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Friday, 29 July 2011

Lang Lang and 2Cellos, itunes Festival, Roundhouse, Camden















There must be some pressure being the only classical artists at the iTunes festival, but a few nights ago prolific musicians Lang Lang and 2Cellos rose to the challenge and provided the Roundhouse audience with an evening of staggeringly virtuosic music.


The Festival has returned to Camden offering a programme of esteemed musicians and popular bands from 1st to 31st July. Foo Fighters, Paul Simon, Adele, Linkin Park and Beady Eye have all performed this year. There is a lovely feel of inclusivity, thanks to the method of ticket distribution – every ticket is free and must be won through various competitions. As it happened my brother and a good friend both won pairs of tickets to see Lang Lang’s showcase, so along with my tickets we were a friendly group of six.


Supporting act 2Cellos arrived on stage for their hugely entertaining set. Duo Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser have gained enormous popularity through YouTube with their eccentric, invigorating and wildly passionate renditions of famous pop songs. These two boys are very talented players, but also astoundingly good at arranging, presenting reworked pop songs that in some cases are much more interesting than the originals. My favourite piece of the night was the brilliant adaptation of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which they performed with infectious energy; some of the U2 numbers were also breathtaking.


Lang Lang is certainly a showman... for most of the opening piece he was almost entirely covered by dramatic stage smoke... a fun effect, but it unfortunately prevented anyone from seeing him for a while. He played a Liszt-heavy programme, a composer whom he obviously deeply respects - he even said to the obedient audience at the start “we will enjoy Liszt together”!

After gaining my Grade 4 piano as a child with some difficulty, and desperately struggling with those relentless scales, I have a real admiration for pianists. To hear Lang Lang, considered by many to be the best pianist in the world, perform such a complex repertoire with confidence and faultless technique was breathtaking, and the hollow venue that is the Roundhouse only made the experience more atmospheric. Lang Lang gives every single note its just significance, his hands dancing balletically across the keys so fluently that it is difficult to believe he only has two hands.


I left feeling I had experienced two stunning performances in a truly unique setting. The iTunes Festival tickets are sadly all allocated for this year, but get in there early next year for the chance to see some awesome concerts, and let’s be honest, everything tastes better when it’s free.


More info on itunes festival website here.


Visit 2Cellos website here, and Lang Lang here, you can buy Lang Lang's album here.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Myhotel Bloomsbury




















Myhotel Bloomsbury uses a plain but attractive layout and decor to welcome its guests. Despite sitting in the hubbub of Bloomsbury in the centre of London, this hotel is somewhat removed and acts as an antidote to the hectic London lifestyle, encouraging you to sit back and enjoy the tranquillity.


Bloomsbury is one of three; following its success, other branches in Chelsea and Brighton opened. The design in Bloomsbury is smart and professional with fully equipped stylish meeting rooms on site should you wish to use them. Feng shui principles are vital to myhotel’s clever calming strategy, with the careful arrangement apparently allowing you to realign your chi naturally while you sleep. I’m a bit of a sceptic on these matters, but I certainly woke up feeling well rested and clear-headed.


A tangle of one way streets makes myhotel tricky to get to by car, but it is only a few minutes walk away from Tottenham Court Road, and Goodge Street tube stations. When we arrived in the evening, the hotel lobby was quiet and empty, but a large candle was alight on the table filling the room with the most divine exotic aroma. The staff at reception seemed a little dazed by our arrival, and took a while to respond to our booking, but eventually directed us up to our allocated room on the fourth floor.


Our room was amazingly spacious with a massive king size bed standing majestically in the centre of the room with convenient side tables on either side. Decorated in natural woody shades, with generous wardrobe space and a decent sized desk for workaholics, our room had all the necessities. On a wooden chest were a collection of complimentary glossy magazines, and a few little chocolate and strawberry brownies sat with a welcoming note on the table. I really appreciate a room with ample natural light; some hotels really suffer in this area but our myhotel room had large windows that allowed the sunlight to stream wonderfully through the space.


