Tag Archives: Soho

Great British Tours: Cupcake & Macaron Tour of London

There are few things I love more that cake, London and bargains (maybe Mr Osbiston, but that’s a different kind of love). So you can imagine that I jumped at the chance to take up a recent Time Out London deal to go on a guided Cupcake & Macaron walking tour around Soho and surrounds by Great British Tours. And it wasn’t particularly difficult to convince Jen to come along.

The tour kicks off outside the M&S in Covent Garden and is led by (in our case) a very handsome young Scottish gentleman named John. I am not sure if he is the only guide doing this particular tour and his, er, aesthetic appeal is hardly relevant to his ability to shepherd a group through Covent Garden market (challenging at any time but especially in summer) but I feel I must mention it in case anyone is considering this as a hen party option.

Our first stop on this decadent adventure was the Cupcake Bakehouse, which is former model and TV baker, Lorraine Pascal’s bakery.  En route John explained the origins of the market and the area and how it influenced the surrounding areas. Who knew it was once all arable land? We were each offered a mini-cupcake to taste, with Jen going for red velvet and me trying out cherry crumble. Both were light, moist and absolutely delicious.

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From there we crossed the market, learning about Punch & Judy shows, to sample macarons at Ladurée, a stunning French tea house. Apparently in order to check the freshness of a macaron, you should hold it between thumb and forefinger and press gently on it. If it springs back it’s at optimal freshness. Ladurée takes macarons very seriously and insists on maturing them for 8 days. Their flavours tend to be traditional and mine was a delicate pink rose water. Really, I shouldn’t eat macarons because I am allergic to nuts but I survived the post indulgence migraine and itching so I figure it was all worth it.

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Our next cupcake stop was Sweet Couture on New Row, a cute compact shop, where we were able to pick out our own full-sized cupcake. I went for Oreo, which not only had Oreo icing and a mini Oreo on top but also crushed Oreos in the actual cake!! Cookie/cupcake heaven! Probably the lightest cupcake of the day. All cupcakes at Sweet Couture are baked on the day for the same day so some flavours are not always available but the freshness really shows. Will definitely be back!

Dim Sum and cake are not usually two things you would put together but Yauatcha on Broadwick Street pulls together the concept of a dim sum teahouse with contemporary patisserie. It is an absolute feast for the eyes, never mind the belly and I would love to go back and sample some of the gorgeous things that were on display.

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This time we were sampling macarons with some more unique flavours available. I went for an intensely yellow popcorn one, which I ate later at home because I was feeling a little bit stuffed after my giant Oreo cupcake. I was surprised by just how much the popcorn flavour came through.

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By this point everyone was ready for a drink and little sit down, so we were grateful to get both at Patisserie Valerie on Old Compton Street. Contrary to popular belief, Patisserie Valerie is Belgian rather than French and operates cafes all over the UK. This time I went for the ultimate classic macaron – vanilla. Simple and satisfying, although possibly without the wow factor of some of the cuter independent places we visited.

After having Louie Spence’s house pointed out to us, we headed to the most well-known Soho cupcake bakery, Hummingbird. I will admit to being a bit of a fangirl of this American inspired cupcake bakery. I have the original cookbook and I swear by a lot of the recipes in it, including the brownies and the best chocolate icing in the world, ever! I am obviously not the only one and the funky pink shop was packed with people trying out a wide variety of treats. We were each presented with a red velvet cupcake in the iconic hummingbird box. As you can see, I was very impressed.

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The cupcake itself was an absolute beauty and I hesitated for a whole ten seconds before devouring it at home. The cream cheese icing was absolutely delicious and you can definitely see why everyone wants a nibble.

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Our very last stop was the iconic Fortnum & Mason, traditional home of fine foods and teas for over 300 years. Right now the store has an amazing topiary on top of it in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the coronation of her maj. It’s so irresistibly British in the way that Americans imagine British things are.

