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since 20/08/2010


Review of the year 2010 28/12/2010

Finding the silver linings

Review of the year 2010 As studies show that humans tend to remember bad times rather than the good, I thought this would be a good place to write down my highlights of 2010, as I don’t want to remember 2010 as a bad year. I also thought it’d be a good time to get into the swing of writing again, after some gentle prodding from a few lovely members. So my year began with a lovely holiday to Bruges. I purchased the Eurostar tickets for my boyfriend’s Christmas present, and also booked a room in a hostel. Fortunately, we couldn’t find it as the map we purchased had East pointing upwards (our first reaction: “they’ve changed the names of the streets”). We ended up in a small quaint hotel, where the proprietress was very glad of our custom, and we had an ensuite instead of a shared bathroom (ewww). We spent our time wandering around the freezing city, eating and drinking beer as we went along. The canals were frozen (unsurprisingly), and the museums were shut (that was a surprise for us), but it was such a romantic place to be with the dust of snow all around. House Parties... as the only one amongst my friends (of similar age) that lives in a flat with a kitchen and living room, it has become my responsibility to throw parties. Having said that, I do enjoy organsing a good shindig. I have always thrown them, but the catalyst was purchasing a raclette set. All I have to do is slice up some meat, buy some cheese and booze, and the guests sort out the cooking for themselves. The best parties were Max’s ...

Dandelion Mind - Bill Bailey Show 24/11/2010

WAGNER!! I mean... Bill Bailey!!

Dandelion Mind - Bill Bailey Show Although I cannot recall when my love for Bill Bailey began, he is now firmly in my top three list of comedians (the other two being Hugh Dennis and Michael McIntyre). In case anyone doesn’t know (and in case the Ciao Gremlins don’t show a picture of him), he’s the hairy comedian that looks not dissimilar to Wagner from this year’s X Factor (he mentioned that on the day, which received a huge laugh from me- this seemed to unnerve him as it was the only time we were laughing at him instead of with him). In any case, I saw whilst zooming up an escalator on the London Underground that he was on a new tour- Dandelion Minds, and I knew I simply must get hold of some tickets. PURCHASING THE TICKETS Once I had rushed home, I convinced the boyfriend that we had to go as part of our “date a week” agreement. (It’s easy to slip into monotonous routine of slouching out in front of the TV after work, so we insist on going out somewhere different at least once every week). He logged onto the ticketmaster website, and clicked through the steps- only for it to crash, and he had to go through the process again. Unfortunately, he clicked the wrong date the second time round, and found out once the payment was complete. He read through the T&Cs, and we were unable to find a way to change the date, so I ended up having to find someone else to take the ticket (as he was not in London on the date). This was actually harder than I first envisaged, as I thought Bill Bailey was more popular than he ...

Home House, London 16/11/2010

"Member's only!" at Home House

Home House, London “Home House” is a member’s only club, situated on Portman Square (just behind Selfridges, London). The club presides over the square, taking up three Georgian buildings (19-21 Portman Square). In truth, I was apprehensive about writing about this club- I don’t know other people’s views on member’s clubs, but I guess all I can do is write about my own view of the place. I have frequented this member’s club several times for dinner, Sunday lunch, for a few cheeky cocktails and to use their spa. Entrance As the name indicates, one needs to be a member or signed in by a member to enter. The solid Georgian door is closed during the daytime, so you need to ring a bell to enter. The entrance is not very grand, so it is my belief that the one we go in as actually the side door. A receptionist is sat on the side, and a gentlemanly bouncer/front of house asks to see your membership card. At least, that’s how it’s meant to be run. We arrived early for lunch this Sunday without any membership card (my boyfriend’s had expired, and his parents hadn’t arrived yet), and weren’t asked to produce any ID. Having said that, we did have a reservation and correctly announced the name it was booked under (not a common surname, so the chances of blagging it were slim). Once you enter this mini entrance hall, you are led to the grand entrance, with an enormous stone staircase. To the right, is a cloakroom; during the day, it is unmanned, and we hung our coats up ourselves. The Bison Bar By the ...

