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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

La Reve at Cafe de Paris, with The Tootsie Rollers

My night at La Reve was spectacular - an evening of delicious food and even more delicious acts. This saucy celebration of cabaret and burlesque is presented every Friday at Cafe de Paris in London; I was invited to attend on 26th August, for a special array of performers including the Tootsie Rollers – vintage girl band extraordinaire.

Cafe de Paris has a lavish interior, decorated to replicate the great, doomed Titantic’s ballroom. I have visited this venue several times and on each trip the circular hall is transformed to suit the event. We were welcomed inside, led downstairs and shown to a place on one of the smartly set tables in the main club area. Our choice of wine and water was promptly brought to our table, before choosing from the three course set menu.

Already the lights were dimmed and glittery jittery girls flickered amongst the tables, all dressed up for the occasion. In a demure but well cut checked shift dress, I was one of the less adventurously attired ladies though I had nipped into Shu Uemura at lunchtime for a glam fake eyelash fix, so at least I sported a little bit of glamour... I was glad to notice my colourfully outrageous lashes turning a few heads.

From the varied selection of dishes I chose the Goats Cheese, Roast Pepper Roulade with garlic toast and beetroot vinaigrette, then the Roast Free Range Chicken Breast with lyonnaise potatoes, baby vegetables and Dijon mustard sauce for main. My companion ordered Boneless Tamworth Pork Rib with truffle mash, sweet potato confetti, and Magret Duck Breast with steamed bok choi, confit duck spring roll and hoisin jus to follow. Considering the vast room of hungry mouths all ordering at the same time, I was hugely impressed with the efficient and no fuss service. Meanwhile Laura London, an eccentric magician came round to stun us with her unique tricks.

The food was delivered quickly, piping hot and wonderfully presented. I devoured my starter: a sensational combination of flavours and textures, light and yummy. The chicken was rather an unnecessarily large portion and I noticed several girls leaving some untouched on their plates. I loved the peppery mustard sauce and the vegetables were a welcome healthy accompaniment. For dessert we shared the Braeburn Apple & Cinnamon Tarte with caramel and vanilla ice cream and the luxurious Chocolate Bavarois, Grand Marnier & orange coulis and caramelised almonds. Both were delicious and fresh tasting, neither too sweet nor too rich.

Our vivacious hostess Ivy Paige trotted down the spiral stairs and the show began, a line up of the most fabulous acts from around the world: acrobats, fire-eaters, transvestite comedians, dancers, singers, and everything in between - it was a feast for the senses, a mini Moulin Rouge. A few of my favourites were the Bees Knees, the finest flapper girls, Pippa the Ripper, a hula-hooping sensation, and Roxy Velvet, a magnificent showgirl. I absolutely adored the Tootsie Rollers, the star attraction of the night after a feature in Stylist magazine. Six of them dressed in cute matching suits, they were a bubbly bunch, introducing the enthusiastic crowd to some of their harmonious vintage tunes. I wished I was up there with them, it all looked so fun... why aren’t there more of these retro bands? They are a hoot!

After two hours of fun and a couple of Lychee Martinis, we dragged ourselves away from the excitement and stepped out onto the rowdy Leicester Square streets - I had to blink, as it felt like the night had all been a thrilling dream...

Visit La Reve website and book here.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Faith Machine at The Royal Court

‘The Faith Machine’ is a loaded title for a play, despite the central topics of faith and capitalism it seems a little over dramatic to me. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s third play is staged at the Royal Court Theatre after his first two plays received exceptional responses from audiences and critics. I went along to the UK premiere, and joined the excited throng. I spotted several familiar faces in the crowd, including a certain famous bald actor who I struggled to identify throughout the evening, a challenge that kept me quite preoccupied. Finally my blackberry answered my vague question – bald actors' names? He was, in fact, Stanley Tucci from ER.

The Faith Machine is set over ten years and follows the lives of a young couple, Sophie and Tom, their inevitable connection and the consequences of their choices as young adults. It begins on a fateful morning in New York - Sophie requires an answer from Tom, a decision that will change both of their lives forever.

