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When I landed into LAX, I was so fortunate to have a seat on the right-hand side of the plane and one away from the window, with a slender slumbering passenger next to me so I could lean right over and shove my nose up to the glass (plastic?). As we swooped down over the city, I had the perfect birds-eye view of the Hollywood sign which had me giddily bouncing about in my seat. I’ve since learnt that this aeroplane sign-spotting is extremely rare. The day before I flew in, LA had something almost unheard of… rain! This meant the stubborn smog, that would usually entirely blot out the view of the sign and the Hollywood hills, had lifted for a few days and the air was temporarily clear and crisp. By the time I headed up to the Griffith Park observatory just a week later, the soupy smog was well and truly back and although it created a dramatic Gotham-city style effect it really did highlight just how terrible the pollution problem is, especially for a city so otherwise obsessed with health and well-being.

Do you know the story of the Hollywood sign? It’s well worth a read here if you don’t. I had no idea that it started life (appropriately for Hollywood) as an ambitious outdoor marketing campaign for a suburban housing development “Hollywoodland”. Long after the housing development firm had disbanded, the land was removed leaving the sign that still stands today. It’s had a typically Hollywood life; with a drunken driver ploughing through and destroying the H, a suicide of a rejected-starlet Peg Entwistle (who in an ironic twist, mere days after her suicide would have received a letter offering her the lead role in a play… about a girl driven to suicide) and near total destruction as weather & no maintenance took it’s hold. In 1978 numerous donors bought a letter each at $27,777 a pop and the sign was renovated. Hugh Hefner owns the Y and Alice Cooper bought the second O in memory of Groucho Marx. Whatever your views on Hollywood and the culture, I would challenge anyone not to feel moved in some way when they see that sign in the flesh!

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Now where was I? The rest of my week followed a similar path of working away during the days, then escaping into the dusky evening to explore Los Angeles whilst I could keep my eyes open. On the Wednesday evening I was fading fast so took a night off tourism and just explored Sunset Boulevard with the sole intention of snapping up a feast and retreating to eat it in my hotel bed like a massive slob. I discovered a little Mexican take away (sorry take-out) called Poquito Mas where I ordered a shrimp taco, which you can see below was about twice the size of my head (and stomach, but that didn’t stop me!). I also called in at the liquor store and bought a Mike’s hard lemonade. I first discovered wonderful Mike in NY a few years ago, and it’s perfect for people like me who don’t drink alot and aren’t overly fond of the taste of beer. It comes in a few flavours but black cherry is by far the yummiest.

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You’ll notice a theme in this post… FOOD. After a strong start to the year of running, swimming, pilates-ing… all rules went out of the window for a fortnight of gluttony. One night after work Nora kindly chauffeured me back to Malibu as I was desperate to get some more beach time. First we stopped off for sushi (where we could sit outside; a prospect which seems ridiculous now that I’m back in the UK in head to toe thermals, woollens and 3 pairs of socks) and I devoured spicy seaweed and blue lump crab and various sea-lurkers I’d never even heard of, before proudly tucking into an authentic California roll IN California, ho ho. It was during this meal we were sat next to a boy of about 14 on a date with a similar aged girl, and I overheard him loudly exclaim “well I asked my agent, my manager AND my publicist…”which was my one ‘only in LA’ experience. Well that and crossing the road with Joshua Jackson. After sushi we hit Malibu Frozen Yoghurt, and I made Nora laugh/cringe by insisting on saying Mu-Bu-Fro-Yo-Yo-Lo the whole walk there. Mu-Bu Fro-Yo is obviously the #1 teen hangout so I felt like I an extra in Beverly Hills 90210 whilst I sat surrounded by impossibly skinny teens in cut off shorts, scooping mountains of peanut butter frozen yoghurt with crushed Oreo toppings into my gob!

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I’m lucky enough to have a cousin, David, who lives out in LA with his girlfriend Katie, so I had a second set of tour guides to introduce me to a whole different part of the city. They live in an area called Echo Park, which along with nearby Los Feliz and Silver Lake are certainly up-and-coming and becoming increasingly appealing neighbourhoods. I can see why; Echo Park is a wonderful mishmash of diners, trinket shops, dive bars, diners, all walks of life, all cultures, street art, lakes, green spaces and there is also 826LA; one of Dave Eggers-inspired non-profit writing & tutoring centres. If you haven’t seen one, then you can seek out the Ministry of Stories in Hoxton. All of the centres have a fictional shop-front hiding the volunteers and students from prying eyes. In Hoxton its a Monster Suppliers store, Pirate Shop in San Francisco, Super Hero Supply Co in New York and 826LA in Echo Park has a Time Travel Mart. Behind the shopfront, there are classrooms and seminar rooms where children and young people up to age 18 from the local community can go and work with volunteers to improve their writing skills and explore their imaginations. I’ve always wanted to volunteer in London, it’s definitely on my permanent to-do list. On my night in Echo Park we sought out the Gold Room dive bar, where a beer & tequila are served together as a rule, and I enjoyed giant pint of Californian beer that came served with a peel of orange curled into it, served with a bowl of shell-on peanuts.