Our bathroom was aesthetically minimal but with a touch of Eastern influence. Pristine, decorated with smart tiles, the bathroom was a lovely place to relax and beautify. The toiletries are particularly supreme at myhotel, a Bee Kind assortment included shampoo and conditioner, body moisturiser and shower gel; I was also given a cute Gilchrist & Soames pot of bath salts that I used for a luxuriously restorative bath. Cosy white bath robes were provided, to add to the comfort of the experience.


For dinner there are numerous choices in Bloomsbury and Soho: Merkaba is located in the hotel and offers Pan-Asian food and cocktails, of if you are a Thai food junkie like me, Busaba Eathai is just across the road. Unfortunately when we tried to use our TV in the evening it wasn’t working properly, so instead we used the high quality speakers to plug in my ipod and listen to a bit of Newton Faulkner before bed, while perusing the stack of magazines.


We wandered down at 10ish for a late breakfast which was served in the Merkaba restaurant, and on this sunny Sunday morning the area was full to the brim. The front windows were open onto the glowing sunshine, the tables spilling into the street like a Parisian cafe. A generous continental breakfast buffet was available to pick and choose from: fresh fruit, cereals, delicious pastries, yoghurt, toast and juices. We tried an assortment and I can particularly recommend the crumbly pastries: soft, buttery and utterly delicious. Our cappuccinos arrived with the cocoa dusting on top in the shape of the word ‘my,' a sweet touch that excited me more than I think the waitress expected it to!


If I had more time I would have indulged in a facial in the Jinja treatment room downstairs. At £40 for an express (40 minutes) facial it is the perfect pick me up for stressed city faces, and will leave you feeling totally refreshed.


Myhotel rates are impressively competitive, with deals starting around £100 for a night. As the name, myhotel suggests these hotels indulge you with simple pleasures while providing a home away from home. Visit website and book here.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Pop up Pizza Masterclasses in London with Birra Moretti



We have all heard about the riotous success of pop-up clothes shops, pop-up cafes etc, but now something to satisfy your stomach... Italian beer brand Birra Moretti are inviting Londoners to their pop-up gourmet pizza masterclasses. Starting from today, Wednesday 27th until Friday 29th, three workshops will be held in London venues: Wednesday – Exchange Square, Thursday – Soho Square and Friday– Canary Wharf, running from 11am-4pm each day.


Top Italian chef Giancarlo Caldesi will be running the show, teaching guests to make their very own authentic pizza in just 10 minutes using Birra Moretti beer as the special secret ingredient. The rest of your lunch break can then be spent enjoying your culinary masterpiece and relaxing with a complimentary beer. The idea is to give busy, hard working Londoners a well earned lunch break while sharing the essence of the envious Italian lifestyle, “il dolce far niente” – “the sweetness of doing nothing”.


All of the pop-up gourmet masterclasses are free, and will be available to guests on a first come first serve basis, Caldesi will be hosting 10 masterclasses at each venue.


For more info see facebook.com

Sondheim's 'Road Show' at The Menier Chocolate Factory


I have never visited the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre before, but their current European premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s musical ‘Road Show’ was reason enough for me to swallow my pride and buy a pair of extortionately priced tickets... how this tiny independent theatre can justify selling seats, STARTING from £29.50, I do not know; but credit to them, they still frequently manage to sell out. Well, I marched in feeling rather bitter; very few theatre trips are worth £60.

Road Show has been reworked several times by Sondheim and writer John Weidman, and settles now at a ninety-five minute long piece that packs in a hell of a lot of narrative. Based on the real life story of the Mizner brothers, Road Show spans forty years and represents two very different aspects of America. Addison is a hard-working, honest gay man; Wilson is a selfish, cheating womaniser - both are desperate to make money but take very different roads to do so. Despite their contrasting opinions and personalities, the two brothers find themselves regularly reunited. The famous ‘Carpe Diem’ quote seems to linger – the boys are warned by their father, before he dies, that they must seize the day, find their way, and make a decent living to support their mother.

