Monday, 30 April 2018

The whole picture: April 2018

Catch up with my March round-up.

Fountain Abbey, National Trust, North Yorkshire
Being tourists at Fountain Abbey

What I've done in April

April simultaneously feels like it's been very long and like it's gone very quickly. I spent the best part of a week incapacitated by a stomach bug early in the month, which was not conducive to getting much done. But I more than made up for it later in the month...

I was lucky enough to be invited on the first ever behind the scenes tour of a Krispy Kreme doughnut factory, and saw how the doughnuts are mixed, shaped, fried and decorated - there's a waterfall of chocolate for goodness sake, more people need to know about this!

Behind the scenes tour at a Krispy Kreme doughnut factory
Inside a Krispy Kreme factory

Two of my favourite people-to-follow-on-Twitter (who are also very successful journalists, writers, businesswomen and all round kickass ladies) came together for a live recording of a podcast. Dolly Alderton and Emma Gannon took over the basement of Tottenham Court Road Waterstones (which is *not* the same as Gower Street Waterstones, as I found to my detriment, arriving hot and sweaty at the wrong branch, 20 minutes before the event was due to start...)

Emma Gannon and Dolly Alderton in conversation for a live podcast at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road
Two very witty women took to the stage, and all I got was this lousy picture


Where I've been in April

My main excursion was a weekend in Leeds with an old uni friend who lives there now. As well as having a good catch-up, we ate and drank our way round the city, and managed to swing by Harrogate and other parts of Yorkshire as well. Read about the first part of the weekend, including tea rooms and monkey fingers - the second part is on its way. 


Rainbow lights in a tunnel underneath Leeds railway station
Leeeeeeeeeds

Chartwell, a National Trust property not too far from where I live, is one of my favourite places in Kent, so I was pretty chuffed when I convinced my boss to let me cover it for work. I spent a lovely morning wandering around the gardens in the early part of that heatwave, and even managed to hold my own pretty well when I spotted a snake (my arch nemesis, FYI) slithering through a bush just a couple of feet away.

Chartwell National Trust, Kent
Getting comfy at Chartwell

What I've eaten in April

Three afternoon teas, two restaurant reviews for work and an American diner trip made for a pretty filling April.

Absolute highlight was the press preview of the Potions Room afternoon tea at Cutter & Squidge. Those wizards have managed to pull off the best afternoon tea I've ever had - read my full review.

Skylon's space-themed afternoon tea
Skylon's space-themed afternoon tea

The other two teas were a bit hit and miss - Skylon's space-themed Gravitea was fantastic, sticking to the theme brilliantly, and serving up some fantastic food with views over the Thames. At the other end of the scale was the Theatre Not Afternoon Tea at Oxo Tower. It also had views over the Thames, but the similarities end there. I intended to review it for this blog but the stomach bug rendered me incapable of even thinking about food for a few days, let alone writing about it, so you'll have to make do with my Londonist review to find out what was wrong with it.

Back in the savoury lane, I discovered what I believe is the best pizza I've had in London. Buongiorno e Buonasera is an Italian deli-style restaurant that's just opened on Baker Street and, oh my god, I still dream about the generous dollops of bufala mozzarella that topped my pizza.

Pizza at Buongiorno e Buonasera, Baker Street
London's best pizza? Possibly

My hunt for London's best buffalo chicken continued when American chain Slim Chickens opened near Bond Street. The buffalo burger's not quite up to Brewdog standards, the restaurant as a whole is an ideal spot if you're after greasy, dirty chicken at somewhere a bit classier than your local Morleys.

Finally, I should point out that I do sometimes eat for fun, rather than just reviewing for work, which is how I found myself tucking into generous portions of burger, fries and onion loaf at 7 Hotel Diner near Sevenoaks. The Americana theme is strong, and the food's pretty good, although I regret not leaving room to try out the dessert bar. I'll be back.

What's coming up in May




It's my birthday early in May, and I'm planning to spend it with a friend in Brighton. I haven't had a good old day trip to Brighton for at least four years, so we're planning to go all out, ice cream on the pier, ice hockey in the arcades, plus the obligatory Lucky Charms milkshake at JB's Diner, and a pilgrimage to one of my favourite clothes stores, Sugarhill Brighton (known as Sugarhill Boutique until recently).

