Soho

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It has been such a crazy fortnight. I can barely catch my breath and focus on one single memory, as I’ve crammed so much in that I’m still reeling. First up, I had a wedding back home in Yorkshire for my friend Jenny. It was the most magical setting I’ve ever been to, the ceremony took place in the ruins of Bolton Abbey with the rolling hills of the dales creating a dramatic backdrop. I LOVE her husband (he bought me Ghostbusters 2 on DVD, which means he has a piece of my heart for the rest of time) so it was a privilege to witness them starting their happily ever after together. Nick also made the perfect dashing date, and even got up on the dance floor! Jenny was such a gracious bride, and I nearly fell over when she informed me that the gingerbread “brides” on their baked-goods table at the reception were ones she had just “whipped up” that morning? The anti-Bridezilla.

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Wedding-season continued last week, as I boarded a flight to Belfast for another friends Pauline & Andrew’s wedding. Again it was an honour to be invited to her hometown for a really intimate celebration with friends and family. I arrived as a bit of a gooseberry, knowing no-one except the couple, and left with a phone full of phone numbers of new friends and promises to visit soon. In one of the best wedding-guests treats I’ve ever heard of, to transport us from the church to the reception venue, Pauline had hired a Belfast City Tour Bus! We got a bespoke tour of the Titanic Quarter, which despite visiting Belfast more times than I can count on my hands, I have never actually been to. The reception was so much fun and felt so personal; with the first dance being to drum n bass! I spent a little over 24 hours in total in Belfast and am already itching to go back to explore some more. In the precious time I did have, I met up with two of my all-time favourite blogging babes Claire aka French for Cupcake and Sarah aka Sarah Kane. We’ve all known each other for nearly a decade from our early internet days on Livejournal through to Twitter now, and nothing could beat getting to give them a proper hug and chat face to face over a coffee.

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On my flight home I was sat between James Nesbitt (!) and the tour manager for Leftfield, which made for an interesting conversation as we juddered through some stomach churning clouds. I had a huge rush of emotions and excitement as we bumped back down into Heathrow, as the next time I step foot on a plane it will be a one-way journey to Venezuela and the start of an entirely new chapter in my life! Talking of which… my new travel blog home is:

TWENTYSOMETHING BURNOUTS

Make sure you either email subscribe to get my updates direct to your inbox (fill in your details on the right hand bar) or add my blog to your Bloglovin’, reader, bookmarks or favourites to follow the adventure. I am a total travel newbie (and a bit of a princess) so it should be amusing rather than envy-inducing, I promise. We are hoping that with Nick’s male/travel fiend Vs my female/travel rookie perspectives on everything we experience – we will be offering something new to a pretty saturated travel blog market. Thanks to Katie who designed our Wes-tastic map-alicious chunk of the internet. Also, if you like what you see, please please share the blog. Tweet about it, send it to your friends, add it to your blogroll or links. We really want to provide an honest review of some incredible parts of the world and to do that we need as much exposure as possible.

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Amongst my gallivanting around to weddings, I also had my final two weeks in my current job. It’s been handover hell, with loads of my brain to download and things to check off to ensure there is a smooth transition as a new-me hasn’t been hired yet. I’ve had a farewell night out with my gal Kate (she is off to Canada soon so misses my last London week, another case of sad bad timing) where we strolled South Bank, ate everything in Wahaca, then shared a two-pint glass of “Twisted Zombie” which apparently has 12 ingredients and needs a specially trained mixologist to make. I think 90% of the ingredients were spirits judging by our precarious stagger over the Millennium bridge afterwards.

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Last night I had my final farewell to Craig. We sat in the window of Thirst in Soho, it was a super humid night and a weird silvery mist was settled all around us. We drank “silly hour”£5 cocktails (including one that we both agreed tasted like “Christmas gone wrong”) then we headed to Archer Street via Tesco for one for the road aka cocktail in a can, which was ridiculous as we were only walking one block so then had to lurk in an alley way downing them. Real classy! If you ever go out in London and haven’t been to Archer Street then you’re missing out. It’s swanky looking, but don’t let appearances deceive you. This place is fromage through and through. The music isn’t just 90s, it’s song after song that makes you gasp and say I REMEMBER THIS whilst simultaneously discovering you know every word to every lyrics. Highlights were definitely No Scrubs, Shine… shine like a star oooh shining so bright like the star that you are…, shake shake shake senora and Quit Playin’ Games With My Heart. The reason I really love it there though is that no one is pretentious. You look around and are greeted with a sea of smiling cheery cheeks as everyone indulges in their own tipsy nostalgia trip. No scowl or head-to-toe judgement looks here. We roamed through the night falling into bed at 2am and this morning we hugged in the pouring rain and now the next time I see Craig will be in Guatemala in 2014… Um, eek.

