Sunday, 17 January 2016

Beyond The Grounds, Tonbridge: Review

I love cake, me. Never turn down an opportunity to tuck into a slice of battenberg or lemon drizzle. This weekend, Beyond The Grounds provided me the perfect excuse to do so.

The coffee house has been open in Tonbridge since before Christmas, but I didn't properly emerge from festive cheese/Pringles coma until this week, so only got round to visiting yesterday, in the company of the lovely Emma.

Its setting, down the path down by the river opposite the castle is a blessing, for the customer at least. Not many people seem to have twigged its existence yet, so at 2.45pm on a Saturday afternoon, it was blissfully peaceful (the three of you reading this - don't all storm down there at once and ruin it, thanks). Very calming it was, to look out at the cloudless blue sky backdrop to the castle and river.

The building it's in used to be the Citizens Advice Bureau, a Tudor-esque building, from the outside at least (see photo above), yet inside, it's unexpectedly light and airy. The decor may not be for everyone, with striking shades of lime green and purple dominating, but by 'eck, the seats are so comfy you won't notice.

There are only around 10 tables inside, and a bar at the window, so it's cosy - but in a pleasant, winter warming way.

The menu is simple but offers something for most people. I flicked straight for the cake section, while Emma lingered over the 'proper' food.  (I'd had a hearty portion of cheese before heading out, so couldn't do justice to the full works).  Breakfast items are served all day, while the lunch offerings are available until 3pm, and I have to say, the Full English Tartlet looked DIVINE.

Cake was very much on my brain, so I plumped for the chocolate Oreo layer cake. Worth noting that although the layer cakes were on display under glass jars, the brownies and the likes were on display next to the till, with nothing covering them and in prime position for the world and his missus to sneeze on. This being one of my pet hates about food places, I hedged my bets and ended up with this slice of loveliness.

Y'know how your parents always told you not to play with your food? The Hot Chocolate Mountain practically forces you to do so. It's served on its own little wooden tray, the cream-topped drink in a glass and the marshmallows and Flake served in a side ramekin for you to get creative with.

Long story short, I'll be heading back to Beyond The Grounds to get my teeth into one of those breakfast tartlets at the earliest opportunity.

Photo gallery: Lumiere London 2016

January's always a dull time of year - no money, dark nights, chilly days - so I was beyond excited when I saw the preview pictures of Lumiere London, and delighted when the festival arrived in town this week.

The four-day light festival sees light installations popping up all over London's West End and King's Cross; giant illuminated fish float down Piccadilly, Shakespeare finds himself in a neon garden in Leicester Square, and fish swim in a phone box in Grosvenor Square.

"It'll be like Blackpool '95 all over again," I thought. "Minus the terrifying 10ft Postman Pat."

I rallied the work troops and got a (probably reluctant) group together to do the first night of the festival. Our route began in Grosvenor Square, before heading to Oxford Circus, Regent Street, Carnaby, Piccadilly, Leicester Square and finally Trafalgar Square.

If you ever want to see an adult's face - or a whole city of adults' faces - light up like a kid at Christmas, organise a light festival. The atmosphere on the first night was incredible. The streets weren't as crowded as we had expected, and people were talking to complete strangers about the lights. The only slight downer was the militant attitudes of a small proportion of the volunteers/stewards, but you can't have it all.

I returned on the third night of the festival to take a look at the King's Cross section. Being a Saturday, it was a lot busier, with lots of children and families. Some time later, some of the installations were switched off, and King's Cross station was evacuated due to overcrowding caused by the festival. By this time, I was safely installed in a nearby pub, cheeks glowing and memory card full. Here are a few of the snaps I managed to take:

My lovely Londonist colleague Kyra wrote this excellent guide to the festival and our video wizard Geoff put together this spectacular video of the first night.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

In praise of the humble jigsaw puzzle

My name is Laura and I am an addict. Not of booze, or drugs, or the usual vices, but of jigsaw puzzles. For those of you now picturing me as a greying 80 year old with eight pet cats and a penchant for lavender, I should make one thing clear - I am a young whippersnapper of 24.  But I do like a good jigsaw puzzle.

Bear with me here -- two years ago, if I'd been telling you that colouring books were the way to go, you'd probably have been cynical, but look how the adult colouring book industry has taken off in the past few months. I have dabbled in adult colouring books myself, but the disappointment at realising my staying-in-the-lines skills were still as limited as they were 15 years ago somewhat dampened that brief encounter.

My jigsaw puzzle addiction is a recent addition to my life -- a few days before Christmas, I came across a puzzle that I received for my birthday seven months ago. The giver obviously knew me well, as it was a picture of a zoo, yet I'd not even touched it. Within minutes of shaking all the pieces out of the box, I was hooked, right down to the 1000th piece.

There's something therapeutic about the act of completing a jigsaw. Yes, it's frustrating at times, but when the pieces all come together, or when you find that one piece that you've been after for ages, it's strangely rewarding. Put on the tellybob in the background or blast out some music while you're puzzling over the pieces, or sit quietly and have a good old think -- either way, there's a sense of achievement when you put that final piece into place. 

Move over colouring books, here come jigsaw puzzles -- you heard it here first.