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Friday night rolled round and I could breathe a sigh of relief at my office hours ticking to a close. To celebrate Nora took me for a unique LA experience. We headed down to the Upright Citizens Brigade, which I’d highly recommend if you ever find yourself in NY or LA, as it’s not something you’ll read about in a rough guide or tour book. The UCB Theatre puts on nightly comedy improvised & sketch shows featuring various local comedy troupes. The troupes consist of some of the best comedians out there, who still perform together as quite often this type of improv production is often where comedians are discovered and begin their career. Despite the show being ticketed, my one piece of advise it to arrive 30 minutes early as you still have to queue in advance as each show is massively over-subscribed. I was lucky enough to get a great seat to watch Diamond Lion who specialise in musical improv. They launched on to the stage and asked for a word at random from the audience (“plaid”) and then performed various skits inspired by this word, entirely created on the spot AND set to music?! I can’t comprehend how one person could be so sharp, let alone a group of 7 people all working instantly in harmony and feeding off one another’s talent. It’s at the UCB that skits for Saturday Night Live and various other big American entertainment shows are tested out and based on the audience reaction; shelved or written up! I wish there was something similar in London because I have to admit I find stand-up comedy tedious and contrived, and really enjoyed the unpredictability of improv; some of the funniest moments were actually when a joke didn’t work and the whole thing unravelled.

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On my last day in Los Angeles David & Katie ensured I saw everything that was on my quirky hit-list. The only thing we didn’t get time for was the Museum of Jurassic Technology (alas) but I know Nick would have been a green monster if I had, so am quite happy to wait for a return trip. First up we drove around ‘Old Hollywood’ and saw some incredible Victorian Psycho style houses, including one that had been set up by a film shoot to have a garage sale outside. Two doors down a real family were having a legitimate garage sale, so I couldn’t help but think the crew could have saved some time and budget and just filmed that! As a David Lynch fangirl I was desperate to see the spooky Sierra Bonita apartments from Mulholland Drive so after a quick ‘scared face’ tourist photo shoot (as people actually live in them… jealous) we sped off up the road to inspect John Marshall High aka Rydell High from Grease. It was surreal to see the bleachers and race track where they sing ‘Summer Lovin'” which still look identical for the students who attend there today. The school seems to be used as a standard high school in most movies, including Nightmare on Elm Street.

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We then drove up the actual Mulholland Drive towards Griffith Park and the incredible observatory there, which again I recommend and it’s FREE. The park itself is a vast amount of green space and in an isolated corner David has even spotted a mountain Lion! After a steep climb to the top, you are rewarded with 360-degree views over the whole of Los Angeles. Everything is visible; the sign, downtown, the stacked hill houses and the mountains in the distance. See what I mean about the smog though…

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En route to downtown we called in at Scoops. Again Americans just seem to go bigger & better and the flavours were pretty mindblowing. I resisted temptation to opt for the brown bread or hot sauce options (!) with my sweet tooth winning out and gorging myself on Guinness Chocolate (it was St Patricks Day eve after all) and Oreo Cheesecake. I also appreciated the unlimited toppings so I could go nuts with the nuts. Downtown was my absolute favourite part of Los Angeles. If someone had driven me there blindfolded and dumped me out of the car, I would have sworn blind we weren’t in LA anymore. It had such a different vibe and look; skyscrapers tower over with those distinctive NY-style fire stairs and the sun is shaded out by the staggering buildings. It’s a little slice of NY in LA, with the best of both cities. Although to be honest anywhere that is home to a bar that serves cocktails in bespoke copper tankards is bound to win my heart. The tankards at Cole’s are so precious that you have to hand over your ID as a deposit, and they definitely made my 3pm Moscow Mule taste 100% more delicious. The bar itself obviously had it’s hayday in the roaring 20s and still has the most incredible decour, oh and a sign in the men’s toilets (David reported back) that says “Charles Bukowski pissed here”! If you want to know what downtown LA looks like; watch (500) Days of Summer as the majority of it is filmed there. I also was very proud of my own personal Hollywood tour – I spotted the parking lot that the kid in Kick Ass gets stabbed in. Downtown LA used to be the heart of Hollywood, and this is evident in the grand, plush theatres that still dot the streets; although they are mostly abandoned or now house 99-cent stores or dodgy gold pawn shops beneath. It’s quite heartbreaking and eerie.

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I didn’t need a Zoltar wish as I’d had the best possible time in Los Angeles and was about to be whisked off to New York, so already plenty lucky enough. Thanks to my generous tour guides and their infectious enthusiasm, my perspective of LA has been entirely changed and I would definitely class it as a favourite place with so much more to still investigate and discover for myself. It’s much more than just the hall-of-fame stars on the strip.

 

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The day I left London it was the classic big smoke weather than makes you feel like you’re in a Charles Dickens novel or Sherlock Holmes story. Drizzle dampened my coat and my case and spooky mist hung heavy, clutching me as I marched around Paddington station seeking out the Heathrow Express. 11 hours of tossing, turning, munching those ridiculously bad/good cheese pasties you always get as part of inflight ‘snacktime’ and watching a few movies (The Perks of Being a Wall Flower, The Silver Linings Playbook & The Girl; all of which I really enjoyed. Perfect dozy aeroplane picks.) and I was landing in LAX.

I spent 8 days in Los Angeles, working from the West Coast branch of my employers. Despite still managing to sicken all my Facebook friends and family with photos of me larking about in the sun; I did actually work ten hour days and had to do daily presentations for over 100 people (mega eek) as well as pretty much hourly meetings and keeping up with all my standard work-load. So I promise, I earnt that sunshine, as I spent most of the time hunched over my laptop gazing at the palm trees and blue sky from my desk! But you don’t want to hear about that, and I’m happy it’s over and went well, so lets focus on the fun bits of my LA adventure which I crammed into every evening and weekend moment.

