Travel

+ The Attendant Cafe - London: Review

Yesterday I ate french toast in a toilet. Well, a converted public toilets under Foley Street in Central London called The Attendant Cafe. Me and four friends had made plans to meet for lunch somewhere central, and we were struggling to whittle down the thousands of London establishments to just one. This seemed like the best option as it was something different, located centrally and didn't seem too formal for what was a quick catch-up.

Seating Options

A friend and I turned up around 12.30pm, and the first thing that struck me was the exceedingly small number of seating options available. After all, this is a converted toilet! Thankfully, round the corner to the right there's a couple of tables with bench seating, so we managed to get an area for the five of us. It's not possible to book ahead as far as I know, so I would recommend only going here if there's just two of you to avoid disappointment.

The Food

French toast was about £8 each, and sandwiches ranged Chorizo & Bacon, Royale Chicken to Mushroom and Halloumi. By 12.30pm they had ran out of the other brunch specials. They also had a selection of pastries and cakes on offer at the counter too.

The Atmosphere

The staff are SO nice! As well as that, their soundtrack was top notch and the lighting was just perfect for an underground venue. I particularly liked the fact that so much light filters through from the main entrance, making it feel that little bit bigger. It was a bit cramped, and the couple next to us kept having to hunch over their table so people could get to the toilet. As such, this is not the place for a two-hour long natter. It has an in-n-out vibe, you wouldn't expect to be here for more than 45 minutes especially as the food is served pretty quickly.

This is by no means the first converted toilet in London (Cellar Door and Ginglik are just two that spring to mind), but the space is beautiful, light and if I worked that little bit closer to this place, I would definitely pop in here for a pre-work caffeine fix.


+ 10 Fun London Birthday Ideas

The first birthday I spent in London involved me renting a limousine which took me and some friends from my hometown to an American-themed restaurant called Jailhouse Rock (sadly no longer open!). Since then, each year I've been in London I've always spent a lot of time researching nightclubs/bars/restaurants in the hope that I find the ultimate destination for my birthday celebrations. Let me share with you some places I've trailed out since I moved to London in 2010 that are perfect birthday London ideas:

1) Proud - Camden

I spent my 24th birthday here with friends, and have also attended numerous friends' birthdays here too. You can book yourself a stable which is really fun - the one my boyfriend booked had a pole for dancing which got used a LOT as the evening progressed! It's not as claustrophobic as your standard nightclub, thanks to the fact that it has two dance floors, the large stable area, an outside bar and more space for chatting around the bar.

There are so many bars within the club to choose from and more than different music playing in each dance area, plus the in-club entertainment has been known to include women on stilts and flame eaters!

2) Drink Shop & Do - Kings Cross

I love how fun and unique the event nights are here! I've only been for drinks here so far, but booking a themed night is on my to-do list.

You can pre-book an area in the bar downstairs for groups of ten or more, and they also do a special food menu for parties.

3) Gordon's Wine Bar - Embankment/Charing Cross

Gordon's Wine Bar

4) Bounce - Holborn

I've only been here once or twice, but the venue is MASSIVE, is centred around a really fun sport which gets more fun after a cocktail or two, and the place has a great playlist.

> You can play on a London 2012 Olympics table!

> For up to 25-30 guests, you can hire the Gallery Table and ensure you have a nice area for all your friends.

> As told on their website, "Bounce is located on the very site where the game of Ping Pong was invented and patented in 1901 by John Jaques III".

5) Barrio Central - Soho

Warning! This place gets really sweaty and full. If you don't like the idea of having to spend half your night pressed up against a load of tourists you should a)rent a private area or b) avoid at all costs.

> You can rent an area called 'the porch' which is at the very back of the bar on the ground floor. This area seats up to 20 people. This is as far away from the main dance floor (in the basement) as you can get, so you might also want to consider the Stone Clad as this seats the same amount of people and is right in the thick of it. There's also the 'Love Shack' in the basement, right next to the DJ.

6) Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes - Bloomsbury/Holborn

> This place has karaoke rooms, bowling lanes (obviously!) and also a dancefloor/bar area which is open until 3am.

