Summer Tales, Shoreditch

Months after booking tickets, I finally went along to Summer Tales in Shoreditch on Saturday night. (Wow, that’s some sibilance…) After seeing heaps of blog posts and beautiful pictures across social networks, I couldn’t wait to finally see the venue. Turfing up around 7.30 on Saturday, we faced a mammoth queue – word to the wise, either turn up dead on 6pm when doors are opened, or buy a queue jump ticket (cocktail included.)

IMG_20141124_124753 IMG_20141124_125154Inside was the jungle paradise of my dreams – all credit to the event planners, who had plucked palm trees, sand, tree houses and neon signs to produce something beautiful AND fun. Attention to detail was excellent, from candy striped cushions in one of the upper bars, to a tiny beach with hammocks and beach chairs, to wooden swings…the whole thing felt like a playground for adults. With alcohol. In fact, alcohol from COCONUTS. Which brings me to an important point – make sure you go armed with cash. Boozy coconuts at the ever lovely Cocoface were cash only, and we were banned by the security guy from popping across the street to get cash out as he said we wouldn’t be allowed back in. So, lesson learned.

IMG_20141124_125041 IMG_20141124_125545I think London is developing an increasing intolerance for pop ups and installations and takeovers, especially those around the Shoreditch and Hackney areas. You could say…they’re starting to feel a bit HACKNEYED. HA HA. But seriously. I know these kind of things have a bit of a bad rep, but when something is brilliantly executed and an awful lot of fun, I can easily overlook the fatigue and get on board. Summer Tales pulls off a real coup, transforming a small grey patch of Shoreditch into somewhere magical. In many ways, it had the laid back festival feel that Secret Garden Party lacked at points.

IMG_20141124_125802 IMG_20141124_125810It’s somewhere that you can go for a relaxed few drinks and a delicious supper from one of the street food stands, then have a bit of a dance around on the covered dance area, surrounded by fairy lit trees. As a bit of a sad sidebar, the crowd in Shoreditch seems to have changed a lot, generally speaking. It used to be somewhere you could go out and not really care what you looked like  (something I increasingly admire in a place!) but over the last few years it seems to have turned into an extension of the West End. Girls were teetering through the woodchips and sand in five inch heels, holding mirrors up to check their fake lashes, adjusting teeny tiny dresses. It was fine, and all power to you if that’s your thing, but it felt a bit like watching the Kardashians going camping.

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All-focus

All-focus

Anyway, that aside, I strongly recommend it for making the most of the last few weeks of summer. Go for a Pin-Up Colada at the Lazy Flamingo Bar upstairs, grab a fishbowl of booze at the downstairs bar, sit and relax on a swing, and be a weirdo like me who strokes the tiny patch of sand going ‘the sand feels sooo good, I love sand!’ And most definitely have a dance. The DJ broke out a hyper-electro, instrumental version of the Human League’s ‘Things That Dreams Are Made Of’, which delighted me no end. Just be as charming as possible to the security staff and do your best to avoid the girls in the bathroom screaming ‘THAT LIPSTICK IS SOOO MY COLOUR’.

Summer Tales runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at Red Market in Shoreditch. Buy tickets here.

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Midnight Apothecary at the Brunel Museum

I’ve been very excited about writing this post, because I couldn’t wait to share what I got up to last weekend! (Well, a bit at least. If I told you everything, I’d have to kill you.) Hands up if you’ve ever been to Rotherhithe? If you’re like me before the weekend, your hand will remain floppily by your side. Well, I’m encouraging you to change that, dearest chums, and raise that wrist heavenwards with pride. Rotherhithe is actually rather ace, and I’ll tell you for why.

I can’t remember where I first read about Midnight Apothecary, but I’d like to thank that publication whole-heartedly. Botanical cocktails on a roof garden, marshmallows to toast, AND a tour of the Brunel museum sounded like a heavenly way to spend a Summer evening, and after coming back from Sludgefest 2015 (Secret Garden Party), I was ready to hit an actual Secret Garden in the sun.

IMG_20150801_181751 IMG_20150801_181828Luckily, it was a gorgeous evening as we wandered down from Rotherhithe station – via Shadwell, which I can’t talk about in the same glowing terms, sadly. We spotted the museum straight away, a substantial tower rising up from the residential street with an unmistakeable waft of barbecue. Clambering up slender steps to the roof, we were soon greeted by the sight of a proper English garden, full of laughter and sun, and the scent of burning sugar from the marshmallows. If you’re unclear as to what that translates to, I’ll tell you: that, my friends, is sheer happiness.

IMG_20150801_192932 IMG_20150801_191706The cocktails are provided by Lottie Muir of The Cocktail Gardener, who is by all accounts, a bit of a whizz. We managed to make our way through all but one of the 7 strong menu, and I tried everything from Douglas Fir vodka to hibiscus syrup, via a lavender gin fizz, and a strawberry and thyme concoction. Pretty AND lethal, just the opposite of how I like my men. I truly believe the soul can be entirely soothed just by sitting calmly in a garden, spotting birds flying overhead, inhaling the scent of gas lamps mixed with herbs, with a shot of vodka or two by your side. After a day in Shoreditch and surrounding areas, it felt awfully calm and peaceful.