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Before I start rambling… I HAVE THE CURE FOR JETLAG! Which obviously I have to share. I was so anxious before; because I have always been struck with the worst jetlag on previous trips. Even flights to Toronto & NYC which don’t have massive time-zone differences have left me groggy and grizzly for days. For my best friends wedding in Vegas, I was so jet lagged that I fell asleep for 20 minutes during her reception (I had also drunk 3 pints of a dive bar cocktail named ass juice which might not have helped) and earnt myself the title Maid of Dishonour. So you can imagine I was dreading this trip as I knew that I needed to bring my A-Game (totes learnt this phrase in LA, obv) and could hardly do that if I was a drooling mess PLUS I have given up caffeine so knew that I couldn’t even indulge in comically-big Starbucks or multiple Diet Coke fixes to aid me in my zzz battle. I spent half a day googling jet-lag cures/preventions and couldn’t find anywhere that said the same thing, but one advise kept popping up which was… stay hydrated. Water water water. So this was my tactic:

1. Drink as much water as possible. They are stingy on flights so take on a couple of big bottles. Yes you will spend most of the flight queuing or in the toilet but at least you pass the time. Maintain this once you arrive. I drank 4 giant Evian bottles in my first two days there.

2. No booze! Actually that’s a lie, I had one Baileys on the flight over. I think the key was no getting baked (like I did on route to Las Vegas; the plane actually ran out of alcohol…) and definitely NO drinking on your first two days in the new time zone.

3. Don’t nap. Just don’t. I’ve always succumbed to arriving at the hotel and regardless of the time, crashing out for an over zealous power nap. This time I arrived at about 3pm (11pm London time) but gritted my teeth and stayed awake until 9pm having a proper dinner and then sleeping through the night. I also left the curtain open meaning I woke up with the sun (not the alarm) which sounds hippyish but really helped too.

And there you have it. I wasn’t jet lagged at all during my trip, in fact I felt more energised than in London! I applied this strategy again on Sunday when I flew to NY (LA > NY is a meant to be even more brutal than LDN > LA) and have found again that I have totally defeated the jetlag beast, and can get by on using Cheetos as a caffeine replacement for my long hour days. I have probably turned my insides orange!

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Having no jet lag meant I could bounce out of bed and go meet my dear friend Nora, who was to be my trusted chaffeur, companion, tour guide and fancy frolicking fun date buddy for my trip. We started off with brunch at The Hart and Hunter and honestly if you are ever in LA you need to eat here. In fact, even if you live thousands of miles from LA, you need to go drool over the menus. After an impossible amount of perusing the options, I settled on the fried green tomato & crab egg benedict with herb hollandaise. I ate an actual fried green tomato! It was the best brunch of my life and no doubt a foodie highlight of the year. With our bellies full, we zoomed off to Malibu. Nora spent some of her childhood growing up there (she went to Malibu High School; surely the name of an actual TV show?) so knew every nook and cranny and the absolute best places to take in the view. We drove along the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway into Malibu and I saw a dolphin glistening & larking about in the ocean. I didn’t even know dolphins existed in this part of America so though it was a mirage until Nora assured me it was real, they are quite common. We stopped in at a mall complex where I indulged in a spot of Sephora digging (I was restrained and limited my purchase to the Pantone Emerald colour of the year nail polish) and then we went to Grom for some of the finest Italian-in-California Gelato, which was so good I’m going to have to travel to the other side of Manhattan and seek out the NY branch to feed my addition.

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We passed Mel Gibson’s house which has a GIANT house-sized white wooden cross in the front garden, visible for miles. We then drove up the winding roads, creaking around hairpin bends and tummy-flipping hills to get the the Wild West as Nora phrases it. It’s an area of Malibu where you can climb craggy rocks and wade through cacti to basically get a birds eye view view out over the valley (home of Kim Kardashian…), the hills & the coastline. The whole world felt tiny from up there, and it re-enforced just how beautiful LA can be; it’s not the plasticky concrete jungle I was expecting by any means. From there we drove down to Zuma Beach, which was as idyllic as you’d expect; just a little gusty with a coastal breeze which had the gulls (and PELICANS!) whizzing around in the wind currents.

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After all that fresh California air, we needed something else to munch on. For months since Nora knew I was coming out to LA, there was has been two words on her lips and those are fish burger! I had no idea what a fish burger even was, and was imagining some sort of upmarket fillet-o-fish but oh boy was it more than that. We headed to Neptunes Net which has a famous history, as it was used for the exterior of restaurant that Hollywood twin-brats Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen ate religiously at in their show So Little Time, which I sadly/proudly haven’t ever seen as it was before my kids TV career days. Nowadays however, there isn’t an Olsen in sight, in fact you are most likely to be greeted by a mob of bikers and Hells Angels! It has a huge biker community as it’s on a popular motorcycle route. Inside it was chaos, happy people everywhere chowing down on all seafood imaginable. We opted for the holy fish burgers, fries & a side of shrimp, and sat out in the blazing sun in happy greedy silence. I can see what the fuss was about – a fish burger might be my new favourite food; so how cruel it’s not available in London! (Or if it is, I doubt the Thames-fish are quite so tasty)

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We ended a perfect Malibu day with a drive to Point Dume, where it honestly felt like we were in a fairytale. I can see why so many music videos and films are shot here; including Destiny’s Child – Survivor (I know right, what a jip… they weren’t really on a desserted tropical island). We walked through fields of head-height yellow flowers that were glowing in the pre-sunset golden light. We scrabbled down craggy steps onto the beach, and sat watching climbers coast up & down the huge rock face. Finally, we sat back and enjoyed a perfect Pacific sunset as the sky burnt from yellow to pink to orange to purple. Oh, and drove home via Cher’s house. Hi Cher!