The two brothers, Michael Jibson as Addison and David Bedella as Wilson, both show impressive commitment to their roles and give developed, nuanced portrayals - I found the pair of them thoroughly engaging. It was only afterwards that I realised I had seen David Bedella playing the extravagant role of Frank’N’Furter in the Rocky Horror show a year before, and was amazed by the transformation seen here. Phil Wrigley is sweet as the doe-eyed posh boy Horris Bessemer, befriended by Addison as his patron. Though I thought Gillian Bevan was a little weak as Mama Mizner: she has a quiet singing voice that couldn’t carry even in this small theatre and was disappointingly lacklustre throughout.

The music is characteristically Sondheim-esque, which you either love or hate. I enjoyed the rhythmic riffs and jazz progressions, but did find the music a tad repetitive. Towards the end however, there are a few tender moments between Addy and his lover as they sing ‘The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened,’ a gorgeously melodic song. I was delighted to be sitting right next to the enthusiastic band who gave a hearty and secure rendition of this tricky Sondheim score.

Director John Doyle makes the production surprisingly evocative with clever use of the transverse stage and quirky props, including handfuls of hundred dollar notes that are scattered over the stage and audience during the show.

Road Show continues until 17 September, book here.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

London Road, National, Cottesloe Theatre


After a ridiculously successful initial run, 'London Road' has returned to the National's Cottesloe Theatre for a limited period. This original innovative drama is based on the horrific real life events of Autumn 2006, when five prostitutes were found dead in Ipswich. Surprisingly the piece grew out of an experimental workshop at the National Theatre in which unlikely collaborators were brought together. Writer Alecky Blythe interviewed those on the periphery of the case – residents of the area, and inhabitants on London Road (the road the murderer lived on), cameramen, and other press. He then used their words, transforming their speech into drama, a technique known as verbatim theatre.

We witness exactly how the events have affected a small segment of the community, the Neighbourhood Watch committee. They assemble regularly to discuss their feelings and actions and through them we hear about the updates in the case, most importantly if the murderer has been caught and convicted?

It is odd to think of a drama with such a subject as a musical, a light-hearted genre that you would assume would not suit such a sombre story. However the music makes the piece all the more powerful, adding a sensitivity to the topic and giving a poignant voice to these everyday people. The music is utterly stunning, a brave offering from composer and lyricist Adam Cork. Using the natural speech patterns, Cork creates a very affecting score that uses frequent repetition and banal words to sound more natural. The musical influences are broad, minimalist at times, jazz based in other passages. A small band provide a solid instrumental accompaniment in a little space above the stalls.

The cast do a marvellous job presenting eleven well-rounded, ‘normal’ central characters while also covering fifty-two other parts between them! It is a great team effort to pull off this ensemble piece, and no-one lets the side down, each and every actor excelled on the night I was attended. I was particularly impressed with Kate Fleetwood’s portrayal of Julie, the Events organiser who suggests the idea for ‘London Road in Bloom’ a flower growing competition that brings the group closer. She shows great depth and empathy as this hopeful woman. Claire Burt and Nicola Sloane are also fantastic both offering witty innuendo to the play. I was amazed by the secure musical performance, the solo and tutti singing are both faultless in a score that is filled with tricky harmonies and challenging melodic progressions.

Visually London Road is a joy, a simple layout that provides endless staging possibilities for director Rufus Norris. Aside from the hovering plant basket installation, there is one mesmerising scene when a white suited investigator weaves in and out of the stage stretching warning Police tape in zigzags trapping the characters.

Some may be offended by this frank piece of drama, but I'm sure most will be touched by how utterly human it is: a thought-provoking, startling musical play that illuminates how one awful event can dramatically affect and alter a normal community.

London Road continues until 27th August; if all seats are sold out it is worth calling on the day for standing tickets or cheaper day seats - details here.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Hot on the Highstreet Week 61



When I first started blogging, my dad tore from the Times a Caitlin Moran column for me to read, as inspiration and as “the best female columnist out there”. When I finally got round to reading it, now a crumpled scrap at the bottom of my bag, I found her words to be funny, truthful and brave, expressing the type of things women think but never say out loud.