IMG_20150801_193651 IMG_20150801_182135We moved from the outskirts of the garden into the centre, round the campfire, and grabbed a couple of stakes to toast our marshmallows on. Never has there been such a feeling of being simultaneously entirely masculine (large pointy wooden stake) but entirely girly (tiny pink marshmallow), and I enjoyed it immensely. As it turns out, my toasting skills are VERY poor. My phone is still bathed in a kind of marshmallow ectoplasm, and I was mercilessly made fun of by my Canadian pal who is adept at these kind of essential life skills.

Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly get any happier, an effervescent and actorly chap leapt out in a red hat and told us he’d be giving a tour of the railway tunnel itself – this is absolutely not to be missed. We clambered through a small tunnel and went down into a huge underground room, where we learned all about the two Brunels and what they’d created. It was quite thrilling to sit there and imagine people banquetting all the way underground, and Queen Victoria making a visit.

IMG_20150801_202258 IMG_20150801_181846If you’re a bit fed up of the usual pop ups and the same old bars, and you like your cocktails with both a botanical AND a historical twist, there’s nowhere better than the Midnight Apothecary. Book some tickets through Design My Night (a mere fiver each), and have a truly unique and relaxing evening in Rotherhithe!

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When Mac Met Cheese at The Endurance

Hello! A massive lack of posts lately, but let’s go straight back in with a food review. Since working in Soho, I find myself making quite a lot of ‘what to eat in Soho for lunch’ inquiries into Google. The problem is, there’s almost too much choice, and I’m attempting to avoid chains and explore somewhere different most days. I’m planning on writing posts based around my lunchtime escapades, in the hope that it might help out someone else similarly stuck for where to eat! Anyway, mission statement dispensed with, let’s go to the food:

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When Mac Met Cheese: The Concept

Virtually underneath our office is a rather glum pub aptly named The Endurance. It’s nearly empty and appears to play host to a variety of pop-up ventures, including When Mac Met Cheese. When I saw the posters, I nearly passed out with excitement. Mac and cheese is one of the most truly perfect foods in existence, and a dining experience solely devoted to it sounded wonderful. I’m a big fan of the new wave of restaurants offering just one choice of food in a couple of incarnations (Honest Burgers, Burger & Lobster, Bubbledogs). I read up on previous reviews of WMMC as a food stand, and set my hopes to: ludicrously high.

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The Food

Three options for the pasta, optional extras (bacon lardons, chicken, rocket, tomato, broccoli); a side of coleslaw; deep fried Oreos. Absolute simplicity, which made me think that the food was duty bound to be excellent. I mean, if you’re only serving one thing, you’ve got to do it right, haven’t you? I opted for one option with a ghastly name: the ‘cheesy green afro’. Because, you know, who DOESN’T love thinking about a hairstyle with a hygiene problem while eating? Anyway, with stilton, mozzarella and broccoli, it ticked quite a few boxes.

On first mouthful, I was happy. Rich, extremely cheesy and supremely comforting, this was like the Richard Madeley of foodstuffs. It came to us in cardboard boxes, and let’s just say that mac and cheese is never going to win any beauty contests, so visually it wasn’t much. I started flagging at around the halfway point. It was lukewarm on arrival and cooling rapidly, and each mouthful tasted exactly the same. My companions struggled  – this, from one of the boys: ‘I think I’m going to go to Leon after this to get a wrap’.

The primary issue for me was how I felt afterwards. A truly great eating experience leaves you full but happy. I’m not just referring to restaurants – just down the road from The Endurance are Freebird Burritos and Jerusalem Felafels, both of which leave me full and happy, whereas WMMC left me feeling like more sluggish than a slug that had just taken part in a marathon slug battle and had also found out its’ slug wife had left it. That’s how sluggish I felt. The general table consensus was indeed: ‘I feel full. Not the good kind of full’.

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The Atmosphere

Curious. We were served by a waitress AND someone who appeared to be from The Endurance itself. Things rapidly descended into a Fawlty Towers-esque situation with one waitress coming from the right, another from the left, asking us the same questions. The person serving us from The Endurance came across as slightly brisk, telling us she had ‘nothing to do with the pop up’, she was ‘just helping out’. Taking orders was a bit of a faff: ‘they get it all mixed up in the kitchen’. Mm.

I’m going to touch on decor here too, for a minute. A stripped out ghost pub; tables clung to the walls like kids at their first school disco. Stuffed animal heads on the walls and wallpaper that reminded you of those strange country hotels where you feel slightly uneasy but can’t really put your finger on it. And dark, it was so dark. Dimness doesn’t equal atmosphere, lighting concept designers.

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Overall

Some street foods translate perfectly from pavement to plate. After all, you never expect street food to be that hot or that pretty but it still kicks ass (kinda like Mickey Rourke). But when you’re served that same lukewarm, messy dish with plastic cutlery in an actual  restaurant, it’s a different matter. Come on, would it kill you to give us some proper cutlery? Even wooden cutlery would do. Anything. A rough hewn tool from wire and rocks. Just not plastic.

For me, this entire experience demonstrated the sticky problems with pop ups. What exactly constitutes a pop up? What service do we expect? Should the food come in takeaway boxes or should it be properly plated up? To give it the benefit of the doubt, I think I’d have been a lot happier with this if I’d been eating it while wandering around Camden Market, which is where it usually stands. But as it is, I’m confused, I’m underwhelmed, and I still feel full. And not the good kind of full.

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