> What sets this place apart from other London nightclubs is that it's one of the rare venues to serve food too. Ray's Pizza and Diner is only open until 10pm, but it does mean if you want just one venue for your whole evening (dinner, drinks, dancing) you're covered!

7) The Blues Kitchen - Camden

This venue gets crowded really quickly, but you can book ahead for a booth for dinner, and (from what I remember) you can usually use that as a base for the rest of the night. This venue offers free live entertainment if you get there before 9.30pm, and after that it's around £5 on the door.

8) Metro Garden & Bar - Clapham Common


From the outside this is a dark and mysterious bar, but if you walk through to their outdoor area, you'll be pleasantly surprised. This venue has high-quality and has a real touch of sophistication, a far cry from how Clapham high street often looks on a Saturday night!

I'd recommend this place for some early evening Pimm's on their outside daybeds, and then when it gets a bit darker the fairy lights come alive and the whole place transforms into something from a fairytale!

9) Circus Bar - Covent Garden

Circus Bar, London
You'll likely miss this bar when you go looking for it - the front door is a non-descript heavy steel door and you can barely see the 'Circus Bar' sign. You will need to book ahead for dining here, but most evenings after work I've been able to visit here for a glass of vino with friends.

> Every 30 minutes or so, a new performance act will come 'on stage'. By stage I mean the massive dining table which is usually reserved by a large group for dining.

> I've never eaten here, but the Sharing Menu could be a great option for a birthday meal with friends.


10) The Boat Show Comedy Club

I went here with my boyfriend a few months ago, and this place was so much better than I had anticipated! Firstly, if you get there straight after work and well before the show, this would be an ideal place to catch up with friends for a few drinks while overlooking the South Bank and Big Ben.

The comedy event itself is obviously the main draw here, and I saw plenty of groups seated in their reserved booths having a great time! There's a bar towards the back of the room, and the quality of comedy acts here is second to none - many well established comedians apparently do warm-up shows while on tour.

We didn't stay for the dance night (after the comedy show they move the chairs and transform the room into a club night) and I haven't heard many people rave about it, but you're at least in central London if you want to carry on the night elsewhere.


+ My Maui Travel Blog Guide

D. T. Fleming Beach

I probably work abroad 3-4 times a year - this year I've flown to San Francisco three times already. Luckily for me, my boyfriend also got to fly to San Francisco for work around the same time!

We wanted to make the most of both getting flown thousands of miles for free, so the answer was to spend two weeks in Hawaii! Here's my Maui travel blog guide to get you started.

Why Maui?
From the online research and anecdotal feedback from Californian colleagues was that Big Island is too touristy, Kihei is too quiet and so we narrowed it down to Maui and Oahu.

Maui ticked the boxes with the variety of natural beauty, and was consistently described as 'good for couples' which I interpreted as idyllic, full of romantic restaurants and not too many all-inclusive Disney-type resorts!

Napili Bay

Where We Stayed
Initially AirBnB was the best bet, but after browsing Trip Advisor it was Napili Kai which converted us to an apartment-style resort. That way, we'd get the best of a community atmosphere, the hotel bar/restaurant and still have the flexibility of a kitchen to save money with basic meals.

The apartment itself was renovated, had a massive bathroom suite and a lanai (balcony) with an ocean view of Napili.

Napili Bay and Kapalua
If you end up staying in this area, beware that there's not much variety in terms of restaurants and only one bar by way of the Sea House Restaurant, on the hotel grounds.

- Rent a car! Ned and I left it last minute and the cost, combined with the threat of three hurricanes, forced to abandon this idea and rely on the Maui Bus for trips to the supermarket and Lahaina.

- Book a table at Cane & Canoe or Merriman's for a high-calibre meal overlooking the ocean. The meals we had at these two establishments were 100% the best meals we had during our whole time in Maui.

- Rent your snorkelling equipment from Water Works. Unlike nearby Snorkel Bob's, this place rented a full set for just $25 per person.

- Spend a day at Kapalua beach to get the best possible chance of seeing turtles come to shore to dine off the slimy rocks within the bay. We saw two during our stay!

