Things to do in London

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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

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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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As I get older I realise that I probably fall into the category of those with a nervous disposition. I think the mathematical formulae for being this way is:

Control Freak + Over Active Imagination = Easily Terrified

A prime example of this being a few months back when I was living alone in the flat for 3 months and spent the majority of nights sleeping curled on the sofa clutching a kitchen knife, yknow, just in case. But just because I am naturally twitchy and squirmy around all things scary, doesn’t mean I don’t love it. [As demonstrated when I went Ghost Hunting recently!] Obviously I don’t love being awake at 4am because I think I can hear a ghost baby crying in my wardrobe (!) but safer, controlled scary things like movies, books and tv shows I am all for. I think fear is an itch that everyone loves to scratch, but then starts to regret when you’re later laying in bed replaying scary moments and cold sweating.

I’ve actually always been a fan of all things scary from a really young age. I think it’s because both my maternal and paternal grandparents had a collection of phenomenal ghost stories, and out of every story they would regale me with – it was the ones that made goosebumps cover my arms and my spine tingle that I’d beg for over and over. I supposed that as influencers and carers, they should have been reassuring me that ghosts and things that go bump in the night are aload of guff… but I’m grateful they didn’t as those stories are the ones I repeat again to family and friends even now. My sister is three years older than me, and while other girls our age were reading Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High we were building up the worlds largest collection of Point Horror books and counting down the hours to Michael Aspels Strange But True (oh god! the credits!)

Can you remember the first time you felt real fear? I can remember mine. There was an independent  video shop (the type of which I imagine are almost completely extinct now) that my mum would take us to on a Saturday after swimming, to get a film for that evening. The video shop was called 2001 Videos – HOW scary that ‘2001’ seemed so far in the distant future and as if when it eventually was 2001 we’d be living in space and driving hover cars. Anyway, tangent ahoy, at 2001 Videos we religiously stuck to the kids and cartoons section, occasionally browsing the general releases. At the back by the counter there was the Horror aisle and my sister would always dare me to walk up it. I think I was about 6 when I finally took the bait and waited for my mum to be distracted before taking a deep breath and stepping hesitantly towards the word HORROR. There were two video boxes in particular that were SO frightening, so horrifying and so unlike anything I’d ever seen that they shook me to the core. They were Childs Play and Hellraiser

No matter that we eventually left the shop (with something nice like Care Bears) and that I was back in the comfort of my family home, the fact that I had those terrifying images burnt into my retinas meant I just couldn’t relax and I had nightmares for weeks. From a bloody VHS box! Not even watching the film!

Anyway this is all a bit of a build up to the fact that last week I went to see the INCREDIBLE Ghost Stories at the Duke of York Theatre. The play is written by Andy Nyman – co-creator and director of Derren Brown’s television and stage shows and Jeremy Dyson – League Of Gentleman genius. Their aim in creating Ghost Stories was to bring back some of the classic Victoriana theatre going experience; something creepy, haunting and that could raise a blood curdling scream.

Before going to see Ghost Stories I had avoided reading or googling anything about it (and you should too! Which is also why I promise I wont go into any depth about the content) and so really had no idea what to expect. Approaching the theatre absolutely covered in goading signs saying “Just keep telling yourself its only a show”, “Pant-Wettingly Scary” and “NOT suitable for those with a nervous disposition” (Oh, hi!) I was starting to feel the churn of fear in my belly before I’d even entered. Everything about the theatre experience is designed to put you at un-ease from the second you walk in; from the decor, the darkness of the circle as you find your seat and the well to hell sound effects playing as you sit waiting for it to begin.

I think that Ghost Stories is possibly one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in my entire life. I just cannot beg you hard enough that you have to go and see it while it’s still running. It will certainly make you scream, question everything and immediately want to book tickets to see it again. (I did, sad!) The acting, set and intricate story are just mindblowing. Just when you think you know what is going on, you realise you have no idea! You are constantly lulled in false senses of security before embarrassing yourself by jumping ten feet in the air and screaming in the face of the person next to you.

Five stars, go see it, go book it now.

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