Toast NZ

Now, I must admit that the thought of going to expat events is usually enough to bring me out in hives.  Toast NZ is meant to be a celebration of New Zealand food, drink and music.  It’s also held on Clapham Common, which makes sense as Clapham has the largest concentration of New Zealanders in London.  I don’t live in or anywhere near Clapham.  But I had been offered a free ticket instead of the normal entry price of £25, and as I’d never been before I decided to check it out.

As soon as I stepped off the tube I was surrounded by New Zealand and Australian accents.  Beer bellies abounded.  It was a stinking hot day, the kind of weather that would normally see me sheltering indoors, but it meant that Clapham Common with its burnt off grass and complete lack of any kind of sheltering trees, was very effectively transformed into New Zealand Town for the day (Flight of the Conchords in-joke).

The two restaurants with top billing were Suze in Mayfair and Smith’s of Smithfield.  Smith’s is run by John Torode and is in the middle of the Smithfields meat market.  So even if you’ve never heard of them before you can guess what they specialise in.  And it is always spoken of very highly by my meat-loving friends.  They were actually offering a vegetarian option of falafel, but to tell you the truth that just seemed wrong!

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Suze is apparently a New Zealand restaurant and was offering up NZ mussels, prawns, “lambwiches” and pavlova.  I decided to try a small plate of mussels with a white wine-celery-type sauce.  The sauce was served up from a huge soup tureen and I have to say it did not look that appetising.  A bit too thick and gloopy.  The taste wasn’t anything special either, and while the mussels were your usual delicious greenlipped NZ variety, they hadn’t been debearded which put me off even further.  A girl came up to me and asked if they were any good.  When I said no she tried to engage me in a long conversation about them!  I’d forgotten some New Zealanders are completely unreserved when it comes to talking with strangers!  This actually happened a few times and I felt like if I wanted to I could have made new friends quite easily.  Maybe I’ve been in London too long but this just scared me a little.

The place was unfortunately also full of loud, obnoxious, drunken Kiwi types.  I was queuing for some wine when a group to the left of me, who had been loud and annoying the whole time I’d been queuing (one guy had a particularly ear-piercing laugh) jumped the queue, demanded beer, and when there was no beer bought wine instead.  Really enough to make my blood boil.  However as soon as I got my wine, more of the O:Tu Sauvignon Blanc I first tried at Taste last weekend, I found my happy place.  Yes, that wine really is as good as I thought it was.  It’s available from various places online or direct from O:Tu by the half case (£53 as I recall) with free delivery.  I suspect it’ll probably win a slew of awards so buy it now, ok?

Some of the best food I ate was some prawns and tempura prawns with fried noodles. This was just proper, honest street food, looking at it being cooked I knew exactly what it was going to taste like and I wasn’t disappointed. I grew up eating street food from market vendors on hot, sunny days so this just took me right back. A far cry from the food I had at Taste last weekend but the right food at the right time.

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My alarm has just rung three times to tell me it is time to go to Italy now, so I will leave you with this, which is just wrong wrong WRONG:

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A crime against strawberries!!!

Pop up tea party

On Thursday I went to a pop up 1920s-style tea party in Covent Garden. The party was organised by the Vintage Patisserie and featured waitresses dressed in old-fashioned uniforms, 20s music playing, pearls, feather boas and fans to dress up with, Prosecco drunk out of teacups (actual tea was also an option), and a gypsy fortune teller to read our tea leaves or palms.

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The party was set up right in the middle of the food market, it was a hot evening, and the whole thing was excellent fun. Prices were very reasonable too – £5/£8 for tea/a cocktail with a piece of cake, a cup cake, and your fortune told. And let me tell you – the fortune teller was scarily accurate! It was meant to be a one-off event but it looks as though there may be more in the future.

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Royal Doulton – I checked.

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Service was with a very big smile.  Actually it really was very good.  My friends were running late and I was seated with another girl who was there on her own.  And when the vase on our table blew over and fell onto the milk jug, which fell onto me, someone was there with big handfuls of paper towels almost instantly!  It was so hot though that I dried off in seconds.