When I begrudgingly gave in to Twitter, Caitlin Moran was one of the first cyber people I followed. And for all you twitterers who don’t follow her, I can assure you she is quite a day and night entertainer, tweeting her thoughts and musings round the clock. She certainly puts some bold, rather daring statements out there, and seems to have a naughty streak in her personality as well as in her hair!


It has been a good year for Moran, she won a British press award for her interview with Lady Gaga, and now her new book ‘How to be a Woman’ has rocketed to success. The book is part memoir part discussion, all the while tackling the tricky topic of modern feminism. Her writing has certainly come on since the novel she wrote at fifteen: ‘The Chronicles of Narmo’. The powerful handbook, ‘How to be a Woman’ has deservedly become my first literary hot on the highstreet, a wise but hilarious book, likely to inspire and empower women everywhere.


I’ve only just started the book, and I am already addicted.


Buy your copy for £6.83 here.

Friday, 22 July 2011

VINTAGE at Southbank Centre PREVIEW








Since Hop Farm and Latitude I have been getting serious Festival withdrawal symptoms so my ears pricked up when a friend told me about Vintage at Southbank Centre, Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway’s award-winning festival which was launched last year at the highly acclaimed Goodwood event.


This three day extravaganza takes place along the Southbank, with the Royal Festival Hall being transformed into a dressing up box for vintage enthusiasts. There will be all kinds of retro events to try out: vintage clothes galore to delve into, catwalk shows, live music and DJ’s, pretty foodie treats, film and art events, cocktails and makeovers. All the ingredients for the chicest festival in town...


Celebrating the 1920 to the 1980s every kind of vintage will be on show. In the daily catwalks vintage connoisseurs Jo Wood, Pearl and Daisy Lowe and Sue Tilley will be delighting audiences with their own personal collections and prized possessions. For each of the catwalk shows models will be showcasing wacky hairstyle trends from bygone eras thanks to the beauty experts from Urban Retreat salon at Harrods.


I am particularly excited about the Fashion Workshops; the glamorous Horrockses brand will be demonstrating how to make dresses from bed linen, and at the fashion reworking station Chop & Change will show you how to make a unique skirt out of a man’s shirt!


If, like me, you hate trudging round the overpriced vintage boutiques for rare and often overpriced gems, you will enjoy the Vintage Marketplace. Here some of Europe’s finest vintage traders will be offering you their best stock. This pop up high street will display brands from past and present, so if you have any themed parties coming up, you will find your perfect outfit here. A vintage hair salon from Batiste and a beauty salon by Benefit will both be doing decade-specific makeovers, to get you in the mood.


My favourite thing about this festival... It is mud free, so leave the Hunters at home and bring your best vintage heels out to play!


Vintage at Southbank Festival takes place 29-31 July, buy tickets here.

House Festival, Chiswick Park
















Last week, very last minute, I was invited to House Festival, a day of fabulous music, food and drink in Chiswick Park. With ticket costs at a staggering £195, this was one guest pass I was not going to turn down. The event was sold out, and full of corporate types, enjoying a day of free premium food and drink. As a Chiswick resident born and bred, this park still holds many vivid memories for me: Sunday walks, tree climbing expeditions with friends, begging my parents for an ice-cream in the park cafe. It was nice to return, albeit for very different reasons.


Unlike most music festivals, here the stage area was small and under-populated, with guests preferring to loiter around the sumptuous displays of lobster, hog roasts and delectable Grey Goose cocktail stalls. I arrived after work at 6.30 ish though the party had begun at 3. After a day of rainstorms, I’d opted for my neon pink Hunter wellies, delighted at the chance to finally take them out. Sure enough they got some looks (I beamed proudly), well anything quite so dayglo is likely to turn a few heads.


I grabbed a hog roast bap and a ‘Provence Presse’ Grey Goose cocktail and meandered over to the music to listen to some of the Noah and the Whale set. This five piece, indie/folk band originate from Twickenham and seemed at home on the Chiswick platform. Sadly without much energy and interest from the crowd they lacked motivation a little and didn’t seem that bothered when it was their time to leave the stage. This lacklustre feel continued for most of the evening... Tinie Tempah seemed to be a different artist entirely from the spirited man I’d seen only a few days before at Hop Farm.