In fact, the story reminded me of ‘One Day’, the David Nicholls book that has just come out at the cinema. Essentially the message that love conquers all is a constant in both narratives. Both focus on a young couple, a strident girl and a less strong minded boyfriend; and although One Day is more trivial, the overriding message feels the same, a girl on a quest to prove something and make a difference. They conclude with parallel tragic endings.

The Faith Machine jumps to and fro within the ten year time span, making the production at times rather incoherent. Sophie’s father, Edward, is the pivotal character; a bishop who, after dedicating his life to the church, is now furiously rebelling against its beliefs and rules, threatening to leave forever. He is the voice of change and reason throughout the play, and the affecting force in his daughter’s life. Of the cast, I found him most convincing, thanks to a wonderfully thoughtful performance from Ian McDiarmid, who I recently saw in the National’s Emperor and Galilean. Kyle Soller as Tom and Hayley Atwell as Sophie both have an appropriate eager youthfulness to them, and give fine performances as the leading couple, though they both seemed a little shaky at the start.

The set is bare, with very few props to assist the actors. Mesmerising film projections from Lorna Heavey fill the gaps between scenes and add an ethereal touch. Director Jamie Lloyd seems to focus attention on the dialogue, cleverly written by Campbell to reflect each character's nationality. It is an intense piece and I felt alert throughout, despite the lengthy running time. Even if a little baffled by the overall message conveyed, on the whole I found this production appealing and now am keen to experience some of Campbell’s other work.

The Faith Machine continues until 1 October, book here.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Hot on the Highstreet Week 66

Moschino’s take on fashion is fun and bold, with wacky patterns, striking prints and a healthy dose of colour. With the addition of the ‘cheap and chic’ range, this desirable designer brand became affordable to younger buyers, and even more on trend.

This seasons Autumn/Winter collection features the fashion capital cities landmarks; New York’s Statue of Liberty, Paris’ Eiffel Tower and for London, a red telephone box. Each are printed as 60’s style shift dresses. Though priced at £440 these fabulous iconic dresses are still way out of my price range, however there is a little something from Moschino this season that is both affordable and desirable - the interchangeable silk and leather strap watches.

This is the most intriguing watch I’ve ever seen, with the option for either a silk scarf strap, or a more classic leather band. Both straps are included, a brilliant two for the price of one offer. There is a range of designs, different colours, materials, patterns, some of the watch faces are even decorated with crystal gemstones. I love several of the designs, and only wish I could mix and match and choose each component separately, but unfortunately each set is already chosen.

With the leather strap this watch is smart and chic, but with the scarf it is transformed into a pretty boho accessory. The scarf can also be worn separately, round your neck, in your hair or tied on a bag - it is multi-purpose. Ranging in price from £92 to £125 these watches are stylish and versatile and certainly a very good designer investment.

Buy online on the Moschino website here. Or on ASOS website here.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Finding your perfect Chanel: an interview with Winnie Lee, founder of Vintage Heirloom

I have always been a vintage and luxury designer lover, and have built up a collection of special bags, silk scarfs and garments in my wardrobe. However the one thing I have dreamt of owning is a vintage Chanel bag. I have never had the nerve or expertise to commit to buying one in case god forbid, it is a fake. So you can imagine my delight when I came across a marvelous website that not only had a wonderful and unique collection of bags but also helped every buyer authenticate Chanel for themselves, Vintage Heirloom. I asked founder and director Winnie Lee some questions about her envious job as a Chanel connoisseur.

What made you want to start up vintage heirloom?

It all started from years of being an avid Chanel collector. Over the years I continued to receive many requests from friends and family to find vintage Chanel handbags and jewellery. I realised I had built up a lot of expertise that I could use to start a business, allowing me to finance my passion for Chanel full time.

I wanted to create a website where customers can shop safely and in complete confidence. All of the the bags and vintage items we stock are genuine and authentic. Also I wanted to create a website where customers are not rushed into bidding on auctions like on eBay.

And how do you feel your company differs from all the other second hand designer websites and shops?

I supply to a number of top UK stores, so I am known and trusted in the industry.Vintage Heirloom prides itself on having the best ‘edit’ of vintage Chanel pieces. I don’t buy Chanel because its says ‘Chanel’, it has to be make my heart skip a beat! If I fall in love with a vintage item then I’m pretty sure my customers will too.