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A few other highlights of my first few days living as an LA-er were definitely the time I got ASKED for directions by actual authentic Americans. I felt it must have meant I didn’t look so rabbit-in-the-headlight dazed tourist and perhaps this was a sign I’d made it in Hollywood! Also nifty Nora busted me out of work one lunch time to indulge in the ultimate must-eat when in LA: In-n-Out Burger. Have you heard the urban legend/true fact story that apparently once Lily Allen flew all the way from London to LAX in her private jet just to get In-n-Out then flew straight home? A 22 hour round trip just for a burger! I can see why though, they are something special. My first time in LA I didn’t know about the secret menu (not on the boards instore, only visible on their website) so this time I was all set to order my fries and burger Animal Style like a true know-it-all. This means they come covered in special sauce (thousand island I’d call it) and fried onions! Also by some freak occurrence and fangirling, I wore a tee covered in Palm Trees so fitted perfectly with the branding.

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On the drive back to the office, we had our windows down and hair whipping in the wind. We pulled up next to a van driver who was doing the same, but was also blaring out Boys of Summer on his music system, which we did some serious car-dancing and appreciation to. At the next red lights we pulled up next to him again and THIS time he was playing Smells Like Teen Spirit. What a playlist, it was such a surreal moment that will really stick with me.

So that was a brief recap of my Malibu & Hollywood adventures. There is a sequel/part ii to this blog coming soon about exploring Echo Park, falling in love with Downtown & of course… getting up close to the THE sign.

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I have lived in London for so long I have actually lost count. It’s either 6 or 7 years. Anyway, in that whole entire time, I have never been to Chelsea. I have skirted around the edges a couple of times, getting off the tube at Sloane Square & spying on the Sloane Rangers or going for dinner at the tail end of the Kings Road but I haven’t done Chelsea.

My friend Craig and I were chatting about this (and our guilty pleasure love of the channel 4 show Made in Chelsea) and decided that we would get a date in the diary to get serious glammed up and hit the Chelsea nightlife, and that night was Friday! Now, I have be completely brutally honest; I was looking forward to and dreading the night in equal measures. I had all these preconceptions (mostly based on MiC where I love to hate EVERYONE) and was expecting a night that filled with eye-watering prices, side-eyes from locals and generally feeling out of place and awkward and needing to dive into some serious amounts of shots to survive it. In reality, our night in Chelsea was actually one of the best nights out I have ever had, and so amazing that we instantly booked in a sequel just to revisit our favourite discoveries and hit some of the places we didn’t manage.

We set out on our Chelsea adventure armed with an actual itinerary (geeks!)  that was actually mostly based on discoveries from this helpful “where the stars eat and drink article ” I was wearing some of my highest of high heels so one rookie error was… there is a reason the Made in Chelsea bunch constantly get cabs everywhere. Chelsea is quite inaccessible on paupers public transport! The bus would have taken ages, so I got off the tube at Fulham Broadway, and then spent the next 30 minutes tottering and tutting at myself towards for not packing emergency flats to our first location which was Bluebird.

Bluebird is a beautiful building, which needs to be seen in daylight to really do it justice. White arches give the architecture a (fitting) bird-cage type effect and there is a bar, shop and then the cafe which is tucked in the corner. We settled down waiting to recoil in horror at the menu prices, only to discover it was SO reasonable. I had the best Club sandwich of my life (it toppled my previous number 1, The Warming Hut in San Francisco) and a huge portion of shoestring fries for £8! This gave us the perfect excuse to splash out on a bellini and a rossini to toast our night and the gorgeous surroundings. The Bluebird is an instagram heaven of decor; a plate sculptured wall, black and white tiled floor, just the right amount of kitsch and the service was also a dream. Not a side-eye in sight!

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After such a successful start we cynically pondered whether we had just stumbled into a Chelsea anomaly and whether the braying rah girls and bolshy rugger boys were waiting for us at our next location which we actually went off-piste (it was not on the itinerary!) and snuck into as it looked so pretty from the outside. Eight over eight is a beautiful art-deco look restaurant first and foremost, but the front is fondly referred to as the snug where those lucky enough to bag a seat can sit by the open fire slurping cocktails from their extensive menu. I was amazed that at 9pm on a Friday night we could just swan in and get a seat, but the bar remained just the right-side of busy and buzzy the whole two hours we stayed there. It was so cosy and the drinks were so good that we just couldn’t leave, and we also got stuck into some juicy tipsy gossiping at this stage. The theme to my drink ordering for the night was definitely martinis. At Eighty Six I sampled for the first time ever the rose petal martini, which was so delicious I could barely drink it as I didn’t want it to end. The prices were really reasonable again (especially if you are used to drinking in Soho like me) – martinis and classic cocktails were £8, house specials and fizzy cocktails were £10, and this included table service and they were obviously very professionally made. Far superior to vodka-rev standard. Once more the clientele were lovely. I even got chatting to a girl when she nearly left her scarf behind and although her accent was awfully-poush she was very friendly.