The food and drink was all delicious - fresh produce, presented and served to the highest standards. It was lovely to not worry about money and cost, everything was free which made things quick and easy! The toilets queues were negligible, a rare festival occurrence. Of the stalls, it was the more quirky that excited me: the mini cupcake stand, the ready to use photo booth, a pretty choose-your-own flavour candy floss stall.


The headlining act, Stereophonics came on promptly at 9.45, introduced by a beaming James Cordon. They too seemed unexcited by this suburban gig and all looked a little aged and weary. However a few familiar hits later and the, now very drunken, audience seemed to have been given the shock of power and inspiration they needed, and began joining in with the singing band. It was a great set, filled with all the favourites tunes, afterwards the crowd stumbled out, ready to collapse into their comfortable Chiswick beds.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Taylor Taylor Salon, Spitalfields: cut & colour revamp for Thoroughly Modern Milly



























Right, listen up you trendy guys and girls - it's time to ditch Toni & Guy, Headmasters and the rest of those other boring standard hairdressers... Rock up to Taylor Taylor, the hippest hair and beauty venue in London, where summer cocktails and sweets are just part of the service.

I went along to try out this cool salon last week. It's located on Commercial Street next door to Spitalfields market, an area reminiscent of Soho in New York, edgy and quirky, the place oozes style. Inside I was reminded more of a chic Parisian boutique, all floral and pretty. There is a very special feel to this salon with the bespoke chandeliers, lizard-skin covered chairs, and a gorgeous candy striped staircase that reminded me of Coco Chanel’s boudoir.

My lovely colourist Amy chatted away to me while painting my hair. I was having the dip dye effect - the roots are dyed darker, and then blended in with backcombing before the lower hair is lightened; the result is basically grown out colour and dark roots, a look I have always admired but never quite had the courage to attempt before. As a serial hair changer: light, dark, short, long, layered, straight, highlights but not necessarily in that order, I get bored easily and it seems my hair is the easiest feature to alter about myself. Dip Dye was clearly a logical next step for me.

After the colouring was complete, I was left for twenty minutes, for the colour to take effect. I read Vogue and gladly accepted a second cocktail. Soon it was time to venture to the luxurious washroom area to have the foils removed and my hair rinsed. Amy and I decided on an appropriate tone; the toner was added to my hair to secure the final colour. She had done an amazing job, the colour is quite a radical change and yet using her clever technique it looks natural and summery, as you can hopefully see from the final photos.

I was more scared about the cut, but felt reassured immediately by Frederico, my stylist. He offered his opinion, and without knowing that I am a massive Alexa Chung fan, suggested a cut a little similar to her look on a recent Vogue cover. I felt confident he knew what he was doing so left him to it. He snipped away with precision and speed and once finished blow dried my hair using a rounded brush to create a beachy look. I felt so much better, more seasonal, and much lighter headed; he had given my hair the lift it so desperately needed. The cut also really accentuated the new colour.

The cocktails here are absolutely divine - special concoctions developed for T&T, so good I'm wondering if they'll let me come back with some friends, just for Friday night drinks. They are delivered on a silver platter with a dish of moreish salty peanuts! There were four individual cocktails to choose from: I tried the Rose Bellini first, beautifully presented in a champagne flute with a cherry at the bottom, the drink was a beautiful pinky coral hue with an enticing scent (rose water, peach syrup, Champagne and a splash of cranberry). Then for a second I went for a Moscow Mule (Classic vodka and Old Jamaica ginger beer, with a burst of freshly squeezed lime juice and a sprig of fresh mint) - this was served long and was wonderfully refreshing.

I didn’t want to leave this sweet smelling boutique salon, and promised Amy I’d return soon for another hair makeover... I’m already flicking through magazines trying to find an excuse to return!