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We were able to choose our own macarons from a range of traditional and more unusual flavours on display at the impressive cake counter. I went for passion fruit and chocolate, which I also saved for home. In hindsight it was a bit of an odd flavour combination and although the macaron was beautifully made, it wasn’t a patch on Yauatcha or Laduree.

By the end of the tour we were knackered and full of cake, historical information and a list of places to revisit. If you are a fan of baked goods, this is an excellent way to spend an afternoon and get even the most reluctant of ramblers to go for a wander through Soho.

Tours take place from Thursday – Saturday for 2 ½ hours starting at 3pm and must be advanced booked. Tours normally cost £40 but we bought ours on a deal for £19.

A return to the days when the wild things were actually wild

It’s been some time since I did a journal type blog about my weekend. Mostly because these days I generally spend my weekend pottering around in my PJs, but every now and then my inner twenty-four year old comes out and I end up having a couple of nights out that are worthy of the early years of Where The Wild Things Are – back when it was all stolen traffic cones and snogging… kind of like this weekend.

On Friday night Jen V and I were supposed to go to book club and go home. I am not going to pretend that our book club is something that it’s not. I mean we do all read the same book and talk about it but we do also drink a silly amount of wine and Friday was no exception. We had set up camp in The Porterhouse in Covent Garden, which is always very busy but perfectly pleasant – especially if you decamp to the basement. It was going well until a band of middle aged men set up and started doing David Grey covers (kill me now!). Laura and Emily sensibly decided to go home but Jen V, Jen P and I had the Friday feeling and Steve from work was sending Jen V cryptic messages that indicated that he and some others might be in the Endurance on Berwick Street.

Unfortunately our sojourn in the Endurance was short-lived, since they called last rounds just after we’d swiftly sunk our third (fourth?) bottle of cheap red. Jen P and I were (un)lucky enough though to find ourselves outside having a smoke with one of those South African guys who has decided not to give up a millimetre of his Jo’burg Northern Suburbs schtick and made a point out of calling us both bru and telling us that he still hadn’t acclimatised to London after eight years here and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live here. I think I might have told him just to go back and stop whining. Oops. There’s nothing I hate more than an ex-pat with a chip on their shoulder. If you want to go home… just go.

After being booted out of the Endurance we surveyed the nearby gay bars – Soho is Soho – but everyone was charging way too much entrance, leading to my cunning plan of heading to Crobar and waiting from Jen P’s boyfriend, Rob, to meet us. Crobar only charges £2.

When Rob found us we were squashed into a very damp corner with Jen P being chatted up by Thor. Well, chatted up is possibly too strong a description. He was just sitting next to her with a longing stare on his pretty Nordic face. He was way too drunk for actual words. He was so smitten that even the arrival of Rob failed to oust him and his friend and to come and gently shepherd him away.

By the time I eventually stumbled into the night, I was a bit sick of metal (although I was still recovering from the fact that they played Bad Medicine by Bon Jovi at one point) and came up with the genius idea of streaming Call Me Maybe on my iPad and dancing to it on the night bus… I am the coolest person that ever lived.

After all that you’d expect a quiet Saturday night in, but Jen, Karen and I had promised ourselves a girls night out and dutifully chucked some slap on and headed back to Soho for an impressively odd night at Thirst.

The first thing that struck us was that there wasn’t a single man in the whole place. In the (somewhat inappropriate) words of Gary from Geordie Shore, “wall to wall clunge.” I have never seen anything quite like it. Of course, I am married, so lack of men has no impact on my night, but it was weird. We went as far as checking the bar’s website to see if we had missed a memo on it being lesbian night but at about midnight, we realised we hadn’t – as a sudden horde of “men” magically appeared from wherever else they’d been warming up.

