don't come from Peru, where the heck is Miller, and did my 10 year old self know what a chinchilla is, because 12 years later, I'm still not entirely sure).

But, now for the piece de resistance, my illustration of the lesser known 'octozenopindil':
According to popular legend (the back of the page), "My animal has a crocodile's head, a rhino's horn, an octopuses legs, a snail's shell, a pig's tail and zebra skin. It lives in rainforests and eats fish."

How the Tate gallery hasn't yet commissioned me to headline one of their exhibitions, I'll never know.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

12 months, 12 adventures

I'm not one for looking back over the past year - it suffices to say 2013 was a turbulent year, plenty of ups and plenty of downs. Instead of setting New Year's resolutions for 2014, I have compiled a list of 12 adventures that I would like to have in 2014 - places I've always wanted to go to, events I've always wanted to take part in. Averaging one a month- some at specific times, some more flexible - I hope to complete this list in 2014, and of course blog about it along the way!

Visit Whipsnade Zoo
Visit Ripley's Believe it or not
Go to Greenwich and stand on the time line
See a play performed at the Globe Theatre
Visit Buckingham Palace
Go to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath
Go to the Notting Hill Carnival
Go to Whitby
See in 2015 at the London Firework display
Do the Harry Potter studio tour
Visit Alexandra Palace
Eat at the Big Red Pizzeria in Deptford