Lets also just take a moment to acknowledge the fact that I was dressed more like something out of TOWIE than a classy MiC bird. I just bought this amazing pink tutu dress in the ASOS sale and have been desperate to wear it with my clashing nude heels. I then thought since I was already pretty Barbie ish, I’d add my Pat Butcher leopard print coat and entirely give up on trying to fit in with the designer labels and just embrace my natural TOWIE.  I am a sucker for anything backless, and adore the silver shimmery straps on this dress, it makes it even more like a ridiculous tutu that you would wear doing primary-school ballet classes.

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Craig on the other hand opted for the Chelsea class, with a white shirt and black braces and tie. He looked pretty sharp and I was proud to be on his arm for the night! Our final destination for the night was Eighty-Six where after a few false starts and Google map disasters, we headed down to Fulham Road. The 10 minute walk took us past what I would consider the real Chelsea, beautiful townhouses and quaint streets dotted with antique lamp-posts. We took a few photographs outside our ideal homes and it was the only time we felt like lowly out-sider tourists! As we approached Eighty-Six there was a heavy door staff and I got the sudden fear that we’d be turned away for not being classy enough (!) but we were let through the velvet rope instantly and hit the bar for yet more cocktails. Eighty Six has a simple decor, bare lightbulbs and tons of plush leather sofas, and yet more toasty log fires. There were a labyrinth of stairs leading to other parts of the building but we were told that was to the restaurant (which I imagine is not cheap).  Standing at the bar I suddenly heard a whimper from Craig and followed his eyeline to the bar staff as we noticed he was wearing EXACTLY the same outfit as their bar uniform! I guess white tie + black braces really is classic. So he quickly whipped his braces down and pocketed them, and all was right with the world again. There always was going to be more chance that we’d see someone in his outfit than mine. At Eighty-Six we couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome. The chatty (fashionable) bar staff, the door staff and the other (mostly handsome men) that seemed to be dotted around. There was also a brilliant DJ who mostly played mwam-mwam housey stuff but did drop in Children by Robert Miles for a last hurrah, which I have alot of respect for!

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& With that, we tottered back up to North London, giggling frozen air into the cold night and exclaiming at our surprising Chelsea experience. As you can tell, I would highly recommend anyone to take a night out in Chelsea. I usually end up drinking in Soho and whilst it has a place in my heart, the crammed bars and drink queues and noise and chaos can get a bit much. I felt Chelsea was the perfect tonic, as it was still buzzy, busy and alive but there was always space to take a seat and settle down for a proper chat. Also the joy of Kings Road is that there is an endless choice of places to pop in for a drink that you don’t have to travel far from bar to bar and can be spontaneous about where to go. (Our map and printed itinerary was definitely not necessary!) I feel a bit mortified at the stereotypes I had bought in to, and have to remember that Made in Chelsea is a television show and not actual real life… even if it pretends to be. I’m very glad this post can be so positive and un-scathing! Although there wasn’t a Cheska or Binky or Spencer in sight… so I wonder where they really do go on a Friday night?

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(DRUNK!)

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Most of my friends back up north don’t really understand how I cope living in London as they perceive it to be so cripplingly expensive. I am inclined to grumblingly agree, although most of the things that take a wedge out of my wage are standard stuff like rent, travel, bills & brogues. (Ok the last one slightly more me-specific) I think the danger when you live in a capital city is that the ££ can really stack up is when you eat/drink out. This shouldn’t mean you have to spend your evenings home along nibbling cream crackers though…I really believe you can find numerous places to eat out for a reasonable non-crazy-inflated-London price if you hunt hard enough.

I find the Kentish Towner one of the best sources of new (cheap and cheerful) places to sample in North London. In fact I visit this blog so much that I recently switched to Google Chrome and it’s the only website that comes up on my frequently visited tab. Stalker! It was there that I first read about my new #1 favourite Indian restaurant Hazraj. As you may have gathered from even casting a glance at my blog I’m a totally hopeless romantic, so it actually wasn’t the glowing review or the reasonable prices that made me determined to take a visit to Hazraj. It was when I read that the owner Raj had named the restaurant by adding his wife’s name (Haz) to his name (and first too, good man!) therefore creating Hazraj. Doesn’t that just make your heart swell?

The day my boyfriend and I headed to Hazraj had been pretty work crazed for both of us and I remember we ummed and ahhed about where to eat, what to do, cuisine type etc as we were both too screen-fatigued and zombie-faced to make anymore decisions! He suggested Hazraj and I am so glad he did, as every scrap of bad day and work stress was soon a distant memory, replaced with cheery grins, messy mouths and wide eyes!

Hazraj specialise in Mumbai Street Food which is also known as Indian Tapas and Tiffin Cuisine. As I mentioned when I wrote about Tayyabs, I grew up in Bradford so a huge proportion of meals I have ever eaten are curry based in some way. However Hazraj got me seriously whipped into a frothy food frenzy as I scouted the menu, as so many items on there I had never ever heard of, let alone tried! And for less daring types there are still delicious versions of all the old favourites (bhaji, samosas, paratha, tikka). Hazraj pride themselves on creating healthy Indian cuisine and use very little oil & salt, which is really clear when your food arrives without a bubble of grease in sight. Relating to this I assume, I noticed quite a heavy focus on veggie options too – in actual fact there were more (V)s on the menu than non vegetarian choices!