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Did they really eat cupcakes in the 20s?  Still, the chocolate one was delicious and there wasn’t too much icing.  I still hope the cupcake craze ends soon though.

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Apparently I may marry a doctor…

Afterwards I wandered around the market for a bit.  I must remember this market is there as it’s small but really quite good.  I had a nice time chatting to vendors and can report that there is a very good gelato stand there!

Gorilla knitting

That’s not a typo. You may have heard of guerilla knitting; perhaps even on this very blog. But have you heard of gorilla knitting?

I thought not.

On Sunday I was invited to join a group of people teaching knitting by the gorilla enclosure at the London Zoo. Sadly this did not involve teaching gorillas to knit. In fact it did not entail teaching anyone to knit, as they were all far more interested in the gorillas. So we sat and knitted blanket squares for shivering Afghan children instead.

One of the highlights of the day was when the keeper gave a gorilla a piece of Tina’s knitting to play with.
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Unfortunately at first she didn’t think much of it:
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But we arrived back from lunch to this:
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We decided that ripping it in half was a sign the gorillas liked it.

Near the end of the day we got to explore the rest of the zoo, which was great as although I live practically next door to it I’ve only looked in from outside before. To be honest it’s quite a small zoo and I’m not sure how I feel about keeping animals in those conditions. But it’s also the world’s first zoo, with animals brought there and studied by Darwin among others, so has a lot of historical significance. The zoo also does some great conservation work in the wild.

We also found the Guy the Gorilla statue and made sure he won’t get so cold the next time it snows:

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Taste of London

I spent most of the weekend at the Taste of London festival in Regent’s Park, twitterreporting for the Guardian. Taste is a big restaurant festival held in various cities across the world (I think NZ has Taste Auckland). In London we are lucky enough to have some of the best restaurants in the world. Basically our task was to use the power of the Guardian press pass to blag as much free food from top restaurants as possible, and tweet about it.

It’s rather lucky I was able to go for free because at £25 entry it’s not cheap – and that’s before the food which is paid for in the festival’s own currency, crowns. 2 crowns = £1. I think if you’re after a Michelin-starred restaurant experience you’re better off just going to a restaurant. The recession has hit restaurants hard, and many are offering diners specials such as Atelier de Joel Robuchon (which boasts two Michelin stars) who are currently offering a pre-theatre special of three courses for £25, or two courses for £19. Of course, they also have a vegetarian tasting menu for £70 which looks well worth saving up for. Unfortunately they were mostly serving up burgers and a salad with tomato jelly (= gelatine = non-veg) at the festival so their vegetarian options were not exactly to the fore. I did sample their dessert which was a layered chocolatey concoction consisting of a chocolate sauce at the bottom, mousse, and a topping of crushed Oreo cookie. It was a little… average. But I’m told the foie gras burgers were exquisite.

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Tiny burgers

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Chocolatey but not life-changing

One interesting experience I had was tagging along to a Laurent-Perrier champagne tasting on the Friday. I arrived to see some very smart people walking in and immediately thought there was no way I would possibly blend in! Then I looked down at what I was wearing, remembered I had been at a job interview that morning, and realised I would be fine. We were taken through the history and Champagnes of the Laurent-Perrier company by a very snobby Frenchman (“some people leave out the hyphen in Laurent-Perrier. BIG mistake”) which was as it should be when discussing Champagne, I suppose! There was much talk of “the bubble” and “how it provokes your inner senses”. When he was talking about the Alexandra Rosé he said “she suddenly will whisper poetry in your head and only you will understand it” and went on in the same vein for a couple of minutes. By this stage I was thinking “oh come ON!” But the people around me certainly bought the schtick, turning to each other and whispering “oooh, we’ll have to have a case of that”.

For the record though we tried the Brut L-P and the Ultra Brut. The Ultra Brut was definitely my pick, with no added dosage (sugar). But I’m afraid drinking Champagne will never be a transcendental experience for me.