The majority of my stock is - ‘In stock’, and ready to ship the next day. So most of my UK customers can receive their vintage items within 24 hours. A lot of re-sellers work on ‘consignment’, which basically means they sell on behalf of someone else and take a commission. This often leads to a delay in delivery. I buy in the stock and control and monitor stock levels, without having to wait for a customer to ‘consign’ their vintage items to me.

I am interested in investing in a vintage Chanel handbag... what advice would you give to me? and how would I know I have found a good deal?

Buy what you love. Chanel generally even at pre-owned/second hand prices are getting higher as the price of current boutique Chanel increases at 30% every season. My best advice is invest now! If you see something you love buy it as the demand is high - if you don’t buy it, someone else will!.. Stock is unique so often we can’t restock the exact same item. You can still get vintage Chanel at ‘affordable’ prices from re-sellers like Vintage Heirloom.

What are your main tips for finding a genuine bag? What gives an item away as a fake?

Buying vintage Chanel is a mine-field, it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. Luckily there is lots of great advice to help you make an informed decision. We will be providing a series of authenticity videos on my website. This is being launching in September. Here’s my top 3 things to look out for:

1.Lambskin leather:Lambskin leather is expensive and almost all replica bags use ‘imitation’ or low ‘grade leather’ to keep the cost low. Chanel only use the finest quality leather, lambskin, caviar skin, calfskin and Jersey. Go to a Chanel boutique and familiarise yourself with your favourite bags. Lamb skin leather is ‘buttery soft’ to the touch, very delicate and silky smooth. This is difficult to gage from photographs on the net, but once you have felt a few genuine Chanel bags you will become familiar with the look of the leather too.

2.Hardware: Know your hardware. Replica companies slightly modify their hardware, as creating exact copies would be expensive but also is a copyright infringement. Chanel hardware comes usually in gold or silver. As a rule of thumb the right C of the famous turnstile lock should always overlap the left C. The back plate should have flat head screws. If you hold the bag in front of you it should say Chanel on the ‘west’ or left side of the plate and Paris of the ‘east’ or right hand side of the plate.

3.Stitch count: As with any high end designer bags, there should be high stitch count. This ensures durability and is a sign of good craftsmanship. Items with a high stitch count are costly to produce as the needles go through a lot of wear and tear. For Chanel bags, there should be more than 10+ stitches per 1”.

Which designers of our time do you think will be the vintage must haves of the future?

I think the current CELINE bag line is amazing! The simplicity and design is so chic (like the 2.55 Chanel bags), their styles are classic and I don’t think they will date. So I do think it’s worth investing in a CELINE bag like one of their leather shoppers or the luggage bag line. I also think Goyard is a good investment, they are the designer’s designer choice! Goyard is an old french luggage company like Louis Vuitton, but their monogram and colourful canvas shoppers are very contemporary. Their shoppers are made to last.

From your wardrobe which is your favourite designer piece and why?

I just recently purchased this Chanel jacket from one of my regular clients.I have longed for a tweed/nautical style Chanel coat, and this fitted beautifully. This jacket also came with a separate tie, so cute! The jacket was from the mid-80’s and I was told it was bought from bond street Chanel store. It was a gift from her husband to celebrate the birth of their first born, lucky me!

by Winnie Lee Director and founder of

Friday, 26 August 2011

DOCKERS clothing comes to London

Dockers is a massive iconic brand in America introduced by the legendary Levi Strauss company. Over in the UK they aren’t so well known, but lucky for us this revolutionary brand are about to change that.

The company grew famous because of their khaki trousers but now have a whole range including check shirts, ties, boat shoes, and genius reversible shorts. The collection has a country feel and is quite rustic looking. With an obvious lack of denim, I was immediately reminded of Marlon Brando in ‘A Streetcar named Desire’ when I had my first glimpse of Dockers.

The overall idea seems to be to give men an option aside from jeans, smart trousers, or chino's... khaki trousers are a good in between offering, that you can wear at work and socially. Dockers have a few different types of Khaki trousers including the very popular purple and orange variety as well as some really unique and flattering pastel shades, then of course there are the more classic colours and fits.