Before we’d even started considering our food options, I was in dire need of a drink. The drink menu was extensive, with wines especially selected to compliment the various courses. I squealed in delight (attracting a few stares) as I spotted tequila beer on the menu. It’s a recent discovery of mine (a bit slow considering tequila is my favourite spirit) but I think I might be in the minority group of fans since it’s barely and rarely stocked anywhere! As we perused the food menu and I happily supped on my Desperados, a friendly waitor (who I later learnt was the legendary Raj!) came over and politely asked how my beer was as I was “the first person to ever order one” (!) I thought it was really heartening in such a new business to see a) the owner greeting and serving guests but b) enquiring after their feedback. It also gave me opportunity to beg Raj to keep stocking it, even if I remain the only person to ever order it for the rest of time! He said he has really worked hard on the drinks menu to offer a diverse selection of beers, recently adding Crabbies ginger beer too, which I imagine would work well with the more fiery dishes.

For starters we ordered the Mumbai Street Chaats, having no real idea what they were or what we were doing, we thought it wise to opt for the platter to try a bit of everything and at £9.95 you get more than your moneys worth! When they arrived like this, it evoked another squeal of delight from me (if the food wasn’t SO worthy of it, my boyfriend might have been tiring of the squealing by this point…)

The platter came with 4 types of chaat, with ample amounts for two to get a good few gobfulls of each one! The flags detailed how best to eat and what was included in each chaat. This was my absolutely favourite thing about Hazraj, as when you eat an entirely new cuisine its easy to to feel intimidated by it.. This was such an easy (and adorable) way to help us understand what to do in a non patronising and educational way. It’s a delightful notion and just one of the many ways that makes you feel like more than just another customer to Haz & Raj.

I can’t accurately describe the taste sensation that followed with each chaat as anything but MMMMM! You really have to just go and sample for yourself. It’s messy, it’s crazily healthy (mostly vegetable based and spiced with unusual ingredients to perfection) and its devastating when its over!

For main courses there is an easy meal deal offer. Main, rice & naan = £8.95. Main, rice, naan & veg = £11.95. For the incredibly high quality of the food, this seems insanely cheap. Every item was delicious, in perfect portion size and presented like the starters; with such pride and attention to detail.

As with the starter, the food was faultless other than the fact at some point it had to end. Hazraj was such a pleasent experience above and beyond the food though. Every staff member we came into contact with was so caring and welcoming, the ambience was a buzzy but not busy (although we were there on a Monday night, I believe Fridays & Saturdays can attract a bustling queue – hardly surprisingly!) and the decor created a fairy lit enchanting escape from the noise and turmoil of the busy Fortress Road outside.

We were having such a brilliant evening that we ordered chai lattes to extend our trip even longer (not a second tequila beer for me you’ll note, it was a school night after all…) and even these were the best I have ever had. You are probably starting to think I’ve been paid (or subliminally messaged though the mellow Indian music playing throughout our meal) to write this as it’s such a glowing review, but the Kentish Towner agreed with me and gave it a rare 9/10! So DO believe the hype! And if not, believe the happy look on Nick’s face…

I grabbed Raj for another chat at the end and he was so proud and passionate, it’s clear to see why Hazraj has been such a roaring success without spending a penny on marketing! A brave choice (instead they chose to invest the money into the venue, food and service) which has completely paid off. He is hoping to extend the restaurant to cater for more diners in the future and also planning to offer take away hampers in the summer for Hampstead heath dwellers. With smart ideas like that, you can see that I won’t be the last person to rave about Hazraj.

There isn’t much more to say except hurry up & go, then tell me how amazing it is yourself!

I’m already day dreaming about my next visit, as it’s an entirely guilt free experience both on the waist-line and the bank balance. I basically want to eat here every week until I try everything, then start over again… so maybe I’ll see you there.

Address: 1A-1B Fortress Road, Kentish Town, NW5 1AA

Website Here

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Hello 2012! I meant what I said, I really have returned to the land of Bee blogging, life has just been getting in the way a little bit. First it was all Christmas chaotic and then my first week back at work involved far too much desk-lunching and squinting at my computer screen, and not enough 11am drinking and living on a diet of roasted peanuts, turkey sandwiches and cheeselets for my festively conditioned body! Despite these pesky blog-obstacles, I have a really good feeling about 2012, and all the exciting adventures I will have to write about.

Anyway one thing sure to kick my ass into some Sunday afternoon scibbling (ok typing) is the fact tomorrow is my biggest blog-fan’s birthday. She has been a dedicated reader, a fan-email sender and all round eagle eye on all things Like a Skeleton Key. And she is… my mum! (This probably = minus cool points for some people, but she is the coolest fan I can think of having) So this little update is especially for her. When I mentioned I might blog about this trip we took, she said ooh I better watch my Ps & Qs if I’m going to be written about. I don’t think I have ever heard her utter more than a flip and she needs to be pretty raging to even drop one of those, but feel free to read this imagining that she swore at everyone she encountered and I’ve edited it out, it might make for a funnier read.

My mum and I have a tradition of going on a couple of weekend breaks every year. We’ve been known to pack ourselves off to chic Euopean locations like Paris… Bruges… Liverpool… Manchester… and this year her pick for a weekend jaunt was (drum roll) Nottingham. Yup, I know. I have to say, although it sounds very nice and all, I did give it a bit of a nose crinkle and furrowed brow as it’s a city I just didn’t know very much about – let alone what on earth we might find to entertain her there for three days. I’m glad to say, I was proved very wrong to be so doubtful.