Downhill Biking & Sunrise Tour

Haleakala Sunrise

We went via the Viator website to book this two-in-one experience thanks to the great ratings on Yelp and Trip Advisor.

> Book this for be start of your Maui trip. With the three-hour time difference, it will hurt less to wake up for the 2am pickup!

> Take a neck pillow with you so you can get an extra two hours sleep throughout the ride up to Haleakala.

> When you get to the vista (normally about 30 minutes before official sunrise) you'll see a large railing. I stood to the left of it and so a few of my pics were concealed by other tourists. I'd recommend standing around the midway point to get the best view.

Lahaina

This town had been described to me as the busiest, most built-up part of Maui... It definitely exceeded my expectations as it was actually a beautiful seaside town with such a relaxed vibe about it.

The biggest memory from our day here was just how friendly and close-knit the community was! Every shop owner/gallery assistant was super friendly and were either recommending a place to see... Or that we should just move to Maui!!

Banyan Tree Park - Lahaina

if you go you should definitely see the large banyan tree park on Front Street as it's a crazy quirk of nature. Tree trunks and branches lean inwards towards each other, simultaneously fusing with a tree metres away. Quite the sight!

The Most Expensive Souvenir I've Ever Bought!

When I walked into Vintage European Posters I barely had an intention of buying a $25 poster, let alone an original print from the '60s!

However, after close to twenty minutes in the shop a love affair had begun between the two of and a gorgeous print called Hawaii by Charles Allen. We checked our bank accounts and then made the leap so we now own our first piece of legit collectors' art!

Hurricane Iselle
When we landed in Maui I had no idea that a few days into it I would be packing a precautionary overnight bag, googling nearby shelters and reading a government-provided emergency toolkit. Seeing as I'd never experienced a hurricane before, I wasn't sure if I was over or under-exaggerating the threat in my mind!

Our hotel weren't much help, saying to us, "truth is we don't know what will happen. We cannot provide any food or water for you so please go to the supermarket and stockpile your own essentials". That evening they also asked us to bring in or secure the balcony furniture and upon my texting my dad the news he advised me to "stay away from windows"... I was well and truly shitting myself.

We woke up on Friday to the briefest of rainstorms and a generally cloudy sky. I'm so grateful Iselle reined herself in and settled into a tropical storm, but it still had a big impact on the Big Island and people ended up without power for days :(

All in all, Maui was a paradise of unique animals, unrivalled sunsets (and sunrises!), world-class food and service and just a general chilled vibe. I have already promised myself I will visit again within the next few years, and next time I hope I'll get to go whale watching in Hana, stay at the beautiful Montage hotel, rent a car and (hopefully) avoid any hurricanes!


+ Copenhagen City Break

My boyfriend and I were desperate to go on a city break to help get us through the long, cold winter months here in England. We had a few options; Madrid, France, Denmark – being in London means you’re no more than 2-3 hours away from some vibrant and cultured cities in Europe.

Considering we spent five days in Copenhagen earlier this month, I should really know more about Denmark than I do! However, what I do know is that Copenhagen strives towards beauty, whether it’s the architecture, the people or the furniture and lighting sold in one of its many interior design shops. As well as that, I ate some of the best meals in my life while there.

Any self-respecting food lover has heard of NOMA, three-time winner of the Best Restaurant in the World accolade courtesy of Restaurant magazine. It’s well known that it’s almost impossible to get a reservation there, however we were able to book ourselves onto the NOMA shared table upstairs. The only difference is that you are at the mercy of a set menu and have to sit next to strangers, but this just made the experience more unforgettable really.

We went there for lunch, and the experience overall ended up taking us from 12.15pm right up to early evening. Everything we ate and drank was derived from the local region, with the exception of some Ethiopian coffee following the twenty-serving feast!

Some other highlights from our time at NOMA:

    • The water we drank was actually obtained from “birch tapping”, a method of collecting birch sap and using that to create mineral water.
    • Each member of staff there REALLY knows their shit. You can ask them anything about the ingredients in each dish, how it was made, the context of each ingredient, and you can be sure they know the answer!
    • Samphire is probably the best find of the trip! Not just served in NOMA, this salty sea vegetable is one of the tastiest greens I’ve ever eaten, shame it’s £14.99 by the kilo at my local market :(
    • Be careful if you are offered a ‘Nordic coconut’. It’s actually a hollowed-out turnip, which the staff at NOMA kindly fill up with a hot, steamy broth.