The most amusing example of the rather pathetic specimens on show, were a group of guys who had obviously been watching too much Made in Chelsea. One was clearly supposed to be a cut price Spencer, the other a bargain basement Hugo and the third… maybe their butler. They immediately marched into the bar and pitched up in front of the mirror fixing their hair, before congratulating themselves on their obviously amazing looks. We imagined the conversation to go a bit like this:

Tesco Spencer: I want to jizz on you.
Asda Hugo: No, I want to jizz on you
Tesco Spencer: No, I want to jizz on you.
Asda Hugo: No, I want to jizz on you
Tesco Spencer: No, I want to jizz on you.
Asda Hugo: No, I want to jizz on you
Tesco Spencer: Or maybe we could jizz on this stupid looking blonde girls
Asda Hugo: You are so smart. I really want to jizz on you…
Butler (to himself): I wish one of you would look at me. I want to jizz on both of you

While these two rejects tried to charm the girls sitting next to us, a group of very drunk teenage boys wearing sunglasses and letting their Primark labels hang out, arrived and alternated between trying to make eye contact with us and dazzle us with their brilliant dance moves.

As more and more posers rolled in, there was a moment of tension when a second round of MIC wannabes turned up and threatened to usurp Tesco Spencer and Asda Hugo through the power of better suits, but everyone stayed in their own territory and no one’s hair came unslicked. However, the threat of unwanted male attention became so present that we had to resort to tag team smoke breaks out of fear of leaving any one “team” member alone and open to threat.

This backfired on me, when I headed out alone, only to be propositioned by a fifty year old Frenchman, with a jones for tattoos. He seemed completely affronted when I told him I was married and acted as if I had made an advance on him. Sigh.

We left not long after that. Despite the fact that we had had rather a lot of cocktails, we were not drunk enough for the rigors of late night Thirst. This was probably a good thing, since  we needs or wits about us to get home. There were no night buses and we weren’t able to get a cab until Karen reserved one using her Addison Lee account. We later found out that there was a massive accident on Aldwych, which had closed the roads for two hours. When we zipped past the bus stop on The Strand next to Trafalgar Square in our taxi there were still about 300 people waiting for a bus. I do home they all managed to eventually get home.

So after feeling like I was twenty-four over the weekend, today I feel like I am seventy-four. To think I did this every weekend for about four years…

Okonomiyaki… made of WIN

Whenever I see Fabio, I wonder why on earth we waited so long to see each other because I really do love his company and his ability to turn even a couple of drinks into an adventure.

We started in the George where it didn’t take long for the conversation to become focused on dark, emotional gossip… and fashion. He approved of my accidental new hairstyle (my fringe is now so long that I can’t see so I put in a big side parting one day and brushed it to the side and voila everyone thinks I’ve had my hair cut and I can see where I’m going) and my new glasses… although he agrees with the idea of getting some vintage 50’s frames and he knows a place. SCORE! I rate Fabio’s style approval pretty happy so that put a smile on my face. Who can’t admire a boy who’s turned his broken jeans into a fashion statement by replacing the button with a yale lock.

We headed to Abeno for dinner where I realised that I had been missing out on the wonder of okonomiyaki for 29 years. Why did NO ONE tell me about this! It’s this glorious Japanese omelette made of cabbage, egg, dough and bits of tempura batter with a filling mixed in… prawn, squid, pork, tofu, etc…. absolutely gorgeous and all cooked in front of you on a hot flat griddle. Just another reason to add to my ever-increasing desire to go to Japan.

And then The Chandos and finally, well Village, because where do you go on a weeknight in Soho… a gay bar, of course. The karaoke was a bit special though and so we decided it was time to call it a night.

Today… I am chilling… well for now. I’m kind of thinking of making some white chocolate brownies… and I have a write-in to run…

Spring Soho sunday…

I think I have found the perfect way to spend Sunday afternoons when the weather is nice. It wasn’t particularly warm yesterday but it was sunny so Sanna and found a café to sit outside in the middle of Soho just off Dean Street and watched the passing traffic and talked about things like the inexplicable sexiness of David Tennant, nudity in different cultures and why anyone would still own a fur coat. The café was clearly set up for exactly this purpose since the chairs were facing out to the street rather than facing each other with the table between them.