While everyone else is tuned into the Royal Wedding/FA Cup final, I plan to be sightseeing my way around Chester Zoo. The timing wasn't intentional, but we booked our weekend in Chester before we realised it was the Royal Wedding day... hopefully, everyone else will stay at home watching it, and we'll have all those lovely lions to ourselves. On that note, if you have any tips for things to see/do/eat/drink on a very whistlestop weekend in Chester, let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

See also - what I got up to in:

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Cutter & Squidge's wizard-themed potion afternoon tea is absolutely magical

The Potion Room wizard themed Harry Potter afternoon tea at Cutter & Squidge, Soho, London


It's over, lads. Call off the search. I've found the best afternoon tea in London, and I don't think anything will ever beat it.

Cutter & Squidge, a cake shop in Soho which I absolutely love, has just launched a Potions Room afternoon tea. It's a wizard-themed affair, but don't go mentioning a certain famous wizard and his chums - Cutter & Squidge are adamant, no doubt for copyright reasons, that it's completely unrelated to Harry Potter.

The Potion Room wizard themed Harry Potter afternoon tea at Cutter & Squidge, Soho, London


That said, it's hard not to draw parallels. The room - which, until very recently, was home to the Genie's Cave - has more than a touch of Hogwarts to it. Think Great Hall meets Professor McGonagall's classroom, all (faux) brick walls and wooden desks. As you descend down the stairs, pick up your gown and then head into your potions class. Beakers and test tubes await you on your desk, and the lesson begins.

The Potion Room wizard themed Harry Potter afternoon tea at Cutter & Squidge, Soho, London


I'll admit, I was slightly dreading this part of it, as I'm not a big fan of audience participation but the actress playing the potions teacher does a fabulous job of putting everyone at ease, with no forced participation or putting anyone on the spot. I'm not allowed to tell you exactly what we got up to, but there was plenty of waving of wands and muttering of spells before the bulk of our food and drink materialised.

The Potion Room wizard themed Harry Potter afternoon tea at Cutter & Squidge, Soho, London


I recently had a bad experience of an afternoon tea where all the thought had gone into the presentation, and no effort had been put into the taste. No fear of that here though - Cutter & Squidge delivers perfectly on the food front. My inner afternoon tea fiend is pleased to see things presented on the traditional tiered stand, with sandwiches and scones to start things off. The roast dinner sandwich is an absolute corker, and I have it on good authority that the veggie equivalent is pretty good too. The highlight is the butterscotch biskie - a cookie sandwich of Cutter & Squidge's own creation.

The Potion Room wizard themed Harry Potter afternoon tea at Cutter & Squidge, Soho, London


Without giving too much away, the whole experience is perfectly executed, with the ideal amount of theatricality without teetering into the cheesy. The food is first class, and the decor is extremely well thought through.

The Potion Room wizard themed Harry Potter afternoon tea at Cutter & Squidge, Soho, London


Love all things Potter? Head to House of MinaLima. It's a five minute walk away from Cutter & Squidge, and has a fantastic free exhibition of artwork from the Harry Potter films.

The Potion Room wizard themed Harry Potter afternoon tea at Cutter & Squidge, Soho, London

The Potion Room at Cutter & Squidge, 20 Brewer Street, Soho. £49.50 for adults/£39.50 for children.

Check out the afternoon tea section of this blog for more sarnie and scone reviews and follow me on Twitter and Instagram for up to date pictures.


The Potion Room wizard themed Harry Potter afternoon tea at Cutter & Squidge, Soho, London



Monday, 23 April 2018

A weekend in Leeds, part 1: Abbeys, tea rooms and Monkey Fingers

Leeds City Centre skyline, photo taken from Armouries Museum at Leeds Docks -How to spend a weekend in Leeds, things to do in Leeds


As part of my plan to visit a new place every month this year, I went to visit a uni friend who lives in Leeds. That's cheating a bit as I've been to Leeds before, but only for daytrips when I lived in York, mainly zeroing in on Primark and the Christmas market, student priorities being what they were. Needless to say, I didn't see much of the cultural side of the city, so staying with someone who's lived in Leeds for three years was a handy way of being guided to lesser-known spots.