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I can’t lie, I’m feeling pretty weird right now. I’ve quit my job and I’m teetering on the edge of the biggest decision I’ve ever made in my life. I keep getting these waves of being about to cry, followed by a huge sense of freedom (such as deleting my work email from my phone FOREVER) and everything in between; rattles of nerves, cold sweat night panics, bursts of excitement, delirious happy… On Monday I go back to Yorkshire for a whole week of family and friend time which I think it just what I need to stop being quite so nutty. 

I think from then I need to focus more on writing and content for TwentySomething Burnouts. You may notice a dwindle over here, so just make sure you subscribe over there and then you won’t miss anything.

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Apologies that this is basically turning into a blog where I talk about food and a tiny bit of life stuff! I’m sure you’re wondering how I haven’t eaten myself into oblivion but it’s all being balanced out by walking 5 miles into work every day which my health-logic then entitles me to eat anything and everything. (I also keep focussing on the fact that soon I’ll be climbing mountains and sweating litres in Caribbean heat) (& Not the fact that I also have to brave a bikini…)

Like most children of the 80s/90s raised on a diet of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles; I love pizza. I love it so much. I’m not really a fan of Pizza Hut and after a brief novelty-value-flirtation with Domino’s I now can’t stand it, the freaky donughty base is not the one. I like my pizza thin-crust and as authentic as possible, my favourite London pizza joint up until now has been Stingray in Tufnell Park where you can get a pizza & a beer/wine for £5.95! And the pizza is GOOD and the waitresses always play amazing songs like Tatu and Melanie C from their ipods. Stingray still has a hunk of my heart but there is a new kid on the block rivalling for my affections. I first heard about Home Slice a few weeks ago. I follow lots of wise food blogging owls on twitter and start hearing rumblings that it was well worth a look. It is located in the very picturesque Neal’s Yard, an area of central London that I really don’t go enough and so it’s nice to have a delicious excuse to visit more often. Like many of the start-up restaurants, such as Meat Liquor and Wish Bone, Home Slice started humbly – as a homebuilt mobile pizza over in London Fields. It’s lovely to support these passionate chefs and entrepreneurs as they grow and blossom. Using traditional wood fires, pizza is all they serve! But that’s not to say the menu is dull, the toppings are all mouth wateringly tempting ranging from ox-tail to bone marrow to salami to traditional Caprese. The pizza is served either by the slice (£4) or a full pizza (£20). After basing our decision to go to Home Slice purely on the novelty for being able to order by the slice NY style, we then succumbed to being piglets and ordered a whole pizza.

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That is 20 inches of pure cheesy tomato delight. Home Slice is one of those laid back places where asking if we could go half-n-half on toppings was absolutely no problem. Our waitress was so enchanting and even praised us on our topping selection – mushroom, ricotta & pumpkin seeds / chorizo, corn & coriander. Upon the arrival of the 20 inch beast, we both proclaimed “oh wow, we’ll be taking home a big doggy bag”. Then we took a bite, and all concepts of doggy bags vanished as we silently troughed through the whole lot only breaking to make ridiculous movie mmmmm noises and wide eyed YUM faces at each other. It is by far the finest pizza I have ever had in my life, including the many slices I shovelled away on my trips to New York.

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Most of my friends will know that my tipple of choice is Prosecco. Mainly, due to cost, I reign myself in and only drink it on special occasions and celebrations. Occasionally I cave in and order it on an average night out and get met with “celebrating something..!?” and then feel all bashful. But Home Slice clearly felt my pain and therefore they have Prosecco ON TAP. Have you every heard of such a thing? I would be such a happy (merry) person if I could have Prosecco on tap in my house. Anyway the draft-ness of it means it’s a steal at £4 a glass…another very good reason to go, chow down and chug up!

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After all those inches of dough we decided we better walk home. When you have a boyfriend who’s handily your bestfriend and braintwin, you have lots of adventures even on a walk you’ve done a thousand times before. First we walked through “Sci-Fi City” (the new business development by Warren Street) and then found a door that led to nowhere. We scampered about and found a lot of things to laugh at and about, even as our legs grew weary and the sun dipped. It’s nights like this that make me extra-excited for our international adventure, as I think if we can still find a way to find a tedious walk home so sparkly then imagine what it will be like when we are roaming through rainforests and trekking through misty mountains. I’m sure we’ll have the odd “I miss London!” moment and it’ll be nights (and meals) like this that I’ll be remembering.