A few days ago I was invited to visit the new Dockers Showroom in the heart of Shoreditch on Charlotte Street, a non-selling store that showcases the latest ranges. Dockers already have concessions in Harvey Nichols, and online on ASOS, but they now have their very own store opening in September and a brand new showroom so eager customers can try on their favourite garments before committing to buy online. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but I sent someone to check out this hip American brand and try out the Khaki trousers for himself.

Apparently the showroom was very cool, a small space that has a beach hut feel, and a striking bright orange bicycle inside. He left with a pair of the Dockers 'Alpha Khaki' which is defined by the slogan – ‘where jeans end and khakis begin’. Well fitting, comfortable and achingly cool these trousers seem to be just the thing that the London man’s wardrobe needs.

And although Dockers is currently only menswear, the whole idea is for girls to wear the smaller sizes with the ‘I stole my boyfriend’s clothes’ look in mind.

Watch this space, UK store and website are coming very soon. Buy here on ASOS.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II

One boy screamed: “We love you Harry” as the credits began to roll as the rest of the auditorium were still recovering from the emotional last two hours of Harry Potter film footage. I grew up with this boy wizard and I cannot deny I feel a strong bond to the magical series. In fact I think I have a 1st edition of the first book somewhere - I remember my mum proudly guessing it would big before anyone else had cottoned on.

But all good things must end, and what an ending this is. More sincere than the other films, Harry, Ron and Hermione (Daniel, Rupert and Emma in the real world) have truly grown up, and there is a great deal more conviction in all three performances here. The direction is superb from David Yates, conjuring up this now familiar fantasy world with a persuasive depth and passion. Here we see Voldemort more frequently than before, and Ralph Fiennes gives a suitably chilling performance as the evil villain. Needless to say the 3D technology is really a massive help for the scare factor.

My only qualm is the lack of the usual magical fun: the common room frolics, enchantingly silly sweets and Quidditch matches -the final book is so much more serious and lacks any light-hearted drama. I felt exhausted by the end! Strangely the horrible curses and killings in the film felt less otherworldly in the aftermath of the Norway massacre, more believable. The special efforts are dauntingly realistic especially in the final battle, a real credit to the creative team.

A hilarious final sequence shows the three main protagonists 19 years later, all mature, hair combed and pretending to be real adults! My fellow audience members found this all ridiculously funny, and I have to agree they do look daft. But it is a nice ending, and one that, if needs be, lends itself to a new chapter of the franchise, with the innocent Potter and Weasley kids off to Hogwarts for the first time. After eight films, 10 years and $2 billion in domestic box office takings we are back where we started at Platform 9 ¾ Kings Cross Station, and you have to admit it’s nice to see some defining UK landmarks rather than the usual American scene. It is a stunning finale for these life-changing books.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Avo Hotel, Dalston

The adorable Avo Hotel is tucked away amongst the shops in Dalston, an ideal choice for London visitors wishing to stay in this cool area of the city. With nearby places including the lovely Arcola Theatre, WAH Nails, and numerous quirky eateries, Hackney is a hub of exciting activity. While visiting Avo a few nights ago I began thinking I would like to live in this up and coming district. If only Acton could show a bit of initiative like this area, perhaps my local vicinity could be trendy too!

Despite getting caught up in the elaborate one way system we managed to park directly outside the hotel, for free. Inside, this boutique hotel has a very welcoming atmosphere, with big wooden table and chairs and a small reception desk and an understated but pleasant decor. Appropriately the word ‘avo’ actually means ‘welcome’ in many languages, I immediately felt very welcomed by the small family that run this hotel.

We were shown up to the very top of the hotel and to the luxurious suite, which we were lucky to be upgraded to. A small and cosy room, with an adjoining space that had a plush sofa and desk. Every necessity was catered for: coffee and tea facilities, complimentary filtered water, Sony docking station, unlimited free high speed Wifi, amazingly soft dressing gowns to use and luxurious toiletries by ELEMIS. The bathroom was swish and modern with black marble tiling and a refreshing and ultra clean big shower.