All About Me 11/11/2010

50th Review: Me, Myself & Ciao

All About Me Ciao drew me in like Alice chasing a wild rabbit- before long, I felt like I had entered a different world.... where people decide on what experiences and products to go to/purchase by the quality of review they can expect to derive from it. Well, I sure hope that’s not just me!! In any case, that’s not really the point. The point is, it’s my 50th review, and legend has it, that it is customary to write a special ciao cafe review. As I feel like I have (semi) established myself within the community, I would like to share a bit more about myself, as I don’t want to be seen as the moustached Chinese girl that despises sausages with low meat content. As I feel that some of the “about me” surveys are a tad long winded, and all attempts at being witty to the basic questions have been attempted (Sex: yes please), I have cherry picked a few questions from different surveys. As well as that, I have asked some esteemed Ciao members to ask me questions. So here goes.... What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had? Well, I worked as a table for a while. Well, I was a waitress at an events company, which basically involved standing there with lots of champagne... not pouring, just standing there. So yeah, they didn’t want to fork out to hire a couple of tables, and decided to hire some students for minimum wage. I had never felt there was a class divide until working there... Oh, but... actually. A weirder job I had... I mean, genuinely weird.... was working for a start up company. I ...

ImmaQulate Beauty Salon, London 03/11/2010

ImmaQulate Misconception

ImmaQulate Beauty Salon, London Stressed out? Dull face? Back pain? The solution was clear for me: I needed to purchase one of those cheap spa treatment vouchers from, a website that sends you daily deals available for 24 hours or until they run out. On the particular day that I was feeling stressed out, it was a £25 voucher worth £85 on offer from a company called ImmaQulate Beauty. Despite not having researched the company (and being slightly put off by the spelling of the name) I snapped it up, received the voucher from GroupOn via e-mail immediately, and rang the spa company. I did need to google their number though, as the telephone number GroupOn had printed on the voucher was incorrect. The earliest appointment they had was in a month’s time; this disappointed me slightly at first, but I was prepared for some cutbacks for a £25 day spa. The voucher entitled me to “a revival facial, aromatherapy massage and express manicure plus a choice of eyebrow threading or your own selection of equally priced treatments from ImmaQulate Beauty”. LOCATION Two days before my appointment, I received a text from ImmaQulate Beauty reminding me of my appointment with them. It also gave me directions to the spa, and the address in the text which was helpful on the day. This branch of ImmaQulate Beauty is off Oxford Street, on James Street. The best way to get there is to look for the road between Gap and Body Shop (on the East side of Selfridges), and walk down 2 street corners. The nearest station is ...

Giraffe, Belsize Park, London 20/10/2010

Giraffe Grub is Good Grub

Giraffe, Belsize Park, London "LOVE EAT LIVE" When the local Tootsies closed down, we were met by a sense of overwhelming dismay- where would we run to when we cannot be bothered to cook, and want to satisfy our cave(wo)men instincts by ripping apart some juicy tender ribs? The answer soon became clear as an orange and black shop front was erected in the old Tootsies shopfront, and Giraffe blossomed open to replace our old decimated friend. LOCATION The Giraffe I am reviewing is located on Belsize Park high street/Haverstock Road. It is 1 minute away from Belsize Park tube; simply turn right out of the station, and its almost immediately on your right. Buses here go to/from Euston, Archway, and Finchley Road area (although as it’s a chain, I wouldn’t travel far to go to this Giraffe...!) A list of restaurant locations can be found on this webpage: AMBIENCE The layout for the restaurant is identical to when it was a Tootsies; the restaurant is split in two, with a wall dividing it in the middle. A step down is required to enter the other half of the other restaurant, which is where the toilets are located. Although it is only one step, I have seen some elderly people struggling to make the step down safely (as there’s no banister on the side); the staff tend to be helpful though and I have seen them lending a steady hand. As well as that, there are seats outside. The pavement is quite wide there, so you’re not right by the road; having said that, I have never eaten ...