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My work-mate/mate-mate Chloe is one of those people that always knows exactly where to go to eat. Whatever conundrum I have (eg. where do I take this client for lunch to look cool but not pretentious? where can I get Scottish square sausage in London? where can I get the best soup noodles in China town?) she has the solution. In fact she EVEN knows what to say when I have those frustrating “I’m hungry but I don’t know WHAT I WANT” moments (um, every day).

This week I have turned into a human pin-cushion. Ahead of quitting my life and travelling the world, there is a lot to be organised and one big part of that is the fifteen vaccines I need before doing things like living on a hammock on the Amazon. On Monday I had three injections in one day (two in the same spot on one side, sprouting a sad sympathy bruise) so I arrived into work with lead arms and a traumatised face and Chloe said “Huzzah! I know what you need. You need to Nordic Bakery” and she was right. It fixes all woes, including needle related sulks.

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Since discovering the Nordic Bakery I have been back more times than I can confess, and plan to camp out there on a weekly basis until I leave Soho. It’s tucked away at the back of Golden Square, so about 10min stroll from Oxford Circus, past the Carnaby Street chaos. I am already a fan of nordic food but this only really stretches to summering in Stockholm a decade ago and… Ikea. I thought I liked Cinnamon Buns, a lot, but I didn’t realise that the rest of them PALE in comparison to the Nordic Bakery Bun. Weighing about the same as an iPad (!) it’s layer after layer of flaky, sticky goodness that is the equivalent of eating a hug.

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The Nordic Bakery is dreamy for breakfast-brunching. Not only do they serve a damn fine cup of coffee (I heart Agent Cooper) they also have an array of pastries and baked goods ranging from standard pan au chocolate to the real traditional Nordic bits such as karelian pie which is a Finnish dish consisting of a crusty rye base, filled with potato or rice porridge and then topped with the most miraculous of ALL food inventions; Egg. Butter. Egg Butter. It sounds like something from the Butterflied Diet, but is an actual real thing and is as tasty as it sounds. The pies are served warm so the whole thing is a flaky, melty, buttery delight.

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There is also a pretty good spread of lunch goods, although I haven’t sampled any yet. But they range from salmon & egg on rye to some traditional brain-busting fish combinations including gravlax, herring and salmon. The cafe itself is very aesthetically pleasing, all wooden loveliness and sleek lines and corners, and has a zen sense of calm and tranquility despite being in the heart of Soho. Oh! I also haven’t mentioned the sweet treats. There are mountainous cakes on offer, lingonberry tarts and I sampled (all in the name of afternoon-tea suitability research of course!) the oatmeal cookie which sounds potentially dull but it was a sweet sticky gooey mass of oats and nuts and dark / white chocolate heaven. The thing I actually like best is what the baristas are wearing! The denim aprons are top of my object of desire list. I think they should start selling them.

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I’ve spent the last seven years working in Soho, only moving from the Tottenham Court Road end of Oxford Street to the Oxford Circus neighbourhood when switching jobs. It’s been the place I’ve clocked up more hours than anywhere else in my adult life and mooched in and out of doing my 9-5 (pah, 9-8 more like) thing for so long that it feels entirely surreal that in a mere 2.5 weeks I’ll no longer be a Soho socialite. Ah well, it’s a good excuse to eat and drink and sample EVERYTHING here before I leave…

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I will have been living in London for 4 years this Autumn. That’s the longest I’ve ever lived in a city other than the one I was born in and pretty good considering I was one of those “Oh I’ll just go to London for a year or two and then probably get sick of it and move back up north” people. I adore living here but sometimes I think simple things such as where to go for a nice cocktail, where for a good curry or where for a nice cup of coffee can be almost impossible to work out – as there is an overwhelming amount of choice!

You can basically only learn by trial and error I think. So I thought I would start to share some of my favourites as I have a whole list stacking up in my moleskin and they are better written in here than kept scribbled to myself. I figure they might be useful if you live here or ever visit (especially as they are all on the cheap, as one thing living in London does is swallow up any disposable income you have!) Here are my first 3 and there are many more where these came from…

01. The Best Place for a Coffee, Cake and Chat

– Ray’s Jazz Cafe @ Foyles Book Shop

When I first moved to London, for the first two years I think it is quite possible that I spent more time sitting in the Starbucks in Borders on Oxford Street, trying to make one £1.20 peppermint tea last a lifetime and pouring over a heaving stack of magazines, than I did in the bedroom I was paying rent for! When Borders closed down, I was literally devestated. I had always thought it would be a place I could visit and visit forever, filled with fond new-London living memories. It’s taken a long time to find a suitable replacement but the Jazz Cafe definitely rivals it.