The main feature in the room was the giant bed, with flat screen tv infront, ideal for lazy evenings in. And with the choice of 150 dvds to rent it’s difficult to drag yourself out of your Avo room (but we did for a quick Indian curry down the road). The memory foam mattresses were my favourite thing about the room, conducive to a good night’s sleep, as you sink into the bed the mattress moulds around your body. My only negative point would be the noise pollution, but as Avo is located on the main road I guess this problem is unavoidable. When we stayed the weather was particularly humid and so it was necessary to open as many windows as possible, but this let in unwanted heat -perhaps the only solution is air conditioning.

An organic and locally source continental breakfast is complimentary for all guests, and is offered downstairs in the main lounge area. For those extra special treats the Avo staff are happy to help organise in room head massage (£10 for 15 minutes), daily fresh flowers (£15 per arrangement) and fruit basket on arrival (£10).

Just a short distance from Liverpool St, Canary Wharf and Bank the Avo hotel is an ideal refuge for tourists needing a relaxing bedroom to stay in while exploring the city, but it is also a cosy location for anyone wanting a night in with a film, curled up on a very comfortable bed.

Avo hotel, 82 Dalston LaneHackney, London E8 3AH 020 3490 5061, see website and book here.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Le Cirque Invisible, Southbank Centre

This summer the enchanting duo Jean-Baptiste Thierree and Victoria Chaplin returned to Southbank Centre with their wildly unique show, ‘Le Cirque Invisible’. The pair have been dazzling audiences with their creations for over 30 years and perform with a passion and enthusiasm that is quite breathtaking. Skipping through the dreariest London rain with my little sister, the brightly lit Queen Elizabeth Hall was a welcome refuge.

The production is advertised as a family show and I felt the balance had been perfected to appeal to all ages without patronising or boring any age group. Husband and wife, Jean-Baptiste and Victoria present a bizarre and amusing circus show that with very little narrative or dialogue and so must succeed purely on their talents and communication with the audience. On the whole the show works, though there were moments when the joke was so primitive and eccentric that my sister and I exchanged confused glances.

Everything is presented in a beautifully poetic way... Jean-Baptiste is the wacky joker, magician and actor, while Victoria Chaplin (incidentally Charlie Chaplin’s daughter) is an elusive dancer, acrobat and musician using simple props to remarkably transform herself into animals and dressing entirely in pots, pans and glasses playing a mesmerising tune. It is a tour de force, with these two performers frantically performing the whole show alone, except for a few rabbits and birds who arrive on stage for their camio roles, including a hilarious gaggle of geese singing in unison along with the music.

The costumes and visuals were sensational, with endless magnificent costumes and stunning lighting design. I was impressed with the extent of their imagination, with the simplest ideas amusing some audience members so much they seemed unable to stop laughing. My sister and I certainly left giggling.

Le Cirque Invisible is a whimsical spectacle that I believe will charm any audience.

Monday, 22 August 2011

VINTAGE Festival, Southbank Centre

Vintage clothes and accessories have always excited me... it is something about their history and heritage, the distinctive beauty as just a visual object, but mostly it is the uniqueness of the item that lures me. There is normally only one, and so owning that singular piece makes you feel very special. I always used to wait till family holidays in the South of France to find and buy vintage treasures - the flea markets there were much richer in stock, and priced more reasonably that London rip offs. Recently though, all vintage is expensive, as the phenomenon for used and old items gains massive popularity and consequently the prices soar. Surely it doesn’t make sense to buy an old designer handbag for more than a brand new one costs?

Bearing in mind this popularity for all things retro it is surprising that a vintage festival had not been done long before 2011. Most music festivals have the odd stall bargaining off a few out of shape cotton dresses... but never has vintage been the focus, until now thanks to Southbank Centre’s VINTAGE Festival - the exciting vision of Wayne Hemingway and his wife Geraldine.

The event took place over three days and showcased an eccentric variety of fashion, music, performances and activities. There was particular care taken to ensure every important fashion era was represented. Located in the Royal Festival Hall and flooding onto the Southbank this event was quite a visual spectacle. Typically just as an indoors festival arrives the English weather brightens up.