Vodka Revolution, London 12/10/2010

Revel in Revolution

Vodka Revolution, London Vodka Revolution has been firmly fixed on my radar for a few years now, as my cousin worked for VR, so we always received free drinks when we went there. Vodka Revolutions was one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2010, according to The Sunday Times. You can tell the staff really enjoy working there, as they are a large part of the buzz created in the bar. LOCATION The Vodka Revolution bar I am reviewing is the one in Soho, as it is the one I frequent the most. It is located inside a large alley way, or a pedestrianised road, called St Annes Ct, which runs between Dean Street and Wardour Street. The nearest tube station is Tottenham Court Road station, although Leicester Square and Oxford Circus are less than 10 minutes walk away. It is also served by numerous (night) bus routes, which run across Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street. Whilst you are on St Annes Ct, you should look out for a little space invader art work, which I love spotting in and around London. THE VENUE & ATMOSPHERE The bar in Soho is quite small compared to the other ones I have been to. The bar is split into two sections; some island of tables without seats parallel to the bar, but behind that and running by the walls is a raised section with more table and chairs. I like the raised platform; it makes it easier to scout friends out, as people can often be lost in the sea of heads. As a people watcher, it also makes it easier to spot men-in-suits hit on girls-in-short-skirts, as well as seeing ...

Hollybush, London 08/10/2010

Best scotch eggs and pub in NW3

Hollybush, London Hampstead is a fine area, and I've frequented many of the pubs in Hampstead as we often meet up with my boyfriend’s parents for pub lunches. The best pub we've been to in Hampstead (closely followed by the Old White Bear) is Holly Bush. It's hidden in a cul-de-sac, and apparently used to be a stable. I've done some reading up, and it's one of the older pubs in London, and dates back to when Hampstead was just a country town (hard to believe, as it's only in Zone 2 of today's London). Location As I said, the pub is in Hampstead. The best way to get there is probably on the underground tube, the nearest station being Hampstead (which is on the Edgware Branch of the Northern Line). When you leave the station, turn right, and walk up the hill by about 200m. To your left will be a small alley way called Holly Bush; follow the steps up the crookedy alley way, and it's just another 100m away once you're at the top. This should only take you 4 minutes. It's also served by the buses which run to Baker Street, and another down towards Camden. The atmosphere, seating and decor The atmosphere in here is really relaxed, but it's by no means somewhere someone would enter in wellies (not muddy ones anyway). That's not because you won't be allowed in, just that there aren't many Hampsteadites wandering around in wellies. There are normally a lot of men in suits, but they are strictly in down time mood, and you're more likely to find corporate guys in their fleece jackets or button down ...

Lomo Holga 120 SF 04/10/2010

Lame-o Lomo Camera

Lomo Holga 120 SF *SLIGHT UPDATE AFTER I DROPPED MY CAMERA* I received this camera (the gold pimpin' version) on my 21st birthday from my boyfriend's sister. It was a fantastic thought, but I didn't play with it for several months as I had no idea how it worked. The instructions I received in the manual were awful, but having some common sense (not something I'm blessed with) would probaly help. More about that later. It's essentially a plastic toy camera, so I thought it was just a prop for my "Geeks'n'Chavs party". In any case, I guess I'll briefly go through the information that I have learnt regarding lomography and holgas since being given this as a present: LOMOGRAPHY. What is it? Lomography is an artistic experimental style of photography, where light leaks are common. The colours are often changed, and overlapping frames are common place. More information can be found on but I think the photos I have shown below will visually demonstrate the idea better. It has now become common place for applications (such as hipstamatic) on iPhones etc to emulate the style. I guess the main rule about lomography is that there are no rules, and you should experiment; shooting from different angles etc. HOLGA Holga is a brand of lomography cameras. The other popular one is the DIANA series, which is slightly more expensive. I have a DIANA+ adaptor lens for my DSLR which I may write about later. The Holga is a camera made and designed in China (no sniggering, s'il vous ...