Sitting within the lovely independent Charring Cross bookstore Foyles, which is worth a visit anyway, the Jazz Cafe has it’s own staircase from the street. It is filled with old oak tables, benches and pews and has tons of space. Which is lucky, as the secret is obviously out, and it’s always bustling and busy. I’ve never been unable to get a seat though, so it’s just on the right side of heaving.

It offers a heady selection of coffees and herbal teas. There is also always a vast selection of homemade cakes, homemade soup (that’s often on half price if you go in an evening!) and mostly vegetarian sandwiches.

Spot the difference between the book wallpaper and the real books! There isn’t endless access to free magazines (sadly) but there is a hefty book collection that they are pretty relaxed about you pilfering and taking back to your table, as long as you replace it on it’s rightful shelf after! The atmosphere is busy and social, I often park up at a table already occupied by a random stranger and end up having a bit of a natter before plunging into my reading or writing. There is always a really diverse crowd; tourists, business folk, students etc and the fact it’s in the heart of Soho means it’s an easy stop off on route to exciting places like Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Oxford Street.
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02. The Best Place for a Curry

– Tayyabs, Whitechapel

I grew up in Bradford where about 70% of meals ever eaten were curry! In my primary school, for hot school dinners we had keema every day, except for Fish Friday. I love curry, I love indian/pakistani cuisine and the spicier the better! But curry is so easy to get so wrong, or just meh. When in London it is sort of enforced on you that Brick Lane is the best place for curry. It’s definitely fun to wander around and chat to the hecklers outside, and get 10 popadoms, 2 for 1 beers and a free plate of bhajis thrown in, but I haven’t ever had a mind-blowing curry on Brick Lane.

Walk ten minutes away though, and rather than people heckling you to come in, at Tayyabs… they are heckling you to wait outside as the queue is so giant it snakes around the entire restaraunt. And this is for a very good reason; it’s the best curry in London! This leads me to my first point: BOOK A TABLE. Even when you make a reservation you might have to wait ten/fifteen minutes to be seated. If you turn up on a whim, you will be punished. Last week my beau and I got a Tayyabs craving and wandered in on a Thursday night (fools!) and we waited 1 hour and 35 minutes for a table. No seats, no polite waiters giving you freebies as you stand fainting with hunger. They don’t need to! There were at least 30 people who waited as long, if not longer, than us. The food is good enough that you are willing to put yourself that amount of torture. But unless you like your meal-out to include a very hefty test of your patience thrown in… then make sure you book.

The menu is very limited, sticking to only traditional Pakistani/Punjabi dishes – Karahi and Gosht, with various naan, bhaki and tikka starters. This is probably the key to why it is so amazing as they stick to what they do well and don’t complicate things. But don’t go expecting to see kormas or rogan josh, as that aint going to happen! They also do a different special each night. The tikka dishes come out sizzling and everything I’ve ever eaten there (alot) has been just insanely tender and beautiful. They also have a sweet centre counter where you can stock up on kulfi and jelabi to take home for dessert. Did I mention it’s Bring Your Own Booze? So you can pick up some nice cheap Cobras or wine on route, and save more pennies for food. The staff are effiicient, friendly and despite the chaos of the crowds, always seem to be having a good time with each other too.
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03. The Best Place for Happy Hour

– Franny’s Pop-Up, Frith Street

Sadly, pretty much as soon as I’ve recommended this serious London GEM, I will have to recommend another… as it’s a pop up and is only open until March 12th. Wah! I think I might go and chain myself to the door in protest as it’s my favourite London discovery for absolutely ages. I have to give it a mention because if you haven’t been to scope it out yet you need to cancel all future plans and hurry down. The downstairs is a restaurant and bar, and the upstairs is an amazing art exhibition space. Despite being a pop-up, a huge amount of effort has gone into the cool decor, the branding and the (hate this word!) ambiance. It feels unlike anywhere else I’ve been in Soho, there is a really laid back but buzzy, vibrant feeling.

Oh and did I mention, that during their happy hour that runs until 7pm, they have 50% off cocktails?! That means you can get a cocktail for £3 which is unheard of anywhere, particularly London! And they are serious business cocktails, not any old tat. I had far too many apple martinis and margharitas stacked up at 6pm and it made for a very fun night. I haven’t eaten there but my friend got the piri piri chicken pasta and said it was good, it was a big hefty portion too. Finally, the staff are all swell and super friendly and all in all, this is going to be a tragic loss to Frifth Street. I hope the team behind it open somewhere new, sharpish!
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