I particularly loved the Vintage Marketplace, an area of the event that was open to the non-ticket holding public. Rows and rows of stalls glittered with clothes, jewellery, sunglasses, shoes, hand bags, even furniture, all either vintage or reworked retro inspired. It was a heavenly playground for me to look round, I happily could have stayed here all evening. Once I had a few (too many) purchases in my hands my friends dragged me away to see the other attractions. In case you were wondering I bought: a bright pink pair of plastic TART sunglasses, (dead stock so beautifully made and perfectly in tact), a 60’s union jack print shift dress (so I could pretend to be a Spice Girl at home), a wonderfully wacky Versace mini yellow waistcoat, and finally, a not-so-practical neon pink 60’s hat, a bit worn but so unique and pretty I couldn’t resist it!

Inside was a sight to behold, vintage queens were out displaying their wildest outfits, with mad and massive hairstyles and striking accessories adorning their bodies. Each of the many floors was crammed with appropriately decorated stalls and activity areas where guests could take part in the party. Make-up and hair stylists were transforming 21st Century girls into vintage goddesses in the vintage makeover section, I was tempted to have a go, but the queue was neverending.

The musical REVUE was taking place in the main auditorium, each night a different genre of vintage music was being played. I went on Friday, which was allocated to Electric Phuture, an interesting performance, though not my favourite kind of music. Saturday was dedicated to Soul, and Sunday named as a Hit Parade – celebrating British hits from the past seven decades.

It was wonderful to see such a diverse range of guests at VINTAGE, all so passionate about the theme: the older folk enjoying the dancing lessons and kitsch tea rooms, while teens could dress up and dance away beneath the disco ball upstairs. This festival was more imaginative and nostalgic than I ever thought it could be... You did have to be a dedicated vintage lover to attend though, as ticket prices don’t come cheap costing £60 per day.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 65

With the British 2012 Olympics on the way, I think it is fun to display a bit of patriotism in our clothing choices. I found a fantastic Union Jack 60s dress at Southbank’s Vintage Festival which prefigures the Spice Girls look and has a wacky Britpop feel to it... I wore it proudly in St Tropez recently while on holiday.

Another fabulous flag garment is Crew’s cardigan that displays a big union jack across the front. Ideal as a transition piece between summer and autumn, it will keep you warm while still being light enough for September days. This merino wool cardigan is eye catching but classic and will never go out of fashion. It has a luxurious woollen feel, but with the added 50% acrylic is soft and comfortable, avoiding any itchiness.

This garment was featured a few weeks ago in Stylist magazine, and sold out online almost immediately but it seems they have come back in stock... I am desperate to buy one but am a little deterred by the £85 price tag. There are two Crew shop in London, located in Battersea and Wimbledon, so if you need to try it on before you commit, it’s worth visiting one of these stores.

Get a little bit of ‘Rule Brittania’ in your wardrobe with this striking cardigan, see it online here.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Hotel du Vin, Cheltenham

It was the perfect sunny weekend for heading to Cheltenham and a stay in the smart Hotel du Vin there. Having visited several of the du Vin restaurants I was already aware of their high standards and friendly attitude and was not disappointed with this branch. The sun drenched white building has a certain calm about it, located just a minute's walk from the prestigious Cheltenham Ladies College, it is in the pretty and prosperous Montpellier district.

We arrived on the Saturday afternoon to find the hotel already bustling with weekend guests, but despite this, it was easy to park free of charge directly outside, and we were shown up to our room straightaway. We were allocated the lovely Tattinger suite, located on the second floor among other Champagne titled rooms. Hotel du Vin Cheltenham offers forty-nine spacious bedrooms and suites all decorated in the inimitable, elegant du Vin style.

Our Tattinger suite was nicely arranged, with a few comfy chairs for reading and dreaming by the window, a substantial fluffy bed in the centre, and ample wardrobe space. A desk and TV were also available to use in the room. A side door revealed a huge tiled bathroom, complete with a free standing bath and the biggest walk-in drench shower I have ever seen. Du Vin’s own specially designed toiletries are complimentary and given in big generous bottles.

My two favourite things about our room were the sweet extra touches: the stack of glossy magazines left for me to indulge in, and the Nespresso machine, small and compact but which made wonderfully hot, rich espresso or Americano coffee, and was great fun to work as well! I became so addicted to this gadget I think I might add it to my Christmas list, which is, embarrassingly, already well underway. All in all this suite was the most well equipped hotel room I have ever had the pleasure of staying in, with all the little extras that make it extra special.