Maldron Hotel Parnell Square, Dublin 02/10/2010

Cheap boutique hotel

Maldron Hotel Parnell Square, Dublin Having never visited Dublin before, deciding which hotel to stay at was largely done by looking at the map of hotels (and ratings) on tripadvisor. We wanted a hotel relatively close to the centre (which we deemed to be Temple Bar), so we could walk there within 15 minutes; we also wanted a pretty large hotel so we could get some privacy without breaking the bank, wanted to avoid massive chains like Travelodge... In the end, we decided to stay at Maldron Hotel Parnell Square, a 3* hotel, which set us back by 64.75E per night for a “King Double Room”. LOCATION The hotel is located right by Parnell Square (unsurprisingly), which is an important Georgian square situated north of O’Connell Street. The “Garden of Remembrance” is located in the northern areas of the square, and is a square you must visit; an empowering statue is situated on the Western side with a shallow pool of water at the base, which gives it a beautiful rippling reflection when it’s slightly windy. From the hotel, it takes 5 minutes to walk to O’Connell Street/St Lower street (these are both one way streets, running in opposite directions, so it’s the same thing for pedestrians); you can walk to the East or West side of Parnell Square, but we would suggest the East side route, to avoid the loud annoying recorded announcements at Rotunda hospital (which goes on through the evening). It will take you about 10 minutes to walk from one side of O’Connell Street/St Lower street to River Liffey, so in total it’ll ...

The Tea Room at the Clarence, Dublin 02/10/2010

The best restaurant in Dublin (supposedly...)

The Tea Room at the Clarence, Dublin As the purpose of our trip to Dublin was dubbed as a “romantic getaway”, we decided we had to eat out at a decent restaurant at least once. It was my job to look for great restaurants at Dublin, so I popped to toptable. We decided to go to the Tea Room at the Clarence, which had a deal of “3 courses and complementary white wine for 25E”, and had the third highest rating at 8.1 (the highest rated at 8.3). We booked this on toptable the night before, but didn’t receive a confirmation in the morning; the plan for the day was to head into town for some sightseeing, then back to the hotel to check my e-mail (and freshen up) before heading out to the restaurant. However, we tumbled upon the restaurant during lunch time, and saw a fantastic sample lunch special, which we couldn’t resist.... it was 9.95E for a main course, and given the strength of the rating on toptable, we assumed the restaurant would be superb. THE RESTAURANT The Tea Room is situated in The Clarence hotel, at 6-8 Wellington Quay, Dublin 2, Ireland (which is right by the river). It was built in 1852 but fell in decline; in 1992, Bono and The Edge (from U2) purchased the hotel, in order to restore it to it’s former glory. This review is just about the Tea Room though, and not about The Clarence. The Tea room looks like it used to be a church (from my very non-religious eyes, so it may not be the case). To the right, one would image the altar being there, with large (restored) windows running the length of the ...

Brazen Head, Dublin 01/10/2010

How to get good head...

Brazen Head, Dublin On our way to the Guinness Storehouse, we must have looked really confused/lost as a rather weathered looking local asked where we were going, and if we needed directions. Being Londoners and not used to random niceties from strangers, we were slightly taken aback at first... we recovered though, and asked him whether our directions were correct; he said they were, but advised us to also go to Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub. As a fan of pubs, and wanting to make our trip to Dublin slightly more cultural, we noted down where it was on the map, and went on our way... LOCATION When we left the Guinness Storehouse, we had already had 2 pints and a bit of Guinness each. You can’t turn down free beer, can you? It only took us 5 minutes to reach the pub, which was by Father Mathew Bridge. The pub allegedly dates back to 1198, although they cannot be sure how much of the 11th century building is still intact. It is also only 5 minutes away from Christchurch Cathedral, and 8 minutes away from Temple Bar. In short, a very easy pub to get to, although slightly further away from the main hubbub of boozing places in Central Dublin. FIRST IMPRESSIONS The outside of the pub is old and kitsch, as expected. It looks like there are turrets at the front, which is actually just a facade; when you enter, it is a cobbled courtyard, which leads to the pub. This courtyard has a makeshift roof over it (which is still leaky, as we found out), but people are allowed to smoke out there. The seating ...