I love the atmosphere in that part of the West End. Directly over the road from us were two sex shops and the street was populated with queens of every age gushing over each other and prancing around in outfits that included things like bowties and shiny blue winkle-pickers. It was an absolute visual feast. The tourists weaving through the chaos seemed slightly puzzled though. Ah, Londres… you will forever own my heart.

We ended the afternoon by heading back up to Oxford Street and popping into Topshop to try on shoes. All of my summer shoes are in pieces and I have nothing to wear in Australia. I wanted something practical that would go with lots of things. Only in my world would that equal a pair of sky blue plastic gladiator sandals.

In other news, RLHB is coming around for dinner again tomorrow night. Now I have to find something else to not poison him with…

The chase is on and if you run, I will follow you

Last night Barb and I went to see Kill Hannah at the Astoria. The atmosphere was electric from the moment we finally got into the venue. KH fans are a special kind of fanatical and so everyone was positively itching with anticipation.

Our arrival came halfway through first opening act, Serpico. I’m not sure about them. My first impression was that they were just noisy and not cool and stylishly noisy… just noisy. But their last song was actually really cool. It reminded me of old school AC/DC. I wouldn’t say I was in any great rush to check them out but they didn’t make me long for earplugs.

The next band, was called Gun Dogs… I only found this out post gig, it sounded like they were called, Gun Dart… or Gun Tard or something more like that. They were fronted by two guitar playing girls who weren’t bad in terms of their guitar skills… but vocally… well, let’s just say it was reminiscent of a car going past really fast. Everything was just nyaaaawwwhhhhh. Their set seemed to go on for eternity. All I can say is with the amount of arm waving they were doing, thank god they shaved their armpits!

My Passion were as psychotically energetic as ever. Even though it was biggest stage I’ve ever seen them play on, Laurence (sporting red skinny jeans, cravat and three-quarter sleeve military style coat) still almost ran over everyone. They played a lot of stuff off their upcoming album, all of it awesome but I did long for Booman and Bitter Too. We got the distinct impression that their set was cut short because Gun Tart overran. I never get bored with Simon slinging his bass around. It was not difficult to see why they got so much pure lust from the crowd.

The Kill Hannah set was really something special. They came out (very cheekily) to Beds Are Burning by Midnight Oil and played with absolutely everything they had. It was very unfortunate that Johnny was not there (I hear whispers of rehab and anorexia but I don’t want to speculate), however Tom, from the fabulous Powerspace, made a sterling replacement. Mat was particularly excitable and declared that what had gotten him through the entire tour as well as the tour bus inferno was the prospect of playing in London and that being onstage in the Astoria was officially the greatest moment of his life. It was a very satisfying setlist including The Chase, The Collapse, Crazy Angel, Black Poison Blood, Lips Like Morphine, new track – Acid Rain and of course, Welcome To Chicago Motherfucker. My adoration of KH is intact and growing with every show!

We had an encounter after the show that proved to me yet again that cigarettes can save your life. Earlier in the night we had met two very drunk, very lovable 18 year-old South African emo boys who had bummed smokes and hugs off us. Coming out of the gig we spotted the smaller of the two who was whinging that the other one had left him because he was “scoring a chick”. This was very evident since his whole face was covered in lip-gloss. He then asked for another smoke which I handed over. At this point the strange man who we had spotted outside the sex shop (it’s Soho… they’re everywhere) following around small Asian girls, rubbing his hands like Fagin, strode up to the little Emo-Saffa and demanded a smoke. He said he didn’t have any at which point Psycho-Perv made to start a fight. I swiftly stepped in and gave him one of my smokes and Barb and I dragged Emo-Saffa down the road with us to safety. Concrete proof… smoking saves lives.