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden National Trust near Leeds, Yorkshire -How to spend a weekend in Leeds, things to do in Leeds
Flashbacks to studying Tintern Abbey in sixth form


A large part of my weekend in Leeds wasn't actually spent in Leeds. As soon as I stepped off the train, we headed about an hour north to Fountains Abbey, a National Trust property out in the wilds of Yorkshire. The Abbey itself is a ruin, but a substantial one, and it's on the same site as Studley Royal Water Garden, meaning plenty of ornamental lakes to wander among while we had a long overdue catch up (and a picnic of course, including Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes which I'd lovingly transported all the way from London).

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden National Trust near Leeds, Yorkshire -How to spend a weekend in Leeds, things to do in Leeds


From here, we darted through the back roads and country lanes over to Harrogate, somewhere I've never been before but always fancied visiting. Does this mean I can count this as two new places visited this weekend? I hope so, as I've got some making up to do for February and March.


Flower beds and townhouses in Harrogate town centre, Yorkshire, in spring -How to spend a weekend in Leeds, things to do in Leeds
Harrogate town centre

By the time we'd taken a convoluted trip around Harrogate's one way system and found somewhere to park, the sun was shining and the flowers were in full bloom. Like all self-respecting tourists, we started out tour of the town at Betty's Tea Rooms, opting for a quick peek in the shop rather than queuing for food.

Queues outside Betty's Tea Rooms in Harrogate town centre, Yorkshire -How to spend a weekend in Leeds, things to do in Leeds


After an hour or so of wandering the streets of Harrogate, and a cheeky milkshake to lift our flagging sugar levels, it was back in the car to Leeds.

Macaron town centre in the window of Betty's tea rooms in Harrogate town centre, Yorkshire -How to spend a weekend in Leeds, things to do in Leeds


Dinner came courtesy of Meat Liquor, sister restaurant of my beloved Meat Mission, where I finally got round to trying the Monkey Fingers - strips of chicken covered in that moreish buffalo sauce. They were decent, but not as crispy as my usual buffalo chicken burger.

Inside Meat Liquor, Leeds -How to spend a weekend in Leeds, things to do in Leeds


I'm the sort of person who firmly believes - to adapt a line from How I Met Your Mother - that nothing good happens after 9pm (except sleep). In this case, Leeds proved me wrong. We found ourselves in a secret jazz bar hidden underneath what looks like a barber shop in one of the city's fancy arcades. As well as feeling clandestine, and quite classy, it also provided me with the cheapest round I ever bought. Between you and me, it's this place... but don't go telling everyone.

Inside The Domino Club hidden jazz bar in Leeds -How to spend a weekend in Leeds, things to do in Leeds


I'll be publishing part 2 of the Leeds Chronicles shortly. In the mean time, keep up with my antics on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Blast off at Skylon's Gravi-tea space themed afternoon tea

Themed London afternoon teas: Gravi-tea space-themed afternoon tea at Skylon, Southbank Centre, London


Calling all wannabe astronauts and afternoon tea addicts (that's a venn diagram with a very niche crossover...). There's a shiny new afternoon tea about to lift off in London and it's all about that space, 'bout that space, no trouble (#sorrynotsorry, but when I have an earworm, I believe in sharing the pain).

Gravi-tea is the punny name given to Skylon's new space-themed offering. It launched in early April 2018 and will be on the menu for the foreseeable future... to infinity and beyond, some might say.

I'm quite often sceptical about themed afternoon teas. If they don't commit to the theme - I mean really commit - they can be a right old letdown. On the other hand, others pull off their theme very well - and Gravi-tea can definitely be counted as a successful mission.

Themed London afternoon teas: Gravi-tea space-themed afternoon tea at Skylon, Southbank Centre, London
Afternoon tea modelled by @Robberrazzi, who was Instagramming the whole thing.

First things first, it's a very pretty afternoon tea. Think purple, sparkly, space age. All the beautiful, shiny things. You'll ooh and aah as it comes to your table, and then you'll take all the photos before you finally blast off.

It's served on the traditional three tiers, which is the only right way to serve afternoon tea. They don't quite go as far as serving it on a rocket-shaped tea stand (Skylon: if you're reading this, you can have that idea for free), but it's good to see things done properly.

Starting with the sandwiches, you've got your usual selection of ham and cheese, salmon, chicken, and egg mayo. Sliced into fingers with the crusts off, the portion is generous, the sandwiches themselves surprisingly filling.