Gaucho Restaurants, London 28/09/2010

Two steak lovers' anniversary and "special date" restaurant

Gaucho Restaurants, London My boyfriend and I are absolute carnivores, and can't imagine anything better than a nice juicy medium rare steak on our plates (maybe 2 juicy steaks *drools*). We have experimented numerous time at different restaurants, but even Gordon Ramsay's Maze Grill was subpar, compared to Gauchos. The steak sourced from Gaucho are from Argentina, and they are just superbly soft and melts in your mouth. We normally go to the Hampstead branch, although we have been to a few other Gauchos. The standard of food is consistent throughout. BOOKING A TABLE They can get quite busy, so we always book in advance. They have an online booking system, and someone from the restaurant will phone you to confirm the booking. You can make special requests, although we have not used that service. As well as that, you can just walk in or phone in to book, just like all other restaurants. ARRIVING AT THE RESTAURANT The restaurant in Hampstead is right by the station, so it's very very convenient. You are greeted by the cheery front of house as you enter, and she will normally ask if you want to stay at the bar for a drink first, or if you want to take a seat. The atmosphere is quite relaxed, although I would still recommend not going in sports trainers. They don't require it, but I tend to dress like I am going to see family: slightly dressed up, but still comfortable. I guess that may just be due to it being frequented by the Hampsteadites. As you go to your seat, a waiter will come and introduce ...

Hamlyn All Colour Low Fat - Cara Hobday 26/09/2010

Top Notch Recipe Book

Hamlyn All Colour Low Fat - Cara Hobday (**BUM!!! I didn't mean to chuck this one to the top of the reviews... gah!!!! Thumbs up for my panda nails? :P **) Like most people in Britain, I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds here and there. I had never really cooked before going to university, but discovered a real love of cooking food from scratch once I started. I had quite a lot of time, and was determined not to have ready made food all the time... I purchased numerous recipe books, and will talk about one of my favourites: “200 low fat dishes all colour cookbook” by Cara Hobday. The book itself is small, about 15 x 18cm x 2.5cm. It has really colourful pictures throughout the book, which shows us what the end product looks like. All the pictures are on the right hand page, so it’s easy to flick through. I think presentation is really key, as eating is more than just filling your stomach; I find that when I cook the food, it often looks like the product in the picture (even though I am hardly a talented cook). The recipes choose ingredients with a variety of colours too, so it’s easy to make the food look nice. The book itself is separated into several chapters: everyday, quick, something special, vegetarian, salads and desserts. On the left hand side of the page, it tells you how many it serves, the preparation time, then the cooking time. I have found these to be very accurate, unlike some other recipe books which fail to tell you that you need to leave some time to marinade etc (which I would include in the ...

Helsinki (Finland) 24/09/2010

Sing for the Finns

Helsinki (Finland) Helsinki is a city I love, as it’s the place I had my first “proper” date with my boyfriend. I have been there for the last three Summers, and have my boyfriend (who’s Finnish) by my side as I write this review, ensuring I am accurate with my descriptions and spelling of Finnish words. I have only been to Helsinki during the Summer, as I don’t think I’d like to battle the -30 temperatures for no reason (I don’t mind if it’s for skiing, but we go to Åre for that). The weather in Summer is lovely though, with temperatures reaching 35c, and with the cool sea breeze cooling you down. ***HOW TO GET THERE*** Helsinki airport (or Helsinki Vantaa airport) is now served by quite a few airlines that go from London airports; we have flown with blue1, easyjet and BA. Flights can be extortionate if you buy it on a last minute basis (I have seen £1000 from BA), but on average you can get return flights from £100 if you shop around. The flight takes about 2 hours, and Finland is 2 hours ahead so it feels like you’ve remained stationary in time when you fly back from Finland. At the airport, you can take a bus to Helsinki Central railway station, which takes 35 minutes. The tickets are under 2E, so have some change ready when you land. ***WHAT TO PACK*** Despite reaching such high temperatures during the day, it can get a bit chilly at night due to the sea breeze. I was stupid the first time I went to Helsinki (at the beginning of a backpacking trip..!) and only had a few cardigans with ...
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