Disappearing penises, flaming tour buses, Satanic Sluts and more

My return to London has made me realise some of the things I missed the most when I was in SA…

–    Psychotically unpredictable weather
–    Soho, with all its insane weirdness
–    Indie boys
–    Music that was not picked by some lame radio station
–    The banter in my office
–    Scurrilous celebrity gossip

I’ll explain…

I knew I was back at work when I handed around the Cadbury’s Top Deck I had brought back from SA in an attempt to prove that SA chocolate is tastier and was swiftly slated by half the team. An argument about chocolate ensued in which it was declared that Galaxy is akin to crack in addictiveness. This was swiftly backed up by the comment, “yes, crack is rather more-ish”. Office banter, a reason for living.

I spent the evening with Josh and Sanna. Josh is giving Sanna her first tattoo as an 18th birthday present and they invited me along to Self Sacrifice as, I guess, a sort of facilitator. Tattoo artists tend to talk to “normal” people as if they are a bit random but since I now have a giant tattoo on my leg, for the first time I was regarded as “one of them” and the tone of conversation completely changed. We even did that thing that tattooed people do where they compare art. Everyone was very impressed with the one on my arm and Maio got a lot of pats on the back for it. Tonight Sanna will be getting some words of wisdom from Bob Dylan inked on her hip and I will be getting my apostrophes that Maio forgot the first time around. We are both swooning at his loveliness.

When we went into the shop it was cold but clear. When we came out it was hailing, like mad. No warning… just hail. The atmosphere was a bit loopy. Everyone was tearing around, the shop owners were trying to lure people into their shops and really it all just looked quite beautiful. We took it as a signal to retire to the Royal George. The George is always packed with weird and wonderful Soho-ites including lovely indie boys. In SA a kind of hyper, rugby-playing, beer swilling masculinity reigns supreme. It completely puts me off. So to be surrounded by lanky boys in skinny jeans with wild hair, crazy scarves and pointy shoes was a return a warm joyous place packed with eye candy.

We ended our evening with a delicious Italian dinner in a hideaway restaurant on Goodge Street. The staff were quite mad. When Josh handed his card over to pay and accidentally keyed in his pin a little early, the waiter declared that he was slowing down the process and would render said waiter with not even enough time to go to the toilet. He finished this off by saying, “by tomorrow I will have no penis.” We giggled all the way to the tube station. By the time I got home it was snowing… in October.

At the moment the talk of the town is Russell Brand’s latest round of dodgy behaviour. During a BBC2 Radio show where he had Jonathon Ross as a guest the two of them rung up Fawlty Towers star, Andrew Sachs, who they were supposed to interview. When he did not answer they left him some naughty little voice mails, including one claiming that Russell had had carnal knowledge of Sach’s granddaughter. This has lead to a national outcry where even Gordon Brown is demanding retribution and Russ has once again been suspended. Personally I don’t know what all the hullabaloo is about. The granddaughter, Georgina Baillie, is outraged… despite the fact that she is currently on tour with a Burlesque group called Satan’s Sluts and actually DID sleep with Russell. She’s not exactly the virgin Mary now, is she? There is a massive financial crisis going on and the Prime Minister is focused on badly behaved radio presenters… I love this country. Find out more here.

And in closing, I am very excited as Barb and I will be going to see Kill Hannah at the Astoria 2 tonight with My Passion opening. It’s both exciting and a relief since the gig almost didn’t happen. While on tour in Switzerland last week, the two bands shared tour bus caught fire and was incinerated. Fortunately everyone is fine but they have lost virtually all their personal possessions and have been reduced to performing in their own merch. You can see actual footage of the bus in flames on singer, Mat Devine’s, blog. I can admit that any casualties or injuries of either of these bands would have left me in a state of disrepair so the fact that all is well is cause for celebration. I will be taking along some fingerless gloves to help the boys ward off the cold! This news of course was passed on to me last week by Jen since no one in South Africa has heard of either band. They’re not as radio friendly as the consistent mindless dance music that Highveld and 5fm pump out, I guess.