We stayed in a standard Premier Inn, costing about the price of a round of drinks in London (!) per night. I am a big Hotel fan so found the room pretty swell even though it was no-frills. And of course I was chivalrous and gave my mum the double bed whilst I slept in the pull-out kiddy bed contraption that kept threatening to munch me everytime I so much as tensed a muscle in my sleep.

On the first day we just pottered around the town centre, which is really easily walkable and has some pretty areas to explore, like the old Lace Market and Hockley. I had the joy of introducing my mum to Shakeaway! I think these milkshake bars are quite common down South, but I’d only ever had the pleasure once before so was thrilled to stumble across one in Nottingham’s central square. I opted for a chocolate chip, dime bar and cheesecake special. (Mum opted for ‘just chocolate, just normal chocolate please’ ! Probably their easiest customer of forever) Mine tasted delicious, but also like diabetes in a cup and gave me the sugar-jitters for about 3 hours after; which was seriously badly timed with me having to pop into Primark to buy a cardigan. I had forgotten (tut, despite being Northern) that anywhere outside of London doesn’t have the protective smog jacket of stinky warmth, and so was in need of extra layers.

All set with my new chunky mustard knitwear (I am obsessed with mustard this year after never ever wearing anything that colour before. I’m like a magpie and now own so much mustard coloured clothing it might need it’s own drawer in my wardrobe. It’s a worry) I was ready to do some more exploring. We headed out of the city centre towards the Nottingham Trent campus, where there is an Arboretum. I didn’t know what this was, so to the uncultured, it’s basically another word for park. It was definitely worth a look; it had a nice lake, muchos ducks, ornamental gardens, exotic birds to peer at, a little maze and lots of leaves to kick. I think if we’d had longer I would have ventured out on the tram to Wollaton Hall & Park because it has real life deer and as previously mentioned, I love a good deer spot.


If you do find yourself in Nottingham, I think the best recommendation I received (via the power of Twitter) was Lee Rosy’s Tea Room,which is tucked away in the backstreets of Hockley, nestled between some nice independent art and music shops. They serve hundreds of different types of tea and a plethora of yummy cake goods. Not so good for lunch, as it’s just basic sandwiches on offer, so perhaps better as a good excuse for taking afternoon tea like a fancy person. The tea room was bustling but had a really nice atmopshere and very friendly staff, and was a great place to sit supping from our seemingly never ending pot of tea and reading books for an afternoon. They also stock tea to buy online here. I bought my boyfriend some lapsang souchong for Christmas (and a yellow submarine tea infusor, how cute is it?!) and it was really nicely pacakaged and tasted just as good at home without a nice waitress to brew it for you.

The more I write, the more wholesome and twee our Nottingham trip seems! I was going to say we did do one thrill-seeking, adrenaline pumping activity… but it was taking a ride on the carousel in the city centre. Ok, so we were definitely the only people on there over the age of 8, but it did go really fast and was dead scary, honest.

I’d definitely take a trip back to Nottingham. It was cheap, it was cheery and if nothing else takes you fancy – it’s probably the only place in the world where you can ride a carousel horse named Grandma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I love cheeseburgers.

I love cheeseburgers so much that this joyous Lazy Oaf sweater is top of my Christmas List, although sadly I don’t think I know anyone who loves me enough to pay 60 big ones for a novelty jumper! I would probably wear it everywhere though, even in the bath.

I’m pretty carniverous, despite the fact that upon meeting new people the most frequent judgement I get is that I “look like a vegetarian” which surely is just about the most random summation of a persons looks possible? But it happens over, and over, to the point that now two of my friends only refer to me as “our favourite meat-eating vegetarian”. Whenever I go for a nice meal I have the endless battle of wanting to branch out and try something new, but then my blood thirsty meat eater voice pipes up and saying ALL YOU WANT IS A CHEESEBURGER! Why deny it! And then I just have no choice but to order the burger. But is is a risky way to live your food-ordering life, as burgers can be so hit & miss. So often they arrive filled with greasy potential, only to let you down.  Dry stale bun, drooly cheese slop, brown lettuce, recently-frozen grey patty, rogue pickles…

So when I heard that MEATLiquor had opened and was serving “the best cheeseburger in London” I knew I would not be able to sleep easy until I had sampled it for myself. It is the latest project from the people behind the legendary elusive Meatwagon truck, and later #Meateasy… which I shamefully never managed to get to because it was in New Cross. and as a northerner-in-London my geography is not good enough to navigate myself to such an obscure location. Thankfully they must have felt my pain when selecting the location for MEATLiquor  as it is just behind Debenhams off Oxford Street, and a glorious ten minute straight-line stroll from my work.

MEATLiquor is snuggled into a quiet corner on Welbeck Street, surrounded by bleak car parks and hiding from the rawcous Oxford Street rabble. As I walked there, I started to wonder how hard it was going to be to find. The thing that no other review I’ve read has mentioned yet is that you can smell MEATLiquor minutes before it actually comes into view. As I clutched my iPhone and watched the little blue dot (me) scooch closer to the red pin (ML) I was suddenly hit with the definite hunger-groan-inducing smell of burgers. I did have to stop and have a stern word with myself, panicking that my over-excitement at going to MEATLiquor was bringing on some sort of scent delusion, but then I saw the red neon sign glowing in the distance and realised it was my impending dinner I could smell.