My wine pick of the festival is perhaps a little parochial – the O:Tu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I’ve been a little bit over NZ sauvs lately and the record harvest this year seems to have led to a drop in quality, so the O:Tu was a revelation. Extremely crisp and dry, stylistically almost more like a Sancerre than a Marlborough sauv – I will buying some of this! Unfortunately its website provides more marketing wank in the line of French Champagne guy above: “You might even feel a small delightful shiver as the crispness of the mountain air washes over your tongue. Or sense a light ocean breeze brush your cheek”. Don’t listen to that crap and just try it.

Overall food pick of the festival goes to L’Anima for their wild mushroom and black truffle fettucine. It’s making me really look forward to going to Italy in mushroom and truffle season next week. I’m also told L’Anima’s frisella with tomato and mozarella was amazing and now I’m kicking myself for not trying it. Another restaurant on my list to visit.

On Saturday I was joined by quite a few more Guardian foodies as we tweeted and flashmobbed our way around the festival, followed by a picnic (as if we could fit any more food in – although with some delicious dips from my favourite Borough fixture the Arabica Spice Company I did my best) on the good ship Finale, on Regent’s Canal. Many generous companies shared their wares and fare with us, the weather held (just) and it was a fantastic day.

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D-Day

Saturday was the 65th anniversary of D-Day, so a few of us celebrated by going to the Blitz Party. I’ve mentioned going there once before, but that was back in March, when we were experiencing a cold snap, and I mean cold. We ended up chickening out and getting a taxi home, which I never do.

Now that it’s June, the weather was a lot better, although a little colder than it has been – perfect for wearing those seamed nylons and not overheating. The venue has also changed again – now it’s much much closer to Old Street and easier to find. It was absolutely rammed inside, I kind of wish they’d sold fewer tickets so there was a bit more room for dancing. The cocktails were excellent – one of my favourites being “The Blitz” which is made with vodka, elderflower cordial, lemon zest and champagne.

Everyone was dressed beautifully with the men in uniform or suits, with plenty of pencil moustaches in evidence as well! The women all had the most amazing hair and beautiful dresses.

I have a photo of me before we left home:

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Putting the outfit together was fun – I bought the hat first from JBPackrat on Etsy (no link as it’s down for maintenance, but go there – very affordable vintage accessories!). Here’s a better picture of it:
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One of my hatpins was handmade by the wonderful Sarah W, and I bought one from Radio Days Vintage on Lower Marsh.

The dress is from The Observatory in Greenwich, which has far more sensible prices than any of the central London vintage shops.

Recycled polyester slip from M&S – I’ve been really strict on the whole shopping ethically thing this year, so when I went to M&S and they only had polyester slips I didn’t really want to buy one. They had some slinky poly that felt ok though. So then I went on the web and found out the slinky feeling stuff was actually recycled polyester, and no new petroleum products had gone into its manufacture. That ticked enough boxes for me to buy it – but I wonder why there’s no garment label saying it’s recycled?

Seamed holdups from House of Fraser, and finally the shoes:
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are Clarks, but purchased at the British Heart Foundation shop in Camden.

Fashion show

It’s finally time to reveal the knitting I’ve been working on all these months. Back in February or March I was contacted by a fashion student, Orli, about knitting a jacket for her final show. After the jacket there were trousers, another jacket, a cape with sleeves, and a dress! So as you can imagine it has kept me rather busy.

Last night I went to the fashion show and experienced a real moment of pride as I watched my creations coming down the runway. I now realise why fashion photographers always have about three cameras around their necks – my photos aren’t great as my flash took so long to recharge between each shot so I missed some golden opportunities!

But here they are:
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And here’s me and Orli after the show:

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Nearly time to mange… tout!

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First pods!

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I love tendrils.

I took these a couple of days ago. The slightly bigger one you see there? Now in my tummy. I’m waiting for the others to get a little bit bigger and then I fear I will be faced with a glut of mangetout – any ideas what I should do with them besides salads and stirfries?