Next tier up are the scones. The menu claims a mixture of raisin and plain, but ours are all raisin, which is not a problem at all. The preserves are served in mini Wilkin & Co jars, two marmalades, a raspberry jam and a blackcurrant jam. The cream appears in what can only be described as a mini saucepan, not an object I would readily associate with space, but perhaps there's more to this astronaut malarkey than I thought. Either way it's cute, but I'd advise against pairing marmalade and cream on the same scone - the sweet/bitter combination just doesn't work.

Themed London afternoon teas: Gravi-tea space-themed afternoon tea at Skylon, Southbank Centre, London
The Jupiter Cake, and the mysterious cream saucepans

Wobbling boldly next to the scones is the Jupiter Cake. Now this is the only real flaw in the whole afternoon tea - the menu doesn't tell you what each item is, beyond the space age names. Best described as a milky jelly with a white chocolate ring, it slides down no problem and we're on to the almost-too-pretty-to-eat top tier.

Let's just take another second to admire it before we tuck in:

Themed London afternoon teas: Gravi-tea space-themed afternoon tea at Skylon, Southbank Centre, London

OK, and begin. The Galaxy Macarons (bottom right) are hypnotically pretty, but their citrus orange flavour comes as a real surprise - although not an unpleasant one - underneath that innocent lilac exterior.

We can't quite put our fingers on the flavour of the cream inside those Cosmos Mini Choux buns, deciding on something like passion fruit or mango. Again, it's unexpected but tasty.

The Rocks Of The Universe are by far the richest element of the afternoon tea, dark chocolate shells filled with some sort of a raspberry ganache. They disappear quickly, leaving us wondering whether there really was popping candy inside or if it's all just a trick of the mind.

Themed London afternoon teas: Gravi-tea space-themed afternoon tea at Skylon, Southbank Centre, London
Galaxy Macarons

Last but not least are the Galactic Cupcakes, a taste of good old-fashioned home baking. That perfectly coiffeured icing turns out to be cream cheese icing, which is a risky choice. It makes a change from the sugar overload, but we both agree that we would have preferred buttercream icing instead.

Themed London afternoon teas: Gravi-tea space-themed afternoon tea at Skylon, Southbank Centre, London
Galactic Cupcakes

Once you've eaten your way through the solar system (or if you pause halfway through - afternoon tea is, after all, a marathon not a sprint), take time to have a look round Skylon. I'd heard of it but never quite worked out where it was before. It's right on top of Southbank Centre, with an entrance opposite Las Iguanas, and another inside Southbank Centre itself. It's a rather swish place, all sleek decor and high ceilings, but the absolute highlight is the view it offers over the Thames. I reckon it'd be a rather nice place to head for cocktails on a summer evening - who's in?

Themed London afternoon teas: Gravi-tea space-themed afternoon tea at Skylon, Southbank Centre, London
The Jupiter Cake

Gravi-tea at Skylon, Royal Festival Hall, London, SE1 8XX. It costs £25 per person (very reasonable for afternoon tea round these parts, especially when you consider the view it comes with), and you'll need to book ahead.


Themed London afternoon teas: Gravi-tea space-themed afternoon tea at Skylon, Southbank Centre, London
The gorgeous setting of Skylon. I was too busy stuffing my face to take a photo of the view from the window.

Get your fill of afternoon tea on the afternoon tea section of this blog, and follow me on Twitter and Instagram for up to date pictures.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Interesting Things To Do In Kent This Month: April 2018

Due to being otherwise engaged for two weeks at the end of February, I didn't get round to writing a March events round-up - but you were probably snowed in anyway, right? Here's a bumper look at what's going on in Kent in April:

Events and things to do in and around Kent in April 2018
Image: Paper Daisy Events

March-September 2018: Remarkable Characters of Tunbridge Wells

Already underway is this exhibition of 40 photographs of local Tunbridge Wells people. It's the culmination of a project by photographer Mark Wilkinson and writer Anne Wagstaff, telling the story of the real Tunbridge Wells. See the exhibition at Woods restaurant on the Pantiles, where the accompanying book is available to buy.

1-2 April: Festival of Steam and Transport, Chatham Dockyard

Choo choo! Who doesn't love a good old vintage train? Steampunks unite at this weekend festival of classic cars and trains, steam engines, food and drink stalls, live music, a funfair and more, all at the Historic Dockyard in Chatham.

4-29 April

If you're into local history, head to Maidstone Museum which has an exhibition chronicling 100 years of the WI in West Kent - more than just knitting needles and cake sales.