First things first, you will have to queue. Sometimes queues = overhyped disappointment, and that fear that people are purely joining a queue in a zombie/sheep/just to be cool fashion. The queue at MEATLiquor however is well deserved and exists because a) it’s amazing and b) once you are in and bagged your table, you aren’t rushed. Both these things  make it way more worth a wait than Alton Towers rides or something else you might happily stand in line for. If you arrive PRE-6.45pm on an early week night you will only have to wait about ten minutes. If you arrive after 6.45pm (I guess this is burger o’clock as it specifically does get instant busy at this time!) then I don’t know an approximate time but the queue was as far as the eye can see. Even way past the good-smells zone. Queue entertainment is however provided as impatient city boys and bustling business folk attempt everything to skip the queue and schmooze the doorman, who hearteningly is very fair and simply does not make any exceptions and tells them to get to the back of the line buster (only far more politely than that)

We were lucky to be seated right underneath this incredible ceiling art, but the entire interior is the epitome of the word cool. I’m a sucker for animals, especially angry looking animals, and ML has these in abundance. The seating and table settings are minimal (tealights in jamjars) but this just goes to help show off the drama of the towering burgers and beautiful beverages. It feels like you have walked into New York and I guess that is exactly the aim, as long gone are thoughts of tube tussles and work woes, as you soak up the grease fumes and the cheery staff make you welcome.

STARTERS: I opted for the buffalo wings with blue cheese dip which resulted in a heaving pile of wings – a really over generous portion for the price. They were slathered in the most heavenly hot sauce and left me a sticky, shiney, sauce covered mess of a girl gnawing on the bones in desperation for it not to be over. A good sign? My hot date opted for deep fried pickles. I am unfortunately a pickle-phobic. I hate the taste of pickles, the look of pickles and being called pickle. But he assured me that they were heavenly, the batter revealing a juicy, crunchy dreamland laying in wait.

MAINS: As a result of obsessing over Burgeracs Dead Hippie Review both hot date and I couldn’t bring ourselves to sample anything else. It’s been likened to a big mac, and I suppose it is, but a really insanely delicious version that won’t leave you with those hollow McDs guilts & shakes after! It’s 2 burgers, lotsa cheese and special oniony sauce. With the compulsory lettuce all burgers must have. Mmm burger-juicey lettuce. ..Why can’t all salad taste like you! I’m no fancypants food reviewer but it was definitely one of the best burgers of my entire life which is what I’d signed up for.

BOOZE: I should have guessed from the name, but I hadn’t expected the highlight of the night to be the drinks, not the burger! It’s a close run thing, but it’s the speciality cocktail House Grog that I can’t stop dreaming of since my ML experience. A rum based punch served in a giant glass jar/jug with a hunk of pineapple and a straw makes you feel like you are in a Wham! video and tastes SO good. It goes down way too easily, and the menu specifies that customers are limited to “2 servings only” ! When the table in the middle of ML was apparently designed especially for dancing on, this seems a little mean. I could have definitely gone for 4, although my bank manager and hot date might not have thanked me so perhaps ML are wise to protect their clients with a rationing policy. I also sampled the cocktail named loosely around The Full English (?) and the fact I can’t remember the exact name is because it was pure alcohol with no mixer. Just spirit. But somehow delicious and also served with a mini pickled-egg rolled in bacon dust (where do you buy bacon dust?! I want to roll all my food in it please) and so was worth a sample purely for that. The MEATLiquor twitterer claims “Come hungry. Leave drunk.” I can vouch for this claims accuracy due to the fact I talked about dog bones for an entire 30 minute night bus ride home!

The atmosphere really was electric in there, in that exciting buzzy way of something amazing taking place. Everyone was beaming (no hipster pouting going on, hooray) and the ambience, CHEAPNESS, service and food could not be faulted. To read some proper-reviews by people fortunate enough to sample everything on the menu – go here to Time Out  and here to Cheese and Biscuits blog.

Safe to say I will be going back super soon. I’m looking at it this way – everytime I go I get fatter. Therefore every next time I go I have more bee blubber to keep me warm in the queue!

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About 3 months ago I got involved in a blind tea tasting challenge for the lovely folks over at Splash of Milk. Being a bolshy Bradfordian I will bore anyone to tears about the wonder of Yorkshire Tea and literally question friendships if I spy PG Tips (shudder) or Tetleys lurking in the cupboard. YT is the king of all brews, you can taste the cobbled streets and moors and eee by gums in every sip! Even the box is a beautiful thing.  I  YT. (I am probably the only loser who loves it so much we are on abbreviation-terms)

So, being a blind tea taster was a bit like being a really quaint spy. I had to sumbit my address to a person I’d never met before, await instructions, then receive a mystery brown paper package filled with anonymous looking lettered envelopes. There were 8 teas to sample in total and everything had to be taken very seriously indeed (eg, not dunking in chocolate digestives until you’d written a paragraph about each ones taste, smell and colour) because lots of other people have taken part and then the results will be compared and contrasted to find out which type is the ULTIMATE tea. Apart from a few burnt taste buds and a lot of tea stain rings popping up all over my flat, the test was lots of fun. I also learnt a plethora of fancy official tea tasting words like Muscatel, Rasping, Weedy and Pungent. Forget wine tasting, I think I might force tea tasting sessions upon all my friends now. A brew also goes alot better with jaffa cakes, than a glass of merlot.

You can have a read of my full tea tasting adventure here…

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