The bistro downstairs is quite spectacular, composed around a showpiece central staircase, and overlooking the al fresco area outside. A Provencal feel is created with quirky empty wine bottles lined up along every shelf. Still on antibiotics for my poor wisdom tooth, I had to be content with a virgin apple mojito, avoiding the detailed wine list from the sommelier, but the cocktail tasted so good and fruity I never would have guessed it was non-alcoholic.

Though I have written about the du Vin food before, I must quickly mention some of the exciting dishes we were treated to at Cheltenham. Summer courgette and pea risotto, Garlic Tiger prawns with chorizo crisps for starters, both beautifully presented and deliciously fresh. And for mains: Dijon Chicken with creamed potatoes and Chargrilled lamb cutlets with wild mushrooms, broad beans and sweetbreads. It was a feast of carefully prepared and well-assembled seasonal dishes.

After supper, feeling rather smug about our glorious room upstairs, we marched back up and I had a long hot bubble bath. A cup of Earl Grey tea, Friends on TV and a great big comfy bed sent me off into a much needed deep sleep.

Hotel du Vin Cheltenham is one of the few branches to offer a mini spa, with extensive treats and beauty services. In the morning I ventured down there for a cleansing aromatherapy facial: an hour of total relaxation while an expert beautician pampered my skin’s every need; it was blissful. After checking out, we walked into the town centre, to peruse the shops and see my auntie’s wonderful hare and minotaur sculpture (see photo above) that sits majestically amongst the Cheltenham trees.

Only a two hour drive from London, this magnificent branch of Hotel du Vin is the perfect place for a quiet, blissful weekend away with everything and anything you could possibly desire.

More information, and book here.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Richard III, Old Vic

Kevin Spacey’s limp body dangling upside down high above the Old Vic stage is an image that I will never forget. The success of the current production of Richard III at the Old Vic is very much thanks to Spacey and his utter devotion to the title role, the strenuous rendition of the conceited monarch.

The narrative has elements in common with Emperor and Galilean, Ibsen’s epic play that I recently saw at the National Theatre. The story of a man’s Machiavellian rise to absolute power and the struggles he incurs on the journey. Richard III is rather less humane than E&G with several bloody killings helping Richard reach the throne. Miraculously Spacey manages to bring both humour and authority to this role, playing this nasty calculating man as a modern dictator and evoking such a depth of character that he commands the stage throughout.

The play is long, and at times complex, and yet director Sam Mendes manages to deliver a slick show that is surprisingly coherent. Words are projected on stage prior to each scene to show the arrival of new characters - stylish announcements that make the production refreshingly clear. It is presented in modern dress, a decision that manages to revitalise the Shakespeare text while making it all the more exciting and eccentric. Mendes and Spacey have worked together several times before, and this production surely proves more than ever what a successful artistic partnership they make.

There are strong performances from much of the supporting cast: the women are particularly dazzling in this male dominated cast. Annabel Scholey is very convincing as the striking Lady Anne and Haydn Gwynne as the grieving Queen Elizabeth. I felt Chuk Iwuji overdid it slightly as a very keen Buckingham, Richard’s cousin. Designer Tom Piper has created an imposing, stark box stage that is later transformed to reveal a long corridor. Doors line the two walls that allow characters to sweep in and out dramatically, and also help with swift prop changes.

I particularly enjoyed the hilarious scene towards the end that uses a large screen to show Richard’s fake reluctance to accept the request to be King. He pretends to be praying and spurs his subjects on as they beg and beg him to take the crown. Spacey’s wonderful interaction even through a screen is amusing, though the characters placed to clap and shout among the audience sounded a little hesistant and lost. The whole cast take part in the finale, each person has their own drum to bang violently in rhythm... it is a spectacular group effort, in perfect unison.

This production of Richard III is mesmerising, and a rare chance to see Kevin Spacey doing what he does best, however at three and a half hours, it needs to be cut to reach a five star rating.