For more info and booking, visit: www.taylortaylorlondon.com

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

'Go To Your God Like A Soldier' Edinburgh Fringe PREVIEW



With Edinburgh Fringe coming up it is time to start deciding which plays are top of your ‘must see’ list from the never-ending programme. Let me tempt you with this little gem, ‘Go To Your God Like A Soldier’ a 55 minute brand new play written by Andrew Keatley and presented by quirky theatre company DELIRIUM.


The cast have just completed an exclusive short London run in the deserted Old Vic Tunnels at Waterloo station where audiences packed into the damp space to catch a glimpse of this innovative piece.


“Set in Afghanistan, Go To Your God Like A Soldier tells the tale of four soldiers who barricade themselves inside a room for protection. While monitoring insurgent activities outside, pressure to make a decision rises. The complex bond between soldiers on the front line is contrasted with flashes of life back home – and when the unexpected happens, how do these ordinary people deal with an extraordinary situation?”


‘Go To Your God Like A Soldier’ is an intense piece of theatre that hopes to excite audiences as well as educate us about the stories lost at war.


4-28 August at Underbelly, Cowgate, Edinburgh Fringe, book here.

Bistro du Vin restaurant, Soho





















After attending the new Bistro du Vin restaurant opening in Soho, I was invited for supper last week to try out the menu. We went along on a Sunday evening to find the restaurant surprisingly empty, then again so is most of Soho at the end of the weekend. I was unable to see the design at the busy opening, but can now confirm the decor is elegant and refined, a bright and airy layout that I’m sure will entice people in either just for a drink at the plush bar or for a relaxed meal in the main restaurant.


This is the second Bistro du Vin restaurant, after the success of the first in Clerkenwell. The menu is one of British classics, with a focus on high quality meat and fish. The restaurant boasts a collaboration with ‘La Cave a Fromage’ a wonderful cheese supplier who works hard to find the very best French and British cheeses. So with that in mind, it would have been a sin not to try out the display of fine cheeses! For a starter we shared a selection of the artisan cheeses and finely chosen charcuterie. Our friendly waitress sweetly asked which flavours I preferred before bringing us a well rounded assortment of their current seasonal stock.


The cheese and charcuterie arrived beautifully displayed on two rustic wooden boards, along with a variety of fresh breads. All the cheeses were good, some were sublime... I remember thinking that cheese would be my luxury for a desert island, if the cheese I could take was this good. The finest salami and hams came amongst a bed of salad and figs, my favourite was the flavoursome Iberico ham, matured for 30 months.


As the name suggests Bistro du Vin has an enviable expertise in wine, and an awesome hand picked array is on display in the central glass room. A lovely sommelier came over to our table and suggested a white that would complement our starter, Stadt Krems Gruner Veltliner (Lossterrassen, Kremstal, Austria 2010). It was one of the most drinkable, light and refreshing white wines I have ever tasted.

After sampling the Donald Russell sourced beef on offer at the opening party, I was keen to choose a dish from the grill section of the menu. From the choice of cuts, I decided on Sirloin - priced at £24, my steak was lean and tasty, a wonderful cut of meat with a delicious chargrilled taste from the Josper Grill. To accompany I had a rich creamy peppercorn sauce and a portion of crispy pomme frites. We ordered a tomato and onion salad to share; I was delighted when it arrived to see the tomatoes were multicoloured, a group of bright orange, red, green and yellows. My friend chose the BdV Burger with bacon, gruyere cheese and grilled mushrooms on the side. A perfectly cooked stack of burger components, served with frites.


Before dessert, I asked to try a summer cocktail of the expert bartender's choice. The waiter delivered to me the sweetest peach-flavoured creation, a drink made specially to suit my request. For dessert, with our aromatic fresh mint tea we ordered the Belgian waffle, fresh strawberries and Valrhona chocolate sauce. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the waffle had just been homemade by the pastry chef in the kitchen; it was crispy and scrumptious with the darkest bitter hot chocolate sauce and sweet red fruit.


Soho is home to a wealth of tempting restaurants, but at Bistro you will find a little pinch of extra sophistication.


Visit website here to book and find out more.