7 April: Street food and craft market, Brighton

A day at the seaside, a street food market and a craft fair all in one, Paper Daisy Events pops up in Brighthelm Gardens with stalls selling items made by independent craftspeople. Plus, there's a live band to accompany all that shopping.

7 April: Heritage Transport Show, Maidstone


If you missed last weekend's steampunk showdown, head to the Kent Showground in Detling for a mass gathering of 800 vehicles.  The South East Bus Festival forms part of the show, bringing 120 buses and coaches of all vintages together, many of which will be offering rides.

7 14 April: Lambing weekend, Bidborough

*POSTPONED UNTIL 14 APRIL DUE TO WATERLOGGED CAR PARK*

Following on from a successful pumpkin picking season, Bidborough's Four Winds Farm is holding a lambing weekend, allowing the public to see inside a commercial farm. It's not all about the newborn lambs, as there's a sheep show all about sheep and wool, tea and cake, face painting and more. Let's face it - it's mainly about the newborn lambs though.

12-14 April: Alice in Wonderland, Chiddingstone Castle

Events and things to do in and around Kent in April 2018
Image: Chiddingstone Castle

This one's mainly for kiddies (6-10 years), but I really wish it wasn't. Alice in Wonderland is coming to Chiddingstone Castle for the weekend, and basically having the run of the place with croquet, arts and crafts, singing, dancing, and other activities led by the characters from Lewis Carroll's books.

13-14 April: Bat Walk

If nature's your thing, Knole Park in Sevenoaks is running a series of dusk bat walks. Bring a torch and set off on a guided walk in search of bats - bat detectors will be provided. The walk is followed by hot chocolate and chance to ask the bat expert any questions you have.

18-27 April: Tulip Festival, Hever Castle

Events and things to do in and around Kent in April 2018
Image: Hever Castle

I love tulip season - they're my favourite flower, and so many places have festivals to celebrate them coming into bloom. If you want to cop an eyeful of them, I recommend heading to Hever Castle's tulip festival, because not only do you get the gorgeous flowers, but you get them set against the backdrop of a Tudor castle. Beautiful.

18-29 April: Bluebell Festival, Riverhill Himalayan Gardens

If bluebells are more your bag, Riverhill Himalayan Gardens will be rolling out the blue carpet for the bluebell festival, with walks through the woods, and music and craft events for children.

22 April: Penshurst Brocante

The picturesque village of Penshurst hosts a vintage fair (rescheduled from March due to the snow) with vintage clothing, antiques and jewellery available to buy.

24 April-15 May: Pashley Manor Tulip Festival

More tulips, but as I said, I absolutely love them. Pashley Manor near Wadhurst has been running its tulip festival for a good few years now, and although it's not cheap to get into, it has 40,000 tulips across 112 varieties - one for the real enthusiasts. The gardens are worth exploring beyond the tulips, and there's a cafe and shop on site too. Keep an eye on the news page for updates on when the tulips are coming out.

30 April: Dawn chorus boat trips

Get your sea river legs on, set your alarm and head for Tonbridge. The excellent Tonbridge River Trips run special trips as well as their regular day boat trips. Today there's a dawn chorus trip, a two hour journey with a wildlife expert who will point out local wildlife and tell you a bit more about it. The kicker? It starts at 4.30am.

Ongoing, every Sunday: Afternoon tea

Events and things to do in and around Kent in April 2018
Image: Cafe 1809

Cafe 1809, the Hildenborough cafe owned by Dame Kelly Holmes, has launched afternoon and cream teas every Sunday. The first one took place on Mother's Day, and they're now running every Sunday for the forseeable future. I haven't tried it yet, but given I've now dedicated a whole section of this blog to afternoon tea, it's definitely on the list.

Plus: Tonbridge Library is now due to reopen in April after a long refurb (no further details at present), and I live in hope that Verdigris, the wine and cocktail bar replacing Graze in Tonbridge High Street, may open this month. Keep an eye on the Twitter account for updates.


About these listings: These are just a selection of the more interesting and unusual events taking place in and around Kent this month. I select events for inclusion based on what I find interesting myself, as I hope these will interest you too. I'm based in West Kent, so geographically they're centred around this area - although I do chuck the occasional further-afield event in if I think it sounds interesting enough to warrant it. Got a suggestion for a inclusion in future event listings? Contact me.