Richard III continues until 11 September, book online here.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Beats and Pieces and Kairos 4tet at Ronnie Scott's at BRIT JAZZ FEST

It seems the big festival fever is over, with smaller, more specialised events cropping up all over the place, presenting every kind of cultural activity. Musically the capital is buzzing at the moment with the BBC Proms underway, and many musicians from far and wide coming to showcase their talents to the London audiences. A highlight of these summer events is the Ronnie Scott’s Brit Jazz Fest 2011, a mini festival with a thrilling programme of talented and renowned jazz soloists and bands and celebrates the very best of British Jazz.

Ronnie Scott’s venue needs no recommendation as I’m sure most will already know this haunt to be one of the most significant and unique places to listen to Jazz in London. Interestingly when the club first opened in 1959 Ronnie Scott and Pete King were only permitted to book British artists due to a strict MU Ruling. This mini festival pays tribute to that time presenting a diverse selection of exceptional artists covering all aspects of jazz.

Now in its third year this year’s festival looks set to be as oversubscribed as ever, but a few tickets do remain. I was lucky enough to have a ticket to a show last week featuring a double bill: BEATS AND PIECES + KAIROS 4TET. Based in Manchester, Beats and Pieces are a 14 strong contemporary jazz ensemble led by Ben Cottrall. Indeed a few members even attended University with me so I felt very proud to be supporting them in this prestigious venue. The immense sound that these fourteen musicians make was overwhelming in the intimate Ronnie Scott’s venue - you couldn’t help but feel totally engrossing in the music. It is clear too that these guys love what they do, all dancing along with their heads and showing 100% passion and commitment to the music. Individually they are supreme soloists, with some staggering solos from trumpeter Nick Walters and some genius twists and turns on the piano from Patrick Hurley. Featuring some of their own work, and a few adventurous covers, I found their set very easy to listen to and stimulating, which I can’t always say with contemporary jazz.

Playing opposite Beats and Pieces was the Kairos 4tet, a contemporary music quartet comprising of leader saxophonist, Adam Waldman, pianist Ivo Neame, bassist Jasper Høiby and drummer Jon Scott plus a very special guest, London-based, Swedish singer Emilia Martensson. Kairos 4tet who produce inspiring melodic, rhythmically compelling modern jazz. Again made up of technically brilliant soloists, I was particularly impressed by Høiby on bass, I have often heard of this mesmerizing playing so was glad to be finally experiencing it first hand. The singer du jour, Martensson did a wonderful job responding sensitively to the band and sung with a spine tingling tone and melodic awareness. The music of Kairos 4tet was rather more specialist, and felt, at times, a little beyond my knowledge and understanding of this kind of jazz. The rest of the audience seemed totally in tune with the genre clapping in all the right places, and nodding their heads in appreciation.

Ronnie Scott’s is one of my very favourite venues in London, with delicious (but very expensive) cocktails, a relaxed charming ambience and consistently brilliantly performers, I would highly recommend booking to go to see something in their ever simulating and exciting programme. Book here.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Greenwich Market

I have lived in London my whole life, but surprisingly have never visited Greenwich before. It was a pleasant revelation when I went last weekend with a group of friends. In the sunshine Greenwich was postcard perfect, the history and tradition in this gorgeous place is immediately obvious.

In the centre of town a market takes place every Saturday and Sunday 10-5.30 and all selling and visiting information can be found on the very coherent website. During the week, other more specific fairs are held on the same site. Every year millions flock to the vibrant outdoor market to look and buy fresh produce, homemade food and snacks, and arts and crafts. I was overwhelmed by the fragrant smells, vivid colours and friendly atmosphere of this event. When we went along there was a vast array of goodies to choose from... desperately thirsty from the intense heat wave I first opted for a Monmouth coffee and a freshly made pineapple, orange and apple juice, tasty and very refreshing.

The food was much harder to decide on, an assortment of sweet and savoury delights, from Turkish wraps to strawberries dripping with chocolate. I went for the barbecued sausage and onions in fresh baguette, which was piping hot and very comforting. The churros also caught my eye... long fried Spanish style doughnuts that I fondly remember eating every summer in the South of France. Avoiding temptation, I promised myself an ice-cream later and we wandered off to Greenwich Park where hoards of sun worshippers were filling every inch of green grass. Walking up the hill we came to a stunning view of London, including many of the trademark buildings.

I think Greenwich may well become the new Notting Hill in a few years time...

Visit the Greenwich market website here to find out more.