Aside from NOMA, here’s some recommendations if you’re thinking of heading to Copenhagen anytime soon:


Nyhavn

We stayed within five minutes’ walk of this area, and it quickly became out destination of choice when we had run out of ideas for where to go for dinner. You’ll find a great restaurant called Barock. It’s not cheap (where in Copenhagen is?!) but this place offered me one of the best rib-eye steaks I’ve ever tasted. The waiter was also really, really helpful and friendly and suggested some places to go as well as going into detail about the samphire vegetable served alongside our mains.

Further down the terrace of restaurants and bars, you come to McJoys, a dependable Irish pub that has friendly staff and usually offers live music for its punters. Ned and I ended up there for a round or two more than once!

Strøget
Although it’s not ideal to go shopping in Copenhagen thanks to the strength of the Danish Krone, this street is where to go should you need to pick anything up while away. Illums Bolighus is a department store that, for me, is unrivalled in style and its vast array of designer furnishings. We spent nearly an hour wandering around the store and basking in the beauty of its wares!

Canal Tours
Going on a canal tour is an experience not to be missed, as it really helps to solidify in your mind the beauty of the city. The city reminded me of Amsterdam, which isn’t a coincidence as we learnt via our canal tour that King Christian V deliberately used Amsterdam as a model of what he wanted Copenhagen to look and function like.

Freetown Christiania
During our time in Copenhagen we were also able to ‘leave’ the EU by heading to the self-proclaimed Green Light district, a place which aims to be a self-governed commune. In fact there’s only three ‘rules’: Have fun, don’t run and no photos.

Most of the housing is ramshackled and slightly devoid of sanitation (we walked past a garden with some discarded bits of toilet roll lying about, not so nice!), however it does seem to be a place where most people just want to live and let live and there’s an undeniably optimistic vibe pervading the district.. or that might just have been weed!

I’d definitely recommend going, although I’d stay in a nicer hotel next time round – the one we were in had two cheapo mattresses squidged together, paperthin walls and reception staff who seemed to know very little about either the hotel or the city!

More photos from Copenhagen:

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**Republish of a previous post thanks to a small site breakdown!**


+ My Recent London Discoveries

One of the best (and worst) things about London is that there's so much out there just waiting to be discovered. However many places you visit in the evenings and at the weekends, it just isn't possible to fit in everything I would into a week's 168 hours! I'm trying to visit new places every week, so here's a round-up of what I've found recently:

Open Air Shakespeare at Victoria Embankment Gardens <-- The acoustics are pretty poor here so make sure you sit near the front to keep up with all the action, but it's a breath of fresh air hidden away in Central London • The Troudadour, Earl's Court <-- This is where Bob Dylan played in the 1960s, but is now worth a visit for its timeless interior, beautiful garden and their gorgeous potato wedges (picture below) • Le Tea Cosy, Primrose Hill <-- This place does the best lemon chiffon cake I've ever tasted! My friend Mandy has a two-month free trial with Taste Card, and it's given us the chance to try out some places around London we wouldn't normally have known about. The other week we tried out Tod's Grill in Islington, where to start I had calamari followed by a delicious lamb shank. At first we were a bit sceptical because we were the only customers in there, but then pockets of people started to enter the restaurant (eclectically decorated with posters for local events from over the years), thankfully displacing our fears that we had been lured in to an unpopular price just because of a half-price offer!


Calamari at Todd's Grill, Islington Lamb shank at Tod's Grill,Upper Street, London
Potato wedges at the Trouabdour, Earl's Court The garden at The Troubadour, Earl's Court

Things I Still Need to Do in London

• Ronnie Scott's, Soho.
• Watch some live music at The Slaghtered Lamb.
• Have a night out at Lost Society, Clapham.
• Watch a play, any play.
Spark London - Britain's first true-storytelling club night.
• Visit the British Library
• Visit the Nightjar bar in Shoreditch
• Watch a free lecture at Gresham College